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Journey to the West (Xi You Ji)
By Wu Cheng'en 2
Dialogue between a Fisherman and a Woodcutter, From Chapter 10:
With a Stupid Plan the Dragon King Breaks the Laws of Heaven
The following consists of a dialogue between a fisherman and a woodcutter at the opening of Chapter 10. At the end of the dialogue a demon who overheard it reports it to the Dragon King, leading to the actions in the rest of the chapter. Both the Chinese original3 and this English translation, by W.J.F. Jenner, are available online.4
(A poem says:)
(Jenner did not translate this part.)
We shall not discuss how Chen Guangrui5 performed his duties or Xuanzang6 cultivated his conduct. Instead we shall talk about two wise men who lived beside the banks of the River Jing outside the city of Chang'an. One was an old fisherman called Zhang Shao and the other was a woodcutter called Li Ding. They were both advanced scholars who had never taken the official examination, lettered men of the mountains. One day, when Li Ding had sold his load of firewood and Zhang Shao had sold his basketful of carp in Chang'an city, they went into a tavern, drank till they were half tipsy, and strolled slowly home along the banks of the Jing, each holding a bottle in his hand.
"Brother Li," said Zhang Shao, "it seems to me that people who struggle for fame kill themselves for it; those who compete for profit die for it; those who accept honors sleep with a tiger in their arms; and those who receive imperial favours walk around with snakes in their sleeves. Taking all in all, we are much better off living free among our clear waters and blue hills: we delight in our poverty and follow our destinies."
"You are right, Brother Zhang," said Li Ding, "but your clear waters have nothing on my blue hills."
"Your blue hills are not a patch on my clear waters," retorted Zhang Shao, "and here is a lyric to the tune of The Butterfly Loves the Flowers to prove it:
Calmly I lean against the single sail,
Listening to the voice of Xishi the beauty.
My thoughts and mind are cleared; I have no wealth or fame
As I toy with the waterweed and the rushes.
"To count a few gulls makes the journey happy.
"Your clear waters are no match for my blue hills," said Li Ding,
"and there is another lyric to the same tune to prove it. It goes:
Hush! Hear the oriole sing,
As if it played a pipe with its cunning tongue.
With touches of red and ample green the spring is warm;
Suddenly the summer's here as the seasons turn.
"When autumn comes the look of things is changed;
"You don't enjoy the good things in your blue hills that I do on my clear waters," replied the fisherman, "and I can prove it with another lyric to the tune of The Partridge Heaven:
With a sweep of the oar the boat becomes a home.
We cut open the live fish and fry the green turtle
As steam coils from the purple crab and the red shrimps bubble.
Green reed shoots,
Sprouts of water-lilies,
Better still, water chestnuts and the gorgon fruit,
Delicate louts roots and seeds, tender celery,
Arrowhead, reed-hearts and bird-glory blossom."
"Your clear waters cannot compare with my blue hills when it comes to the good things they provide," said the woodcutter, and I can cite another lyric to the tune The Partridge Heaven as evidence:
A grass hut or a thatched cottage is my home.
Pickled chicken and duck are better than turtles or crabs,
Roebuck, boar, venison, and hare beat fish and shrimps.
The leaves of the tree of heaven,
Yellow chinaberry sprouts,
And, even better, bamboo shoots and wild tea,
Purple plums and red peaches, ripe gages, and apricots,
Sweet pears, sharp jujubes, and osmanthus blossom."
"Your blue hills are really nothing on my clear waters," replied the fisherman," and there is another lyric to the tune Heavenly Immortal:
Having no fear of the many misty waves.
Drop the hook, cast wide the net, to catch fresh fish:
Even without fat or sauce,
They taste delicious
As the whole family eats its meal together.
When there are fish to spare I sell them in Chang'an market
"Your clear waters still aren't as good as my blue mountains," came back the woodcutter," and I too have a Heavenly Immortal lyric to prove it:
The bamboo, orchid, plum, and pine are wonderful.
As I cross forests and mountains to look for dry firewood
Nobody asks awkward questions,
And I can sell
As much or as little as the world wants.
I spend the money on wine and I'm happy,
Content with my earthenware bowl and china jug.
