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The Ideal Home and Perfect Marriage

This last group of songs may at first appear to be in search of a coordinating theme. Yet they seem to me to possess one feature which the songs in other chapters are striving towards. They present different concepts of the ideal and in each case the home is the focal point.1 ‘Cocks Crow’ seeks to persuade that peace and harmony among brothers leads to prosperity in the family which in turn enhances social stability and political unity.2 Two other songs which draw their material from this song accentuate the glamour of an idealized family which enjoys wealth, success, and an elegant style of living. ‘Mulberry on the Bank’ presents an ideal of a happy marriage between a beautiful, witty, young, virtuous, magnificently attired wife and her handsome, richly dressed husband who has reached the pinnacle of success in his career. The last song, ‘The Lunghsi Ballad’, portrays the ideal of a virtuous wife who lives in a well-furnished home. The songs express the theme of the ideal home and marriage from diverse points of view: there is the solemnly didactic, the brashly mercenary, the audacious, and the ironic. In their use of forms similar to the chanson d’aventure, satire, and allegory, they reveal a sophisticated wit and artistry.3

Cocks Crow

Cocks crow on the crown of tall trees.

Dogs bark within the palace.

The vagrants, where have they gone?

Under Heaven all is now at peace.

Laws, punishments are not relaxed,

Mercy and order have rectified the babble of names.

Of yellow gold are my lord’s gates,

Of green disk jade his balconied hall;

Upstairs there are twin flagons of wine

Served by Han-tan singers.

Jasper green tiles of Liu princes,163

Their retinue appears, city wall princes.

Behind the lodge are square ponds,

In the ponds are pairs of mandarin ducks,

Mandarin ducks seventy-two,

Ranged to form set lines.

Their calls so sweet and low

Are heard from my hall’s east chamber.

The brothers, four or five men,

Are all gentlemen-in-waiting;

Every fifth day they come home,

Spectators fill the roadsides.

Yellow gold fringes their horses’ heads,

Glittering, how it sparkles, sparkles!

A peach tree grows above an open well,

A plum tree grows beside the peach.

Maggots come and gnaw the peach roots,

But plum instead of peach grows stiff and dies.

The tree offered itself for another,

But older and younger brothers neglect each other.

The diverse themes of this song have prompted some ingenious inter­pretations. Citing Huang Chieh, who has reviewed them, J.-P. Diény presents a few of them. One line of interpretation argues that the first part of the song, from ‘Cocks crow …’ to ‘Laws, punishments …,’ represents the virtuous beginning of the Han Dynasty, the next passage to the end represents the dynasty in decline, epitomized by its excessive show of luxury. Apart from this generalized view of the song as a commentary on the decline of the Han, another line of criticism argues that it specifically satirizes members of the royal family in the Han known as the Five Marquises. Ennobled in 27 BC, they were the half-brothers of the consort of Emperor Yüan. They were notorious for their extravagance and luxurious style. Their half-sister, the emperor’s consort, was named Wang. Lines 11–12 of the song refer to Liu princes, not marquises, though the link with royalty might be due to poetic licence; the lines might also refer to the Wang clan. On the other hand, the couplet is probably corrupt. Yet another interpretation is that the song is a satire of the parvenu in the Han. The first six lines serve as a warning, the central section describes the ostentation of the nouveau­riche, and the finale describes the inevitable downfall of the parvenu. A more recent critic, Yü Kuan-ying, posits the idea that the song is made up of three fragmentary texts. Critics like Feng Wei-no of the Ming who have not wished to impose a tendentious ethico-historical interpretation on the song have concluded that the three sections have no relationship with each other.4

I would argue that the song does exhibit an internal coherence and 164design, even if, as is the case with many Han songs in the selection, the transitions from one passage to another are, by modern standards, crudely managed. In my view, the song’s import is tempered by an ethical point of view: the state will flourish as a political entity and social organism if it is at peace and if it is stable; its success depends on the family, a small replica of the state, and on harmonious relations within the family; the family, allegorized as a tree, will perish if the members are divided against each other. The moral lesson of the song, which has socio-political ramifications, is expressed in an attractive metaphor of wealth and luxury in the home. The warning of the evil of a house divided against itself is expressed as a metaphor of a diseased fruit tree; its roots, main and minor branches are symbolic of the extended family system.

The first six lines of the song contain a number of images which create the idea of harmony in the state and at home. The first couplet consists of an allusion to cocks crowing and dogs barking which is used in some pre-Han and Han texts to denote peace and harmony. For example, in the Taoist classic, The Classic of the Way and Its Power, an idealized picture of a utopia is presented in which people

‘… will be content in their abode/ And happy in the way they live./ Though adjoining states are within sight of one another, and the sound of dogs barking and cocks crowing in one state can be heard in another, yet the people of one state will grow old and die without having had any dealings with those of another.’5

The dual images of cocks and dogs is also used, but this time expressed in negative terms, in a prophecy circulating in Emperor Wu’s reign, foretelling the decline and fall of the Han Dynasty:

Thrice seventy, at the end of our era,

Cocks will not crow,

Nor will dogs bark.

At home a mad tangle of bramble and thorn,

While in public we’ll see nine tigers fight for the crown.6

The Taoist classic uses the dual images of cocks and dogs positively to denote a Utopia. The Han prophecy uses them negatively to denote anarchy. The allusion in the Han song has a didactic function.

The third line of this initial passage is enigmatic. The ‘Vagrants’ (tang-tzu) means in some contexts a libertine, in others a vagabond. In ‘Light in the East’, for example, the tautological compound term yu-tang-tzu is used to describe the makeshift army which was mustered to fight in 165Ts’ang-wu. It is possible that this military connotation is present in ‘Cocks Crow’, since the next line states that the country is now at peace.

The phrase ‘babble of names’ at the end of this first passage refers to the ancient philosophical concept of the ‘rectification of names’. In a passing in the Analects the Confucian expression of this is as follows:

‘If names are not rectified, then language will not be in accord with truth. If language is not in accord with truth, then things cannot be accomplished. If things cannot be accomplished, then ceremonies and music will not flourish. If ceremonies and music do not flourish, then punishment will not be just. If punishments are not just, then the people will not know how to move hand or foot’7

It is significant that in this well-known passage the rectification of names is linked with appropriate punishment, which in turn relates to the people’s correct understanding of what is right and wrong. In its allusions, imagery, and diction, therefore, this opening passage of the song posits the idea of harmony in the state.

The next passage of eighteen lines shifts the focus to the family, the microcosm of the state. This kind of argument by analogy, from the larger entity to the smaller organism, or vice versa, typifies late Chou and Han philosophical disputation. This section of the song projects the idea that harmony springs from cohesion in the family and this in turn leads to material success. The ideal family is shown to have enormous wealth, successful careers, and to be the envy of the district: ‘Spectators fill the roadsides’. Wealth is emphasized by the litany of different jewels and by their repetition: ‘yellow gold’ in lines 7 and 23–24, and varieties of green jade, from the fabled ‘disk jade’ once used only as an emblem of high office in the Chou, to the finest jasper used for mere tiles. The concept of harmony is developed through images of the feast: wine, beautiful women, and music. The song of the female singers from Han-tan continues in the chorus of mandarin ducks, symbolizing happy married love. The ducks also develop the theme of harmony through their perfect formation, denoting order and symmetry. The couplet of lines 11–12 may be corrupt, or may be the result of an unwieldy elision of a longer passage interpolated into this descriptive section of the song. Huang Chieh and Sawaguchi Takeo suggest that the ‘Liu princes’ denote the royal family of the Han, while the ‘city wall princes’ denote non-royal princes, that is, not members of the Liu clan.8 The couplet may be taken literally as a reference to the Han palace, or it may be taken as hyperbole, the family described in the song having such wealth as only royalty possess. Hyperbole characterizes the whole of this eighteen-line passage.

The song then goes on to narrate the worldly success of the brothers of the family. This recalls the carpe diem song ‘A Yen Song, The Whenever 166Ballad’ in which the singer projects the picture of a wealthy, successful family of three brothers ‘robed in sable furs’, who keep company with ‘prince, lord, high official’. The presentation of this worldly success differs in each song: whereas the carpe diem singer’s point of view is that of the outsider looking on with envy at the family’s prosperity, the singer of ‘Cocks Crow’ distances himself by describing the family’s glamorous attraction through the eyes of a crowd of onlookers in the family’s neighbourhood.

Thus far the song has projected an image of peace and harmony in the state and an idealized image of prosperity in the home. The two are linked by the idea that the one is a refracted image of the other. Having presented this image of success, culminating in the line ‘Glittering, how it sparkles, sparkles!’ the song suddenly changes its tone. The theme of the family and brothers is continued, but this time it is developed through the allegory of a tree. The intent of the finale of the song is to warn that if the brothers in a family do not stand united, their house will no longer prosper. The intimation may also be that the dynasty will similarly decline and fall.9

They Met‚ A Ballad

They met in a narrow alley,

A path so tight would not admit carriages.

