Chinese Puzzle Box

Explorations in and about China

Ode to the Wind – Yu Shi Non (558-638)

Ode to the Wind

Chinese Dance Veteran Lim Moi Kim On The Importance Of Sticking To  Tradition In Arts Education | Tatler Singapore

The dancer’s light sleeves flutter,
Spinning together around the column
In tune with the music.
Moving branches cast confused shadows,
Windblown flowers bring fragrance from afar.

This poem reminds me the conclusion of W.B. Yeats’ “Among School Childen”:

“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

yong feng
chant wind

虞世南 【Yú Shì nán】 Yu Shi’nan (558-638), politician of Sui and early Tang periods, poet and calligrapher, one of Four Great Poets of early Tang 唐初四大家 【Táng chū Sì Dà jiā】 Four Great Poets of early Tang; refers to Yu Shi’nan 虞世南, Ouyang Xun 欧阳询, Chu Suiliang 楮遂良 and Xue Ji 薛稷.

zhu wu piao qing xiu,
Pursue dance flutter light sleeve

chuan ge gong rao liang.[I can’t make this word fit. a Name?
express song together revolve Column

dong zhi sheng luan ying
move branch give birth to confused shadow

chui hua song yuan xiang.
blow flower from far fragrant

Goodbye, My Brother – Qi Sui Nu (Tang dynasty)

Clouds hide the beginning
Of the road on which you’re leaving.
Around the pavilion leaves have fallen
All the trees are almost barren.
Left behind, alone I sigh
Like a lone wild goose unable to fly.

I love the image of the wild goose earthbound looking up as the straggling V’s of flying geese pass overhead.

song xiong
Seeing off elder brother

Poet: seven-year-old girl (Tang dynasty)

bie lu jun qu qi,
farewell road cloud at the beginning rise
At the start of the other road clouds are rising

li ting ye zheng xi
leave pavilion leaf at this time scarce.
Going away from the pavilion now leaves are scarce.

suo jie ren yi yan,
place sigh person separate/surprise wild goose
sighing person like a lone wild goose
bu zuo yi hang fei.
not make the traveling party fly.
Not able to fly with the flock.

The Bamboo Pavilion – Wang Wei

I sit alone in the bamboo grove
Strumming the qin and whistling.
Deep in the grove no one sees,
Only the bright moon shining.

zhu li guan
bamboo in guest house

tang dai – Wang Wei
Tang dynasty – Wang Wei

du zuo you huang li,
alone sit secluded bamboo grove in,

tan qin fu zhang xiao.
strum [zither]again long whistle

shen lin ren bu zhi,
Deep forest men not know,

ming yue lai xiang zhao.
bright moon come appear shine.


Yearning – Wang Wei

Yearning -Wang Wei (Tang dynasty poet)

In the south the love-peas grow.
Spring comes, with new green branches.
Gather them all, dear friend, please do
And through them know I yearn for you.


相思 【xiāng sī】 yearning between lovers; lovesickness.

唐代:王维 Tang poet Wang Wei

hong dou sheng nan guo
red peas grow south country
红豆 【hóng dòu】 ormosia; love pea; red bean (Abrus precatorius, Indian licorice or paternoster pea, a shrub famous for its red seeds which were used as love tokens, hence the variant name ‘lovesickness seeds’).

chun lai fa ji zhi.
spring come send out several twigs

yuan jun dou cai xie,
wish friend/colleague all gather,

ci wu zui xiang si.
this outside world most yearning between lovers.


The “Love peas” referred to are, ironically, deeply toxic.  The shrub itself is highly invasive in tropical climates, and has been seen in Hawaii and Florida where it may have originated from jewelry made from the berries and brought back by tourists.  Love is dangerous!

Spring Dawn – Meng Hao Ran

I wake at dawn in spring
Outside I hear birds calling
Despite the storm last night.
So many blossoms fallen.

