The Birth of China Seen Through Poetry
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The book introduces Chinese culture to readers of English, using poetry from the various periods rendered into English verse to bring back to life past Chinese society as it developed from about 1000 B.C to the form we see today. With China's increasing importance on the world stage today, many readers, no doubt, would want to learn more about its ancient culture. However, to learn about a culture from its history alone, especially one as long as that of China, is time-consuming and requires a historian's expert skill. This book offers the general reader a direct glimpse into the human core of it via the universally accessible channel of poetry. It provides an outline of Chinese history from prehistoric times to the present printed mostly on left-hand pages, accompanied on the right by a selection of Chinese poems of the corresponding periods translated into English verse by the author. The poems total about eighty in number and come mostly from the classical phase dating from around 1000 B.C. to 1200 A.D.
flew, But found no fit branch to alight. It’s, as the mountain’s high as high, Or as the sea is deep as deep, By keeping faith with all the world That Zhougong* had its faith to keep. The lines in quotes are from Shijing, and Zhougong* was a statesman-minister of the Zhou dynasty traditionally revered as a role model. birth of china.indb 72 2/22/2011 4:49:28 PM FA Reading The Han Dynasty 汉 (206 B.C.–202 A.D.) ■ 73 birth of china.indb 73 2/22/2011 4:49:31 PM 74 ■ The Birth of China Wei,
sigh. It shouldn’t be far that happy isle where heavenly maidens dwell, Go seek for me, you gentle blue-birds wandering free on high. *â•›Again an exploitation of the coincidence in pronunciation between the characters for “silk” and “thought”, as explained in the footnote to A Length of Silk above. birth of china.indb 159 2/22/2011 4:49:50 PM 160 ■ The Birth of China B oth Li Shangyin who wrote the lushi above and Du Mu who wrote the jueju which follows, and both cited already before,
weakening of the power at the centre after Tang’s demise prompted invasion by the nomadic peoples of the north and west. The peoples of the north were at that time united under the Liao empire, which was militarily much stronger than any of its contemporary Han states. Indeed, in his bid for the throne, the founding “emperor” of one of the Five Dynasties depended on Liao’s aid, for which he had ceded to Liao a large swathe of Han territory including the area around the present capital Beijing,
period. The Zhou dynasty itself started in the eleventh century B.C. and lasted nearly eight hundred years. It was centred at first in the west in present-day Shaanxi but was forced by nomadic invaders to move its capital eastwards across the mountains to Luoyang in 770 B.C., after which it is known as the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Before Zhou, there had been in China two other historical dynasties, Shang (sixteenth to eleventh century B.C.) and Xia (twenty-first to sixteenth century B.C.), of which
and augurs now consult. If no bad omen should befall, Then send your wagon soon along To fetch me and my dowry, all!” Before the mulberry shed its leaves, It was a most luxuriant hue. But birds, forbear its berries sweet, birth of china.indb 27 2/22/2011 4:49:18 PM 28 ■ The Birth of China For these, they say, will fuddle you. So girls, forbear the love of men, Or soon the very day you’ ll rue. For these men if they fall in love Are able soon to shake it off, But we girls, should we fall in