Young men, I don’t know who,

Hubs wedged, one asks, ‘And your lord’s house?’

‘My lord’s house is very easy to recognize,

Easy to recognize and hard to forget.

Of yellow gold are my lord’s gates,

Of white jade my lord’s hall:

Up in the hall stand flagons of wine

Served by Han-tan singers.

In the middle court grow cassia trees,

Flowery lamps how they blaze!

The brothers, two or three men,

The middle son is a gentleman-in-waiting,

One in five days he comes home:

On the road appears a brilliant light,

Yellow gold fringes his horses’ heads,

Spectators crowd the waysides.

Enter the gates and look left:

All you see are pairs of mandarin ducks,

Mandarin ducks seventy-two,

Ranged to form set lines.

Their chant so harmonious, 167

Storks sing on east and west houses.

The eldest’s wife weaves silk fine and sheer,

The middle wife weaves flowing yellow,

The youngest’s wife has nothing to do;

Clasping her zither she goes up the high hall:

“Husband, please sit still,

My tuning is not midway!”’

The main part of this song, from lines 7 to 24, closely resembles the central section of ‘Cocks Crow’, also lines 7–24. The enigmatic, archaic passages at the opening and close of ‘Cocks Crow’ have been omitted, resulting in three main changes: the socio-ethical tone is deleted, the masculine orientation is modified, and the song is presented from a well-defined narrative perspective. In ideological terms, ‘They Met’ has lost its Confucian framework. In literary terms it has lost its allegorical closure. The new song is characterized more as a narrative ballad than a didactic song.

The song opens with the narrator’s introduction of two characters who chat while their carriages are being unhitched after getting stuck in a narrow lane. The new characters are young men, identified only in one case as someone attached to a lord’s mansion. After the scene is set and the device of the encounter presented, the ballad introduces a question and answer formula. The question is put by one young man asking the other to describe his lord’s house. The other man’s answer constitutes the rest of the ballad. Although this section corresponds in most of its details to that of ‘Cocks Crow’, those details are rearranged. The most significant adjustment is the placement of the passage describing the brothers at the end of the passage describing the mansion. In ‘Cocks Crow’, the passage about the brothers was placed nearer the end of the song in order to provide a coherent link between the idealized family and the allegory of a family in decline. In They Met’, since the intent is no longer to persuade the audience of the virtues of peace and harmony in the state and at home, the passage has been shifted. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the apartments of the married brothers, ‘east and west houses’, which in turn provides a new transition to the finale describing the elegant and refined wives of the brothers. This new finale is in accord with the appeal to luxury in the earlier hyperbolic passage describing the mansion. These changes, involving a new narrative introduction, a narrative formula of question and answer, a logical sequence from mansion to brothers, to garden, apartments, and finally to the graceful vignette of the wives, give the song a new coherence and narrative unity. At the same time, the song becomes a quite different work. It achieves a certain attractive glamour at the expense of more profound human values.10168

In Ch’angan There is a Narrow Lane

In Ch’angan there is a narrow lane,

A narrow lane not admitting carriages.

By chance two youths meet:

Hubs wedged, one asks, ‘And your lord’s house?’

‘My lord’s house is near Newmarket,

Easy to recognize and hard to forget.

The oldest son is of two-thousand-bushel rank,

The middle son is a Filial-Pure aide,

The youngest son has no official post,

Capped and gowned he serves at Loyang.

The three sons enter the house together,

In the house appears a brilliant light.

The eldest’s wife weaves silk fine and plain,

The middle wife weaves flowing yellow,

The youngest’s wife has nothing to do;

Clasping her lute she goes up the high hall:

“Husband, hush, now hush!

My tuning, la! is not midway!”’

