The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu








The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu

The given name of Master Lu is Yü and his courtesy name is Hongjian.  It is not known where he is from.  Some say that his courtesy name is Yü and that his given name is Hongjian, not knowing which is right.1  He is as ugly as Zhongxüan and Mengyang and stutters like Xiangru and Ziyün,2 but he is talented and persuasive and sincere in character.  In temperament, he is biased and irascible and often subjective.  When his friends admonish him, however, he is at once liberal and respectful.  Whenever he is at a gathering and happens to think of something, he leaves without speaking, causing people to wonder if he is scornful.  But when he makes a promise to someone, he keeps his word, even though the path is a thousand li3 in length, filled with ice and snow, and infested with tigers and wolves.

At the beginning of the Shangyüan reign period,4 Lu Yü built a hut on the banks of Tiaoxi Stream.5  Closing his door, he now reads books for pleasure.  He does not mix with riffraff, but spends long days talking and gathering with eminent monks and lofty scholars.  It is his habit to roam about in his skiff to mountain temples, wearing only a gauze kerchief, plaited sandals, a short shirt and briefs, and loincloth.  He often walks alone in the wilds chanting Buddhist scripture and reciting ancient poetry.  Knocking about the trees with his staff and dabbling his hand in flowing water, he aimlessly wanders from dawn to dusk until the day is utterly dark, wailing and weeping, then finally returning home.  Thus, people of Chu6 say among themselves, “Master Lu is now today’s Jieyü.7

Beginning at the age of two,8 desolate and exposed,9Lu Yü was raised at the Zen Buddhist Monastery10 of the great teacher Priest Jigong11 in Jingling.  From the age of eight, he learned composition, and Jigong revealed to him through the scriptures the Buddhist calling of renouncing the world.  In response, the boy said, “Without brothers, to have no descendants, to don monks’ robes and be tonsured, to call oneself a Buddhist – if the Confucians were to hear this, would they praise it as filial piety?  May Yü be taught the writings of the sage Confucius?”12

Jigong replied, “Virtuous, indeed!  You are filial, but you really do not yet know the Way of the tonsure and the robes of the West.13  Its name is truly great!”  Jigong insisted on teaching the Buddhist scriptures without submitting to the will of the boy.  The boy insisted on learning the Confucian canon without submitting to the will of the teacher.  Then, Jigong feigned disaffection for the boy and assigned him a sequence of demeaning tasks to test him: sweep the temple grounds, clean the monks’ privy, mix mud with his feet and plaster the walls, carry tiles on his back and build rooms, and tend thirty head of cattle.

In Jingling and Xihu,14 there was no paper for the boy on which to write and learn calligraphy.  So, using a bamboo stick, Lu Yü traced characters on the backs of the cattle.  One day, he questioned a scholar about calligraphic characters and was given a scroll of the poem “Ode on the Southern Capital” by Zhang Heng.15  Not knowing the characters in the poem, he sat alone in the pasture, imitating the dark robed student boys, sitting up straight, the scroll unrolled, just silently moving his mouth.

When Jigong learned of this, he feared the boy was being imbued with heretical teachings, departing from the Way, ever distant with every day.  So, the boy was again confined to the temple grounds and ordered to cut brambles and weeds under the direction of the senior disciple.  Occasionally, written characters would come to mind and he would fall into a stupor as if lost and disheartened, standing like a wooden post, passing the day unmoving.  The disciple thought he was lazy and whipped him.  And so, the boy cried without restraint, lamenting, “Alas, the months and years are passing by and I fear I will never know writing and books!”  The disciple thought the boy harbored resentment and again whipped his back, breaking the cane before releasing him.

Weary of these chores, the boy escaped from the senior disciple and ran away.  With just a roll of clothes, he joined an itinerant troupe of actors for which he wrote the play Mocking Banter in three acts and played the leading roles of the blockhead, the phony civil servant, and the character who conceals the pearl.  Priest Jigong pursued the boy and caught up with him, saying, “When I think of you lost to the Way!  Alas, what a pity!  Our founding master16 said that of the twelve hours of a disciple’s time, period was allowed for the study of non Buddhist teachings in order to subdue heretical thoughts. Because our monastery has so many people, you may now follow your desire.  You can throw away all those song and dance books!”

