Fan Chengda is one of the great poets of the southern
Song (Sung) dynasty in China. He lived during
a period of great political transition following the
Qin (Ch’in) dynasty’s conquest of the northern portion
of the Song dynasty. He passed the important
jinshi (chin shih) civil service examination for placement
in the imperial bureaucracy in 1154. His
friend and fellow poet, YANG WANLI, also passed the
examination that year, and the two maintained a literary
correspondence throughout their lives.
Fan Chengda’s temperament and literary ability
helped him to advance to high government positions
during his career. In 1170 he became an ambassador
to the Qin court in Beijing (Peking). This
appointment served as the basis for one of his
many travel writings, Lanpei lu (Lan-p’ei lu; Register
of grasping the carriage reins).His travel writings
provide a glimpse of the day-to-day life of a
government official of the era and detail the local
folklore, social and economic conditions, and natural
wonders of the region. They also show Fan
Chengda’s familiarity with the works of earlier
writers such as LI BAI and SU SHI.
Fan Chengda, like Yang Wanli and another
friend and contemporary Lu Yu, achieved his
greatest fame as a poet. His poetry combines Confucian,
Buddhist, and Taoist elements while reflecting
on nature and social concerns. Fan
Chengda’s poems consist of seven-character verses
brimming with content. Some sing the praises of
honest civil servants, others describe northern
landscapes while infused with politics, such as the
poem entitled “The Streets”:
Nearby runs Heavenly Street
Where elderly dwellers still await his
They hold back tears and question his
Shall we one day see his triumphal return?
Fan Chengda’s series of 60 poems, Impromptu
Verses on the Four Seasons of the Countryside, is
widely available in English translation.
English Versions of Works by Fan Chengda
Four Seasons of Field and Garden: Sixty Impromptu
Poems. Translated by Lois Baker. Pueblo, Colo.:
Passeggiata Press, 1997.
The Golden Year of Fan Chengda. Translated by Gerald
Bullett. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University
Stone Lake: The Poetry of Fan Chengda. Translated
and edited by J. D. Schmidt. Cambridge, U.K.:
Cambridge University Press, 1992.