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Chapter Three Sun Fen and Socializing in the Southern Garden There was a rustle of chirruping sparrows in the green lacquer leaves of the ivy, and the blue cloud-shadows chased themselves across the grass like swallows. How pleasant it was in the garden! And how delightful other people’s emotions were!—much more delightful than their ideas, it seemed to him. One’s own soul, and the passions of one’s friends—those were the fascinating things in life. —Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray Gardens were popular spots to convene literati gatherings for both the mainstream tradition as well as for the five early Ming poetry schools.1 For instance, Yu Jing celebrated a “Western Garden” in Shaozhou;2 Gao Qi and his coterie frequented the numerous gardens that made Suzhou famous, among them the “Green Tea Garden” 綠茗園, “Green Water Garden” 綠水園, and the “Gazing at the Imperium Garden” 顧辟疆園, reconstructed from an Eastern Jin dynasty original; Lin Hong and his decade of comrades were headquartered at a generalized “Eastern Garden.”3 And even when a literati gathering was created out of whole cloth, it was localized in a garden, such as the famous Literary Gathering in the Western Garden that Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, et al., supposedly convened in Kaifeng in 1087.4 We do not know why Sun Fen and his associates decided to form a poetry club; no indication is preserved in either the historical or literary records. We may conjecture such simple motivations as the need for safe socializing and congenial poetizing.5 In the introduction, three different types of poetry societies were isolated from the work of Huang Zhimin; each one was concluded for a different purpose.6 All three of these types could have proven attractive to our five friends. But competition, especially not the broad, county-wide competition open to all comers, does not characterize the verses of these men. And it is questionable whether Sun Fen had attained any wide degree of fame, except for being an accomplished local poet and essayist, before leaving Guangzhou for his career as an official of the Ming government. The third type of poetry society—that of mutual socializing for consolation and support at the end of a defunct dynasty— therefore seems to fit this group best.7 Historically, many gardens have graced Guangzhou.8 Sun Fen and friends either selected the Southern Garden for their use or had it built. Formerly, the site had been an animal park and a traveling palace of the Southern Han dynasty.9 As already noted, one source claims that that the Veranda for Screening the Wind was originally the dwelling of Sun Fen.10 The Southern Garden was located in the south of the city two li beyond the wall;11 today the original Zhongshan Library occupies this site on Wende Road 文德路 outside the old Wenming Gate 文明門. A library on the site was entirely appropriate, since after the last iteration of the Southern Garden Poetry Society of Liang Jie’an, et al. in 1911, the place had been taken over by a bookseller.12 Meetings of Sun and his friends were held in the Veranda for Screening the Wind and were open to others as well.13 And there is some evidence that the physical Southern Garden survived into the next generation.14 According to Qu Dajun, the veranda got its name from Sun Fen.15 At that time, the waters of the Pearl River reached close to the garden—riparian retreats being one of the six possible sites for gardens, according to a Ming-period authority.16 It was “nestled next to the river and was an unsurpassed site.”17 The river has receded and is not even visible now: it takes a leisurely ten-minute stroll to reach the bank; alas, intervening buildings block the view anyway. Two of Sun Fen’s poems best combine both physical setting and typical activities: Sun Fen, “The Southern Garden” 南園 18 1 詩社良讌集 Our poetry society is a gathering for fine conviviality: 南園清夜游 At the Southern Garden we roam in the clear evening. 條風振絡組 An ordering wind shakes the gauze tassels, 華月照鳴騶 The florescent moon shines on a neighing Zouyu. 5 高軒敞茂樹 A high veranda opens up on flourishing trees, 飛甍落遠洲 Flying rafters descend on distant islets. 移筵對白水 Rearranging the feast-mats, we face the white current; 70 The Southern Garden Poetry Society 列燭散林鳩 Spacing the candles, they flicker like forest doves. 雅興殊未央 Refined pastimes surely have not yet peaked— 10 旨酒詠思柔 With fine wine our poetry is sentimental. 玉華星光燦 Jade...


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