Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The west river in Chuzhou - Wei Yingwu


Alone, moved by the dark grass on the river bank
Above, an oriole sings in the depth of a tree
Brought by the spring flood, a late storm hurries
Floating wild, an empty boat crosses by

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Night Boat - Zhang Dai - Preface


Of all questions in the world, those debated on night boats are the hardest to handle. Before village scholars, one should prepare his questions in advance, like the eighteen scholars of Yingzhou, or the twenty eight generals of Yuntai, for missing but one name or surname will cause them to grin and laugh. For that person who does not know the eighteen scholars or the twenty eight generals, having forgotten a name or a surname is not harmful to his knowledge or culture, yet he will be called dissipated, to his very shame. Therefore, to make speeches along the roads, one just has to keep in mind and in mouth a score of names, and he will be held as a scholar and a talent.

This reminds me of my Eight Yue, and the traditions in Yutao. Since their youngest age, all little children will learn the classics. Should they not succeed at twenty, they will be taught a craft. And so, any worker or merchant will know its Treatise of Emotions, or its Mirror of Na by heart, and if asked about them, on some occasion, they will enumerate names of people and positions and ranks and dates and place, without any mistake. But the wealth of their knowledge is that of a bookcase on legs, it was not enriched by studying the classics, and they are not really different from those people who cannot even spell.

Now some will say: “If we go by your words, the names of ancient people should not be remembered.” I would reply : “Not so. Some names have no relation to culture, and not remembering them does no harm, like the Eight Great Scholars, the Eight Triumphant, the Cases, the Talents, the Watchers, and the Accomplished. Other are related to culture, like the Four Peaks, the Three Ancients, the Hidden Valley, or Dame Xu.

There once was a monk, who shared with a scholar a bed on a night boat. The scholar talked big and spoke wide, the monk was intimidated, and slept with his feet curled up. But the monk noticed a few mistakes in his speech, and asked : “may I ask your highness, is Tantai Mieming one, or two persons?” The scholar said : “They are two persons”. “And this Yaoshun, one or two person?” “One person, of course!” The monk laughed and said : “Having said that, please let this novice extend his feet.” I have recorded those things, all very obvious and superficial. Had my colleague known some of them, the little monk never could have extended his feet. So I have called this book “Night Boat”


澹台灭明 Tantai Mieming, is a disciple of Confucius, styled Ziyu. He was said to be very ugly, and misjudged by Confucius because of that (the Master would apologise for his lack of judgement later) Tantai is his surname, and Mieming his given name, so it is one of those rare instances of those four character chinese names.
尧舜 Yao and Shun, the two last of the Five Sovereigns, and traditional Confucianist patrons, which makes the scholar's error all the more embarassing...

四岳, 三老, 臧谷 and 徐夫人 are cultural "gotchas", which do not mean what they seem...

四岳 the "four peaks", although it is sometimes used to designate four sacred mountains in China (although people would rather speak of the five mountains...), it is mostly the designation for the ministers of Yao and Shun. The four peaks are not peaks, but people, and they are not even four.
三老 the « council of elder », instituted during the western Han (it is described in the Han Shu, Gaozu chapter). Each village or district would designate one or several old and wise men, who would represent it. The three old men are not necessarily three.
臧谷 Looks like a place, but is nowhere to be found. I believe it refers to a famous passage in Zhuangzi (chapter 8), Zang and Gu are two herdsmen, who lost their sheep, one because he was studying the classics, the other one because he was gambling...
徐夫人 Is not Dame Xu, but a man. Xu is his surname, Furen his given name... He was the person who provided Jing Ke with the dagger with which he would attempt to stab the first emperor.
八元 and 八恺 are 16 ministers of Gaoxin, one of the five sovereigns.
厨、俊、顾、及 are the names of four factions which existed during the eastern Han, in the time of the rebellion of the leagues (党锢之祸 , second half of the 2nd century AD)

Friday, 2 May 2008

Zhuangzi - Kingly rewards

宋人有曹商者為宋王使秦其往也。得車數乘;王說之,益車百乘。反於宋, 見莊子,曰:「夫處窮閭阨巷,困窘織屨,槁項黃馘者,商之所短也;一悟萬乘之主 而從車百乘者,商之所長也。」莊子曰:「秦王有病召醫,破癰潰痤者得車一乘,舐 痔者得車五乘,所治愈下,得車愈多。子豈治其痔邪?何得車之多也?子行矣!」

A man of Song, named Cao Shang, serving as an ambassador of the king of Song to Qin, was leaving the country.

