Cao Zhi (192-232) (曹植) was a Chinese poet (see list of Chinese language poets) during the Three Kingdoms period, and has remained the most respected poet of his time. His style eventually evolved into a school of poetry in the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties.
He was the third son of the Chinese ruler and poet Cao Cao and his consort Lady Bian. Cao Pi was his elder brother. Note that polygyny was popular among the Chinese populace at his time, let alone Cao Cao being the de facto ruler of North China. Cao Zhi demonstrated his spontaneous wit at an early age and was a front-running candidate of the throne; however, such ability was devoted to Chinese literature and poetry, which was encouraged by his father's subordinate officials. Later he surrounded himself with a group of poets and officials with literary interests, including some who continually showed off their smartness at the expense of Cao Cao and Cao Pi's subordinates and even Cao Cao himself. Yang Xiu and Kong Rong were later accused and executed by Cao Cao of misdemeanours.
Cao Zhi spent enormous time on drinking, poetry, and literature critics; Cao Pi, on the other hand, had assembled a group of political experts including Sima Yi and Chen Qun. The former eventually dominated the politics of the Kingdom of Wei after Cao Pi's death and became the revered ancestor of the Jin Dynasty. The latter standardized the Nine grade controller system, which ranked local families and individuals according to their ability to civil services and remained in use for centuries in the period of Southern and Northern Dynasties.
Cao Zhi eventually lost the favour of his father and was demoted after Cao Pi's accession to an estate in Linzi Commandry in modern Shandong province. Various peerages were entitled; his last title was the King of Chen.
He spent the rest of his life as a recluse and passed away at the age of 40. The cause of his death was never confirmed, though poisoning by Cao Rui, the son of Cao Pi, was rumoured.
list of his poems should be added
(Dew upon grass)
Mans lifetime in this world goes by
as quickly as the wind upon the dust.
Would I be able to employ my talents
to exert myself in the service
of the enlightened ruler!
(The white horse)
I give myself up, the nations honor to defend,
Death, I view lightly, as homecoming at the end.
(Passage of Sighs) (Cao Zhi, AD 229)
Alas! This rolling tumbleweed
Living alone in this world - Oh why? Oh why?
Long have I left my roots and gone
Resting never, day nor night
From east to west, from south to north.
A whirlwind rises, blowing me
into the clouds, where I thought
was the ends of Heaven
But all of a sudden -
deep into an abyss.
I am carried out by a rapid gust.
If only it were to take me back to the fields!
Southwards I am bound, but it takes me north;
Supposing it blows to the east, it turns to the west.
Straying, drifting, with nothing to rely on -
Surely I expire, I say, but my life goes on
To wander through the hills and plains
Turning, tumbling, with no place to stay -
Who would understand my agony, I pray?
May I be grass growing in a forest
To burn when autumn flames rage fiercest!
Destroyed by fire - know I naught of the pain?
I'd rather that, but with my roots remain.
Most famous poem is called “To Biao, the Prince of Baima”.
Despite his success in Classical Chinese poetry, Cao Zhi is better recognised today for his struggles with his elder brother Cao Pi for the throne, which has been further popularised in the 14th century epic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. For more information on this, see The Quatrain of Seven Steps.