The Former Res­i­dence of Ji Xiaolan

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Sun Hong­shan Edited by Scott Bray

At the bustling West Main Street at Zhushikou in Bei­jing stands the former res­i­dence of Ji Xiaolan (1724–1805, a scholar), a his­toric blue-bricked, grey-tiled build­ing.

At the bustling West Main Street at Zhushikou in Bei­jing, the oc­ca­sional his­toric blue-bricked, grey-tiled build­ings strike the eyes. The former res­i­dence of Ji Xiaolan (1724–1805, a scholar) is one of those ar­rest­ing sights. While at a glance it is hardly dis­tinct from the other an­cient build­ings here, but its red­lac­quered arched gate greets the eye with large Chi­nese char­ac­ters read­ing Ji Xiaolan guju (“The Former Res­i­dence of Ji Xiaolan”).

Home of Ver­dant Majesty

First built dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Yongzheng ( reign: 1723– 1736) of the Qing Dy­nasty ( 1644– 1911) as the res­i­dence of a key of­fi­cial, this court­yard house later be­came Ji Xiaolan’s home in Bei­jing. The wis­te­ria in the front yard of this south- fac­ing res­i­dence has be­come a pretty sight on the street ever since the com­pound’s outer wall was re­moved. Stand­ing un­der the wis­te­ria grips the imag­i­na­tion, as it’s said the old wis­te­ria was planted by Ji him­self more than 200 years ago. In his book Yuewei caotang biji ( Notes of the Thatched Abode of Close Ob­ser­va­tions), he writes: “Its shade cov­ers the whole yard, and its vines have spread to other places. When it blooms, flow­ers hang down to the ground like pur­ple clouds, over­whelm­ing with their fra­grance.”

The prin­ci­ple build­ing in the front yard is a bright and spa­cious hall. On ei­ther side of the yard be­hind the hall, there was a Chi­nese cherry-ap­ple tree, although now only the one on the east side sur­vives, still lux­u­ri­ant with bril­liant blos­soms each spring. Ac­cord­ing to the in­scrip­tion on the stone tablet un­der the tree, when Ji was a teenager, he fell in love with Wen Luan, a clever, beau­ti­ful ser­vant girl in the fam­ily of his un­cle. Tem­per­a­men­tally com­pat­i­ble, both were fond of cherry-ap­ple blos­soms. Later on, how­ever, the love be­tween them was shat­tered, and Wen Luan fell ill of grief and died. In the yard of Yuewei Cot­tage (named by Ji him­self), he planted two cherry-ap­ple trees to com­mem­o­rate his lost love.

Nowa­days the south­ern build­ing in this court­yard is the “Ji Xiaolan Memo­rial Hall,” in which such ob­jects as the writ­ing brush, ink stick, ink slab, paper and pipe bowl that Ji Xiaolan used cen­turies ago are on dis­play. Yet it’s the two images of Ji that truly catch the eye. The first a plas­ter bust, the other a full-sized por­trait show­ing Ji with his thin face and wide eyes on soft Xuan paper. To the north is the well-known “Yuewei Cot­tage.” The four red-lac­quered pil­lars stand­ing at the gates of the two houses were in­scribed with the verses: “The gen­tle wind and bright sun are plea­sures from Heaven; the green bam­boo and fresh orchid live in per­fect har­mony” and “Yearly stretches the charm­ing scenery; bril­liantly rolls around the spring.” The cur­sive, el­e­gant cal­lig­ra­phy of these verses are said to be copied from Ji’s own writ­ing.

Edi­tor for the Im­pe­rial Fam­ily

Ji Xiaolan was born into a schol­arof­fi­cial fam­ily dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty in Xian County, at the time part of He­jian Pre­fec­ture, Zhili Prov­ince. Ji lived dur­ing the hey­day of the Qing Dy­nasty. As a suc­cess­ful can­di­date in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion held in 1755,

Ji’s ca­reer was set. In 1768, Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795) pro­moted Ji Xiaolan to be by his side as the im­pe­rial academy’s scholar, rather than have him sent out as a re­mote pro­vin­cial of­fi­cial where his abil­i­ties would lan­guish. Later, Ji be­came a Min­is­ter of Rites and an In­struc­tor of Princes.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, a colos­sal cul­ture project, the com­pi­la­tions of the Siku quan­shu

( Com­plete Li­brary in Four Sec­tions) and Siku quan­shu zongmu ( Cat­a­logue of the Com­plete Li­brary in Four Sec­tions), di­rectly pushed Ji’s per­sonal value and aca­demic de­vel­op­ment to its high­est peak.

