Tang Wan was the wife of Lu You (陆游, 1125–1209), a prominent poet of China’s Southern Song Dynasty.

Lu You grew up with his cousin Tang Wan (唐琬), who was quiet but loved literature. They fell deeply in love and were married when he was 20. But they had no children, and his mother did not like Tang Wan. Though they had lived happily together, his mother forced them to divorce in order to make Lu You concentrate on studying to fulfill his aspiration of saving the Song dynasty. In traditional Chinese culture, children were required to obey their parents. Lu You loved his mother and reluctantly divorced Tang Wan. She later married a nobleman named Zhao Shicheng (趙士程), and he married a woman from the Wang clan (her personal name eludes most researchers).

Lu You was sad after his first marriage broke up. One spring day, at age 31, eight years after their divorce, he passed by Shen’s Garden (沈園) and by chance encountered Tang Wan and her husband. Tang Wan asked her husband to let her send a cup of wine to Lu You. When her hands passed the wine to him, he saw her eyes brimmed with tears. His heart was broken, and he drank the cup of bitter wine to the bottom. He turned away and on the spot wrote the poem “Fonqhuarng Hairpinin” (Chai Tou Feng, 釵頭鳳) on the wall of Shen’s Garden. After this meeting with Tang Wan, Lu You went to the North to struggle against the foreign Jin dynasty, before returning to southern Shu (蜀, today’s Sichuan) to pursue his dream of unifying China.

When Tang Wan read Lu You’s poem in the garden, she immediately wrote one in the same form in response. Less than a year later, she died. In the year before Lu You’s death, at age 85, he wrote another poem called “Shen’s Garden” to commemorate Tang Wan, his first love. A traditional Shaoxing opera was written about Lu You and Tang Wan, and their love story is very famous in China.

 

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