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 silkqin.com

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 hanhuncn.com

8. 《嵇康集》序 can be found at docin.com 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.