Bao Junhui (鮑君徽) was a late eighth-century Chinese poet. She came from a respected family during the Tang dynasty and achieved fame as a poet during the reign of Emperor Dezong (779-804).

Bao Junhui and other talented women, such as the five Song sisters, were invited to reside in the palace as scholars who were held in great esteem. She, like many of the other respected poets who resided in the palace, was called upon to write poetry during special occasions, including banquets. She was considered to be as talented as the five Song sisters. The little known about Bao Junhui comes from a memorial she presented to the emperor asking for permission to leave the palace to care for her aged mother:

“Your servant is a widow from a thatched hut who has nevertheless received Your Majesty’s ample grace, an honor that is more than I deserve. My only concern is that I am an only child and my father has passed away. In our courtyard there is no chicken or millet for meals, yet I have a white-haired mother at home to provide for… Now I am fortunate to be living at a time when a sage ruler has called me in to write poetry. I have been in a palace over one hundred days and during that time in order to bring joy to Your Majesty I have entertained you with my writing; I have also brandished my writing brush to exchange poems with your ministers. The only thing is, how can I be so neglectful a child as to leave my old mother by herself, uncared for? Whenever I think of this, my innards are tied in knots. I pray Your Majesty will open your gracious heart and heed your servant’s short letter and grant me permission to go in order to offer my mother the food of sweetness and nourishment. Thus, if my mother were to live only one day longer, it would be one day that your benevolence has bestowed upon her.”

Notable poems

Tea Ceremony in the East Pavilion

At ease this morning, turn toward dawn, go out past windows and blinds.
Meet for tea in the East Pavilion – clear views, in four directions.
Staring far: the moat round the walls, see it in the mountains’ colors.
Looking down: strings and pipes, hear them in watery sounds.
Deep bamboo thickets pull at the pond, and spout a lush new green.
Sweet hibiscus draw down the eaves; soon they’ll burst out red.
Linger, sitting amid all this – high spirits, boundless, rise.
And more love now, for this round fan that gives off cooling winds.

Sung Out in Sympathy for Flowers

Flowers on a branch; someone beneath the flowers.
A blush on both that catches hearts: both are in their spring.
Flower-gazing yesterday – flowers bright with bloom.
Flower-gazing at dawn today – flowers soon to fall.
Best drain it dry, this joy, this pleasure, underneath the flowers;
Don’t wait for those springtime winds to gust them all away.
Warblers sing, butterflies dance, bright scenes linger long.
Brewing tea on a dark-red stove: pine-flowers loose their scent.
Makeup finished, singing ended, done with wandering free,
Alone, hold on to a fragrant branch and go back to the cave of your room.

Moon at the Frontier Pass

High, sky-high: fall’s moon glitters bright
And off in the north illumines Liaoyang’s fort.
The border so far, yet that light covers all –
The wind so great, a glory-ring grows round.
Soldiers state toward their villages, and brood.
Cavalry mounts hear battle drums, and shy.
Northern winds blow sorrow through frontier grass,
And barbarous sands obscure the enemy camps.
Frost crystallizes swords within their scabbards.
Winds wear out feathered banners above the steppes.
Some day, some day – reporting near palace towers,
No more to hear the clangorous camp-gongs’ clash.

source: Women Writers of Traditional China an Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1999. 54-56. Google Books.


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