Sunday, February 27, 2011
Dream Of the Southern Bough - A Chinese Antz Story
Chun Yu Fen loosened his headscarf to make a pillow out of it as he dozed off. As he bordered in his dreams, two envoys in purple clothes walked through his door. After kowtowing to him on their bended knees, they announced,
“By his imperial order, the King of Great Pagoda Tree Peace has commanded your Lordship to pay a visit to His kingdom!”
Subconsciously he rose from his day bed, straightened his clothes and followed the two envoys out of the door. There a small oil green colored carriage drawn by four horses awaited together with seven or eight attendants. With utmost respect, they led Chun onto the carriage. Once out of the main gates, the carriage proceeded at a past pace into a cave that appeared in the pagoda tree. Chun felt rather strange but said nothing as he felt it was quite improper to ask questions. As they journeyed he realized that the scenery on both sides of the carriage: the roads, the rivers, the mountains and even the grasses were not quite the same as those of the mortal world. About ten miles later, outer walls of a city appeared. Many carriages and pedestrians were going about their way unceasingly. All this while, his attendants were shouting out aloud at the people who then quickly made way for the carriage. Soon, they entered a great city with a reddish gold main entrance surrounded by many towers. On the entrance tower was written the following characters, “Great Pagoda Tree Peace Country”. The tower guards paid homage to them and quickly went inside to report of the arrival. Next a horseman came bearing an imperial edit which he announced,
“His Imperial Highness, mindful of the Prince-in-Consort having to journey from afar, shall have him rest at the Gloriette of Eastern Grandeur”.
With that pronouncement, the horseman led the way. Soon afterwards another great entrance appeared. The attendant requested that Chun Yu Fen get out of the carriage. Once inside there were richly carved columns and colored grand balustrades. Rows of planted trees heavily laden with rare and exotic fruits were planted just outside of the great hall. Grand door drapes were hung, banquet tables, chairs and cushions were placed in an exquisite manner. Chun Yu Fen was delighted at such detailed arrangements. Not long afterwards he heard someone announcing,
“The Right Prime Minister has arrived.”
With great respect Chun Yu Fen approached the stairs to greet the minister who was dressed in purple colored official robes of the Imperial Court. Both of his hands carried an ivory breath deflector2, walking quickly towards him. As the ceremony between host and guest had ended, the Right Prime Minister said,
“Even though our country is remote, His Imperial Majesty has especially summoned thee to become our Princess Consort.”
Chun Yu Fen replied,
“I’m just a person from the lower class, how can I dare to aspire to such lofty ambitions?”
The Prime Minister bade Chun Yu Fen to go with him for an audience with the King. About a hundred paces or so, they entered a great door painted in cinnabar red where many warriors clasped with halberds and axes were standing on guard. Military and Civil officials stood along the two sides of the imperial steps to the throne. In the midst of a crowd of officials, Chun was immensely delighted to see Chou Bian, a long time drinking boon friend, but dared not approach him for a chat. The Right Prime Minister led him towards an even more spacious and solemn palace where many more sentries were guarding the place. It must be the very chambers of the King himself. Seated in the middle of the great hall was a huge man of great regality wearing rich brocades of white and a red floral crown. Chun Yu Fen could not help himself and he shook like a leaf. He almost he could not lift his head. The attendants on the side hinted that he should now make obeisance to the King.
The King spoke,
“We had acquiesced to the wishes of your father, that you will not look down on our small country and shall be betrothed to our second daughter, Jade Fragrance and become our Prince-in-Consort3of the Eastern Chambers”.
Chun Yu Fen knelt before the king cowering in fear and did not respond. The King continued,
“You may return to the guest mission for now. When everything is prepared, the wedding ceremony shall proceed.”
That very night, all that is needed for the wedding had been set up in the Hall of Meeting making it a place of pomp and grand style. Three smiling officials who came up to Chun Yu Fen and said,
“We had been ordered to be the Prince-in-Consort attendants4.”
“How come you are here?”
Tian Tzu Wah replied,
“I was traveling and visiting famous places. When I came here, I met the Right Prime Minister. We became friends and hence stayed here since then.”
Chun asked again,
“Do you know that Chou Bian is also here?”
The two chatted merrily for a while when an announcement came,
“It is time for the Prince-in-Consort to enter the palace.”
