top of page

查慎行《養蜂歌》 “Beekeeping Song ” by Zha Shenxing

Translating terms of flora and fauna into another language is never an easy task, and for myself, one of the trickiest terms is feng 蜂 (bee). Technically speaking, bees are not exactly honeybees (mifeng 蜜蜂), but the two ideas often merge into one in daily Mandarin. The word feng sounds somewhat bald and is homophonous with other high-frequency words (e.g. feng風/wind, feng 峰/peak and feng瘋/mad), so the most commonly known type, mifeng/honeybee, is often used to represent the whole category of bees. To make it worse, the word feng in Chinese encompasses several types of insects including wild bees, honeybees, wasps, etc.


Then it all gets very complicated when I start to talk about a feng in English. I remember sitting with a friend in the garden and seeing a six-legged fly-shaped little thing with yellow and black stripes landing on the other end of the table. I said, “Oh, there’s a bee.” (I meant a feng). My friend said, “No, it’s not a bee, it’s a wasp.” I was perplexed, because that response translated “No, it’s not a honey feng, it’s a yellow feng” in my head, whereas I wasn’t really ready to differentiate what kind of feng it was.


Recently, I got something even better: a series of science education booklets about bees to be translated from English to Chinese. Thanks to this task, I had the pleasure of swimming in a sea of bee-related terms, including honeybee, wasp, bumblebee, and hornet, which translates into mifeng (“honey feng”), huangfeng 黄蜂 (“yellow feng”) or mafeng 馬蜂 (“horse feng”), xiongfeng 熊蜂 (“bear feng”) and hufeng 胡蜂 (“barbarian feng”). And I had to write sentences like: “Remember, a yellow feng (wasp) is not a feng (bee).” I felt a bit sorry for the primary school students who would study the Chinese version of these booklets. I imagined the schoolteachers would be surrounded by curious faces, asking why on earth they are all called feng when many of them are not feng.


Meanwhile, I also learned many interesting things about these insects and started to look for feng in poetry. A short selection of classical Chinese poems on bees can be found in Wilt Idema’s Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology (Amberst, New York: Cambria, 2019), including Guo Pu’s 郭璞 (276-324) “Mifeng fu” 蜜蜂賦 (Rhapsody on the Honeybee). The latest poem in Idema’s selection dates from the twelfth century, whereas the one translated below represents an example of beekeeping from the seventeenth to eighteenth century. I found the poet’s perception of bee society very lovely, and he clearly has a tender heart...


逆旅主人貪養

木櫃中結房千

別開孔竅聽出入,

高置簷宇虞奔[1]

The master who hosts [me] is obsessed with beekeeping,

In a wooden cabinet binding a thousand layers of chambers,

Opening multiple holes to let [them] in and out freely,

Putting [them] high up under the roof for fear of [their] darting about.

頗同君臣儼有禮,

稍別種族如知

兩衙薨薨勤鼓翅,

四序擾擾無停

Quite like a ruler and [his] subjects, [they] clearly follow proprieties;

Delicately differentiating the clans, [they] seem to understand genealogy.

Buzzing in [their] two town halls, [they] flutter [their] wings with diligence;

Hectic in four seasons, [they] take [their] rest at no time.

婦姑勃蹊或同室,

子弟盛壯旋分

秦宮每向花底活,

韓憑大抵枝頭

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law in discord may share the same room;

Younger boys coming to their prime are soon to be enfeoffed.

Qin Gong often lives under the flowers; [2]

Han Ping is mostly to be met on the branch. [3]

苦兼黃連充藥使,

甘比稼穡成花

乾坤大哉類斯聚,

形體眇爾性則

Together with the bitterness of goldthread, [their honey] serves as an envoy of medicine;

[Producing] sweetness comparable to grains, [they] become floral farmers.

How great the world is, where things gather with their kind like this;

[Their] bodies are diminutive, yet [their] temperament is fierce.

天生是物本巖谷,

於世無競宜相

自求辛螫誰作俑,

乃至役物為人

By nature, this creature lives in valleys

Vying for nothing in the world – it’s better to coexist with it.

Seeking to be stung – who started this?

Even going further to enslave [these] creatures to serve men.

僦居一椽在隘巷,

偪側欲避愁無

明知倉卒非大害,

未免有意防針

Renting a residence on a rafter in a cramped alley,

[When] cornered [they] want to escape, sadly having no way.

Knowing clearly [they] are terrified, no big harm,

[One] can’t help but be mindfully cautious about [their] stings.

吾將縱汝任所適,

解衣盤礴便疏

主人一笑不見許,

留待割蜜當嚴

I shall let you go wherever you like:

Untying [your] clothes, spreading [your] legs, [you] can then feel at ease.

The master, with a smile, doesn’t approve,

[As they] are kept for harvesting honey to withstand the harsh winter.


* From Zha Shenxing 查慎行 (1650-1727), Jingyetang shiji 敬業堂詩集, Yingyin Wenyuange Siku Quanshu 景印文淵閣四庫全書 edition (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987, vol. 1326), 24b-25a.


[1] Red characters rhyme.

[2] Qin Gong was the servant and lover of the general Liang Ji 梁冀 (98-159).

[3] Han Ping is a metaphor for a loving couple. After the king took his beautiful wife from him, Han Ping and his wife soon committed suicide. Two trees grew from their tombs, intertwining with each other through their branches.


Album leaves by Ju Lian 居廉 (1828-1901); picture credits: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Copyright Declaration*:


The texts and images used on the website of Rachelle's Lab are either from the public domain (e.g. Wikipedia), databases with open data licences (e.g. Shuhua diancang ziliao jiansuo xitong 書畫典藏資料檢索系統, National Palace Museum, Taipei), online libraries that permit reasonable use (e.g. ctext.org), or original work created for this website.


Although fair use of the website for private non-profit purposes is permitted, please note that the website of Rachelle's Lab and its content (including but not limited to translations, blog posts, images, videos, etc.) are protected under international copyright law. If you want to republish, distribute, or make derivative work based on the website content, please contact me, the copyright owner, to get written permission first and make sure to link to the corresponding page when you use it.


版權聲明:


本站所使用的圖片,皆出自公有領域(如維基)、開放數據庫(如臺北故宮博物院書畫典藏資料檢索系統)、允許合理引用的在線圖書館(如中國哲學電子化計劃)及本人創作。本站允許對網站內容進行個人的、非營利性質的合理使用。但請注意,本站及其內容(包括但不限於翻譯、博文、圖像、視頻等)受國際版權法保護。如需基於博客內容進行出版、傳播、製作衍生作品等,請務必先徵求作者(本人)書面許可,并在使用時附上本站鏈接,註明出處。


*Read more about copyright and permission here.

2 comments

2 commenti


Fascinating post. I've long been interested in the linguistic differences between Chinese and English in relation to animals and insects. Like mouse and rat being treated as the same animal by most Chinese speakers. Also rabbit/hare, sheep/goats* etc. These, as you know, are considered to be different animals in English. I know Chinese can differentiate, but seldom does, outside of scientific contexts. English always does. Thank you again for bringing the poem to my attention, but also for the cultural and linguistic insights. * The sheep/goat conflation is common in many places and languages.

Mi piace
Rachelle
Rachelle
05 lug 2021
Risposta a

Thanks a lot for your comment – great addition to the blog! Reminds me that the first attempt to talk about zodiac animals is always an interesting challenge for language learners...


Mi piace
bottom of page