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


Searching for the Ming | China Heritage Quarterly

Searching for the Ming

Zhang Dai
Introduced and translated by Duncan Campbell[1]
The Australian National University

The Translator's Introduction and Author's Preface to Zhang Dai's Search for West Lake in My Dreams below are followed by six pages of selected translations from the same work:

How can the grace and beauty of the mountains and rivers found throughout the empire ever surpass those of West Lake?
—Huhaishi 湖海士 (pseud.), Preface, West Lake: Second
(Xihu erji xu 西湖二集序), (1628-44)[2]

The following translations are made from what is arguably the most famous literary account of Hangzhou's West Lake. Search for West Lake in My Dreams (Xihu mengxun 西湖夢尋) was compiled by the late-Ming loyalist historian and essayist Zhang Dai 張岱 (1597-?1689).[3] Although the author's preface is dated 1671 (the Tenth Year of the Kangxi reign period) the book did not appear until 1717 (the Fifty-sixth Year of the Kangxi reign), almost half a century from its completion and long after Zhang's death.[4]

Zhang Dai was born in Shanyin 山陰 in Zhejiang Province (present-day Shaoxing 紹興) to a family of immense wealth, prestige and scholarly achievement.[5] He grew up in the very lap of late-Ming luxury and extravagance, surrounded by antiques, a book collection of over 30,000 volumes, family operatic troupes and singing girls. During the first half of his life he idled away the days in the various family gardens in both Shanyin and along the banks of West Lake.[6] Later he would claim that he had 'misspent' the first four decades of his life in pursuit of one or another of his many obsessions (po shi haohua 頗事豪華). All came to a calamitous end with the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 following the Manchu-led Qing invasion from beyond the Great Wall that first saw the conquest of the imperial capital of Beijing and then the empire proper. In his account of the period, those years of violent transition could not have been more dramatic, nor the contrast between what had been and what would follow more stark. The last four decades of his life, years during which Zhang Dai did the bulk of the writing that was to earn him a delayed immortality, were eked out in arrant poverty, 'his state fallen, his family destroyed',[7] shunned by friends, his son kidnapped, and the books he had once so loved used to stoke the fires of the marauding troops who had brought such destruction to his world.[8]

On a number of occasions Zhang declared that: 'One cannot befriend a man who is without an obsession'. 'For', he went on to explain, 'he lacks deep emotion; one cannot befriend a man who is without any fault for he is without authenticity'.[9] Perhaps Zhang Dai's own most abiding obsession was West Lake, a place he first visited at the age of six or seven. In Search for West Lake in My Dreams he sought to recapture his memories of the lake as it had once been. A preface to the book written by his friend Wang Yuqian 王雨謙 tells us that, having lived at the Lake for over forty years, Zhang Dai knew every corner of it and every anecdote associated with its history.[10] Wang writes:

Today, the mountains and the rivers have changed their ownership, so too have even the mounds and the valleys changed their shapes. Little wonder then that in his alarm and in his distress Zhang Dai thought to embark upon his dream search for what had once been. This single book, Dream Search allows West Lake of old to live once more on the page.
Searching for West Lake in My Dreams exists within the interstices of a number of related genres, all of which, if not new, had been the focus of intense experimentation and development during the late-Ming period: local history, autobiography, anthology and the travel guide. Zhang Dai begins his collection proper with a chapter entitled 'General Prospectus' (Xihu zongji 西湖總記) in which he outlines the history of the lake itself and its increasing scenic importance, and instructs us how best to 'read' it. The next four sections of the book deal in turn with the various 'guided approaches' (lu 路) divided into the four geographical points—the use of lu to navigate readers/literary travellers around a site, be it a garden or a built structure, is common in the late tradition. A final chapter, 'Environs' (Xihu waijing 西湖外景), is devoted to various notable sites to be visited beyond the shores of the lake. Within each of these sections, a number of sites—from as few as eleven to as many as eighteen—are described in miniature essay pen-portraits. To each of these, Zhang appends a selection of famous poems, inscriptions and other essays inspired by that site.

For his historical information (and a fair amount of his text), Zhang Dai was heavily reliant upon earlier accounts of the lake, in particular Tian Rucheng's 田汝成 (js.1526) West Lake Tourist Gazetteer (Xihu youlan zhi 西湖遊覽志) and its supplement, both dated 1547. In his record Zhang deals with problems of toponymy, discusses the date of the founding of this or that temple, or provides us with a thumbnail sketch of the vicissitudes suffered by place through the ages. Zhang Dai's tour, one to be taken either on foot or by boat (or indeed by the device of wo you 臥游, or recumbent travel via text alone), takes us from the public to the private, the religious to the secular, and from the historic to the contemporary. His own approach is at once both selective and conventional, and the various sites that he recreates in his evocative sketches are exist within a tradition of representation that is at once both antiquarian and picturesque. Always celebratory, his descriptions are also coloured by the sense of loss and nostalgia so eloquently expressed in his preface.

