Yang Wanli – Rice Planting Song

Yang Wanli (楊萬里, 양만리, 1127-1206) was a Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in what is now Ji’an (安, 길안) in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성); his courtesy name (字, 자) is Tingxiu (廷秀, 정수); and his pen name (號, 호) is Chengzhai (誠齋, 성재). Yang Wanli grew up during the Jurchen Jin invasions, one of many turbulent times in Chinese history. In 1154, he passed the civil service exam, and became appointed to various bureaucratic positions around China, the first in Lingling (零陵, 영릉). During the reign of Song Emperor Xiaozong (宋孝宗, 송 효종, 1127-1194, r. 1162-1189), Yang Wanli was promoted to various high ranking positions, such as the Imperial Academy (國監, 국자감), Head Scholar of the Ministry of Ceremonies (太士, 태상박사), and Reader-in-Waiting for the Heir Apparent (太讀, 태자시독). In 1187, however, for opposing the memorialization of a widely criticized minister named Lu Yihao (呂頤浩, 여이호, 1071-1139) at the royal shrine (廟祀, 묘사), Yang Wanli was banished from the capital and demoted to Administer of Yunzhou (州, 균주), which is in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성). His status was restored and he was reappointed to the Imperial Academy, during the reign of Song Emperor Guangzong (宋光宗, 송 광종, 1147-1200, r. 1189-1194). Regardless, few years later, shortly after Song Emperor Ningzong (宋寧宗, 송 영종, 1168-1224, r. 1194-1224) took the throne, Yang Wanli offered a retirement request to the Emperor, who accepted it. The court called him back repeatedly from retirement, but he refused every time. Throughout his political career, even well after the signing of the Treaty of Shaoxing (紹興和議, 소흥화의) ending the Jin-Song conflict in 1142, Yang Wanli repeatedly submitted petitions (上疏, 상소) demanding the court send troops to reclaim territories lost to the Jurchen. He grew bitter over the fact that his call for action went unheard. 

In addition, Yang Wanli was a prolific Classical Chinese poet. During his appointments across China, he wrote a volume of poems about the regions he was stationed. In total, Yang Wanli wrote over 4,000 poems, just shy of the record set by his contemporary and friend, Lu You (陸游, 육유, 1125-1209). The following is from 1179, when Yang Wanli was appointed as the Superintendent of Guangdong (?) (廣東常平提學, 광동상평제학). He composed this poem as he was traveling from Quzhou (衢州, 구주) to Jiangshan (江山, 강산) during the fourth month of that year. In the poem, Yang Wanli captures the toil and labor of farmers planting rice in the countryside. Planting rice the usual agricultural practice from Grain Budding Day (小滿, 소만) to Grain in Ear Day (芒種, 망종). Both these days are solar terms and thus fall every year around May 21 and June 6 respectively. Rice farming has a long history in China, as rice (Oryza sativa) was first domesticated in southern China sometime between 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.

揷秧歌 삽앙가

Rice Planting Song

田夫抛秧田婦接 전부포앙전부접 平平平平平仄仄(韻)
小兒拔秧大兒揷 소아발앙대아삽 仄平仄平仄平仄(韻)
笠是兜鍪蓑是甲 립시두무사시갑 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
雨從頭上濕到胛 우종두상습도갑 仄仄平仄仄仄仄(韻)
唤渠朝餐歇半霎 환거조찬헐반삽 仄平平平仄仄仄(韻)
低頭折腰只不答 저두절요지불답 平平仄平仄仄仄(韻)
秧根未牢蒔未匝 앙근미뢰시미잡 平仄仄平平仄仄(韻)
照管鵝兒與雛鴨 조관아아여추압 仄仄平平仄平仄(韻)

The farm husbands throw the rice seedlings; the farm wives receive.
The smaller children pick the rice seedlings; the larger children plant.
Bamboo hats are like war helmets; straw raincoats like armor.
Rain waters flow from top of the head and soak down to the collar bone.
Those people, having been called to breakfast, respite for half a second.
Lowering their heads and bending their waists, they only do not answer.
Since the rice seedlings’ roots are not yet firm and the planted seedlings have not yet spread,
Take care of the young goslings and ducklings!


Rice paddy • husband • throw • seedlings • rice paddy • wife • treat
Small • children • pluck • seedlings • large • children • plant
Bamboo hat • to be • helmet • helmet • straw raincoat • to be • armor
Rain • from • head • top • soak • reach • collar bone
Call • that • morning • meal • respite • half • moment
Lower • head • bend • waist • only • not  • answer
Seedling • root • not yet • firm • seedling • not yet • go around
Inform • take care • geese • child • and • chick • duck


  • Heptasyllabic archaic poem (七言古詩, 칠언고시) with each line ending with an oblique tone rime (仄韻, 측운). The riming characters (韻, 운) are 合(합), 葉(엽), and 洽(흡), all entering tones (入聲, 입성) of -p (ㅂ). (Entering tones no longer exist in Mandarin Chinese.)
  • Korean translation available here.
  1. riroriro said:

    _ 蓑 = thin shirt ?
    _ 胛 = nape
    _ 唤 = call
    _ 渠 = strong , outstanding
    _ 唤渠 : meaning is unclear
    _ 照管 = beware ?

    • 歸源 said:

      All of the meanings for these words/characters can be found in the dictionary.

      If you do not give reasoned statements for your assertions, I will not post your comments in the future. If they are questions and you do not seriously know, please indicate that clearly. It is quite difficult to tell whether these are intended as suggested corrections or just inquiries. I am obviously open to both — if well phrased.

  2. I’m not sure what 豐 臣 is unclear about. 渠 is dialect for the third person pronoun (“he” or “they,” depending on context, here definitely the latter), and Kuiwon’s paraphrase explains this nicely.

    I find it interesting that the poet begins as an observer, as he watches the farmers working in the fields and reports to us on what he sees, but then halfway through switches from casual bystander to the more involved perspective of a participant (or someone who tries to participate but isn’t really able to). Lines 5-8: From simply watching the field hands at work, he starts to worry about them, so he calls out to them to take a break and eat their morning meal, but they ignore him and keep on working. So, turning his attention to examine more closely the results of their hard work, he notices how tender the little seedlings are, and exhorts the workers to take care that the poultry don’t get loose and eat them up. The tone is heavily ironic: Yang starts by painting a picture, which his comic persona literally tries to get into, only the people who are in the picture (and who really own it) won’t let him. Isn’t this neat?

    • 歸源 said:

      I did not notice the irony. I thought he was more of a passerby just describing the scene of farmers planting rice, and that someone else was calling the farmers to their morning meal. That he suddenly takes an interest in participating is certainly an interesting contextual development. Also, I thought the whole poem sounded comical, since every line ends with a -p entering tone.

      Another great, insightful comment.

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