Poetry from the Golden Age of Chinese Art and Literature

April 20, 2016

The Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD) is regarded as one of the most prosperous times in China’s long history.

It was also the golden age of Chinese art and literature.

Crossing the Han River
Song Zhi-wen (656 – 712 AD)

No news, no letters – all winter, all spring —
     Beyond the mountains.
With every homeward step more timid still
I dare not even inquire of passerby
.

Song Zhi-wen, the poet, was found guilty of accepting bribes and executed. He had good reason to fear returning home from exile.


In this video is a famous Tang poem.

The classical form of Chinese poetry developed in the late Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty.

Most Tang poems have four or eight lines, with five and seven Chinese characters in each line following certain rules.

Another example of Tang Dynasty poetry is Spring Perspective by Du Fu (712 – 770 AD).

When the post of prime minister was awarded to a cousin of the imperial concubine, there was the military rebellion of An Lu–shan in 755 AD.

The nation has fallen, the land endures
Spring trees and grasses flourish in the town.
Troubled by the times — flowers bring tears;
Dreading parting — birds startle the soul.

With turmoil of battle three months on end,
A letter from home is worth a fortune in gold.
As it is, they can barely hold a pin.

This poem demonstrates what happens when the Chinese people get tired of nepotism and corruption, which should be heeded as a warning today to crack down on corruption in Communist China.

The next poem is one of many that Yuan Zhen (779 – 831 AD) wrote for his dead wife, who he married when he was poor. She did not live long enough to share his fame and fortune.

In former years, we chatted carelessly of death and what it means
     to die.
Since then, it’s passed before my very eyes.
I’ve given almost all your clothes away
But cannot bear to move your sewing things.
Remembering your past attachments, I’ve been kind to maids you
     loved.
I’ve met your soul in dreams and ordered sutras sung.
Certainly, I know this sorrow comes to all
But to poor and lowly couples, everything life brings is sad.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

A1 on March 13 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel

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Who was the first Cinderella?

March 8, 2016

There is a myth that the earliest version of the Cinderella story appeared in Egypt around the first century. If true, since Egypt didn’t have printing presses back then, this may have been an oral story told around camp fires.

However, in 850 AD during the Tang Dynasty, the first known literary version of Cinderella was published in China, and it was about a girl named Yeh-Shen set in the Qin and Han dynasties centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Although there are claims the Chinese Cinderella, Yeh-Shen, had bound feet,  foot binding didn’t appear in China until the Sung Dynasty (960-1276 AD), more than a century after this Chinese Cinderella story was first published. – Bound Feet Women

The French version of Cinderella wouldn’t be published by Charles Perrault until 1697 — more than eight centuries later.

Another version of Cinderella would appear in 1867 and again in 1894 in England.

In 1945, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow would present the premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet of Cinderella.

Walt Disney wouldn’t publish a version of Cinderella until 1946, more than a thousand years after Cinderella first appeared in China based on a story that is alleged to have taken place about 206 BC.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Can Chinese Medicine Beat Cancer?

November 10, 2015

Actress Pam Grier was a guest on Oprah some time back.  Grier has been a major African-American actress from the early 1970s, and she has 96 film credits on imbd.com.  She has also appeared in many TV series and each one counts as one of her film credits.

Grier says, “People see me as a strong black figure, and I’m proud of that, but I’m a mix of several races: Hispanic, Chinese, and Filipino. My dad was black, and my mom was Cheyenne Indian. So you look at things beyond just race or even religion: I was raised Catholic, baptized a Methodist, and almost married a Muslim.”

In 1988, Grier was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and she was given a few months to live. There was nothing Western medicine could do to cure her.

During Grier’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she said, “My physician said western medicine has done all it can, I recommend that you go to Chinatown. You’ll meet these practitioners and you’ll listen to them.”

She started making regular trips to Chinatown in Los Angeles.

The focus in China is on prevention — to plan your lifestyle around healthy habits. That’s why early in the morning in China you may find many older Chinese outside exercising using the graceful, poetic movements of Tai Chi to insure health and longevity.

The history of acupuncture has been traced back before the birth of Jesus Christ, and the use of herbal medicines in China has been traced back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD), also before the birth of Christ.

In fact, the World Health Organization reports that “eighty per cent of African populations use some form of traditional herbal medicine, and the worldwide annual market for these products approaches US$ 60 billion.”