“Never had I witnessed such a grand wedding. Please don’t forget our friendship.”
One day the Princess asked her husband,
“Wouldst thee wish to become a court official?”
Chun Yu Fen replied,
“I’m a habitual go-a-lucky-person. I’m used to laziness. Neither a thought was given as I’m not well versed in statecraft.”
The Princess explained,
“All you need is the will to become one. Leave all other matters to me.”
With that the Princess went to see her father. A few days later, the King said to Chun Yu Fen,
“The Southern Bough Prefecture was not governed properly. Its governor had been dismissed. I have been thinking in borrowing your ability to become the next governor. The Princess shall leave with you to Southern Bough!”
Chun Yu Fen respectfully accepted the imperial edit and the King decreed to the officials in charge to make preparations for the journey. Several huge cases containing gold, pearls, jade, exquisite bolts of silk and clothes for the Princess were packed. Many a retainer and maid lined up at the main avenues to bid them farewell.
Chun Yu Fen also petitioned to the throne requesting,
“I have no experience in governing neither do I have any skill in doing so. If I have to bear the responsibility of this post, I fear that I would only betray your trust in me. I shall need capable men to assist me in governing the Prefecture of Southern Bough. Chou Bian of Silli is a firm and upright person. He does not get flattered easily and adheres to the letter of the law. I believe he is capable in assisting me. Tian Tzu Wah is a scholar not of government employ. He is an honest person who is careful in his ways. Flexible and adept to change and understands the principles of governance. They are also my friends of many years. I understand their abilities and capabilities. Therefore I can relax knowing that they can run things very smoothly. I sincerely recommend that Chou Bian be in charge of constitution matters of Southern Bough and that Tian Tzu Wah be the agricultural attaché. With them in charge, things will run systematically and efficiently.”
All that was petitioned was approved by His Majesty and that night the King and Queen threw a farewell banquet for them. The King counseled Chun Yu Fen,
“Southern Bough is a large prefecture, the land is fertile and there are many capable people. To govern this place well, you must love its people. With Chou Bian and Tian Wen5 Wah to help you, you shall not disappoint Our hopes in you.”
The Queen also counseled the Princess,
“The Princess-in-Consort has a strong temperament and loves to drink. He is at the peak of his youth and vigor. As wife, you must be gentle. Comply and serve your husband well. Then I shall not be worrying about you needlessly. Although Southern Bough is not far from us, nevertheless we won’t be able to see each other every day. With this parting of today, how would it not grieve me?”
Finally Chun Yu Fen and the Princess bade farewell to the King and Queen. They made their way to their new home in the Prefecture of Southern Bough. The couple was chatting away in laughter and merriment in the horse drawn carriage as they were escorted by the cavalry. After a few days, they reached their destination. All the officials, monks, priests and important local elders came thronging out to greet the royal couple on chariot drawn music bands and mighty guardsmen. What a parade it was! Drums were beaten and bells were sounded. Everywhere was bustling with liveliness. Another ten miles or so of journeying a great city wall with grand palace towers appeared. On the city gate was a large placard in which golden colored words were written – The Prefecture of Southern Bough. Many magnificent looking spears, halberds and knives were placed and that made the vermillion colored gate a very solemn and imposing place.
After Chun Yu Fen took office, he would go around observing local customs and tried to understand the hardship of the people. All administrative duties of the prefecture were left to the capable hands of Tian Tzu Wah and Chou Bian. Twenty or so years went by and Chun Yu Fen implemented many beneficial policies. The people were so grateful that they decided to erect a stone stele to commemorate his accomplishments. Not only that - a shrine was also built and dedicated it to him while he was still alive. The King highly valued him and bestowed upon him many lands and elevated his position to equal that of the Three Prime Ministers6. Chou Bian and Tian Tzu Wah were promoted to great offices because of their merits in running of the prefecture. All in all, Chun Yu Fen had five sons and two daughters. Because of their positions, the sons became high officials and daughters were married off to nobility. The family rose to dizzying heights of power and grandeur that none could rival them.
