Wang Bo (poet)

Wang Bo (Chinese: 王勃; Wade–Giles: Wang Po; 650–676), courtesy name Zi'an (子安), was a Tang dynasty Chinese poet, traditionally grouped together with Luo Binwang, Lu Zhaolin, and Yang Jiong as the Four Paragons of the Early Tang. He died at the age of 26, possibly from drowning, while going back from Jiaozhi (Vietnam, then under Tang rule) after meeting his father.[1]

Wang Bo
Wang Bo statue.jpg
Statue of Wang Bo at the Pavilion of Prince Teng
Chinese name
Japanese name
Hiraganaおう ぼつ

He opposed the spread of the Gong Ti Style (宫体诗风) of the Sui Dynasty, and advocated a style rich in emotions. He was also famous for the essay Tengwang Ge Xu, which is included in the Chinese middle school curriculum.


Wang Bo was born in A.D 650 into a family with high literary status. His grandfather was the Sui dynasty Confucian philosopher Wang Tong.[2] His father was named Wang Fuzhi (王福畤). According to the Old Book of Tang, Wang Bo could write poems when he was six years old; he finished reading the Classics when he was ten. Beginning his career under Prince Pei (Prince Zhanghuai), he wrote a call-to-arms (檄) in jest which was criticized by the emperor (Emperor Gaozong of Tang). After that, he killed a servant, ending his political career. This incident also implicated his father, who was banished to Jiaozhi. On 28th December 675, Wang Bo began a trip to find his father in Jiaozhi. Returning from this trip by sea, he drowned in 676.[3]

Themes and ValuesEdit


Wang Bo had an anti-attitude toward Shangguan Style, he advocated the true reflection of the poets themselves in their literature works. This literary goal was inspired by Sima Qian’s “Shitaigong Zixu”(Self-preface of the Grand Scribe史太公自序), which is autobiographical. In his poem and “Fu”(赋) we can see the self-display of himself, which is “Youmiaoshan Xu”(游庙山序). This article was written after he live Prince Pei, during the journey in Shu(蜀). This is the first time Wang Bo record his conflict and struggle between the experience during the explore of natural and objective world and his aspire of Daoist.[4]

As the idea “poetry express one’s mind”(诗言志) was gradually established in early Tang literary world, Wang Bo’s other two prefaces called “Preface for a Banquet Held at a Pavilion in the North of Mianzhou, Attended by a Host of Gentlemen” (Mianzhou beiting qungong yan xu绵州北亭羣公宴序) and “Preface for Collected Poems Composed When Several Gentlemen Visited Me on a Summer Day” (Xiari zhugong jian xunfang shixu夏日诸公见寻访诗序). Also, one of his most famous work, “Tengwangge Xu” also express his disappointed in political, but still have the strong passion and ambition of allegiance his country.[4]

Especially, “Tengwangge Xu” was written in the journey of finding his father, he arrived at Hongzhou(洪州), he was experienced a hard time in his political time, killed servant, and his article had been criticized. He wrote about the autumn and landscape in Tengwangge and turns to express his emotion.[4] He described himself as an abject man with rough experience in political life, compare himself with Sima Xiangru(司马相如) reflect his strong wish in provide contribute for his country. This is a clear evidence of his “self-display”.

Wang Bo as one of “Four Paragons of Early Tang”, the initiate of “poetry express one’s mind” settled not only the huge contribution of Early Tang poems style, but also his important status in Tang literary world.

Change during PeiwangEdit

In Wang Bo’s short life, he experienced a political frustration during the time in Peiwang Fu(沛王府). That provide a chance of change in Wang Bo’s literature work.

Wang Bo wrote “Tao Doji Xi”(讨斗鸡檄) with a joke attitude, which basic about praise Peiwang’s chook and encourage him to win the competition, but the Emperor thought he is “Wai Cai”(who contained talent but contains a strange ideology) as Wang Bo is one of “Boshi” (who is talent and is noble’s teacher, mean job is to teach and gives advice in politics). He was expelled from Peiwang Fu.

After that, he killed a servant called Cao Da(曹达) and this is the final frustration which finished Wang Bo’s political life. Cao Da as a servant of nobles, Wang Bo was punished as killed servant of noble privately and had been prepared be death penalty. Although he had been released, but he lost his job in government.

According to those accidents, Wang Bo changed his article style from earlier. As his literary work contained “Self-display” more and more clear, after the accident happened in Pei, his literary work shown a negative atmosphere, and reflect his sad emotion and the yearn of back to political, the expect of create a peaceful and prosperity country.

