Xue Tao is the most famous woman poet of the Tang Dynasty. Only the barest outline of her interesting life has survived.|
Some 450 poems by Xue Tao were gathered in "The Brocade River Collection" that survived until the 1300s; today about 100 poems are extant, but even this is a greater number than by any other Tang dynasty woman.
She was the daughter of a prominent Changan family. Her father. a government official, was transfered to Chengdu, Sichuan where he died when Xue Tao was quite young. Apparently it was her mother, dur to poverty, who turned her daughter into a singing girl. Evidently Xue Tao's poetic talents were widely known even while she was in her teens.
In 785, Wei Kao arrived in Shu as Regional commander, the post he was to hold until his death in 805. Wei Kao summoned Xue Tao, and asked her serve him wine and compose poetry. Li Yu says that it was Wei Kao who turned her into a singing girl. Within a year Wei Kao had the audacity to recommend her for the honored post of Collator at the Imperial Court, and there was, of course, overwhelming opposition. Thus Xue Tao became famous within government circles. The term 'collator', jiaoshu, as a result, acquired the additional meaning of 'singing girl', a usage found even as late as Republican China.
During her lifetime Xue Tao served eleven regional commanders of Shu, some of whom were talented in poetry, like Wu Yuanheng. It is from one of his poems, one which alludes to the great sadness Xue Tao felt on Wei Kao's death, that we learn she had great beauty, undoubtably an asset she made use of. She became friends with many officials and poets, among them 白居易 Bai Juyi and his friend元楨 Yuan Zhen, who may have been her lover.
* for her biography we are indebted to Eric W Johnson's background on Hsueh T'ao on page 564 of Sunflower Splendor, University of Indiana Press