Gems of Chinese Literature/Sung Dynasty

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Gems of Chinese Literature
Various Authors, translated by Herbert Allen Giles
Sung Dynasty (a.d. 960 TO a.d. 1200)


a.d. 1009-1086

[A famous historian, second only to Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien (q.v.), and a voluminous writer in other directions. He compiled a general history of China from the Chou dynasty down to the end of the T‘ang dynasty, popularly known as the “Mirror of History.” In political life he was successfully opposed to the great reformer Wang An-Shih (q.v.).]


IN ancient times there was no such office as that of Censor. From the highest chamberlain of the Court down to the humblest workman of the people, all were free alike to offer their advice to the Throne.

With the Han dynasty, the functions of Censor became vested in a single individual officer, whose duty it was to advise on all matters involving the welfare of the empire generally. His was a sacred trust; and for this post it was necessary to choose men of resolution and of liberal minds, who could gauge the relative importance of events and entirely subordinate their own interests to those of the commonwealth. Seekers after notoriety or wealth found no place in their ranks.

During the Sung dynasty the number of Censors was increased to six; and later on their names were duly engraved upon wooden boards. But I, fearing lest these should be obliterated by time, caused them to be carved upon stone; so that future generations might point to the record and say, “Such a one was loyal. Such a one was a traitor. Such a one was upright. Such a one was corrupt.” Verily this should give good cause for fear![1]


a.d. 1017-1072

[A leading statesman, historian, poet, and essayist of the Sung dynasty. His tablet is to be found in the Confucian temple; an honour reserved for those alone who have contributed towards the elucidation or dissemination of Confucian truth.]


MAY it please your Majesty,

I am informed that in consequence of the recent birth of a princess, a demand has been made on the Treasury for no less than 8,000 pieces of silk.

Now the rigour of winter is just at its height, and the wretched workmen of the Dyeing Department, forced to break ice before they can get water, will suffer unspeakable hardships in supplying the amount required. And judging by your Majesty's known sentiments of humanity and thrift, I cannot believe that this wasteful corvée is to be imposed, though rumour indeed has it that the dyers are already at work.

I have also noticed that the relatives of the Lady Chang have of late participated too frequently in the Imperial bounty. I am, it is true, but a poor Censor; yet whenever I see anything calculated to impair the prestige of the Son of Heaven, it becomes my duty to speak, that the divine wrath may be averted in time.

It is a noticeable fact in our annals that those favoured ladies who modestly and thriftily availed themselves of their connexion with the Throne, always prospered; while those, on the other hand, who gave themselves up to extravagance and nepotism, invariably ended in ruin. I will not cite instances from remote antiquity: I will confine myself to the more recent condition of affairs within the palace. Where, I would ask, are those proud spendthrift ladies who basked but just now in the imperial smiles? In their stead we have the Lady Chang, but yesterday blushing unseen in her quiet home,―to-day, the synosure of every eye. Report declares her to be of quite another mould, and well qualified to keep the position to which she has been raised. Nevertheless, there seems to be growing up that old tendency to exceed, which sets men’s tongues agog; and if your Majesty would save this lady from the fate of her predecessors, it would be well to admonish that a more modest economy prevail. For example: these 8,000 pieces of silk cannot all be for that one lady's use. Doubtless they are for distribution; but in that case their preparation involves waste of money, and gives a handle for public censure, from which even the Throne itself is not exempt.

Only lately the Lady Chang’s mother received a District, and four days afterwards a Department; and now it is rumoured that further emoluments are to be bestowed upon distant relatives. That parents should share in the prosperity of their children is perhaps admissible; but propriety has its limits, and these are overstepped in the case of distant relatives. Who were they, forsooth, before the Lady Chang entered the Imperial hareem, that their present rank and riches should yield a subject for conversation injurious to the prestige of the Throne?

And were this a question only of the Lady Chang, the principle would still be applicable: how much more so as things are? The fact is that the Imperial bounty is too lavishly bestowed, and that extravagance is rife in the palace. Your Majesty suffers thereby: the State suffers thereby; and it is my duty to speak, trusting that your Majesty will take immediate steps to rectify these abuses.


Your Majesty's servant has heard that associations of friends are of time-honoured antiquity. It only remains for a ruler to distinguish between those of good and those of evil men. In the former case, the bond results from identity of purpose in the cause of truth; in the latter, from identity of personal interest alone. Evil men are, in fact, unable to form friendships; this privilege being reserved for the pure and good. And why? Simply because evil men love wealth and worldly advantage. Hence, as long as their interests are identical, they are friends. But when these begin to clash, first comes rivalry, and then a dissolution of their friendship. Sometimes they turn round and become bitter enemies, even of their own brothers and near relatives. There is therefore no reality about their friendships.

With the virtuous man, it is another thing altogether. His landmarks are duty towards his neighbour and loyalty to his prince: his most precious possession is his good name.

In the golden age, there was one clique of evil men, and two associations of virtuous men. Shun joined the latter, and the empire had peace. And when he came to be emperor himself, he profited by an association of officers who had united for the cultivation of generous principles,―and the empire had peace.

It is written, “The courtiers gathered around Chow Hsin in myriads, but their hearts were distributed in a myriad directions. The officers of Wu Wang were three thousand in number, and the hearts of these three thousand were as one.” The absence of any real bond, in the first instance, brought about the disruption of the empire; while, in the second, its presence was a safeguard of the national welfare.

Later on, Hsien Ti, the last emperor of the House of Han, seized and threw into prison all the notable men of the day, because of an association they had formed. Then followed the revolt of the Yellow Caps, and his Majesty repented and released the prisoners;―but it was too late.

The question of forming such societies reappeared in the declining years of the T‘ang dynasty, when in the reign of Chao Tsung all the best spirits of the day were either beheaded or thrown into the Yellow River, his Majesty exclaiming, “Let these pure ones go and associate with that muddy one!” But the end was at hand.

Of the rulers of old who failed to concentrate the hearts of the people, Chou Hsin is pre-eminent. Of those who put down associations of virtuous men, Hsien Ti stands first. Among those who exterminated honourable friendships, Chao Tsung bears away the palm. The result in each ease was the same. The dynasty perished.

Shun, on the other hand, confidently availed himself of the incomparable societies of his day; and no one has ever said that his confidence was misplaced. In point of fact, he is always extolled as an enlightened and discriminating ruler. In Wu Wang’s time, three thousand officers of State formed themselves into a society famed ever since for its numbers and power. And Wu Wang availed himself of this association,―and the empire prospered. The society was indeed large; but its members were not one too many.[2]

Your Majesty will doubtless not fail to be instructed by these examples of national prosperity and decay.


Sincerity and a sense of duty,―these are the attributes of the virtuous. Punishment and death,―these are the portion of the depraved. To deserve death in the iniquity of guilt,―this is the climax of crime. To die without regret at the call of duty,―this is the acme of heroism.

When the second Emperor of the late T‘ang dynasty had just been six years upon the throne, he released more than 300 condemned criminals, and sent them to their homes on condition that within a certain period they should inflict upon themselves the penalty of death. This was simply to bid those unprincipled wretches play the difficult rôle of heroes.

At the expiry of the time, they all returned to the Emperor without one exception. No true hero could have acted thus: those men found it easy enough. It was, to say the least of it, unnatural.

A friend has suggested that in spite of their deep-dyed guilt and unqualified want of principle, the Emperor’s act of grace might possibly have converted them from their evil ways; such a marvellous and speedy conversion not being without precedent. But I say that his Majesty did this thing solely with a view to gain for himself a good report. We may rest assured that when he released these men he knew full well they would come back in the hope of a pardon; and that therefore he released them. We may rest assured that the return of the prisoners was based upon the certainty of receiving a pardon, and that therefore they came back. And if his Majesty only released them because he felt they would return, he was simply discounting the impulses of his subjects; while if the prisoners only returned because they felt they would be pardoned, they were likewise discounting the mercy of their ruler. As far as I can see, the credit of the whole affair was a product of mutual spoliation. Where indeed was the magnanimity of the one or the heroism of the other?

Let us consider. The Emperor had then been graciously reigning over the land for the space of six years. If during that time he had been unable to prevent evil men from doing evil deeds, it is absurd to suppose that he was suddenly, by a single act of grace, to convert them into heroic and dutiful subjects. What, it may be asked, was the proper course to pursue? I reply that those prisoners who returned should have been put to death; and then, on any future occasion of the kind, it would be fairly established that returning prisoners were influenced by a sincere sense of duty. But under those circumstances, there would of course be no prisoners forthcoming.

To release in that way and to pardon on return, might be all very well in an individual case. But to apply the principle to numbers, would be equivalent to pardoning murderers in general, directly contrary to all laws human and divine. Thus it was that the wise rulers of old based their administration upon the normal workings of the human heart. They sought no extraordinary standard of conduct with a view of exalting themselves; neither did they act in opposition to the natural instincts of man in order to secure the approbation of the public.[3]


Alas for the fulness and decay of human greatness! Though these are called the appointments of Heaven, truly they are the handiwork of man. The rise and fall of Chuan Tsung may be cited as an instance in point.

When the Prince of Chin lay on his death-bed, he took three arrows and handed them to his son, saying, “The Liangs are my foes. The Prince of Yen treats me with ingratitude. The K‘i-tan Tartar swore to me as a brother, and then passed over to the Liangs. These three grievances I leave as a legacy of hate to thee. Take these three arrows, and fail not to bear in mind thy father’s wishes.

Chuang Tsung accordingly took the arrows and deposited them in a shrine; and by-and-by, when war was declared, he despatched an attendant to sacrifice a goat at the temple and bring out the arrows. He then placed them in an embroidered quiver, and bearing them on his back proceeded to the field of battle.

He returned triumphant, and ascended the Imperial throne. He had captured the Prince of Yen and his son. He had got with him in a box the heads of the ruler and prime minister of the House of Liang. He went to the shrine to replace the arrows and communicate to the spirit of his dead father that the work which had been entrusted to him was accomplished. Was not this, then, the supreme fulness of glorious achievement?

Vengeance had thus been wreaked, and the empire was his, when suddenly there was a cry in the night,―a rush to arms,―hasty flight,―defection of soldiery,―sovereign and minister blankly gazing in each other’s faces,―monastic vows and shaven crowns,―robes drenched with tears,―oh, what a fall was there! So hard to win: so easy to lose. Surely these were issues that lay in the hand of man.

