Of the many famous China's classical poets, Du Fu (712-70 AD) is up there with Tang Dynasty master Li Bai as the best known and one of the most well loved. After travels around eastern China and his home province of Henan, Du Fu arrived in the conflict-torn Tang capital of Chang'an (today's Xi'an) where he worked to establish himself as a civil servant at the behest of the Tang emperor. But the emperor was much too busy clashing with the forces of rebellious general An Lushan. And so Du Fu's official career never was.
The An Lushan rebellion, which started in 755 AD, lasted for eight years and, in 760, Du Fu departed and struck out for Chengdu. Despite the politically difficult times, Du Fu's five-year residence in Chengdu was a prolific time, during which he created some of his most enduring works. As it was a time of war and upheaval, his famed writing sanctuary gave him intellectual solitude and inspiration. In the many years since his death, Du Fu's contribution to Chinese poetry has won him a global reputation as one of China's greatest and most influential poets, and the park and museum at today's Du Fu's Thatched Cottage (Dù Fǔ Cǎo Táng, 杜甫草堂) stands as a monument to his accomplishments.
His often simple words continue to inspire scores of people today. The motif's of Du Fu's work are basic, though they are steeped in rich and complex ideas. He wrote about his fellow Chinese during years of political strife and displacement, about nature and everyday life. He often found meaning and beauty in small and incidental things, demonstrated by this poem he wrote while living in Chengdu:
I know well my thatched hut is low and small.
Swallows fly up from the river to where I dwell.
They drop bits of mud from their beaks
on my zither, my books. They fly inside
chasing bugs and sometimes brush against me.
In memory of the great poet, temples and pavilions were added to the area surrounding his Chengdu cottage during the Song Dynasty.
Today, the attraction—part museum and part shrine—is the base for the Chengdu Du Fu Society, a gathering of local poets who meet regularly. But the thatched cottage is a replica and by no means the draw of the park. The most interesting aspect of the monument to Du Fu is the brief account of his life, and the examples of his calligraphy and poetry, that are unfortunately without English translation.
The park is a relaxing and enjoyable way spend an afternoon. Thin stone paths wind through traditional Chinese landscaping, past tranquil bamboo gardens, and end in a tiny clearing with benches that, if you're lucky, offer a view of flowers in bloom.
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