Quote on Migration


(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.)


Betel Nut Hut

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.

Hut in betel nut grove

“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
without obstruction.
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,
doing nothing
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.”

Indigenous People of Hainan

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 Mother Hill Hainan aborigine village

Li women ornamentsTattoed Feet 1


Li food and wine brewing gear below (Su Shih wrote a lot about wine brewing,)

Li food Modified Li Wine Brewing


The boat people are Tan who fish and eat a lot of seafood. They came from the coastal areas of Mainland China.

Hainan Tan people 


They are tribes from Mainland China.

Miao Housing with patterns Miao woman with basket     Miao clothing

Miao FluteMiao Old Man with instruments

Five Colors Rice and Bamboo Rice

Miao Five Color RiceMiao Colored Rice Bamboo Rice

Hainan Island, Su’s Edge of the World

Hainan is located in the South China Sea, separated from Guangdong’s Peninsula to the north by the shallow and narrow strait. Hainan  literally means “South of the Sea”. It is very close to Vietnam and not far from the Philippines and Taiwan. (See map on left).

The Chinese characters of Heaven’s Edge(Middle) and Ocean’s Corner (Left) are written on rocks at the beach, it is a popular photo stop for tourists.

Hainan Map Heaven's Edge Ocean's Corner

Landscapes of Hainan include the Five Finger Hill (below left),beaches (middle) and coconut trees.

Five Finger Hill Hainan Island with beach scene Dense Betel Nut Grove

Hainan Island first entered written Chinese history  in 110 BC, when Han Dynasty established a military garrison there. Mainland Chinese mostly from the southern coastal provinces Guangdong, Guangxi and Fukian along with military personnel and officials began to migrate to Hainan Island. Among them were the offspring of those who were banished to Hainan for political reasons.

People tend to associate Hainan Chicken Rice with Singapore, but it is a Hainan dish.

Hainan Chicken Rice

Su’s Relics in Hainan include a Dong Po College or Study Hall. Below are Su’s Statue (outside the Hall). The left painting of Su in bamboo hat and sandals interacting with local women and children and dogs are  documented in his poem.

Do Po Statue in front of Dong Po College Su with women children and dogs in Hainan

Hainan’s local produce mentioned in Su’s poetry and prose include betel nuts and sinking aromatic wood or aloeswood.

betel nut fruits Sinking Aroma Wood

He also wrote about the local customs of sacrificing cows to cure illness. Below is a photo of Miao’s buffalo head rituals.

Miao people with buffalo heads