It is written, “The proud shall suffer; the modest succeed.” And so toil and anxiety may establish a kingdom; dissipation and ease will wreck a life. At the zenith of his fortune, among all the heroes of the age there could not be found his match. Yet when the tide turned, a few mummers dragged him to earth; the sceptre fell from his hand, and he perished,―the laughing-stock of all.

Truly misfortunes oftimes spring from trivial and unexpected causes; and wisdom and courage are often marred by foibles other than a passion for theatrical display.


The district of Ch‘u is entirely surrounded by hills, and the peaks to the south-west are clothed with a dense and beautiful growth of trees, over which the eye wanders in rapture away to the confines of Shantung. A walk of two or three miles on those hills brings one within earshot of the sound of falling water which gushes forth from a ravine, known as the Wine-Fountain; while hard by in a nook at a bend of the road stands a kiosque, commonly spoken of as the Old Drunkard’s Arbour. It was built by a Buddhist priest, called Deathless Wisdom, who lived among these hills, and who received the above name from the Governor. The latter used to bring his friends hither to take wine; and as he personally was incapacitated by a very few cups, and was moreover well stricken in years, he gave himself the sobriquet of the Old Drunkard. But it was not wine that attracted him to this spot. It was the charming scenery which wine enabled him to enjoy.

The sun’s rays peeping at dawn through the trees, by-and-by to be obscured behind gathering clouds, leaving naught but gloom around, give to this spot the alternations of morning and night. The wild flowers exhaling their perfume from the darkness of some shady dell; the luxuriant foliage of the dense forest of beautiful trees; the clear frosty wind; and the naked boulders of the lessening torrent;―these are the indications of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Morning is the time to go thither, returning with the shades of night; and although the place presents a different aspect with the changes of the season, its charms are subject to no interruption, but continue alway. Burden-carriers sing their way along the road, travellers rest awhile under the trees; shouts from one, responses from another; old people hobbling along; children in arms, children dragged along by hand; backwards and forwards all day long without a break; these are the people of Ch‘u. A cast in the stream, and a fine fish taken from some spot where the eddying pools begin to deepen; a draught of cool wine from the fountain; and a few such dishes of meats and fruits as the hills are able to provide;―these, nicely spread out beforehand, constitute the Governor’s feast. And in the revelry of the banquet hour there is no thought of toil or trouble. Every archer hits his mark, and every player wins his partie; goblets flash from hand to hand, and a buzz of conversation is heard as the guests move unconstrainedly about. Among them is an old man with white hair, bald at the top of his head. This is the drunken Governor, who when the evening sun kisses the tips of the hills, and the falling shadows are drawn out and blurred, bends his steps homewards in company with his friends. Then in the growing darkness are heard sounds above and sounds below: the beasts of the field and the birds of the air are rejoicing at the departure of man. They, too, can rejoice in hills and in trees, but they cannot rejoice as man rejoices. So also the Governor’s friends. They rejoice with him, though they know not at what it is that he rejoices. Drunk, he can rejoice with them; sober, he can discourse with them;―such is the Governor. And should you ask who is the Governor, I reply, “Ou-yang Hsiu of Lu-ling.”[5]


One night, I had just sat down to my books, when suddenly I heard a sound far away towards the south-west. Listening intently, I wondered what it could be. On it came, at first like the sighing of a gentle zephyr,…gradually deepening into the plash of waves upon a surf-beat shore,…the roaring of huge breakers in the startled night, amid howling storm-gusts of wind and rain. It burst upon the hanging bell, and set every one of its pendants tinkling into tune. It seemed like the muffled march of soldiers, hurriedly advancing bit in mouth to the attack,[6] when no shouted orders rend the air, but only the tramp of men and horses meet the ear.

“Boy,” said I; “what noise is that? Go forth and see.” “Sir,” replied the boy, on his return, “the moon and stars are brightly shining: the Silver River spans the sky. No sound of man is heard without: ’tis but the whispering of the trees.”

“Alas!” I cried; “autumn is upon us.[7] And is it thus, O boy, that autumn comes?―autumn the cruel and the cold; autumn the season of rack and mist; autumn the season of cloudless skies; autumn the season of piercing blasts; autumn the season of desolation and blight! Chill is the sound that heralds its approach; and then it leaps upon us with a shout. All the rich luxuriance of green is changed; all the proud foliage of the forest swept down to earth,―withered beneath the icy breath of the destroyer. For autumn is Nature’s chief executioner; and its symbol is darkness. It has the temper of steel; and its symbol is a sharp sword. It is the avenging angel, riding upon an atmosphere of death. As spring is the epoch of growth, so autumn is the epoch of maturity:―

Its strains decay,
And melt away.
In a dying, dying fall.[8]

And sad is the hour when maturity is passed; for that which passes its prime must die.

“Still what is this to plants and trees, which fade away in their due season?…But stay: there is man, man the divinest of all things. A hundred cares wreck his heart: countless anxieties trace their wrinkles on his brow: until his inmost self is bowed beneath the burden of life. And swifter still he hurries to decay when vainly striving to attain the unattainable, or grieving over his ignorance of that which can never be known. Then comes the whitening hair;―and why not? Has man an adamantine frame, that he should outlast the trees of the field? Yet after all who is it, save himself, that steals his strength away? Tell me, O boy, what right has man to accuse his autumn blast?

“My boy made no answer. He was fast asleep. No sound reached me save that of the cricket chirping its response to my dirge.


Man-ch‘ing, thy birth gave a hero, thy death a God! Like the vulgar herd thou wast born and didst die, returning to the domain of nothingness. But thy earthly form could not perish like theirs. There was that within which could not decay: thy bright memory will endure through all generations. For such is the lot of the wise and good: their names are inscribed imperishably, to shine like the stars for ever.

Man-ch‘ing, ’tis long since we met. Yet methinks I see thee now, as then, lofty of mien, courage upon thy brow. Ah! when the grave closed over thee, it was not into foul earth, but into the pure essence of gold and gems that thy dear form was changed.[9] Or haply thou art some towering pine some rare, some wondrous plant. What boots it now? Here in thy loneliness the spreading brambles weave around thy head, while the chill wind blows across thy bed moist with the dew of heaven. The will-o’-the-wisp and the fire-fly flit by: naught heard but the shepherd and the woodman singing songs on the hill-side; naught seen but the startled bird rising, the affrighted beast scampering from their presence, as they pass to and fro and pour forth their plaintive lays. Such is thy solitude now. A thousand, ten thousand years hence, the fox and the badger will burrow into thy tomb, and the weasel make its nest within. For this also has ever been the lot of the wise and good. Do not their graves, scattered on every side, bear ample witness of this?

Alas! Man-ch‘ing, I know full well that all things are overtaken, sooner or later, by decay. But musing over days by-gone, my heart grows sad; and standing thus near to thy departed spirit, my tears flow afresh, and I blush for the heartlessness of God. O Man-ch‘ing, rest in peace![10]

Gems of Chinese Literature pg 75.png


a.d. 1030-1093

[A distinguished scholar who, in accordance with ancient custom, was employed in military expeditions, and who was held responsible for a defeat in which 60,000 Chinese soldiers perished and banished to Shensi. He ranks among the highest as an art critic]


WHEN painters paint Buddha’s aureole, they make it flat and round like a fan. If his body is deflected, then the aureole is also deflected,―a serious blunder. Such a one is only thinking of Buddha as a graven image, and does not know that the roundness of his aureole is everlasting. In like manner, when Buddha is represented as walking, his aureole is made to tail out behind him, and this is called the wind-borne aureole,―also a serious blunder. For Buddha’s aureole is a divine aureole which even a universe-wrecking hurricane could not move, still less could our light breezes flutter it.


In painting oxen and tigers, it is always customary to paint the hair, but the hair of horses is not painted. On my asking an artist why this was, he replied that a horse’s hair is too fine, and cannot be brought out; but when I suggested that a rat’s hair was still finer and yet was always painted, he had nothing to say. Now a horse is never seen in a painting to be more than a foot in size, which is a great proportionate reduction, and therefore the hair would be far too fine to be reproduced; whereas a rat generally has about the same measurement as in real life, and therefore the hair ought to be painted. This principle would seem to apply equally to the ox and to the tiger; the hair however of these animals is long, and a distinction has accordingly to be made. Li Ch‘êng,[11] whenever he put kiosques, pagodas, or other buildings, on the mountains of his landscapes, painted them with cocked-up eaves, so that the spectator looked upwards and saw the inner part; because, he said, the point of view was below the object, just as a man standing beneath a pagoda sees above him the rafters of the eaves. This reasoning is faulty. For in landscape there is a method of looking at big things as if they were small (aerial perspective). If people looked at imitation hills in the same way that they look at real hills, that is, looking from the base up to the summit, it would only be possible to see one range at a time, and not range behind range; neither would the ravines and valleys in the mountains be visible. Similarly, you ought not to see the middle court of a house, nor what is going on in the back premises. You cannot lay down the rule that if you have a man on the east side, then the west side of the hill must contain the distant scenery, and vice versâ; under such conditions no picture could possibly be painted. Li Ch‘êng did not know the method by which big objects are made to look small. By this method effects of height and distance can be more skilfully secured than by simply cocking up the corners of houses.


In calligraphy and painting, soul is more important than form. Most of the good people who look at pictures can point out some slight defect in shape, in position, or in colouring; but that is the extent of their range. As to those who penetrate to deeper principles, they are very hard to find. It has been said that Wang Wei in his pictures paid no attention whatever to the four seasons. With regard to flowers, he would introduce the peach, apricot, hibiscus, and water-lily into one and the same scene. I myself possess a picture of his in which there is a banana-tree covered with snow. The idea flashed through his mind, and was completed by his hand,―an inspiration of genius. But it is difficult to discuss this with the unwashed…Does not the poet say

The old masters painted the spirit, they did not paint the form;
Mei Shêng, when singing of things, left no emotion unexpressed.
Those who can ignore the form and seize the spirit are few;
But why not apply to verse what to painting applies so well?


a.d. 1036-1101

[An almost universal genius, like Ou-yang Hsiu, this writer is even a greater favourite with the Chinese literary public. Under his hands, the language of which China is so proud may be said to have reached perfection of finish, of art concealed. In subtlety of reasoning, in the lucid expression of abstractions, such as in English too often elude the faculty of the tongue, Su Tung-P‘o is an unrivalled master. On behalf of his honoured manes I desire to note my protest against the words of Mr. Baber, recently spoken at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, and stating that “the Chinese language is incompetent to express the subtleties of theological reasoning, just as it is inadequate to represent the nomenclature of European science.” I am not aware that the nomenclature of European science can be adequately represented even in the English language; at any rate, there can be no comparison between the expression of terms and of ideas, and I take it the doctrine of the Trinity itself is not more difficult of comprehension than the theory of “self abstraction beyond the limits of an external world,” so closely reasoned out by Chuang Tzŭ. If Mr. Baber merely means that the gentlemen entrusted with the task have proved themselves so far quite incompetent to express in Chinese the subtleties of theological reasoning, then I am with him to the death.

There is one more point in regard to which I should be glad to cleanse the stuffed bosoms of some from a certain perilous stuff―the belief that Chinese sentences are frequently open to two and even more interpretations. No theory could well be more mischievous than this. It tends to make a student readily satisfied with anything he can get out of an obscure paragraph rather than push on laboriously through the dark passages of thought until the real sense begins to glimmer ahead, and finally to shine brightly upon him. I wish to place it on record, as my opinion, after the arduous task of translation now lying completed before me, that the written language of China is hardly more ambiguous than English; and that an ordinary Chinese sentence, written without malice aforethought, can have but one meaning, though it may often appear at the first blush to have several. There are exceptions, of course; but the rule remains unchanged. I have frequently been trapped myself, and may be again; trapped into satisfaction with a given rendering which I subsequently discovered to be wrong, and which I could then feel to be grammatically wrong though I had previously accepted it as right. The fault in such cases, I venture to suggest, should be sought for outside the text. (I leave this to stand as it stood in 1884, merely suggesting that it is the extreme difficulty of the book-language which is mistaken for ambiguity.)

To revert to the subject of this note, Su Tung-P‘o shared the fate of most Chinese statesmen of the T'ang and Sung dynasties. He was banished to a distant post. In 1235 he was honoured with a niche in the Confucian temple, but his tablet was removed in 1845. After six hundred years he might well have been left there in peace.]


MY arbour was named after rain, to commemorate joy.

Whenever our forefathers rejoiced greatly, they used the name of whatever caused their joy in order to commemorate the event. Thus, Chou Kung named a book from the auspicious appearance of a double ear of corn. An emperor named a period of his reign from the discovery of an ancient bronze; and a case is on record of one who named his children after prisoners taken captive in war. The joy in each instance was hardly the same; but the principle of commemoration was uniformly applied.

Now the year after I was appointed to rule over Fu-fêng, I began to put my official residence in repair, and arranged for the construction of an arbour at a certain spot, where I let in a stream of water and planted trees, intending to use it as a refuge from the business of life.

In that very year it rained wheat; and the soothsayers predicted in consequence that the ensuing season would be most prosperous. However, for a whole month no rain fell, and the people became alarmed at the prospect. Then rain fell at intervals, but not in sufficient quantities. At length, it poured incessantly for three days. Thereupon, great congratulations were exchanged between officials; tradesmen and traders sang songs of glee in the market-place; while farmers wished each other joy across the furrowed fields. The sorrowful were gladdened: the sick were made whole. And precisely at that moment my arbour was completed.

So I spread a feast there, and invited a number of guests, of whom I enquired, “What would have happened if the rain had held off five days longer?” “There would have been no wheat,” was the answer. “And what if it had been ten days?” I continued; to which they replied that then there would have been no crops at all. “And had there been harvest neither of wheat nor of other grain,” said I, “a famine must inevitably have ensued. The law courts would have overflowed with litigation. Brigandage and robbery would have been rife. And you and I would have missed the pleasant meeting of to-day beneath this arbour. But God did not leave the people to perish. Drought has been followed by rain; and to rain it is due that we are enjoying ourselves here to-day. Shall we then let its remembrance fade away? I think not; and therefore I have given to this arbour its name, and have added to the record the following verses:―

"Should the sky rain pearls, the cold cannot wear them as clothes;
Should the sky rain jade, the hungry cannot use it as food.
It has rained without cease for three days―
Whose was the influence at work?
Should you say it was that of your Governor,
The Governor himself refers it to the Emperor.
But the Emperor says ‘No! it was God.’
And God says ‘No! it was Nature.’
And as Nature lies beyond the ken of man,
I dedicate this arbour instead.”


He who lives near hills, in his uprising and in his down-sitting, in his eating and in his drinking, should be in daily communion with the hills.

Of all ranges none is so lofty as Chung-nan. Of all towns situated near hills, none is so close to them as Fu-fêng. Hence it would follow that mountain-peaks were included in the surrounding scenery. Nevertheless, from the Governor's residence there was not a hill to be seen. Although this entailed no consequences either of evil or of good, still it was not in accordance with the eternal fitness of things. And so the Baseless Tower was built.

Before the erection of this Tower, the Governor would frequently stroll about, staff in hand, at the foot of the hills, whence he every now and again caught glimpses of their outlines through the dense groves of trees, much as one sees the top-knots of people who are passing on the other side of a wall. The result was that he ordered workmen to dig a square pond in front of his house, and with the clay taken therefrom to build a tower somewhat higher than the eaves. When this was done, those who mounted to the top lost all sense of the tower’s elevation, while the surrounding hills seemed to have started up into view. The Governor therefore named it the Baseless Tower; and bade me commit its record to writing.

To this I replied, “The sequence of fulness and decay lies beyond the limits of our ken. Years ago, when this site was exposed to the hoar-frost and dew of heaven, the home of the adder and of the fox, who could then have forecast the Tower of to-day? And when, obedient to the eternal law, it shall once again by lapse of time become a wilderness and a desert as before,―this is what no man can declare.”

“Where now,” said I to the Governor, as we mounted the Tower together and gazed over the landscape around us, “where now are the palaces of old, beautiful, spacious buildings, a hundred times more solid than this? They are gone; and not a broken tile, not a crumbling wall remains, to mark the spot. They have passed into the growing grain, into the thorny brake. They have melted into the loamy glebe. Shall not then this Tower in like manner pass away? And if towers cannot last for ever, how much less shall we rely for immortality upon the ever fickle breath of praise? Alas for those who trust by these means to live in the record of their age! For whether the record of their age will endure or perish depends upon something beyond the preservation and decay of towers.”[12]

I then retired and committed the above to writing.


All things are in some sense worth seeing, and are consequently sources of pleasure: it is not necessary that they should possess either rarity or beauty. Eating grains and swilling lees will make a man drunk: berries and herbs will fill his belly; and it is by parity of reasoning that I am able to enjoy myself wherever I go.

Now those who seek happiness and avoid misery, rejoice or grieve according as they are successful or otherwise. But man’s desires are endless, while his means of gratifying them are limited: good and evil strive together for the upper hand, and choice between them is ofttimes a difficult task. It follows therefore that occasions of joy are few, and occasions of grief many. Rather might we say that men pursue misery and eschew happiness. This, however, is contrary to human nature. Men do so only because they are the slaves of objective existences. Thus, if existences are considered subjectively (as regards themselves), all idea of their dimension is lost; whereas, if they are considered subjectively (as regards ourselves), then there are none to which the idea of dimension does not apply. But when another would refer to me his perceptions of such dimensions then I become troubled in mind, as though I saw a battle through a chink and was asked to decide with which party the victory lay. And thus it is, alas! that good and evil grow up promiscuously, and sorrow and joy are intertwined together.

On my transfer from Chekiang to Shantung, I exchanged the comfort of boats for the fatigue of horses and carts. I relinquished the elegance of carved panels for a home among the citron groves of the north. I turned my back upon hill and lake to wander over acres of mulberry and hemp. When I reached my post, the year’s crops had failed, the country round was alive with banditti, and litigation the order of the day. I accordingly adopted a diet of lenten fare, living on berries and herbs; from which it was generally inferred that I was unhappy. But ere a year had passed away, my face filled out, and hair which had grown white became black again. I learned to love the honest manliness of the people, and my own easy disposition won popularity for my administration. I set to work upon my garden and my house, hewing down trees to effect the necessary repairs. On the north, abutting on the city wall, there was an old tower, which had stood there for years. This I to some extent restored; and thither I would often go and give vent to my feelings over the scene below. Southwards, hills receding, hills looming darkly into view, the home perhaps of some virtuous recluse. Eastwards, hills: the hill to which Lü Ao retired to hide, Westwards, the Mu-ling pass in the far distance, like the battlements of a city, hallowed by the memory of many a glorious name. Northwards, the river Wei below; and looking down I would sigh as I remembered him of Huai-yin and his unaccomplished work.

My tower was lofty but solid; and even from its summit a clear view was obtainable. Cool in summer, it was warm in winter; and on mornings of rain or snow, on windy or moonlit nights, I would be there, always accompanied by friends. Vegetables from the garden, fish from the pool, the small wine of the country, and a dish of millet porridge,―such was our simple fare, over which I would exclaim, “Ho, there! what happiness is this!”

A brother, who lived in Chi-nan, hearing how I passed my time, wrote me some verses on the subject, and named my tower the Tower of Contentment, in reference to my knack of enjoying myself under all conditions. This, because I could roam beyond the limits of an external world.


During the autumn of 1078, there was a great flood over a certain district, which nearly submerged the rude dwelling of a recluse named Chang. However, by the following spring the water had fallen, and he was able to occupy a site near his former residence, on a range of hills, in the midst of charming scenery, where he built himself a mountain hut. It was a perfect cordon of peaks, except on the west where the line broke; and there, right in the gap, the hermit’s cottage stood. Thence, in spring and summer, the eye wandered over a broad expanse of verdure and vegetation: in autumn and winter, over moonlit miles of gleaming snow; while every change of wind and rain, every alternation of darkness and light, brought ever-varying beauties into view.

Chang kept a couple of cranes, which he had carefully trained; and every morning he would release them westwards through the gap, to fly away and alight in the marsh below or soar aloft among the clouds as the birds’ own fancy might direct. At nightfall, they would return with the utmost regularity. And so he named his abode the Châlet of Cranes.

When I was Governor in those parts, I went with some friends to call upon Chang, and spent a merry time with him over a stoup of wine. And as I pledged my host, I said, “Are you aware, sir, how perfect is the happiness you enjoy? happiness that I would not exchange even for the diadem of a prince. Does not the Book of Changes speak of the crane’s voice sounding in solitude, and the harmony which prevails among its young? Does not the Book of Poetry tell us that the crane’s note rings through the marsh, and is heard far away in the sky? For the crane is a bird of purity and retirement, taking its pleasure beyond the limits of this dusty world of ours. Therefore it has been made an emblem of the virtuous man and of the lettered recluse; and to cherish such pets in one’s home should entail rather profit than harm. Yet the love of cranes once lost a kingdom.[13]

“Then we have had Edicts prohibiting the use of wine, the greatest curse, as ’twas said, of the curses which afflict mankind. Yet there have been those who attained immortality thereby, and made themselves heroes for ever.

