July 2, 2012

Su Ruolan

The portrait is of Su Hui, a gifted fourth-century female scholar and poet who had the courtesy name of Ruolan (“like an orchid”). She is famous for a palindromic poem that she embroidered in several colors of silk to express her love for her husband, who had been exiled to a distant point on the trade routes to Central Asia. Different versions of the poem exist. One has 112 characters arranged in eight rows of 14 characters. They make no sense unless the reader starts with the character "husband" in the first row and then reads down on a diagonal to the right. A perfect seven-syllable line is formed when the reader reaches the edge of the design. Dropping down one character to the lower right-hand corner of the design, the reader must continue diagonally upward to the left to get the matching line of the couplet. The reader continues in a like manner until the resultant 16-line poem closes with a hope that the emperor will allow the author's husband to return and relieve her loneliness. Another version of this work has 841 characters. The Tang empress Wu Zetian wrote that she found more than 200 poems in the pattern. An 18th-century man who must have devoted an enormous amount of time to the puzzle claimed to have discovered 9,958 poems in the work.

Chart of the Organs Revealed by Inward Illumination

This medical text shows the five major organs (heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys) and six minor organs (gall bladder, stomach, small intestines, large intestine, bladder, and triple heater meridian) of the human body, as defined in Chinese traditional medicine. The triple heater meridian is one of 12 basic meridians used in Chinese medicine to understand the functioning of the body. Also shown are other concepts from Chinese medicine, for example, the cinnabar field. In Taoist thought, the cinnabar field is the root of the human being, the place in the body where essence and spirit are stored. Located about ten centimeters below the navel, it is said to be the origin of the five breaths (wuqi).

View of the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan

Under Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945, the chief authority in Taiwan was the governor-general, an official appointed by, and sent from, Tokyo. The governor-general wielded supreme executive, legislative, and judicial power. This 1920s photograph shows the office of the governor general, which included bureaus for military and home affairs. Construction of this building, by workers imported from Japan, began in 1912 and was completed in 1919.

The Public Baths: Which Take Pride in Their Blend of Japanese and Foreign Architecture (Caoshan [J. Sōzan] Hot Springs, Taiwan)

The Taipei Prefecture public baths were built in the late 1920s to commemorate the enthronement of the Showa emperor in Japan, at a site where natural hot springs already were in use. The facilities were considered to be the best in Taiwan. Japanese forces invaded and occupied Taiwan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, a conflict between the Chinese and Japanese empires mainly over control of Korea. At the conclusion of the war, China ceded Taiwan to Japan. The occupation lasted until 1945 and the end of World War II.

The Plum Blossom

The plum blossom and bamboo sometimes are paired as friends in Chinese culture. Both are symbols of purity and steadfastness. This pairing is reflected in this late 17th-early 18th century painting and the accompanying poem. He Shikun was a Ming-dynasty figure who is identified in two local gazetteers as being from Xinhui, in Guangdong. The inscription here, however, identifies him as being from Wuyang, an old name for Guangzhou, to the north of Xinhui. In 1646, in the chaotic weeks before Xinhui surrendered to the Qing dynasty forces that had taken Guangzhou, He Shikun and other members of the local elite led the townspeople in holding off a siege by a band of troops fighting to restore Ming rule. The Ming dynasty ruled China from 1368 until 1644, when it fell to the invading Manchus, who established the Qing dynasty. However, scattered Ming resistance to Manchu rule persisted in southern China until the 1660s.

Nine-Headed Phoenix

This Qing-dynasty (1644-1911) print shows the nine-headed phoenix, a being from Chinese mythology with a bird's body and nine heads with human faces. It is one of several hybrid creatures mentioned in the Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shanhai jing), where it is said to dwell in the Great Wilds to the North at the mountain called Celestial-Coffer-at-the-Northern-Extremity. This entry is in what may be the most recent section of this work, which may have been composed at any time between the third or fourth century B.C. and the third or fourth century A.D.