Friday, September 19, 2008

Dijing Jingwulue

The Dijing Jingwulue is a 17th century prose classic. The principal author was Liu Tong, an official with a Jinshi degree and member of the Jingling school in Chinese prose literature. His co-authors were Yu Yizheng and Zhou Sun , two scholars outside of official circles.

The preface reveals Liu as the actual author, while Yu was a compiler. Zhou was something of an assistant to the other two. However Yu was a native of Beijing, capital of Ming Dynasty and a scholar of local traditions. Liu may have just polished the prose, but gained most of the prestige. Liu dates the preface as 1635, the same year Yu would die in Nanjing, three years before troops of the new dynastic regime would assault Beijing.

The prose work is very much a celebration of a city ambience that would disappear behind secluded walls of conquered city. Of interest are the many descriptions of gardens and estates that would disappear. Ming's Beijing, in contrast to the later conservative Manchu 's capital, was a city of gaiety, of markets and fairs. Of interest are the Ming period fairs with their literary men in pursuit of books, art objects and antiquities. Poetry is an integral part of the book and the authors portray a scholar in verse as finding nothing in his purse, but only able to twitch his own whiskers with his hopeful hand. Along with Ming period art that was treasured in its own day, there are descriptions of western paintings of Christ for sale. The Catholic cathedral is described and a judicious space is devoted to the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. All of this was part of the diverse glory of the age. Seeming small and minor subjects loom large in the authors’ eyes such as the raising of crickets for the famous cricket fights. Autumn mornings would find a horde of enthusiasts armed with bamboo tubes, cages and pots for the prey heading for abandoned temples with piles of old tiles and stones. At the heart of the classic was the realization of the flux of all things and the ultimate evanescence of human works and monuments in this world.

No comments: