Records of a By­gone Bei­jing

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Guoyao Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Bei­jing’s con­ven­tional ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) have been doc­u­mented in Bei­jing sui­hua ji (“records of by­gone Bei­jing”) by Lu Qi­hong, a good read for cu­ri­ous read­ers of Bei­jing’s cus­toms.

As a writer, Lu Qi­hong gave a vivid de­scrip­tion of fes­ti­vals and cus­toms of Bei­jingers dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644).” This com­ment by Zhu Yizun (1629–1709), the com­piler of Rixia ji­uwen (“old news of Bei­jing”), was writ­ten when he wrote a let­ter to a rel­a­tive. When Rixia ji­uwen was sub­mit­ted for pub­li­ca­tion and caused a sen­sa­tion in the capital, all browsers caught sight of the praise given to Lu Qi­hong in the pref­ace. To sat­isfy their cu­rios­ity, they quickly hunted for the lost Bei­jing sui­hua ji (“records of by­gone Bei­jing”). Be­fore long, the an­nals about Bei­jing's con­ven­tional ac­tiv­i­ties in the Ming Dy­nasty spread all over vast streets and small al­leys, be­com­ing a highly-praised book by read­ers. Bei­jing sui­hua ji by Lu Qi­hong has be­come a ne­ces­sity for those re­search­ing Bei­jing's cus­toms.

A Ju­bi­lant Past

Bei­jing sui­hua ji was writ­ten in 1644. On March 19 of that year, Chi­nese rebel leader Li Zicheng (1606–1645) com­manded his troops to cap­ture the city of Bei­jing, lead­ing to the down­fall of the Ming Dy­nasty. Soon, aided by Wu San­gui (1612–1678), a for­mer gen­eral of the Ming Dy­nasty, Manchu prince Dor­gon (1612– 1650) led his army to en­ter Bei­jing where Fulin (1638–1661) as­cended the throne by of­fer­ing sac­ri­fices to the heav­ens, land and his an­ces­tral tem­ple. He called his dy­nasty Qing (1644–1911), which marked the begin­ning of the reign of Em­peror Shun­zhi (1644–1662). The new Qing gov­ern­ment opened the door to for­mer min­is­ters and sub­jects of the dis­in­te­grated Ming Dy­nasty. Then, all the peo­ple of the

Ming Dy­nasty including Lu Qi­hong faced their po­lit­i­cal choice. Though Lu was faced with com­pli­cated af­fairs in life, he still loved the city. When­ever in a grave sit­u­a­tion, he re­mem­bered the ju­bi­lant Mid-au­tumn Fes­ti­val (the 15th day of the 8th lu­nar month) when he came to Bei­jing for the first time.

Lu wrote in his book, “The 15th day of the 8th lu­nar month is called the MidAu­tumn Fes­ti­val when peo­ple pre­sented moon cakes to each other, in­tended for re­unions. In three or five days be­fore the fes­ti­val, all the main roads and mar­kets are crowded with sheds in which tall ta­bles are placed. On the ta­bles are boxes and bas­kets full of fresh peaches, pomegranates, pears, ju­jubes, grapes and ap­ples. In the evening, un­der the lamp­light, you can catch sight of red and green fruits with an in­tense fra­grance while fruit sell­ers sell their fruits in the street. Dur­ing the mar­ket in day­time, there are var­i­ous com­modi­ties such as clay rab­bits, those wear­ing hel­mets and ar­mour like gen­er­als, those wear­ing blouses and car­ry­ing things like ped­dlers, and those sit­ting or danc­ing like feast­ers. All the com­modi­ties to­gether with those like colour paint­ings and clay hu­man be­ings and horses are placed on tall shelves for sale to amuse chil­dren. On the evening of the 15th day of the 8th lu­nar month, fresh fruits and moon cakes, cockscombs, and soy­bean twigs are ar­ranged un­der the moon. While burn­ing in­cense, women kneel, fol­lowed by the men. Since women are con­sid­ered to be­long to yin (the fem­i­nine or neg­a­tive prin­ci­ple in na­ture) like the moon, they are given pri­or­ity at the cer­e­mony of of­fer­ing sac­ri­fices to the moon, tak­ing on ap­pro­pri­ate mean­ing. Af­ter the cer­e­mony, all fam­ily mem­bers as­sem­ble with mel­ons and fruits. They drink to­gether in the yard, called a wine re­union.”

