The Bamboo Towers on the Yellow Mountain Peak
(August 15, 999 CE)
Wang, Yu-cheng 1 (954-1001 CE)
There are many bamboo trees on the Yellow Mountain Peak. The large ones are
like rafters. The bamboo artisans split them in half, chisel out the partitions,
and use them to replace ceramic shingles. The roofs of all the houses in this
area are made of bamboo shingles because they cost less in labor and material.
In the north-east corner of my town, the parapet of the city wall had
disintegrated. The place was desolate, dirty and overgrown with weeds.
Consequently, I built two small towers which connected to the Tower of Moonlit
Waves 2. The two bamboo towers swallow the lights from remote
mountains. Their shadows stretch to sip the water flowing over shallows. The
serene and vast view from the towers is indescribable. The bamboo towers are
suitable for torrential rain in the summer: one can hear the sound of a
waterfall when the rain hits their roofs. They are suitable for heavy snow in
the winter: one can hear the sound of jade shattering on the ground when the
sleet hits the roofs. The bamboo towers are suitable for playing the zither: the
tone is harmonious and fluent. They are suitable for reciting poetry: the rhymes
are clear and melodious. The bamboo towers are suitable for playing wei-qi
3: the falling pieces sound like someone tapping wood. They are suitable
for throwing arrows into a vase 4: the arrows jingle. We can enjoy
this cozy atmosphere mainly because the bamboo towers help produce this
wonderful variety of sound.
During leisure time after work, I dress in a robe made of crane feathers
5, wear a Taoist's cap, and light some incense. Then I sit in silence and
read The Book of Changes to repel my sorrows. Other than rivers and
mountains, all I see are gulls, sailboats, smoky clouds, and bamboo trees.
Having sobered up from drinking wine, I appreciate tea after its steam
disappears. After I say farewell to the setting sun, I welcome the moonrise.
These are also wonderful moments that I have enjoyed during my exile on the
Yellow Mountain Peak.
Qi-yun Tower 6 and Luo-xing Tower
7 were much taller
than my bamboo towers. Jing-gan Tower 8 and Li-qiao Tower
were much more beautiful than my bamboo towers. However, these tall and
beautiful towers only harbored prostitutes and were used for nothing but singing
and dancing. A good poet is not interested in these sensual pleasures; nor am I.
I heard a bamboo artisan say, "Bamboo shingles can only last ten years. The roof
may last twenty years if we use two layers of bamboo shingles."
Alas! In 994 CE, I left the Royal Academy and was demoted to Mayor of
Chu-zhou City 10. In 995 CE, I was transferred to Guang-ling City
11. In 996 CE, I was reinstated to my former position in the Cabinet
of Ministers. On New Year's Eve in 997 CE, I received the order to move to Qi-an
City 12. In March 998 CE, I arrived at the Yellow Mountain Peak.
During those four years, I constantly moved from place to place and hardly had
any time to settle down. I do not know where my work will take me next year.
Therefore, I am not worried that my bamboo towers will not last. I hope that the
people here with the same values as mine will continue to maintain these towers.
May these bamboo towers last forever!
1 Yuan-zhi was Yu-cheng Wang's alternate first name. He was a native of Ju-ye
City of Ji-zhou County during the Northern Song dynasty. He was able to write
essays at the age of nine. He wrote his poems quickly and alluded to many other
works. Shi-an Bi had a high opinion of his talent after reading his poems. In
983 CE, Yu-cheng Wang passed the Advanced Exam at the age of 29. Later, he was
appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court. He and Chu-yue Lo, both born in the
same year, composed verses together. Their poems were widely read. Emperor Tai-zong
summoned him and selected him as Junior Counselor at the Library of Historical
Books. Wang, Jia-zheng Xia-hou, Chu-yue Lo, and Hao-biao Du worked together to
revise the Three Historical Books (Chinese History, The History of the
Han Dynasty, and The History of the Late Han Dynasty). They corrected
many errors. On one occasion Emperor Tai-zong wanted to test poets himself. He
summoned Wang to the palace to improvise poetry. It only took a short while for
Wang to complete the task. The emperor was very pleased and appointed him to
Adviser of the Royal Academy in charge of the Emperor's personal affairs. During
the Xian-ping Period, he prepared to revise The Biography of Emperor Tai-zong.
He disagreed with the opinions of Prime Ministers Qi-xian Zhang and Hang Li, so
he was demoted to Mayor of Huang (yellow)-zhou (city) City. He wrote a poem
entitled “I Have Been Demoted Three Times” to express his ideals.
2 "The Tower of Moonlit Waves" was the mayor's office of Huang-gang (yellow
mountain peak) City and was built by Yu-cheng Wang.
3 "Wei-qi" is a game with pips of black and white on a board of 361 squares.
The object of each player is to surround the pieces of the other so that he
cannot move. The game is called Go in Japan.
4 Throwing arrows into a vase was an ancient game.
5 Shi-gong Wang wore a robe made of crane feathers while he was in high
spirits. As he walked on snow, passersby mistook him for a god.
6 "Qi-yun" means "on the same level with clouds" in Chinese.
was built by Pu Han during the Five Dynasties.
7 "Luo-xing" means "falling stars".
8 "Jing-gan" means "a lattice of wood pieces". Emperor Wu-di in the Han
dynasty built Jing-gan Tower. It was 50 feet tall and was built in a lattice of
ten thousand wood pieces.
9 "Li-qiao" means "beautiful tower". Li-qiao Tower was built by Cao Cao,
Emperor Wu-di in the Wei dynasty.
10 Chu-zhou City is now called Chu-xian City and is located in Anhui
Province. Yu-cheng Wang was an Adviser of the Royal Academy in charge of the
Emperor's personal affairs. Because he criticized the extravagance of Queen
Xiao-zhang's funeral, he was demoted to Mayor of Chu-zhou City.
11 Guang-ling City was located northeast of present day Jiang-du City in
12 Qi-an City is now called Huang-gang City and is located in Hubei Province.