Mmm, mandarins. Wonder what they’re like inside.
Honestly, I’ve been feeling rather down lately. Weltschmerz, perhaps – though fortunate indeed is the person who is comfortable enough to be worrying about the world, also!
Anyway, while being mopey and idiotic, I came across this essay which I studied a decade ago and have not read since, until today. Liu Ji 劉基, better known by his courtesy name as Liu Bowen 劉伯溫 (1311 – 1375), was a strategist, scholar, geomancer and one of the key founding members of the Ming Dynasty which would rule China for nearly three centuries. Well, if I’m going to start translating prose pieces, this is as good a place as any.
Born in the late Yuan Dynasty as a southern Chinese, which was the lowest social rank under Mongolian rule due to their protracted resistance to conquest, it is perhaps no surprise that Liu Bowen would rouse himself to write this essay; besides being biased against the likes of him, Yuan rule by the time of his adulthood was already a shambles in general. Sometimes it’s scary how many parallels there are with our time.
We may be centuries ahead in so many things, but the ugly albatross around our neck that is idiocy – whether governmental, corporate, or personal – never gets dropped.
Okay, enough moping. Essay!
The previous post mentioned 周敦頤 Zhou Dunyi, who was perhaps one of the greatest Chinese philosophers, if slightly cheated of fame.
A little bit of background is perhaps necessary here. I think it’s quite common knowledge that Confucianism has been an important ideology (or religion, though it’s not much like religion to be honest) for the Chinese. The ‘Confucianism’ of more recent centuries, however, is really Neo-Confucianism, or what in Chinese is called 理學 li3 xue2 ‘study of principles’. This was a revamped creed that arose during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), one of China’s cultural golden ages.
The prominent pioneers of this philosophy include 朱熹 Zhu1 Xi1, and the two brothers 程頤 Cheng2 Yi2 and 程顥 Cheng2 Hao4, which is why Neo-Confucianism is also known as the Cheng-Zhu school or Cheng-Zhu orthodoxy. Both the Cheng brothers, however, spent their formative years as students of Zhou Dunyi, who borrowed extensively from Taoist precepts in teaching Confucian ideas, which is why Zhou is nowadays also credited as a pioneering thinker.
The following prose piece is a short essay, what would be called 散文 san3 wen2 or ‘scattered writing’, where Zhou talks about… yeah, liking lotuses. Incidentally, it is perhaps not a coincidence with him that Tao Yuanming is often seen as espousing the Taoist ideal of retreat from the world and of not-doing, while the lotus is of course a favourite flower of the Buddhists, another prominent Chinese (well, not originally) philosophy and religion.
Well, take it away!