The narrative impulse in this version of the song is strong. The setting is divided between the two Han capitals, Ch’angan and Loyang, with a fashionable part of Ch’angan featured as the locale of the lord’s mansion. This version derives more closely from ‘They Met’ than from ‘Cocks Crow’. The description of the mansion has been excised; no doubt, it is to be understood by reference to its earlier prototype. Two of the brothers’ official posts are detailed.11 The descriptive passages have been severely curtailed. Apart from the mansion, the triumphant procession of the successful brother to his mansion, and the garden and apartments have been omitted. The passage describing the three wives, however, which was totally absent from ‘Cocks Crow’ and introduced in ‘They Met’, now acquires a prominent position in the song, not because it has been expanded (it is still six lines long), but because it now constitutes one-third of the whole narrative. In ‘They Met’ it formed one-fifth of the song. The trend towards the graceful and elegant in the finale of ‘They Met’ becomes more pronounced in this shorter version of the song. I would date it as the latest of the three songs, which I would characterize as versions, although they have different titles.12 The trend toward elegance and refinement in the descriptive vignette of the three wives marks a distinct development in literary taste during the late Han and post-Han era, culminating in the sub-genre of court love poetry fashionable in the Southern Dynasties.13169

Mulberry on the Bank

Sunrise at the southeast corner

Shines on our Ch’in clan house.

The Ch’in clan has a fair daughter,

She is called Lo-fu.

Lo-fu loves silkworm mulberry,

She picks mulberry at the wall’s south corner.

Of green silk her basket strap,

Of cassia her basket and pole.

On her head a twisting-fall hairdo,

At her ears bright moon pearls.

Of apricot silk her lower skirt,

Of purple silk her upper blouse.

Passersby see Lo-fu,

They drop their load, stroke their Beard.

Young men see Lo-fu,

They take off caps, put on headbands.

The ploughman forgets his plough,

The hoer forgets his hoe.

They come home cross and angry,

All from seeing Lo-fu.

A prefect comes from the south,

His five horses paw the ground.

The prefect sends his sergeant forward:

‘Ask, Whose is the pretty girl?’

‘The Ch’in clan has a fair daughter,

She is called Lo-fu.’

‘Lo-fu, how old is she?’

‘Not yet quite twenty,

A bit more than fifteen.’

The prefect invites Lo-fu:

‘Would you like to ride with me?’

Lo-fu comes forward and rejoins:

‘The Prefect is so foolish!

The Prefect has his own wife,

Lo-fu has her own husband.

‘In the east more than a thousand horsemen,

My bridegroom is in the lead.

How would you recognize my bridegroom?

His white horse follows jet-black colts,

Green silk plaits his horses’ tails,

Yellow gold braids his horses’ heads.

At his waist a Lu-lu dagger

Is worth maybe more than ten million cash. 170

At fifteen he was a county clerk,

At twenty a palace official‚

At thirty a gentleman-in-waiting,

At forty lord of his own city.

As a man he has a pure white complexion,

Bushy whiskers on both cheeks.

Majestic he steps to the courthouse,

Solemn he strides to the courtroom,

Where several thousand in audience

All say my bridegroom is unique!’

This song is a fine example of Han balladic art. A clearly defined narrative is enlivened with colourful description. The characterization of the heroine is distinctive. The dialogue is forthright and amusing, revealing the opposing personalities of the prefect and the mulberry picker. In his monograph on the motif of the mulberry in Chinese myth, ritual, and literature, J.-P. Diény shows how it evolved from the profane mating song set among the mulberries to a sacred imperial rite, and later developed into a narrative verse form imbued with folkloric elements.14 He perceptively compares this Han song with its European counterpart, the pastourelle, pointing out the particularities of the Chinese form and the similarities between the two traditions.15 Whereas the European pastourelle features a knight and shepherdess, the Chinese song features an official on circuit and a mulberry picker. The heroines of the pastourelle and of ‘Mulberry on the Bank’ are both approached by a gentleman travelling along the road. They both respond to his attempt at seduction with a forthright refusal. Though they are somewhat flirtatious, they are virtuous in the end. They defeat the seducer with his own weapons, using irrefutable arguments with finesse. As Diény concludes, the two literary forms portray spirited, amusing heroines. In the Chinese case, the Han form did not evolve into a distinct literary tradition. ‘Mulberry on the Bank’ is unique. On the other hand, the heroine’s independent, pert spirit lives on in the shorter songs known as Ch’ing-Shang during the Wei and Chin period.

The portrayal of the heroine, Ch’in Lo-fu, is ambiguous. At first she appears to be a peasant girl out in the mulberry grove beside the road one spring day. Her appearance, however, contradicts that rustic impres­sion, for she is dressed like a fine lady and wears expensive jewels and has an elaborate court hair-style.16 Moreover, she talks like a lady who is familiar with technical terms like ‘Lu-lu dagger’ and official ranks at court, and she knows the niceties of courteous discourse.17 There is also a conflict between her sensual appearance, which sends the local men into a flutter, and her virtuous repudiation of the would-be seducer. Finally, it is never explained why Lo-fu is exposed to the public gaze, or why she is 171not with her husband, a rich lord, in his eastern city. These ambiguities make the song provocative and diverting.

