The Fifth of April 2023 marks the day for ‘sweeping the tombs’ 掃墓, a festival on which respect is paid to loved ones and forebears. Known since ancient times as Qingming 清明, ‘Clear and Bright’, the festival usually falls on the Eighth Day of the Third Month of the lunar calendar. This year it falls on Twenty-fifth Day of the Intercalary Month of the Guichou Year of the Rabbit 癸丑兔年閏二月十五日.
Qingming usually comes less than a week after the Third Day of the Third Month 上已節, a time of ritual purification and seasonal celebration which we featured in Spring Lustration, a chapter in our series of New Sinology Jottings. Visiting ancestral graves was an occasion both to give thanks and to take delight in the season, for that reason Qingming is also known as the time of Spring Excursions 春遊踏青 (also 踏春).
We marked the first Qingming Festival following the launch of China Heritage with an essay titled In the Shade 庇蔭 in which we remembered some of our own Ancestors 先哲庇蔭, scholars and friends whose work, teaching and guidance nurtured the minds and the hearts of their students. The following year, we commemorated the day with My Qing, an essay by Lee Yee 李怡, a prominent Hong Kong writer, editor and an advocate for the city who was also one of my mentors. Lao Lee’s memorial for Liang Liyi (梁麗儀, 1936-2008), his life partner, opened with a quotation from a famous poem by Su Dongpo, the Song-dynasty scholar-bureaucrat, written in memory of his long-dead wife:
Ten years have we been parted:
The living and the dead —
Hearing no news,
And yet forgetting nothing!
I cannot come to your grave a thousand miles away
To converse with you and whisper my longing …
— Su Dongpo, Jiangchengzi
translated by Lin Yutang
On Qingming 2023, we in turn mourn the passing of Lao Lee, who died in exile in Taipei on 5 October 2022 (see ‘For’ برای — in Memory of Lee Yee). Our personal sorrow is at one with the heartbreak of those who have lost loved ones, in particular the countless blameless victims of Covid-19. We remember, too, heroes like Bao Tong 鮑彤, Jiang Yanyong 蔣彥永 and Du Guang 杜光. Nor do we forget the ribald and unwavering Ni Kuang 倪匡.
Below, we take as our theme Vulture Peak 靈鷲峰 líng jiù fēng, a sacred mountain in Buddhist India that has a famous simulacrum at Wutai Shan in China. Known also as Holy Eagle Peak — Gijjhakūṭa गिज्झकूट, in Pāḷi, the canonical language of early Buddhism, or Gṛdhrakūṭa गृद्धकूट in Sanskrit — Vulture Peak in Rajgir, India, was one of the sites where the historical Siddhartha Gautama (‘Buddha’) expounded the dharma in the form of discourses, or sutras, to his disciples.
Vulture Peak features prominently in the Buddhist canon. Tradition holds that influential sermons like the Heart Sutra and the Lotus Sutra were delivered there. (For more on the Heart Sutra, see Xi the Exterminator & the Perfection of Covid Wisdom, China Heritage, 1 September 2022.)
In January 2023, we introduced readers of China Heritage to the work of Liu Chan 劉蟾, a Beijing-based essayist, editor, calligrapher and social commentator. We did so by reproducing Liu’s ‘Memorial Stele to Those Who Succumbed to the Coronavirus in December 2022’ (see Memorial for the Departed, 12 January 2023). Our commemoration of Qingming Festival in 2023, which features more paintings and poems by Lao Shu, the nom de plume of Liu Shuyong (劉樹勇, 1962-), is bracketed by the calligraphy of Liu Chan.
Both of these artists have unmistakable and unique voices, the whimsy and profundity of which evoke what we think of as The Other China — a cultural noosphere that is as undeniably local as it is universal. We let their work speak for itself, unburdened by fussy annotations, even though notes would elucidate cultural and historical allusions familiar to many of their readers at a glance.
— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage
Twenty-fifth Day of the Intercalary Month of the
Guichou Year of the Rabbit 2023
5 April 2023, Passover
Liu Chan in China Heritage:
- Liu Chan’s Memorial for the Departed, 12 January 2023
- On Rumours & Lies — Dasheng’s Little Lectures, 16 January 2023
- Brainwashing vs. Educating — Dasheng’s Little Lectures, 17 January 2023
- Resisting Cultural Capture — Dasheng’s Little Lectures, 18 January 2023
- In the Eyes of the Beholder — Dasheng’s Little Lectures, 19 January 2023
&, more from Lao Shu:
- The Whimsy and Wisdom of Lao Shu, in a summer of discontent, 12 August 2022
- Now What? — Greeting the Guimao Year of the Rabbit 癸卯兔年, 21 January 2023
- Rabbiting on with Lao Shu, 23 January 2023
- ‘I am not nostalgic, I want to remember.’ — Lao Shu, spring 2023, 20 March 2023
In the hand of Liu Chan
2 April 2023
Here, O Śāriputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form;
emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness;
whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,
the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.
इह शारिपुत्र रूपं शून्यता शून्यतैव रूपम् ।
रूपान्न पृथक्शून्यता शून्याताया न पृथग्रूपम् ।
यद्रूपं सा शून्यता या शून्यता तद्रूपम् ।
एवमेव वेदानासंज्ञासंस्कारविज्ञानानि ।
— from The Heart Sutra, trans. Edward Conze
Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra
Lao Shu’s Spring
Winds stir as
clouds scud by
and a beguiling dream
touches the heart
Lao Shu, on encountering a modest work from the past
early spring Guimao Year of the Rabbit
[Published on 24 March 2023.]
Remember that everything has its season
Just as fortune and failure are both transient
The peach blossoms of spring end up spreading
Flecks of red-pink tint the ever-flowing water
— as spring winds swirl each year it seems as though the blossoms strain to outdo each other in their exuberance. For a time there are cerulean skies and the air is crystalline. The world luxuriates in a season that has no end. Suddenly, the energies of spring are spent and petals are scattered hither and yon. Yet again, one is reminded of the unsentimental cycle of nature. It is we humans who chose to pass judgement.
[Published on 26 March 2023.]
Mists veil the beguiling mountains scene
The trees are on the verge of blossoming
The travails of the world are at a distance
As I sit enjoying tea with a dear friend
— here my brush has recorded an encounter that I had on a rainy day
during a trip to Taishan over a decade ago.
a memory-painting by Lao Shu
early in the Guimao Year of the Rabbit
[Published on 28 March 2023.]
A slab of beancurd
— raw simplicity itself —
Can embrace a myriad of favours.
Truly a marvel of human invention.
Lao Shu, Spring
The Year of the Rabbit
[Published on 31 March 2023.]
Talent Attaining Perfection
Learning Honed to Resonate
Liu Chan, written for a friend
Spring, The Year of the Rabbit