(Su Shih was banished to Hainan Island at the edge of the world or savageland in his time. It has become a vacation paradise for many, in particular Russians. And islands on South China Sea have become heated territorial disputes among China, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan with US as well.)
“Life is a Dream,
a globlet of wine
to the river moon”
(Quote from Su Shih‘s Red Cliff Reminiscence)
“Encounter fresh breeze on the river or bright moon between the hills,
any ears can take as music and eyes as sights;
nothing prohibits anyone from taking
and it will never be depleted with consumption,
they are Creator’s infinite treasures
delighting both you and I.”
(Quote from Su Shih’s Red Cliff Rhaphsody)
(Art and colors’s photo)
“We hold on to the flying immortal to roam freely,
or embrace the bright moon to life’s ultimate end.”
(Quote from Su Shih’s Red Cliff Rhaphsody)
The header image conveys the tone of this poem.
“My heart is like wood burnt to ashes,
my body as an unleashed boat.
If you ask what are my life accomplishments………”
Can you guess his reply?
The actual line is “Huangzhou, Huizhou, Tanzhou.”
(The three places of his exile: GuangGang, Huizhou and Hainan)
The cover image also conveys the tone of the poem. Dislocation as an unleashed boat.Loss, makes us feel like wood burnt to ashes. All due to conflicts. The migrants and refugees around the world come to mind right away. May we all do everything we can to stop conflicts.
Less than a hundred feet tall and half a mile stretch of fire red rock, in the shape of castle mural with an embedded nose in the middle, this is Su Shih’s Red Cliff; some called it Red Nose Hill. A small hill standing by the side of Yang Tze or Great River with tree roots anchored in the riverbed, it looks up the sky. Waves roar in Great River while pavilions and pagodas spread over the top of the hill. Click on Red Cliff Poem.
Many claim the historic site for Battle of Red Cliffs in year 208 is west of Huang Gang city and currently where Red Cliff City is situated, and not Su’s Red Cliff. Below are sights at Red Cliff City depicting the Red Cliff batte.
In Su’s prose poetry he refers to only three of the key characters in the battle of Red Cliffs: Tsao, the defeated northern warlord; Zhou, the general who crafted the strategy leading to victory for two southern warlords in the Three Kingdom Era; the beautiful wife of General Zhou.
Tsao was known as a merciless tyrant, military genius and brilliant ruler. Su mentions in his poem Tsao’ss initial success overtaking one warlord’s territory and then he headed further south along the river eastward for more victory. With two hundred thousand soldiers in battleships stretching a thousand miles, his naval flags and banners covered the sky. Complacent, he composed a poem holding a lance crossway in his hand and poured wine to the river gods. He was defeated by coalition of two southern lords with Zhou’s brilliant strategy of setting Tsao’s linked battleships on fire. The southern warlords had far less ships and soldiers compared to Tsao, they won with wits rather than force.
Along with the other famous sage strategist holding a feather fan, handsome Zhou’s head wrapped in green silk talked and laughed their way through the battle as enemy’s battleships vanished in smoke and ashes.
You can watch the Red Cliff movie by John Wu with English subtitles in full on youtube. Below is a trailer for you to get a feel.
Su spent five years in Hangzhou as governor of two terms that were eighteen years apart. He wrote a lot about the Cold Spring Pavilion (below left) where he did his work and not at his government office.
West Lake supplied fresh water to the city residents but fast growing water plants often covered the lake in Su’s time. In Su’s first term, he dug four wells as reservoirs in addition to the existing two. He delivered fresh water to the entire city with bamboo pipes from the six wells. He cleared West Lake, almost one third of which was covered by water plants.
Eighteen years later, again the lake was half covered with water plants and the bamboo pipes were broken. The Canals were known for shallow water level and accumulated silt that affected its traffic. Chien Tang or Money Pond River is known for its swirling waves with mud and sand even today (above right). He repaired the six wells, replaced the bamboo with clay pipes connecting them to West Lake and deepened the canals with underground trenches. He used Money Pond Bay as water source of North Canal and West Lake for Salt Canal. He built a fresh water and muddy water lock where the two canals merged in the north. The muddy water lock was shut on high tide to prevent silt and water level of the canal maintained with the other lock to ensure free flow of traffic. He employed welfare to work residents to dredge West Lake, and used dredged piles to build a direct dyke running from north to south, it shortened the long walk meandering along the lakeshore.
Nine pavilions and six bridges were built; willows, magnolia, peach blossoms and hibiscus planted, creating a picturesque promenade when in bloom.
Su Shih had to write a memorial to the emperor to report his arrival at Hainan Island and thank His Majesty for sending him there; he wrote about living in the betel nut field he called Betel Nut Hut. Later he also built five little huts in another betel nut field after he was kicked out of the government coach station.
“There were big trees
scattered in the betel nut field,
tree trunks were sturdy and solid
like hundreds of stone pillars.
Leaves of betel nut were so dense,
like thousands and thousands of
cloth tiles hanging down.
The sky, our blanket; earth, our bed.
Lifting our heads, we could see
the sun and moon.
Wind and rain swept our home clean.
Sea breeze and mist of miasma set in,
breathing in and out freely
No walls, no doors.
Snakes,rodents and monsters
could come in and out without any boundaries,
coming and going as they please.
They treated this place as home;
we got along with them
like our houseboys.
We were originally one
with the vast earth,
Heaven Father carved out nine continents.
As long as our body and mind exist,
it is where our home is.
I am a Buddhist practitioner,
lying peacefully in the betel nut field,
my place of practice and lodging.
I let go of everything
and don’t know what dusty world is…………..
I have no more dealings with dusty world,
and not bounded by anything.
I have no lacks
nor do I have any leftovers.
This is my lodging while alive
and burial site when dead.
I have served in officialdom
for thirty six years,
I can only fantasize infinitely
in this undeveloped world.”
Su was very friendly with the indigenous people and also dressed like them even when he returned north. Li people gave him venison they hunted and Tan people gave him oysters that he enjoyed tremendously.
Li people were the earliest indigenous inhabitants of Hainan. They are believed to be descendants of ancient tribes from mainland, who settled on the island between 7 and 27 thousand years ago. Below you can see the legendary Mother Li Hill, their lodgings, hair ornaments, tattoes and Li women crossing the stream.
Li food and wine brewing gear below (Su Shih wrote a lot about wine brewing,)
The boat people are Tan who fish and eat a lot of seafood. They came from the coastal areas of Mainland China.
They are tribes from Mainland China.
Five Colors Rice and Bamboo Rice