As an author cum-anthologist, as much as a prose stylist of note, Zhang Dai displays an independence of literary judgement.[11] He makes the necessary gestures in the direction of orthodox literary opinion, both of his own and of previous ages; what anthology of West Lake literature could, after all, fail to include poems by such famous writers (and West Lake administrators) as Bo Juyi 白居易 (772-846) and Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101)?[12] But Zhang also he reveals an even-handed preference for the literature of the Ming, in particular works written by his close contemporaries; poetry and prose by men such as Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道 (1568-1610) and the painter Li Liufang 李流芳 (1575-1629).[13] In his Dreams Zhang also includes many of his own poems, essays and inscriptions which, very much in keeping with the inward turn and increasingly confessional urge of late-Ming prose writing incorporate autobiographical material. Zhang repeatedly places himself physically within a scene that he is describing, interacting with a particular site in a variety of ways. His anthology affords us numerous remarkable and often highly theatrical moments, such as his celebrated nocturnal visit to Lake Heart Pavilion during the winter of 1632 (see below).

Author's Preface 自序

Born at an evil hour, I have been separated from West Lake for twenty-eight long years. Not a day passes however that West Lake does not enter my dreams; this West Lake of my dreams having never left me for a single day. I have since revisited West Lake twice, in the Jiawu [1654] and Dingyou [1657] years, only to discover that of the splendid estates that once lined the shores of the lake—the Tower Beyond the Tower of the Shang Clan of Gushing Gold Gate,[14] the Occasional Dwelling of the Qi Family,[15] the country villas of the Qian[16] and Yu[17] families, and the Sojourn Garden once owned by my own family—nothing remains but the shards of their roof tiles. That which fills my dreams exists no longer beside West Lake.[Fig.1]

Fig.1 Pavilion of the Imprinted Heart 我心相印亭, photograph from the early Republic, reprinted without attribution in Mei Chong 梅重, et al, eds, Old Photographs of West Lake (Xihu jiu ying 西湖旧影), Hangzhou: Zhejiang Sheying Chubanshe, 1998, p.75.

When I reached Break-Off Bridge and gazed out, I found that only one in ten of the fine willows and tender peaches that once stood there, of the singing pavilions and the dance terraces, had survived, the rest as if washed away by a great flood. I fled from the place, hiding the sight from my eyes and consoling myself with the thought that as I had come here to view West Lake only to find it thus, it was better to seek to preserve the West Lake of my dreams, for that West Lake at least remains intact.

My dream, therefore, is different in kind to that of the Tang Palace Attendant Li Bo.[18] He dreamed of the Queen Mother of Heaven Mountain, of divine women and famous beauties, of things unseen; his dream was the stuff of illusion. My dreams are of West Lake, of family gardens and close relatives, of what once had been; my dream is of reality. Today I live at the pleasure of others and have been forced to do so for the past twenty-three years. In my dreams, however, I find myself back in my home of old. The various retainers and amanuenses of that lost age have all grown grey haired, but in my dreams their hair is still gathered in the tufts of youth. The habits of a lifetime are ingrained; it is impossible to change old attitudes. From today on I will but dwell in solitude in my Butterfly Retreat,[19] linger idly on the wicker couch of my grass hut,[20] seek only to safeguard my dreams of old—the vistas of West Lake stretch out before my eyes untouched by the ravages of time.

When questioned by my children about such things at times I will choose to respond, but to do so is as if I were recounting a dream within a dream; if not the demons of the dark speaking then simply the incoherent mutterings of a sleep talker. Thus did I compose the seventy-two entries of my dream search. I bequeath them to future generations in the hope that they may provide a gossamer image of West Lake as it once was. I am like that man of the mountains who, returning from a visit to the shores of a distant sea, spoke so highly of the delicacies of the oceans that his fellow villagers vied to lick his eyes. Alas! Golden pickles and jade white scallops[21] melt into nothingness the moment they enter the mouth—how then can licking my eyes satisfy their cravings?

This Preface was written this Sixteenth Day day of the Seventh Month of the Xinhai year [1671] by Zhang Dai of Ancient Sword in Sichuan, the Old Man of the Butterfly Retreat.




Searching for the Ming

Notes: Introduction

[1] I would like here to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance and encouragement given me at all stages of this project by Jonette Crysell and Stephen McDowall, and of course, Professor Geremie Barmé, editor of China Heritage Quarterly, who has gone over the text carefully for this publication.

[2] Zhou Qingyuan 周清源, West Lake: Second Collection (Xihu erji 西湖二集), Hangzhou: Zhejiang Renmin Chubanshe, 1981, vol.1, p.10.