Perhaps a consideration of the song’s structure might help to explain these artistic ambiguities. In his ‘Treatise on Music’, Shen Yüeh divides the song-text into three stanzas (chieh), and places the title in the musical category of ‘Major Pieces’. The first part of the song, two stanzas, was classified by him as a yen, for which the music was specified as prefatory, or an overture; the last part of the song, the last stanza, was classified as the tsü which had music appropriate for a finale passage.18 It seems that the whole song may have been composed by piecing together at least two parts, the yen and tsü, or possibly three parts, two yen-passages conjoined. Connecting links may have been provided to create a new narrative structure of originally disparate material: a description of a pretty mulberry-picker, a chanson d’aventure, and a description of a handsome, successful official. The ambiguities may arise in part from the unintentional inconsistencies in the resulting composi­tion, in part from a deliberate conflict in character portrayal.

The song displays a number of balladic features. The most noticeable of these is the device of repetition. The heroine’s name is repeated ten times throughout the first two sections and her clan name, Ch’in, recurs three times. Prosodic patterns are repeated, such as ‘Of green silk’, ‘Of cassia’, and so forth. Much of the construction of the song depends on parallel couplets, such as lines 9–10, 17–18, and 50–51. The word ‘Prefect’ is repeated as a sarcastic refrain throughout the second section. The grammatical pattern of the metrical line is repeated to create a litany effect; for example, in lines 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, and 26, the verb wei (to be), occurs in the centre of the line in each case. The decorative descrip­tion of Lo-fu is linked through colour imagery to that of her husband; her green silk basket strap is twinned with the ribbons decorating her husband’s horses’ tails.19 The device of incremental repetition is used in the final section to narrate the swift rise to fame of Lo-fu’s husband, whom she ambiguously refers to as ‘my bridegroom’ (perhaps another indication of the incomplete method of piecing disparate songs together to form this new narrative). Finally, the rebuttal of the official is expressed in a repetitive couplet, which conveys the pert wit of the so-called peasant girl: ‘The Prefect has his own wife,/ Lo-fu has her own husband.’ She audaciously reminds the public figure of his private responsibilities.

Although the characterization of Lo-fu is unique among the extant popular songs of the Han, much of the material is commonplace expres­sion. The clan name Ch’in occurs in ‘A Crow Bore Eight or Nine Chicks’, as the name of the mischievous boy who shoots the crow. The name Ch’in Lo-fu occurs in ‘A Peacock Southeast Flew’ as the name of the local girl a mother wants for her son in place of his existing wife. The degree 172to which the name Lo-fu became fashionable in the Han is evidenced by the fact that it was the name of the daughter of the Prince of Ch’ang-i, a descendant of Emperor Wu.20 The description of Lo-fu recurs in other Han pieces, such as that of the wine-maid in ‘The Imperial Guards Officer’, ascribed to Hsin Yen-nien (2nd century AD), and is similar to that of Lan-chih in ‘A Peacock’, a much later narrative. The Lo-fu song itself may be dated as a Latter Han piece; the official rank of the prefect, shih-chün, originated in that period. The description of Lo-fu’s husband’s white horse, ‘Yellow gold braids his horses’ heads’, is almost the same as line 23 of ‘Cocks Crow’, ‘Yellow gold fringes their horses’ heads’. The device of incremental repetition in the last section of ‘Mulberry’ is reproduced in the opening section of ‘A Peacock’ to describe the develop­ment of the heroine from childhood to a young adult. There are other echoes and borrowings in the song, too. They are skilfully interwoven into the fabric of the narrative so that it moves fairly smoothly and coherently to its grand finale. The impulse to diversity which so obscures some other Han songs is therefore not so apparent.

