So Glad That Autumn’s Cold
In the ancient poet's world, autumn was sad and heavyhearted. Poets experienced a feeling of melancholy every autumn, and as poets mumbled to themselves, the season eventually took on a resentful appearance that won high admiration from later generations. However, autumn didn't imply resentment, sadness, worry or lament to Xin Qiji (1140–1207), a patriotic general and distinguished ci poet during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279).
Xin grew up in the occupied Central Plains. He experienced the misery of the people and witnessed the cruelty of the Jin-dynasty (1115–1234) invaders, but was also greatly inspired by the fighting spirit of the people in North China who fought tenaciously against the invaders. His grandfather, Xin Zan, often took young Xin Qiji to look into the distance from a high place and point at scenes of mountains and rivers. Because of this, when Xin Qiji was young, he had a lofty aspiration to recover the Central Plains.
In 1161, Wanyan Liang (reign: 1149–1161), Emperor of the Jin Dynasty, mounted a large-scale invasion of the south. As a result, people in the Central Plains, unable to bear the ruler's oppression, rose up against the invaders. When Xin Qiji was 22 years old, at a time of national crisis and imminent danger, he was distressed from seeing the despair and swarms of afflicted people. Shortly thereafter, he quickly gathered an army of over 2,000 men to join the insurrectionary army led by Geng Jing (1130–1162) and worked as a confidential secretary. The second year, Xin followed Geng Jing's orders, and marched southward to contact the court of the Southern Song Dynasty. After accomplishing his mission, he received news on his way home that Geng Jing was killed by the renegade Zhang Anguo, and that the insurrectionary army had collapsed in disorder. Seeing this, Xin led an attack with over 50 cavalrymen on the military barracks of the Jin army. Zhang Anguo was captured during the battle and sent under escort to Jiankang (today's Nanjing, Jiangsu Province).
Due to his courage and decisiveness, Xin became famous for a time. He was young and aggressive, but without worries and hardly aware of life's dangers. At the beginning of his official career, Xin enthusiastically submitted many suggestions with regard to fighting the Jin army. However, the court's response was cold and indifferent. He was bold and obstinate and had great enthusiasm about the northern expedition. Consequently, he also had difficulty establishing himself in official circles where talented people were envied. For this reason, Xin remained in Shangrao and Qianshan, Jiangxi Province for as long as 20 years during the 40-odd years when he was in the south. Though he took some government positions throughout those 20 years, he had few opportunities to fulfil his ambitions and suffered from many beatings.
Although Xin set his mind to serve the nation, he had no place to display his prowess, nor any chances to use his sword. In 1190,
Xin Qiji and his friends went sightseeing around Boshan Mountain (approximately 30 kilometres southwest of today's Guangfeng County, Jiangxi Province). While helplessly confronted by all the difficulties and troubles besetting the nation, he picked up a piece of cobblestone on the road and with it engraved a ci poem on the precipice of the mountain pass titled “Chounuer: Shu boshandao zhong bi (Song of Ugly Slave: Written on the Wall on My Way to Boshan),” which has been widely read by later generations. He wrote,
While young, I knew no grief I could not bear; I’d like to go upstairs.
I’d like to go upstairs
To write new verses with a false despair. I know what grief is now that I am old; I would not have it told.
I would not have it told,
But only say I’m glad that autumn’s cold.
For hundreds of years, Xin Qiji had been a patriot in the words of historiographers and the eyes of the common people, and his stories were well-known to later generations. In their minds, Xin was a hero, yet he was unable to express his true inner voice to outsiders. He left behind the line: “But only say I'm glad that autumn's cold.” This gives readers an idea of his distressed heart during the autumn season, just like the soughing autumn wind.