Liv­ing a Sim­ple Life among Vine Leaves

Beijing (English) - - POEM - Trans­lated by Feng Tiejun Edited by Justin Davis

The poem “Ge­tan” in the Zhou Nan sec­tion of the Book of Songs (old­est col­lec­tion of Chi­nese poetry) de­picts a woman col­lect­ing vines in a field, mak­ing clothes and re­turn­ing to her par­ents’ home hap­pily.

The vines are long and soft;

They stretch up in the val­ley grow­ing with lush leaves.

Yel­low birds fly gen­tly and perch on the bushes;

They are chirp­ing mer­rily.

The vines are long and soft;

They stretch up in the val­ley grow­ing with lush leaves.

She picks them and boils them in wa­ter; She weaves them into cloth and makes a beau­ti­ful gar­ment.

Sum­mer wilder­ness was cov­ered by bound­less vege­ta­tion. A river may have been flow­ing qui­etly. Green vines were grow­ing in a tran­quil val­ley. A breeze was blow­ing gen­tly. Branches and leaves were danc­ing to the chirp­ing of the yel­low birds. A girl with a healthy, rosy face ap­peared among the vines. She was walk­ing hap­pily, wear­ing a thorn hair­pin and a plain skirt. She had lived there since child­hood. Ev­ery­thing was very fa­mil­iar to her. The vast and lush plains were her home. The warm sun­shine, fresh vine leaves, moist soil and chirp­ing of the yel­low birds ac­com­pa­nied her like fam­ily. She felt joy­ful and re­laxed when pick­ing vines and leaves. She brought them back home and boiled them in hot wa­ter. She wove cloth and made a gar­ment for her­self dur­ing the moon­lit night. She may have tried it on af­ter wak­ing up the morn­ing. She may smile hap­pily when she sees her­self re­flected in the wa­ter look­ing beau­ti­ful in the gar­ment. She may have felt proud that she had made the gar­ment by her­self and ea­ger to share it with oth­ers. Per­haps she told her nanny to wash the gar­ment and de­cided to re­turn to her par­ents’ home and let them see how beau­ti­ful she was in it.

Work­ing women were not a rare sight, and those de­picted in the Book of Songs tend to be work­ing hard. They cut vines with sick­les and hum merry tunes to the chirp­ing of yel­low birds and the rustling o leaves. Vines danced in the breeze and women were partly vis­i­ble among the rip­pling leaves.

Women work­ing hap­pily in the moun­tains present a beau­ti­ful and vivid scene of what life was like in an­cient times.

Count­less ar­ti­cles, po­ems and songs have been cre­ated in the long course of Chi­nese his­tory. De­scrip­tions of women may be sim­ple and dull though. Women de­picted in an­cient works are of­ten sen­ti­men­tal, weepy or lonely. Putting on make-up was one of their sources of joy... They lack vi­tal­ity, es­pe­cially com­pared with the women in the Book of Songs.

In The Dream of Red Man­sions, Jia Baoyu washed vines as a metaphor for Yuanchun’s visit to her rel­a­tives. Yuanchun slowly trav­elled to the Grand View Gar­den in a car­riage em­broi­dered with phoenixes. The gar­den was mag­nif­i­cently dec­o­rated, but it still felt dull and bor­ing. The eti­quette was te­dious and com­pli­cated and ev­ery­one was afraid of break­ing any rules.

In “Ge­tan,” a woman may in­form her par­ents when she wants to visit them. She sets off, per­haps, af­ter wash­ing her clothes. Ev­ery­thing is nat­u­ral and un­re­strained. One feels re­freshed when read­ing it.

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