CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 28, December 2011


Searching for the Ming: Part Five | China Heritage Quarterly

Searching for the Ming: Part Five

Zhang Dai
Translated by Duncan Campbell

This is the fifth page of Duncan Campbell's translations of excerpts from Zhang Dai's Search for West Lake in My Dreams. The other pages can be accessed via the following links:

Southern Approaches 西湖南路

Liuzhou Pavilion 柳洲亭

At the beginning of the Southern Song dynasty, this pavilion was known as the Joy of Harvest Tower. It had been so named because for a number of years after the Emperor Gaozong shifted his capital away from Bianliang [in 1127], the people living in the Hangzhou region and in the surrounding commanderies of Jiaxing and Huzhou experienced a succession of bountiful harvests. The emperor ordered the tower erected in order to proclaim how much he joined with his people in celebrating these circumstances.[Fig.13]

Fig.13 Xiao Yingzhou 小瀛洲 (Three Ponds Reflecting the Moon 三潭印月), reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.70.

To the left of the gate stood the Inquiring about the Water Pavilion erected by Sun Long, with its tall willows and lengthy embankment. The storied houseboats and decorated pleasure craft all gathered here in front of the pavilion, berthed in good order and adding lustre to each other. Each day they would cast off from here at dawn, only to return to moor at dusk. So many were the carts and horses that made their way here, and such was the confused din of the servants and retainers, that a cacophony of human clamour would last throughout the day.

At the eastern end of the embankment stands the Temple to the Three Virtues. Turning to the north after crossing a small bridge brought one to the Sojourn Garden of my grandfather and the retreat of Dai Feijun of the Ministry of Personnel. A turn to the south, on the other hand, took one in close succession to the gardens and pavilions once owned by Qian Xiangkun, Grand Secretary in the Hall of the Heir Apparent, by Shang Zhouzuo, Minister of Personnel, by the Censor Qi Biaojia, by Yu Huang, Senior Compiler in the Hanlin Academy, and by the Chief Supervising Secretary Chen Xiangfan. Beyond these gardens stood the Studio Above the Pond of the Provincial Graduate Huang Yuanchen and Hibiscus Garden of Zhou Zhonghan of Fuchun, mansion upon mansion. Today, such was the destruction wrought by the recent war, that not a single beam from these structures remains intact, the shards of their roof tiles lie piled up to one's shoulders, and everywhere one sees the sight of overgrown vegetation. In his Record of the Celebrated Gardens of Luoyang, the Song dynasty scholar Li Gefei claimed that from the waxing and waning of the gardens of Luoyang one could predict the rise and fall of the city, and that the rise and fall of Luoyang was a means of prognosticating the order or chaos of All under Heaven.[50] How true his words!

In the Jiawu year [1654], I happened to find myself here again and was moved to despair by the sight of the palaces overgrown with millet[51] and the bronze camel lying amidst the bramble.[52] Like Lu Yu, the Old Man of Mulberry and Hemp, on his travels to Tiaoxi, I wept and crept away under cover of darkness.[53]


Little Penglai 小蓬萊

Little Penglai stands to the right of Thunder Peak Pagoda and had once been part of the garden of the Song dynasty eunuch Gan Sheng. As numerous as the clouds are its strange peaks, deep the shade cast by its ancient trees. Emperor Lizong often graced this spot with his imperial presence, and there remains an imperially favoured pine tree that must now be hundreds of years old. From ancient times, this rock has been called Little Penglai and there are still to be found here stelae bearing Song dynasty inscriptions reading: 'Blue Cloud Cliff' and 'Sea-Turtle Peak', and so on. At present, the place is where Master Huang Ruheng has chosen to establish his study and he has changed its name to 'Forest of Sojourn', and that of the rock to 'Roiling Clouds'.

In my view, although the name 'Roiling Clouds' may well serve to capture something of the emotional quality of the rock, it fails to address its essence, for the rock is like a single blossom of the Yunnan camellia which has been so battered by the wind that half of it lies in the mud whilst the remaining petals shiver away and have folded into three or four layers. When people walk about here on the rock they are like butterflies flitting about the heart of a flower for none can resist having a taste of it. Its colour is the dull black of the rocks from Yingde County in Canton and so ancient-looking is the colour of the moss and lichen that grows upon it that it looks like a Shang dynasty goblet or a tripod from the Zhou that has been buried in the ground for a thousand years during which time the blue-green hues have ingrained themselves into its bones.

