Posts Tagged ‘China’

鴻雪因緣圖記 – A Wild Swan’s Trail, Part 5:


Yunqi Zhuhong/Lianchi Dashi (1535-1615).


Continuing our series of posts on the 鴻雪因緣圖記, here is an excerpt from a study on a major Buddhist figure of the Ming dynasty, Yunqi Zhuhong, illustrated with an engraving from Lin Qing’s book.


“[These] illustrations do not directly concern Chu-hung, but they serve as vivid illustrations of popular Buddhist practices in which Chu-hung was keenly interested. Figure 6 shows a tortoise being released at Chiao-shan monastery. This lithographic print comes from a very interesting book entitled Hung-hsüeh yin-yüan (Causes and Conditions of Bright Snow), which contains 240 pictures accompanied by short essays recording important events in the life of the author, Lin Ch’ing. The first volume was published in 1838 and contains entries ranging from the author’s childhood to age forty. The second volume was published in 1841 and covers the decade from his fortieth to his fiftieth year. The last volume was published in 1849 and covers the next five years of the author’s life. The illustration used here appears in the second volume and records an event that took place in the summer of 1836. In late July of that year, the author was visiting the monastery Chiao-shan in the middle of the Yangtze River. Facing Chin-shan monastery, which was about fifteen miles away, Chiao-shan had been famous ever since the K’ang-hsi emperor visited it in 1703. According to the author, he had paid about ten cash for the tortoise at the market a few days earlier. Then he took the tortoise to Chiao-shan and set it free in the river. However, instead of swimming away, the tortoise came back and climbed ashore, as it is doing in the picture. Perhaps this was because the current was too strong for the tortoise, who had become weak from captivity. But the author rather suspected that it wanted to stay on the temple grounds. In the end, he had it put in the pond for releasing life (fang-sheng-ch’ih) at Chiao-shan, and the tortoise swam in contentment.”

  • The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the late Ming synthesis, by Yü Chün-fang, Columbia Univesity Press, 1981, pp. xv-xvi.


Releasing a Tortoise at Chiao-shan Monastery (Hung-hsüeh yin-yüan, chüan 2, p. 67a)


Further biographical details, as well as excerpts of the work of Zhuhong may be read here:


Yunqi Zhuhong/Lianchi Dashi (1535-1615).


麟慶:鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 5 of 6

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The Late Mr. Ku Hung-Ming 辜鴻銘

Ku Hung-ming and William Quincey


The Late Mr. Ku Hung-Ming 辜鴻銘

August 30, 1934.

Many must have been intrigued by that charming portrait of The Philosopher in Somerset Maugham’s On a Chinese Screen. A philosopher, all the world over, is usually a dull withered thing – an orange sucked dry: a day spent in such company can only be memorable for its boredom. But with Somerset Maugham’s Philosopher, it is possible to pass days, nay weeks, without in the least knowing what it is to be bored. There is just enough grace and just so much mordant wit in him to make conversation with him a matter of excitement rather than of wisdom.

Somerset Maugham’s Philosopher is, of course, none other than Ku Hung-ming. And the most distinctive thing about him is that he is no philosopher – no philosopher, that is, in the sense of a person who thinks first and lives afterwards. Ku Hung-ming has a passion for dainty living; and thought with him is sought after only because it lends colour and dignity to life. Ku Hung-ming is first and last a worldling, but with this distinction – a worldling who thinks. His Confucianism, his monarchism, and his queue are mere decorations to a life that consumes itself in the sheer joy of living. That worn cadaverous frame of his is the victim, not of thought, but of desire and wit and beauty and inordinate wish to be different from others.

In his lifetime, Ku Hung-ming had already become legendary. Now that he is dead, there is a danger that he may pass into fable. Our purpose here is to prevent this by showing him as he really is. And what he really is is not so very different from many other people whom one meets daily in the present day. Ku Hung-ming is only a picturesque instance of a person who is born a rebel.