“Ah! ’tis but the prince, who, though pure as the crane itself, dares not indulge a passion for wine. An he do so, it may cost him his throne. But for the lettered recluse of the hill-side, what odds if he perish in his cups? And what harm can his cranes bring to him? Thus, sir, it is that the joys of the prince and the hermit may not be mentioned together.”

“True enough!” cried Chang, smiling, as he proceeded to sing the Song of the Cranes:―

"Away! away! my birds, fly westwards now,
To wheel on high and gaze on all below;
To swoop together, pinions closed, to earth;
To soar aloft once more among the clouds;
To wander all day long in sedgy vale;
To gather duckweed in the stony marsh.
Come back! come back! beneath the lengthening shades,
Your serge-clad master stands, guitar in hand.
’Tis he that feeds you from his slender store:
Come back! come back! nor linger in the west.”


It is stated in the ancient work on Water-courses that at a certain place there was a “stone-bell hill.” The commentator, Li Yüan, considers the name to have arisen from the fact that the foot of the hill is washed by a deep pool, and that on the slightest agitation of its surface by the wind, waves would splash against the rock and produce a sound like that of a great bell.

This explanation, long regarded with suspicion, was at length exploded by a real bell being placed in the pool, which, no matter how violent the waves, never gave forth a sound. How much less then, it was argued, would stone.

By-and-by, an official, named Li Pŏ, set to work to investigate, and discovered at the pool two stones which when struck emitted ringing sounds of different pitches, the vibration continuing some time after the stroke, and at length dying gradually away. Thus be believed that he had finally settled the point.

Of this settlement, however, I always entertained grave doubts. For many stones will yield a ringing sound when struck; why then should these be more particularly bell stones than any others?

Subsequently, I had an opportunity of seeing for myself these so-called stone bells, when accompanying my eldest son on the way to his post as magistrate. The priests of a neighbouring temple bade one of their novices carry an adze, and with this he chipped off several pieces and showed me how they rang when struck. I smiled, but was not convinced; and that same night, the moon shining brightly, I stepped into a boat with my son and we proceeded to the base of the hill where the rock rose almost sheer to a height of near a thousand feet, looking like a fierce beast or huge hobgoblin about to spring upon us. Flocks of birds, startled at our approach, flew out and whirled away into the sky. There were also sounds as of old men coughing and laughing within a chasm of the rock, which one would have said was the noise of herons or cranes.

Much affected by the scene, I was about to leave, when suddenly over the face of the water came clanging and rolling sounds, like the notes of bells and drums. The boatman was horribly alarmed; but on examination we found that the base of the rock was pitted all over with holes, of I know not what depth, and that the sounds were due to the water which had been forced up them rushing noisily out as each wave retired. And steering our boat into a chasm between two rocks, we there found a large boulder of a size to seat a hundred persons, right in mid-channel. This too was full of holes, and when these had been filled with water driven in by the wind, the water would flow out with a noise similar to that we had just heard.

Laughing, I turned to my son and said, “Don’t you see? These sounds are identical in timbre with the notes of the two famous bells of old. Ah! the ancients deceive us not. But how should people undertake to decide about what they have neither seen with their eyes nor heard with their ears? Li Yüan was a man of experience equal to my own. Yet his explanation was inaccurate. He doubtless would not be bothered to get into a boat and anchor here at night beneath the cliff. Therefore he could not ascertain the real cause of the phenomenon, while the boatmen and others, who may have known, had no means of publishing the truth. Li Pŏ put his trust in an adze, and thought he had solved the problem thereby.”

I accordingly made a note of this adventure, with a sigh for the remissness of Li Yüan, and a smile at the credulity of Li Pŏ.


Old Square-Cap was a hermit. In his youth he had been a knight-errant, and the leader of knight-errantry in his hamlet. He was also an enthusiastic student of all kinds of books, hoping by these means to make his mark upon the age. But he never succeeded, and retired late in life to the hills. He lived in a hut. He was a vegetarian. He held no intercourse with the outer world. He would have neither horse nor carriage. He destroyed his official uniform. He walked by himself on the hills. No one knew who he was; but his tall square hat, apparently a survival of the ancient head-piece of the Han dynasty, earned for him the sobriquet of Old Square-Cap.

When I was banished I lived in the neighbourhood, and one day came suddenly upon him. “Good gracious!” I cried, “my old friend Ch‘ên! What are you doing here?” Old Square-Cap replied by asking me what I did there; and when I told him, he bent his head in silence and then quickly looked up and smiled. He took me to sleep at his home, a quiet little place with a mud wall round it, where, nevertheless, his wife and servants all seemed very contented and happy. I was astonished at what I saw. For I remembered how, in his wine-bibbing, swash-bucklering youth, he had flung away money like dirt. Nineteen years before, I had seen him out shooting on the hills with a couple of attendants. A jay rose in front of them, and he bade one of the attendants shoot, but the man missed; at which he urged his horse forward, drew an arrow, and shot the bird dead. Then, as he sat there on horseback, he held forth on military matters, and discussed the victories and defeats of ancient and modern times, calling himself the warrior of his age.

And now, after all these years, the old determined look is still to be seen in his face. How then is he what we mean by a hermit of the hills? Yet he was of an illustrious house. He would have had grand opportunities. He would have made himself famous ere this. His home was at the capital, a home of luxury and splendour, like the palace of a prince. He held an estate which gave him yearly a thousand pieces of silk; so that the pleasures of wealth were in his grasp. All these things he put aside, and retired to penury and solitude on the hills. He did not turn his back upon the world because he had failed to secure the material blessings of life.

I have heard that there are many weird beings on those hills, though I never caught a glimpse of one. Doubtless Old Square-Cap, himself of that clique, has made their acquaintance long ago.


In the year 1081, the seventh moon just on the wane, I went with a friend on a boat excursion to the Red Wall. A clear breeze was gently blowing, scarce enough to ruffle the river, as I filled my friend’s cup and bade him troll a lay to the bright moon, singing the song of the Modest Maid.

By-and-by, up rose the moon over the eastern hills, wandering between the Wain and the Goat, shedding forth her silver beams, and linking the water with the sky. On a skiff we took our seats, and shot over the liquid plain, lightly as though travelling through space, riding on the wind without knowing whither we were bound. We seemed to be moving in another sphere, sailing through air like the Gods. So I poured out a bumper for joy, and, beating time on the skiff’s side, sang the following verse:―

With laughing oars, our joyous prow
Shoots swiftly through the glittering wave―
My heart within grows sadly grave―
Great heroes dead, where are ye now?

My friend accompanied these words upon his flageolet, delicately adjusting its notes to express the varied emotions of pity and regret, without the slightest break in the thread of sound which seemed to wind around us like a silken skein. The very monsters of the deep yielded to the influence of his strains, while the boat-woman, who had lost her husband, burst into a flood of tears. Overpowered by my own feelings, I settled myself into a serious mood, and asked my friend for some explanation of his art. To this he replied, “Did not Ts‘ao Ts‘ao say:―

The stars are few, the moon is bright,
The raven southward wings his flight.

“Westwards to Hsia-k‘ou, eastwards to Wu-ch‘ang, where hill and stream in wild luxuriance blend,―was it not there that Ts‘ao Ts‘ao was routed by Chou Yü? Ching-chou was at his feet: he was pushing down stream towards the east. His war-vessels stretched stem to stern for a thousand li: his banners darkened the sky. He poured out a libation as he neared Chiangling; and sitting in the saddle, armed cap-à-pie, he uttered those words did that hero of his age. Yet where is he to-day?

“Now you and I have fished and gathered fuel together on the river eyots. We have fraternized with the crayfish: we have made friends with the deer. We have embarked together in our frail canoe; we have drawn inspiration together from the wine-flask―a couple of ephemerides, launched on the ocean in a rice-husk! Alas, life is but an instant of Time. I long to be like the Great River which rolls on its way without end. Ah, that I might cling to some angel’s wing and roam with him for ever! Ah, that I might clasp the bright moon in my arms and dwell with her for aye! Alas, it only remains to me to enwrap these regrets in the tender melody of sound.”

“But do you forsooth comprehend,” I enquired, “the mystery of this river and of this moon? The water passes by but is never gone: the moon wanes only to wax once more. Relatively speaking, Time itself is but an instant of time; absolutely speaking, you and I, in common with all matter, shall exist to all eternity. Wherefore then the longing of which you speak?

“The objects we see around us are one and all the property of individuals. If a thing does not belong to me, not a particle of it may be enjoyed by me. But the clear breeze blowing across this stream, the bright moon streaming over yon hills,―these are sounds and sights to be enjoyed without let or hindrance by all. They are the eternal gifts of God to all mankind, and their enjoyment is inexhaustible. Hence it is that you and I are enjoying them now.”

My friend smiled as he threw away the dregs from his wine-cup and filled it once more to the brim. And then, when our feast was over, amid the litter of cups and plates, we lay down to rest in the boat: for streaks of light from the east had stolen upon us unawares.


In the same year, when the tenth moon was full, I went again to the Red Wall. Two friends accompanied me; and as we crossed the hill, the landscape glittered white with frost, while the leafless trees cast our shadows upon the ground. The bright moon above inspired our hearts, and many a catch we sang as we strolled along. Then I sighed and said, “Here are the guests gathered together, but where are the cakes and ale? Here in the silver moonlight, here in the clear breeze,―what waste of a night like this!”

Then up spoke a friend and said, “This very eve I netted one of those gobemouche small-scaled fishes, for all the world like the famous perch of the Sung. But how about liquor?” However, we went back with our friend to consult his wife, and she at once cried out, “I have a stoup of wine, stored now some time in case of an accident like this.” And so with wine and fish we retraced our steps towards the Red Wall.

The river was rushing noisily by, but with narrowed stream; and over the heightened hill-tops the moon was still scarcely visible, while through the shallowing tide naked boulders stood prominently forth. It was but three months since, yet I hardly knew the place again.

I picked up my skirts and began to ascend the steep cliff. I struggled through bramble-brake. I sat me down upon the Tiger rock. I climbed a gnarled tree, up to the dizzy hawk’s nest, whence I looked down upon the River God’s temple below, and whither my two friends were unable to follow.

Suddenly there arose a rushing mighty sound. Trees and shrubs began to wave, hills to resound, valleys to re-echo, while wind lashed water into waves. Fear and regret entered into my soul; for it was not possible to remain. I hurried back and got on board. We poled the boat into mid-channel, and letting it take its own course, our excursion came to an end.

