Bai Juyi's life as revealed by the poems so far.



Bai Juyi born on the 20th day of the 1st month. He is living in his grandfather's house in Xinzheng, Honan. Emperor Daizong is on the throne


Bai's grandfather dies and his family moves to Rongyang.


Emperor Xianzong born


Yuan Zhen is born. Emperor Daizong dies, succeeded by Emperor Dezong.


Family moves to Xiagui on the Wei River, thirty miles from the capital, Chang'an. He is now living with extended family, an uncle or cousin. His parents are in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province where his father has an official post.


Famine and drought in Chang'an, following a mutiny which caused the emperor to flee the city for some months. Bai goes to live with an uncle in Pei, near Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.


Hard, inflationary times. Bai is probably working as a clerk to support his studies for the Provincial Exams.


Bai moves back north to Fuli, near the capital.


Bai's father, Bai Jigong, dies in Xiangyang, Hubei, leaving the family to struggle financially.


Bai Juyi takes his first formal exam, the Provincial Exam in Xuanzhou, Anhui Province. He is 26 by China's counting, 25 by Western counting. Some evidence points to his taking this test two years later in 799.


Bai moves to Fuliang with his brother. Then they move to Luoyang, where his mother is living in poverty. He is sent in the winter to the capital, Chang'an, as tribute and will take the Metropolitan Exam.


Bai takes the Metropolitan Exam in the spring. He is eight years older than the normal candidate. He takes a first place in the Literary Exam which is more prestigious than the Classics Exam.


Bai has not found work and studies Buddhism for the first time with monk Jining. He returns to the capital to look for work and takes the Placement Exam, which guarantees a position. He passes it at the same time as Yuan Zhen. The two become friends and are both made Collators of Texts (or Proofreader of Scrolls) at the Imperial Library. Bai is 30. Yuan is 23. Bai is living in Huayangguan Monastery on his small salary.


Bai moves into a little pavilion in the Eastern Market Quarter of Chang'an near an ornamental lake, where he nurses a bamboo grove back to health to shade his new home.


Bai Juyi is in Chang'an. He is still Collator of Texts in the Imperial Library, a very minor, two day per month job.


Emperor Dezong dies. Emperor Xianzong ascends the throne. Bai is beginning to have trouble with his eyesight.


Bai Juyi is in Chang'an. He and Yuan Zhen take the Palace Exam. Bai places second and Yuan, first. Bai is given a minor offical in Zhouzhi, near Chang'an.


Bai Juyi is made Collator and Arranger of Texts in Chang'an but keeps his two-day a month job and salary at Zhouzhi.


Bai Juyi is made a member of the Reminder of the Left and of the Brushwood Court and appointed Omissioner. He marries a daughter of the same Yang family as Du Fu's wife and Yang Guifei (杨贵妃), beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong. His wife's given name is unknown. They move into a nicer house in the Xinchang Ward, still near the lake. Yuan Zhen's first wife dies, leaving him with three boys and a girl to raise. During this time, as Omissioner, Bai supports Pei Ji at court, who becomes one of the chief ministers. This causes the banishment of Minister Li Jifu.


Bai Juyi quietly living as a minor official, possibly in Chang'an. He publishes his collections of "Songs of Qin." Yuan Zhen oversteps himself in the court and is banished to a post in distant Hubei.


Bai is promoted to Intendant of City Finances with a substantial salary. Pei Ji dies and Li Jifu returns as Chief Minister. Bai spends autumn and winter in the country on sick leave, perhaps another name for keeping one's head down when one's enemy returns to power.


Bai Juyi's mother has been in poor mental health, twice stabbing herself with a knife. He provides her with two maids. But she eventually eludes them and drowns herself in a well. Bai leaves his work to enter mourning. Li Jifu has him ejected from Hanlin. Bai goes to Xiagui on the Wei River for mourning. Later that year, his only child, a girl of three, dies.


Bai Juyi is living along the Wei River in pseudo-rustic circumstances, pursuing his poetry as he mourns his mother.


Bai Juyi is living along the Wei River in pseudo-rustic circumstances, pursuing his poetry as he mourns his mother. His mourning ends. But as he is still out of favor with Chief Minister Li Jifu, he remains in Xiagui.


Li Jifu dies. Wang Guanji takes his place. Bai is made an Assistant Secretary to the Crown Prince, a demotion from Omissioner. He is spending more time in meditation and studying with Buddhist monks.


Bai is living in the Zhaoguo Ward in Chang'an, next door to Yuan Zhen. Yuan Zhen is much changed, very into politics. So much so that he is soon banished to be Marshal of distant Tungzhou. Bai is studying Chan Buddhism (Zen) with Wei Kuan, a student of Baso. One of the Chief Ministers is hacked to death on his way to work. For a few days, it seems no one is investigating the murder and Bai sends an indignant memorial to the emperor. Unfortunately for him, those past days were spent dealing with the Treasury to ensure that a very large reward could be offered for finding the minister's murderers. Bai is banished, taking with him his wife and a new baby daughter. He serves his exile as Assistant Governor in Jiangzhou (江 州) in Sichuan (四川). Bai's poetry is very famous by this time, quoted or inscribed throughout the empire. He arranges his collected works for the first time, putting them in four categories: didactic (political), meditative, laments, miscellany. He publishes "New Lyric Poetry" with Yuan Zhen and other poets.


