Li Bai’s death – Chinese Legend

Context: This is another legend from my friend (AL) in the call where I asked him about Chinese tales and legends. This is the last story that he told me. 


AL: “This one is about Li Bai, the poet dude we learned about in class. I went home and asked my dad more about him, and apparently, he died by drowning in the Yangtze River. This was because he loved drinking wine, and indulged in it so much he was known as “jiu xian”, or the “wine immortal”. Li Bai also loved the moon, and it was the object of his affections in many of his poems. On the night of Li Bai’s death, he was extremely drunk and thought that the moon’s reflection in the river was so beautiful that he tried to embrace it. He jumped from his boat in pursuit of the lovely moon’s reflection and is said to have drowned to death. Legend says that you can see his shadow sometimes during the fall in the reflection of the Yangtze River when you are looking at the moon”

Me: “What did you think of the story?”

AL: “I honestly thought it was pretty cool cause while the way he died was kinda tragic, it was also very fitting since he often wrote about the moon’s beauty. Although most people would probably be really sad if someone died from drowning today, some people back then found honor in death, especially because they believe in ghosts, the afterlife, and immortals. Li Bai’s death was almost romanticized, and his death in the story is one that I think is almost a little too perfect.”

Thoughts: When I heard the story, I also thought that the story was extremely romanticized. The story seemed to be more of an unfortunate accident written off as a romanticized death because Li Bai was so famous. This is supported by the fact that Li Bai was an alcoholic, which is something that is looked down upon in most cases. Li Bai’s case is excused due to his fame and skills as a poet. I did some further research at home and found that poets and scholars after Li Bai’s time often watched the moon in the river during mid-autumn when the moon was the brightest in order to commemorate Li Bai’s death.