Then one year, the neighbouring country of Sandalwood Radish came invading with a large army. The King ordered Chun Yu Fen to ward off the invasion. Chun petitioned to recommend Choy Bian to lead an army of 30,000 men. The battle took place at the city of Jade Terrace. Chou Bian was brave but was rash and reckless. In the end, his army was soundly routed. He was able to escape on his horse without his armor7. Because the country of Sandalwood Radish also lost a huge amount of men, they too retreated back. Chun Yu Fen imprisoned Chou Bian for his dereliction of duty and petitioned before the throne for forgiveness. The King pardoned all of them. In the same month because of the old wounds Chou Bian had suffered, he passed away. Then Princess Golden Bough, wife of Chun Yu Fen, became gravely ill and died ten days later. Chun then petitioned for his resignation as the governor and to escort the cortege back to the capital city. The King approved and the governorship of Southern Bough went to Tian Tzu Wah.
In great sorrow, as Chun Yu Fen brought the cortege back to the capital city, the King and Queen wore white and waited in the suburbs. The Princess was posthumously recognized as “Princess Submissive Bearing” and was buried in the imperial hills some 10 miles away from the eastern side of the capital. In the same month the son of Chou Bian, Chou Tzu Weng, brought the remains of his father back to the capital city.
As Chun Yu Fen was the governor of Southern Bough for a long time he had harmonious relations with all the officials of the Court, the nobles, the rich and the powerful. Since his resignation of his governorship and return to the capital city many of his cronies and former guests came flocking to him again. Soon they became haughty, started to abuse their power and became utterly arrogant. The King soon found his behaviour unacceptable and began to have second thoughts about him. Then a high official petitioned before the throne:
“Celestial omens of condemnation appeared; indicating there the country will experience great catastrophes and that the capital must be moved. The imperial ancestral shrines will be destroyed. It is the influence of outsiders that cause these kinds of disaster. Internal troubles will erupt.”
All debates and discussions were centered on the extravagant life style of Chun Yu Fen. Therefore the King stripped away all the guards from Chun; forbidding all travels, thereby putting him in house arrest. Chun Yu Fen was not happy and the King understood his feelings and said to him,
“You had left your home for many years now... Why don’t you have a visit and see your relations and friends? My grandchildren shall stay with me temporary and the Queen shall rear them up. Three years later, I shall allow a reunion.”
Chun Yu Fen thought it was rather strange and replied,
“Isn’t this place my home? Why are you asking me to return to my home?”
The King laughed and explained,
“You home lies in the mortal realm. This is not your home.”
Suddenly Chun Yu Fen realized as if wakened from a dream. After a long while, he remembered his former life and with tears he begged the King to let him return to the mortal world. The King ordered close by attendants to lead him back. With that, Chun tearfully bade farewell to the King.
Chun Yu Fen looked at the two purple dressed envoys and recognized them as the ones who first brought him to this place. Outside the palace door was an old and decrepit carriage waiting. There was no driver to be seen. Neither was there any servant or friend to see him off. Chun Yu Fen was greatly saddened inside. He was driven for a few miles and came to a great city gate. It looked like the one he had once passed through when he was first invited to the country of ‘Great Pagoda Tree Peace’. The views of the mountains and rivers looked the same as before but the two envoys somehow lost their grand and solemn bearing. His thoughts of his past glory and power made him realized how such things are fleeting and meaningless. Nothing more than illusions and fantasies. As they walked out of the cave he saw the giant pagoda tree. His hometown had changed with the passing of time. Chun began to feel sorry for himself and subconsciously his tears flowed.
The two purple dressed envoys helped him down the carriage. Once through the main gate of his house, just as his feet touched the threshold of his home, he saw his body still lying in the corridor on the east side of the hall. Chun was greatly astonished and puzzled. He did not dare to approach that body of himself. The purple dressed envoys on seeing his hesitation called out aloud his name. After a few shouts, Chun suddenly jumped up and into his consciousness. He saw his own servants sweeping in the front hall, two of his guests were sitting on a day bed washing their feet. The rays of the setting sun were still lingering on the west wall and half drunk cups of wine were lying around on the eastern window sill. A life time in a dream was just but a mere moment in the mortal world. Chun Yu Fen could not help but feelings of regret overcame him and sighed. Finally he called out to his two guests and told them of his dream. They were astonished and afraid at the same time, not daring to say anything.
