Saturday, November 8, 2008

Seeing off Mountain Man Lù Hóngzhè to Pick Tea

"Seeing off the Mountain Man Lù Hóngzhè (Lù Yǔ) to Pick Tea"
by Huáng Fǔzēng of the Táng Dynasty

One thousand peaks await this recluse,
Fragrant tea bushes bud and grow thick;

For picking, he knows the deepest places,
I envy his solitary journey through glowing morning mists;

His remote destination a distant mountain temple,
Supping in the wilderness, the spring water clear;

Loneliness pervades, I light a lamp at night,
And yearning for his company, sound the stone chime once.

For discussion of this poem please visit Teadrunk

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wenzhou Calligraphy Society

I took a friend of mine on a trip to a small temple to get spring water for brewing tea. He then became intent on taking me to a temple which he had visited twice when he was young. We rode the bus into the hills of Yongjia County but my friend had forgotten exactly where the temple was. We made one false attempt when the ticket collector on the bus told us there was no other temple on the bus route. Finally, the terrain was recognized and we started for the path up the mountain.

I was enchanted with the description of the place. When my friend visited the temple as a child, it was something of a headquarters for the Wenzhou calligraphy association. Many of the best calligraphers and painters in the city would cross the Ou River on Sundays and gather at this temple for a quiet day of painting and calligraphy. The building in front of the main hall had a garret on top of it with many small rooms used by the artists. Some would even rent out the rooms and live in isolation in the temple to devote all of their energy to their craft.

The temple is on a lonely hill which juts out of a landscape of rice fields. Approaching from the east the visitor is met by a cliff with a round promontory resembling a Buddha's head slightly inclined which appears to stare down benevolently at all who approach. The cliff is bare rock with many verdant patches of vines and lillies in crevases. The path up to the temple is paved with rocks and fruit trees as well as tea bushes line the path as the temple grows nearer.

Things have changed since my friend last visited the temple twenty years ago. Not only has the main hall been renovated (aparently with donations from Wenzhou and someone from New York as well) The Calligraphy society has moved out. There was no one on the premises when we arrived, and no one appeared while we stayed. The garret was still there, and there were traces of the works which once graced every vertical surface. Some unsigned works were left by the artists, and many were ripped and hanging. There were few complete specimens, most of these had been written directly on the walls or jambs, or had been fixed in place with lots of glue.

This is an unsigned quick rendition of a famous saying by a Qing dynasty scholar of the Qianlong reign period named Zheng Banqiao (郑板桥). Its literal translation is 'confusion is hard to achieve.' What it means is that life makes a body serious and logical, and its hard to achieve the serenity of a madman. 难得糊涂

This last one is part of a couplet, the other half of which was no longer visible. It is very simple, "The light of the full moon shines through the gaps in the pines." 明月松间照

Monday, September 1, 2008

Butterfly Orchids

I bought a butterfly orchid about three weeks ago. I spent 40 RMB, or about six US dollars. I am not sure if they are called butterfly orchids in English, but the person who sold them to me said they were 蝴蝶兰. When the new orchid was first brought home, two flowers were open, one of which since fell off. It seems to be one of the most common orchids on the market, but it is in flower and looks nice.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove and Hsuen-hsueh

Last week CCTV10 ran a seven part series on the Seven Worthies (sometimes Sages) of the Bamboo Grove. This is a laudatory appellation for seven men1 who lived during the 3rd century of the common era. Unlike the Seven Masters of the Chien An period who served Ts'ao Ts'ao a generation earlier, the great majority of these men were at least as anxious to live the life of a recluse as their predecessors were to anxious to be of use to the Throne. These men are identified as a group because they all came to the Tien-tai mountains of Ho-nan province to escape from the vicissitudes of their age. They all resided in the mountains near the Myriad Clan cliff or Pai-chia-yan2 during the year 249 CE. During this year it is rumored that they would meet within groves of bamboo or other places of natural beauty to drink wine and enjoy each other's society.