That ostentatious display of his queue is very symptomatic of the whole man. He is cross-grained: he lives by opposition. What the commonalty accepts, he rejects. What the commonalty likes, he dislikes. What the commonalty idolises, he despises. To be different from others is his joy and pride. Because it is the fashion to have no queue, he retains his. If everybody else had a queue, I am sure Ku Hung-ming would be the first person to have his cut. It is the same with his monarchism. It is not a matter of principle with him, but of a desire to be exceptional. Republicanism is the craze: therefore, he hates it. He flaunts his monarchism as a dandy his cravat. Indeed, in things intellectual and spiritual it is no inaccurate description of Ku Hung-ming to call him a dandy. As a dandy spends his days and nights over his dress, so Ku Hung-ming takes infinite pains to be different from others, in his ideas and manner of living.

Ku Hung-ming is witty. But his wit turns invariably upon a paradox. Now the essence of a paradox is that it should surprise by the opposition of its ideas to common notions. Here again, Ku Hung-ming shows up the quality of his mind – a mind that lives by resistance to what is generally accepted.

Again, his championing of Confucianism is another expression of his wish to be different from others. A few years ago, it used to be the correct thing among the intelligentsia to look upon Confucianism as a tedious set of obsolete rules about the conduct of life. This is a good enough reason why Ku Hung-ming should be a Confucianist. What others discard, he champions. But the last person to be a Confucianist is Ku Hung-ming. He is more native to Chuang-tze and Taoism than to Confucianism.

A rebel who preaches monarchism; a romantic who accepts Confucianism as his philosophy of life; an autocrat who is proud to wear the sign of slavery – the queue: it is this contradiction in Ku Hung-ming that makes him one of the most interesting figures in modern China.

* * *


The foregoing piece appeared in 1934 the English-language weekly, The China Critic, and was published the following year in book form. These essays have been compiled and published more recently in: Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Modern Chinese Celebrities, by Wen Yuan-ning and others, edited by Christopher Rea, Cambria Press, 2018. Ku’s portrait appears on pp. 71-73.

Portrait Source: National Galleries of Scotland


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A Chin Shih of the T’ang Dynasty,
An immortal of today,
I tread on the purple mist,
And heavenward I go.

Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓)


The Eight Immortals

The Chinese concept of Hsien or Immortal denotes a being which is at once ethereal and worldly. The character hsien () is composed of two pictographic elements, “man” and “mountain”, symbolising one who has retired from the world in order to live a hermit’s life in the mountains. Chuang Tzu (莊子) has described hsien as a spiritual being dwelling on a mountain, whose flesh was smooth as ice and skin as white as snow; that he was gentle as a young girl and required no food to sustain life, but inhaled the wind and drank the dew.

An immortal sometimes assumes human shape and indulges in human pleasures, but nevertheless is possessed of supernatural powers. He resides in the upper spheres, but sometimes descends to earth to convert and “immortalise” deserving mortals. Like human beings, he may be chastised for misconduct and banished to live on earth for a period of time and then reinstated in heaven.

Immortality is said to be attainable by taking the Elixir of Life, a drug, the secret formula for which is forever eluding ordinary intelligence, although some of the ingredients were revealed to be cinnabar, or red sulphide of mercury, realgar, copper carbonate, mica, sal ammonia, nitre and ochre. Immortality is also attainable by cultivating the mind, with Tao (道) as the model: quietude, passivity, gentleness and self-effacement being the main characteristics to be aimed at.

For one reason or another, many famous figures in Chinese history were included in the ranks of immortals. They might be philosophers, statesmen, physicians, magicians and poets. Li Po (李白), the poet, for instance, was considered one and Chang Liang (張良), the Han Dynasty statesman was another. The list goes on and on. Because of their great number, “hsiens” were classified and described as celestial, terrestrial or divine. Celestial hsiens were those who have ascended on high and make their abode in heaven; terrestrial hsiens remain on earth for an indefinite period without growing any older; divine hsiens or demi-gods dwell on the Isles of the Blessed.

The Eight Immortals are the best known figures in Chinese mythology. They lived in different centuries. How and when they got together was never described. The number “eight” has some peculiar significance, a kind of “perfect” number, as exemplified by the Eight Trigrams, the Eight Regions, the Eight Directions and so on. In this case, “eight” signifies certain conditions of life, namely: youth, age, poverty, wealth, aristocracy, plebianism, masculinity and femininity. It was not until the Yüan Dynasty (1260-1368) that the term was first applied to the specific group that we know today which consists of Chung-li Ch’üan (鍾離權), Chang Kua Lao (張果老), Lü Tung Pin (呂洞賓), Ts’ao Kuo Chu (曹國舅), Li T’ieh Kuai (李鐵拐), Han Hsiang-tzu (韓湘子), Lan Ts’ai Ho (藍采和) and Ho Hsien-ku (何瓊). The “Eight Immortals” theme was often used by the Yüan Dynasty dramatists, on which many short plays were written for performances on special occasions. Hence their traditional popularity and why these Eight Immortals have continued to appear in all forms of Chinese art throughout the centuries.

