Croaking Frogs, Music to the Ears
Xin Qiji (1140–1207), a great poet of the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), wrote the poem “The Moon over West River • Passing by Huangshadao in the Evening” in 1182. At that time, he lived a rural life in Shangrao, Jiangxi Province after being dismissed from office. The poem reads,
Startled by magpies leaving the branch in moonlight,
I hear cicadas shrill in the breeze at midnight.
The ricefields’ sweet smell promises a bumper year; Listen, how frogs’ croaks please the ear!
In the sky, clouds are floating and stars are twinkling, Little raindrops fall on the mountain.
Where is the thatched cottage in the forests beside the Temple of Earth?
Around the corner, the cottage turns up in front of me.
Xin Qiji was a native of Licheng County, Jinan Prefecture, Shandong Province. He lived in an era when Jin Dynasty (1115–1234) troops invaded northern China and Shandong became occupied by them. Xin joined uprisings to fight against the Jin troops at 21.
During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279), he took up posts in Hebei, Jiangxi, Hunan, Fujian and eastern Zhejiang. He contributed to rewarding farming and stabilising people’s livelihood. He proposed plans to recapture lost land several times, but his political opinions encountered hatred and jealousy from his peers.
Xin Qiji was forced to resign in 1811 after being framed by treacherous officials. The 42-year- old Xin then left for Jiangxi and began his 20 years of rural life in Daihu, situated under the foot of Lingshan Mountain, north of Shangrao, Jiangxi Province. He built houses by the lakeside and purchased farmland.
At that time, the Southern Song Dynasty had advanced science and technology and productivity though its territory shrank. The dynasty implemented “tiju” system for officials. Retired or dismissed officials were allowed to administer Taoist temples if they didn't want to stay at home unemployed, which turned out to be a benefit.
During the years in Shangrao, like many others officials, Xin perfected his use of ci, a style of poetry, drew paintings, planted flowers and exercised. He never gave up the belief that one day he would be assigned an important post.
On a late autumn day in 1182, Xin visited Nanyan Temple, situated about 5 kilometres south of Shangrao where several hundred Buddhist statues were placed in 72 stone caves of various sizes. It was evening when Xin finished the visit. He was on his way home in high spirits. He walked on the path called “Huangshadao” and stopped to view the night scenery.
Huangshadao was a 20-kilometre-long rural path from the thatched cottage in Huangsha Village to the Huangshaling mountainous area in Dawu Village. During the Southern Song Dynasty, it was a bustling path that led to the ancient city of Shangrao in the east and to Qianshan County in the west.
Walking along the path, the poet saw “the bright moon rise over the tree, startling magpies; amidst the sweet fragrance of rice fields, people chat about the bumper year. Even the croaking of frogs predict it is a good year.”
As a poet, Xin showed concern for people’s life. He was glad to see this and combined what he saw and heard in the poem “The Moon over West River.” A bright moon, croaking frogs, rice fields, and flying magpies constitute a leisurely rural scene from that time.