Finally the two friends accompanied Chun Yu Fen to the huge pagoda tree and looked for any strange openings. Upon seeing a hole, Chun pointed out them and exclaimed,
“This is where the carriage passed in my dream.”
The two friends thought it must be spirits or dryads at mischief. They ordered servants bearing axes and chopped at the roots and cleared the dense branches of the tree. A great round cave-like cavity, about a yard in radius, appeared. They could clearly see the empty space of the roots area, large enough to place a bed in. A large pile of soil sat on top looking much like city walls, terraces and palaces. It seemed there were several ant nests in there the center of activity. Two giant ants about three inches long with red heads and white wings were found in the center of the terrace like mound. Surrounding them were many large ants as if in a formation of protection. There were other ants but dared not approached the group. These two giant ants must be the King and Queen of Great Pagoda Tree Peace and therefore this place must be the capital city. Nearby as they dug they found another cavity. This looked like a connecting path to a south facing empty bough of the tree; about four yards wide. Inside the branch were intricate paths leading to a center which is square in shape. Again there were mounds of mud which were made to look like city walls and terraces. Again there was a group of ants concentrated in there. This must be the Prefecture of South Bough where Chun Yu Fen had once governed. Another cavity appeared on the west side, about 2 yards away. The hole was wide and spacious. However this hole did not look like the rest. Right in the middle of it was a decaying tortoise shell, large like a bucket and when rainwater seeped through the soil and it became a reservoir. Minute luxuriant grasses grew almost covering the entire shell. This must be Mt. Spiritual Turtle where Chun Yu Fen and the officials went hunting. Nearby they dug again and found another cavity. This one is on the east side, about a yard away where gnarly old tree roots were coiling like a snake. Right in the middle of it is about a foot high mound of mud. This must be the Coiling Dragon Hill where Chun buried his princess wife. Chun could not help himself and succumbed to great sadness on seeing these old places with his own eyes; remembering a dream life of once upon a time. All physical evidence matched perfectly with what he had experienced in his dream. He did not allow his two friends to destroy any of these places and quickly ordered his servants to put the soil back on top of them leaving the place pretty much as original as possible.
That night a great storm suddenly rose and Chun Yu Fen quickly return to check on the cave holes of the pagoda tree. All traces of the ants were gone. He did not know where they went. The reason being the ants were warned by the prediction of an impending catastrophe that the country of Great Pagoda Tree Peace shall experience and the capital has to be moved. Now that omen had come true. Remembering the invasion of Southern Bough by the Sandalwood Radish country Chun bade his two friends to look for the traces of that country. About a mile away, they found a dried mountain gully and a sandalwood tree was growing by its side. Radish vines were twining around the tree in such a mass that sunlight could not shine through. At the side of the tree was a small cavity and another ant nest was hidden there. This must be the country of Sandalwood Radish.
Ah… If such events and lives of tiny ants can cause astonish one in such wonder, what more excitement can exotic beasts hidden in mountains and forests offer?
When Chun Yu Fen remembered that he had not his two good buddies, Tian Tzu Wah and Chou Bian for about ten days. He quickly dispatched his boy servants to the prefecture of Six Harmonies to inquire about them. Later Chun found out that Chou Bian had died from a sudden and serious illness. Tian Tzu Wah was gravely ill and in a coma. Chun Yu Fen began to think about the emptiness and fragility of life. A fantasy like the clouds and mists appearing in front of him. All riches and power are nothing but the flimsiness of a dream. From then onwards, Chun turned over a new leaf and studied Taoism in earnest. No longer in having any taste for women and wine. Three years later in the year of Ding Chou (797 A.D.) Chun Yu Fen died in his home. He was 47 years of age, exactly what the King had predicted the time they would meet again.
In the 8th lunar month the 18th year of Original Purity (802 A.D.) Li Kung Zuo8 journeyed on his way to Loyang by boat and stopped at River Hwai where he heard of the story of Chun Yu Fen. After some inquiries and evidence seeking, he concluded that the Dream of the Southern Bough was an actual event and made it into a novel for those enjoying in reading about the occult. Although the story is filled with weird and amazing things, events that defy logic, the moral of the story serves as a warning to those seeking power and glory through deceitful means.
