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


Searching for the Ming: Part Four | China Heritage Quarterly

Searching for the Ming: Part Four

Zhang Dai
Translated by Duncan Campbell

This is the fourth 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:

Central Approaches 西湖中路

Variegated Brocade Embankment 十錦塘

Variegated Brocade Embankment, also known as the Sun Embankment, is found beneath Break-Off Bridge. It was restored by the eunuch Sun Long of the Directorate of Ceremonial in the Seventeenth Year of the reign of the Wanli emperor [1589]. The embankment is two zhang wide and is planted in peach and willow trees, in exactly the same manner as the Su Embankment. As the years and months have gone by, the girth of the trees has grown thick. When walking beneath the dense and patterned branches and leaves, the dappled moonlight appears like patches of lingering snow upon the ground. I think that in all likelihood talk of the 'Lingering Snow upon Break-Off Bridge' in the past was in fact a reference to the moonlight, not to the snow.[Fig.7]

Fig.7 Lingering Snow upon Break-Off Bridge 斷橋殘雪, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.46.

Su Embankment is some way distant from the town itself, and the pedestrians passing along the road leading towards Clear Waves Gate are few. By contrast, as Sun Embankment takes one directly to West Chill Bridge, here the horses and carts and tourists come and go like the shuttle of a loom. With the bewitching beauty of the lake and the scent of the lotus blooms filling one's nose for a good ten li around here, it is as if one has set off along the Shanyin Circuit for the 'hills and the streams complement each other in such a way that I can't begin to describe them'.[48]

The smaller of the lake boats can enter the Inner Lake; the larger ones are to be found either following along the contour of the embankment or moored against it. From Brocade Belt Bridge the road leads to Lake Prospect Pavilion, this pavilion marking the furthermost extent of Variegated Brocade Embankment, and as one approaches Lone Hill the surface of the lake opens out before one.[Fig.8] As part of his lavish refurbishment of the lakeshore, Sun Long had an outdoor terrace built and upon this one can take in the cool breeze or stroll beneath the bright moon. One can also have a banquet laid out here for one's guests, and not a day goes by that is without the sound of flutes and singing or without an opera performed.

Fig.8 Xiling Bridge 西冷橋 near Solitary Island 孤山, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.55.

Today, this terrace has been transformed into Dragon King Hall and all around the hall structures of one sort or another have been erected, this disordered jumble of buildings serving to destroy the splendid scene of the past.

Further on again stands the Shrine of Eunuch Sun, erected whilst he was still alive. With the hills behind it and the lake spread out before, the shrine is most imposing. In recent times this shrine has been made over to the Buddha by the eunuch Lu, and Sun Long's statue has been removed to sit behind the Buddha statue niche. Sun Long expended several hundreds of thousands of taels on prettifying the lake, and in this regard his efforts were not inferior to those of the Academician Su Shi. To see his statue hidden away like this, given no view of the light of the lake or the hue of the mountains, forced to sit facing a wall like a criminal, brings a lump to one's throat.


West Lake on the Fifteenth Day of the Seventh Month
by Zhang Dai

There is nothing much worth watching at West Lake on the Fifteenth of the Seventh month, the Midsummer Festival, apart that is from the people watching the midsummer moon and such people one may view as being divided into five categories.[Fig.9]

Fig.9 The Outer Lake 外湖, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.26.

Of the first category are those who sit in their storied boats with their pipes and drums, with high hats upon their heads and sumptuous banquets laid out before them, with lanterns, singing girls and their serving boys, all a riot of flame and voice. They say of themselves that they have come to view the moon and yet they retreat before the moon even appears. Such people, I watch.

Those of the second category are also to be found upon the storied boats; famous beauties and the daughters of eminent men, with their seductive pageboys in hand, amidst laughter and twittering they sit in circles upon the outdoor platforms looking all about them, but although they find themselves beneath the moon they never once look at it. These people too I watch.

A third category is also to be found in boats and they too are accompanied by singing; famous courtesans and idle monks who drink from shallow cups and sing to themselves quietly, accompanied by the soft pipes and light strings, the sound of bamboo and voice intermingling. They too find themselves beneath the moon and, in their case, they look up at it, but they are more interested in being seen looking at the moon. I watch them.

A fourth category is found neither upon boats nor in carriages; wearing neither shirts nor hats, they eat and drink their fill, gathering in raucous groups of three or five they barge their way into the crowds and add to the din and commotion around the Temple of Manifest Blessings or Break-off Bridge, pretending to be drunk and singing out of tune. They look at the moon, they look at the people looking at the moon and the people not looking at the moon, but in actual fact they see nothing at all. These people I watch.

A final category comprises those in small boats with light canopies, clean tables and warm braziers, the tea brewing away in their tea caddies and plain porcelain cups being passed around silently, good friends with beautiful companions, they invite the moon to join them and either hide away amongst the shadows beneath the trees or flee to Inner Lake to escape the din. They watch the moon without themselves being watched watching the moon, neither do they affect the airs of someone watching the moon. I watch also people of this category.