The hour was midnight, and all around was still; when from the east, across the river, flew a solitary crane, flapping its huge wings of dusky silk, as, with a long shrill scream, it whizzed past our boat towards the west. By-and-by, my friends left me, and I slept and dreamed that a lame Taoist priest in a feathery robe passed by on the bank, and, bowing to me, said, “Have you had a pleasant trip, sir, to the Red Wall?” I enquired his name, but he merely bowed again and made no reply. “Ah!” exclaimed I, “I know who you are. Are you not that bird which flew past me last night and screamed?” Just then I awakened with a start. I opened the door of my boat and looked out, but no one was to be seen.[15]


I was sitting up one night when suddenly a rat began to gnaw. A rap on the couch stopped the noise, which however soon began again. Calling a servant to look round with a light, we noticed an empty sack, from the inside of which came a grating sound, and I at once cried out, “Ha! the rat has got shut in here, and can’t get out.” So we opened the sack, but there was apparently nothing in it, though when we came to throw in the light, there at the bottom lay a dead rat. “Oh!” exclaimed the servant in a fright, “can the animal that was just now gnawing have died so suddenly as this? Or can it have been the rat’s ghost that was making the noise?” Meanwhile, he turned the rat out on the ground, when——away it went full speed, escaping before we had time to do anything. “’Tis passing strange,” said I, with a sigh, “the cunning of that rat. Shut up in a sack too hard for it to gnaw its way out, it nevertheless gnawed in order to attract attention by the noise; and then it pretended to be dead in order to save its life under the guise of death. Now I have always understood that in intelligence man stands first. Man can tame the dragon, subdue the mastodon, train the tortoise, and carry captive the unicorn. He makes all things subservient to his will; and yet here he is, trapped by the guile of a rat, which combined the speed of the flying hare with the repose of a blushing girl. Wherein then lies his superior intelligence?”

Thinking over this, with my eyes closed, a voice seemed to say to me, “Your knowledge is the knowledge of books; you gaze towards the truth but see it not. You do not concentrate your mind within yourself, but allow it to be distracted by external influences. Hence it is that you are deceived by the gnawing of a rat. A man may voluntarily destroy a priceless gem, and yet be unable to restrain his feelings over a broken cooking-pot. Another will bind a fierce tiger, and yet change colour at the sting of a bee. These words are your own; have you forgotten them?” At this I bent my head and laughed; and then, opening my eyes, I bade a servant bring pen and ink and commit the episode to writing.


(See p. 113).

How has the simple and lowly one become a Teacher for all generations? Why has a single word of his become law for the whole world? Because he could place himself in harmony with Nature, and adapt himself to the eternal sequence of fulness and decay.

Life does not come to us without reason: it is not without reason that we lay it down. Hence, some have descended from the hills to live among us; others have joined the galaxy of the stars above.[16] The traditions of old lie not.

Mencius said, “I am able to nourish my divine spirit.”[17] That spirit may lodge in a specified area; but its volume fills all space. For him who possesses it, the honours of princes and kings, the wealth of millionaires, the sagacity of counsellors, the courage of heroes, the subtlety of diplomatists,―these are but empty names. But who plants this spirit within us? It stands, independent of form; it moves, independent of force; it waits not for life, to exist; it perishes not in the swoon of death. Above, it assumes the shape of heavenly bodies; on earth, that of hills and streams: in the dark, that of spiritual beings; in the broad light of day, it returns again to man. But let this pass.

From the age of the Hans, the Truth began to be obscured, and literature to fade. Supernatural religions sprang up on all sides; and many eminent scholars failed to oppose their advance, until Han Wên-kung, the cotton-clothed, arose, and blasted them with his derisive sneer.[18] Thenceforth, not one but adopted him as their guide, returning into the true path,―now three hundred years ago. From the dead ashes of the immediate past his genius soared up: his message brought help to many in the hour of their affliction. His loyalty (to the commonwealth) called down the wrath of his Imperial master; his bravery eclipsed that of the bravest warrior. Was not this to place himself in harmony with Nature, and adapt himself to the eternal sequence of fulness and decay?

The human, they say, is all-powerful, except as against the divine. What is this distinction between the human and the divine? Cunning may deceive kings and princes, but cannot impose upon pigs and fishes.[19] Brute force may conquer an empire, but cannot win over the hearts of the people. So Han Wên-kung’s purity of heart dispersed the clouds at the summit of Mount Hêng,[20] but could not free him from Imperial suspicions. He tamed the fierce monster of the river, but could not shake off the calumnies of his foes. He endeared himself to the inhabitants of the southern shores, where his memory is held sacred after many generations; but he could not secure to himself a day’s repose as a courtier about the Throne. His failures were human, his successes divine.

The people of Ch‘ao-chou were sunk in ignorance. Han Wên-kung appointed a superintendent of education; and ever since, their city has been a centre of learning, a rival to the classic seats of old. To this day its inhabitants are known for their peace-loving ways; for their faith in the maxim that the “true doctrine inspires lofty natures with love for their fellow-men, inferior natures with respect for the authority of government.” And so, when they eat or drink, a portion is always devoted to the memory of their Master. Or if flood, or drought, or pestilence come upon them, it is to him they betake themselves for aid. But his shrine was behind the chief magistrate’s yamên, and inconvenient of access; and an application to the Throne to build a new shrine had been refused, when a Governor came to rule over the district whose administration was modelled upon that of his great predecessor. This popular official issued a notice that if the people themselves wished to erect a new shrine, they were at liberty to select a suitable site at a given spot; and within the year the building was completed.

Then some one said, “Han Wên-kung was banished to this spot, a thousand miles from his home, with no hope of return. If knowledge is given to him after death, it will hardly be with feelings of affection that he will look back upon his sojourn at Ch‘ao-chou.”

“Not so,” I replied. “Our Master’s spirit pervades space as water pervades the earth: there is no place where it is not. The Ch‘ao-chou people trusted and loved him more than others, and still venerate his spirit which hovers over their soil. Fancy, if a man boring for water should strike a spring and say, ‘Water is here!’”

“Han Wên-kung’s full designation is given in the inscription; and as the inhabitants of Ch‘ao-chou desired me to prepare a record to be engraven on stone, I indited the following lines to the memory of this great man:―

He rode of old on the dragon in the white cloud domain;

He grasped with his hand the glory of the sky;
The Weaving Damsel[21] robed him with the effulgence of the stars,
The wind bore him delicately from the throne of God.
He swept away the chaff and husks of his generation.
He roamed over the limits of the earth.
He clothed all nature with his bright rays,
The third in the triumvirate of genius.[22]
His rivals panted after him in vain,
Dazed by the brilliancy of his light.
He cursed Buddha: he offended his prince.
He journeyed far away to the distant south.
He passed the grave of Shun, and wept over the daughters of Yao.
The water-god went before him and stilled the waves.
He drove out the fierce monster as it were a lamb.
But above, in heaven, there was no music, and God was sad,
And summoned him to his place beside the Throne.
And now, with these poor offerings, I salute him;
With red lichees and yellow plantain fruit.
Alas, that he did not linger awhile on earth,

But passed so soon, with streaming hair, into the great unknown.


In Ssŭch‘uan there lived a retired scholar, named Tu. He was very fond of calligraphy and painting, and possessed a large and valuable collection. Among the rest was a painting of oxen by Tai Sung, which he regarded as exceptionally precious, and kept in an embroidered case on a jade-mounted roller. One day he put his treasures out to sun, and it chanced that a herdboy saw them. Clapping his hands and laughing loudly, the herdboy shouted out, “Look at the bulls fighting! Bulls trust to their horns, and keep their tails between their legs, but here they are fighting with their tails cocked up in the air; that's wrong!” Mr. Tu smiled, and acknowledged the justice of the criticism. So truly does the old saying run: For ploughing, go to a ploughman; for weaving, to a servant-maid.


a.d. 1021-1086

[A scholar, poet, and statesman, popularly known as “the Reformer,” in consequence of certain momentous political reforms he was enabled temporarily to introduce; the most remarkable being a system of compulsory military training for all classes of the people. He denounced the Tao Tê Ching, attributed to Lao Tzŭ (q.v.), as “akin to nonsense.” In 1104, his tablet was placed in the Confucian temple, only, however, to remain there about a hundred and forty years, when it was removed.]


IHAVE been debarred by illness from writing to you now for some time, though my thoughts have been with you all the while.

In reply to my last letter wherein I expressed a fear that you were not progressing with your study of the Canon, I have received several from you, in all of which you seem to think I meant the Canon of Buddha, and you are astonished at my recommendation of such pernicious works. But how could I possibly have intended any other than the Canon of the sages of China? And for you to have thus missed the point of my letter is a good illustration of what I meant when I said I feared you were not progressing with your study of the Canon.

Now a thorough knowledge of our Canon has not been attained by any one for a very long period. Study of the Canon alone does not suffice for a thorough knowledge of the Canon. Consequently, I have been myself an omnivorous reader of books of all kinds, even, for example, of ancient medical and botanical works. I have moreover dipped into treatises on agriculture and on needlework, all of which I have found very profitable in aiding me to seize the great scheme of the Canon itself. For learning in these days is a totally different pursuit from what it was in the olden times; and it is now impossible otherwise to get at the real meaning of our ancient sages.

There was Yang Hsiung. He hated all books that were not orthodox. Yet he made a wide study of heterodox writers. By force of education he was enabled to take what of good and to reject what of bad he found in each. Their pernicious influence was altogether lost on him; while on the other hand he was prepared the more effectively to elucidate what we know to be the Truth. Now do you consider that I have been corrupted by these pernicious influences? If so, you know me not.

No! the pernicious influences of the age are not to be sought for in the Canon of Buddha. They are to be found in the corruption and vice of those in high places; in the false and shameless conduct which is now rife among us. Do you not agree with me?


[The prince of Ch‘in held Mêng Ch‘ang-chün a prisoner, and intended to slay him. Meanwhile, Mêng Ch‘ang-chün sent word to the prince’s favourite lady, asking her to intercede for him; to which the latter replied that if he would give her a certain robe of white fox-skin, she would speak on his behalf. Now, it chanced that this very robe had already been presented to the prince; but among Mêng Ch‘ang-chün’s followers was one who could steal like a dog, and this man introduced himself by night into the palace and transferred the robe from the prince to the lady. The consequence was that Mêng Ch‘ang-chün was released and fled at once to the frontier; while the prince soon repented of his clemency, and sent off to recapture his prisoner. When Mêng Ch‘ang-chün reached the pass, the great gate was closed, not to be opened until cock-crow; at which he was much alarmed, fearing pursuit, until another of his followers, who possessed the art, began to crow like a cock, and set off all the cocks of the place crowing too. Thereupon, the gate was opened, and they escaped.]