All of these facts of Eastern and/or Chinese medicine beg for a question. Why do Western drug companies reserve the right to use the word ‘cure’ and no one else may use it legally?

“Unfortunately the word ‘cure’ is the sole property of the drug companies. If a nutritional supplement company uses this term they are attacked judiciously. This often leads to bankruptcy. As a result, many natural cures are buried.” – Forbidden words, and diagnosis

Pam Grier was diagnosed with cancer in 1988, and her doctors believed she only had a few weeks to live, but she’s still around thanks to Chinese medicine. However that Chinese medicine didn’t cure her because that’s illegal. Only Western drugs are legally allowed to cure.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Wolf Totem – the book vs the film

September 22, 2015

I walked to town recently to see the film of a book I read several years ago. The theater I saw it in was huge and there were only three of us there. Wolf Totem was in Mandarin with English subtitles. Fortunately for the audience, there isn’t much dialogue so there isn’t that much to read if you don’t speak the language but the story—through the panoramic visuals—had a powerful message about mankind meddling with nature. In China, this film has earned more than $110 million U.S. I couldn’t find out how much it has earned in the U.S. where I saw it.

Consider the fact that pollution is not exclusive to China, and the United States, for instance, has more than 1,300 superfund sites—Superfund sites are polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations. – epa.gov

In addition, the book and the film also offer another way to learn about China, it’s people and their humanity.

Jiang Rong is the pen name for Lu Jiamin, the author, a Chinese citizen. Set during the Cultural Revolution, Wolf Totem describes the education of an intellectual living with nomadic herders in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The publisher of Wolf Totem said the novel was an epic Chinese tale and that’s true. Wolf Totem taught me a lot about this almost extinct culture. I learned about the fascinating connection between wolves and Mongolians and why this connection may have been the reason why Genghis Khan was so successful in his conquests.

I recommend the film more than the novel to anyone who wants to learn about the life of the Mongols and another perspective of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. If you can’t see the film, then the book is worth reading too.

However, the theme that runs through the novel of maintaining a balance with nature is a bit overdone—I didn’t get this impression from the film. In the novel, I got the message the first time the characters talked about it but then the topic comes up repeatedly—a bit too much but an insignificant criticism of a book worth reading and a film that I think is even more powerful.

I won’t give away the ending, but don’t expect it to be happy. Most Chinese novels don’t end with happy endings. The ending for the film was different than the novel, and I actually liked it better—a powerful and breathtakingly beautiful film.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Long before Romeo and Juliet there was China’s Butterfly Lovers

August 25, 2015

The legend of The Butterfly Lovers first appeared in 618 AD during the Tang Dynasty, and it’s a tragic Chinese love story similar to Romeo and Juliet.

The basic premise is of a young woman in China wanting to go to school. Since boys were the only ones allowed to attend school, this young woman, like Barbara Streisand in the movie Yentl (1983), disguised herself as a boy.

Yentl was based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s (1902 – 1991) short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy.

When I talked to my wife about this, she found her copy of a popular theme song from The Butterfly Lovers played as a violin solo by Yu Lina. As the house filled with the music, which may also be found on the next embedded YouTube video, my wife started to dance.

She said, “This is one of my favorites. I cannot resist dancing when I hear it.”

In fact, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy and Shakespeare’s (1564 – 1616) Romeo and Juliet must be combined to become The Butterfly Lovers. What starts as a charade becomes a love story ending in the suicide of the two young lovers.

The love story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is one of four Chinese folk legends and one of the most influential and best known in China.

China has traded with the West since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 219 AD). There was an overland route in the north and a sea route in the south, which the Roman Empire used around the time of Christ.

Since China traded with the West for more than two thousand years, it is conceivable that The Butterfly Lovers reached the West and was adapted by Shakespeare and then Singer after being exposed to the plot.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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Searching for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in China

August 4, 2015

Shakespeare’s drama Romeo and Juliet is often taught to ninth graders in US high schools. Other Shakespeare plays are studied at other grade levels and in college.

However, you may be surprised to discover Shakespeare is probably more popular in China since his work is taught in most Chinese universities, both in English and in Chinese, and Shakespearean texts are easily available in China in both languages.

When Mao ruled China (1949 to 1976), Shakespeare was banned as was Aristotle and other Western philosophers.  Mao died in 1976, and that ban was lifted in 1978.

