The long, ornate, rhapsodic fu 賦, in so far as it had an ancestor, derived from the shaman-chants of the South. Its lexical richness, euphuism and hyperbole suited an expansive, adventurous age in which Chinese armies penetrated deep into Central Asia and Chinese merchandise regularly found its way into European markets, but were deeply disturbing to right-minded Confucians, and therefore, ultimately, to the writers themselves; so that, amidst all the self-confident exuberance, a note of guilt and unease kept stealing in.
— David Hawkes, ‘The Age of Exuberance’,
in Classical, Modern and Humane, 1989.
The Bones of Zhuangzi
Zhang Heng (73-139CE)
A traveller who has wandered through the Nine Wilds and the vastness of the west comes across a pile of bones by the roadside. He addresses them and learns they are the remains of the thinker Zhuangzi.
The traveller is told:
Beyond the climes of common thought
My reason soared, yet could I not save myself;
For at the last when the long charter of my years was told,
I, too, for all my magic, by Age was brought
To the Black Hill of Death.
Why does this wayfarer question him so …
‘Let me plead for you upon the Five Hill-tops,
Let me pray for you to the Gods of Heaven and
the Gods of Earth,
That your white bones may arise,
And your limbs joined anew.
The God of the North shall give me back your ears;
I will scour the Southland for your eyes.
From the sunrise I will wrest your feet;
The West shall yield your heart.
I will set each several organ in its throne;
Each subtle sense will I restore.
Would you not have it so?’
The dead man answered me:
‘O Friend, how strange and unacceptable your words!
In death I rest and am at peace;
in life, I toiled and strove.
Is the hardness of the winter stream
Better than the melting of spring?
All pride that the body knew
Was it not lighter than dust?
What Chao and Xu despised,
What Bocheng fled,
Shall I desire, whom death
Already has hidden in the Eternal Way —
‘Where Li Zhu cannot see me,
Nor Zi Ye hear me,
Where neither Yao nor Shun can reward me,
Nor the tyrants Jie and Xin condemn me,
Leopard nor tiger harm me,
Lance prick me nor sword wound me?
Of the Primal Spirit is my substance; I am a wave
In the river of Darkness and Light.
The Maker of All Things is my Father and Mother,
Heaven is my bed and earth my cushion,
The thunder and lightning are my drum and fan,
The sun and moon my candle and my torch,
The Milky Way my moat, the stars my jewels.
With Nature my substance is joined;
I have no passion, no desire.
Wash me and I shall be no whiter,
Foul me and I shall yet be clean.
I come not, yet am here;
Hasten not, yet am swift.’
The voice stopped, there was silence.
A ghostly light
Faded and expired.
I gazed upon the dead, stared in sorrow and compassion.
Then I called upon my servant that was with me
To tie his silken scarf about those bones
And wrap them in a cloak of sombre dust;
While I, as offering to the soul of this dead man,
Pour my hot tears upon the margin of the road.
— translated by Arthur Waley,
from John Minford and Joseph Lau, eds,
An Anthology of Translations of
Classical Chinese Literature, Volume I,
Columbia University Press, 2000, pp.308-309.