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Thatched Cottage of Dufu  
Du Fu Cottage

Du Fu (his real name - though alternatively spelled Tu Fu - not an artist's pseudonym) was a renowned poet by the time he was exiled to Chengdu from Gansu Province just north of Chengdu in CE 759, at age 47, amidst a period of considerable social upheaval during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty. At Chengdu, Du Fu had a simple cottage constructed on the bank of a small, idyllic brook (Huanhua Brook, or "Flower Bathing Brook"), where he lived and wrote poems the next four years, the poet's most prolific and creative period. The present-day structure, Du Fu Thatched Cottage (Du Fu Cao Tang) has seen extensive expansion since its original restoration during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty.

The cottage and its immediate surroundings, a 16-hectare garden park, were designated a National Heritage site in 1961 by the Chinese government. The site contains several interesting structures, including the Hall of Verse History, the Water Platform & Faggot Gate, Gong Bu Temple ("Gong Bu" being Du Fu's official title), the Tablet Pavilion and a replica of the original thatched cottage in which Du Fu lived on the bank of Flower Bathing Brook. There are plaques that hang in halls, from pillars, above gate entrances, etc., on which are inscribed couplets from the collected works of Du Fu.

Flower Bathing Brook

There is an interesting anecdote surrounding the origin of the alternative name of Huanhua Brook. It is said that a beautiful, kind girl surnamed Ren lived beside the brook. One day a monk with disgusting scabies came towards a group of women, among them Ren, washing clothes in the brook. Everyone ran away in horror at the ghastly site of the unfortunate monk except for Ren. The monk took off his kasaya (a monastic robe worn by Buddhist monks), which was stained with pus and blood, and asked the girl to wash it for him. Ren accepted the kasaya without hesitation and began to wash it in the brook when suddenly a large quantity of lotus flowers appeared on the surface of the water. When the girl, dismayed at this sight, looked towards the monk, he had vanished as if into thin air. The brook was thereafter called Flower Bathing Brook.

Another anecdote that seems to corroborate the above story is that residents along the brook used to earn their living by making paper in a variety of colors, using water from the brook, and for some unexplainable reason, this left an impression on the paper reminiscent of a flower.

Huanhua Brook was known to be rather broad and deep during the Tang Dynasty; even large boats could sail it. One of Du Fu's hepta-syllabic quatrains offers a vivid picture of the brook and the life it nourished: "Two orioles are singing in the willow; a line of egrets are flying high in the sky above. Thick snow can be seen from my west window, and the boats anchored up in the brook before my cottage can descend downriver."

The Prince Guo Inscription

A plaque hangs above the gate to Du Fu Thatched Cottage upon which the simple words "Thatched Cottage" are inscribed. However, the inscription is by none other than Prince Aisin-Gioro Yinli - later given the title "Prince Guo" - who was the seventeenth son of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, and brother to the future emporer, Emperor Yongzheng.

The Hall of Verse History

The Hall of Verse History is the central building of Du Fu Thatched Cottage. Because Du Fu's poems touchingly and realistically reflect the Tang Dynasty's slide from "riches to rags" during the poet's own lifetime, Du Fu's poems are considered a poetic history of China for the period. A hall dedicated to the poetic-historic achievement of the poet has therefore been erected on the site. It is quite naturally called the Hall of Verse History. A statue of Du Fu, sculpted by the famous artist, Liu Kaiqu, stands in the center of the hall. On either side of the sculpture are couplets praising the great poetic talent of Du Fu.

The Water Platform & Faggot Gate

Emerging from the Hall of Verse History, the visitor will see the brook seemingly meandering through the building. The building straddles the brook, with a stone bridge with a superstructure atop it in the center. On the left side of the bridge is a Water Platform encircled by bamboo plants. The Faggot Gate is on the right side of the bridge. Both the Water Platform and the Faggot Gate date back to the period when Du Fu lived here. Du Fu has described them both in his telling poem, "The Water Platform was recently built for fishing, while the Faggot Gate was set facing towards the river". The current Water Platform and Faggot Gate are symbolic structures that date from the period when Du Fu Thatched Cottage was rebuilt and enlarged. These buildings remind visitors of the life of the poet. One is encouraged, as it were, to imagine everyday scenes of life at the cottage when Du Fu lived there composing his poetry, meeting with friends, or perhaps going fishing.