T.C.Lai (賴恬昌)

The Eight Immortals

Swindon Book Company, Hong Kong, 1972

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Count von Keyserling & Ku Hung-ming



Count Hermann von Keyserling (1880-1946), a Baltic German aristocrat, best known for his travel  writings and philosophical musings, left behind a detailed account of his meetings with Ku Hung-ming in his Travel Diary of a Philosopher, published in 1925.



I spend many hours each day with Ku Hung-Ming and his friends and supporters. He is a man of such wit and such a fiery temperament that I am sometimes reminded of a Latin. Today he was explaining at great length how wrong the Europeans, and especially the sinologists are, in considering the development of Chinese culture quite by itself, without comparison with that of the West: for both have evolved, according to him, within the frame of an identical formula. In both there has been an equivalent of antiquity and medievalism, renaissance and enlightenment, reformation and counter-reformation, Hebraism and Hellenism (to use the terms of Matthew Arnold), rationalism and mysticism; and the parallel is to be drawn even in detail: even in China, for instance, there has been a Bayard. I do not know Chinese history sufficiently in order to test the soundness of these comparisons, and I rather suspect Ku Hung-Ming, as I do the majority of his countrymen, of practising rather too cheap a form of intellectualism, such as flourishes, for instance, in Southern Italy. This much, however, is true: all historical conditions are special manifestations, brought about by particular circumstances, of the natural forms of human life, which are the same everywhere; and since all possible combinations of circumstances vacillate round a few types whose sequence appears to be subject to one rule, it cannot but be that all peoples of comparable temperament also pass through comparable stages. Now Western Europeans and Chinamen are singularly comparable; they belong essentially to an identical fundamental type, the type of the “men of expression,” to which the Indians and the Russians, for instance, do not belong.

It must be possible, therefore, to establish historical parallels. Nevertheless, my attitude towards the value of such comparisons is sceptical. Time may possess one single significance in itself — it certainly is not so in reference to men. The Chinese are men of long, and we of short, breath, for us mobility, for them quiescence is the normal condition. How, then, can one make valid comparisons? We boast of our rapid progress: thanks to it, we will probably always remain barbarians, since perfection is possible only within given limits and we are perpetually changing ours. Nor do I accept it as agreed that we will continue to advance for long at the same rate: every direction in life is limited inwardly; we too will one day reach the end, and probably earlier than we think. — I have often heard the following argument, especially in India: since all cultures we are aware of start at a relatively high level — and this is correct — this presupposes that there has been before an exceedingly long period of slow ascent. Most certainly not! Every idea contains within itself, not only in theory but de facto, the whole of its consequences; it strives for actuality; it becomes embodied wherever matter permits it to do so, so that, as soon as the mental processes are set in motion at all, they take place with great rapidity. For this reason, as long as consciousness is asleep, aeons may pass before anything new happens; this may occur either in the primordial state or, as in China, at a certain level of culture which has once been reached. But once it has been wakened, development takes place with extreme rapidity. How long was the span of time from the awakening of the Greek spirit to its perfection? A century. How long did it take from the discovery of the principle of aviation until it was applied perfectly in practice? Not ten years. In the same sense it may very well be that we too shall shortly come to an end, and stop progressing at a level of development which will be not nearly so far ahead of that of China as we suppose. For in the modern sense of the word we too are progressive people only for the last hundred years.

