Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bamboo Park (Wangjiang Lou) and Poetess Xue Tao

Bamboo Park (Wangjiang Lou), Chengdu, Sichuan 090316 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The Bamboo Park (in Chinese known as River Viewing Pavilion) is one of my favourite spots in Chengdu when the weather is lovely. It is located in eastern Chengdu very close to Sichuan University and just across the street from the entrance to Sichuan University Museum (which in itself is well worth a visit). Their are two sections to this park which skirts the Jinjiang River: the northern section is dedicated to the memory of Tang poetess Xue Tao 薛涛 (770-832) and costs 20 yuan to enter. The entrance fee guarantees better upkeep and also less people than the southern section of the park which is free to all and sundry and thus more noisy but at the same time full of life, tea houses, carnival rides, snacks and fun nooks and crannies. You will find a romantic statue of Xue Tao in the park, as well as the well where it is said that she drew water to dye the special handmade paper that she wrote her poems on. For a time Xue Tao even took up residence in Du Fu cottage after that other most famous of Chinese poets had both left the city and passed away (Xue Tao was born around the time that Du Fu died). The Bamboo Park gets its English name from the over 150 species of bamboo that are growing on its grounds. Xue Tao is said to have especially loved bamboo which she felt represented humility, modesty and graciousness as bamboo is hollow inside and very pliable but also persistent and hardy and almost impossible to destroy. She is said to be buried near the park.

Xue Tao is one of China's most respected female poets. Her father (a minor government official) passed away when she was young and it was understandably difficult for her and her mother to support themselves alone in Chengdu. Xue Tao was subsequently registered in Chengdu's guild of courtesans and entertainers and eventually became the favourite concubine of Wei Gao, the military governor of Sichuan who made her his official hostess. She was known for her biting wit and seems to even have been banished for a time to Songpan as punishment for some insult, inconvenience or slight to the wrong person or high official in Chengdu. Perhaps the poem below alludes to this incident.  [It is number three of "Ten Partings," a sequence of poems.]:

"Dog parted from her master":

Yes, she's a good dog,
lived four or five years
within his crimson gates,

fur sweet-smelling,
feet quite clean,
master, affectionate.

Then by chance she
took a nip
and bit a well-loved guest.

Now she no longer sleeps
upon his red silk rugs.

[Taken from Brocade River poems: selected works of the Tang dynasty courtesan Xue Tao / translated and introduced by Jeanne Larsen (The Lockert Library of poetry in translation). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1987. (xxvii, 110 p.)
LC#: PL2677.H76 A24 1987; ISBN: 0691066868, 0691014345]

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