Top 10 Most Influential Chinese Poems in History

China is a poem kingdom, many great poems have significant impacts on Chinese world, and here listed are the 10 most influential poems. In addition to being written well, these poems are also easy to understand and remember for common people.

1. Thoughts in the Silent Night — Li Bai

李白《静夜思》

床前明月光,
疑是地上霜。
举头望明月,
低头思故乡。

Thoughts in the Silent Night
By Li Bai
Translated by Yang Xianyi & Dai Naidie

Beside my bed a pool of light—
Is it hoarfrost on the ground?
I lift my eyes and see the moon,
I bend my head and think of home.

Thoughts in the Silent Night is one of the most well-known Chinese poems written by Li Bai. This short poem uses only a few words and is quite concise in wordage, but it is endowed with the passion that stimulates the bottom of one’s heart and arouses an intense feeling of nostalgia very naturally.

2. A Poem By A Leaving Son— by Meng Jiao

孟郊《游子吟》
慈 母 手 中 线,
游 子 身 上 衣。
临 行 密 密 缝,
意 恐 迟 迟 归。
谁 言 寸 草 心,
报 得 三 春 晖。

A Traveller’s Song
By Meng Jiao
Translated by Liu Jianxun

The thread in the hands of a fond-hearted mother
Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy;
Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends,
Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home.
But how much love has the inch-long grass
For three spring months of the light of the sun?

A Traveller’s Song is one of the most famous classical Chinese poems. The poem was written when 50-year-old poet Meng Jiao was appointed as a county official in Liyang, Jiangsu Province. He then brought his mother to live in the county. This poem presents people how mighty the love of a mother is and at the same time expresses his gratitude to mother’s sincere love. This poem has been passed down from one generation to another and almost every Chinese knows this poem. Especially the last two verses are now a common metaphor of motherly love.

3. Grasses — Bai Juyi

白居易 《赋得古原草送别》

离离原上草,
一岁一枯荣。
野火烧不尽,
春风吹又生。
远芳侵古道,
晴翠接荒城。
又送王孙去,
萋萋满别情。

Grasses
By Bai Juyi

Boundless grasses over the plain
Come and go with every season;
Wildfire never quite consumes them —
They are tall once more in the spring wind.
Sweet they press on the old high- road
And reach the crumbling city-gate….
O Prince of Friends, you are gone again….
I hear them sighing after you.

Bai Juyi is one of the most prolific and popular poet of all Chinese poets. Bai wrote this famous poem in an examination at the age of 16. The first four sentences focus on the beauty of resisting grass life; the last four sentences praises the sincere friendship. The poet combined the occasion of departure with natural surroundings to create an extended metaphor to describe profound friendship.

4. Quatrain of Seven Steps — By Cao Zhi

曹植 《七步诗》

煮豆燃豆萁,
豆在釜中泣。
本是同根生,
相煎何太急?

Quatrain of Seven Steps
By Cao Zhi

People burn the beanstalk to boil beans,
The beans in the pot cry out.
We are born of the selfsame root,
Why should you torment me so much?

The poem was written during the Three Kingdom Period when Cao Pi (brother of Cao Zhi), the Emperor of Wei, was in power. Cao Pi suspected that his brother Cao Zhi was trying to usurp his throne. Consequently, Cao Zhi was summoned to the court and ordered to compose a poem within seven strides so that Cao Pi was convinced of his innocence. Cao Zhi made it, and Cao Pi became so flustered that he spared his brother.

This poem compares relation of beans and beanstalk to relationship of the two brothers, and likens burning the beanstalk to boil beans to elder brother maiming younger brother, reflecting the brutal struggle within the feudal ruling group and the poet’s difficult situation and gloomy cynical feelings.

5. On The Stork Tower —- By Wang Zhihuan

王之涣 《登鹳雀楼》

白日依山尽,
黄河入海流。
欲穷千里目,
更上一层楼。

On The Stork Tower
By Wang Zhihuan

The sun beyond the mountains glows;
The Yellow River seawards flows.
You can enjoy a grander sight,
By climbing to a greater height.

This poem was written by famous Tang Dynasty poet Wang Zhihuan. It describes what the poet sees and feels about when he ascends the Stork Tower. In the first two lines, he shifts his eyes from the sunset beyond the mountains to the Yellow River, which flows out of sight eastwards towards the sea. Then he writes the famous line “You can enjoy a grander sight, By climbing to a greater height.” which blends landscape, emotion and philosophical thinking in the short verse.

6. On The Mountain Holiday Thinking of My Brothers In Shandong — by Wang Wei

王维的《九月九日忆山东兄弟》

独在异乡为异客,
每逢佳节倍思亲。
遥知兄弟登高处,
遍插茱萸少一人。

On The Mountain Holiday Thinking of My Brothers In Shandong
By Wang Wei

All alone in a foreign land,
I am twice as homesick on this day
When brothers carry dogwood up the mountain,
Each of them a branch-and my branch missing.

This poem is one of the masterpieces of the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei. It describes the an intense feeling of homesickness of a distant wanderer. In the first two lines, the poet shows how lonely he is in a foreign land, especially on festive occasions he thinks of his family far away more than ever. Then he shifts his focus to his hometown, thinking that when his brothers at home step to high places and collect the dogwood, they will miss him too.