During the Tianbao reign period,17 people of the ancient capital of Ying18 held a banquet at Canglang19 to which the district official invited Lu Yü to be master of ceremonies.20  At the time, Master Li Qiwu,21 of Honan, who was demoted and serving as governor of Jingling, perceived Lu Yü’s extraordinary talent. Taking Lu Yü’s hand and patting his back, Li then personally presented a collection of poetry to him.  Thereafter, the Han and Mian region was transformed.22. Later, Lu Yü carried his books to Mount Huomen to study with Master Zou23 in the countryside.  When Cui Guofu,[24] a director of the ministry of rites, assumed the office of prefect of Jingling, Lu Yü accompanied him here and there for all of three years.  He gave Lu Yü a white donkey, a black humped ox,25 and a bookcase of pagoda wood with a beautiful grain.  The white donkey and the humped ox were presents to Cui Guofu from Li Cheng,26 prefect of Xiangyang; the fine-grained case of pagoda wood27 was from the late vice-president Lu28 of the chancellery.  Since Lu Yü had already admired these things, it was fitting that a rustic such as he ride and keep them.  So, Cui Guofu especially gave them to him.

At the beginning of the Zhide reign period,29 the people of Qin30 crossed south over the Yangzi River, and Lu Yü also crossed31 and met the Buddhist monk Jiaoran32 of Wuxing:33 the commoner and the priest ignored their difference in age.34

Ever since he was young, Lu Yü had enjoyed writing, mostly satirical protests.  Seeing people do good, he felt good.  Seeing people doing evil, he felt shame.  Bitter words grate on the ear.  There was nothing and no one that he would not confront; things that an ordinary person would perforce shun.  In response to the An Lushan35 rebellion, he wrote the poem “Four Lamentations.”  In response to the revolt of Liu Zhan36 in the Jianghuai,37 he wrote the ode “The Obscuring of Heaven.”  Both these events moved him to cry and weep.  Other writings include The Bonds between Ruler and Subject in three volumes, Unraveling Origins in thirty volumes, Genealogy of Four Surnames South of the Yangzi River in eight volumes, A Record of Famous People from North and South in ten volumes, A Record of Successive Officials in Wuxing in three volumes, A Critical History of Huzhou Prefecture in one volume, The Book of Tea in three volumes, The Interpretation of Dreams, first, second, and third parts, in three volumes, all of which is kept in a coarse cloth sack.

Written in the autumn of 761, the xinchou year of the Shangyüan reign period at the age of twenty-eight.38