All ages have extolled Mêng Ch‘ang-chün as one who possessed the power of attracting men of genius to his side, in consequence of which he was surrounded by such, and availed himself of their skill to escape from the tiger-clutch of the prince of Ch‘in.

Dear me! he was but the leader of cock-crowing, cur-stealing swashbucklers―men of genius in no sense were they.

Indeed, had his own powerful State included but one single man of genius, it would have wrested supremacy from the House of Ch‘in, and the opportunity for this cock-crowing, cur-stealing skill would never have occurred.

Besides, no true man of genius would condescend to associate with imitators of cocks and dogs.[23]


a.d. 1017-1073

[A distinguished military commander, of whom it was said that he could judge of the number of an enemy by the accompanying cloud of dust. Both he and his son were slain in battle.]


LOVERS of flowering plants and shrubs we have had by scores, but T‘ao Yüan-ming (q.v.) alone devoted himself to the chrysanthemum. Since the opening days of the T‘ang dynasty, it has been fashionable to admire the peony; but my favourite is the water-lily. How stainless it rises from its slimy bed! How modestly it reposes on the clear pool―an emblem of purity and truth! Symmetrically perfect, its subtle perfume is wafted far and wide; while there it rests in spotless state, something to be regarded reverently from a distance, and not to be profaned by familiar approach.

In my opinion, the chrysanthemum is the flower of retirement and culture; the peony, the flower of rank and wealth; the water-lily, the Lady Virtue sans pareille.

Alas! few have loved the chrysanthemum since T‘ao Yüan-ming; and none now love the water-lily like myself; whereas the peony is a general favourite with all mankind.


a.d. 1042-1102

[Ranks as one of the Four Great Scholars of the empire; and in consequence of his filial behaviour to his mother, he is placed among the twenty-four examples of filial piety.]


HSI K‘ANG’S[24] verses are at once vigorous and purely beautiful, without a vestige of commonplace about them. Every student of the poetic art should know them thoroughly, and thus bring the author into his mind’s eye.

Those who are sunk in the cares and anxieties of this world’s strife, even by a passing glance would gain therefrom enough to clear away some pecks of the cobwebs of mortality. How much more they who penetrate further and seize each hidden meaning and enjoy its flavour to the full! Therefore, my nephew, I send you these poems for family reading, that you may cleanse your heart and solace a weary hour by their perusal.

As I recently observed to my own young people, the true hero should be many-sided, but he must not be commonplace. It is impossible to cure that. Upon which, one of them asked by what characteristics this absence of the commonplace was distinguished. “It is hard to say,” I replied. “A man who is not commonplace is, under ordinary circumstances, much like other people. But he who at moments of great trial does not flinch―he is not commonplace.”

A hero may exist in his generation, either as a man of action or as a man of retirement; he may be inflexible or he may be of gentler mould. In any case, the above test gives the truest estimate of his value.


11th and 12th centuries a.d.

[A painter and art-critic who in early life attracted the attention and patronage of Su Tung-P‘o, who declared that his style was “like heaving waves, like flying sand, like rolling rocks.” Author of the Hua p‘in, a professedly critical work.]


THE colour of old pictures is black, resulting from deposits of dirt over the original thin wash of ink. Sometimes the picture is pleasantly impregnated with some ancient perfume. Faked pictures are mostly made up yellow, but this colour is easily distinguishable from the dark hue caused by dirt.

No more than three or four pictures by eminent artists should ever be hung in one room. After these have been enjoyed for four or five days, others should be substituted. All pictures should occasionally be brought into the open air, and on no account be exposed to smoke or damp. If they are exhibited in turn, they will not collect the dust and dirt, and what is more, you will not get tired of looking at them. Great care must be exercised in unrolling and rolling them up; and when they are brought out, they should be lightly flicked over the surface with a horse-tail or a silk flapper; coir brushes must on no account be used.

If the personages in a picture, when you look at them, seem to speak; if flowers and fruit are swayed by the wind and sparkle with dew; if birds and beasts seem as if they were alive; if hills and streams and forests and fountains are limpid, reposeful, dark, and distant; if buildings have depth; if bridges have movement to and fro; if the base of a hill can be seen below the surface of the clear water at its foot; and if the sources of the water are made obvious and distinct; then,―though his name may not be known, the man who paints such pictures is a great artist.

But if the personages resemble corpses or clay images; if the flowers and fruit look artificial; if the birds and beasts are like, only so far as plumage and fur; if the characteristics of the landscape are blurred and indistinct; if the buildings are out of proportion; if the bridges are out of drawing; if the foot of the hill rests on the top of the water; and if the streams have no apparent source; pictures with such faults as these may be set aside as of no account.

Gems of Chinese Literature pg 88.png


a.d. 1103-1141

[A famous military commander who was equally successful, at home in suppressing rebellion, and abroad in resisting the encroachments of the Tartars. However, the intrigues of a rival, by whose advice peace with the Tartars was purchased at the price of half the empire, brought him to the sword of the executioner. Posterity has avenged him by adopting the hated name of his betrayer as the common term for a spittoon.]


HIS Majesty asked me one day if I had any good horses; to which I replied that I used to have two excellent animals. “They ate,” I added, “large quantities of hay and many pecks of beans, daily; besides drinking each a gallon of spring water. Unless their food was fresh and clean, they would not touch it. On being mounted, they did not immediately break into a gallop; but would gradually warm into eagerness for their work. Between noon and sunset they would cover some sixty and odd miles; and on removing the saddle they would be found neither to have lost wind nor to have turned a hair any more than if they had been doing nothing. Such is the capacity for endurance in those who are well fed and well treated; who are willing, but not over-zealous. Unhappily, they both died; and those I have now do not eat more than a few pints per diem. They are not particular about either their food or their drink. Before you have fairly got hold of the bridle, away they go; and then, ere many miles are passed, they pant and sweat and are like to drop with fatigue. Such is the jaded condition of those who get little and are easily satisfied, who are over-eager and are easily exhausted.”

His Majesty praised my reply (“but,” as one commentator says, “quite missed the point.”)


Died a.d. 1172

[Statesman and art critic. He first attracted attention in 1129 by his answer to a theme set by the Emperor in an oral examination of scholars. The theme ran thus: “The way of government has its origin in God; the way of God has its origin in the people.” We are told that his reply ran to over ten thousand words and that the Emperor was much astonished, but I can find no record of what he said.]


THERE is no branch of painting so difficult as portrait-painting. It is not that reproduction of the features is difficult; the difficulty lies in painting the springs of action hidden in the heart. The face of a great man may resemble that of a mean man, but their hearts will not be alike. Therefore, to paint a likeness which does not exhibit these heart-impulses, leaving it an open question whether the sitter is a great man or a mean man, is to be unskilled in the art of portraiture.


Middle of 13th century a.d.

[A scholar who is known for a work entitled “The Washing Away of Wrongs.” It is a handbook of instructions to coroners; and until recent years it was always carried by magistrates to the inquests over which they had to preside. Its opening words may perhaps help to dispel certain false ideas as to the value of human life in China.]


THERE is nothing more important than human life; there is no punishment greater than death. A murderer gives life for life; the law shows no mercy. If punishment is wrongly inflicted, the mind of the judge cannot be at peace; therefore, confession and sentence are entirely dependent on examination showing the wounds to be genuine,―genuine wounds, with a confession that tallies. Thus, one life given for one death will cause those who know the law to fear the law, crime will be less frequent among the people, and human life will enjoy a more complete protection. If an inquest is not honestly conducted, the wrong of the murdered man will not be washed away, and new wrongs will be raised up among the living. One murder leads on to two murders, or even more; hate and vengeance follow one another, with pitiable results of which no man can foresee the end.


Murders are rarely the result of premeditation, but can be traced in the majority of cases to a brawl. The statute which treats of wounding in a brawl attaches great weight to the death-limit, which means that the wounded man be handed over to the accused to be taken care of and provided with medical aid, and that a limit of time be fixed, on the expiration of which, punishment be awarded according to circumstances. Now the relatives of a wounded man, unless their ties be of the closest, generally desire his death that they may extort money from his slayer; but the accused wishes him to live that he himself may escape death, and therefore leaves no means untried to restore him to health. This institution of the death-limit is a merciful endeavour to save the lives of both.


12th century a.d.

[The reputed author of the novel based upon the History of the Three Kingdoms, of which specimens are given below. Of all Chinese works of fiction, this one, largely based upon fact, is undoubtedly the prime favourite. It is written in an easy and picturesque style, and therefore appeals to a very large circle of readers. Many of its episodes have been dramatised, and have thus become familiar to audiences drawn from the most unlettered classes.]