宋人有曹商者 Among the people of Song, there was someone named Cao Shang
宋 Song, a state
宋人有A者 : among the people of Song, there was someone who A
秦 Qin, the state
使 a messenger, an envoy, or ambassador
為 to be, for, on behalf of
王 king
為宋王使秦 He was sent by the king of Song as an ambassador in Qin
往 to go
其 is used here to remind the subject (Cao Shang), after the complement 為宋王使秦 : Caoshang, having been named an ambassador of the king of Song in Qin (為宋王使秦), he (其) left (往).
Note : my reading of the beginning of this passage is different from the punctuation found in many modern editions, which goes
The 其往也, is put at the beginning of the second sentence. I believe this is illogical, as this is an instance of 有A者B也, and 也 is usually not found in the middle of sentences.I therefore chose to read it as 宋人有曹商者為宋王使秦其往也。得車數乘;王說之,益車百乘。and adapted the punctuation accordingly...

得車數乘 ;王說之 , 益車百乘。 He had but a few chariots, but the king (of Qin) was pleased with him, and gave him one hundred chariots.
得 to obtain, to own
車 chariot
數 several, usually implying a small number
乘 a team of horses
In classical chinese, numbers (and specificatives) are often put after the noun : Modern chinese :百乘車 one hundred chariotsClassical chinese : 車百乘 one hundred chariots
說 to like, to be pleased with someone
之 him (complement)
王說之 the king liked him
益 to increase, more, the verb (to give more) is here implied.

反於宋, 見莊子,曰:When he returned to Song, he visited Zhuang Zi and said :
反 to return
見 to visit, to pay a visit
莊子 Zhuangzi

夫處窮閭阨巷,困窘織屨,槁項黃馘者,商之所短也;一悟萬乘之主 而從車百乘者,商之所長也。Living in a poor house, in a narrow alley, being utterly poor and wearing sandals of woven straw, this is what I call bad. To be a confident to the ruler of ten thousand chariots, and have an escort of one hundred horses, this is what I call great.

夫 in spoken language, introduced an explanation : now, as a matter of fact
短 small, bad, to consider bad
長 long, great, to consider great
所 makes what follows a relative :
所短 what is short
商 I, Shang
商之所短 this is what I Shang, consider bad (short)
商之所長this is what I Shang, consider great(the 之 adds emphasis on the sentence : *this* is what I consider …)
The whole sentence therefore is 夫A者,商之所短也;B者,商之所長也。Now, A is what I consider bad, and B is what I consider great.
處 to live in some place,
窮 extreme poverty
閭 a house in a village, a small village
阨 narrow, poor
巷 a narrow (and poor) alley
處窮閭阨巷 living in a poor house, in a narrow alley
困 poor, narrow
窘 lack of resources, poverty
織 cloth, weave
屨 shoe, sandal
困窘織屨 living in poverty and weaving sandals (out of straw)/ or having sandals made of woven straw
槁 dry, skinny
項 neck
黃 yellow
馘 literally cut the head (or ear) of a prisoner of war, here, it probably means the face
槁項黃馘 skinny neck and yellow face, ie having a sickly face on a skinny neck
一 one, the only one
悟 to understand, to be in the good graces of someone
主 ruler
萬乘之主 the ruler of ten thousand chariots
而 and
從 to escort, an escort
從車百乘 to have a escort of one hundred chariot

莊子曰:「秦王有病召醫,破癰潰痤者得車一乘,舐 痔者得車五乘,所治愈下,得車愈多。子豈治其痔邪?何得車之多也?子行矣!」Zhuangzi said : « When the king of Qin was ill, he summoned doctors. Those who punctured his abscesses and emptied his furuncles were rewarded by one chariot. Those who licked his hemorrhoids received five chariots. The dirtier their healing, the more chariots they received. Did you by any chance heal his hemorrhoids? How come you received so many chariots? Get away of here! »
病 illness
有病 to be ill
召 to call upon, to summon (someone in a higher position calling upon someone in a lower position)
醫 doctor
破 to break
癰furuncle, abscess
潰 to flow (for a river which breaks its banks and floods)
者 makes what preceeds a noun
破癰潰痤者 those who broke his abscesses and emptied (flowed) his furuncles (yuck !)
得車一乘 received one chariot, was rewarded with one chariot
舐 to lick
愈 … 愈 the more …. the more…
治 to heal
下 low, meaning here dirty
多 many

所治愈下,得車愈多 the lower they healed, the more chariots they received
子 you
子豈A邪 ? A rethorical question : would you have A ? Can it be possible that you have A ?
何 how
得車之多也?the use of 之 adds some emphasis : how could you obtain so many chariots ?
行 to go
矣 indicates a change, here is used for imperative
子行矣!Off with you !