More than 40 years later, dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1662–1723), the coun­try was at peace. Al­though Zhu Yizun thumbed through numer­ous records about Bei­jing's sea­sonal oc­ca­sions, only the doc­u­ments by Lu moved him the most.

Be­fore leaf­ing through Bei­jing sui­hua ji, Zhu had looked up records of sea­sonal oc­ca­sions of Bei­jing in other lo­cal an­nals. Of them, Xi­jin zhi (“an­nals of Xi­jin”) is a book of an­nals which gave the ear­li­est records of Bei­jing's his­tory and its sur­round­ing area. In this book, the “Suiji” chap­ter de­picts sea­sonal oc­ca­sions. It gave a chrono­log­i­cal de­scrip­tion of the fes­ti­vals and cus­toms of Dadu (the Great Capital) dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271– 1368) year-round.

Compiled by other schol­ars Liu Tong (c. 1593–1636) and Yu Yizheng (1597–1636), Di­jing jingwu lüe (“a brief in­tro­duc­tion to the scenery of im­pe­rial capital”) is the ex­tant work which gave the most de­tailed nar­ra­tion of the nat­u­ral con­di­tions and so­cial cus­toms of Bei­jing in the Ming Dy­nasty. The book in­cludes a

special chap­ter for doc­u­ment­ing Bei­jing's sea­sons and scenery. “Chun­chang” gives a vivid and de­tailed de­scrip­tion of fes­ti­vals in an­cient China such as whip­ping oxen dur­ing the begin­ning of spring, pay­ing re­spect to a New Year's call, the Lan­tern Fes­ti­val, Tomb-sweep­ing Day, Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val, Chi­nese Valen­tine's Day and the Lu­nar New Year's Eve.

Shuntianfu zhi (“an­nals of Shuntian Pre­fec­ture”) in­cludes cus­toms in the first vol­ume, including con­tents of sea­sonal oc­ca­sions chrono­log­i­cally de­scribed on a monthly ba­sis.

Lu's Bei­jing sui­hua ji not only records triv­ial de­tails of Bei­jing's sea­sonal oc­ca­sions in the Ming Dy­nasty but also tells sto­ries of its evo­lu­tion last­ing as long as hun­dreds of years. Be­cause of this, Zhu highly praised the an­nals.

In the begin­ning, Zhu thought that only those who grew up in Bei­jing and were fa­mil­iar with its his­tory could com­plete such an­nals record­ing both big events and small tri­fles. How­ever, when he learned about Lu Qi­hong from his friend, he be­came sur­prised.

Twenty Years’ of Love for Bei­jing

Talk­ing of mo­ti­va­tion be­hind cre­at­ing Bei­jing sui­hua ji, Lu Qi­hong once told his friends, “Since I've lived in Bei­jing for twenty years, I know a lit­tle about sea­sonal oc­ca­sions and cus­toms. In the au­tumn of 1644, I asked passersby about Bei­jing in the past and wrote down with my pen what I was able to re­mem­ber. The em­peror has now put for­ward a plan of re­con­struc­tion and des­ig­nated Bei­jing as the capital in a dif­fer­ent time, which has been seen by roam­ing of­fi­cials.”

In Chi­nese his­tory, it's of­ten seen that works in var­i­ous styles were writ­ten be­cause of fes­ti­vals, with works usu­ally about what had been seen, felt and thought dur­ing fes­ti­vals. Fur­ther­more, the his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion char­ac­terised by special records of fes­ti­val cus­toms of a spe­cific lo­cal­ity for a short pe­riod of time came into be­ing. The rea­son why an “his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion” came into be­ing is not only that a se­ries of works including Jingchu su­ishi ji (“fes­ti­vals in the Jingchu Area”), Qinzhong su­ishi ji (“fes­ti­vals in Cen­tral Shaanxi”), Di­jing jingwu lüe and Ming­gong shi (“his­tory of the im­pe­rial palace of the Ming Dy­nasty”) ap­peared, but also that most of the works or re­lated parts in them were writ­ten by writ­ers ac­cord­ing to what they had ex­pe­ri­enced or seen at sea­sonal fes­ti­vals. In most cases, they ad­hered to au­then­tic records based on a tra­di­tional cal­en­dar or they compiled con­tents by fol­low­ing a timed cal­en­dar in an obvious or ob­scure man­ner, thus form­ing a rel­a­tively con­sis­tent nar­ra­tive.