THROUGH fire and smoke, Chang Jang and Tuan Kuei[25] hurried away the Emperor[26] and his brother, the Prince. Day and night they travelled on, until they reached Mt. Mang; then, during the second watch,[27] they heard behind them a great hubbub of voices, with men and horses in pursuit. “Stop! you rascally rebels, stop!” cried out in a stentorian voice an officer who was leading the pursuers; at which, Chang Jang, seeing it was all up, threw himself into the river and was drowned. The Emperor and the Prince, not knowing if it was a real deliverance or not, did not dare to utter a sound but hid themselves in the long grass by the riverside. The mounted soldiers scattered on all sides to search for them, but failed to discover their hiding-place. The Emperor and Prince remained concealed until the fourth watch,[28] when drenched with dew and faint with hunger, they embraced one another in tears, at the same time muffling their sobs in the undergrowth lest any one should hear them. At length, the Prince said, “we cannot stay here much longer; let us seek some way of escape.” They then tied themselves together by their clothes and climbed up the bank of the river, to find themselves in a tangled mass of brambles, unable for want of light to see which way to go. They were in despair; when suddenly a huge cluster of fireflies, giving forth a brilliant glow, flew round and round the Emperor. “God is helping us brothers!” cried the Prince; and by following the lead of the fireflies, they by-and-by reached a road. It was now the fifth watch,[29] and their feet were so sore that they could walk no more. On the hillside they saw a heap of straw, in the middle of which they lay down; and over against this heap of straw there was a wooden shanty, the owner of which had dreamt that very night of two red suns which had fallen behind his shanty. Waking up in a fright, he slipped on his clothes and went out to see if anything had happened. Looking about, he noticed a bright red glare rising up to the sky from the top of the heap of straw at the back of his shanty; and on going hurriedly to find out what it was, he discovered two persons lying alongside the straw. “And who may you two young fellows be?” he called out; to which he got no answer from the Emperor who was afraid to reply; but the Prince pointed at his brother, saying, “This is his Majesty, the Emperor; there has been a mutiny of ten of our eunuchs, and he has taken refuge in flight; I am the Prince, his younger brother.” At this, the farmer was greatly alarmed; and after twice prostrating himself, he said, “Your servant is the brother of an official who served under the last dynasty; but being disgusted with the sale of office by the ten eunuchs, and their bad treatment of worthy men, I retired to this spot.” He then assisted the Emperor into the shanty, and on his knees offered wine and food. Meanwhile, the officer and his men had pursued and caught Tuan Kuei, and asked him where the Emperor was; and on being told that the Emperor had disappeared, without leaving any traces, the officer immediately beheaded Tuan Kuei and hung the head to his horse’s neck, dispersing his men to search in all directions. He himself rode off alone, and chance brought him to the farmer’s shanty. The farmer, seeing the decapitated head, enquired whose it might be; and when the officer had told him the circumstances, sovereign and subject met once more, to dissolve in bitter tears. “The State cannot be for a single day without its ruler,” said the officer; “I beg your Majesty to return to the capital.” The farmer could only produce one miserable horse, on which the Emperor mounted, while the Prince rode with the officer on the other.[30]


By the loss of two generals, one after the other, Ts‘ao Ts‘ao[32] was greatly depressed. “Allow me,” said one of his staff, “to recommend the very man you want;” and on being asked by Ts‘ao Ts‘ao for the name, he replied, “The only man for this job is Kuan Yü.” Ts‘ao Ts‘ao was soon convinced, and gladly dispatched a messenger to summon him. After taking leave of his two sisters-in-law, who begged him to enquire for news of their Imperial uncle, Kuan Yü set out to obey the summons. Seizing his green-dragon sword, and mounting his hare-brown charger, accompanied by several followers, he went straight to an interview with Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, who told him of the deaths of the two generals and of the loss of moral in the ranks; also, how Yün Ch‘ang had been invited to a consultation with the enemy.[33] To this, Kuan Yü replied, “Suffer me to see this business through;” upon which Ts‘ao Ts‘ao ordered wine and treated him most cordially. Suddenly, it was announced that the enemy, under General Yen, was preparing an attack; and Ts‘ao Ts‘ao took Kuan Yü to the top of a hill to reconnoitre. They sat down, and the other generals stood round them, while Ts‘ao Ts‘ao pointed out the position of the enemy, the fresh-looking splendour of his standards, the dense masses of his spears and swords, all drawn up in a formidable array. Then he turned to Kuan Yü and said, “You see this powerful force of men and horses…” “I do,” answered Kuan Yü; “they remind me of a lot of earthen cocks and pottery dogs.” Again Ts‘ao Ts‘ao pointed and said, “There, under the standard, with the embroidered robe and golden coat of mail, holding a sword and standing still on his horse,―is General Yen.” Kuan Yü raised his eyes and looked over in the direction indicated; then he said, “To me, General Yen looks as if he had stuck up an advertisement for the sale of his head.” “Ah,” cried Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, “you must not underrate him!” At this, Kuan Yü got up and exclaimed, “Although a man of no ability, I am prepared to go into this ten-thousand-man camp and bring you back his head as an offering.” “There should be no joking on a battle-field,” said one of the staff; “anyhow don’t forget that Yün Ch‘ang is there.” Kuan Yü rushed off at once, and jumping on his horse, with his sword reversed, galloped down the hill. With round, glaring, phœnix-like eyes, and his silkworm-moth eyebrows raised straight up, he dashed right among the enemy whose ranks opened like parting waves, until he reached General Yen himself. The latter, under his standard, seeing Kuan Yü rush forwards, was just about to ask what he wanted, when the speed of the brown-as-a-hare charger had already brought Kuan Yü alongside of him. General Yen had no time to lay his hand on his sword before he was knocked off his horse by Yün Ch‘ang; whereupon Kuan Yü jumped down, cut off the General’s head, hung it round his horse’s neck, remounted in a moment, and with sword drawn made his way through the enemy’s ranks as though no one was there to stop him. Officers and men were all terrified and a perfect panic ensued. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao’s troops seized the opportunity for attack, and slaughtered the enemy in great numbers, besides capturing many horses and quantities of munitions of war. Kuan Yü rode his horse up the hill, to receive congratulations from the various commanders as he presented the head to Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, who exclaimed, “General, you are indeed no mortal man!”


a.d. 1130-1200

The most voluminous, and one of the most luminous, of Chinese authors. He successfully introduced interpretations of the Confucian books, either wholly or partly at variance with those which had been put forth by the scholars of the Han dynasty and hitherto received as infallible, thus modifying to a certain extent the prevailing standard of political and social morality. His principle was simply one of consistency. He refused to interpret given words in a given passage in one sense, and the same words, occurring elsewhere, in another sense. Consequently, his are now the only authorised interpretations; and these, in spite of the hankerings of a few woolly-headed scholars, are never likely to be displaced.

At Chu Hsi’s death, his coffin is said to have taken up a suspended position, about three feet from the ground. Whereupon his son-in-law, falling on his knees beside the bier, reminded the departed spirit of the great principles (anti-supernatural) of which it had been such a brilliant exponent in life,―and the coffin descended gently to the ground.]


IT has always been considered first-class work in portrait painting, even for the most skilful artist, when the result is a likeness, more or less exact, of the mere features. Such skill is now possessed by Kuo Kung-ch‘ên; but what is still more marvellous, he catches the very expression, and reproduces, as it were, the inmost mind of his model.

I had already heard much of him from a couple of friends; however, on my sending for him, he did not make his appearance until this year. Thereupon, a number of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood set themselves to test his skill. Sometimes the portrait would be perfect; sometimes perhaps a little less so; but in all cases a marked likeness was obtained, and in point of expression of individual character the artist showed powers of a very high order.

I myself sat for two portraits, one large and the other small; and it was quite a joke to see how accurately he reproduced my coarse ugly face and my vulgar rustic turn of mind, so that even those who had only heard of, but had never seen me, knew at once for whom the portraits were intended.

I was just then about to start on my travels,―eastwards, to the confines of Shantung; westwards, to the turbid waters of the Tung-t‘ing lake; northwards, to the quiet home of the old recluse, T‘ao Yüan-ming;―after which I contemplated retirement from public life. And I thought how much I should like to bring back with me portraits of the various great and good, but unknown, men I might be fortunate enough to meet with on the way. But Kuo's parents were old, and he could not venture upon such a long journey, for which I felt very sorry. So at parting, I gave him this document.[34]


Taoism was at first confined to purity of life and to inaction. These were associated with long life and immortality, which by-and-by became the sole objects of the cult. Nowadays, they have thought it advisable to adopt a system of magical incantations, and chiefly occupy themselves with exorcism and prayers for blessings. Thus, two radical changes have been made. The Taoists have the writings of Lao Tzŭ and Chuang Tzŭ. They neglected these, and the Buddhists stole them for their own purposes; whereupon the Taoists went off and imitated the sûtras of Buddhism. This is just as if the scions of some wealthy house should be robbed of all their valuables, and then go off and gather up the old pots and pans belonging to the thieves. Buddhist books are full of what Buddha said, and Taoist books are similarly full of what Tao said. Now Buddha was a man, but how does Tao manage to talk? This belief, however, has prevailed for eight or nine centuries past. Taoism began with Lao Tzŭ. Its Trinity of the Three Pure Ones is copied from the Trinity of the Three Persons as taught by Buddhism. By their Trinity the Buddhists mean (1) the spiritual body (of Buddha), (2) his joyful body (showing Buddha rewarded for his virtues), and (3) his fleshly body, under which Buddha appears on earth as a man. The modern schools of Buddhism have divided their Trinity under three images which are placed side by side, thus completely missing the true signification (which is Trinity in Unity); and the adherents of Taoism, wishing to imitate the Buddhists in this particular, worship Lao Tzŭ under (another version of) the Three Pure Ones, namely, (1) as the original revered God, (2) the supreme ruler Tao, and (3) the supreme ruler Lao Tzŭ (in the flesh). Almighty God (that is, T‘ien) is ranked below these three, which is nothing short of an outrageous usurpation. Moreover, the first two do not represent the spiritual and joyful bodies of Lao Tzŭ, and the two images set up cannot form a Unity with him; while the introduction of the third is an aggravated copy of the mistake made by the Buddhists. Chuang Tzŭ has told us in plain language of the death of Lao Tzŭ, who must now be a spirit; how then can he usurp the place of Almighty God? The doctrines of Buddha and Lao Tzŭ should be altogether abolished; but if this is not possible, then only the teachings of Lao Tzŭ should be tolerated, all shrines in honour of him, or of his disciples and various magicians, to be placed under the control of the directors of Public Worship.


12th century a.d.

[Author of the Hua Chi “The Development or Painting.”]


IN India, at the temple of Nalanda, the priests paint many Buddhas, Bôdhisatvas, and Lohans, using the linen of the West. The features of their Buddhas are very different from Chinese features; the eyes are larger and the mouths and ears are curiously shaped; the figures wear girdles and have the right shoulder bare, and are either in sitting or standing attitudes. The artist begins by drawing the heart, liver, stomach, lungs, and kidneys, at the back of the picture; on the other side he paints the figure in colours, using gold or vermilion as a ground. They object to ox-glue as too noticeable, and take the gum from peach-trees mixed with the juice of the willow, which is very strong and clear, but quite unknown in China.


12th century a.d.

[From the T‘u hua wên chien chih “Record of Observations on Drawing and Painting.” Its author was an art critic and painter, said by Têng Ch‘un to be the only artist of his acquaintance who could express the soul, as well as the form, of his subject, human or otherwise.]


