Li Ye (simplified Chinese: 李冶; traditional Chinese: 李治; Wade–Giles: Li Yeh; died 784), also known by her courtesy name Li Jilan (Chinese: 李季蘭), was a Chinese musician, nun, and poet during the Tang dynasty.[1]She was known for her poetic talent as well as her beauty.[2] In the tumultuous years of the late Tang, she was accused of treason for poems denigrating the imperial house of Tang that the rebel leader Zhu Ci forced her to write. She was condemned to death and executed in 784.[2] Li is one of the few Tang-dynasty women whose poetry has survived.[3]

Li Ye
Cause of deathExecution
Other namesLi Jilan
Occupation(s)musician, nun, poet



Li Ye was born in Wuxing, in present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang Province.[2] As a child, she enjoyed writing poetry and was described by her father as "exceptionally clever" when she was six, after he read a poem she had written.[2] However, he worried that she would grow up to become an "unchaste woman."[2] Li's father was encouraging of her literary promise and believed that her talent would be wasted on marriage.[3]

Li Ye was particularly known for her "beauty and grace," as well as her talents for poetry, music, and calligraphy.[3] She was well known in literary circles and associated with famous poets such as Liu Changqing, Jiaoran and Lu Yu,[4] and her writing was praised by her contemporaries.[3] She also had a reputation for being an "unchaste" woman. Her friend Jiaoran, the renowned poet and Buddhist monk, composed a poem after she paid him a visit: "A celestial fairy came to test me, / With the intention of spreading her blossoms onto my clothes."[2]

In her middle age, Li was recognized as a poet laureate by Emperor Daizong of Tang, who summoned her to the court after learning of her literary talent. She stayed in the palace for about a month, where she was treated lavishly by the emperor. However, she preferred her former carefree life and was allowed to return home.[2]

In 783, rebel leader Zhu Ci captured Chang'an, the capital of China and seated himself on the throne.[2] Li was forced to write poems denigrating the imperial house of Tang.[2] Zhu was defeated the following year, and Emperor Dezong, Daizong's successor, returned to Chang'an. Dezong accused Li of treason for her anti-Tang poetry. She was condemned to death and executed in 784.[2]



The Qing dynasty anthology Complete Tang Poems, together with its supplements, preserves 18 of Li Ye's poems.[2] Her poetry was praised by the editors of the Qing-era Complete Library of the Four Treasuries:

Li Ye excelled at pentasyllabic shi poetry ... If her poems were mixed with the corpus of the Ten Talented Poets of the dali reign period, no one would be able to tell the difference. Her style is much better than that of Xue Tao; therefore her work should not be abandoned merely because of the small number of her extant poems.[2]

Yu Jiaxi, a modern critic, wrote about Li condemning her execution:

During Zhu's revolt, not even the emperor himself could guard his empire but had to abandon his subjects and consorts. Li Ye was even more powerless, criticizing the Tang simply because she was hectored by the despotic rebels. Emperor Dezong made no allowance for the difficulty she found herself in and had her executed.[2]

See also



  1. ^ "女冠诗人李季兰".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Wiles, Sue (2014). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Tang Through Ming, 618–1644. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 230–3. ISBN 978-0-7656-4316-2.
  3. ^ a b c d Smith, Bonnie G. (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 127–8. ISBN 978-0-19-514890-9.
  4. ^ You See My Heart. The Sacred and the Erotic in the Selected Works of T'ang Dynasty Poetesses: Li Ye, Yu Xuanji, and Xue Tao. 2008.