陸子名羽,字鴻漸,不知何許人也。或雲字羽名鴻漸,未知孰是?有仲宣孟陽之貌陋,相如子雲之口吃,而為人才辯篤信,褊躁多自用意,朋友規諫,豁然不惑。凡與人宴處,意有所適,不言而去,人或疑之,謂生多瞋。及與人為信,雖水雪千裏,虎狼當道,而不愆也。上元初,結廬於苕溪之濱,閉關對書,不雜非類,名僧高士,談宴永日。常扁舟往來山寺,隨身惟紗巾藤鞋短褐犢鼻,往往獨行野中。誦佛經,吟古詩,杖擊林木,手弄流水,夷猶徘徊,自曙達暮,至日黑興盡,號泣而歸。故楚人相謂,陸子蓋今之接輿也。始三歲惸露,育乎竟陵大師積公之禪院。自幼學屬文,積公示以佛書出世之業。子答曰:「終鮮兄弟,無複後嗣,染衣削發,號為釋氏,使儒者聞之,得稱為孝乎,羽將授孔聖之文可乎?」公曰:「善哉子為孝,殊不知西方染削之道,其名大矣。」公執釋典不屈,子執儒典不屈,公因矯憐無愛,曆試賤務。掃寺地,潔僧廁,踐泥汙牆,負瓦施屋,牧牛一百二十蹄。竟陵西湖無紙,學書以竹畫牛背為字,他日問字於學者,得張衡《南都賦》,不識其字,但於牧所仿青衿小兒,危坐展卷,口動而已。公知之,恐漸漬外典,去道日曠,又束於寺中,令其翦榛莽,以門人之伯主焉。或時心記文字,懵然若有所遺,灰心木立,過日不作,主者以為慵惰鞭之。因歎歲月往矣,恐不知其書,嗚咽不自勝。主者以為蓄怒,又鞭其背,折其楚乃釋。因倦所役,舍主者而去,卷衣詣伶黨,著《謔談》三篇。以身為伶正,弄木人假吏藏珠之戲。公追之曰:「念爾道喪,惜哉!吾本師有言,我弟子十二時中,許一時外學,令降伏外道也。以我門人眾多,今從爾所欲,可緝學工書。」天寶中,郢人酺於滄浪道,邑吏召子為伶正之師。時河南尹李公齊物出守見異,捉手拊背,親授詩集,於是漢沔之俗亦異焉。後負書於火門山鄒夫子別墅,屬禮部郎中崔公國輔出守竟陵郡,與之遊處凡三年,贈白驢烏、幫牛一頭,文槐書函一枚。白驢、幫牛襄陽太守李憕見遺,文槐函故盧黃門侍郎所與,此物皆已之所惜也。宜野人乘蓄,故特以相贈。洎至德初,秦人過江,子亦過江,與吳興釋皎然為緇素忘年之交。少好屬文,多所諷諭。見人為善,若已有之;見人不善,若已羞之。苦言逆耳,無所回避,由是俗人多忌之。自祿山亂中原,為《四悲詩》,劉展窺江淮,作《天之未明賦》,皆見感激當時,行哭涕泗。著 《君臣契》三卷,《源解》三十卷,《江表四姓譜》八卷,《南北人物誌》,十卷,《吳興曆官記》三卷,《湖州刺史記》一卷,《茶經》三卷,《占》夢上中下三卷,並貯於褐布囊。上元辛醜歲,子陽秋二十有九。



Lu Wenxüe zijuan 陸文學自傳 (The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu, 761), Wenyüan yinghua 文苑英華 (Beautiful Blossoms from the Literary Garden, ca. 1009), Li Fang 李昉 (925-996) et al., comps., ch. 793.


Small Portrait of the Tang Eremite Lu Hongjian, Tang chushi Lu Hongjian xiaoxiang 唐處士陸鴻漸小像, ink rubbing of an engraved image on a stone stele originally installed in the Lugong ci 陸公祠 or Shrine of Master Lu.  The shrine was once built in 1783 on the moat outside the north gate of the Jingling city walls.  In 1988, the shrine was rebuilt on the site of the former West Pagoda Temple, Xita si 西塔寺.



1 This sentence is sometimes rendered as parenthetical and considered a later interpolation by scholars such as Zhang Hongyong 張宏庸, Lu Yü qüanji  陸羽全集 (Taibei: Chaxüe wenxüe chuban she, 1985), p. 88, n. 2.

2 Lu Yü compared his verbal and physical afflictions to those of four famous poets of the Han and Wei dynasties: Wang Can 王粲 (177-217), Zhang Zai 張載 (ca. 289), Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 (c. 179-117 B.C.E.), and Yang Xiung 揚雄 (53 B.C.E.-C.E. 18), respectively.

3 Li 里, a little over a third of a mile.

4 The Shangyüan 上元 reign period (760-761 C.E.) lasted a nominal two years; therefore, the year that Lu Yü established his residence was 760.

5 The Tiaoxi 苕溪 or Reed Stream is a major geographical and seasonal feature of Huzhou 湖州, the town in northern Zhejiang where Lu Yü eventually settled, lived, and died.  The name Reed Stream comes from the marsh plant that grows abundantly along the river bank; it blossoms in white, feathery plumes in summer and in autumn goes to seed, showering the air and water with a snowy fluff.  Broad and shallow, the river flows in two main branches, east and west, out of Mount Tianmu 天目山, converges in the town of Huzhou, and then empties north into Lake Tai 太湖.

6 Chu 楚 was a name for the ancient state and region of Hupei and Hunan where Lu Yü was born.

7 Jieyü 接輿 was an eccentric of the Spring and Autumn Period (772-481 B.C.E.) known as the Mad Man of Chu.

8 The text reads, “Beginning at sansui 三歲 (three years of age),” however, by Chinese custom, age begins at conception and a person is one year old at birth; therefore, Lu Yü was abandoned at the age of two, by Western count.

9 Lu Yü was a foundling discovered on the banks of a stream.

10 The Zen Buddhist Monastery was formally known as the Jingling Longgai si 竟陵龍盖寺, the Temple of the Hidden Dragon at Jingling. The monastery was originally built on Fufu Island 覆釜洲 in the middle of West Lake 西湖.  Established as early as the late Han, the temple expanded greatly in the fourth century during the Eastern Jin.  In the eighth century, the renown of the temple drew famous clerics and important convocations.  Lu Yü was raised at the temple as a servant and novice.  Presently known as the Xita si 西塔寺 or West Pagoda Temple, the monastery was rebuilt in 2003 just north of West Lake.

11 Abbot Zhiji 智積 (a.k.a. Jigong 積公; active 735-768).

12 At one time, a Buddhist novitiate severed relations with his family, took a vow of celibacy, and was divorced from mundane, secular concerns.  In Confucian terms, becoming a monk was considered unfilial to his parents, an unnatural cessation of the family line, an unproductive member of society, and disloyal to the state.

13 The West refers to India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and also to the Indian monk Bodhidharma (ca. 460-532/534), the patriarch of Zen Buddhism, who traveled west from India to China in circa 520 to spread his teachings.

14 Jingling 竟陵 was the ancient name of present Tianmen 天門, a town just sixty-seven miles west of the city of Wuhan 武漢, Hubei province 湖北省.  Jingling 竟陵 literally means “end of hills,” that is to say, a flat plain with no hills at all.  The town is famously known as Lu Yü guli  陸羽故里or the birthplace of Lu Yü.  Xihu 西湖 or West Lake is a great pond just outside the western gate of old Jingling and was so called because it mirrored East Lake, Donghu 東湖 across town.  West Lake is presently a large water park with buildings commemorating the life and work of Lu Yü.

15 Zhang Heng 張衡 (78-139), a distinguished poet, astronomer, and mathematician of the Eastern Han period (25-220), whose Nandu fu 南都賦 (Ode on the Southern Capital) depicted the region, products, scenic and historic places, and social customs of the provincial capital of Nanyang, present day Honan.

16 Priest Jigong did not identify the founder of the Longgai Temple 龍蓋寺, but its most famous abbots were the Buddhist philosopher Zhidun 支遁 (314-366) and the Buddhist scholar Yanzong 彦琮 (557-610) both of whom presided over the monastery when it was one of the most important monastic establishments in China.  Circa 353, Zhidun was recorded as having enclosed a freshwater spring on the temple grounds, a place that later became known as Spring of the Imperial Instructor, Wenxüe qüan 文學泉, because of its association with Lu Yü (Zhou Shiping 周世平 and Tong Zhengxiang 童正祥, “Lu Yü guzhu ‘Xita si yüanliu’ kao 陸羽故居 ‘西塔寺源流’ 考 (A Study of the Residency of Lu Yü and the ‘Origins of West Pagoda Temple’), Chayüan 茶苑 (Tea Garden Journal, 2003), no. 2, pp. 31-33).

17 Tianbao reign period, 742-755.

18 Ying 郢 was the capital of the ancient state of Chu 楚, now known as Jiangling 江陵 or Jingzhou 荆州, Hupei.

19 Canglang 滄浪 is a branch of the Han River 漢水 at its lower reaches near Jingzhou 荆州, Hupei.

20 Lu Yü was but thirteen years of age when he received the invitation to direct the entertainments for the festivities.

21 Li Qiwu 李齊物 (active ca. 742-755), a former governor of Loyang, a distinguished scholar, courtier, and respected high official in the Tang government who in his later years was Grand Mentor of the Heir Apparent, one of three preceptors to the crown prince.  Li spent a number of years in exile as prefect of Jingling.

22 Han 漢 and Mian 沔 rivers, i.e., the people of the region. The Mian is a branch of the Han River.

23 Zou Kun 鄒坤 (active ca. 747), headmaster of the Confucian academy on Mount Huomen 火門山, northwest of Jingling 竟陵, Hupei. See Kou Dan 寇丹, Lu Yü yü Chajing yanjiu 陸羽與茶經研究 (Hong Kong: Tianma tushu, Ltd., 2002), p. 102, no. 18.

