Once Wu Zetian was assigned to replace Emperor Gaozong to handle governance due to his health issues, she removed Crown Prince Li Zhong and proclaimed Li Hong, the first son of her own, a new crown prince of the dynasty. When Li Hong died due to unidentified reasons, she chose her second son Li Xian as a replacement. Li Xian was at odds with her mother who was filled with endless greed and ambition, sensing by intuition that his life will be put at risk just as his predecessors’. The poem likens his brothers and himself to cucumbers while comparing her mother to a farmer. His message says, “Mr. Farmer, too much care keeps your fruits from ripening. You are only left with a bare vine when you pick up all of them,” pleading with his mother desperately not to harm her sons anymore.
Some are critical of a naughty boy describing his complaints about his mother expressly just because of their failed relationship. However, the poem is assessed in a poem collection “Quantangshi” to be devised by Li Xian delicately and painfully with his desperations spreading over every single line. The book records that Li Xian wrote the lyrics and asked a musician to add a melody to them with the hope of her mother changing her attitude with some regrets as the son was too concerned about his safety to talk to his mother in person.
After Li Xian was killed on charges of treason, Wu Zetian’s third and fourth sons succeeded to the throne. However, they had to step down when she was crowned Empress. Not until she was kicked out of her throne 15 years later, did the two sons recover their imperial positions. Some ripe cucumbers are thinned out and removed from the vine early on and others mange to survive adversity after years of disgrace and indignity.