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Li-Chung Wang

Yue-yang Tower 1

Fan, Zhong-yan 2 (989 -1052 CE)

In Spring 1044, Zi-jing Teng 3 was demoted to mayor of Ba-ling City 4. One year later the city government prospered and people lived in harmony. Matters that had been neglected were attended to. Consequently, the city remodeled Yue-yang Tower and expanded its dimensions. The mayor had ancient and contemporary great poems inscribed on the wall and asked me to write an essay about the tower.

The most beautiful scenery in the city is Lake Dong-ting 5 which connects to the remote mountains and swallows the Yangtze River. The lake is so huge that one cannot see the other side. From morning till evening, the personality of the lake changes constantly. This is the grand sight from the tower. Many people have described this scenery before. Ba-ling City connects with the Wu River in the north and reaches the Xiao River and the Xiang River in the south by Lake Dong-ting. Thus, writers and demoted officials visit here frequently. Can all of them feel the same, while viewing the lake?

Suppose it is the rainy season; there has been no sunshine for months; sinister wind howls; the yellowish billows gather, rise and crash against the sky; the sun and stars shine faintly; the mountains are hidden by fog; masts fall and oars break; merchants dare not travel; tigers roar and apes howl as the night falls. If we were to ascend the tower at this moment, we would be overwhelmed by melancholy. For instance, we would miss our hometown or brood on rumors and slanders. Bleak and desolate sights would greet eyes everywhere. We could become so sensitive that we might easily grow pessimistic.

Suppose spring is in the air and scenery is clear; the lake water is calm; the lights in the sky and on the water display an expanse of green; gulls fly together in the sky; colorful fish swim in the water; the fragrant plants along the shore and orchids on the islets are lush and green; after the smoke from home-fires disperse in the evening, the sky becomes fresh and clean; the moonshine spreads thousands of miles; the lake surface is glittering like gold; the reflected image of the moon appear to sink into the lake bottom; the fishermen sing songs to each other; how happy they are! If we were to ascend the tower at this time, we would be carefree and joyous and forget all of our honor and shame. We would beam with joy while we drink wine facing the breeze.

I have discovered that in ancient times a gentleman with vision would think differently about these two situations. He would not allow material things to affect his mood. He would not be upset by his personal problems. When he was in power, he would grieve over people’s sorrows. When he was exiled to remote border regions, he would worry about his emperor. In other words, he would always concern himself with important state affairs regardless of his promotion or demotion. When would he be happy? I would say that he would worry about his country’s problems before anyone else and he would enjoy happiness only after all of his people were happy. Without such a role model, whom would I follow?


1 Yue-yang Tower is located in Yue-yang City of Hunan Province. While Zi-jing Teng remodeled the tower, Zhong-yan Fan wrote this commemorative essay, Calligrapher Zi-mei Su copied it on the wall, and Song Shao inscribed the tower’s name in seal characters on a sign board. Their works were known as “Four Excellences”.

Guo-shang-hou wrote, “The wonderful part of this eassy is the last paragraph: Only sages with vision are able to concern themselves with important state affairs and only they can enjoy true happiness; One’s vision should not be affected by one’s promotion or demotion. Although these words came from Zhong-yan Fan’s self-importance, Fan also used them to encourage Zi-jing Teng.”

2 Xi-wen was Zhong-yan Fan’s other first name. He was a native of Wu-xian City of Su-zhou County during the Northern Song dynasty. When he was two years old, his father died. His mother subsequently married Mr. Zhu of Chang-shan City. At that time Zhong-yan Fan took his step-father’s surname and was called Yue (happy). When he grew up, he discovered who his real father was. Then he said good-bye to his mother and went to Ying-tian-fu City to study with Tong-wen Qi. He read books day and night. When he was tired on winter nights, he would wash his face with cold water. If he did not have enough food to eat, he would drink thin gruel to survive. In 1015 CE, he passed the Advanced Exam and was appointed to the position of staff officer in Guang-de City. After he assumed his office, he sent for his mother and took good care of her. Then he returned to using his original family name and changed his first name to Zhong-yan. During Emperor Ren’s reign, he was promoted to the position of councilor in the Ministry of Civil Service advising Kai-feng-fu City, the capital of the Northern Song dynasty. Because he offended Yi-jian Lü, the prime minister, Fan was demoted to Mayor of Rao-zhou City. When King Yuan-hao Zhao of the Kingdom of Western Xia rebelled, Fan planned and built the defense in Shaanxi Province to fulfill his duty as Scholar of the House of Dragon Pictures. He had defended the frontiers for several years. His orders were clear and strict. The Qiang Tribe called him “The Old Man of Dragon Pictures”. The generals in the Kingdom of Western Xia said, “There are millions of soldiers in Fan’s chest.” They did not dare invade China’s borders. In 1043 A.D., Fan was appointed to be the Vice President of the Privy Council and soon after he was reappointed to administer state affairs. He attempted to reform the government on a grand scale, but he suffered great opposition. Consequently, he resigned his position and was demoted to Mayor of Qing-zhou City. Soon after he died from disease. The emperor honored him by giving him the posthumous name “Wen-zheng” (Duke of Virtue and Literature).

3 Zi-jing Teng used to be an advisor. His advice offended the emperor, so he was demoted to Mayor of Ba-ling City.

4 Ba-ling City is now called Yue-yang City and is located in Hunan Province.

5 Lake Dong-ting, 320 miles long and 160 miles wide, is the largest freshwater lake in China. It is located in Hunan Province. It is surrounded by Hua-rong, Nan-xian, An-xiang, Yuan-jiang, and Xiang-yin Cities. Ba-ling City was at the lake’s mouth where the Yangtze River enters. The rivers north of Yue-cheng, Ming-zhu, Du-pang, and Qi-ting Cities on Wu-ling (the five ranges of mountains which formed the northern boundary between what are now Jiangxi Province and Guangdong Province) such as the Xiang River, the Zi River, the Yuan River, and the Feng River all converge into Lake Dong-ting. There are many hilly islands on the lake. Jun Mountain is the most well-known of them. The water in the lake is shallow in Spring and Winter, but greatly swells in Summer and Autumn. The lake appears like the open sea during the latter seasons.

Translated by Li-Chung Wang

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