24 Cui Guofu 崔國輔 (js 726), a Tang poet, courtier, and official, who in 752 was appointed prefect of Jingling.

25 A zebu (Bos indicus), an Asian domestic ox with a large hump over its shoulders, short curved horns, a large dewlap, and pendulous ears.

26 Li Cheng 李憕 ( ? – 755), a high official promoted to the post of minister in the Ministry of Rites after the An Lushan rebellion of 755.

27 Pagoda wood (Sophora japonicus), also known as the scholar’s tree and traditionally cultivated as a garden plant by aspiring students.

28 The official Lu 盧 of the chancellery, unidentified.

29 Zhide reign period, 756-757.

30 Qinren 秦人: Refugees from the province of Shaanxi fleeing the conflict and rebellion in the north to the relative safety of the south below the Yangtze River.

31 In 756, Lu Yü traveled northeast to Wuxing 吳興, Zhejiang, a place south of the Yangzi River and therefore still considered “south.”

32 Jiaoran 皎然 (720-799), a Buddhist priest, literary critic, and noted poet whose radical “use of poetry as an intellectual instrument,” “juxtaposition of Zen Buddhism and the arts,” and theory made him the dominant literary figure of the lower Yangzi (William H. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. and comp., The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1986), pp. 270-273).

33 Jiaoran was from the town of Huzhou 湖州 in Wuxing 吳興, Zhejiang, where Lu Yü eventually settled and spent the rest of his life.

34 Lu Yü (733-804) and Jiaoran (720-799) differed in age by about thirteen years.  The year 720 is given as the date of Jiaoran’s birth; 799 as his date of death (Xü Hairong 徐海榮, ed., Zhongguo chashi dadian 中國茶事大典 (Beijing: Huaxia chuban she, 2000), p. 561 and William H. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. and comp., The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1986), p. 270, respectively).

35 An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757) rebelled on the ninth day of the eleventh month of 755.  Within months, refugees were fleeing the conflict from Shaanxi to the relative safety of the south.

36 Liu Zhan 劉展 ( ? – 761), a rebel in the lower Yangzi River valley, especially around Suzhou and the wealthy trading towns of Yangzhou and Chuzhou.  Liu rebelled during the winter of 760-761 and was killed by government troops.

37 Jianghuai 江淮: Jiangsu, Honan, and northern Anhui provinces.

38 Lu Yü was twenty-nine sui 歲, Chinese years, making him age twenty-eight by Western reckoning.




16. October 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

Tianluoshan: Reprise

Tea in the Neolithic Era or Getting to the Root of the Matter

There is an ongoing discussion within the archaeological community regarding the discovery of Camellia plant remains at the late Stone Age site of Tianluoshan, particularly the notion that the tea plant Camellia sinensis was domesticated.

The discourse concerns the sufficiency and analysis of data. Unlike the announcements of the discovery of Neolithic tea, exchanges over issues regarding the find take place in less public forums. However, all agree that the archaeology is sound and the discovery of Camellia roots is not in dispute. Moreover, there is an accord that the Camellia rhizomes, like the other botanicals found at Tianluoshan, are an important discovery.

Several concerns remain among archaeologists. While accepting the excavation of Camellia roots from within the residential area of the settlement, some have reservations as to whether the rhizomes were planted, suggesting instead that the spacing of the plants as well as the surrounding light-colored earth were naturally formed along the expanding growth of the roots. And though Tianluoshan is five meters above sea level, some question the growth of Camellia near marshy ground. Without proof of planting, the Camellia may not have been under cultivation, and so the specific ethnobotanical connections between these plants and the settlement community remain archaeologically yet unclear.

Although there is agreement that the roots are genus Camellia, there is no consensus as to species. This particular issue hinges on the chemical analysis used to determine plant species. Some further cite the lack of wild Camellia sinensis with which to compare the excavated Camellia rhizomes. Issues aside, the general concession is that the Camellia plant remains at Tianluoshan are most likely Camellia sinensis, while others encourage further investigation and the gathering of more information.