Bei­jing sui­hua ji con­sti­tutes a char­ac­ter­is­tic link in the tra­di­tional chain about the doc­u­men­ta­tion of fes­ti­vals and Chi­nese folk life. It can be found in Lu's de­scrip­tion of folklore that he stuck to the prin­ci­ple of ver­i­ta­ble doc­u­ments and fol­lowed a timed cal­en­dar.

Born in Pinghu, Zhe­jiang Province, Lu lived in the pe­riod be­tween the end of the Ming Dy­nasty and the begin­ning of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). He was fond of learn­ing since child­hood. At age 10, he was able to write prose in an old style. At age 20, he al­ready read many clas­si­cal and his­tor­i­cal books. He liked talk­ing about the past and present, and spoke freely and com­fort­ably in pub­lic.

There are not many his­tor­i­cal records on Lu Qi­hong. He trav­elled to Nan­jing in his early years and left be­hind a ro­man­tic story of buy­ing lo­tus flow­ers, in­cluded in Ming shi hua (“notes on clas­si­cal po­etry of the Ming Dy­nasty”) which has been handed down to­day. Ac­cord­ing to records, one day Lu Qi­hong brought wine on a boat. By hir­ing girl singers from for­mer opera houses, he en­ter­tained many ci poets on the Qin­huai River. While drink­ing wine, a girl sighed re­gret­tably, “It's a pity that no lo­tus on both banks can add to the fun.” This com­plaint was heard by Lu. The next day, he en­ter­tained guests again. At the feast, a night breeze was blow­ing. To the sur­prise of guests, a lo­tus fra­grance of lo­tus came to them. It turned out that Lu of­fered a high price for sev­eral hun­dred pots of lo­tus flow­ers be­fore crum­bling them and putting them in the wa­ter. This made him fa­mous for a time.

Lu lived in Bei­jing for as long as 20 years. Dur­ing this pe­riod, he made friends and trav­elled. Bei­jing al­ready be­came his sec­ond home. Di­jing jingwu lüe, printed for the first time in 1635, quoted six po­ems by Lu Qi­hong. Judg­ing from these po­ems, it shows that Lu was fa­mil­iar with Bei­jing cul­ture and sen­ti­men­tally at­tached. In­stead of record­ing su­per­fi­cial phe­nom­ena, Bei­jing sui­hua ji re­counted Lu's life ex­pe­ri­ence with metic­u­lous anec­dotes.

Sin­cere Feel­ings Lead to Per­fect Records

In 1644, Bei­jing sui­hua ji was pub­lished. But due to the tur­bu­lent pol­i­tics at the time, the book soon be­came obliv­i­ous. Be­cause it caught Zhu Yizun's at­ten­tion, the book couldn't be seen widely by read­ers to­day.

Zhu Yizun so ad­mired the an­nals he found that he even copied chap­ters of the book into his Rixia ji­uwen. Hav­ing quoted a lot from Bei­jing sui­hua ji, Rixia ji­uwen was re­vised and en­larged into Rixia ji­uwen kao (“study of old news of Bei­jing”). Later, the re­vised book be­came widely pop­u­lar, con­tribut­ing to un­der­stand­ing and us­ing Bei­jing sui­hua ji on the part of later gen­er­a­tions. Rixia ji­uwen kao was ex­panded on the ba­sis of Rixia ji­uwen by scholar Yu Minzhong (1714–1799), Yinglian (1707–1783) and the like dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long (1736–1795). Since the en­large­ment was based on the prin­ci­ple of “re­tain­ing quo­ta­tions of the orig­i­nal book and adding sup­ple­ments by

mod­ern peo­ple to the back,” Rixia ji­uwen kao re­served quo­ta­tions of Rixia ji­uwen from Bei­jing sui­hua ji. The com­ple­tion of Rixia ji­uwen kao made the quo­ta­tions to Bei­jing sui­hua ji quoted from Rixia ji­uwen kao it­self, for ex­am­ple, re­lated con­tents in Shuntianfu zhi (“an­nals of Shuntian Pre­fec­ture”) re­vised by Wu Lüfu (1817–1887) and compiled by Miao Quan­sun (1844–1919) in 1886. Most of the quo­ta­tions in Bei­jing sui­hua ji by later gen­er­a­tions came from Rixia ji­uwen kao.

