Home­sick­ness on the Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val

Beijing (English) - - CHERISHED POEMS - Trans­lated by Wu Li Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

At age 17, the Tang poet Wang Wei (AD 699–759) wrote the fol­low­ing poem ti­tled Ji­uyue ji­uri yi Shan­dong xiongdi (“on the Moun­tain Hol­i­day think­ing of my broth­ers in Shan­dong”): All alone in a strange land, I am twice as home­sick on this day; When my broth­ers climb the moun­tain with dog­wood in hand, they would miss me from far away.

The ninth day of the ninth lu­nar month was turned into a fes­ti­val in an­cient China—the Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val. It was first cel­e­brated dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC), but it wasn’t un­til the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907) that it was for­mally made into a folk fes­ti­val. An­cient Chi­nese spent the fes­ti­val by climb­ing moun­tains, wear­ing dog­wood sprays, drink­ing wine and ad­mir­ing chrysan­the­mums.

The tra­di­tion of wear­ing dog­wood on the Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val first formed in the West­ern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC– AD 24). In Xi­jing zaji (“a mis­cel­lany of the West­ern Cap­i­tal”) by scholar Ge Hong (AD 284–364), the tra­di­tion of “wear­ing dog­wood, eat­ing rice cakes and drink­ing chrysan­the­mum wine on Dou­ble Ninth Day” was men­tioned by Con­cu­bine Qi’s (a con­sort of Em­peror Gaozu) lady-in-wait­ing Jia Peilan when she was rem­i­nisc­ing about past events in the palace. It is be­lieved among com­mon folk to be of great value, there­fore Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val is also called the “Dog­wood Fes­ti­val.”

The tra­di­tion of climb­ing a moun­tain on the Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val was first recorded in a leg­end in­cluded in Xuqi xieji, a col­lec­tion of strange sto­ries by lit­ter­a­teur Wu Jun (AD 469–520) of the Liang Dy­nasty (AD 502–557) dur­ing the North­ern and South­ern Dynasties (AD 429–581), “Huan Jing, a man from Ru­nan, had been study­ing un­der Fei Chang­fang for years. One day, Fei told Huan, ‘A mis­for­tune will be­fall your fam­ily on this Dou­ble Ninth Day. You’d bet­ter hurry back home and ask red bags to be made, in which dog­wood is to be filled. Ask your fam­ily mem­bers to each wear a bag around their arms then climb a moun­tain and drink chrysan­the­mum wine. Only in this way can the mis­for­tune be avoided.’ Huan did as in­structed and led his whole fam­ily to as­cend the moun­tain. When Huan and his fam­ily re­turned home at sun­set, they found their pet an­i­mals and birds all dead. Af­ter learn­ing the news, Fei said, ‘The mis­for­tune has gone.’ The present tra­di­tion of as­cend­ing a height, drink­ing wine and women wear­ing a bag of dog­wood is prob­a­bly re­lated to the story.” In this short record, “the whole fam­ily” is worth notic­ing, em­pha­sis­ing the fes­ti­val’s sig­nif­i­cance: get­ting to­gether with fam­ily.

This hol­i­day was sup­posed to be spent with fam­ily. Wang Wei felt lone­some and wrote the poem. Young as he was, Wang Wei was con­sid­ered a promis­ing man in his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. As Wang came from a com­mon fam­ily, he was more ma­ture than his peers.

To earn a bet­ter liv­ing for his mother and five younger broth­ers and sis­ters, Wang de­cided to leave his home­town for the cap­i­tal. Of­fi­cial­dom was seen as the best choice for schol­ars in an­cient China, so Wang, the el­dest son, felt ob­li­gated to bring glory to his fam­ily. When Wang left his home for Chang’an, he was only 15 years old. Dur­ing the four years since he left, he never re­turned.

This would be the third one. He missed his fam­ily a lot. Dur­ing his three years in Chang’an, he didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the fruits of suc­cess in his ca­reer, but only bit­ter­ness and frus­tra­tions. He couldn’t feel more lone­some. The noise out­side re­minded him of his mother and his younger broth­ers and sis­ters far away at home. All the frus­tra­tions he met with came back to haunt him, in­creas­ing his home­sick­ness.

All the bit­ter­ness he felt could only un­der­stood by fam­ily, but no fam­ily was here with him. What could a 17-year- old boy do to re­lieve his lone­li­ness with­out fam­ily nearby? He could do noth­ing bet­ter but ex­press home­sick­ness through po­etry, his eyes still glis­ten­ing with tears.

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