As for the Camellia roots at Tianluoshan, it remains to be seen as to whether or not the archaeological community will clarify the situation and come to unanimity. One step towards solution, once proposed by the archaeobotanists, is testing the DNA of the specimens. In the meantime, there continues to exist a respectful debate.


Many thanks to Dr. Ling-yu Hung for her inquiry into the controversy over Neolithic tea. And thanks to Dr. Qin Ling, archaeobotanist at the School of Archaeology and Museology, Beijing University and Dr. John T. Kirby, Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics, University of Miami for their kind assistance.

08. June 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Reports and Reviews |

Tianluoshan: Tea in the Neolithic Era


Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 6.46.21 PMIn 2001, the remains of a Neolithic settlement were discovered near the eastern coast of China where archaeologists excavated nearly a dozen roots of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Each rhizome was found in an extraordinary state of preservation and in a regular pattern of planting. The remarkable find dramatically changed the history of tea by extending the geographical range of primordial Camellia sinensis from the remote fastness of Sichuan in the far west eastward to the marshes and streams of the lower Yangzi and the Zhejiang coast. Moreover, tea culture was no longer confined to the historical period but stretched thousands of years back in time to the fourth millennium B.C. of the late Stone Age. Continue Reading →

02. June 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Reports and Reviews |

Spring of the Instructor: Wenxüe qüan 文學泉

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 7.34.55 AMThe Spring of the Instructor was once an important source of water in the ancient town of Jingling. Pure and clear, the spring was discovered long ago by a venerated monk, and for hundreds of years thereafter its waters were used to brew tea at the nearby monastery. As the basic medium for making tea, the spring’s sweet water was essential and preferred for its purity, clarity, and taste. According to tradition, the Tang tea master Lu Yü drew water from the spring as a boy. Many sources of fine water were credited to Lu Yü during his lifetime, but the spring at Jingling was plainly identified with his adolescence, giving it precedence above all others in the shaping of his taste and ideas on tea. Lu Yü later used the knowledge he gathered from his early time at the spring to write the Chajing 茶經, the Book of Tea. From the late Tang dynasty through the twentieth century until today, the site of the spring was ornamented with pavilions and halls to commemorate the Book and life of Lu Yü, the Sage of Tea. Continue Reading →

01. April 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: History |

Tsia and Tsiology: A History of the Words


TsiologyThe word tsiology is a nineteenth century expression.  Rare and obscure, tsiology was said to mean “a scientific dissertation on tea.”[1]  As a term, tsiology was expressly coined in 1826 for a polemical account published that very year in London.  In keeping with the expository style of titles of the time, the name of the book ran on at some length: Tsiology: A Discourse on Tea. Being an account of that exotic, botanical, chymical, commercial and medical, with notices of its adulteration, the means of its detection, Tea making, with a brief history of The East India Company, etc.  The small, one volume book was written by an English author who anonymously and simply referred to himself as “A Tea Dealer.”[2]  In addition to being an exposition on tea, Tsiology was a defense of the East India Company monopoly and a critique of not only escalating government tariffs but also of fraudulent schemes disrupting the domestic tea trade.  Tsiology temporarily attracted London readers with its facade of scholarship, the book surviving three editions printed over a year or so.[3]  While the book raised several important and timely issues about the British trade, the term tsiology never gained acceptance as an expression of tea, and indeed it all but vanished from literary as well as spoken English. Continue Reading →

23. March 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: History |

Wandering Immortal







Guo Pu of the Eastern Jin

Wandering Immortal

The bustling capital is a pitfall for wayward gentlemen.
The mountain forest is seclusion for hermits.
No need to exalt the vermillion gate;
It is incomparable to embracing Penglai,
Where right from the Source I ladle pure water,
Where from the hills and mountains I gather cinnabar mushrooms.
Spirit Stream conceals me well:
No need to climb the Ladder of Clouds.
Lacquer Garden had Chuangzi;
Master Lai, a reclusive wife.
Advancing ensures seeing the dragon but
Retiring is like a ram butting a fence.
On the high Path, I abandon the swirling dust,
Bidding farewell to Boyi and Shuqi.

