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吳綺《過南昌見滕王閣被焚》 “Seeing the burnt Pavilion of Prince Teng when passing by Nanchang” by Wu Qi

來訪臨江跡,

焚餘剰敗

可憐彭蠡水,

難救祝融

帝子名空在,

才人賦自

西山與南浦,

無計更流[1]

[I] come to visit the riverside relics

[Which are only] dilapidated rafters left from burning.

It is a pity that Pengli’s water [2]

Could not ward off Zhurong’s smoke.[3]

Of the emperor’s son [4] only his name remained,

[Yet] the talented man [5] had his verses duly transmitted.

Western hills and the southern shore [6]

Can do nothing but linger for longer.[7]


* From Wu Qi’s 吴綺 (1619-1694) Linhuitang ji 林蕙堂集, in Yingyin Wenyuange Siku quanshu 景印文淵閣四庫全書 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987), vol. 1314, 16.14a-14b.

[1] Red characters rhyme. [2] The word Pengli 彭蠡 is the ancient name of the Poyang Lake 鄱陽湖, the largest freshwater lake in China, located northeast of Nanchang. [3] Zhurong is a legendary figure of high antiquity who is traditionally believed to be the god of fire. [4] Dizi 帝子(emperor’s son) refers to Prince Teng 滕王 (i.e. Liu Yuanying 李元嬰, 628-684), the 22nd son of Emperor Gaozu of Tang 唐高祖 (i.e. Li Yuan 李淵, 566-635, ruling 618-727). In 653, Li Yuanying took up his position in Nanchang and had the pavilion built there. [5] The word cairen 才人 (the talented man) refers to Wang Bo 王勃 (649-676), one of the four eminent poets of the early Tang; more on this later. [6] The Pavilion of Prince Teng is located on the southeastern bank of the Gan River. [7] Alternatively, the last two lines may read, “[Near] western hills and [along] the southern shore, / [I] can do nothing but linger for longer.”

 

As my journeys to and from the Marquis of Haihun Relics Park both took much less time than I thought, I was back in the city centre at about 3pm. Trying to make the most of my short stay in Nanchang, I decided to visit the Pavilion of Prince Teng, a historical attraction that I learned about from my high school literature textbook.


My high school lessons about Wang Bo’s 王勃 (649-676) “Tengwangge xu” 滕王閣序 (Preface to the Pavilion of Prince Teng) [8] were quite memorable, not just because of the tragic early death of the talented poet or his beautiful lines depicting sunset clouds and wild geese in the autumnal sky, but also because it was the first time I saw footnotes outweighing the main text to such an extent on a page. That was a very good introduction to the adorned and allusion-loaded style of pianwen 駢文 (parallel prose).


[8] The xu 序 (preface) here is not the foreword of a text but a piece of farewell writing.

The "Tengwangge xu" from my high school textbook


On his way to see his father in Vietnam in 675, Wang Bo passed by Nanchang and wrote the “Tengwangge xu” at a banquet in the pavilion. His work was immediately regarded as a pianwen classic and became one of the most famous works in Chinese literary history. The poet died from drowning only two months after the banquet, but his work made the pavilion a place to which people have been paying homage in the centuries ever since.

Reconstruction of the banquet scene in the pavilion, with the young Wang Bo sitting at the right end.


As in many other historical attractions, there is a stele corridor, built in 2013, in the park dedicated to the Pavilion of Prince Teng. A selection of poems is presented here to celebrate the pavilion’s history. Wu Qi’s 吴綺 (1619-1694) poem translated above is not among them, but it represents an aspect of the pavilion’s history rarely found in other poems: the destruction of the pavilion.


In the pavilion, there is a 3D animation outlining its history of being destroyed and rebuilt nearly thirty times due to war, fire, and earthquakes. We can’t really date Wu Qi’s visit, because during his lifetime alone, the pavilion was burnt down and rebuilt four times. I’m usually not very passionate about reconstructed “historical attractions” roughly of my age, but this time I found it quite impressive how a literary text has helped a site to be reborn after experiencing complete destruction so many times. Thanks to the fame that Wang Bo’s work has lent to the pavilion, there are also many historical accounts, paintings and illustrations that helped reconstruct the exact location of the pavilion and how it looked like in the past. In one of the galleries, one can find some nice architectural models of the pavilion from different dynasties.


The last version of the pavilion from the imperial period was burnt down in 1926, and the Japanese army turned the site into a horse stable in the late 1930s. Although a rebuilding plan was drafted in the 1940s, it was not put into effect until the 1980s. The current building complex was finished in 1989.


Wu Qi’s poem ends with a sad tone, as if the landscape felt sorry for the lost pavilion, as the poet did. But in light of the long history of the pavilion’s destruction and rebirth, the loss was only temporary. Although the pavilion hasn’t been rebuilt exactly at the same place and in the same design, its legend certainly has been well maintained and will continue to evolve.


Architectural design of the pavilion by Liang Sicheng’s 梁思成 (1901-1972) team, based on Song dynasty court paintings of the pavilion and the Song architect’s manual Yingzao fashi 營造法式.

Photo credit: Official Wechat account of Tengwangge

“Tengwangge” 滕王閣 (Pavilion of Prince Teng) by Guo Xi 郭熙 (ca. 1000- ca. 1087)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

Looking across the Gan River now, one can only catch a few glimpses of the hills in the west through the gaps between towering modern buildings.


 

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