When I've drunk myself blotto I lie in the shade of the pine.
No books to balance;
What do I care about success or failure?"
"Brother Li," said the fisherman, "you don't make as easy a living in the hills as I do on the water, and I can prove it with a lyric to the tune The Moon on the West River:
While the tangled leaves of rushes sway in the wind.
Clear and distant the azure sky, empty the Chu river:
Stir up the water, and the stars dance.
Big fish swim into the net in shoals;
Little ones swallow the hooks in swarms;
Boiled or fried they taste wonderful—
I laugh at the roaring river and lake."
"Brother Zhang," replied the woodcutter, "the living I make in the hills is much easier than yours on the water, and I can prove it with another Moon on the West River lyric:
Old bamboo with broken tips covers the hillside.
Where vines and creepers tangle and climb
I pull some off to tie my bundles.
Elms and willows hollow with decay,
Pines and cedars cracked by the wind—
I stack them up against the winter cold,
And whether they're sold for wine or money is up to me."
"Although you don't do too badly in your hills, your life is not as elegant as mine on the water," said the fisherman, "as I can show with some lines to the tune The Immortal by the River.
I sing in the night, resting from the oars.
From under a straw cape the waning moon is peaceful.
The sleeping gulls are not disturbed
As the clouds part at the end of the sky.
Tired, I lie on the isle of rushes with nothing to do,
And when the sun is high I'm lying there still.
I arrange everything to suit myself:
How can the court official compare with my ease
As he waits in the cold for an audience at dawn?"
"Your life on the water may be elegant, but it's nothing compared with mine," replied the woodcutter, "and I have some lines to the same tune to demonstrate the point:
Bringing the load back in the cool of evening,
Putting wild flowers in my hair, just to be different,
I push aside the clouds to find my way home,
And the moon is up when I tell them to open the door.
Rustic wife and innocent son greet me with smiles,
And I recline on my bed of grass and wooden pillow.
Steamed millet and pear are spread before me,
While the new wine is warm in the pot: This is really civilized."
"All this is about our living and the ways we provide for ourselves," said the fisherman. "I can prove to you that your leisure is nowhere near as good as mine with a poem that goes:
As I Moor the boat at the river's bank, a blue door gives me shade.
Leaning on the sail I teach my son to twist a fishing line,
When rowing's done I dry the nets out with my wife.
A settled nature can really know the calm of the waves;
A still body feels the lightness of the breeze.
Always to wear a green straw cape and a blue straw hat
Is better than the purple robes of the court."
"Your leisure doesn't come up to mine," replied the woodcutter, "as this poem I shall now recite demonstrates:
I sit alone in a thatched but, then close the bamboo door.
When there's nothing to do I teach my son to read;
Sometimes a visitor comes and we play a game of chess.
When I'm happy I take my stick and walk singing along the paths,
Or carry my lute up the emerald hills.
Grass shoes with hempen thongs, a cloak of coarsest cloth,
A mind relaxed: better than wearing silk."
"Li Ding," said the other, "how truly it can be said of us that 'by reciting some verses we become close friends: What need for golden winecups and a sandalwood table?' But there is nothing remarkable in just reciting verses; what would you say if we made couplets in which we each contributed a line about our lives as fisherman and woodcutter?"
"Brother Zhang," said Li Ding," that is an excellent suggestion. Please be the one to start." Here are their couplets:
My home is in the wilds, deep in the mountains.
How well I like the swollen stream under the bridge in spring;
Dragon-sized fresh carp cooked at any time;
A full array of hooks and nets to support my old age;
Lying back in a tiny boat watching the flying geese;
I have no stall in the marketplace of tongues;
The nets hung to dry beside the brook are like brocade;
Under the shining autumn moon I often fish alone;
I trade my surplus fish for wine and drink it with my wife;
Singing and musing to myself I'm as wild as I care to be;
I invite my brothers and cousins and fellow boatmen;
As we play guess-fingers the cups fly fast;
Saute or boiled crab is a delight every morning;
As my simple wife brews tea, my spirits are untrammelled;
At the coming of dawn I wash my stick in the ripples;
After the rain I put on my cloak to catch live carp;
I cover my tracks and hide from the world, acting the imbecile;
"Brother Li," said Zhang Shao. "I unfairly took the first lines just now, so now it's your turn to compose the first lines while I follow you."
