Li Qingzhao was born in 1084, in Zhangqiu (in modern Shandong province). She was born to a family of scholar-officials, and her father was a student of Su Shi. The family had a large collection of books so that Li received a wide-ranging education in her childhood.
Before she got married, Li’s poetry was well-known in elite circles. In 1101, she married Zhao Mingcheng, with whom she shared interests in art collection and epigraphy. They lived in present-day Shandong. After her husband started his official career, he was often absent. They were not particularly rich but enjoyed collecting inscriptions and calligraphy, as well as sharing a love of poetry. Their shared interests inspired some of her later love poems.
During the Jin–Song wars, fighting took place in Shandong and Li’s house was burned. Li and her husband took many of their possessions when they fled to Nanjing, where they lived for a year. Zhao died in 1129 en route to an official post; Li never recovered from the death of her husband, but tried to keep safe what was left of their collection of bronze artifacts. Li also kept working on completing the book Jin shi lu, which was begun by Zhao, and described the calligraphy on the bronze and stones.
Only about a hundred of Li’s poems are known to survive, mostly in the ci form and tracing her varying fortunes in life. She is credited with the first detailed critique of the metrics of Chinese poetry. She was regarded as a master of wanyue pai “the delicate restraint”.
Two impact craters, Li Ch’ing-Chao on Mercury and Li Qingzhao on Venus, are named after her.
Li Qingzhao, 1081-circa 1141. Ch’ing-chao, Complete Poems. Translated from the Chinese and edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. New Directions, 1979.