Knowing All about Hunan

Vessels Decorated by Poems Reveal Lifestyles of the Tang Dynasty

Updated:2023-03-30 15:57:11

By Chen Jianing in Changsha

Have you ever heard of this exquisite line “君生我未生,我生君已老” from an ancient Chinese poem which depicts a couple's regret that they were not born at the same time, and that they missed the chance to be together in their prime? The poem was actually found on a ceramic vessel from the Tongguan kiln in Changsha, Hunan province. And now it's on exhibition at Changsha Museum.

The vessel with the poem “You were born before me”. 

The poem expresses the sorrow and longing of a lover who was separated from their beloved by time and distance. The two lines “君生我未生,我生君已老。君恨我生迟,我恨君生早” means “You were born before me, I was born after you grew old. You regret that I was born late, I regret that you were born early”.

In ancient times, women respectfully called men or husbands “君(Jūn)”. So that we can tell, this poem was written from a woman's perspective. The poem used only nine words and never mentioned “love”, to express the sorrow of being in love with “君(Jūn)” despite unable to stay together for life.


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The vessel with the poem “You were born before me”. 

This widely circulated poem, however, is not a masterpiece by a famous poet. The Changsha kiln was a folk kiln that was not recorded in historical books. The various poems written on the hundreds of discovered vessels were mostly popular songs in the streets and alleys, or possibly created by the kiln workers. 

The vessel with the poem “You were born before me” is a pot with an open mouth, a handle on the back, and a short spout for pouring wine. It is a classic wine pot style of the Tang dynasty. It can also be used as a tea pot for brewing tea.

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Vessels decorated by poems are on exhibition at Changsha museum.

It is a mirror for observing the society of the middle and late Tang dynasty. Among the porcelain decorations of the same period, only the Changsha kiln used poems as decorations. And the content of the poems on these porcelain pieces not only includes the separation and love of men and women, but also covers philosophy of life, business activities, border wars, landscape scenery, etc. These poems faithfully record the folk customs of that time, and have extremely important corroborative effects for historical research.

In addition, don’t think that this is a high-end utensil just because there are poems on the wine pot. Current research shows that Changsha kiln porcelain was cheap and mainly aimed at ordinary people. That is to say, the vessel with the poem “You were born before me” may be a wine pot used in ordinary wine shops and other places, which also shows a glimpse of the life of the people at that time.