Gong Bu Temple

Next to the Faggot Gate is the final set of buildings, placed in a triangle with a yard in the center in which stands Gong Bu Temple. The left wing bears the name "Qiashouhang (meaning "Autumn") Veranda" while the right wing bears the name "Water and Bamboo Veranda". The names alone conjure up images of the pastoral life that Du Fu spent in Chengdu.

Gong Bu Temple contains three imposing statues of Chinese poets: Du Fu, Huang Tingjian and Lu You. The latter two were Song Dynasty poets. There are a number of reasons why these three poets are celebrated in Gong Bu Temple. Firstly, all three men had had great aspirations. Both Huang Tingjian and Lu You were great poets who had followed in the footsteps of Du Fu. Secondly, all of them had at one time or another lived in Sichuan and had composed poems about life in Sichuan. Even though they later moved away, they continued to recount themes from Sichuan in their poems. And thirdly, it was felt that the statues of the other two poets - being great poets in their own right, yet disciples, as it were, of Du Fu - also belonged alongside the poet who had inspired them. A couplet reads that Du Fu is a great poet, yet two other poets during the Song Dynasty (i.e., Huang Tingjian and Lu You) followed him, and became distinguished too.

The Tablet Pavilion

To the east of Gong Bu Temple stands a thatch-roofed pavilion. A stone tablet inside the pavilion reads "Shao Ling Thatched Cottage", which inscription is also by the hand of Prince Guo. Shao Ling was a place where Du Fu's great-grandfather was born, and the poet himself had lived there for a period of time. Therefore, Du Fu referred to himself as "Shao Ling" in some of his poems, which inspired later generations to refer to the great poet as "Du Shao Ling".

Du Fu: Father of Chinese Poetry

Born in Gong County, Henan Province in 712, Du Fu, styled Zi Mei, sadly died from illness and poverty on a boat on Xiang River in 770. Du Fu had lived through the reigns of three Chinese emperors - Xuanzong, Suzong and Daizong - as he witnessed firsthand the change from prosperity to decline of the Tang Dynasty. Despite his inherent political ambitions, Du Fu was never entrusted an important political position. He led in fact something of a vagrant's life, experiencing his own share of the trials and tribulations of the times in which he lived. Thus it came about that Du Fu developed a profound insight into the problems and contradictions of the society of his times. Du Fu came to appreciate the hardships and misery of common people as well as that of other struggling poets like himself. All of this was poured into Du Fu's poems, which has earned the poet a special place in the hearts and minds of Chinese people ever since.

Du Fu was an extremely prolific poet, with more than 1400 surviving poems that reflect the reality of his times and the poet's concerns for the future of his country and its people. Some representative works are: Song of the War Chariots, Song of Beautiful Ladies, and Journey From Chang'an to Fengxian. Du Fu was regarded as China's "Father of Poetry", not only because of his patriotic concerns and his concern for the plight of his fellow citizens, but principally because the collected works of Du Fu represent the pinnacle of Chinese classic poetry.

In 761, a storm destroyed the thatched roof of Du Fu's cottage, which inspired the poet to write one of his masterpieces: "The Song of Autumn Winds Destroying My Cottage". In this poem, Du Fu expresses his anxiety for the plight of fellow poverty-stricken scholars and his desire for proper shelter for the poor in general. This was especially laudable given the general lack of sympathy in other quarters for the poor and down-trodden of the period.

After Du Fu's departure from Chengdu in 765, the cottage was abandoned, falling into disruin. During the Five Dynasties (CE 907-960) period, Wei Zhuang, a poet and serving Prime Minister of Shu, seated in Chengdu, discovered the original site of Du Fu Thatched Cottage and had it restored and expanded to commemorate Du Fu. During the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty, Lu Dafang, a magistrate of Chengdu, had the temple rebuilt, and himself drew the picture of Du Fu that now hangs on the temple's wall, adding to the commemorative spirit of the temple.

From this date onwards, the Du Fu commemorative buildings were frequently renovated and expanded until the scale and structure of the present-day Du Fu Thatched Cottage heritage site was achieved. With a total area of 16 hectares, the Du Fu Thatched Cottage heritage site is a sizeable compound consisting of temples, pagodas, stone bridges and other quintessentially Chinese architectural structures interspersed with pleasing garden landscapes and meandering waterways, the entire compound being laid out in a harmonious plan befitting the memory of China's greatest poet.