Lu You was born on a boat floating in Wei Water River on a rainy early morning of October 17, 1125 (Chinese calendar). At that time, the Song dynasty was frequently invaded by the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). One year after his birth, Jin Dynasty troops conquered Kaifeng (汴京 or 開封), the capital of Northern Song dynasty; his family fled from their home while he was still an infant. Because of the family influence and social turbulence of his childhood, Lu You grew up determined to expel the Jurchen (女真) from the North and restore a United Song dynasty.

At the age of 12, Lu You was already an excellent writer, had mastered the skill of sword fighting, and delved deeply into war strategy. At 19, he took civil service examination, but didn't pass. Ten years later, he took it again; this time he not only passed it, but was the first-place winner in the Lin Ann region. Instead of bringing him good fortune, this triumph brought him trouble. Qin Sun, who was the grandson of Qin Hiu (秦桧, a notorious traitor to China and a very powerful aristocrat in Song Dynasty), also took this exam, and Lu You's success threatened Qin Sun's position, because Lu You was a possible candidate for first place in the next year's national examination. Not only Lu You, but all the possible winners, and even some of the examination officers, were excluded from the next year's national examination.


Lu You's family gave him a good education to him, and inspired him to patriotism, but it brought misfortune to his marriage. He had grown up with his cousin Tang Wan, a quiet girl who was good at paining and literature. They fell deeply in love and got married when Lu was twenty. However, they had no children, and his mother did not like her. Though they had lived happily together, his mother forced them to divorce in order to making him concentrate on his studies and on his aspirations for saving the Song dynasty. In traditional Chinese culture, good children were respectful and obedient to their parents. Lu You loved his mother and reluctantly divorced Tang Wang; she married a nobleman, Zhao Shi Cheng, and he married a new wife named Ms. Wang.

Lu You was very sad after his first marriage. One spring, eight years after their divorce, when he was 31, he passed by Cheng's garden and encountered Tang Wang and her husband by chance. Tang Wan asked her husband to let her send a glass of wine to Lu You. When her hands passed the wine to him, he saw her eyes brimming with tears. His heart was broken, and he took the glass of bitter wine bottom up. He turned back and wrote the poem “Phoenix Pin” on the wall of Cheng's garden within a single breath. After this meeting with Tang Wan, he went up to the North against the Jin Dynasty and then turned down to the South Shu (today's Sichuan in China) to pursue his dream of unifying China as a whole nation.

After Tang Wan read his poem, she immediately wrote one in the same form in response. Less than a year later, she died. One year before Lu You's death, at the age of eighty-five, he wrote another romantic love poem, “Cheng's Garden,” to commemorate his first love.

Official Career

After Qin Hiu's death, Lu started his official career in government but was unsuccessful because he adopted a patriotic stance, advocating the expulsion of the Jurchen (女真) from northern China; this position was out of favor with the displaced court, which was controlled by a peace faction that sought appeasement. In 1172, he was appointed to create strategic planning for the military. Military life opened his eyes and broadened his mind, and rekindled his hopes of fulfilling his aspirations to unite China again. He wrote many unrestrained poems expressing his passionate patriotism. But the Song Dynasty was weakened by corruption, and most of the officers were only interested in making a good living.

In 1175, Fan Dia Cheng asked him to join his party. They had shared similar interests through correspondence, and now both of them began behaving in a very casual way in governmental society. Feeling that there was no opportunity for him to use his talent and ambitions to save the Song Dynasty, Lu You began to become self-indulgent, enjoying drinking to forget his failure in his personal life and his career. He gave himself the nickname "Freed guy" (放翁), and referred to himself sarcastically in his poems.

After several promotions and four demotions in his governmental career, in 1190 he finally resigned his civil-service commission in frustration and retired to live in seclusion at his hometown Shaoxing (紹興), a rural area. He began to enjoy keeping in good health, and like eating pearl barley and wooden ear. This preserved his vision and his hearing until his death. During this period, he still ardently proposed fighting against the Jin Dynasty, but always encountered dispute and rejection.

Finally he died with the biggest regret - the Northern China was still in the control of the Jurchen (女真)-at age 86.

His second wife died in 1197, and Lu died on December 29, 1209 (Chinese calendar). His died, at 86, with the regret that Northern China was still under the control of the Jurchen (女真).


Lu You wrote over ten thousand poems, in both the shi (詩) and ci (詞) forms, plus a number of prose works. Traditionally Lu has been most admired for the ardor of his patriotic poems, in which he protested the Jurchen invasion of China that had begun in 1125, and chided the Sung court for its failure to drive out the invaders and retake its lost territories in the north. In his poetry, he continued to articulate the beliefs which cost him his official career, calling for reconquest of the north. Watson identifies these works as part of the legacy of Du Fu (杜甫). Watson compares a second body of work, poems on country life and growing old, to those of Bai Juyi (白居易) and Tao Qian (陶潛).

