Zuo Si (250-305 A.D.) of the Western Jin dynasty
In my house there is a lovely girl,
Exceedingly fair, clear and shining.
Her nursery name is Wansu, White Silk.
Her mouth and teeth are finely formed,
Lush side locks spread across her high brow,
Ears like twin jades.
In the morning, she plays makeup at the comb stands,
Eyebrows blackened as if with a broom.
Thick vermillion slathers cinnabar lips,
Young mouth swelling full and crimson.
Her dainty talk is like tinkling links of jade,
In a temper, her words ring sharp and clear.
When writing, she prefers the red lacquered brush,
But her seal script characters are hopeless.
Holding a book, she delights in the pure silk cover,
During recitations, she boasts of what she’s learned.
Her older sister is Huifang, Gentle Fragrance,
Whose face is splendid like in a painting.
Lightly adorned, she amuses herself about the house.
Before the mirror, she forgets her spinning.
She holds her cosmetic brush, imitating Zhang Chang,
Painting beauty spots, then changing them around.
She plays at putting them on her cheeks, then
Rushes to double her time at the loom.
Calm and composed, she excels at the Zhao dance,
Her outstretched sleeves like wings in flight.
When playing the zither up and down to the very ends of the stops,
Literature and history books are suddenly rolled and folded up.
Glancing at a painted screen,
She is all ready to be critical.
The painting long obscured by dust,
Once clear, its meaning is unfathomable.
Together, the children fly, galloping into the orchard,
Beneath the fruit, picking all the green ones.
Red petals still capped on purple calyxes,
The unripe fruit thrown all about.
Greedy for flowers, even in wind and rain,
They bolt outdoors hundreds of times.
Tramping about on bright snow in play,
Tangled layers of shoelaces in constant jumbles.
Their hearts bent on sumptuous delicacies,
They sit up straight and arrange their saucers and plates.
Brush and ink put away in the writing box,
Often left useless and forgotten.
Seduced by the tea peddler’s gong, they succumb,
Slippered feet rushing out to their pleasure.
So impatient for tea,
They huff and puff at his brazier.
Grease smearing white sleeves,
Smoke staining fine silk.
Their heavily embroidered clothes are
Tough to wash and clean.
Because I let them do as they please,
They are abashed when scolded by elders.
Knowing they’re in for a spanking,
They hide their tears and face the wall.
Xü Ling 徐陵 (507-583 A.D.), Yütai xinyong 玉臺新詠 (New Poems from the Jade Terrace, ca. 545 A.D.), juan 卷2 and Qüan Han Sanguo Chin Nanbei chao shi 全漢三國晉南北朝詩 (The Complete Poetry of the Han, Three Kingdoms, Chin and Northern and Southern Dynasties), Ding Fubao 丁福保 (1874–1952 A.D.), comp. Taibei: Shijie shujü, 1969), vol. 1, ch. 4, pp. 387-388.
Emperor Huizong 徽宗 (1082–1135 A.D.), attributed to
Daolian tu 搗練圖 (Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, early 12th century A.D.)
Northern Song Dynasty
Handscroll: ink, color, and gold on silk, details
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Special Chinese and Japanese Fund 12.886