Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, 8th century poetry about the drunk elite in China

The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup caught in a painting.

The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup caught in a painting.

If the Historical Drunkards section has taught us anything it must be that many influential people in the past were quite fond of alcoholic beverages. Things weren’t different in 8th century China during the Tang Dynasty. In fact the eight most brilliant minds of this immense country were quite the wine enthousiasts. The alcohol consumption of these scholars inspired the the poet Du Fu (712-770) to write a poem called Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. In this humoristic piece he pictures his contemporaries as huge drunks. This poem has been used as inspiration for a lot of other (Chinese) art through the ages, mostly music, painting and calligraphy.

Du Fu’s poem was a parody that refered to the Eight Immortals in the Taoism religion. The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup (sometimes in English they are also called Eight Immortals Indulged in Wine) however were all well respected men in China. They were politicians, poets, musicians and calligraphers (we inserted a link for every immortal). The Chinese language, even the names, is quite difficult to transliterate in English but we found a version of Du Fu’s poem that we believe catches its essence quite well. It’s a translation from the 20th century by Shigeyoshi Obata.

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Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup

Zhizhang rides his horse, but reels
As on a reeling ship.
Should he, blear-eyed, tumble into a well,
He would lie in the bottom, fast asleep.

Li Jin, Prince must have three jugs full
Ere he goes up to court.
How copiously his royal mouth waters
As a brewer’s cart passes by.
It’s a pitty, he mournfully admits.
That he is not the Lord of the Wine Spring*.

Our minister Li squanders at the rate
Of ten thousand tsen per day.
He inhales like a great whale,
Gulping one hundred rivers;
And with a cup in his hand he insists,
He loves the Sage** and avoids the Wise**.

Zongzhi a handsome youth, fastidious,
Disdains the rabble.
But turns his gaze toward the blue heaven,
Holding his beloved bowl.
Radiant is he, like a tree of jade,
That stands against the breeze.

Su Jin, the religious, cleanses his soul
Before his painted Buddha.
But his long rites need to be interrupted
As oft he loves to go on a spree.

As for Li Bai, give him a jugful,
He will write one hundred poems.
He drowses in a wine shop
On a city street in Chang-an;
And though his sovereign calls,
He will not board the imperial barge.
“Please your majesty”, he says,
“I am a God of wine”.

Zhang Xu is a calligrapher of renown,
Three cups make him the master.
He throws off his cap, wearing his pate
Unceremoniously before princes,
And wields his inspired brush, and lo.
Wreaths of clouds roll on the paper.

Jiao Sui, another immortal, elate
After full five jugfuls,
Is eloquent of heroic speech –
The wonder of all the feasting hall.

* The Wine Spring that Li Jin referred to in this poem is a big thing in Chinese mythology. Like the name says this was the spot with a natural wine well. Quite similar to the legend of the Fountain of Youth.

** The Sage and the Wise stand for two types of wine the Chinese had. The Sage was a clear one, where The Wise was a thick one. In Chinese poetry or literature these words are quite common to describe these wines.

Micky Bumbar

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Related articles on Lords of the Drinks:

Congee, the Chinese hangover cure

Why Indians are alcoholics and Asians can’t drink

The oldest Arab cookbook has a recipe for wine

Xenophon’s beer experience in Armenia

Poetry: In the Tavern (Hristo Botev)

Poetry about alcohol and drinking

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4 thoughts on “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, 8th century poetry about the drunk elite in China

    • Oh yeah… Completely breaking down the false stereotype that drunkards are brainless idiots. Would love to buy them a round if I met them! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Poetry about alcohol and drinking | Lords of the Drinks

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