In fact, according to Cheng Zhaoxiang, the author of Teaching Shakespeare in China, “It is no exaggeration to say that every educated Chinese knows something about Shakespeare.”

However, when produced in China on stage, the plot may not stay true to the original Shakespeare.

Writing for the The People’s Republic of Shakespeare, Adventures in Chinese Research, Meammi says, “My interest in this topic started when I noticed that many of the Romeo and Juliets performed in China are either parodies or rewrites where one of the lovers survives in the end.

“China has their own pair of star-crossed lovers (The Peony Pavilion – 1598 AD), who tragically die for love and their plight is described in a much more mournful tone than Shakespeare’s version.

“Some Chinese theater companies state in interviews that their audiences have too much sadness in their lives so Romeo just can’t die in the end of their performance.”

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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China’s Answer to Harry Potter

July 15, 2015

Guest review by Tom Carter

China’s love affair with superstition, pseudoscience and the fantastical may be traced back over five millennia, whence some of history’s oldest myths and legends originated.

Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), published anonymously by scholar Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century Ming Dynasty, remains China’s most beloved fantasy story.  Considered one of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature, the 100 chapters of ‘Journey’ are replete with monkey kings, flesh-eating demons, immortal sages and celestial battles.

When science fiction became all the craze in 1950’s America, Red China followed suit by founding its first sci-fi periodical.

However, unlike the west, where rapid advances in the tech sector fueled science fiction, China promoted sci-fi to help inspire its own dormant technological progress.

Conversely, about the same time during the 70s when American director George Lucas was preparing to film a little space opera called Star Wars, the Cultural Revolution was banishing all China’s scientists to hard-labor communes.

Indeed, where the Chinese have categorically failed in speculative fiction (programming on the Communist-controlled CCTV is evidence enough that future perspective is held in little regard here: of China’s 19 official television channels, all feature serials set in olden times, some in the present, none about the future), they remain masters of mythology and purveyors of the past.

Present-day PRC is seeing a renaissance of the fantasy genre.  The wuxia-inspired Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a critical and commercial success, generations of young, Chinese cyber-punks are hopelessly addicted to the virtual sorcery of World of Warcraft, and Harry Potter remains China’s “most pirated novel ever”.

Even so, no Chinese author has ever been able to replicate the success of Journey to the West; as a result, publishing houses in the Middle Kingdom prefer to translate western best-sellers such as Lord of the Rings and Narnia rather than take their chances on local fantasy fiction writers.

Enter Zee Gorman (nee Yan Zi-hong) China’s response to J.K. Rowling.

Born in Guangdong province during the Cultural Revolution (both her parents were exiled to the countryside for being “intellectuals”), Zee was raised on a literary diet of propaganda and scar literature.

Rather than publish a clichéd daughter-of-the-Revolution memoir about her hardships, the aspiring author opted for the escapism of fantasy. Hence, her decades-in-the-making debut novel, The Altethlon Chronicles.

A high-fantasy fiction set in a parallel universe either far in China’s future or in its past, The Altethlon Chronicles is a complex blend of military, history, romance and sorcery.

Leading the rich cast of green-eyed, purple-skinned characters is the royal yet rebellious teen Ximia (“what kind of princess are you anyway, running around like a wildcat?”) and her forbidden lover, Nikolas, the leader of a rival tribe – a tumultuous relationship most likely inspired by Zee’s own experience with cultural clash when she immigrated to the U.S. and married an American.

Ximia is misled into believing that Nikolas has been killed during an escape attempt, whereby the princess is married off by her father to a dastardly lord.  The two young warriors go on to lead their respective armies until the day when destiny arranges for them to meet again in battle.

Lots of magic, weird names and epic battles of Tolkien proportions (note: this reviewer has never actually read a J. R. R. Tolkien book; I just thought it sounded cool to say that) ensue.

In creating this alternate world, Zee draws heavily on her Chinese heritage.

Kingdoms such as Manchuli, Dalong and Taklaman are each reminiscent of real regions in China.

Nonetheless, Zee, who is bi-lingual and holds dual degrees in English Literature, chose to write The Altethlon Chronicles in her second language and self-publish in America rather than risk having it pirated in China’s nascent fantasy market.

Some realities are worth escaping.

____________________

Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on Amazon.com.

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