Top 10 Most Influential Chinese Poems in History

China is a poem kingdom, many great poems have significant impacts on Chinese world, and here is a list of 10 most influential Chinese 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》
Lǐbái “jìngyè sī”

床前明月光,
(Chuáng qián míng yuèguāng)

疑是地上霜。
(Yí shì dìshàng shuāng)

举头望明月,
(Jǔ tóu wàng míngyuè)

低头思故乡。
(dītóu sī gùxiāng)

English Translation:

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》
(Mèng jiāo “yóuzǐ yín”)

慈 母 手 中 线,
(címǔ shǒuzhōng xiàn)

游 子 身 上 衣。
(yóu zi shēn shàng yī)

临 行 密 密 缝,
(Lín xíng mì mì fèng)

意 恐 迟 迟 归。
(yì kǒng chí chí guī)

谁 言 寸 草 心,
(Shéi yán cùn cǎo xīn)

报 得 三 春 晖。
(bào dé sān chūnhuī)

English Translation:

A Traveler’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 Traveler’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》
(Báijūyì “fù dé gǔyuán cǎo sòngbié”)

离离原上草,
(lí lí yuán shàng cǎo)

一岁一枯荣。
(yī suì yī kūróng)

野火烧不尽,
(Yě huǒshāo bù jìn)

春风吹又生。
(chūnfēng chuī yòu shēng)

远芳侵古道,
(Yuǎn fāng qīn gǔdào)

晴翠接荒城。
(qíng cuì jiē huāngchéng)

又送王孙去,
(Yòu sòng wángsūn qù)

萋萋满别情。
(qī qī mǎn bié qíng)

English Translation: 

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》
(Cáozhí “qī bù shī”)

煮豆燃豆萁,
(zhǔdòu rán dòu qí)

豆在釜中泣。
(dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì)

本是同根生,
(Běn shì tónggēn shēng)

相煎何太急?
(xiāng jiān hé tài jí)

English Translation:

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》
(Wángzhīhuàn “dēng guàn què lóu”)

白日依山尽,
(bái rì yī shān jǐn)

黄河入海流。
(huánghé rù hǎiliú)

欲穷千里目,
(Yù qióng qiānlǐ mù)

更上一层楼。
(gèng shàng yī céng lóu)

English Translation:

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》
(Wáng wéi de “jiǔ yuè jiǔ rì yì shāndōng xiōngdì”)

独在异乡为异客,
(dú zài yìxiāng wèi yì kè)

每逢佳节倍思亲。
(měi féng jiājié bèi sī qīn)

遥知兄弟登高处,
(Yáo zhī xiōngdì dēnggāo chù)

遍插茱萸少一人。
(biàn chā zhūyú shǎo yīrén)

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》
(“Guān jū”)

关关雎鸠,在河之洲。
(guān guān jū jiū, zài hé zhī zhōu)

窈窕淑女,君子好逑。
(Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ, jūnzǐ hǎo qiú)

参差荇菜,左右流之。
(Cēncī xìng cài, zuǒyòu liú zhī)

窈窕淑女,寤寐求之。
(Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ, wù mèi qiú zhī)

求之不得,寤寐思服。
(Qiúzhībùdé, wù mèi sī fú)

悠哉悠哉,辗转反侧。
(Yōuzāi yōuzāi, niǎnzhuǎnfǎncè)

参差荇菜,左右采之。
(Cēncī xìng cài, zuǒyòu cǎi zhī)

窈窕淑女,琴瑟友之。
(Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ, qínsè yǒuzhī)

参差荇菜,左右毛之。
(Cēncī xìng cài, zuǒyòu máo zhī)

窈窕淑女,钟鼓乐之。
(Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ, zhōng gǔyuè zhī)

English Translation:

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》
(Lǐqīngzhào “xià rì juégōu”)

生当作人杰,
(shēng dàng zuò rénjié)

死亦为鬼雄。
(sǐ yì wéi guǐxióng)

至今思项羽,
(Zhìjīn sī xiàngyǔ)

不肯过江东。
(bù kěnguò jiāngdōng)

English Translation:

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》
(Wángbó “sòng dù shǎo fǔ zhī rèn shǔ zhōu”)

城阙辅三秦,
(chéngquē fǔ sān qín)

风烟望五津。
(fēng yān wàng wǔ jīn)

与君离别意,
(Yǔ jūn líbié yì)

同是宦游人。
(tóng shì huànyóu rén)

海内存知己,
(Hǎi nèicún zhījǐ)

天涯若比邻。
(tiānyá ruò bìlín)

无为在岐路,
(Wúwéi zài qílù)

儿女共沾巾。
(érnǚ gòng zhān jīn)

English Translation:

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》
(Lǐ shēn “mǐn nóng”)

锄禾日当午,
(chú hé rì dāng wǔ)

汗滴禾下土。
(hàn dī hé xià tǔ)

谁知盘中餐,
(Shéi zhī pán zhōngcān)

粒粒皆辛苦。
(lì lì jiē xīnkǔ)

English Translation:

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.

Above are the 10 most famous ancient Chinese poems, do you know any other Chinese poetry that you like? please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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16 Responses

  1. Robert Mosurinjohn says:

    poet’s words change tones
    as the moving sun sends changing light
    through air vibrating
    on the poet’s lips

  2. nolito says:

    who know about the poem, to my husband by hsu shu

  3. Eddy says:

    I’d suggest using standard Chinese characters (政體字) instead of the simplified forms used in the PRC. The simplified forms just take a lot of the beauty of the poetry.

  4. Tong says:

    海内存知己,
    天涯若比邻。
    —— If you have a true friend in the world, no matter how far away, he is in your heart like a neighborhood.

  5. Tan says:

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

  6. 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

    • Michael says:

      I think it’s left to the reader’s interpretation. What does one think or feel when bowing his head and thinking about home? One might cry out of sentiment, another might be fondly remembering friends and family, another might be missing the great food from one’s hometown. Who knows. There’s not one single interpretation and I think that’s intended.

  7. Ayietim says:

    Chinese poems are deep and beautiful.

  8. 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.

  9. 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。

  10. 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.

  11. Konika says:

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

  12. 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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