Siku Quan­shu, the largest collection of books in Chi­nese his­tory, con­tains nearly all of the an­cient Chi­nese clas­sics prior to the reign of Em­peror Qian­long. To com­pile such a vo­lu­mi­nous work was ex­tremely de­mand­ing. Fi­nan­cial re­sources had to be pooled to col­lect books na­tion­wide, a spe­cial in­sti­tu­tion founded to se­cure the co­op­er­a­tion of schol­ars, and many com­pe­tent, eru­dite schol­ars in­vited to com­mand the progress of such a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing. In 1773, the com­pi­la­tion of Siku quan­shu, presided over by Em­peror Qian­long him­self, of­fi­cially be­gan. On the firm rec­om­men­da­tion of Liu Tongxun (1698–1773), then Sec­re­tary of the Grand Coun­cil and Min­is­ter of Na­tional De­fence, Ji Xiaolan was ap­pointed chief edi­tor, to com­pile the en­tire work to­gether with Lu Xix­iong (1734–1792) and Sun Shiyi (1720–1792).

As they worked in the edi­to­rial of­fice on Siku quan­shu, Ji Xiaolan and his col­leagues sifted through col­lected books ac­cord­ing to com­ments made by col­la­tors, de­cid­ing which to adopt of the vol­umes upon vol­umes of work. Af­ter sub­mit­ting the cat­a­logue for Em­peror Qian­long’s con­sent, the books to be block-printed would be sent to the rel­e­vant depart­ment of Hall of Mar­tial Val­our for print­ing, while those to be copied would be sent to the depart­ment for rare books at the Hall of Mar­tial Val­our for copy­ing.

Then they would care­fully scru­ti­nise the bib­li­o­graphic notices made by col­la­tors—to wit these notices were mod­i­fied by way of ex­pand­ing, delet­ing, sep­a­rat­ing or com­bin­ing them as re­gards the dy­nasty, birth­place and life of the au­thor, as well as the theme, edi­tion and the ori­gin of each book. They would even pol­ish these notices by weigh­ing ev­ery word to im­prove the style.

In the end, in ref­er­ence to the four di­vi­sions of Jing (“Clas­sics”),

Shi (“His­to­ries”), Zi (“Masters”) and

Ji (“Col­lec­tions”) from tra­di­tional bib­li­og­ra­phy, the ed­i­tors care­fully clas­si­fied the books, com­pil­ing them into the 200 vol­umes of Siku quan­shu zongmu.

As Sun Shiyi oc­cu­pied the post for only a short time, most of the work on the com­pi­la­tion as well as the fi­nal pol­ish was un­der­taken by Ji Xiaolan and Lu Xix­iong. Of the two, Ji Xiaolan made the greater con­tri­bu­tion to the work, praised by the peo­ple as the most gifted of all emi­nent schol­ars and the man who played the most crit­i­cal role in ac­com­plish­ing the mon­u­men­tal work.

Im­mor­tal Spirit

As soon as he fin­ished com­pil­ing Siku quan­shu, Ji im­mersed him­self in writ­ing the novel Yuewei caotang biji. In this book, Ji Xiaolan ex­pressed his views through fan­tas­tic tales. His terse, splen­did prose forms a strik­ing con­trast with that of Pu Songling (1640–1715). The ap­pear­ance of Notes of the Thatched Abode swayed the gen­eral pop­u­lace to ex­pand their hori­zons beyond such clas­si­cal nov­els like Liaozhai zhiyi ( Strange Tales from a Chi­nese Stu­dio). Its im­pact was pro­found and clas­si­cal Chi­nese nov­els would fall be­tween Strange Tales and Thatched Abode for gen­er­a­tions.

In 1805, Ji Xiaolan died of dis­ease in his Yuewei Cot­tage. From then on, his res­i­dence was been trans­ferred from one owner to another, bear­ing wit­ness to the ac­tiv­i­ties of many celebri­ties, schol­ars and pa­tri­ots.

In 1931, Mei Lan­fang (1894–1961), fa­mous Bei­jing Opera artist, bought the res­i­dence, and to­gether with Yu Shuyan (1890–1943) and Qi Rushan (1875– 1962) es­tab­lished the Na­tional Opera As­so­ci­a­tion and the Train­ing In­sti­tute of Na­tional Opera here. He even set up a stage in the yard to teach dis­ci­ples Pek­ing Opera. Within four years he trained many Pek­ing Opera artists. In 1935, af­ter Mei Lan­fang left for south and Yu Shuyan was ill in bed, the Na­tional Opera As­so­ci­a­tion was dis­solved. At the gate of the south­fac­ing house is erected a white mar­ble stone tablet, its in­scrip­tion read­ing “The Former Site of Liu’s Res­i­dence, Se­cret Con­tact Point of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) Un­der­ground Or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Around the same pe­riod, pa­triot Liu Shaobai lived at the res­i­dence, tak­ing ad­van­tage of his so­cial re­la­tions to pro­tect and help many CPC mem­bers. In turn, he made this res­i­dence a se­cret con­tact point be­tween the CPC He­bei Pro­vin­cial Com­mit­tee and the CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. Af­ter the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China was founded in 1949, the res­i­dence was es­tab­lished as the site of China Na­tional Demo­cratic Con­struc­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

Walk­ing out of this court­yard house, with a turn of the head one is greeted with a green Chi­nese scholar tree, towering high, the in­car­na­tion of Ji Xiaolan’s spirit.

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