Continue Reading →

01. February 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

Bring in the Wine







Li Bo of the Tang dynasty

Bring in the Wine

Have you not seen the Yellow River waters flowing from Heaven,
Rushing to the sea, never to return?
Have you not seen parents’ sorrow in their white hair?
Once, it was like black silk at dawn, now at sunset it’s like snow.
A life fulfilled must contain happiness:
Never let the golden vessel go empty, just add the moon!
Born with Heaven’s gifts, I must use them;
I’ve scattered thousands in gold and it all returns to me.
Boil the mutton, butcher the ox, all for joy!
Muster a draught of three hundred cups!
Master Cen and Master Danqiu,
Bring in the wine, the ceaseless cups.
Just one more song for you,
Please just listen closely.
Bells and drums, delicacies and jade? All nothing!
I just want one long binge, not sobriety!
Old sages and worthies? All forgotten!
Only great drunks leave behind their names.
Prince Chen once feasted in the Temple of Tranquil Joy,
Worth tens of thousands, casks of wine indulged every pleasure.
So how dare I say my money is running out?
Go buy more wine and fill our cups.
My fine dappled horse, my precious furs,
Call over the servant boy, exchange them for rare wines.
Together we’ll wash away ten thousand old sorrows.

Continue Reading →

27. January 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

Excerpt from the Rhapsody on the Capital of Shu








Yang Xiong of the Han dynasty

Excerpt from the Rhapsody on the Capital of Shu


The Five Grains are abundant,
The squashes and gourds, aplenty, and
The many plants yield thatch and hemp.
Everywhere is ginger and gardenia,
Monkshood and great garlic,
Flowering shrubs and wormwood,
Pepper and riverweed.
The sundry gels, pastes, and sweet wines,
All gathered, presented, and stored.
In winter, the bamboo nurtures shoots
To accompany the daily dishes.
The Hundred Flowers burst forth in spring
Filling the air with gentle perfume.
Tendrils and tea, lushly profuse,
Jade green, russet, and celadon,
Glorious as luminous dragon scales,
Spread like rich embroidery and
Vast prospect without end…

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22. November 2012 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

Thomas Garway’s Broadsheet Advertisement for Tea, circa 1668


“An Exact Description of the Growth, Quality, and Vertues of the Leaf TEA, by Thomas Garway in Exchange Alley, near the Royal Exchange in London, Tobacconist, and Seller and Retailer of TEA and COFFEE.

Tea is generally brought from China, and groweth there upon little Shrubs or Bushes, the Branches whereof are well garnished with white Flowers that are yellow within, of the bigness and fashion of sweet Brier, but smell unlike, bearing thin green leaves about the bigness of Scordium, Mirtle, or Sumack, and is judged to be a kind of Sumack: This Plant hath been reported to grow wild only, but doth not, for they plant it in their Gardens about four foot distance, and it groweth about four foot high, and of the Seeds they maintain and increase their Stock. Of all places in China this Plant groweth in greatest plenty in the Province of Xemsi, Latitude 36. degrees, bordering upon the West of the Province of Honam, and in the Province of Namking, near the City of Lucheu; there is likewise of the growth of Sinam, Cochin China, the Island de Ladrones and Japan, and is called Cha. Of this famous Leaf there are divers sorts (though all of one shape) some much better than the other, the upper Leaves excelling the other in fineness, a property almost in all Plants, which Leaves they gather every day, and drying them in the shade, or in Iron pans over a gentle fire till the humidity be exhausted, then put up close in Leaden pots, preserve them for their Drink Tea, which is used at Meals, and upon all Visits and Entertainments in private Families, and in the Palaces of Grandees. And it is averred by a Padre of Macao Native of Japan, that the best Tea ought not to be gathered but by Virgins who are destined to this work, and such, Qua nondum Menstrua patiuntur; gemma qua nascuntur in summitate arbuscula servantur Imperatorie, ac pracipuis ejus Dynastis: qua autem infra nascuntur, ad latera, populo conceduntur.[1] The said Leaf is of such known vertues, that those very Nations so famous for Antiquity, Knowledge, and Wisdom, do frequently sell it amongst themselves for twice its weight in Silver, and the high estimation of the Drink made therewith, hath occasioned an inquiry into the nature thereof among the most intelligent persons of all Nations that have travelled in those parts, who, after exact Tryal and Experience by all Wayes imaginable, have commended it to the use of their several Countries, for its Vertues and Operations, particularly as followeth, viz. Continue Reading →

11. November 2012 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: History, Literature |

Ascending the White Rabbit Pavilion in Chengdu

Hulu jushi fanyi






Zhang Zai of the Western Jin

Ascending the White Rabbit Pavilion in Chengdu

Corners bind the city’s inner walls,
Wing swept eaves mount storied pagodas.
Rooftops pierce the heavenly clouds,
Tall spires ascend into the Void.
High pavilion, the open crimson door:
The view, an unbroken panorama.
To the west, the river Min and mountain ridges:
Lofty Mount E looms larger than the peaks of Jing and Wu.

Great taro patches cover the land,
Plains and marshes grow grains and greens.
Even when compared to the time of Yao and Tang,
Food is ever abundant.
In myriad small towns,
Crowd the common folk.
The streets, confused, a tangle of fine silk threads;
Roofs and rafters invade the boulevards.

I wish to ask about Master Yang’s abode
And to see the home of the Elder Minister.
Cheng and Zhuo piled up thousands in gold,
As proud and prodigal as the Five Marquises.
They ride marvelous mounts and
Wear jade belts and swords from Wu.
Their bronzes filled with foods of the Four Seasons,
Blending aromas, wonderful and rare.

But truly, I’d rather be in the woods picking autumn oranges
And on the nearby rivers angling for spring fish:
Black fry tastier than fish sauce,
Fruit more luscious than crab dip.
Fragrant, beautiful tea crowns the Six Purities,
Its overflowing flavor spreads through the Nine Regions.
If only life were that peaceful,
This world would hold more pleasure.

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13. October 2012 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

The Accomplished Man

Hulu jushi fanyi






Zuo Si of the Jin dynasty

Poem Eight from Eight Poems on History

Flap, flap, a caged bird
Beating wings against four corners.
Aloof, aloof, the backstreet scholar,
A brooding shadow kept to an empty house.
Going out, there is no exit,
Brambles block the way.
Dreams are abandoned,
Like fish out of water.
On the street  – no measure of fortune;
At home – not a measure saved.
Constantly belittled by relations,
Day and night neglected by friends.
Su Qin propagandized in the north and
Li Si memorialized in the west, but
Aspiring to glory and splendor, tsk,
Is just carving rotten wood.
Drinking from the river fills the belly,
But one can drink only so much.
A forest nest need perch but on a single branch:
Such is the way of the accomplished man.

Continue Reading →

29. September 2012 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation |

Engelbert Kaempfer on Tea and Bodhidharma

The Japanese legend of the discovery of tea by the first Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma graphically detailed the dedication of the master to meditation.  According to the story, Bodhidharma, known as Daruma in Japan, practiced a strict regimen of meditation at the Shaolin Temple outside the ancient Chinese capital of Luoyang by sitting in a nearby cave and facing the wall.  He meditated in this fashion for many years until one day, without realizing his fatigue, he fell asleep.  Angered by his inability to stay awake and concentrate, he ripped out his eyelids and flung them to the ground.  Miraculously, the flesh sprouted into tea plants at his feet.  Tasting the leaves, he felt refreshed and clear minded and immediately resumed meditation.  His habit of tea was passed to his disciples and through them to the whole Buddhist community.  Such was the origin of tea explained in Japanese folklore.

The first ever literary expression of the Bodhidharma tea story appeared to have been written in Latin by the German naturalist and physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716 A.D.) while serving as surgeon to the Dutch East India Company.  Between 1690 and 1692, Kaempfer was stationed at Deshima, the small island connected to the Japanese port of Nagasaki.  A gifted botanist and keen observer, he wrote one of the most complete descriptions of tea of the time, noting not only the plant but also its Japanese name, cultivation, harvest, types of tea, preparation, preservation, use, virtues and vices, and implements and utensils for making and serving tea.  In 1712, Kaempfer published his study of tea as “Theae Japonensis historia” in the third fascicle of Amoenitatum Exoticarum, otherwise known as Exotic Pleasures, and included the popular image of Bodhidharma depicted crossing the Yangzi River on a reed as well as the legend of the origin of tea. Continue Reading →

06. September 2012 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: History |

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