Huang Ruheng[54] is a true master of the craft of the essay and his disciples numbered in the hundreds, all the most the famous men-of-letters of the age having studied under him at one time or another. As a young man, I paid a call on the Master with my grandfather. He was sallow of complexion and very hirsute, with hair sprouting even from his cheeks. His eyes were wide, his mouth large, his eyebrows jutted out beyond the ridge of his nose. He seemed always full of laughter and he had a tremendous capacity to respond simultaneously to the many people constantly coming and going around him; he would incline his ear to listen to what his guests were saying, cast his eyes over the letters that had been brought to him, write a response to those that required immediate answer, and give verbal instruction to his servants, all at the same time never making the slightest mistake when dealing with the multifarious affairs that he had to hand. Regardless of their wealth or social standing he treated all who came to see him even-handedly and would ply them with the wine and meat that constituted his ordinary fare, sleeping besides them at night. An amanuensis of mine, a most unprepossessing and somewhat grubby figure, went to see him once and he put him up and fed him in exactly the same way he did everyone else.

In the Bingyin year of the reign of the Tianqi emperor [1626], I revisited 'Forest of Sojourn' and found that all the pavilions and gazebos had fallen into a state of dilapidation. Standing besides the tomb where the Master's body lay, like Wang Huizhi when he caught sight of the zither of his departed brother Wang Xianzhi,[55] I was assailed by sorrow at the loss of my friend. It is the Dingyou year now [1657], and again I have come to this place. The walls have all crumbled away and it has become a field of tile shards. I wished to have a chamber built here to serve as a shrine for Master Su Shi but when I went to purchase the land I found that the present owner was unwilling to sell. The trees that once formed the forest have disappeared and the moss and lichen that was once such a feature has all been scraped away. 'Roiling Clouds' lies broken and discarded, half of the original rock missing. I fear that with the passage of another few years it will become '…all overgrown with rank grass',[56] only to disappear like cold mist. I call to mind those paradises of old, Chrysanthemum River and Peach Blossom Source.


Thunder Peak Pagoda 雷峰塔

Thunder Peak constitutes one of the foothills of South Screen Peak. Lofty and arched back upon itself, its former name had been Central Peak but it had also been known as Returning Peak. During the Song dynasty a man who could summon the thunder had lived here, hence its present name. The Prince of Wu and Yue had a pagoda built here, planning initially that it should be of thirteen stories and a thousand chi tall. When he ran out of money to realise this plan, only seven stories were built. In olden times, it has been called Princes' Pagoda. It burnt down at the end of the Yuan dynasty, leaving only the heart of the pagoda standing. 'The glow of sunset upon Thunder Peak Pagoda' soon became one of the ten scenes of West Lake.[Fig.14]

Fig.14 Glow of Sunset upon Thunder Peak 雷峰夕照, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.115.

I once saw an inscription to a painting by Li Liufang that read:

My friend Wen Qixiang once said: 'Of the two pagodas of West Lake, the Pagoda for the Protection of Qian Chu is like a beautiful maiden, that of Thunder Peak resembles an aged monk'. I much admired his analogy. In the Xinhai year [1611], I was sitting with Shen Fanghui in my hut above the pond looking at the lotus blossoms when I suddenly came up with a poem containing the line: 'Thunder Peak leans upon the sky like a drunken old man'. When Yan Diaoyu saw the poem, he jumped for joy: 'Qixiang's "aged monk" is nowhere near as good as your "drunken old man" in terms of capturing the emotional quality of the sight.'

As it happens, living here in a tower in the hills above the lake, I face Thunder Peak from dawn to dusk, and the sight of it becomes especially intoxicating when, in the purple rays of a mountain sunset, this drunken old man makes his dissolute appearance. And yet the last line of my poem read: 'As bland the sentiments of this old man as the mist above a river', so it seems that I was still working off Qixiang's analogy of the 'aged monk'.

Inscribed this tenth month of the Guichou year [1613], well into my cups.