Un­der Lu's de­sign, Bei­jing sui­hua ji was compiled ac­cord­ing to chronol­ogy. It goes on de­scrib­ing fes­ti­vals, re­main­ing sea­sonal oc­ca­sions and mis­cel­la­neous af­fairs in each lu­nar month, form­ing a nar­ra­tive with fes­ti­vals and mis­cel­la­neous af­fairs in a month as one unit. In this way, an­nual folk life of Bei­jing and sur­round­ing ar­eas in the Ming Dy­nasty was doc­u­mented chrono­log­i­cally.

With plain lan­guage, Lu faith­fully recorded the ap­pear­ance of the capital city at the end of the Ming Dy­nasty. Dur­ing the mid­dle and late pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty, with the de­vel­op­ment of a com­mod­ity econ­omy, the pros­per­ity of cities and the con­cept of a re­newal of life of the time as well as an in­creas­ing spice of life, Bei­jing as an im­pe­rial capital wit­nessed changes in peo­ple's life dur­ing sea­sonal oc­ca­sions. One of these changes was the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of sight­see­ing in fes­ti­vals and the for­ma­tion of tourist at­trac­tions. At that time, sight­see­ing ac­tiv­i­ties weren't only held dur­ing tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals such as New Year's Day, the Lan­tern Fes­ti­val, the Qing­ming Fes­ti­val, Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val and Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val; in ad­di­tion, days when peo­ple burnt in­cense at tem­ple fairs and other days also be­came a time for peo­ple to go on sight­see­ing ex­cur­sions.

From the de­scrip­tion of Bei­jing sui­hua ji, read­ers to­day can bet­ter un­der­stand the pur­suit of fash­ion on the part of peo­ple in the im­pe­rial capital to­wards the end of the Ming Dy­nasty. Such a pur­suit was char­ac­terised by nov­elty with an em­pha­sis on time­li­ness. The com­mon prac­tice was that some peo­ple, at a costly ex­pense, man­aged to pos­sess and en­joy nov­el­ties or rare goods and ser­vices.

For ex­am­ple, dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val, off-sea­son veg­eta­bles such as cu­cum­bers and bean pods were com­mon at ban­quets. Pe­onies, Chi­nese herba­ceous pe­onies and roses are off-sea­son flow­ers. Jas­mines and jasiminum gran­di­flo­rums are not only out of sea­son flow­ers but also grow in south­ern China. How­ever, these flow­ers were seen in fam­i­lies of no­bles and those of court jesters. The price of such flow­ers was ex­tremely high, and the stan­dard of trad­ing ac­cord­ing to qual­ity was tem­po­rar­ily aban­doned. In­tan­gi­ble fash­ion al­ready pos­sessed a high price and was the typ­i­cal ex­pres­sion of fash­ion.

As part and par­cel of folk ac­tiv­i­ties in an­cient China, rit­u­als in sea­sonal fes­ti­vals are con­ven­tional ac­tiv­i­ties ob­served by tra­di­tional Chi­nese for thou­sands of years. With a time-hon­oured his­tory, Bei­jing has been the na­tional po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural cen­tre since the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. With the de­vel­op­ment of so­ci­ety and his­tory, Bei­jing's cul­tural tra­di­tions is mov­ing to­wards ma­tu­rity and con­tin­ues to de­velop.

Thanks to Bei­jing sui­hua ji as an in­de­pen­dent chrono­log­i­cal text and doc­u­ment of the cus­toms of joy­ous fes­ti­vals on sea­sonal oc­ca­sions in old Bei­jing in an­nals such as Shuntianfu zhi and Bei­jing zhi (“an­nals of Bei­jing”), de­scen­dants can get a clearer un­der­stand­ing of old Bei­jing's fes­tive and sea­sonal pe­ri­ods. Over time, a tra­di­tional cul­ture re­mains. Bei­jing sui­hua ji and other an­nals not only have more lit­er­ary and cul­tural value, but also have al­ready be­come a pivot link­ing Bei­jing's past and present cul­tures. Be­cause of its ex­is­tence it has forged a com­plete Bei­jing in the re­cesses of his­tory.

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