July 2, 2012

Two Illustrations from "Selected Arias of the Yuan Dynasty"

These prints from around 1615 show two figures from Yuan-dynasty (1279-1368) poetry. The right-hand picture illustrates a play about Zheng Kongmu, a law clerk, and Song Bin, a young man who accidentally killed a man. Zheng recognizes Song Bin as an honorable man and convinces the judge not to execute him. Instead, he is exiled to a penal colony where he has many adventures, including meeting up with and helping Zheng Kongmu when he himself runs afoul of the law by killing a woman who mistreated his children. The other picture shows Peng Zu, a longtime assistant to a fortuneteller named Zhou, and Ren Taohua, who can tell fortunes and find ways to change a person's fate. The story begins with Widow Shi's anxiety over her son, Liuzhu, who had gone away as a merchant and not returned. Zhou tells the widow that her son will die that very night. Taohua confirms the prophecy but says the young man can be saved if his mother says "Brother Shi Liuzhu" three times at the third watch. Liuzhu is saved when he hears his mother’s voice calling, but Zhou is disturbed to discover that there is a "merciful star," i.e., the mother, in the picture that he had not seen before and decides to test his own magical powers. The story continues with many incidents involving Zhou, Peng Zu, and Taohua.

The People of Taiwan Parading to a Ritual Sacrifice (for Generals Fan and Xie)

The annual ritual sacrifices for General Fan and Xie at the temple to the city gods in Taipei were especially important to the people of Taiwan during the period of Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1895 to 1945. Extra trains in and out of Taipei were scheduled to accommodate the crowds that came to this event from all over Taiwan.

Raising Ducks in Taipei Province

Traditionally, raising ducks has been an important enterprise in Taiwan, especially in the northern region. Wherever there is water, families have raised ducks for food.

The Magnificent Longshan Temple in Taipei

The Longshan Temple is the most famous ancient temple in Taipei. Built in 1738 by settlers from the Chinese mainland who founded a trading post at the site 15 years previously, the temple was where local residents worshipped the Guanyin Bodhisattva and looked to it for protection and the resolution of disputes. In the Sino-French War of 1884-85, the temple became a rallying point for the successful defense of Taiwan against French troops. Earthquakes, storms, and a major termite assault obliged the community to rebuild the temple at various times in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1945, allied bombing directed against the Japanese occupiers destroyed the temple, but the statue of Guanyin, beneath which many people from the neighborhood had taken refuge, remained intact.

Partial Draft of the Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (Zizhi Tongjian)

The Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (Zizhi tongjian) is the first comprehensive, chronologically-organized history in China. It describes 1,362 years of history, from the 23rd year of King Weilie of the Zhou (403 B.C.) to the sixth year of the Xuande era (959 A.D.) of the Later Zhou dynasty. The entire book comprises 294 juan (sections), with a 30-juan index and a 30-juan “investigation of inconsistencies.” The compiler was Sima Guang (1019–86), assisted by others. Sima Guang (courtesy name Junshi, sobriquet Yusou, commonly called Master of the Su River), was presented as a scholar (jinshi) in the first year of the Baoyuan era (1038) of Emperor Renzong. He occupied a number of important posts, and was posthumously given the name Wenzheng, the office Grand Preceptor, and the feudal title Wenguo Gong. The single juan of the Comprehensive Mirror held by the National Library of China is an original draft written by Sima Guang himself. The work, 33.8 centimeters wide and 130 centimeters long, has over 460 characters in 29 columns, and records the events of the first year of the Yongchang era (322 A.D.) of Emperor Yuan of the Eastern Jin dynasty. The draft is on a letter from Fan Chunren to the author and his older brother, Sima Dan. At the end is a copy of Sima Guang’s “Thank-you to someone for a present.” Following the juan are colophons by persons of the Song and Yuan dynasties. There are over a 100 seals by collectors from the Song to the Qing dynasties.

Diamond Prajna Paramita Sutra

This complete scroll from the first year of the Yifeng era (676) of the Tang dynasty was unearthed in Dunhuang, China. The scroll contains the Diamond Prajna pāramitā sutra, a work that is an important sacred text in the prajñā line of Mahayana Buddhism as well as a foundational text in Chinese Chan (Japanese Zen) Buddhism. The text was transmitted to China in the Period of Southern and Northern Courts in many translations, but the translation by Kumārajīva is the most respected. For generations, it was felt that reciting the Diamond prajna pāramitā sutra would confer limitless merit. People competed in copying it and printing it, with the result that it enjoyed very wide circulation. Prajñā means wisdom; pāramitā means to cross over from this shore of births and deaths to the shore of enlightenment; “diamond” signifies the firmness and keenness of one's wisdom. The general message of the sutra is that if one is as firm and keen as a diamond in one's understanding, one can put an end to all anguish and attachments. This scroll, collated by the Palace Library and completed by imperial order by officials of the Palace Administration, is a typical Tang dynasty court manuscript. The empress Wu Zetian (624-705) commanded the copying of the Lotus Sutra and the Diamond prajna pāramitā sutra upon the death of her mother.