Yu Xin was born in Chiang-ling, China, in 513.His
father, Yu Jianwu, worked directly for two sons of
the Liang dynasty’s Emperor Wu and was able to
provide Yu Xin with an excellent education; it is
likely that some studies were at the Imperial Library.
When he was 14, Yu Xin also attended
classes taught by one of Emperor Wu’s sons.
After Yu Xin passed the governmental examinations,
he began a career in the imperial service. He
spent most of his early career working for one of the
Wu princes,Xiao Gang, in the Liang dynasty capital,
Jiankang (Chien-k’ang; modern-day Nanjing
[Nanking]). In 548, after a series of political and
military miscalculations by Emperor Wu, Jiankang
was attacked and conquered, and Yu Xin was forced
to flee the city.
Despite the political turmoil that continued for
years, Yu Xin remained affiliated with the Liang
dynasty. In 554, he was sent as an ambassador to
Chang’an, the capital of the Western Wei dynasty
in the North,with the purpose of preventing an invasion
of Liang territory.While there, he was held
under house arrest for three years and not allowed
to return to southern China for the rest of his life.
Despite this, Yu Xin was well respected by the
Western Wei and had numerous honorary titles
bestowed upon him. He was recognized as the
greatest poet of his century and treated as a cultural
One of Yu Xin’s most famous works is “The
Lament for the South,” which was written (ca. 578
A.D.) during his time in Chang’an, where he held
mostly symbolic posts while devoting his life to
writing. He helped compose the Zhou (Chou) ritual
hymns and was the author of the congratulatory
memorial on their completion. The “Lament
for the South,” a long rhapsodic poem, or fu, provides
a historical commentary on the wars and political
upheavals of the Liang dynasty. The work
also expresses Yu’s sorrow in the North and his wish
to return to his native region. In relating the events
of a decade ending with the fall of the Liang dynasty,
Yu’s poem is brimming with historical allusions.
His own homesickness while in exile in the
North, however, permeates the final verses of the
As an honored guest . . .
I see bells and cauldrons . . .
I hear servings and song . . .
But how can they know that . . .
Among the commoners of Hsien—
Yang, not only the prince
Longs for home.
An English Version of a Work by Yu Xin
“The Lament for the South”: Yü Hsin’s “Ai Chiang-nan
Fu.” Edited and translated by William T. Graham,
Jr. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press,