Song 宋

Here we select two poets who, writing two centuries apart, draw on the complex history and imagery of Jinling.

The Last Lord of the Tang, Li Yu (李煜, 李後主, 937-978), ascended the throne of the Southern Tang dynasty 南唐, also known as Jiangnan 江南, in Jinling (Nanking) in 961. A ruler of refined spirit and rare artistic achievement, Li lacked the skill to navigate the treacherous political waters of his day. Following a protracted siege, in 975 Jinling fell to the powerful new Song dynasty to the north; Li Yu was captured and removed to the Song capital of Bian 汴 (modern-day Kaifeng 開封) where he died in captivity in 978. Li Yu’s song-lyric or ci-poems, selected here, are renowned for their delicacy and power, and from his time this literary form enjoys universal prestige in the Chinese world of letters.

Two centuries after Li Yu’s death, the Song-dynasty scholar-bureaucrat Lu You (陸游, 1125-1210) visited the city in 1170, and stayed for five days. The historian Nathan Woolley guides us through the landscape of the once glorious, but long since reduced dynastic capital at Jiankang (Nanking) in Lu You’s company. As Woolley remarks:

During his brief stay, Lu moved in a landscape marked by names that resonated with the city’s past: Stone City, Zhongshan, Foundry City Mountain, the Qinhuai River, Egret Island. Such names appeared in works of history and literature that were part both of the cultural legacy of the Southern Dynasties and the ongoing remembrance and imagination of them. But coming to the city nearly six hundred years after the end of the period that saw Jinling rise to its greatest political and cultural importance, Lu You could identify few man-made remnants of that apogee; perhaps the most notable were the temples associated with the tombs of prominent figures from the long-vanquished Southern Dynasties.

The fall of the state of Wu (吳, 229-280) to Jin (金, 265-420) had ended Jinling’s first period as the capital of an independent kingdom (when it had been known as Jianye 建鄴), but the capital of Jin was established there in 317 following the dynasty defeat at the hand of northern invaders. Under its new name of Jiankang, the city remained capital of the south — save for a brief interlude — until the region fell to the rulers of the Sui dynasty (隨, 589-618) in 589.