About 9,300 of Lu You's poems are extant; some of those which are lost were destroyed by Lu You himself. His work can be divided into three stylistic periods. Though his style changed through these periods, his works are full of ardently enthusiastic patriotism. This is the most important characteristic of his works, and the reason they have been eulogized for almost thousand years.

First Period

The first Period of Lu You's works includes those written between his teens and age 46. This was the longest period, but represents the smallest number of his works, about two hundred poems, because he eliminated his early works through selection.

Second Period

The second period runs from age 46 to are 54, and accounts for more than 2,400 works in the shi and ci forms. During this period, Lu as deeply involved with the military, and his work is liberal, forthright, and splendid; his patriotic spirit was raised to a higher level. The maturity and richness presented in the works of this period established him among the most sublime Chinese literary ancestors.

Third Period

The third period starts from his return to his hometown and continues until his death. Because he did not have enough time to eliminate his works through selection, there are 6,500 poems extant from this period. In his retirement, Lu gave himself up entirely to the second major theme of his poetry, the celebration of rural life. Lu took the poet T'ao Ch'ien as his model, depicting the rural countryside in detail, and evoking its moods and scenes through fresh and precise imagery. During this period, because he was old, lived with farmers, and had gone through the ups and downs of military and governmental office, the style of his work gradually became peaceful and pastoral, with a desolate and bleak outlook on human life.


  • 《劍南詩稿》
  • 《渭南文集》
  • 《放翁逸稿》
  • 《南唐書》
  • 《老學庵筆記》
  • 《放翁家訓》
  • 《家世舊文》


  • To Son (示儿)

Lu You wrote many poems. One of his most famous is "To Son" (<>), composed when he was about to die. This is how it goes:





All turns to the dust - in my dying eyes,

only hate is a unified land - not being seen.

The day of General Wang - sweeping the North,

mustn't forget to tell me - before my tombstone.

Or, in another translation:

To My Son
One only realizes everything ends in emptiness before death,
Still I regret that I cannot see the Nine States made one.
When the Royal army recover the heartland in the North,
Do not forget to let your father know in the family sacrifice.1

What this poem means is that he doesn't mind not being able to take anything with him when he dies(死去原知万事空), but he is upset to see that China is not united as a nation(但悲不见九州同). He is telling his son that if this day ever comes(王师北定中原日), his family must not forget to go to his grave and tell him there(家祭无忘告乃翁。).

  • Full River Red (满江红)

There are also many more that are well-known, like <>.

  • Phoenix Pin (釵頭鳳)





Lily hands, rippling wine,

The town is filled with spring like willows swaying,

Biting wind, sweetness thin,

A glass of sorrow holds several years of parting…

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Spring is the same; girl pales in vain.

Through the sheer silks, it's the tearful eyes brimming.

Blossoms falling, glimmering pond freezing,

Paramount promise is still there, glorious book hardly to be held.

Moan, moan, moan!

This poem expresses the sorrow of his personal love tragedy (see marriage). In this poem, "Biting wind" is a metaphor for the traditional Chinese view of women, as a two-edged sword. This view breaks his first marriage. “Glorious book” is a metaphor for his ambitions of unifying China. But he doesn't seem to be successful in either of them (marriage or career). He also uses antithesis, which is very popular in Chinese poetry. It matches both sound and sense in two poetic lines, like “a glass of sorrow” pairing “several years of parting” and “Paramount promise” pairing “glorious book.” The sounds perfectly match each other in Chinese. This poem falls in the first period of his works.

  • Mei Flower (卜運算元-詠梅)










  1. ↑ Poet Lu You, Ming L. Pei, 2006. Retrieved December 18, 2007.


  • Burton Watson (ed.). 1984. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231056834
  • Burton Watson (trans.). 1994. The old man who does as he pleases Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231101554
  • Duke, Michael S. 1977. Lu You. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0805762671 ISBN 9780805762679
  • Lu, You, and Burton Watson. 1973. The old man who does as he pleases; selections from the poetry and prose of Lu Yu. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 023103766X 9780231037662
  • Lu, You, and Burton Watson. Late Poems Of Lu You, The Old Man Who Does As He Pleases. 2007. Ahadada Pr. ISBN 9780978141493 0978141490
  • Lu, You, and Clara M. Candlin. 1946. The rapier of Lu, patriot poet of China. The Wisdom of the East series. London: J. Murray.