Ku Hung-Ming does not miss a single opportunity of having a dig at Laotse. His fundamental thesis is that Confucius is the infinitely greater of the two because he understood significance as profoundly as Laotse, but did not retire from the world, but expressed his profundity in his mastery of it. If Confucius really had been, and had achieved, what Ku asserts of him, then, of course, he would be incomparably greater. However, this is not so. It would appear to be contradictory to nature that the same man should live altogether in profundity and prove himself, at the same time, to be a mighty organiser of the surface; each one of these problems requires a special physiological organisation, and I know of no accredited case in which a man possessed both to a similar degree. Kung Fu Tse and Laotse represent the opposite poles of possible perfection; the one represents the perfection of appearance, the other perfection of significance; the former, perfection within the sphere of the materialised, the latter, within the non-materialised; therefore they cannot be measured with the same gauge. But Confucius must no doubt appear greater to the Chinese because they are practical to the extreme as a nation, and to this extent they have no direct relation to profundity as such. The more I see of the Chinese, the more I notice how uninteresting their thoughts are. Their thinking is not their essential quality: their existence is the expression of their depth. Thus Ku Hung-Ming is far more important as a man than as a writer and as a thinker.

The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, Count Hermann Keyserling, 1925

Volume 1

Volume 2


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Amongst White Clouds

Edward A. Burger

Amongst White Clouds is a look at the lives of zealot students, gaunt ascetics and wise masters living in isolated hermitages dotting the peaks and valleys of China’s Zhongnan Mountain range. The Zhongnan Mountains have been home to recluses since the time of the Yellow Emperor (黃帝), some five thousand years ago…

…One of only a few foreigners to have lived and studied with these hidden sages, director Edward A. Burger reveals to us their tradition, their wisdom, and the hardship and joy of their everyday lives. With both humor and compassion, these inspiring and warm-hearted characters challenge us to join them in an exploration of our own suffering and enlightenment in this modern world.

– amongstclouds.com

Further Reading:

China’s Hermit Tradition and Zen Beginnings – Bill Porter

Edward A. Burger – Director’s Facebook Page

Hermitary – Resources and reflections on hermits and solitude


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Persons frequently ask…

“What is China’s real religion? What do people believe and worship?”

“Do they believe in an after-life? And what are the conditions of this life?”

With the first of its many volumes published by T’usewei Press, Shanghai in 1914, “Researches into Chinese Superstitions”, is a thorough, if not exhaustive, study of the questions posed above. Written and compiled by the Rev. Henri Doré, “Researches into Chinese Superstitions” is a multi-volume collection of the ‘superstitions’, which ‘swayed the family and social life’ of the Chinese people at that time.

As mentioned in previous articles, there was great interest is this area of Chinese life at the turn of the last century. Fortunately, like Dr J.-J. Matignon’s study of the subject, these studies by Doré also managed to avoid the sensationalism to which other studies around that time succumbed. Indeed, whilst Rev. Doré was a Jesuit missionary, it could be said that his own beliefs only strengthened his objective or nominal approach when it came to recording and examining these Chinese ‘superstitions’. Therefore, whatever reasons Doré may have had for producing this work, they should not deter us nor distract us from examining what is presented within the many volumes of this collection.

As far as a study of religion as a factor in social life is concerned, it may make little difference whether the anthropologist is a theist or an atheist, since in either case he can only take in to account what he can observe. But if either attempts to go further than this, each must pursue a different path. The non-believer seeks for some theory – biological, psychological, or sociological – which will explain the illusion; the believer seeks rather to understand the manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relation to it. For both, religion is part of social life, but for the believer it has also another dimension.

E. E. Evans Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion, Clarendon Press, 1965

Links to the Volumes in this Collection on Archive.org:

Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX, Volume X, Volume XI (Original French), Volume XII (Original French), Volume XIII, Volume XIV, Volume XVVolume XVII (Original French), Volume XVIII (Original French)

President Yuang Shikai - Ming money ceremony 1914

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Photograph by Fan Ho (何藩)

The Ventriloquist

IN THE YEAR of Keng Shen, I happened to visit Yangchow. One evening a friend introduced me to a famous ventriloquist named Kuo Mao-erh. I invited Kuo and my friend to my quarters at the inn, where we dined and drank together until a late hour. After the meal, Kuo agreed to favour us with a display of his talents. A large silk screen was placed to the right of our table. Kuo took his position in the shadows behind the screen, while my friend and I sat in pleasant anticipation…

A long silence is broken suddenly by voices; two men are meeting on the road. The greetings are loud and boisterous. One of the men, older than the other, invites the young man to his house. They walk down a rough road, enter a gate and cross a small courtyard to a house. A door slams shut. Wine is poured. The two men talk and joke.

