Xi Xi in the Bamboo Grove

Xi Kang and Ruan Xian
of the Six Dynasties (220-589)
The Six Dynasties was a period of chaotic disunion when northern China was in the hands of non-Chinese leaders and the south was ruled by a succession of weak and short-lived dynasties. The work of poets and artists of this era reflects the unease and anxiety of Chinese society at the time. Many literati tried to escape the atmosphere of corruption and intrigue by moving away to the country, where they would indulge in drinking, music and poetry. Xi Kang, (aka Ji Kang 223-262) and Ruan Xian are two of a famous group of scholars, writers and musicians said to have done just this, known as the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. They are alleged to have gathered in a bamboo grove near the house of Xi Kang in Shanyang (in present-day Henan province) where they celebrated the simple, spontaneous things in life. Although Xi Kang married into the Imperial family, and received an offiical appointment, his favourite study remained that of alchemy and forging iron (apparently, “to imitate the activity of the Tao, the Great Smith”). Happening to offend one of the Imperial princes, who was also a student of alchemy, he was denounced as a dangerous person and a traitor and condemned to death. Three thousand disciples offered themseleves in his place, to no avail. He met his fate with fortitude, calmly watching the shadows thrown by the sun and playing upon his zither.

Passing a music shop one day, I saw a display of several miniature musical instruments. I went in and chose two, and then went home to make teddies of some of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. 經過樂器店的飾櫥,見到窗櫥內陳列了幾件微型樂器,進去選了兩件,回家縫竹林人物。
Xi Kang played a seven-stringed zither (qin). The body of the instrument has a wide end called the head and a narrow end called the tail. Along the side of the finger board are thirteen small white dots (hui), which mark different notes in the scale. The finest quality ones are made of jade, and the best strings are made of silk. When he was faced with imminent execution, Xi Kang played a tune on his zither called the Melody of Guangling (Guangling san). “San” is the name of this type of free melody; “Guangling” was a place in the present-day city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province. The music tells the tragic tale of vengeance of Nie Zhen, who assasinated Xia Lei, the Prime Minister of the small state of Han, during the Warring States period. 嵇康彈的是七弦古琴,一般有七弦。琴身頭寬尾窄,面板外側有十三粒小白圓點,稱徽,是音階的標誌。第一等的徽用玉製,弦用蠶絲。嵇康在臨刑時彈《廣陵散》。散是曲名,廣陵是地名,即今江蘇揚州。樂曲是復仇者的頌歌,敘述戰國時聶政刺殺韓相俠累的悲劇。

During the Wei-Jin period, distinguished men of letters (mingshi) dressed unconventionally. They enjoyed taking their clothes off. Men wore skirts just like women and tied their hair up. Xi Kang is wearing a special sort of skirt featuring a shoulder strap (pandai qun). His hair is done up in a top-knot, which I fashioned according to one of the clay brick impressions of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove found near Nanjing. I think the zither in the brick impression is the wrong way around. Perhaps it was deliberately sketched that way when it was being carved so that Xi Kang could sit facing Ruan Ji. 魏晉名士衣飾不落俗套,喜坦膚裸體,男子也著裙,梳了角髻。嵇康穿攀帶裙。頭紮卯髻,我讓髮式依循漢磚壁畫《竹林七賢》的圖照。畫中的古琴我想擺錯了方向,不知是否刻蝕時圖稿故意反轉了,要配合和阮步兵相向而坐?

Ruan Xian is playing a plucked string instrument with a long neck. These are normally called “moon guitars” (yueqin) after the round shape of the body. Since Ruan played one, they are sometimes called ruan after him. It was the precursor of the more famous, upright lute-like instrument called the pipa. Ruan’s moon guitar had twelve frets and he used a bamboo plectrum to pluck the strings. 阮咸撥的是圓月形有長項的琴,一般叫月琴,因為阮咸奏過,琴以人傳,稱阮咸。它是琵琶的前身。阮咸的阮有回弦十二柱,他用竹片撥。

I had his hair loose, but it hung down over his face. So I just clamped it back with a peg, which looks very post-modern. Like Xi Kang, he’s wearing a skirt with a shoulder strap, too. They are both wearing a special kind of decorative shawl (jinpei). 我讓阮咸披髮,額前髮絲會垂掛遮面,就用個晾衣夾咬住,十分後現代。和嵇康相同,他也著攀帶長裙。二人都披一幅特別的巾帔。

There are two famous paintings, Northern Qi Dynasty Scholars Collating Cassic Texts and Gentlemen in Retirement which feature groups of literati, all wearing skirts with shoulder straps and semi-circular chiffon shawls extending down below the waist. The shawl is draped around the back of Ruan’s shoulders, with the ends hanging in front of his chest. There is a pair of silk ribbons which can be used to tie the ends of the shawl together. It really is a very beautiful garment. It’s like the silken head scarf worn by the wizard Zhuge Liang. After all, who’s to say head scarves have to be worn on the head? 《北齊校書圖》和《高逸圖》中有一群文士,個個穿吊帶裙,身披一幅半圓形垂到腰以下透明的紗羅披肩。披巾搭繞在肩背上,兩隻角垂在胸前,兩襟綴有一對帛帶,可繫結住巾角。這件衣物真是漂亮出眾,可能就是羽扇綸巾的巾。誰說綸巾一定是紮在頭上的呢。半個輪形的巾可不就是綸巾。輪、綸相通。