Thus they continued:
The man of the mountains acting mad under wind and moon;
With his share of idleness, and able to be quite free;
On moonlit nights he sleeps secure in a cottage of thatch;
His passion spent, he befriends the pine and the plum;
Fame and profit count for nothing in his mind;
One is always pouring out fresh rice-wine,
One makes a living with two bundles of firewood;
One idly tells his innocent son to sharpen the axe of steel;
In spring one likes to see the willows turning green;
Avoiding the summer heat, one trims the new bamboo;
When frost begins, plump chickens are killed each day;
When the sun rises in winter, the one is still asleep;
Throughout the year one does as he pleases in the hills;
By gathering firewood you can become an Immortal;
Sweet smell the wild flowers growing outside my door;
A contented man never speaks of high honors;
Higher than a city wall for resisting enemy armies;
Those who are happy with mountains and rivers are few indeed;
When the two of them had recited their verses and matched couplets they came to the place where their ways parted and bowed to each other to take their leave.
"Brother Li," said Zhang Shao, "look after yourself on your way home and keep a sharp look-out for tigers up in the hills. If you met with an accident then 'an old friend would be missing on the road tomorrow.'"
This made Li Ding angry. "You scoundrel," he said, "I'm your friend; I'd die for you. How could you put such a curse on me? If I'm killed by a tiger, you'll be capsized by a wave."
"I'll never be capsized!" retorted Zhang Shao.
"'In nature there are unexpected storms and in life unpredictable vicissitudes,'" quoted Li Ding, "so how can you be sure you'll never have an accident?"
"Brother Zhang," replied the fisherman, "despite what you just said, it's your life that's insecure, whereas my life is certain: I'm sure that I shan't have an accident."
"Your life on the water is very dangerous and insecure," said the woodcutter, "so how can you be so certain?"
"There's something you don't know," said Zhang Shao. "Every day I give a golden carp to a fortune-teller on the West Gate Street in Chang'an, and he passes a slip into my sleeve telling me I'll catch something every time provided I go to the right place. I went to buy a forecast from him today, and he told me that if I cast my nets to the East of the bend in the Jing River and lowered my lines on the Western bank, I would be bound to get a full load of fish and shrimps to take home. Tomorrow I shall go into town to sell them to buy wine, and we can continue our talk then, brother."
With this they parted.
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
Journey to the West (西遊記 Xi You Ji)
This famous novel (see my further comment plus that in Wikipedia) tells of the monk 玄奘 Xuanzang going to India ("the West") to collect Buddhist sutras. It has a few references to guqin, listed here on a separate page.
Wu Cheng'en 吳承恩 (ca. 1500 - 1582)
Original Chinese text for Xi You Ji can be found on a number of websites, in both standard and simplified characters. The one used here for the dialogue is Chapter 9 from www.millionbook.net/gd/w/wuchengen/xyj/010.htm.
Translation by W. F. Jenner
The translation quoted here is:
W. F. Jenner's entire translation (originally published by Collinson Fair, 1955) is now online. I originally put this section online, instead of simply supplying a link, because at that time the whole novel was in one file, making it so large it often caused my computer to freeze up. This problem seems to be solved, but I have left it online so as to be able to pair the English and Chinese.
Chen Guangrui 陳光蕊
The father of Xuanzang. In Chapter 9 Chen, while on his way with his pregnant wife to take up a government position, is murdered by a riverman who lusts after the wife. After the son is born, to keep the riverman from murdering the son, she puts him in a basket with a note and floats him down the river. The son is rescued by a monk who brings him up with the name River Current. When 17, now named Xuanzang, he sees the note and sets off to get vengeance. Meanwhile Chen Guangrui's soul has been rescued by the Dragon King, who also preserves Chen's body. Once Xuanzang gets his revenge the Dragon King returns Chen Guangrui's soul to his body and he is reunited with his wife and son.
Xuan Zang 玄奘
For the historical Xuanzang see his biography in Wikipedia.
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