Yu Xuanji

Yu Xuanji (830-856) is China’s foremost female poet, who lived during the last years of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). She was married at sixteen as a concubine; divorced when she was nineteen, and after a time spent as a Daoist nun and courtesan, she was executed at the age of twenty-six, after murdering her maid.

Convention set passive roles for women in poetry: but Yu Xuanji flouted these – with many of her poems attacking limitations set on women and protesting at the cultural norms which said that a woman’s beauty peaked in mid-teens. Her social defiance and the manner of her death meant that most of her poems were lost, but forty-nine were collected in the Song Dynasty, mainly for their curiosity-value in an anthology which also listed poems by ghosts, monks, priests, foreigners and women ‘and others whose efforts might provide amusement’.

-from Justin Hill’s introduction in MPT Series 3/5 Transgressions