Spring Dawn
Meng Hao Ran

Chūn mián bù jué xiăo,
春 眠 不 觉 晓,
Spring sleep not awakened dawn,

Chù chù wén tí niăo.
处 处 闻 啼 鸟。
[chirp] [chirp] hear cry bird

Yè lái fēng yŭ shēng,
夜 来 风 雨 声,
Night come wind rain sound

Huā luò zhī duō shăo.
花 落 知 多 少。
flower fall know how many

In spring I awake at dawn
to the sound of birds chirping
In the night heard wind and rain
how many blossoms have fallen?

Du Mu is alluding obliquely to how the court of the emperor moves smoothly as though nothing had happened, despite the overnight disappearance of  friends who had been exiled or executed by the tyrannical emperor.

Alone with the River Apes – Liu ZongYuan


All along the winding stream
The mournful monkeys howl and scream.
The exile’s tears have all run dry;
Heart broken, of what use to cry?


I like the irony of this short poem, as the exiled poet feels compares himself with the apes of the forest, feeling that his tears are as pointless as their howls.

[Looking back, I find I posted this poem and a translation way back in October of 2013Check it out!  I think I got a lot closer with five years more practice on the second try!]


入 溪 猿
ru xi ai
join brook ape

—- 柳宗元
—-Liu Zong Yuan 773-819

xi lu qian li qu
brook road 1000 li bends
The stream bed is long and winding

ai yuan he chu ming
mourning ape where cry out
The mournful howls of apes fill the air

gu chen lei yi jin
Isolated subject tear stop exhausted
The tears of the exile are exhausted

xu zuo duan chang sheng
void make heartbroken sound
In vain are the sounds of heartbreak

Is Privacy Just a Point of View? (Los Altos Town Crier, August1, 2018)


Headlines, headlines!

Facebook has allowed massive distribution of the personal data of its users!  Hackers have stolen personal information about customers from retailers and banks!  Privacy is under threat!

New European regulations will stifle the growth of social media companies! Regulation will stifle entrepreneurial development of new digital consumer products! Free enterprise is under threat!

Political and commercial groups are spreading fake news based on user history they can get from social media!   Trolls are targeting political figures and celebrities without fear or liability!  Trust in the news media is under threat!

Exhausted by all the above?  Looking for some clarity?  Two contrasting articles in an end- of- year issue of The Economist both discussed the potential impact of the rapid accumulation of personal data .   One was written by Ludwig Siegele, the British Technology Editor of The Economist;  the other was written by the Chinese CEO of Sinovation Ventures, Kai-fu Lee.

Siegle wrote mostly about the complexity of any law attempting to limit access to the data automatically collected in our increasingly digital world.  He showed some of the hazards inherent in keeping information out of circulation; for example, if traffic management officials are forbidden to collect data available from modern cars to understand traffic patterns, or if health officials are denied information about where infectious diseases have surfaced.  His basic premise, however, is clear – privacy is an important individual right, and must be taken into account as the digital world expands. It’s scary out there.

 Lee’s point of view was quite different.  He looks forward with enthusiasm to a world where “online merges with offline”, and data from “sensors in cars, stores, malls, clinics, and schools” will enable “those with access to know and track each person’s behavior … where they went and , by inference, what they did.  He expects “a future where we will reap great financial benefits and enjoy unprecedented convenience.” And, as an afterthought, he mentions “we also need to find ways to protect people’s privacy in this brave new world.”

I once asked a Chinese friend what the Chinese word for “privacy” was.  He  concentrated with furrowed brow for several moments, and finally told me, “There really isn’t a word that corresponds to the Western idea.  In China, people  don’t  spend much time alone.  There are always family, neighbors, colleagues – “Private” has a negative connotation, more like your word “anti-social.”

 How much simpler the digital future would be if we weren’t hung up on this “privacy” thing!  Yet somehow, I don’t want to give it up, even for instantaneous banking payments and faster pizza delivery.  How about you?


Inviting Liu (#19) – Bai Juyi


Green foam on fresh-brewed beer –
Small red clay stove aglow-
The sky at dusk bodes snow.
Come chug a mug of cheer?


wen4 Liu2 (shi2 jiu3)

绿 螘新醅酒
lu4 y3i xin1 pei1 jiu3
hong2 ni4 xiao3 huo3 lu2
wan3 lai2 tian1 yu4 xue3
neng2 yin4 yi1 bei1 wu2

Green ant* new unstrained beer/wine
Red clay small fire stove
Evening come sky almost snow
Can drink one cup not?