The young men protests. “Too much drink,” he pleads. The other laughs. More wine is poured. Cups clink. The wine is sipped and guzzled. The guest gets to his feet. He moves unsteadily and his host assists him to the gate. Laughter. Goodbyes. The young man staggers down the road. The gate is closed. The bolt slips into place.

The young man stumbles along. He slips, sprawling to the ground. Silence. A second set of footsteps approaches. The newcomer’s foot strikes something soft. A curse. A drunken groan. The newcomer reaches down, assisting the drunken man to his feet. He helps the man walk down the road.

They halt. The drunken man is half-dragged forward, then propped against a wall. The other steps back. “Ho! Watchman! Open the city gates!” No reply. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks. Others join in. Still more dogs add to the chorus – some young, others old; some close by, others a long way off.

The watchman shuffles along the wall. He climbs down. A large gate swings open. The newcomer assists the drunken man along. At a house, they pause. The newcomer pounds on the gate. Nothing stirs. He pounds again. Louder. The gate creaks open. A man curses. Wrong house. More dogs join in the barking.

The drunken man is helped to a second house. The newcomer pounds again. The gate opens. A young woman thanks the man for helping her husband home. The man chides the drunkard and then he takes his leave. The gate closes. The bolt slides into place.

The young woman, panting, struggles with her drunken husband. She drags, pushes, cajoles him across the courtyard and on into the house. She helps him into bed.

“Tea!” he moans.

The woman goes into the kitchen. A fire crackles; the tea hisses and it steams. It is poured into a cup. The woman returns to the bedroom. The drunken man has passed out. He snores. His snores rise and fall with a thunderous din. The woman sighs. She grumbles. She returns to the kitchen where she pours the tea back into the pot. Back to the bedroom. She blows out the lamp. She slips off her clothes. Now there are two sets of snores.

A temple gong breaks up the serenade of snores. The hour of the Rat. A cow moos. The bed creaks. The young man groans. He vomits, groans again, then he vomits again. “Tea!” he wails. The woman snores on. He mutters. Curses. The bed creaks a second time. Once again – two sets of snores rise up.

The cocks crow. First one, and then another, and finally many others, each one crowing in a different key. The bed creaks. The woman yawns. She pulls her slippers from next to the bed. They squish. She shakes them and a slippery, watery bile plops onto the stone floor. An angry cry. Curses. The woman reaches over; finds a second pair. She gets up, dresses and goes into the kitchen. Kettles clack, fire crackles and food is sliced and chopped.

Outside a pounding, on the gate. “Almost dawn,” a voice shouts out. “Get that lazy son of mine up. It’s time to slaughter the pigs.”

The woman shakes her husband. He grumbles, dresses and leaves the house to accompany his father to the pig pens. Food is thrown in for the swine. Grunting and squabbling, they fight over the slops. Sounds of slurping and of gulping. Water being drawn up from a well. Water being poured into a kettle. A fire crackles. Later, water boils.

A pig now squeals. The young man grunts and curses. The squeals grow louder. “Tie him good!” the old man warns. A knife is being sharpened on a whetstone. Now an axe. A desperate final squeal – cut off midway. Silence. The soft sound of blood flowing. Now an axe chopping bones. Now a knife slicing meat. Finally, meat being washed.

“Dawn,” the old man announces, “Time to set up the counter.”


In time, there are sounds, distant at first, then growing nearer. The shuffling of feet. Loud voices rise. “I’ll have the ribs.” “How much?” “Did you save the feet?” “No, too much!” “Where’s the kidney and the liver?” “No, not that cut.” “When was the pig slaughtered? Last week?”

Coins clatter on the wooden counter. “Where is the head?” More coins clatter. “Some pork for a roast?” Fresh meat slaps against the wood. “Yes! That’s the piece.”

The sounds grow in intensity. Many voices join in. The voices and the sounds all blend – cutting, chopping, the clatter of coins, questions, answers, laughter, cries, insults – until they are all running together in a great, unintelligible jumble. Then…



At last the act of the ventriloquist is finished.

Master of the East Pavilion

Translated by Gene Z. Hanrahan

50 Great Oriental Stories, Bantam, 1965

‘Master of the East Pavilion’ is a nom de plume, which has successfully cloaked the identity of the author ever since this tale was written; shortly before the end of the nineteenth century.

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