The narrative is a blend of descriptive passages and dialogue. The narrator opens the song with a familiar reference to ‘our Ch’in clan’, setting up at once a personal relationship between the heroine, the audience, and himself The narrator continues his presentation of the heroine to the middle of the second stanza, when Lo-fu herself inter­venes in the narrative, taking it to its conclusion. At this point the song employs a sophisticated variation on the technique of question and answer formula. The prefect propositions Lo-fu with a question, ‘Would you like to ride with me?’ which provokes an answer extending to the end of the song, and in its dénouement introduces a second example of the formula, ‘How would you recognize my bridegroom?’21 The song is enlivened by some realistic repartee from Lo-fu and some realistic dialogue between the sergeant and herself about her name and age. Hyperbole also appears, centering on the two descriptive passages about Lo-fu and her husband. These hyperbolic passages are, as Hans H. Frankel has observed, appropriately theatrical: ‘The humble folk like to dress up their heroes and heroines, with the same disregard for verisim­ilitude that is often found in theatrical costuming.’22 It is the juxtaposition of realism and hyperbole which makes the song so vivid and colourful. The paradoxical mélange also provides a necessary contrast in the presentation of a fairly long song.

Ts’ui Pao provides the earliest context for this song. He explains that it was based on an historical episode. A girl named Lo-fu was a daughter of a clansman of Han-tan, the capital of Chao state in the Chou era. She was married to Wang Jen who owned a city and possessed a thousand carriages. He became a minister in the royal household of the King of Chao. One day Lo-fu went out to pick mulberry on a bank. The 173king went up to his terrace to watch her and he became amorous. He set out some wine intending to seduce her. Lo-fu was skilled at playing the harp, so she immediately composed the song ‘Mulberry on the Bank’ to explain her reaction to the king. The king desisted. It may be that the original song was composed in this way, but the extant version dates from the Han, not the Chou. Ts’ui Pao’s story of the extant song is much closer to the traditional story of Ch’iu Hu and his wife than it is to the story of Lo-fu of Han-tan. Ch’iu Hu is an official who has to leave home for circuit duty shortly after his wedding. He has to depart alone. He returns five years later and on the road home he meets a pretty young woman picking mulberry. He offers her some gold if she will be his mistress, not realizing that the woman is his own wife. She virtuously refuses. Later that evening she returns home from the mulberry patch and the husband and wife come face to face. She is so mortified that her husband would have betrayed their marriage that she commits suicide by drowning.23 The comparison between the Lo-fu story and the tale of Ch’iu Hu’s wife is superficial, however, for the characterization of the two is quite different: Lo-fu defends herself with wit and intelligence, while Ch’iu Hu’s wife has courage but lacks wit.24

The Lunghsi Ballad

Up in Heaven what is there?

Rows and rows of planted white elm.

Cassia trees lining the way are growing,

Green dragons face across road corners,

Male and female phoenix sing in harmony,

A hen leads her nine chicks.

And as I look back down on the world of men

There is a scene of joy quite unique!

A fair wife goes out to greet her guests,

Her face happy and cheerful.

Bending low, she kneels twice,

Asks the guests, ‘Was your journey pleasant?’

She invites the guests up the north hall,

Seats the guests on woollen cushions.

Clear wine, white wine, for each a separate tankard,

Over the wine are set ornate ladles.

She pours the wine, hands it to the guests,

The guests say, ‘Hostess, you have some.’

She declines, kneels down twice,

Then accepts one cup.

Before talk and laughter are ended

She looks left, orders the inner kitchen: 174

‘Hurry up and prepare the coarse grain,

Mind you don’t dilly-dally!’

Cordially she shows the guests out,

Majestic they stride to the courtroom.

Showing the guests out she doesn’t go too far,

Her foot won’t cross the gate pivot.

Taking a wife you might get one like this,

But even Ch’i Chiang was not as good.

A sound wife who keeps good house and home—

One is worth more than one husband!

The opening quatrain has been borrowed, with a minor line change in its last line, from ‘Walking out of Hsia Gate’, the fantasy on immortality in Chapter Three.25 There it formed the song’s closure, presenting an image of paradise where a holy man become immortal will dwell. In the ‘Lunghsi’ ballad the projection of paradise becomes a sophisticated device for introducing satire. The singer, who seems to be poised up in this paradise contemplating the world below, describes the ideal world of heaven and then describes a scene on earth, a scene of unusual goodness and virtue in the home. He drolly adds that such a scene of feminine virtue is ‘quite unique!’. In other words, his song is a satirical hymn of praise to the perfect wife who does not exist. Her good points are litanized within the framework of a domestic narrative. Her perfect behaviour when guests visit is described in detail. The singer intends that his audience should invert the litany of praise so that it becomes a string of criticism. In real life, he implies, when the typical wife greets her guests she is not ‘happy and cheerful’, but flustered and cross. She forgets to bow politely and neglects to ask how the guests’ journey has been. Instead of declining the wine which is laid out in tankards, in real life she swigs as fast as her male guests.26 She is comically shown refusing several times and then reluctantly taking just ‘one cup’. Then, in the inverted reading of the song, she usually gets so tiddly that she neglects to have the meal cooked on time. Finally, in reality, the typical wife will impertinently show herself at the front gate when the guests are being escorted out, so that the ordinary passersby can see her. The song is a sly joke at the expense of ‘modern’ Han wives who have become liberated from the social mores of their sterner Chou forbears. The singer is amused rather than outraged by contemporary mores.27 His use of the quatrain from ‘Hsia Gate’ as a commonplace expression to mount his gentle satire reveals a sophisticated, knowing wit.28


1 Cf. the ‘seven pillars of Wisdom’, Proverbs 9.

2 This theme is also present in the Book of Poetry, poem no. 164, and in poem no. 189, and to some extent in no. 223.

3 Two of the most important of the five songs in this chapter have been translated and discussed in detail by Diény, Aux origines, pp. 109–14, 128–36—‘Cocks Crow’ and ‘Mulberry on the Bank’. The latter title (also known by the name of its heroine, Lo-fu) has also been explored thematically by him in Pastourelles et Magnanarelles, Essai sur un thème littéraire chinois (1977), Chapters 1–3. Frankel, ‘Yüeh-fu Poetry’, pp. 79–93, translates the song and presents a literary analysis which summarizes many features of the genre.

4 Diény, Aux origines, pp. 110–12, discusses these different interpretations; he translates and analyses the song pp. 109–14.

5 Lau Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, ch. LXXX, p. 142, line 193c.

6 Citing Diény, id. p. 113, from Ting Fu-pao’s quotation of ‘A Ditty from the Reign-period 104–100 BC of the Han Emperor Wu’‚ in Ting, Complete Poetry, ch. 5.5a. Ting in turn cites Wang Tzu-nien (d. AD 390), Record of Neglected Data (Shih i chi)‚ Ku-chin i-shih 2, ch. 5.6b. I am indebted to Diény for his illuminating discussion of this song.

7 Trans, Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, p. 40, citing Analects 13.3. The style of argument in this passage of the Analects suggests that it does not date from the middle Chou era of Confucius, but the late Chou or early Han.

8 Huang Chieh, Notes on the Style of Han and Wei Yüeh-fu (Han Wei yüeh-fu feng-chien, 1961), ch. 1.5b; Sawaguchi, Gafu, p. 44.

9 The metre is pentasyllabic, except for the hexasyllabic line 8, which is perhaps best amended to a pentasyllabic line, omitting either the word ‘hall’ or ‘balconied’. The text is in Shen Yüeh, ch. 21, ‘Concerted’ category, p. 606, and in Kuo, ch. 28, ‘Words for Concerted Songs, Part 3, Concerted Pieces, Part 3’, p. 406.

10 The metre is pentasyllabic. The text is in Hsü Ling, New Songs from a Jade Terrace, ch. 1.9–10 (Wen-hsüeh ed.), listed under the general title ‘Six Old Yüeh-fu Poems’, with the first line as its title. It is in Kuo, ch. 34, ‘Words for Concerted Songs, Part 9, Clear mode Pieces, Part 2’‚ p. 508.

11 For ‘two-thousand-bushel rank’ see Chapter Four, n. 24. The title ‘Filial-Pure aide’ (hsiao-lien lang) indicates an aspiring young man judged to be suitable for promotion to official rank at the junior level.

12 The metre is pentasyllabic. The text is in Kuo, ch. 35, ‘Words for Concerted Songs, Part 10, Clear-mode Pieces, Part 3’‚ p. 514.

13 Compare, for example, this version of the song’s finale by the court poet Shen Yüeh, which stands as an independent imitative piece:


Three Wives, An Imitation

The eldest’s wife dusts her jade jewel box,

The middle wife ties silk bed drapes.

The youngest’s wife alone has nothing to do;

She faces the mirror painting moth eyebrows.

‘Darling, come and lie down.

All night long I’m left to myself.’

By Shen Yüeh’s time the courtly interest lay in the frivolous activities of boudoir ladies. The high moral tone of ‘Cocks Crow’ and its essentially masculine orientation, reflecting Confucian values, has disappeared. The new courtly 204aesthetics evince a desire to please. Cited from Hsü Ling, id., ch. 5.61, Birrell, New Songs, p. 142.

