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劉弼一《創業詩》 “On Founding [our Family] Enterprise” by Liu Biyi









Since [my] youth [I’ve] galloped across ten thousand miles -

With stars and frost upon [my] temples, to whom shall [I] cry?

[Our] family moved three times before settling in the town of Liu;[3]

It took us a hundred thoughts to arrive at the Dragon River.[4]

Do not consider anything in farming and business easy to undertake;

[You] must understand creation and maintenance are both difficult to achieve.

[Such is my] earnest exhortation for [my] posterity:

Do not fail [my] sincerest hope.

[1] I’m not aware of any extant manuscript of this poem, but the edition in our ancestral temple (see the picture) was inscribed during the renovation project three years ago. From the word wanli 萬里 (ten thousand miles), which is always mistakenly converted into wanly 萬裏 (in ten thousand) by automatic simplified-to-traditional Chinese conversation tools, one may assume that the current traditional Chinese edition in the ancestral temple is not a copy of the original text but converted back into traditional Chinese from a simplified Chinese edition. [2] Red characters rhyme. [3] Liuyi 柳邑 (town of Liu) refers to Liuzhou. [4] Longjiang 龍江 (Dragon River) is the largest branch of the Willow River 柳江 that runs through Liuzhou.


This qiyan lüshi 七言律詩 (heptasyllabic regulated verse) is perhaps the only poem left by my ancestor Liu Biyi 劉弼一, a member of the fifteenth generation of the Hakka Liu clan and the arch-ancestor of the Liuzhou branch of the Liu clan. He also left behind a long will (inscription on stele, [5] dated 1827) that details the history of his migration and helps interpret the poem.

He decided to leave his hometown near Xingning 興寧, Guangdong when he was nineteen, for he felt that the land was too densely populated. The decision is very much in line with the family instructions left by Liu Guangchuan 劉廣傳 (1208-1277) that I blogged about last week. In fact, one may even say it’s also an emblem of the spirit of the Hakka people whose name literally means “families of guests/travellers”[6], indicating people migrating from one land to another.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Liu Biyi first settled in the northern part of modern Liuzhou (the first removal), but he soon moved again (20 km southwest, the second removal) and then again (8 km east, the third removal) for geomantic reasons. In 1794, he finally found a satisfactory place to settle down in a village called Jilong 基隆 (not the city in Taiwan).

However, the end of his removals didn’t mean the beginning of a happy life. His family was immediately isolated by the locals, who refused to sell their land to the newcomers and hoped they would end up leaving again without any land to farm. For quite some time, the Liu home was a place frequented by thieves and the family a victim of ostracism. Therefore, the family adopted “zuojin youchu zhi ji” 左進右出之計 (strategy of entering by the left [door] and leaving from the right) so that it’s not so easy to tell whether there is anybody at home. It took them three years to win the trust of their neighbours who finally befriended the Lius and started to sell them land. (I would also love to read about how the family made a living during those three years, but the text only mentions that the neighbours was convinced by the Lius’ good nature and honesty.)

I enjoy reading the history of migration, but the last section after the narrative about the settlement in Liuzhou is perhaps the most memorable part. I didn’t expect to see a series of curses on descendants who dare to inflict any harm on family properties and fail their ancestors. Of course, we also find best wishes for the good descendants who help increase family properties.

The will concludes with three instructions:

First of all, it’s essential to study geomancy. “For those who are not well-versed in geomancy, [their] descendants won’t be more prosperous than others in the end.” (不習風水之人,終久子孫不能昌勝過人也). (This perhaps explains why the first Liu family has developed into such a big branch in Liuzhou.)

Secondly, avoid acting as a warrantor who borrows other people’s money or grains and lends them to a third party, which tends to end a friendship/relationship (renqing人情). “Don’t take these words as irrelevant (莫謂等閑之言),” he says, “if anyone disobeys my words, [they] will never prosper (如有不遵予之言,永久不昌).” (I find this point quite interesting. I’m sure our fifteenth patriarch wasn’t aware of credit cards, but he certainly understood the potential risks of such a system.)

Lastly, the ancestral temple should always be well-maintained by all the clan members. Those who don’t participate in the joint efforts to maintain it, he shall “watch this person’s life come to an early end (監察此人命夭滅亡)”.

Given the size of the Liuzhou branch of the Liu clan, it’s difficult to know how many have studied geomancy or failed to manage their credibility, but the final point in the will is certainly upheld by the recent renovation project. In the intermediate hall leading to the central hall, we find a long list of contributors to the renovation. My father didn’t like it that the renovation project had erased a lot of traces of history from the temple. I also prefer the former black-white colour scheme instead of the current light blue walls. But at least the temple emerged stronger than before and will perhaps stand there for another two hundred years. [5] The stele still stands in the temple, but it’s covered by paint. [6] The origin of the Hakka people is too complex a topic for this tiny blog, but there is little dispute over its close association with migrants.

Due to road construction projects a few years ago, many tombs in our clan were relocated, including the one of Liu Biyi. The photos show the surroundings of the current cemetery. The ancenstral temple, however, has always stood in the same place where it was first erected.


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