WHEN the Sung dynasty was at the height of its glory, the roads were thronged with men of foreign nations coming to Court. Of all these the most cultured and refined were the Koreans, who were gradually yielding to the influences of the Flowery Land. In matters of manual skill there was no other people to be compared with them, and they were remarkably proficient in painting. At one house I saw a coloured landscape in four rolls; and at another, two rolls containing pictures of the eight ancient worthies of Korea; while elsewhere I saw a picture on fine calico of the Heavenly Kings, all being works of considerable excellence. In 1074 a Korean envoy arrived, bringing tribute, and also bent upon obtaining specimens of Chinese calligraphy and painting. He bought up a good many of these, with not more than ten to twenty per cent. of inferior works, and paid in some cases as much as 300 ounces of silver. In the winter of 1076 another envoy was sent with tribute; and being about to take back with him several painters, he begged leave to be allowed to copy the frescos in the Hsiang-kuo Temple. This he was permitted to do, and carried away with him copies of all the frescos, the men he employed being fairly skilled in the art. When these envoys came to China they used at their private audiences folding fans made of duck[’s egg] blue paper, on which were painted pictures of their national heroes, men, women, horses, landscape, lotus-flowers, tree-birds and water-fowl, all very cleverly done. Patches of silver were also used for clouds and the moon, with very charming effect. They called the fans their Dwarf fans, because the fans came originally from the Dwarf Nation (Japan).


a.d. 1236-1282

[The famous statesman and patriot, who, when finally held captive by Kublai Khan after the complete overthrow of the Sung dynasty, calmly faced death rather than own allegiance to the Mongol conqueror. The following beautiful morceau was penned in captivity, and cannot but fill us with admiration for the hero of whom the Chinese may proudly say, “Whatever record leaps to light, he never shall be shamed.”]


THERE is in the universe an Aura which permeates all things, and makes them what they are. Below, it shapes forth land and water; above, the sun and the stars. In man it is called spirit; and there is nowhere where it is not.

In times of national tranquillity, this spirit lies perdu in the harmony which prevails. Only at some great crisis is it manifested widely abroad. And as to these manifestations, those who run may read. Were there not the fearless and truthful annalists of old?[35] Was there not the disinterested chivalry of Chang Liang?[36] the unswerving devotion of Su Wu?[37] Did not Yen Yen[38] say they had headless generals in his district, but none who surrendered their allegiance? Was not an emperor's robe splashed with blood that might not be washed away?[39] And the teeth of Chang Hsün?[40]―the tongue of Yen Hsi?[40]―the guileless honesty of Kuan Ning,[41] pure as the clearest ice?―the martial genius of K‘ung Ming,[42] the admiration of Gods and men?―the oath of Tsu T‘i?[43]―the tablet dashed in the rebel's face?[44]

Such is this grand and glorious spirit which endureth for all generations, and which, linked with the sun and moon, knows neither beginning nor end. The foundation of all that is great and good in heaven and earth, it is itself born from the everlasting obligations which are due by man to man.

Alas! the fates were against me: I was without resource. Bound with fetters, hurried away towards the north, death would have been sweet indeed; but that boon was refused.

My dungeon is lighted by the will-o’-the-wisp alone: no breath of spring cheers the murky solitude in which I dwell. The ox and the barb herd together in one stall: the rooster and the phoenix feed together from one dish. Exposed to mist and dew, I had many times thought to die; and yet, through the seasons of two revolving years, disease hovered round me in vain. The dank unhealthy soil to me became Paradise itself. For there was that within me which misfortune could not steal away.[45] And so I remained firm, gazing at the white clouds floating over my head, and bearing in my heart a sorrow boundless as the sky.

The sun of those dead heroes has long since set; but their record is before me still. And, while the wind whistles under the eaves, I open my books and read; and lo! in their presence my heart glows with a borrowed fire.

Gems of Chinese Literature pg 296.png

  1. The Board of Censors still plays a very important part in the administration of government in China.
  2. “For the same reason he (Lord Ripon) has begun to consult the popular Associations, hundreds of which have sprung up in recent years, which are springing up day by day, and which reflect educated opinion on such great questions as education, local self-rule, usury laws, agrarian questions and the like.”―Daily News, 6th Sept., 1883.
  3. A commentator suggests that the act of grace in question was performed merely for the sake of notoriety; just as the same Emperor, during a severe plague of locusts, sought to check the evil by swallowing a locust alive, “which,” adds the commentator, “was probably only a paper imitation after all.”
  4. “By the law of Nature, too, all manners of Ideals have their fatal limits and lot; their appointed periods of youth, of maturity or perfection, of decline, degradation, and final death and disappearance.”―Carlyle’s Past and Present.
  5. Meaning, of course, himself.
  6. The Chinese have a device by which they can gag their soldiers, and so prevent them from talking in the ranks on the occasion of a night attack.
  7. Any old resident in China will recognise the truth of this description in regard to the change of season here indicated. In September, 1874, at Hankow, the thermometer fell something like forty degrees in less than forty-eight hours.
  8. A fair rendering of the text.
  9. Of his bones are coral made;

    Those are pearls that were his eyes.

  10. At the great spring festival, when every one tries to get away to visit his ancestral burying ground and there perform those harmless rites which time and custom have hallowed, it is not unusual for literary men to indite some such address as the above, and burn it at the grave of the deceased as a means of communication with the spiritual world. Of this most sacred anniversary, Carlyle has well said, “He (the Emperor) and his three hundred millions visit yearly the Tombs of their Fathers; each man the Tomb of his Father and his Mother; alone there, in silence, with what of worship or of other thought there may be, pauses solemnly each man; the divine Skies all silent over him; the divine Graves, and this divinest Grave, all silent under him; the pulsings of his own soul, if he have any soul, alone audible. Truly it may be a kind of worship! Truly if a man cannot get some glimpse into the Eternities, looking through this portal,―through what other need he try it?”
  11. A famous painter of landscape. Died a.d. 965 of delirium tremens.
  12. A sneer at the Governor for trying to commemorate his prosperous term of office by the erection of a perishable tower.
  13. Alluding to a certain feudal prince who lavished his revenues upon cranes.
  14. Not the spot mentioned in the San-kuo-chih, where Chou Yü burnt Ts‘ao Ts‘ao’s fleet, and where a wall is said to have been reddened by the flames. Su Tung-P‘o seems himself to have mistaken the identity of the place.
  15. “Alas!” says a commentator, “yesterday was the to-day of yesterday, and to-morrow will be the to-day of to-morrow.” Compare Carlyle (Past and Present), “To-day becomes yesterday so fast; all to-morrows become to-days.”
  16. Two mythological allusions.
  17. Dr. Legge, in his translation of Mencius, renders this term by “vast, flowing, passion-nature.” It is, in fact, untranslatable; but what is meant may be easily understood from Wên T‘ien-hsiang’s splendid poem, headed Divinæ Particulam Auræ. See p. 201.
  18. Cf. “Sapping- a solemn creed with solemn sneer.”
  19. Alluding to a passage in the Book of Changes.
  20. One of the numerous legendary tales of his supernatural power.
  21. The star α Lyrae.
  22. The other two were Tu Fu and Li T‘ai-pŏ (q.v.).
  23. This brief note is considered to be a veritable gem. One commentator says, “Within the space of a hundred words all the conditions of a perfect essay are fulfilled.”
  24. A famous painter, poet, and philosopher of the third century of our era. As a student of alchemy, he managed to offend one of the Imperial princes and was denounced as a dangerous person. He was ultimately put to death as a magician and a heretic.
  25. Eunuchs.
  26. Succeeded a.d. 189, aged 13.
  27. 9 to 11 p.m.
  28. 1 to 3 a.m.
  29. 3 to 5 a.m.
  30. On reaching the capital, the young Emperor was at once deposed by his chief Minister, and the still more youthful brother, who had shared the above adventure, was set up in his stead. The former only reigned for five months, and is not included by Chinese historians as an actual occupant of the throne. The brother resigned the throne in a.d. 220.
  31. The hero of the above story, Kuan Yü, after long and bloody campaigns was taken prisoner in a.d. 219 and put to death. Posthumously ennobled in the 12th century, in 1594 he was made a God; and ever since that date he has been worshipped as the God of War, and temples in his honour have been built all over the empire.
  32. One of the leading figures in the wars of the Three Kingdoms, whose son became the first Emperor of the short-lived Wei dynasty. In his last illness, he is said to have called in the famous physician of the day, who diagnosed wind on the brain and offered to get rid of this trouble by opening his skull under an anæsthetic. Fearing treachery, Ts‘ao Ts‘ao declined the operation.
  33. And was then actually in the enemy's camp.
  34. The following most interesting note was written for me by my valued friend, Mr. J. B. Coughtrie, an artist well-known in Hongkong circles:―


    The art of portraiture does not reach a very high standard in China, and its professors meet with limited patronage. The backward condition in which this branch of art remains is probably owing to the fact that the style and taste peculiar to the Chinese combine to render a lifelike resemblance impossible, and the completed picture unattractive. The artist lays upon his paper a flat wash of colour to match the complexion of his sitter, and upon this draws a mere map of the features, making no attempt to obtain roundness or relief by depicting light and shadows, and never by any chance conveying the slightest suggestion of animation or expression. The degree of merit accorded to the production at this stage depends upon the ease and rapidity with which it is seemingly done, a timid highly-wrought face taking rank beneath a facile sketchy production, which latter in many cases is but the affectation of those qualities obtained slowly and with labour. On the drapery the utmost care is bestowed, and the sitter is invariably represented in the finest raiment he is entitled to wear, and equally invariably with fan in one hand and snuff-bottle in the other.

    There is a wide-spread belief that the Chinese object to have their portraits taken for superstitious reason; and it is true that artists who have visited the country have always failed to induce picturesque coolies, peasants, and even beggars, to allow themselves to be sketched. The writer, however, has been informed that no such superstition really exists, but merely a proud objection on the part of the native to be depicted in his rags or every-day clothing.

  35. In allusion to certain murders which were denounced by the historiographers of the periods in question.
  36. Who, after setting an Emperor upon the throne, refused all reward, and retired into private life. See p. 62.
  37. Held prisoner by the Huns for the space of nineteen years. See Li Ling’s Reply, p. 80, The reference is to his “credentials,” from which he never allowed himself to be separated.
  38. In reply to the famous Chang Fei, who took him prisoner, but, in consequence of this bold answer, spared his life.
  39. The blood of Chi Shao, who died to save his Imperial master’s life.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Killed for their violent language in the presence of rebels by whom they had been taken prisoners.
  41. Who faithfully repaid all loans made to him while in exile.
  42. The famous general of the Story of the Three Kingdoms.
  43. As he was about to cross the Yellow River with troops in pursuit of an enemy―“If I do not succeed in purging the country of these men, may my blood flow away like this river!”
  44. By a virtuous official whose loyalty the said rebel was vainly striving to undermine.
  45. But there is that within me which shall tire

    Torture and Time; and breathe when I expire:

    Something unearthly.