Green foam on beer that’s newly brewed,
A little stove of red clay burns.
As evening comes, the sky’s about to snow,
Can you drink one cup with me?


I love this little vignette of warmth and informal hospitality.  I took the liberty of imagining newly-brewed beer instead of rice wine, as being more likely to foam, and fitting the informal tone of the poem.

The current usage of 螘 in the fist line is simply “ant” but some internet research reveals that “green ant”  was also used as a slang term to describe the foamy skim of newly-brewed rice wine.

饮  in   the  fourth line has the meaning of “give drink to animals” so I am assuming some slangy equivalent of “drink” would carry the original tone best.




Palace News – Du Mu (803-852)


Fox News: It’s unstoppable: Trump, Kelly and Scaramucci hit by new gusher of leaks

NY Post: Latest White House leak proves no one can be trusted

Washington Times: Justice Department cracks down on leaks in Trump White House

Wouldn’t the White House appreciate the discipline of the palace courtiers in this short poem?  No leakers here!  Of course, the President is not allowed to execute anyone for their indiscretions.


Like flowers blooming quietly by the palace gate,
The courtiers line up side by side to wait.
Swallowing the desire to speak of what they’ve heard,
Before the parrot they dare not say a word.


宫中词- 杜牧(803-852)
gong1 zhong1 ci2 – du4 Mu4
Palace News – Du Mu

Ji4 ji4 hua1 shi2 bi4 yuan4 men2
Silent flower time closed courtyard gate

mei3 ren2 xiang1 bing4 li4 qiong2 xuan1
Lovely people appearance side by side fine jade lofty/door

han2 qing2 yu4 shuo1 gong1 zhong1 shi4
contain desire speak palace affairs

Ying1 wu3 qian2 tou2 bu4 gan3 yan
Parrot in front dare not speak.

The Moon and You – Both So Far – Zhang Jiu Ling

The Moon and You – Both so Far
Rising from the sea the moon shines bright.
Though far apart, we celebrate this sight-
Lovers, complaining of the distant night,
Yearning for each other in the fading sunset light.
My snuffed candle mourns the dying sun.
My coat is wet with bursts of falling dew.
To send a gift of dewdrops can’t be done.
I’ll go to sleep and hope for dreams of you.
望月怀远– wàngyuè huái yuǎn
张九龄– Zhāng Jǔlíng
海上生明月– hǎishàng shēng míngyuè
Above the sea rises the bright moon
天涯共此时– tiānyá gòng cǐshí
The furthest corners of the earth share this moment
情人怨遥夜– qíngrén yuàn yáoyè
Lovers complain distant night
竟夕起相思– jìngxī qǐ xiāngsī
The fading sunset gives rise to yearning between lovers
灭烛怜光满– miechu lian guang man
Put out the candle in sympathy with  light expired
披衣觉露滋– piyi jue luzi
drape a coat over my shoulder feel dew burst
不堪盈手赠– bukan yingshou zen
cannot bear handfull  gift
还寝梦佳期– huanqin meng jiaqi
Return to bed dream wedding day/good time
Note:  This poem is packed with meanings which cannot all be captured in mere English.  For example, the last line could mean (probably DOES mean) both “Have sweet dreams” and “dream of our wedding day.”
Here is another translation which I like, and which is perhaps just as close to the core meaning, though it interprets the syntax quite differently:
Attaching: A Version By Hubei Education College:

Look At the Moon and Think Of One Far Away

The moon, grown full now over the sea,
Brightening the whole of heaven,
Brings to separated hearts
The long thoughtfulness of night….
It is no darker though I blow out my candle.
It is no warmer though I put on my coat.
So I leave my message with the moon
And turn to my bed, hoping for dreams.

Thanks to the website Shirley’s World ( for this alternate translation.
Which do you like best? Think is closest to Zhang’s thought?

Post Navigation