Li Houzhu (Chinese: 李後主; pinyin: Lǐ Hòuzhǔ; literally "The Latter Lord Li", 936–978), also known as Houzhu of Southern Tang (南唐後主, literally "the latter lord of Southern Tang"), personal name Li Yu (李煜), né Li Congjia (李從嘉), courtesy name Chongguang (重光; pinyin: chòngguāng), posthumously known as Prince of Wu (吳王), was a Chinese poet and the last ruler of the Southern Tang Kingdom from 961 to 975, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. Li Houzhu ascended the throne soon after his father, Li Ji, had been defeated by the Song Dynasty to the north, and immediately accepted a role subservient to the Song. In 975, Song Dynasty armies invaded Southern Tang, took Li Houzhu and his family captive, and brought them to the Song capital at present-day Kaifeng( 開封). There, he wrote some of his greatest poems, lamenting the loss of his kingdom. Li Houzhu was poisoned by the Song emperor Taizong in 978.
Li Houzhu has been called the "first true master" of the Ci, a form of irregular lyric Chinese poetry, in which the number of characters in each line and the arrangement of tones were determined by one of around 800 set patterns, each associated with a particular title. Li broadened its scope from love to other topics, including history and philosophy. He also introduced the two-stanza form, and made great use of contrasts between longer lines of nine characters and shorter ones of three and five. His life remains a popular subject of Cantonese operas.
Southern Tang (also referred to as Nantang) (Chinese: 南唐; pinyin Nán Táng) was one of the Ten Kingdoms in south-central China, created following the Tang Dynasty, from 937-975. Southern Tang replaced the Wu Kingdom when Li Bian (Xu Zhigao) deposed the emperor Yang Pu. The capital was located in Jinling (also known as Xidu), located in present-day Nanjing in Jiangsu Province. The territory comprised parts of modern Fujian, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces and the whole of Jiangxi Province. Southern Tang was conquered in 976 by the Northern Song Dynasty.
Li Bian was an orphan who was adopted by the Wu prince Yang Xingmi. He was then adopted by Xu Wen, the Prime Minister of Wu, and was renamed Xu Zhigao. Upon Xu Wen's death, he took over power in Wu, and was made a prince of Qi. In 937, he proclaimed himself emperor. In 940, he changed his name back to Li Bian and renamed the state to Tang (history would refer to it as Southern Tang).
The state was relatively large and prosperous compared to the other Ten States of that period, and Li Bian's rule was comparatively stable and prosperous. When Li Bian died in 942, he was succeeded by his son, Li Jing (南唐元宗) ), also known as Zhongzhu of Southern Tang (南唐中主, literally "the middle lord of Southern Tang").
The Southern Tang was able to expand its holdings far beyond those of its Wu Kingdom predecessor. It took advantage of a rebellion in the Kingdom of Min, when the northwest revolted and set up the Kingdom of Yin. Min appealed for help, but instead of helping, the Southern Tang absorbed the rebellious territory into its own. Then, by 945, the Southern Tang completed its conquest of the Min Kingdom and absorbed it also into its own boundaries.
As in the case of the Min, the Southern Tang was able to take advantage of internal squabbles within Chu to expand its territory even further. In 951, when the Ma family had internal squabbles, the Southern Tang sent in an army and removed the ruling family to their own capital in Nanjing, then absorbed their territory.
However, Li Jing suffered a set back from the Later Zhou Dynasty between 956 and 958, and ceded away all of Southern Tang’s land north of the Yangtze River. Li Jing then became a vassal of the Later Zhou Dynasty. Upon his death in 961, his son Li Houzhu (Li Yu) took over Southern Tang. Li Houzhu, however, was more interested in writing poetry than ruling.
When Li Houzhu’s father Li Jing ( 南唐元宗), died in 961, Li ascended the throne and immediately accepted a role subservient to the Song Dynasty to the north. In many respects, he was little more than a regional ruler in the face of the growing power of the Song Dynasty ( 宋朝). Li Houzhu was a scholar and a poet, and a liberal patron at whose court the arts flourished more brilliantly than at any time since the mid-eighth century.
Of the many other kingdoms surrounding the Southern Tang, only Wuyue ( 吳越國) to the northeast had yet to fall. In 975, Song Dynasty armies invaded Southern Tang, took Li Houzhu and his family captive, and brought them to the Song capital at present-day Kaifeng( 開封).
Li Houzhu devoted much of his time to pleasure-making and literature, and this is reflected in his early poems. However, his best-known poems were composed during the years after the Song formally ended his reign in 975. He was created the Marquess of Wei Ming (Chinese: 違命侯; literally, the Marquess of Disobeyed Edicts). Li's works from this period dwell on his regret for the lost kingdom and the pleasures it had brought him.
Li Houzhu was poisoned by the Song emperor Taizong in 978, after he had written a poem that, in a veiled manner, lamented the destruction of his empire and the rape of his second wife Empress Zhou the Lesser by the Song emperor. After his death, he was posthumously created the Prince of Wu (吳王).
Li Houzhu has been called the "first true master" of the ci form. Ci, a kind of lyric Chinese poetry, is also known as Changduanju (長短句/长短句 "lines of irregular lengths") and Shiyu (詩餘/诗余 "that which is beside poetry"). Typically, the number of characters in each line and the arrangement of tones were determined by one of around 800 set patterns, each associated with a particular title, called cípái (詞牌). Originally they were written to be sung to a tune of that title, with a set rhythm, rhyme, and tempo. Therefore, the title might have nothing to do with the peom’s contents, and it was common for several ci to appear to have the same title. Ci most often expressed feelings of desire, often in an adopted persona. Li Houzhu developed the ci by broadening its scope from love to history and philosophy, particularly in his later works. He also introduced the two-stanza form, and made great use of contrasts between longer lines of nine characters and shorter ones of three and five.
Only 45 of his poems survive, 30 of which have been verified to be his authentic works. His story remains a popular subject of many Cantonese operas. In 2006, a 40-episodes wuxia TV series named "Li Hou Zhu yu Zhao Kuang Yin" or "Li Hou Zhu and Zhao Kuang Yin" was made, with main stars Nicky Wu (as Li Hou Zhu), Huang Wen Hao (as Emperor Taizu) and Liu Tao (as Empress Zhu, wife of Li Hou Zhu).
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