This ovoid jar is made of Cizhouyao, porcelain from Henan Province, China, and dates to the Song dynasty (960-1279). It is in pristine condition, and measures 14.5 inches in height.
The incised decoration depicts the poet Libai (701-762) carrying his double gourd of wine on a staff. Great poets throughout China's history have been called "Drunken Dragons." Libai, arguably the greatest of Chinese poets, was called the "Dragon of Dragons. He was favored by the Tang dynasty (618-906) Emperor Minghuang and his beloved concubine Yang Guifei. Libai was known for his love of wine and for his ability to write the most beautiful poems while intoxicated. He frequented the wine shops in Chang'an (present day Xi'an), the capital of Tang dynasty China. He is quoted as having said "the rapture of drinking and wine's dizzy joy, no man who is sober deserves." Even his death was in keeping with his bon vivant lifestyle; he is said, after drinking, to have fallen into a river and drowned while reaching for the Moon's reflection.
The following is an example of his poetry:
Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon, Two Selections
A pot of wine among the flowers;
I drink alone, no kith or kin near.
I raise my cup to invite the moon to join me;
It and my shadow make a party of three.
Alas, the moon is unconcerned about drinking,
And my shadow merely follows me around.
Briefly I cavort with the moon and my shadow:
Pleasure must be sought while it is spring.
I sing and the moon goes back and forth,
I dance and my shadow falls at random.
While sober we seek pleasure in fellowship;
When drunk we go each our own way.
Then let us pledge a friendship without human ties
And meet again at the far end of the Milky Way.
If Heaven weren't fond of wine
Wine Star would not be found in Heaven. (1)
If Earth weren't fond of wine
There could be no Wine Spring (2) on earth.
Since Heaven and Earth are fond of wine,
In Heaven being fond of wine can't be judged wrong,
Clear wine, I've heard, is compared to sages,
Also the unstrained wine spoken of as worthies.
Since I've drunk both sages and worthies.(3)
Why must I seek out the immortals?
Three cups penetrate the Great Truth:
One gallon accords with Nature's laws.
Simply find pleasure in wine;
Speak not of it to the sober ones.
(Trans. Irving Lo)
1. According to the chapter on astronomy in Tsin Shu (History of the Tsin Dynasty), written by Tang mathematician Li Shun-feng (seventh century), the "Wine Pennant Star" (chiu-ch'i hsing) was the name of three stars situated south and at the right corner of Hsuan-yuan, or Leo; it was also the pennant of wine officials.
By repeating the same words in pivotal positions in the lines, Li Po was imitating T'ao Ch'ien, who, in his poem "On Stopping Wine", used the word chih ("to stop") in every line. See James R. Hightower's translation of that poem in The Poetry of T'ao Ch'ien (pp. 157-58).
2. Name of a town in Kansu Province since the Han dynasty, known for its underground spring with the taste of wine.
3. "Sages" and "worthies" were slang expressions referring respectively to strained and unstrained wine used in a time of prohibition in T'ang times. (Note supplied by James J.Y. Liu.)