The people of Hangzhou, when they tour the lake, arrive there during the Si hour [9-11am] only to set off home again by the You hour [5-7pm], avoiding the moon as if it were their mortal enemy. But such is the aura of this particular evening that crowds of people compete to be there, handing out largesse of wine and money to the troops at the gates as they leave the city. The sedan chair bearers, torches in hand, line the banks awaiting their custom. The moment the crowds board the boats they instruct the boatmen to hurry away to Break-off Bridge, impatient to join in the fun. In this way, before the second watch of the night has been struck, as the boats large and small crowd around the shore, a cacophony of voice, pipe and drum heaves and shakes, and it is as if one were caught in a nightmare or by a ghastly vision, or had been rendered a deaf-mute. One can see nothing but pole bumping pole, boat banging into boat, shoulder brushing shoulder and face staring at face.

In a moment, all this excitement comes to an end and the officials' banquets are packed away and the yamen runners shout a passage through the crowds, the sedan chair bearers call out to the people on the boats, anxious now that they will be too late to catch the closing of the gates and, like stars in the sky, one by one the lanterns and the torches first gather together and then depart. The people along the banks of the lake too begin to head for the gates in lines, gradually thinning out before, in an instant, they are all gone.

It is only then that my friends and I have our boats approach the shore. As the stone steps up to Break-Off Bridge begin to cool down, we sit down upon them and begin to toast each other. By then, the moon has become like a newly polished mirror, the surrounding hills touch up their makeup and the lake is as if it has just washed its face. Those that had been drinking from shallow cups and singing to themselves quietly reappear, as do those who had been hiding away in the shadows beneath the trees, and we go to greet them and drag them along to sit with us. Elegant friends arrive, famous courtesans turn up, and when the eating and drinking ceases, the flutes and voices take over. Only when the light of the moon begins to fade and the sun is about to rise from the east do these visitors disperse. We release the hawsers of our boats and float in drunken slumber amidst the ten li of lotus blossom, their fragrance assailing our noses, our unsullied dreams completing our delight.



Su Embankment 蘇公堤

Just as Hangzhou has its West Lake, so too does Yingzhou in Anhui Province, both lakes becoming famous for their beauty. Su Shi served successively in both places. Just after he had been appointed to the post in Yingzhou, somebody from there remarked: 'Academician Su, all you need to do to manage the affairs of this area is to tour the lake.' When he heard about this, Qin Guan[49] wrote a quatrain on it:

Ten li of lotus in first bloom,
My lord has arrived at West Lake.
If he wishes to conduct business from upon the lake,
His Speaking Officials, I fear, will have not a day's respite.

Later on, once he had arrived at his posting, an Executive Official surnamed Xie informed him: 'When serving at court you enjoyed the honour of entering through the North Gate; now that you have taken charge of these two regions, you have served successively as master of both West Lakes.' Thus, whilst Su Shi was serving in Hangzhou, he had the lake dredged and the rape turnip matted mud piled up to form a long embankment, leading from south to north through the middle of the lake. This embankment thereafter took his name. Along both sides of the embankment, peach and willow trees were planted, and six bridges were built along it.[Fig.10]

Fig.10 Su Embankment 蘇堤, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.48.

After the retreat to the south, the storied boats with their drums and songs presented a scene of beauty and extravagance in the extreme. Later, as the lake waters ate away at the embankment, it began to disintegrate. By the Ming, in the years before the reign of the Chenghua emperor [1465-87], the Inner Lake had been completely taken over by the locals to serve as arable land and the flow of water beneath the six bridges had been reduced to a trickle.

In the Third Year of the reign of the Zhengde emperor [1508], the Provincial Administration Commissioner Yang Mengying had the Inner Lake cleared, establishing North New Embankment as its westernmost boundary. He also had the Su Embankment consolidated to a height of two zhang and a width of more than five zhang, built the six additional bridges of the Inner Lake and planted ten thousand willows in rows, thus restoring the embankment to its former glory. With the passage of time, many of the willows died and the embankment again began to disintegrate. In the Twelfth Year of the reign of the Jiajing emperor [1533], the District Magistrate Wang Yi ordered that minor criminals be allowed to redeem themselves by planting peach and willow trees along the embankment and soon the resplendent reds and purples had woven themselves into a brocade of colour. During the subsequent wars, all these trees were cut down. In the Second Year of the reign of the Wanli emperor [1574], the Salt Distribution Commissioner Zhu Bingru had the embankment replanted with willows, and once again it appeared resplendent. By the early years of the reign of the Chongzhen emperor [1628-44], the trees had grown thick of girth. The Prefect Liu Mengqian, along with prominent local scholars such as Chen Shengfu and others would hold splendid gatherings here upon the embankment during the second month. The town would be scoured for Goat Horn Lamps and several tens of thousands of gauze lanterns would be hung amongst the peach and willow trees, with red felt mats laid out beneath them, and amidst a crowd of seductive serving boys and famous courtesans, the visitors would drink and sing to their heart's content. With dusk, the light of ten thousand candles, all burning together, would turn night into day. Visible far off across the lake, the light of the candles on the embankment would be magnified by the reflections on the surface of the lake, and the sound of the flutes, and strings, pipes and song would echo until the early hours. When news of all this reached the Capital, the Prefect was demoted a grade.

