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Du Mu: His Life and Times

Du Mu: His Life and Times: (803-852)

Du Mu was a famous late Tang Dynasty poet and essayist. Often referred to as the “Lesser Du” in contrast to the more famous Du Fu. He was born in 803 to a wealthy and distinguished family in the Duling section of the capital city of Chang’an (Xi’an). Descendant of four continuous generations of government officials whose source stretched back into the Han Dynasty. He played and socialized with the children of the wealthy and well-connected.
When Du was three years old, his grandfather, Du Y0u (735-812) was made the Duke of Qi. Du You was a prominent statesman and scholar, compiling a large encyclopedia known as Dung Tian. It contains the source material for the political and social history of ancient China. Not surprisingly, Du Mu’s poetry reflects this sense of the past.
At the age of ten his grandfather died, with his father passing away shortly thereafter. These events initiated the decline of the family’s wealth and influence.
Du Mu passed the imperial examinations in 828 at the age of 25. His score was ranked as fifth best of all of the exams. For the next ten years, he received several provincial appointments outside the capital. He served for at time in the court of emperor Wenzong as a secretary to Niu Sengju (779-848). By this time he was the main breadwinner for the family, whose wealth had almost been used up. He then petitioned the emperor for a position outside of the capital.
He accepted a position in the town of Huzhou as city mayor. Because his grandfather had served the strongest Tang Dynasty emperor, Xuanzong, Du came to realize that the country was no longer as strong as it was during this time. Not cut out for the political intrigues and manuevers of court life, Du came to pursue a life of pleasure in Luoyang, Yangzhou, and other cities. He also found that the capital was too expensive and ostentatious for him.
Du was not a close follower of Buddhism like many of his peers. He tended not to trust the magical, intangible, and impractical aspects of this philosophy. Because he was comfortable with wealth, virtue and integrity, Du was very choosy in whom he made friends. Du Mu was very close friends with another well-known and respected poet, Li Shangyin.
In the year 852, Du returned to the capital to work in the palace, but died soon thereafter at the age of fifty.
Du Mu was well known as a man who appreciated beautiful women. Many of his poems are quatrains reflecting this taste. In the beginning, Du borrowed many techniques and lines from other poets, but later developed his own style. He liked to use old and famous stories from China’s past, and then give his original interpretations of them.

Du You: (735-812)

Emperor Wenzong: (809-840) (r. 827-840)

Niu Sengju: (779-762): Court faction leader.

Emperor Xuanzong: (685-762) (r. 713-756): Emperor at the height of the Tang Dynasty.

Li Shangyin: (813-858): Well-regarded late Tang Dynasty poet.  His biography and poems will soon be added to this website.

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