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蘇軾《余來儋耳得吠狗…》“I came to Dan[zhou] and got a barking dog...” by Su Shi


“I came to Dan[zhou] and got a barking dog called Dark Snout. [He is] very ferocious yet tame. [He] accompanied me on my move to Hepu. When [we] passed by Chengmai, [he] swam across the river, which amazed passers-by. [I] therefore wrote this poem in jest” by Su Shi

It is not uncommon to come across dogs in classical Chinese poetry, but most poems that mention dogs are not about dogs. The dog may be a symbol of the farmstead, a character in a fable, or one of the domesticated animals that join the world of immortality with their enlightened master. This week’s poem by Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101), however, is a rare example that is dedicated to an individual dog with a name.

This poem was written in around the sixth month of 1100. At this point, Su Shi finally received the decree to leave Danzhou (in present-day Hainan), where he had been living as an exile (the third time in his life) for three years. He died a year later on his journey back to the court in the north, but when he wrote this poem, he was obviously filled with joy; even his dog appeared to be happy for him. Hainan Island across the Qiongzhou Strait during the eleventh century was a bleak land at the southern end of the Chinese empire. Compared to Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元 (773-819), the unhappy man banished to the far south of the mainland, Su Shi, who was sent to an island, had better reasons to feel that he had been dumped at the very edge of the world. However, the admirable thing about Su Shi is that he was never really depressed. As we’ll see in the following lines, a happy man tends to have a happy dog.

© National Palace Museum, Taipei

All three paintings allude to the Shangshu 尚書 chapter “Lü ao” 旅獒 (Mastiffs from Lü), which starts with a passage about the Western tribe Lü sending their local dogs as tribute. From left to right:

1. The "Gong'ao tu" 貢獒圖 (Painting of Tribute Mastiff) by Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254-1322)

2. The "Xilü gong'ao tu" 西旅貢獒圖 (Painting of Tribute Mastiff from Western Lü) by Qian Xuan 錢選 (1235-1305)

3. The "Xilü gong'ao tu" 西旅貢獒 (Tribute Mastiff from Western Lü) by Ai Xuan 艾宣 (fl. 11th century)


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