The Art and Poetry of the Tang Dynasty

March 28, 2018

Stone Telling.com tells us, “Of the approximately 2,200 Tang poets, many were women, including China’s only female emperor, Empress Wu Zetian, but the works of female poets overall were not popular until the mid-to-late Tang Period (mid-700s A.D. to 907 A.D.), several generations after Empress Wu’s reign. At this time, women enjoyed more freedom than women of the following dynasties, especially those who were educated and of the upper class.”

One of Wu Zetian’s poems was about an imperial visit to a park.

Tomorrow morning I will make an outing to Shanglin Park,
With urgent haste I inform the spring:
Flowers must open their petals overnight,
Don’t wait for the morning wind to blow!

Song Zhi-wen, another Tang Dynasty poet, was found guilty of accepting bribes. In one of his poems he revealed that he had good reason to fear returning home from exile because when he did, he was executed.

Crossing the Han River
Song Zhi-wen (656 – 712 A.D.)

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.

Another example of Tang Dynasty poetry is The View in Spring by Du Fu (712 – 770 A.D.).

A kingdom smashed, its hills and rivers still here,
Spring in the city, plants and trees grow deep.
Moved by the moment, flowers splash with tears,
Alarmed at parting, birds startle the heart.
War’s beacon fires have gone on three months,
Letters from home are worth thousands in gold.
Fingers run through white hair until it thins,
Cap-pins will almost no longer hold.

(Owen, Stephen, trans. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996, p. 420. )

The next poem is one of many that Yuan Zhen (779 – 831 A.D.) 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.

The art of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) explored new possibilities in materials and styles. For instance, Tang Tri-colored Pottery thrived in the Tang Dynasty over 1300 years ago. Its glaze mainly features the three colors of yellow, green and white, but “tri-color” does not only refer to these three colors but many others.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Classic Historical Epic

March 13, 2018

I have long enjoyed reading historical fiction. I also watch films based on history and for that reason, I bought the film version for the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”—an epic of China’s history.

Don’t let the title fool you. This story is not about a boy-girl romance. It’s about the bloody, backstabbing romance of politics, war, and conquest.

The novel was written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong and was more than a thousand pages long with 120 chapters. After the Han Dynasty collapsed (206 BC to 219 AD), China shattered into three warring kingdoms.

This story was written using historical sources and is about how China was reunified as one nation again. I’ve seen the television series once and plan to watch it again someday if I live long enough. The DVD version has 84 episodes and runs for more than fifty hours. It has even been made into a game.

There have been seven films produced from this story and a long list of television series. To learn how complex this story is, just scroll through the Wiki’s page of Romance of the Three Kingdoms TV series. The total cast of characters might numb your mind. Imagine keeping track of them all.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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Let there be Dragons

December 26, 2017

I’m guilty. I like dragons. I even have a character in Becoming Merlin, my next novel, and that character can shapeshift and become a Chinese or Western dragon. The choice is up to Merlin what he wants to be.

The Chinese Year of the Dragon was in 2012 and the next time dragons will arrive is 2024.

In Western culture, dragons have wings, spews flames, eats women and young children, and is often killed by knights in shining armor.  Even in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the dragon is a monster that terrorizes, kills and hoards gold.

But, in China, dragons are seldom depicted as evil.  To most Chinese, the dragon may be fearsome and powerful but the creature is often considered fair, benevolent, and the bringer of wealth and good fortune. Dragons also appear in ancient Chinese literature. In fact, Chinese dragons are considered wise too.

Instead of flying, Chinese dragons are seen as water creatures that live in lakes, rivers, and oceans. One-quarter of the night sky is called the Palace of the Green Dragon and the dragon constellation is said to predict rain. The dragon is also the fifth sign of the Chinese zodiac.

When Buddhism arrived in China, dragon symbolism was adopted by that religion, and in Beijing, there is the famous Nine Dragon Screen as seen in the next video.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China’s Vampire Lore 

October 24, 2017

Belief in vampires is not confined to the people of Transylvania, and half-humans able to transform themselves into monsters are no strangers to Chinese folklore. Some tales may be traced back to the third century AD.

Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, this makes a case that vampire folklore may have originated in China and traveled west along the Silk Road almost two thousand years ago.

