Who Was Su Dongpo?

Like dreams pass world affairs untold,

How many autumns in our life are cold?


— Su Dongpo, aka Su Shi

These translated lines come from one of China’s most renowned, most revered poets. Every culture has at least one figure like this — an age old linguistic master that not only helped shape the direction of a culture, but a language itself. For English speakers, this figure would be Shakespeare. Germans have Goethe, and Spaniards have Cervantes.

However, a Chinese friend once debated with me on this. Su Dongpo actually did more than just write poems, he penned travel essays, produced calligraphy, was a bit of a statesman, and much more. This was during the Song Dynasty nearly two thousand years ago. His verse quite often has similar themes of the poetry that followed — drinking wine, nature, and the depressing sense of exile and homesickness.

And, that’s where Changzhou comes in. Su Dongpo traveled extensively. Consider the distance in one lifetime. This writer was born in Meishan, Sichuan Province, and he traveled all over China. At the age of 64, He died in Changzhou, a city far, far away from his place of birth.

You can see reminders of this all over the city. Most notably, these are downtown.  Not only is there a park named in his honor, but a a small museum dedicated downtown, near Wenhuagang 文化宫. Nearby, there is also a calligraphy exhibit also baring his name, but these, I think, are more contemporary artists.

Sometimes, you can find references to him in places where you would not expect. For example, in Xuejia, there is a stone statue of him on the street corner.  The township sits between the greater Wanda area of Xinbei and Changzhou’s airport. At a glance, nothing suggests this is a historical site. Just a statue of a great writer.