Most of these men were great admirers of the ancient sages Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, and along with the I-ching valued the writings of these men above all the orthodox classics. They were proponents of a type of thought sometimes termed Wei-Chin Metaphysics, or Hsuan-hsueh3 in Chinese, the study of the obtruse. This is also called Neo-Taoism by some scholars, as about this period of time a certain number of learned men began to re-popularize the study of and also to make new commentaries on The Taoist texts, the most well know being Wang Pi's commentary on the Lao-tzu. In addition to being an integral part of the literary history of the era, these men are perhaps even more famous for their contributions to the style and fashions of the Learned Class.4

While living at the Pai-chia Yen these men cultivated an attitude of detachment from society. They glamorized the life of the recluse and did not deign to follow customs of politeness or traditional manners. Chi K'ang wrote essays criticizing the most orthodox writ: the Lun-yu, cherished by those in power as a source of legitimacy for their reign. Chi K'ang, Juan Chi and Shang Hsiu all wrote essays about Taoism and about natural medicines and the search for longevity. They were masters of poetry and music and also of conversation and drinking. The popularity of the Ch'in or zither5 as the instrument of choice of the cultivated scholar official is at least in part traceable to these seven worthies. They were all great drinkers, at least during the time they spent in the bamboo grove, some even after they left. Liu Ling6 is notable for being the first to write with the voice of a man under the influence of wine.

The modern scholar Lu Hsun was very interested in this period. He delivered a lecture in Kuang-chou7 in 1928 in which he discussed this period and also edited a collected works of Chi K'ang of which the preface8 can be read online. Lu Hsun admired the unapologetic attitude Hsi K'ang took with his beliefs. Hsi K'ang was not afraid to state in writing what he believed at a time when it was not popular. He was also unafraid to act the way he felt even if it trasgressed the stictures of politeness.

The CCTV documentary gives a very good if brief introduction to the climate of the times, and the way these men lived. Many classical works are mentioned, and some of the more important modern scholars are also. I do not know the commentators in the dcumentary and what they specialize in or if they are respected. One fact left out of the documentary, but commonly acknowleged by most studies of this group is the homosexual relationship between Hsi K'ang and Juan Chi. "Chi Kang was especially close to Juan Chi; their relationship was described as 'stronger than metal and fragrant as orchids.' The wife of a fellow sage was said to be impressed by Juan Chi and Chi K'ang's prowess when she spied on them during sex."9

These Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove had a love for Taoist classics and wrote essays on Taoist topics. Inspired by the documentary, I went out and bought copies of the Taoist Classics from Chung-hua Shu-chu, as well a a great copy of all of Juan Chi's collected works also by the same publishing house. I have yet to find a good recent edition of the works of Chi K'ang, I am sure Lu Hsun's is long out of print. The books pictured below are 阮籍集校注、庄子集释、周易尚氏学、老子释注、老子注释及评价, all from 中华书局

1. The Seven Wothies were Hsi K'ang 嵇康、Juan Chi 阮籍、Shan T'ao 山涛、Hsiang Hsiu 向秀、Liu Ling 刘伶、Wang Jong 王戎 and Juan Hsien 阮咸。

2. 河南天台山百家岩

3. 魏晋玄学

4. Their influence as a subject of Chinese painting is discussed by Ellen Johnston Laing. They were a popular subject in Japan and Korea as well.

5. A website all about the Ch'in or zither

6. A description of Liu Ling can be found in A New Account of Tales of the World (XIV, Looks and Manners, 13)

7. 魏晋风度及文章与药及酒之关系 can be read at

8. 《嵇康集》序 can be found at on page 162

9. From Wikipedia quoted from Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton

Criddle, Reed Andrew. Rectifying Lasciviousness through Mystical Learning: An Exposition and Translation of Ruan Ji's Essay on Music. Asian Music - Volume 38, Number 2, Summer/Fall 2007, pp. 44-70

Holzman, Donald. La Vie et la pensee de Hi K'ang (223-262 Ap. J.-C.).
review in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3 (May, 1964), pp. 464-465 review by Harold A. McFarlin

Holzman, Donald; Juan Chi. Poetry and Politics: The Life and Works of Juan Chi (210-263). Cambridge:Cambridge University Press. 1976.
review in Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), Vol. 1, (Jan., 1979), pp. 107-110 review by Ronald C. Miao
also in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1, (Nov., 1979), pp. 151-153 review by Patricia Ebrey

Laing, Ellen Johnston. Neo-Taoism and the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" in Chinese Painting. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 36, No. 1/2, (1974), pp. 5-54

Van Gulik, Robert Hans The Lore of the Chinese Lute. Tokyo: Sophia University.1940
Van Gulik, Robert Hans Hsi Kang and His Poetical Essay on the Lute. Monumenta Nipponica Monographs.Tokyo: Sophia University. 1941

Liu I-ch'ing; Liu Chün; Richard B. Mather. Shih-shou hsin-Yü: A New Account of Tales of the World.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I returned to my in laws' house to the happy sight of a flowering perennial in bloom. It looks to me like an Orchid of some sort, although I haven't been able to identify it or find any pictures of similar flowers. If any of my dear readers knows of a place where I can determine the name of this flower, Latin or otherwise, please communicate. I took these pictures today. Two flowers opened yesterday, and closed in the early evening. As the flowers close they twist into small red pieces before wilting and falling. They ought to continue blooming for quite some time, but each flower only seems to last for a day.