Influence and AchievementsEdit

Pei Xingjian(裴行俭), who is an official Attendant Gentleman of the Ministry of Personnel(吏部). He was commented with Yang Jiong(杨炯), Lu Zhaolin(卢照邻), Luo Binwang(骆宾王) as “Four Paragons of Early Tang”(初唐四杰).

As mentioned before, Wang Bo opposed Gongti Style(宫体诗风), which is a school of literature, seeking for the perfect beauty of world using, but ignore the content and sense. Wang Bo had established “poetry express one’s mind” also carry it forward, which provided a new style for Tang Literary world. Wang Bo’s poems, for example, “Farewell to Prefect Du” (Song DuShaofu Zhi Ren Shuzhou送杜少府之任蜀州) was selected in “300 poems of Tang”. His article, “Tengwangge Xu”(滕王阁序) has been select in Chinese high-school textbook.

Also, Wang Bo contained a high achievement in Tang Fu(赋). In early and High Tang literature history, an interesting literary phenomena is “wrote Shi in Fu style ”(以赋为诗). So many poets and writer are creating Fu. Wang Bo’s famous work, such as Chunsi Fu(春思赋) and Cailian Fu(采莲赋), both have a high status in literary world. Wang Bo and “Four Paragons” use their experiment of trying and exploring the new genre. Their experiments provide huge contribute to thriving literature world of Tang Dynasty.[4]

Critical and CommentsEdit

There are both positive and negative comments about Wang Bo and his literary works. Positive comments think he is talent and provide a huge contribution in Tang literature world, especially poems and “Fu”. Negative comments outline Wang Bo’s mistake on kill Cao Da, which mentioned before, they think he is “frivolous and shallow”.


High Tang Poet Du Fu(杜甫) had been wrote poems to criticize Wang Bo and Four Paragons of Early Tang” with a positive attitude. There is an example:

- Yang, Wang, Lu, and Luo—the style of those times—

Frivolous and shallow were their compositions, disdain never ceased.

All of you—your persons and names have both perished, Uninterrupted is the current of the river for a myriad age.[5]

Duan Chengshi(段成式) also record Wang Bo’s amazing talent in writing. He outlined a short story of Wang Bo, which when he writing article never interrupt.

- Every time Wang Bo composed a stele inscription or panegyric, he first ground several liters of ink, and laid down with a blanket covering him up to his face. All of a sudden, he got up and wrote it in a single stroke, without correcting and blotting it. People of his time called it "belly draft."[5]


But there are still some negative comments of Wang Bo and his article, in Du Fu’s poem as mentioned before, he states that the Four paragons of Early Tang’s work are “frivolous and shallow”(轻薄). This criticize was caused by Wang Bo killed a servant called Cao Da, that is a mistake that cannot really accept by the government. In Jiu Tangshu(旧唐书),[6] Wang Bo’s biograph, comments was outlined as "bombastic, impetuous, shallow, and flaunting" (浮躁浅露)[5].Wen Yiduo(闻一多), a Chinese famous scholar had explained “frivolous and shallow” of Wang Bo and Four paragons of Early Tang like that: “Because their behavior and conduct were romantic, they suffered from all the mockery and denunciation of others.”[5]

Famous TransitionEdit

Wang Bo’s most famous poem, “Farewell to Prefect Du” (Song DuShaofu Zhi Ren Shuzhou送杜少府之任蜀州) was selected in “300 Tang Poems” for Chinese Children’s enlightenment. Now, “300 Tang Poems” had been translated in English with several translator, makes those poems are known in the world.


  • Chan, Tim Wai Kuang, 1999, “In search of jade: Studies of Early Tang Poetry”, Ann Arbor, U.S.
  • Stephen Owen, first published 2010, “The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature”
  • Pual W. Kroll, Nov 29th, 2018, “Critical Reading on Tang China”
  • Xu Yuanchong, Feb 1st, 2012, “300 Tang Poems”
  • Kroll, Pual W, 2000, “The significance of the Fu in the history of T’ang poetry”
  • Li Shi, “Old book of Tang”
  1. ^ Chang, Kang-i Sun; Owen, Stephen (2010). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-521-85558-7.
  2. ^ People's Political Consultative Conference Cultural Weekly:王通的价值———为《山西万荣县通化村史》序
  3. ^ Chang, Kang-i Sun; Owen, Stephen (2010). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85558-7.
  4. ^ a b c d Miao, Xiaojing, 2019, “Beyond the Lyric: Expanding the landscape of Early and High Tang Literature”, Ann Arbor, U.S.
  5. ^ a b c d Chan, Tim Wai-keung. (1999). In search of jade : studies of early Tang poetry. UMI. OCLC 863460212.
  6. ^ Shi, Li. Book of (Old and New) Tang Dynasty: 二十四史 旧唐书 新唐书. DeepLogic.

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