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Friday, January 26, 2018

黄鶴樓 The Yellow Crane Tower


The Yellow Crane Tower was a magnificent tower built in 223 A.D. It was destroyed a number of times throughout history due to fires and wars.  The last rebuilt was in 1868 but was completely burnt down sixteen years later.  In 1981, it was rebuilt with modern materials about half a mile away from the original site due to the original location being used by one trestle of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge.  The modern Tower was completed in 1985.

Legend has it that the tower was built as a gratitude to the wealth made by a small wine tavern.  One day, a Taoist priest came begging for wine.  The owner ignored him but the son was kind and gave him some for free.  For half a year, it was thus.  On the last day, the priest told the lad that as gratitude for his kindness, he would paint a yellow crane on the wall.  Each time, the picture was clapped at by the son, the crane will fly down and dance for all to see before returning to the wall.  In later times, there were other stories that mortals would ride on cranes and flew away to become immortals.

Present Day

The fame of this tower was due to an eighth century poem by Cui Hao (崔顥),

昔人已乘黃鶴去,  Bygone days of those on yellow cranes riding away,
此地空餘黃鶴樓.  'Tis lonely place -- the Yellow Crane Tower that remains.
黃鶴一去不復返,  Once the cranes are gone, never do they return,
白雲千載空悠悠.  A thousand years, white clouds float in aimless unhurriedness.

晴川歷歷漢陽樹,The River is bright with each Hanyang tree in vivid reflection,
芳草萋萋鸚鵡州.With fragrant grasses of Parrot Island grow in luxuriance.
日暮關何處是The sun is setting and which road leads to hometown,
煙波江上使人愁  The mist on the River helps not, but in sorrow for one.

Each floor of the modern tower is themed differently.  The top most floor is for scenic viewing of the surrounding areas.

The next one down is reserved for visiting poets of renown.  The general public is allowed to view the inside desks, calligraphy accoutrements, etc from the outside.

On the second floor is a marble slab on which is written the characters of  "The story of the Yellow Crane Tower" (黄鶴樓記).  Here the stories about the rise and fall of the tower through the ages, various poems about the Tower by famous poets along with famous personage associated with the place are displayed on the walls.

On the ground floor is the "White Clouds Yellow Crane" (白雲黄 ) mythological theme.  The depiction is made from  ceramic tiles.  On the pillars bear the following couplet,


Westerly refreshing gusts cometh, the clouds and mists sweeping away regrets of Heaven and Earth.
Easterly the Mighty River floweth, its ripples and waves purifying sorrows of the past and present.

Finally from my paltry learning,  this poem was inspired by the catchy title song of Leisure Wanderings (逍遙遊 ) from the series, The Eastern Journey (遊記) which tells the stories of the Eight Immortals (八仙 ) and their adventures.  One story in it was how Lu Dong Bing (呂洞賓) attains his immortality by riding on a crane at this Tower.

White clouds had been wandering without care for eternity,
At the Yellow Crane, a thousand cups is where I seek in drunken leisure.
On winds I rode into the blue sky and the Tower is now alone.
To the red dust of the mundane world; to the immortal realm, a farewell bid?

There are two interpretations depending on the meaning of the last line.  别 can mean "to part" or "difference".  If the first meaning is taken, then the one riding the wind is an immortal and though he may be leaving but in the future, would return.  If "difference" is taken, then "riding the wind" is a euphemism to mean "to die" and so the rhetorical question of "Any difference between the red dust of the mundane world and the immortal realm?"

Friday, January 26, 2018

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