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“Dear Li Bai, Give me meat to eat, or at least green rice to put some color in my cheeks.” — an excerpt from a short ditty written by Du Fu to Li Bai, the Tang dynasty’s two best known poets.

… 野人對羶腥, 蔬食常不飽
豈無青精飯, 使我顏色好…

A savage rightly likes fish and meat , A vegetarian has not enough to eat.
Is there no green rice, To put some color in my cheeks

November, 759thereabouts

When the An Lushan Rebellion (755-762) broke out there was hardly any food left to sustain life. Du Fu, 杜甫 (712–770) was captured by the rebels and escaped. Making his way to the Imperial Court in exile, he was, for a time, going from house to house to find food. Fellow poet Li Bai, 李白 (701–762), who campaigned with the emperor’s son, fared better, at least for a while, but that is another story …

“It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times…”
–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

China, 755-762

The Tang dynasty was known as China’s Golden Era. Its peak, the reign of the Emperor Xuanzong (713-756). Chang’an, its capital, hosted a million people. It was the center of commerce, music, learning, and poetry. An age of wisdom and foolishness.

It was the worst of times.

In 755, General An Lushan revolted. He quickly captured Chang’an, forcing Emperor Xuanzong into exile. But barely two years later, after proclaiming himself the new emperor, An Lushan, was murdered by his son. Chinese forces recaptured the capital, and, before another year passed, the rebellion was quelled.

Some estimates of the loss of life are placed at between 13,000,000 and 36,000,000, although there is no way to confirm this.

Detail from Emperor Xuanzong fleeing to Sichuan. The emperor is the figure in red on the far right looking back. The empty horse on the left belongs to Yang Guifei, the emperor’s beloved consort, who was killed by the emperors’ guards. 12th century painting, artist unknown. Original image The Met
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