Exploring Liu Zongyuan's Life, Great Achievements

ByXie Lin December 24, 2023


Liuhou Memorial Temple is a well-known historical and cultural site in Liuzhou, a city in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The memorial temple was built by the locals in ancient times to commemorate Liu Zongyuan (773-819), a well-known politician, thinker and literary master during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The memorial temple is a calling card of Liuzhou.

Liu is one of the greats in the annals of Chinese culture. Why? He was a leading proponent of the Classical Prose Movement, a literary reform movement during the Tang and Song (960-1279) dynasties. The movement advocated a clarify and precision — rather than richly ornamented — literary style. He and Han Yü, a poet, essayist and initiator of the movement, strove to liberate writers from the formal style of parallel prose, which had been in vogue for nearly 1,000 years. Liu was praised by his literati peers, and he was regarded by later scholars as one of the "Eight Great Masters of the Tang and Song Dynasties."

Early on, Liu had a successful political career, and he held several high-ranking government positions. However, he fell out of favor with the imperial government, in 805, because of his involvement in a failed reformist movement. The same year, he was banished to Yongzhou, a city in central China's Hunan Province. Yongzhou was remote and isolated during the Tang Dynasty. Liu stayed in Yongzhou for a decade.

During that time, Liu turned his attention to literature. He wrote numerous letters, poems, fables, essays and travel notes. His literary career flourished. Throughout the centuries, his poems and essays have remained popular.

"From hill to hill, no bird in flight; From path to path, no man in sight. A lonely fisherman afloat, Is fishing snow in a lonely boat." Those lines are from Liu's poem, Fishing in Snow, which was written during his time in Yongzhou. That poem is considered a masterpiece. The city's scenic landscape inspired him to write the Eight Records of Excursions in Yongzhou, widely regarded as Liu's best-known travel notes. 

In 815, Liu was forced to relocate to Liuzhou, where he served as the city's governor. He organized the locals to renovate the city's Confucian Temple, and he strived to develop the local education system. He established schools, and he encouraged local children to learn how to read and write. He organized the locals to dig the city's first well, to eradicate their bad habit of drinking river water. He also organized the locals to open up the wasteland, plant trees, and grow crops and vegetables, to help them escape both poverty and hunger. Liu died in Liuzhou in 819.

Liu won the esteem of the locals. To commemorate Liu, the locals began construction of Luochi Memorial Temple, near Luochi Pool, in 822. The temple was renovated and expanded during subsequent dynasties. Liu was conferred the title of "wen hui hou" (the Marquis of Wenhui) in 1104, during the reign of Emperor Huizong (1082-1135), of the Song Dynasty. So, the temple was renamed Liuhou Memorial Temple during the Song Dynasty. The last large-scale reconstruction of the temple began in 1909, during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). The buildings have been renovated several times since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. 

Liu's contributions to Liuzhou will shine forever. He set a great example for officials during ancient times. Countless officials and literati visited the temple during the Tang and following dynasties. During their visits, many wrote poems or articles to pay their respects. 

Liu's great achievements in literature and politics form a "valuable wealth" in the "treasure house" of traditional Chinese culture. The temple displays his life story and literary achievements, and also the benefits he provided the locals. 

Now, the temple is a base for children and teenagers to learn traditional Chinese culture, and a place for experts and scholars to study Liu's works. All of the temple's docents are women. The docents not only provide guide services, they also organize educational activities, especially aimed at teenagers, to promote Liu's stories, Chinese history and traditional Chinese culture. The team of docents was named an outstanding collective by Liuzhou Women's Federation in 2015. 

With the support of relevant departments, the temple established a base for education on upholding integrity. The docents promote Liu's thoughts and deeds about upholding integrity, and they guide visitors who want to learn from Liu's fine conduct.


Photos Supplied by Liuzhou Museum, Guangxi and Liuzhou Women's Federations

(Women of China English Monthly November 2023 issue)


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