Bao's Estate 包衙莊

The double-storied craft that now ply West Lake were the invention of the Surveillance Vice Commissioner Bao Hansuo. These boats come in three sizes; within the largest, one can lay out a banquet, accompanied by singing boys; the middle sized ones are sufficiently large to transport one's books and paintings; in the smallest, there is just room enough to hide away a beautiful young girl or two to keep one company. Bao Hansuo's singing girls were beyond comparison with ordinary maids-in-waiting, and, in imitation of the practice of Shi Chong and Song Qi of old, he frequently ordered them to appear before his guests. Painted of face, they would amble in like ponies, their mincing step as if constricted, like wasps weaving their way through the willows, all to bring joy and laughter to their audience. Standing in front of the bright railings and windows decorated with silken filigree, they would stretch out their song, play their flutes and pluck their zithers, the music they made akin to the warbling of the golden oriole. As guests arrived, the singing boys would begin the opera, dancing in rows, singing as they kept time with their drums. Their skills quite excelled those of others. When the mood took him, Bao Hansuo would take his performers touring, sometimes not returning home for ten days or more, and attracting huge crowds, all of whom would ask where the troupe was next to perform.

Bao's South Garden was sited beneath Thunder Peak Pagoda, his North Garden below Flew-Here Peak. Rocks abounded in both gardens, heaped up here and piled up there all higgledy-piggledy, but always forming the most eccentrically shaped precipices. In some places, rocks had been used to construct a bridge over a brook, but in such instances, unlike the artificial mountains found elsewhere upon the hill, these bridges were all ingeniously designed and crafted. The ridgepoles of the main halls were held in place by cantilevers, thus obviating the need for pillars at all four corners, making the halls spacious enough for lion dancers to perform. In North Garden, a chamber had been built in the form of the Eight Trigrams, with a round pavilion partitioned into eight sections and shaped like a fan. Eight beds had been placed horizontally in the narrow corners of each partition, curtained off on both sides. When the innermost curtains were lowered, the beds faced outside, and when the outermost curtains were lowered, the beds would face each other. Old man Bao would sit in state in the middle with clear windows in his doors, and as he lay there propped up against his pillow burning incense, he could see each and every one of the eight beds. In such an excess of extravagance and wantonness did he grow old beside West Lake for more than twenty years, the splendour of his gardens not a jot inferior to those of Golden Valley or Mei Village, nothing less than the apotheosis of luxury and magnificence, what the locals of Hangzhou however were wont to dismiss by saying: 'Well, that's just how it is.' The grand families of West Lake wanted for nothing, the Lady of the West herself occasionally finding herself housed in a Golden Chamber. It was only the poor pedantic scholar who had none of this.


A Patch of Cloud 一片雲

Divinely Transported Rock is found within Dragon Well Temple. It is six chi tall, most eccentrically shaped and of towering proportions. It stands alone beneath the eaves of the temple. A single banksia rose coils its way in and out of the cavities of the rock, like a coiled dragon or snake. In the Thirteenth Year of the reign of the Zhengtong emperor [1448], Li De from Zhonggui was living in Dragon Well Temple. There was a severe drought and Li De ordered his soldiers to dredge the well. At first they came across twenty-four metal plaques, a jade Buddha, and an ingot of silver stamped with the mark of the Yuanfeng reign period of the Song dynasty. Later, this rock too was discovered, and it took the efforts of eighty men to lift it out of the well. The words 'Divinely Transported' had been engraved on the surface of the rock, as had many other inscriptions, none of which remained legible so one had no idea when they were written. In all probability, these things had been thrown into the well as gifts to the dragon in the hope of propitiating rain.[Fig.15]

Fig.15 A Patch of Cloud 一片雲, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.64.

On the Ridge of the Bamboo Flute stands the rock A Patch of Cloud, over a zhang tall. It is an exquisite glossy blue-green in colour, and so ingeniously shaped that it almost seems to have been engraved. Stone steps lined with pines twist their way through the dense grass and a fine and most precipitous stone cavern has been formed by piling some rocks on top of each other. Behind the rock stands A Patch of Cloud Pavilion, built by the eunuch Sun Long. He had also placed a stone chessboard in front of the pavilion, with a couplet engraved on it:

Come when the mood takes you, to look over the river and ponder under waning moon,
When the talk ceases, chant a poem and lean upon this patch of cloud.

Visitors here all linger a while, incapable of tearing themselves away.