“To the later generations of upright gentlemen, let this story, ‘Dream of the Southern Bough’ serve as reflection for thyself: Never gain unfair advantage over others using officialdom as a haughty means to glorify oneself in this mortal world.”
Military advisor Li Zhao9 of Prefecture Hua once said,
“Even when you reached the pinnacle of officialdom, wielding the greatest power with no one to rival you, what difference is there with those living with ants?”
This story also appeared in “Strange Tales From A Studio Of Leisure”, 聊齋異誌. Another version was that Chun was charged with treason and his entire family was to be mass executed. Just as the executioner’s axe fell upon him he woke up from his dream.
1. A Chinese acre equivalent to 1/15 for a hectare (2.47 of an acre).
2. Also known as 笏. This is to prevent one’s bad breath from reaching one’s superior or August person from a close distance of intercourse.
3. Husbands of Tang dynasty princesses possess military skills and given a military position.
4. These attendants serve to receive guests and presents on behalf of the groom.
5. Most probably a misprint.
6. 三公宰相–Originated by Emperor Han Wu Ti to prevent the office of the prime minister from getting too powerful.
7. In the original text, it was suggested that he escaped in nakedness. Most probably he threw off his heavy armor in order to escape quickly.
8. A Tang Dynasty novelist
9. A Tang Dynasty philosopher
There are various versions of this story. The first one comes from Tales from ‘A Chinese Studio’ (聊齋志異), translated by H. A. Giles. The second version is known as the ‘Dream of the Yellow Sorghum’ (黃粱夢)
THE MAGIC PILLOW
One day, an old priest stopped at a wayside inn to rest, spread out his mat, and sat down with his bag. Soon afterwards, a young fellow of the neighbourhood also arrived at the inn; he was a farm labourer and wore short clothes, not a long robe like the priest and men who read books. He took a seat near to the priest and the two were soon laughing and talking together. By and by, the young man cast a glance at his own rough dress and said with a sigh,
"See, what a miserable wretch I am."
"You seem to me well fed and healthy enough," replied the priest;
"Why in the middle of our pleasant chat do you suddenly complain of being a miserable wretch?"
"What pleasure can I find," retorted the young man,
"in this life of mine, working every day as I do from early morn to late at night? I should like to be a great general and win battles, or to be a rich man and have fine food and wine, and listen to good music, or to be a great man at court and help our Emperor and bring prosperity to my family; — that is what I call pleasure. I want to rise in the world, but here I am a poor farm labourer; if you don't call that miserable wretchedness, what is it?"
He then began to get sleepy, and while the landlord was cooking a dish of millet-porridge, the priest took a pillow out of his bag and said to the young man,
"Lay your head on this and all your wishes will be granted." The pillow was made of porcelain; it was round like a tube, and open at each end. When the young man put his head down towards the pillow, one of the openings seemed so large and bright inside that he got in, and soon found himself at his own home. Shortly afterwards he married a beautiful girl, and began to make money. He now wore fine clothes and spent his time in study. In the following year he passed his examination and was made a magistrate; and in two or three years he had risen to be Prime Minister. For a long lime the Emperor trusted him in everything, but the day came when he got into trouble; he was accused of treason and sentenced to death. He was taken with several other criminals to the place of execution; he was made to kneel on both knees, and the executioner approached with his sword. Too terrified to feel the blow, he opened his eyes, to find himself in the inn. There was the priest with his head on his bag; and there was the landlord still stirring the porridge, which was not quite ready.
After eating his meal in silence, he got up and bowing to the priest, said,
"I thank you, sir, for the lesson you have taught me; I know now what it means to be a great man!"
With that, he took his leave and went back to his work.
Dream Of Yellow Sorghum – in pictures.
Overall view of the mural
Immortal granting the dream 仙人賜夢
The marriage 洞房花燭
Becoming the Number One Scholar 金榜題名
Riches and Wealth 榮華富貴
Valor and glory 建功立勛
Fame and recognition 功成名就
A life of wealth and luxury 富貴人生
Upon his death bed 彌留之際
Upon wakening 南柯一夢
Cooking of the yellow sorghum hasn’t even started yet 黃粱未開鍋
Both feet on firm ground and hurrying to the Imperial Exams! 脚踏實地, 進京趕考
30 Dec 2010 – 16 Feb 2011