The memory of this leads one to think about Su Shi's time here as Prefect of Hangzhou. In spring, whenever he happened to have a day off he would arrange to meet up with those visiting the lake. They would take their breakfast at some scenic spot before each of them would set off in a boat, with one boat leading and each boat supplied with a courtesan or two, to drift wherever the tide would take them. In the late afternoon a gong would be sounded for the boats to reassemble and they would gather at the Lake Prospect Pavilion or at Bamboo Belvedere, before going their separate ways in an excess of joy. By the first or second watch of the night, before the night market had dispersed, they would return to the town with torches burning. The most beautiful maidens of the town would gather like clouds lining the street to watch them. The romance of occasions such as this was unprecedented, truly the joyful token of a peaceful age such that cannot be repeated.

Fig.11 Spring Dawn Breaking Over Su Embankment 蘇堤春曉, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.49.


Lake Heart Pavilion 湖心亭

Lake Heart Pavilion was built on the site of Lake Heart Temple of old and in those days its pagoda had been one of the three found at the centre of the lake. During the reign of the Hongzhi Emperor of the Ming dynasty [1488-1505], a Commissioner with the Provincial Surveillance Commission, Yin Zishu, proved extremely strict in his conduct of public affairs. When the monks of the temple, with the backing of the eunuch posted to the area as Grand Director, began to bar their gates to everybody, even the highest officials of the region, Yin investigated their wicked actions and had the temple destroyed and the pagoda dismantled.

In the Thirty-first Year of the reign of the Jiajing emperor [1552], the Prefect Sun Meng sought out the ruins of the former temple and had a pavilion erected on the site. Its open terrace was about one mu in circumference and was fenced with a stone balustrade; standing there one could enjoy the various splendid prospects offered by lake and hill in a glance.

Within a few years, however, the pavilion had fallen into a state of disrepair, only to be restored by Commissioner Xu Tingluo in the Fourth Year of the reign of the Wanli Emperor [1576]. In the Twenty-eighth year of the reign of the same emperor [1600], the eunuch Sun Long changed the pavilion's name to Pavilion of Pure Joy; with its glorious golds and blazing blues it became a site of awe and beauty. To the visitor's eye it would seem like a Fata Morgana, only to be quickly swallowed up again by the clouds and the mists; I fear that even King Teng's Gazebo and Yueyang Tower could not compete with its august appearance.

In spring, bonsai, clay figurines, paintings, calligraphy and antiques are laid out for sale here, covering every available step and the shouting of the bargain hunters becomes quite deafening. Climbing up here in the evenings, however, with the moon suspended high in the sky, one finds peace and tranquillity, as if one has entered the Palace of the Mermaids or the Vault of the Oceans. With the moonlight reflected on the surface of the lake and the mist rising around one, few are those who come to this deserted place and none can linger long.


A Short Account of Lake Heart Pavilion
by Zhang Dai

The Twelfth Month of the Fifth Year of the reign of the Chongzhen emperor [1632] found me living beside West Lake in Hangzhou. A heavy snow had been falling for three days without a break. No sound of man or bird could be heard. After the first watch of the evening had passed, I took a boat, and, swathed in my fur coat with a small brazier in hand, I set off alone towards Lake Heart Pavilion to view the snow. A hoar frost enveloped the scene, and the sky and the clouds, the hills and the lake, appeared but a seamless expanse of whiteness. The only shadows on the lake were the trace of the Long Embankment, the spot of Lake Heart Pavilion, and the mustard seed speck of my own boat with its two or three dots sitting within it. Arriving at the pavilion, I found two people already seated there, facing each other upon a felt rug. A servant boy was heating some wine and the water had just come to the boil. They were delighted to see me.[Fig.12]

Fig.12 Lake Heart Pavilion 湖心亭, reprinted without attribution in Old Photographs of West Lake, p.76.

'How is it that this fellow too is out upon the lake?', they exclaimed as they pressed me into joining them for a drink. I speedily downed three large cupfuls before taking my leave. Inquiring after their names, I was told they that were from Jinling and just happened to be visiting. As I got back on the boat, the boatman muttered under his breath: 'I thought that you, my good sir, were crazy, but these gentlemen seem just as crazy as your good self!'


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Searching for the Ming

Notes: Part Four

[48] The Shanyin Circuit is the area surrounding present-day Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province and was renowned for its natural beauty, most famously expressed by Wang Xianzhi in the line Zhang Dai quotes here, from A New Account of Tales of the World (Shishuo xinyu 世說新語)for which see Richard B. Mather, trans., Shih-shuo Hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976, pp.71-72.

[49] For a short biography of Qin Guan 秦觀 (1049-1100), see Sung Biographies, vol.1, pp.235-41.