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Searching for the Ming

Notes: Part Five

[50] As is often the case with other texts, Zhang Dai here slightly misquotes Li Gefei 李格非. By his own account, of course, he was citing these texts from memory for his family's extraordinary book collection had been almost completely destroyed sometime during the calamitous events of 1645. Stanislaus Fung, in his 'Longing and Belonging in Chinese Garden History', Michel Conan, ed., Perspectives on Garden Histories,Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library & Collection, 1999, p.216, provides a translation of this section of Li Gefei's record: 'Luoyang is situated in the centre of the world, commanding the [easterly entrance to the] pass between Xiao and Mian, fronting onto the throat and collar of Qin and Long [in the west], and is the nexus of thoroughfare in Zhao and Wei. Hence it is a place contested from the four directions. Everything is quiet when there are no incidents in the empire, but whenever trouble arises, Luoyang is the first to endure troops. I therefore once said the rise and fall of Luoyang is a sign of the empire's order or chaos. In the times of Jingguan and Kaiyuan (617-741), dukes and ministers and imperial relatives established residences and set out mansions in the Eastern Capital, said to be over 1000 in number. When it came to the time of disorder and rebellion, which was followed by the violence of the Five Dynasties, the pools and ponds, bamboos and trees [of these places] were trampled by troops and fell into ruins, hillocks and wastelands. Tall pavilions and grand trees were consumed in the smoke and fire, and transformed into ashes. They came to an end together with the Tang dynasty, passing away with it, with few places remaining. I therefore once said, 'The prosperity and decline of gardens are signs of the rise and fall of Luoyang'. Since the order and disorder of the empire is indexed by the rise and fall of Luoyang, and the rise and fall of Luoyang is indexed by the prosperity of gardens, how could the composition of records of celebrated gardens be in vain?'

[51] An allusion to Poem #65 of the Book of Songs (Shi jing 詩經). The 'Minor Preface' to this poem reads: 'The Shoo le is expressive of pity for the old capital of Chow. A great officer of Chow, travelling on the public service, came to it, and, as he passed by, found the places of the ancestral temple, palaces, and other public buildings, all overgrown with millet. He was moved with pity for the downfall of the House of Chow, moved about the place in an undecided way, as if he could not bear to leave it, and made this piece'. See James Legge, trans., The Chinese Classics: Volume 4: The She King, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960, pp.47-48; original romanisation retained.

[52] In 'The Biography of Suo Jing' (Suo Jing zhuan 索靖傳) in the History of the Jin (Jin shu 晉書), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1974, vol.6, p.1648, we are told the following: '[Suo] Jing had the capacity to foretell events far into the future, and knowing that All under Heaven was about to fall into disorder, he pointed at the bronze camel sitting outside the gate of the palace and sighed: "I'll be seeing you lying amidst the brambles soon enough"'.

[53] This is a reference to Lu Yu 陸羽 (d.804), the author of the Classic of Tea (Cha jing 茶經). The 'Biography of Lu Yu' found in the New History of the Tang (Xin Tang shu 新唐書), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1975, vol.18, p.5611, contains the following: 'At the beginning of the Shangyuan reign period [784-809] of the Southern Zhao Kingdom, [Lu] Yu became a recluse in the Tiaoxi district and began to call himself the Old Man of Mulberry and Hemp. He shut his door and wrote. On one occasion he was out walking in the wilds alone intoning a poem about a fallen tree. Long he lingered there, disconsolate, before weeping as he made his way home. Thus it was that contemporaries called him a latter-day Jie Yu, [the madman of Chu who had mocked Confucius]'.

[54] Huang Ruheng 黃汝亨 (zi Zhenfu 貞父; hao Yuyong 寓庸) from Renhe County, Hangzhou. A Metropolitan Graduate of 1598, Huang later served as Assistant Administration Commissioner in the Provincial Administration Commission of Jiangxi Province.

[55] A reference here to the story told about these two famous calligraphers in the 'Grieving for the Departed' chapter of A New Account of Tales of the World: 'Wang Huizhi and his younger brother, Wang Xianzhi, were both critically ill at the same time, but Xianzhi died first (388). Huizhi asked his attendants, "Why don't I hear any news at all? This must mean he's already dead." As he spoke he showed no hint of grief. Immediately ordering a sedan chair, he came to Xianzhi's house to offer condolences, still without weeping at all. Since Xianzhi had always been fond of the seven-stringed zither, Huizhi went directly in and sat on the spirit bed. Taking Xianzhi's zither, he started to play, but the strings were not in tune. Throwing it to the ground he cried out, "Xianzhi! Xianzhi! you and your zither are both gone forever!" Whereupon he gave himself up utterly to his grief for a long while. In a little more than a month he, too, was dead'. See Richard B. Mather, trans., Shih-shuo Hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World, p.328; romanisation altered.

[56] Book of Songsg, Poem #197, for which, see James Legge, trans., The Chinese Classics: IV: The She King, p.336.