I hope to raise orchids and do some research on Chinese Orchid culture in the coming months.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Journey of Herbert A. Giles from Swatow to Canton

This short volume is a reprint of a short travel diary of the famous Sinologist Wade Giles. He was employed by the British foreign services at the time, and was sent on the journey he describes to inspect the Yunnan Proclamation also known as the Margary Proclamation. On his 21 day journey through Guangdong province from Shantou (Swatow) to Guangzhou (Canton) he describes his experiences, the landscape and the sights.

This is a refreshing respite from the usual tone of contemporary travelogues written by visitors to China, mostly because Giles was an atheist, and treats Christianity with as much derision as the Local beliefs.

Giles faithfully recollects all of his experiences and did not fail to visit the sights along the road. He includes couplets and inscriptions from temples, monuments, and even a road sign. His observations are informative and humorous without condescension. His learning is obvious even through such a short text and he includes allusions in Latin and French, and even more in Chinese.

I will include only one quotation from the book, forgive the length, that was of particular interest to me. In the quotation below, Giles describes his entrance to the city of Jiaying Zhou (嘉鹰州), the reaction of the onlookers and also his own feelings about the surfeit of attention he experienced in the Kingdom of the Great Qing.

The crowd seems lost in astonishment at a human being wearing a different dress from their own, and with facial lineaments of other than Mongolian type. They stared and stared as if their eyes would drop out, but there was no excitement and not a word of questionable civility. Behind the crowd on the bank, the upper windows of one and two storyed houses were crammed to overflowing. The owners, if they had only the wit to think of it, must have let them at a good figure, and cleared perhaps the quarter's rent. For our own part, we now began fully to realize one of the immense discomforts of royalty. To be a mark for every eye, a bull's eye for every well or ill directed piece of vulgar criticism -- "See! See! He's moving. He's shutting his eyes! He's folding his arms! He's blowing his nose!" -- is indeed a high price to pay even for the luxury of a throne. And it is needless to call attention to the fact that we were paying the price without the luxury of the throne. But the babies -- as the mandarins call them -- were evidently enjoying themselves. We were to them an object of deep wonder if not of admiration. Perhaps there were not ten amongst them who had ever seen a foreigner before, and it may be some time before they see another. We mean bona fide foreigner, dressed in the full height of barbarian fashion; for there are a few French missionaries scattered about the hills no great distance from here, but they wear Chinese clothes and shave the head a la queue de cochon. And the conversations that will be held over the rice bowl and pipe when the crowd before us has separated and gathered again , each individual member at his own individual hearth! How they will tell the unlucky absent ones that the red-haired barbarian was bearded like the pard, and wore a queer-looking hat. That at the moment he did not appear to be drunk or engaged in knocking anyone's brains out, as reputed to be the usual occupations of foreigners in China. But perhaps he was, cat-like, watching his opportunity, reluctant pour mieux sater, (or as the Chinese put it, 屈以求伸也), and spying around in search of a rich harvest of Chinamen's eyes and hearts.

It has always been a matter of great curiosity to me what it would have been like to be a foreigner in China over a century ago. Although times have Changed I believe "paying the price without the throne" is still a valid description today.

This short diary was published by Fudan University Press (复旦大学出版社)and was edited with notes by Huang Bingwei (黄秉炜.)There is a short introduction by the editor, and a reproduction of the title page of the original publication. There are also several photographs throughout the text used to illustrate landscapes and points of interest, although they are contemporary and of questionable value. The editor's endnotes are useful and provide a gloss on Giles' allusions in other European languages as well as some of his Chinese ones. At the end of the work is an appendix of five poems by Huang Zunxian (黄遵憲)which are referred to in the text. Also included behind the back cover is a folding English map of Canton Province from the 1870's. All of the Chinese language text throughout the entire volume is rendered in Traditional Graphs.

From the Preface: "This volume... constitutes part seven of a series of publications presenting the compiler's research on the works and renderings of Herbert A. Giles." I haven't seen any of the others, but would certainly like to. If anyone has, or has any questions or comments, please communicate through the comments section, or send electronic mail.

ISBN 9787309057683