Noble Consort Zuo Fen – An accomplished Poet

Noble Consort Zuo Fen was the most famous of Emperor Wu of Jin Dynasty’s wives.[1] She was selected to be an imperial concubine not for her appearance but for her literary talents. Her talents as an accomplished poet allowed her to climb the ranks to have the position that was directly below the empress. Yet, her greatest legacy was her poems. Today, her poems are still being read and praised for being the first woman to use female experiences as an artistic theme.[2]

Noble Consort Zuo Fen was born in Linzi in the state of Qi (modern-day Linzi in Shandong Province) around 252 C.E.[3] Her full name was Zuo Jiu Pin.[4] Her family was of low status and were Confucian scholars.[5] Her mother died young, but her father, Zuo Yong, was a clerk who later rose to imperial censor.[6] Her older brother, Zuo Si, would become a famous literary poet.[7] Even though Zuo Fen was a girl, her father made sure that she received an excellent education in history and literature.[8]

Zuo Fen was described as having a homely appearance.[9] Despite her looks, she was known to have literary talent.[10] This attracted the attention of Emperor Wu (the founder of the Western Jin Dynasty).[11] He wanted her to become one of his imperial wives. In 272 C.E., Zuo Fen entered the Emperor’s harem and was made “Lady of Cultivated Deportment”.[12] This was the second-highest rank below the empress.[13] Her family moved to the capital to be near her.[14]

Consort Zuo Fen liked to stay in her study to compose literary works.[15] The Emperor visited her often and loved discussing poetry with her.[16] She often participated in court events like births, funerals, and weddings by writing poems, odes, eulogies, and essays.[17] Consort Zuo Fen also wrote “A Rhapsody on Feelings of Separation”.[18] In this poem, she laments how she has to be confined to the palace and forced to live an imperial life.[19] One of the lines is “Relatives of bone and flesh, are now as if strangers”.[20]

Consort Zuo Fen also interacted with her brother, Zuo Si, through poetry. Zuo Si wrote “Poem to Departed Sister”, where he lamented how much he missed his beloved sister.[21] Consort Zuo Fen responded to her brother’s poem where she wrote “The Wail of Departure”.[22] This poem expressed her sorrow at leaving her family.[23] Her famous lines of this poem were: “I have been sad and sorrowful, I can only cry to heaven.”[24]

Consort Zuo Fen was eventually promoted to “Noble Concubine”, which was the highest rank below the empress.[25] Noble Consort Zuo Fen died on 23 April 300 C.E.[26] On 24 May 300 C.E., she was buried in Junyangling Mausoleum.[27] Noble Consort Zuo Fen wrote twenty-four poems, yet over half of the poems praised the accomplishments of women.[28] Thus, Noble Consort Zuo Fen was the first female poet that we know of to give full attention to women and their experiences.[29] 


Aiwen, L. (2015). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. (B. B. Peterson, Ed.; Z. Zhongliang, Trans.). London: Routledge.

Davis, T.M. (2015). Entombed Epigraphy and Commemorative Culture in Medieval China: A Brief History of Early Muzhiming. Brill, Leiden: The Netherlands.

McMahon, K. (2013). Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Lee, L.X.H. (2015). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E. – 618 C.E. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge.

[1] McMahon, p. 120

[2] Aiwen, p.143

[3] Lee, p. 393

[4] Lee, p. 393

[5] Lee, p. 393

[6] Lee, p. 393

[7] McMahon, p. 120

[8] Lee, p. 393

[9] McMahon, p. 120

[10] Aiwen, p. 142

[11] Aiwen, p.142

[12] McMahon, p. 120

[13] McMahon, p. 120

[14] Aiwen, p. 142

[15] Aiwen, p. 142

[16] Aiwen, p.142

[17] Aiwen, p. 142

[18] McMahon, p.120

[19] McMahon, p. 120

[20] McMahon, p. 120

[21] Aiwen, p. 142

[22] Aiwen,p. 142

[23] Aiwen, p. 142

[24] Aiwen, p. 142

[25] McMahon, p. 120

[26] Davis, p. 205

[27] Davis, p. 205

[28] Aiwen, p. 143

[29] Aiwen, p. 143

About Lauralee Jacks 163 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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