7. Guan! Guan! Cry The Fish Hawks — from Shijing

《关雎》

关关雎鸠,在河之洲。

窈窕淑女,君子好逑。

参差荇菜,左右流之。

窈窕淑女,寤寐求之。

求之不得,寤寐思服。

悠哉悠哉,辗转反侧。

参差荇菜,左右采之。

窈窕淑女,琴瑟友之。

参差荇菜,左右毛之。

窈窕淑女,钟鼓乐之。

Guan! Guan! Cry The Fish Hawks

Guan! Guan! Cry the fish hawks
on sandbars in the river:
a mild-mannered good girl,
fine match for the gentleman.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we trail it:
that mild-mannered good girl,
awake, asleep, I search for her.

I search but cannot find her,
awake, asleep, thinking of her,
endlessly, endlessly,
turning, tossing from side to side.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we pick it:
the mild-mannered good girl,
harp and lute make friends with her.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we sort it:
the mild-mannered good girl,
bell and drum delight her.

This poem is the first poem of ancient anthology Shijing, the earliest collection of Chinese poems comprising 305 works of the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.). It is a love poem describing that a young noble falls in love with a good and fair maiden collecting edible water plants, and hopes to marry her.

8. A Quatrain in Summer — by Li Qingzha

李清照 《夏日绝句》

生当作人杰,
死亦为鬼雄。
至今思项羽,
不肯过江东。

A Quatrain in Summer
By Li Qingzhao

To be, one should be a rare fellow.
Not to be, one should be a ghost hero.
We have revered Xiangyu till today,
For he rejected alive as a loser way.

This poem was written by Li Qingzhao, a famous poetess who lived in the Southern Song dynasty (1127- 1279). The poem proposes her own viewpoint clearly in the first two lines: One as a human being should be an outstanding talent and make contributions to the country; if one has to die, he should make sacrifices for his country, becoming a ghost hero after death. The poetess felt very disappointed when the rulers of Southern Song just fled as the country was invaded aliens, disregard for common people. The poetess also used Xiangyu, a hero who refused to flee and committed suicide with dignity, to satirize the rulers, and at the same time she hoped heroic figures could recover the country’s lost territory.

9. Farewell To Vice-Prefect Du Setting Out For His Official Post In Shu — by Wang Bo

王勃《送杜少府之任蜀州》

城阙辅三秦,
风烟望五津。
与君离别意,
同是宦游人。
海内存知己,
天涯若比邻。
无为在岐路,
儿女共沾巾。

Farewell To Vice-Prefect Du Setting Out For His Official Post In Shu
By Wang Bo

By this wall that surrounds the three Qin districts,
Through a mist that makes five rivers one,
We bid each other a sad farewell,
We two officials going opposite ways….
And yet, while China holds our friendship,
And heaven remains our neighbourhood,
Why should you linger at the fork of the road,
Wiping your eyes like a heart-broken child?

This poem was written by Wang Bo in Chang’an City when his friend surnamed Du was leaving to take office as a county official in Sichuan province, the poet saw him off in Chang’an City and presented his friend this farewell poem. The poem describes their profound friendship and also expresses his sincerity and encouragement to his friend.

10. Toiling Farmers —by Li Shen

李绅 《悯农》

锄禾日当午,
汗滴禾下土。
谁知盘中餐,
粒粒皆辛苦。

Toiling Farmers
By Li Shen

Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?

This poem was written by the Tang Dynasty poet Li Shen who is known for expressing in-depth coverage of the rural life in his poems. The poem talks about farmers’ hard work for every single grain. The first two lines describe farmers keep toiling away despite the blazing heat at noon. The following two lines connect food in plate with farmers’ hard work. If they don’t toil, then who knows what you would eat.

11 Responses

  1. Tan says:

    I can see the great effors web editors make for proposing Chinese classic poetry. Give you a like.

  2. ivey-kun says:

    “举头望明月,
    低头思故乡。”
    Why does he lowers his head? It’s because He is crying when he thinks of home. I think, like many others, that the translations do not accurately deliver the true meaning

  3. Ayietim says:

    Chinese poems are deep and beautiful.

  4. Mary says:

    It would be much appreciated if the sources were cited properly. I find the translations to lack some meaning from the original text.

  5. 谢如坚 says:

    I thought below poem also famous and often quoted.
    去年今天此门中
    人面桃花相影红
    人面不知何处去
    桃花依旧笑春风

    Forgive me if I get some words wrong.

    • 谢如坚 says:

      Correction of one word

      去年今天此门中
      人面桃花双影红
      人面不知何处去
      桃花依旧笑春风

      • riverai says:

        竟然能两次都错了,今日说成今天像首古诗吗…

        唐·崔护《题都城南庄》诗:
        去年今日此门中,
        人面桃花相映红。
        人面不知何处去,
        桃花依旧笑春风。

  6. 谢如坚 says:

    I find the translation into English does not quite do justice to the original. The explanation helps somewhat.

    • Peter says:

      You are absolutely corrrect, it is always difficult to understand ancient Chinese poems literally. People have to know at what situation the poem was written.

  7. Konika says:

    I agree with Lucas, not mentioning the translators is denying them their right. It also makes the reader wary of the source.

  8. Lucas Klein says:

    I notice that in every instance you neglect to name the translator. That represents a significant affront to the work of the scholars, cross-cultural emissaries, and poets you are relying on here.

    Lucas

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