His superior in Jiangzhou, the governor, views Bai as a celebrity. He is only required to work a little in the mornings and takes frequent vacations. In his household is an older and a younger of his brothers, with eight or nine children, including his own. Bai is always generous with his family. And for many, times are hard.


In Jiangzhou, Bai's older brother dies in Bai's house, leaving six or more orphans. Bai builds a recluse's cottage on nearby Incense Burner Peak.


Bai Juyi serving his exile as Assistant Governor in Jiangzhou (江州) in Sichuan (四川). His last brother comes to live with him when he fails to find work. Bai is reposted to distant Chongzhou, deep in Sichuan. Bai begins to study the qin, a zither-like instrument.


Bai is in Chongzhou as governor. The people are Miao, not Han. The Han community is small. The weather is malarial.


Emperor Xianzong dies. Emperor Muzong ascends the throne. Bai is recalled to Chang'an and is re-installed as Omissioner. He oversees two retests of contested exams. This causes one of his old supporters to be banished. Bai successfully appeals to the emperor to lighten the exile and the exile is changed to that of Governor of Jiangzhou. The two men remain friends. That winter, Bai purchases a small house in Xinchang Ward under the east wall. He is promoted to the Second Rank and is now editing imperial edicts.


Yuan Zhen is made President of Hanlin Academy and is an intimate of Emperor Muzong. Yuan falls from favor after meddling in military matters. He is first demoted. Then he is promoted to Chief Minister by Muzong in spite of protests at court.


Yuan Zhen continues to use bad judgment and is exiled to distant Tongzhou as Governor. That summer, Bai asks for a governorship and is posted to Hangzhou, where he falls ill.


Bai Juyi is still Governor of Hangzhou. The region is in drought. Bai is still ill. Yuan Zhen, now an inspector, comes to visit for three days and the two men are viewed as literary celebrities. Bai's daughter, Lozi, is eight and recites poetry in a voice which imitates her father.


Bai Juyi is still Governor of Hangzhou. He improves the West Lake dam, raising it several feet. Emperor Muzong dies. Emperor Jingzong ascends the throne. Bai is made Chief Attendant to the Crown Prince, who at this time does not exist. Bai is recalled to the capital but he lingers in Luoyang to avoid political struggles involving the family of Yangs he married into. He talks the court into making him an Eastern Attendant in Luoyang which is still considered the eastern capital. He buys a house on the water and publishes his collected works for which Yuan Zhen writes the preface.


Bai is appointed Governor of Suzhou and for the first time in his life he has to work. Nine days out of ten he is in court or in his office from dawn to dusk. He breaks down after six months of this and takes a month and a half sick leave.


Bai's eyes are getting worse. But he still manages to have a boat made for river excursions and breaks a leg falling from a horse. He retires. Leaving Suzhou, crowds line the streets and cry as he departs. The emperor dies in a bar brawl after hunting and is succeeded by Wenzong. Bai, short on retirement money, takes a post as Head of the Palace Library. Yuan Zhen is made President of Hanlin.


Bai, his mind somewhat on the afterlife, spends a lot of time with the monk Daozong and his student, Minister Wei Chuhou, studying Buddhism.


Bai is made Vice President of the Board of Punishments.


Bai semi-retires to Luoyang as Social Secretary to the Crown Prince. Yuan Zhen recalled to Chang'an after another bout of poor judgment. Bai and Yuan Zhen's wives each give birth to sons. Both die in infancy.


Bai Juyi is made mayor of Luoyang.


Yuan Zhen dies.


Bai Juyi still governor of Suzhou.


Bai resigns as governor and is again Social Secretary to the Crown Prince, which appears to be a sinecure.


Bai sends his collected works to a monastery for safekeeping. He turns down a governorship and sells a house for retirement funds. He thinks about selling his favorite horse and releasing his favorite singing girl but can't bring himself to do either. He is made Senior Tutor to the Crown Prince with the highest salary he will ever make.


Bai is still in Chang'an as Senior Tutor to Crown Prince.


Bai secures another copy of his collected works at yet another monastery. He has a stroke which cripples his left leg.


Wenzong dies and Wuzong reigns.


Bai reaches the age of seventy and is forced by law to retire on half pay.


Bai in retirement in Chang'an.


Bai reworks his collected works for the third time and secures them in another monastery and with a friend and with a relative. Bai Juyi does not want his life's work forgotten.


Bai Juyi dies.

Undated Poems


I would take this timeline with a grain of salt. There are, to my knowledge, two serious history books on Bai Juyi: Waley's in English and another from Taiwan in traditional chinese characters. Then there are the bio bits in English and Chinese books of his poetry. And then there is Wikipedia and other Internet venues of information. In my experience, this is also the order of increasing misinformation as people get further and further away from the primary sources.

Most of Bai Juyi's biographical information comes from his own poems. Those pretty much comprise the primary sources on this poet. I'll trust my sources when I finally own his complete works and can derive the data from his own words.