[3] For short English-language biographies of Zhang Dai, see A.W. Hummel, ed., Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, 1644-1912, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1943, (hereafter, ECCP), pp.53-54; and W.H. Nienhauser, ed., The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986 & 1998, (hereafter, Indiana Companion), vol.1, pp.220-21. See also Chen Wanyi 陳萬益, Late-Ming Informal Prose and the Lifestyles of Ming Dynasty Men of Letters (Wan Ming xiaopin yu Mingji wenren shenghuo 晚明小品與明季文人生活), Taipei: Da'an chubanshe, 1988, pp.143-64; and, He Guanbiao 何冠彪, 'An Examination of Zhang Dai's Various Names, His Registered Birthplace, and the Date of His Death' (Zhang Dai bieming, zihao, jiguan ji zunian kaobian 張岱別名字號籍貫及卒年考辨), in Zhonghua wenshi luncong 中華文史論叢(1986), 3:167-93. At greater length in Chinese, see the full-length study of Zhang Dai by Xia Xianchun 夏咸淳, On Zhang Dai: A Late-Ming Genius (Mingmo qicai—Zhang Dai lun 明末奇才—張岱論), Shanghai: Shanghai Shehui Kexueyuan, 1989; Hu Yimin 胡益民, A Critical Biography of Zhang Dai (Zhang Dai pingzhuan 張岱評傳), Nanjing: Nanjing Daxue Chubanshe, 2002; Hu Yimin, Research on Zhang Dai (Zhang Dai yanjiu 張岱研究), Hefei: Anhui Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 2002; She Deyu 佘德余, Metropolitan Man-of-letters: A Biography of Zhang Dai (Dushi wenren—Zhang Dai zhuan 都市文人—張岱傳), Hangzhou: Zhejiang Renmin Chubanshe, 2006; and Zhang Zetong 張則桐, Draft Explorations into Zhang Dai (Zhang Dai tan gao 張岱探稿), Nanjing: Fenghuang Chubanshe, 2009. Philip A. Kafalas, 'Weighty Matters, Weightless Form: Politics and the Late Ming Xiaopin Writer', Ming Studies 39 (1998):50-85, provides a suggestive discussion of Zhang Dai's Dream Memories of Tao'an (Tao'an mengyi). In his 'Presidential Address: Cliffhanger Days: A Chinese Family in the Seventeenth Century', The American Historical Review 110.1 (2005):1-10, Jonathan Spence presents a characteristically insightful interpretation of Zhang Dai's family biographies. Both Kafalas and Spence have subsequently published full-length treatments of Zhang Dai. See Philip A. Kafalas, In Limpid Dreams: Nostalgia and Zhang Dai's Reminiscences of the Ming, Norwalk: EastBridge, 2007, and Jonathan D. Spence, Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man, New York: Viking, 2007. Robert Hegel discusses Zhang Dai and his literary endeavours in his 'Dreaming the Past: Memory and Continuity Beyond the Ming Fall', in Wilt L. Idema, Wai-yee Li, and Ellen Widmer, eds., Trauma and Transcendence in Early Qing Literature, Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 2006, pp.345-74.

[4] Of the many books Zhang Dai produced during the second half of his long life, only one was published during his own lifetime. Dream Search was the first of his works to appear after his death; it is also the only work of his that is given notice in the imperially commissioned catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 of 1781. In their note on the work, the editors of that work argue that the arrangement (tili 體例) of Zhang Dai's work is based entirely upon that of the popular description of the Ming imperial capital, Dijing jingwu lüe 帝京景物略 (A Brief Account of the Sights of the Capital) of 1635, compiled by Liu Tong 劉侗 (d.1637) and Yu Yizheng 于奕正 ( Zhang Dai knew Liu Tong; in his 'In Memory of Zhou Jianbo' (Ji Zhou Jianbo wen 祭周戩伯文), he describes him as one of his 'Friends in Landscape' (shanshui zhiji 山水知己), for which see Langhuan wenji 琅嬛文集, Changsha: Yuelu Shushe, 1985, p.274. For a description of the Kangxi edition of Dream Search, see Huang Shang 黃裳, Yuxia zashuo 榆下雜說, Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe, 1992, pp.254-56. The present translations are based on the text of the work as found in Xia Xianchun and Cheng Weirong 程維榮, eds., Tao'an mengyi/ Xihu mengxun 陶菴夢憶·西湖夢尋, Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe, 2001.

[5] Both Zhang Dai's great-grandfather, Zhang Yuanbian 張元忭 (1538-1588) and his grandfather, Zhang Rulin 張汝霖 (d.1625), had been Advanced Scholars, the former having studied under Wang Yangming's 王陽明 (1472-1529) disciple Wang Qi 王畿 (1498-1583), and both having held high rank within the imperial bureaucracy. For a biography of Zhang Yuanbian, see L. Carrington Goodrich & Chao-ying Fang, eds., Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368-1644, New York & London: Colombia University Press, 1976, (hereafter, DMB), vol.1, pp.110-11.

