CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 25, March 2011


Yang Xianyi: In Tribute | China Heritage Quarterly

Fan Weili

When I started visiting him weekly, I asked him why he no longer wrote poetry. He was well-known for writing poems as a way of self-expression. Was it because of his right hand was no longer handy? (A stroke he suffered years ago affected the right side of his body). If so, I said, you can dictate and I write it down for you. He said no, not because of my hand. I can still write. He then asked for pen and paper and spontaneously produced a poem.

There is a huge umbrella plant by his living room widow, which is overgrown for its space. This kind of house plants is called a 'Get-rich Tree' (Facai Shu 发财树) in China.

窗前发财树 长大碍门户 无官难发财 留作棺材木
A get-rich tree by the window
Gets in the way the larger it grows
Hard to get rich if you're not an official
Better keep it as lumber for your coffin.

As far as I know, this may well be the last poem he wrote. Later I realized that it's not his hand that hindered him from composing more poems; it was because there isn't much tickling him or stimulating his mind. Among his many friends, some simply forgot him and stopped coming; and some become too old, or already departed from this world.

Despite his reputation and erudition, Xianyi was a very modest man. I discussed with him many times the title for my book. He would shake his head if I used such words like Cultural Giant or master. At last we settled on Friendship at Xiaojinsi Alley (or Friendship Across the Generations). I said I'm afraid it might be presumptuous of me to claim friendship; he said no, not at all; he liked it.

As the notice for this commemoration says, learning about Yang Xianyi will enrich your life. Anyone who knew him will know what that means. My life, certainly, was enormously enriched by getting to know Xianyi. For that I shall forever be grateful. He is dearly missed and will always stand tall in the minds of us all.