Sunday, May 16, 2010

Glimpses of the past in Shaoxing

Shaoxing was a random pick. Reasonably near Shanghai, just less than 2 hours of fast train ride, and it is a name which is familiar to me—the hometown of the famous (famous within China context) Shaoxing wine (a kind of rice wine). And thus chanced upon many historical figures and literati that I used to study in my youth. Visting China, sometimes, at least to me, is akin to revisiting the pages of the books that I have read in school.

I guess even if I blindfold myself and stick a pin any where on the map of China, I can still find traces of history of that place which I stuck a pin at. History seems to be running at every corner and every turn.

Following are some of the historical figures which are associated with Shaoxing.

King Goujian of Yue (越王勾踐) (496BC - 465BC). Buried in Shaoxing.

“Sleeping on sticks and tasting gall” (卧薪尝胆)—that’s how I remembered him.

He lost his Kingdom of Yue to the King of Wu briefly. For three years, he had to bend his pride and serve the King Fuchai of Wu as a servant, went so far as to taste his shit to win the trust of the King. He was later allowed to return to Yue and from then he swore to revenge for the humiliation that he had suffered. In order to remind himself of his humiliation while serving in Wu, he would sleep on sticks and taste gall everyday, so as to persevere. He spent 10 years with his advisors working to build a strong Yue, while on the other hand, weakening Wu strategically—to break his trust on his abled officials, mesmerized him with beauties etc. Eventually, Goujian defeated the King of Wu. Not only did he kill the King of Wu and all the Wu scholars, he exterminated his scholars and advisors who had helped him to rebuild Yue. Fan Li, one of his advisors saw that coming, commented, “When the birds are killed, the bows will be put away; when the rabbits are hunted, the hunting dogs will be slaughtered for their meat.” He left soon after Goujian’s victory.

Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303BC–361BC) was a Chinese calligrapher, known as the Sage of Calligraphy.

His relation with Shaoxing was the preface that he wrote for a collection of poems at Orchid Pavilion, near Shaoxing city.

It was at this pavilion that he invited 41 friends, sitting alongside a meandering stream where small cups of wine would be floated in the stream. Which ever person the cup of wine stopped at, the person would have to compose a poem on the spot. Poems were collected and compiled. The preface was written by Wang Xizhi—Preface to the Literary Gathering at Orchid Pavilion—which was considered the best work in xingshu style. So much so that the original was buried alongside with the Emperor of Tang (618-907)!

Preface to the Literary Gathering at Orchid Pavilion

永和九年, It is the ninth year of the Yonghe era,

岁在癸丑,the year of the Yin Water Ox,

暮春之初,at the beginning of late spring,

会于会稽山阴之兰亭,gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in Huiji Shanyin,

修禊事也。for the Spring Purification Festival.

群贤毕至,All the able and virtuous people arrived,

少长咸集。the old and young gathered.

此地有崇山峻岭,茂林修竹;There are majestic peaks and steep mountains here, thick lush of woods and tall bamboos,

又有清流激湍,and the presence of clear streams and gushing rapids too,

映带左右,reflecting on our left and right,

引以为流觞曲水,列坐其次。While we sat by the winding stream, drinking from the cups that floated in the stream

虽无丝竹管弦之盛,although there is no music from an orchestra of string and wood-wind instruments

一觞一咏,亦足以畅叙幽情。a sip of wine and a recitation of poems now and there, is sufficient already to start an intimate conversation.

是日也,天朗气清,惠风和畅。Today, the weather is fine and the sky is clear, the breeze is gentle and soothing.

仰观宇宙之大,looking up, drowned in the vastness of the universe,

俯察品类之盛。looking down, entangled by the myriad of things

所以游目骋怀, why not instead, let our gazes wander freely and our sentiments to roam at will,

足以极视听之娱,信可乐也。it is too another way to enjoy our senses of sight and hearing, what a joy.

夫人之相与,people acquaint with one another

俯仰一世,或取诸怀抱,in this short life of ours, some will open their hearts,

悟(通)言一室之内;and exchange confidences in the privacy of a room

或因寄所托,放浪形骸之外。while some will indulge in materialistic things and turn a blind eye to conventions.

虽趣舍万殊,静躁不同,Although everyone differs in their choice of hobbies and interpretation of life and in personalities too—some are calm whilst some are impatient,

当其欣于所遇,暂得于己,when we revel in the joy of our encounters in life, but only momentarily,

快然自足,曾(zeng)不知老之将至;we relish, unaware to that fact that old age is dawning

及其所之既倦, till one grows tired of his pursuits,

情随事迁,his feelings will change accordingly too,

感慨系之矣。and lament will follow suit.

向之所欣,俯仰之间,The joy of yesterday, in a twinkling of an eye,

已为陈迹,犹不能不以之兴怀。became a thing of the past, one cannot help but to express our feelings

况修短随化,终期于尽。not to mention, the length of a man’s life is ever changing according to circumstance, and it will always come to an end.

古人云:死生亦大矣。岂不痛哉!The ancient said, “Life and death are equally important.” Isn’t that excruciating!

每览昔人兴感之由,若合一契,Every time I look at the cause of their sentimental feelings of the ancients, that seems to resonate with my own lament,

未尝不临文嗟悼, could not but to mourn over their writings each time,

不能喻之于怀。yet, I could not find the cause of my sadness.

固知一死生为虚诞,齐彭殇为妄作。Used to disregard that life and death as one, and find it absurd to regard living to an old ripe age to be equivalent to dying in one’s youth.

后之视今,亦犹今之视昔。The way the future generations look back at my time, would be similar too, to the way I look at the past.

悲夫!故列叙时人, It’s sad! As such, I list out the names of the people who gather today,

录其所述,to record their poems,

虽世殊事异, even though times differ and circumstances will change,

所以兴怀,其致一也。the way one expresses one’s feelings will be the same nonetheless.

后之览者,亦将有感于斯文。When future generations read this collection of poems, perhaps they will feel for these words.

Lu You, (1125–1210),

A patriotic poet of Song Dynasty. Forced to divorce his wife under the pressure of his mother. Left a poem (Pheonix Hairpin) on the walls of the Garden of Shen in Shaoxing after an encounter with his former wife by chance at the garden, of his thoughts of his first marriage.

Qiū Jǐn (秋瑾) (November 8, 1875 - July 15, 1907)

A feminist and a revolutionary, grew up in Shaoxing. Beheaded after a failed uprising against the Qing monarchy. Had bound feet herself, married to her husband under an arranged marriage, liked to dress herself in the Western male clothings but worked fervently against the abolishment of bound feet, advocating education for women to gain financial independence, left her husband and children for Japan to pursue her studies, which was unimaginable for a woman to do so of her time.

Zhou Enlai (5 March 1898 – 8 January 1976)

First premier of the Republic of China. One who used politics to serve the greater masses than to wield power for himself. Unlike Chairman Mao Zedong who as a semigod and therefore unaccountable for all his actions, Zhou Enlai was viewed by many Chinese to be the most humane leaders in the 20th century of China. Very popular with the people, many rose in spontaneous expressions of mourning across China at his death, which the Gang of Four, a vehicle which Mao used to eradicate his political opponents, considered to be dangerous, as they feared people might use this opportunity to express hatred towards them. Zhou was a workaholic. Hospitalized in 1974 for bladder cancer, but continued to conduct work from the hospital. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered by air over hills and valleys, according to his wishes.