The Chinese vampire is called a Jiang-shi (also spelled Kaing-shi or Chiang-shih). However, Chinese vampires are different from Dracula or Anne Rice’s vampires.

Chinese folklore says the Jiang-shi is stiffened by rigor mortis and these vampires have to hop to get around. The Jiang-shi also finds its victims by smelling your breath, so if a blood thirsty Jiang-shi is hunting you, stop breathing so they can’t find you.

In the 1980s, there was a series of Chinese vampire movies produced in Hong Kong. The first in the series was Mr. Vampire.

There were a few Taiwanese vampire films, which include The Vampire Shows His Teeth (a series of three films (1984-1986), New Mr. Vampire (1985), Elusive Song of the Vampire (1987) and Spirit versus Zombie (1989).

Vampire stories have become popular in mainland China. Tom Carter, an American author and expatriate living in China, said Twilight is a popular pirated novel and some Chinese Twilight fans are writing their own fan-fiction and vampire stores on Chinese Blogs.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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The Difference between Chinese vs English Poetry

August 22, 2017

Su Kent says, “In my opinion, the essence of classical Chinese poetry is more difficult and allusive. Because of the nature of Chinese characters, each line can express utmost meanings in limited words. The beauty is condensed similar to energy ready to burst out.”

However, traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry in other ways.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Modern Chinese poets have written in free verse, but many still write with a strict form.

In the end, the form is not as important as what the poem says. Western poetry often focuses on love while painting an image of the poet as a lover.

Influenced by Confucius and Taoism, the ancient Chinese poet shows he or she is a friend, not a lover and often paints a picture of a poet’s life as a life of leisure without ambitions beyond writing poetry and having a good time. Su Kent says, “Chinese poetry draws much of its richness from the depth of meaning which these individual ideographs can carry.  Structurally, a classical Chinese poem usually has five or seven hieroglyphs per line, with each line creating a self-contained thought or image.”


In Chinese poetry, the poet must balance one thing against another.

According to legend, Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet, killed himself to protest the corruption of the time, and it is said that the Dragon Boat Festival was named to honor his sacrifice.

Battle
By Qu Yuan (332-295 B.C.)

We grasp our battle-spears: we don our breastplates of hide.
The axles of our chariots touch: our short swords meet.
Standards obscure the sun: the foe roll up like clouds.
Arrows fall thick: the warriors press forward.
They menace our ranks: they break our line.
The left-hand trace-horse is dead: the one on the right
is smitten.
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
yoke-horses?”

Translated by Arthur Waley 1919

Note: The translation process from Mandarin to English would insure that the fixed number of syllables and rhyme required of a traditional Chinese poem in its original language would not survive, but the contextual meaning should.

Discover The Return of Confucious

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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Marco Polo wrote, “It is without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.”

June 21, 2017

Huangzhou is considered one of the most beautiful cities in China. In 1127, the Song Dynasty made the city their capital after losing northern China to the Jin Dynasty.

“Spring Day on West Lake” by Ouyang Xiu (1007 – 1072 AD)

“The lovely Spring breeze has come
Back to the Lake of the West
The Spring waters are so clear and
Green they might be freshly painted.
The clouds of perfume are sweeter
Than can be imagined. In the
Gentle East wind the petals
Fall like grains of rice.”

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

The city of Huangzhou (developed in the 4th and 5th centuries CE) is about a hundred miles or 161 kilometers from Shanghai. I’ve visited this city several times. My last trip was in 2008.

The city has one of the largest bike sharing projects in the world and one of the most successful. Launched in 2008, the city of Huangzhou provides 50,000 free bicycles at 2,000 bike stops across the city, and in July 2012 a paper was published on the Clean Air Action Planning in Chinese Cities: Hangzhou and Jinan Cases.

Li Zhi Hong of Hangzhou Public Transport says the city wanted to encourage citizens to leave their cars and use more public transportation. The bicycles allowed people to take that final kilometer from the bus station to their destination.

The bikes are also great for tourism.

Hangzhou’s architecture and gardens are renowned, and it is situated among hills and valleys in which some of the most famous monasteries in China are located.

Huangzhou, also known as the Westlake, has been one of the more environmentally conscious cities in China. For instance, the city’s government made space to build parks alongside the rapid development and modernization. That’s why Huangzhou has remained picturesque unlike many other cities in China where concrete has taken over.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline