Qu Dajun – Lulian Tower

Qu Dayun

Qu Dajun (屈大均, 굴대균, 1630-1696) was a late Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty scholar and poet. He was born in Panyu (番禺, 반옹), Guangdong Province (廣東省, 광동성); his original name (初名, 초명) was Shaolong (紹隆, 소륭); his courtesy names (字, 자) were Jiezi (子, 개자) and Wengshan (山, 옹산); and his pen name (號, 호) was Caipu (菜圃, 채포). When the Manchus invaded Guangdong, Qu Dajun joined several, successive Ming loyalist movements. First, he joined forces under Ming Emperor Yongli (永曆帝, 영력제, 1632-1662, r. 1646-1662). After the Emperor’s forces capitulated to the Qing, he assisted forces headed by by Wei Geng (魏耕, 위경, 1614-1662). When Guangzhou (廣州, 광주) fell to the Manchus in 1650, he decided to become a Buddhist monk, taking on the dharma name (法名, 법명) of Jinzhong (今鐘, 금종). Not too long after, however, Qu Dajun moved to another region of Southern China where other Ming loyalists had fled. In 1659, he joined Koxinga’s (國姓爺, 국성야, 1624-1662) forces in the northern campaign. In 1673, he participated Wu Sangui’s (吳桂, 오삼계, 1612-1678) revolt against the Qing. Qu Dajun joined his last anti-Qing Ming loyalist movement with Zheng Keshuang (鄭克塽, 정극상, 1670-1717), the illegitimate grandson of Koxinga. In 1683, Qu Dajun finally surrendered with Zheng Keshuang, and promised to the Manchus that he would not take up arms against them. Throughout this time, he composed many poems on the brutality of war as well as the toils of common people. His writing collections include Wengshan Shiwai (翁山詩外, 옹산시외), Wengshan Yiwai (翁外, 옹산역외), Guangdong Xinyu (廣語, 광동신어), and Doushoudang Ji (道集, 도수당집). Some of Qu Dajun’s writings were banned in 1774 during the literary inquisitions (文字獄, 문자옥) of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆帝, 건륭제, 1711-1799, r. 1735-1796). 

魯連臺 노련대

Lulian Tower

一笑無秦帝 일소무진제
飄然向海東 표연향해동
誰能排大難 수능배대난
不屑計奇功 불설계기공
古戍三秋雁 고수삼추안
高臺萬木風 고대만목풍
從來天下士 종래천하사
只在布衣中 지재포의중

One laughter, having obliterated the Qin Emperor,
Flutters and streams toward the east of the sea.
Who can repel the great disaster,
And disdain the counting of their marvelous deeds?
From the old cantonment, the third month of autumn’s wild geese;
Upon the high tower, ten thousand trees’ winds.
Hitherto, the talented below heaven,
Only existed amid hemp clothes.

Definitions:

One • laugh • to ignore • Qin • emperor
Fluttering • grammatical particle • to face • sea • east
Who • to be able • to repel • great • disaster
Not • disdain • to count • marvelous • deeds
Old • cantonment • third • autumn • wild goose
High • tower • ten-thousand • trees • wind
From • to come • heaven • under • scholar
Only • to exist • hemp • clothes • amid

Notes:

  • Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩, 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 東(동).
  • 魯連臺(노련대) – Lulian tower is in modern day Liaocheng (聊城, 요성) in Shandong Province (山東省, 산동성). Lulian (魯連, 노련) refers to Lu Zhonglian (魯仲連, 노중련, ?-?), a scholar of the Qi state (齊, 제, 1046-221BC). When he was visiting the Zhao state (趙, 조, 403-222BC) to see King Xiaocheng (趙孝成王, 조혜성왕, r. 266-245BC), forces of the Qin state (秦, 진, 900?-206BC) surrounded the Zhao state’s capital, Handan (鄲, 한단). The Zhao state requested the Wei state (魏, 위, 403-225BC) to help break the siege. Wei state, in return, replied that if the Zhao recognized the ruler of the Qin state as the emperor, the Qin would withdraw their forces. One of the Wei state’s ministers, Xin Yuanyan (新垣衍, 신원연, ?-?), had earlier proposed that King Zhao of Qin (秦昭王, 진소왕, 324-251BC, r. 305-251BC) declare himself emperor. Lu Zhonglian fervently opposed this proposal, famous remarking, “I, Lian, would rather step into the eastern sea and die” (連耳, 련유답동해이사이). He successfully persuaded Lord Pingyuan of Zhao (平君, 평원군, ?-251BC) not to recognize the Qin King as emperor. In the end, the Qin withdrew their forces and broke the siege. The Zhao state government tried to bestow Lu Zhonglian gifts for his service, but he refused and retired to live in seclusion. Sometime after, the people of Zhao erected Lulian tower in commemoration. 
  • 不屑(불설) – The entire word means “to disdain” or “to trivialize.”
  • 布衣(포의) – Literally, “hemp clothes.” Refers to common people’s clothing.
6 comments
    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for the correction.

  1. Alice Cheang said:

    The translation of the first line slightly obscures the full force of the original. 無 is here used as a causative verb, “to cause to cease to exist”; hence, “With a single laugh, he obliterates/wipes out the Qin Emperor.”

    Again, the translation of the third couplet, by adding verbs to complete the implied sense (“fly away” and “make noise”), limits the impact. Perhaps you could leave the lines truncated, as they were meant to be? “Over the old cantonment, geese of three autumns: / By the high tower, wind through ten thousand trees.” This way, the lines convey something of the stark power of the original, and more importantly, they remain ambiguous, so that the poet could be describing at once the scene in front of him and the spirit embodied in these external objects — hence, not only the heroic spirit of Lu Zhonglian (in courage as staunch as ancient trees buffeted by strong winds, in his detachment from worldly concerns like a goose on the wing) but also the poet’s own emulous aspiration.

    Thank you for sharing your research into this magnificent poem by the greatest of the Lingnan 嶺南 (Cantonese) poets!

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for your suggestions. I greatly appreciate them. For the English translation, I was trying to balance the Classical Chinese original and the Korean translation, which at times adds too much in my opinion. The book I have translated the first line as “Having ignored the Qin Emperor by smacking him with one laughter.” I do like truncating the verb in the third couplet.

      Also, it’s not all my own research. At the beginning of this series, I stated that I acquired an anthology of Qing dynasty poets while visiting Korea earlier this year. Most of the annotations are from that book. I did do some reading on Korean online encyclopedias to add more detail.

  2. Alice Cheang said:

    萬 is probably an elision for 萬年 (ten thousand years). 三秋 in the first line of the third couplet is a time word, so the matching word/phrase in the same position in the next line of that couplet should also be a time word in order to complete the antithesis, hence, “wind blowing through tree(s) of ten thousand years.” (This also makes better sense than “wind blowing through ten thousand trees.”)

    Incidentally, 三秋 should probably be translated as “the third month of autumn,” i.e., late fall, which is when the last of migrating geese are flying overhead. (See definition http://www.zdic.net/c/9/149/323328.htm)

    • 歸源 said:

      Interesting. I hadn’t thought of 萬 that way. The Korean translation seemed to use 萬 as “to fill,” which I didn’t agree with. This definition is not in dictionaries I’ve read, but I have seen that translation in other places.

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