[6] For translations of Zhang Dai's accounts of some of these gardens, see Duncan Campbell, trans., 'The Gardens of His Youth: Extracts from Zhang Dai's Dream Memories of Taoan', in Rachel May and John Minford, eds., A Birthday Book for Brother Stone: For David Hawkes, at Eighty, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press and Hong Kong Translation Society, 2003, pp.229-46.

[7] 'Preface' (Xu 序), Dream Memories of Tao'an (Tao'an mengyi 陶菴夢憶), Mi Songyi 彌松頤, ed., Hangzhou: Xihu Shushe, 1982, p.117. For a translation and study of this preface, see Stephen Owen, Remembrances: The Experience of the Past in Classical Chinese Literature, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp.131-41.

[8] Zhang Dai tells of the fate of this book collection in 'Three Generations of Book Collecting' (Sanshi cangshu 三世藏書) in Dream Memories of Tao'an, pp.24-25, a translation of which may be found in Renditions (1990), 33 & 34:165-66, 'Zhang Dai: Six Essays', translated by David Pollard & Soh Yong Kian.

[9] The comment is first made, it would appear, in an item on Qi Biaojia's 祁彪佳 cousin Qi Zhijia 祁豸佳 entitled 'Qi Zhixiang's Obsessions' (Qi Zhixiang pi 祁止祥癖) in Dream Memories of Tao'ani, p.53. It is repeated verbatim in Zhang's 'Biographies of Five Eccentrics' (Wu yiren zhuan 五異人傳), Langhuan wenji 琅嬛文集, p.175.

[10] Wang Yuqian (zi Yanmi 延密; hao Tianfu 田夫, Baiyue shanren 白岳山人), from Shanyin and a Provincial Graduate of 1633, was one of Zhang Dai's closest friends, Zhang Dai labelling him his 'Friend in Poetics' (shixue zhiji 詩學知己), for which see his 'Ji Zhou Jianbo wen', Langhuan wenji (cited above), p.274. Both Wang Yuqian's 'Preface' and his interlinear commentary are found in the Kangxi edition of Dream Search.

[11] In his preface to Langhuan wenji, Wang Yuqian claims of Zhang Dai that: 'His prose lodges with no single school and constitutes a school all of its own. Thus it is that just as his prose is able to give unalloyed expression to his quintessence, it is also both extraordinary and endlessly inventive. He is a veritable prodigy in the world of letters and a modelfor future generations'. (See Zhang, Langhuan wenji, p.309).

[12] For short biographies of these two men, the first a major Tang dynasty poet and the second of the Song, see Indiana Companion, vol.1, pp.663-65 and vol.1, pp.729-30, respectively.

[13] For short English-language biographies of these two men, see DMB, Vol. 2, pp.1635-38 and vol.1, pp.838-39, respectively.

[14] This refers to the estate of the family of Shang Zhouzuo 商周祚, an Advanced Scholar of the year 1601. In 1627, Shang served as Minister of Personnel in Nanjing.

[15] A reference to the estate owned by Qi Biaojia's 祁彪佳 (1602-45) family, for whom see DMB, vol.1, pp.216-20 and ECCP, p.126.

[16] A reference to Qian Xiangkun 錢象坤 who served under the Ming as Grand Secretary in the Hall of the Heir Apparent.

[17] A reference to Yu Huang 余煌 who served the Ming as Senior Compiler in the Hanlin Academy.

[18] This is a reference to a poem by the Tang dynasty poet Li Bo 李白 (701-62) entitled 'Bidding Adieu to Queen Mother of Heaven Mountain after a Dream Voyage to Her' (Meng you Tian lao yin liu bie 夢游天姥吟留別), a translation of which may be found in Arthur Cooper, trans., Li Po and Tu Fu, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974, pp.143-47.

[19] This is a specific reference to the allusion from the 'Discussion on Making All Things Equal' chapter of the Zhuangzi 莊子 that lurks behind the preface as a whole, and which underpins Zhang Dai's representation of himself, as embodied in the name of his retreat: 'Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakably Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.' See Burton Watson, trans., The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, New York: Columbia University Press, 1968, p.49; romanisation altered.

[20] Again, an allusion to the Zhuangzi, on this occasion to 'The Turning of Heaven' chapter: 'Benevolence and righteousness are the grass huts of the former kings; you may stop in them for one night but you mustn't tarry there for long.' See Burton Watson, trans., The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, p.162.

[21] This is a reference to a poem by Su Shi entitled 'Rhyming with Jiang Kui, to Accompany Some Tea I Send to Him' (He Jiang Kui ji cha 和姜夔寄茶).