14 Pastourelles et Magnanarelles, especially Chapters 1–3.

15 Diény explores the comparison between the Lo-fu song and a pastourelle by Marcabru (AD 1140), id., pp. 2–10.

16 Her fashionable hair-do, also called the ‘falling-horse’ style, was devised by Lady Ling (Sun Shou) in the second century AD; her husband’s sister became the consort of the Han Emperor Shun.

17 Lo-fu’s husband wears a dagger at his waist, the hilt of which is decorated with a well-pulley (Lu-lu) motif.

18 Shen, ‘Treatise on Music’, ch. 21, p. 617.

19 Diény, Aux origines, p. 136, lists a number of these devices of repetition, noting that they would have served as mnemonic aids to the reciter in the case of such a long song as this.

20 Sawaguchi, op. cit., p. 53.

21 The husband’s white complexion and bushy sideburns and whiskers were the standard attributes of a handsome, upper-class male in the Han; cf. the description of Ho Kuang (d. 68 BC) in Pan Ku, History, ch. 68, trans. Watson, Courtier and Commoner, p. 124. It is an interesting social detail that Lo-fu is said to be half her husband’s age.

22 ‘Yüeh-fu Poetry’, p. 85; see id., pp. 79–81 for Frankel’s translation of the Lo-fu ballad.

23 Ts’ui Pao, Record of Things Ancient and Modern, SPTK 2.3b. The Ch’iu Hu story is told in Biographies of [Virtuous] Ladies, SPPY 5.6b–7b. A poem by Fu Hsüan entitled ‘A Pure Wife’ which is based on this story is in Hsü Ling, id., trans. Birrell, id., pp. 77–8.

24 Pentasyllabic. The text has 2 yen stanzas, and a coda; Shen, ch. 21, p. 617, entitled ‘A Yen Song, The Ballad of Lo-fu’, and classified as a Major Pieces’ composition. It is also in the somewhat later anthology of Hsü Ling, id., ch. 1.9, listed under the general title ‘Six Old Yüeh-fu Poems’, with the title ‘The Ballad Sunrise at the Southeast Corner’. This text has slight changes in diction and variations in grammatical structure compared with Shen’s text. The text is also in Kuo, ch. 28, ‘Words for Concerted Songs, Part 3, Concerted Pieces, Part 3’, pp. 410–11, entitled ‘Mulberry on the Bank’‚ the title by which Ts’ui Pao referred to it. In his preface to the song, Kuo cites Chih-chiang, Record of Ancient and Modern Music, to the effect that the song is in the zither-mode, but Kuo does not follow this; Chih-chiang, Han Wei i-shu ch’ao 52, ch. 52.11b. The text in Kuo contains minor variations in lines 22 and 32 compared with Shen’s. In his comparison of European and Han ballads Frankel, ‘Yüeh-fu Poetry’, p. 81, makes the sensible comment that the yüeh-fu pieces of the Han are no doubt ‘… created anew in each performance, and subject to constant changes. There is never a definitive version.’ His translation and analysis of the song appear in that article, pp. 79–93.

25 See Chapter Three, pp. 75–6 above. In addition to the White Elm star, Cassia star, and the Green Dragon constellation, the Phoenix was also the name of a star. Ch’i Chiang was the daughter of Lord Ch’i; she married Duke Chuang of Wei, and later Duke Wen of Chin in the Chou era; she is cited as the exemplar of the perfect wife in the closure of the song.

26 For ‘ornate ladles’ in this passage Sawaguchi, op. cit., p. 75, reads ‘relish, appetisers’.

27 The two types of wife, the modest, traditional woman and the brazen, modern woman, are contrasted in the old poem, known as the mi-wu poem, which opens Hsü Ling’s anthology, trans. Birrell, id., p. 30; the two wives are styled ‘the new one’ and ‘the old one’.

28 The metre is pentasyllabic. The text, with minor variations in diction, appears in Hsü Ling, id., ch., 1.10, under the general title ‘Six Old Yüeh-fu Poems’, with the title 205‘The Lungshi Ballad’ placed at the end of the text. Two variants are worth mentioning: line 23 reads ‘fine meal’ instead of ‘coarse grain’, and the last line reads: ‘Is worth more than one fine husband!’, The text is in Kuo, ch. 37, ‘Words for Concerted Songs, Part 12, Zither-mode Pieces, Part 2’‚ pp. 542–43.

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