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Mei Yaochen passed the jinshi exam in 1051 and had a career in the civil service, but was unsuccessful. He was a prolific poet, with around 3000 works extant; he was popularized as a poet by the younger Ouyang Xiu.
Most of his works are in the shi form, but they are much freer in content than those of the Tang dynasty. His response to the impossibility of surpassing the Tang poets was to make a virtue of his lack of ambition; his ideal was 平淡 (pingdan), or the pedestrian. His early verses are often sociocritical, advocating reform along Neo-Confucian lines; later he turned to celebrations of ordinary life and verses mourning the deaths of his first wife and several of his children.