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元好問《從希顏覓篤耨香(其二)》 “Seeking Dunou Incense from Xiyan (No. 2)” by Yuan Haowen

自倚詩情合得

暮寒新火覺無

懸知受用無多在,

試往新詩乞斷[1]


I reckon [my] poetic force needs a vent

In a cold evening with a new fire, a total non-event.

Fearing [my] delights only have a modicum remaining,

[I] send [this] new poem, looking for fragments of gourd to be sent.


* From Yuan Haowen 元好問 (1190-1257), Yuan Yishan shiji jianzhu 元遺山詩集箋注, annotated by Shi Guoqi 施國祁 (fl. early nineteenth century), 13.7a (Rpt.: Taiyuan: Shanxi guji chubanshe, 2005).


[1] Red characters rhyme.

 

篤耨香,出真臘國。其香,樹脂也。其樹狀如杉、檜之類,而香藏於皮。樹老而自然流溢者,色白而瑩;故其香雖盛暑不融,名白篤耨。至夏日以火環其株而炙之,令其脂液再溢,冬月因其凝而取之;故其香夏融而冬凝,名黑篤耨。土人盛之以瓢,舟人易之以瓷器。香之味清而長,黑者易融。滲漉於瓢,碎瓢而爇之,亦得其仿佛;今所謂篤耨瓢是也。

The dunou incense comes from the Kingdom of Zhenla. [2] The incense refers to a kind of resin. The tree looks like a fir or juniper tree, with aroma hidden in its bark. The resin that naturally oozes out as the tree ages is white and transparent. Therefore, [it] does not melt even in summer heat and is known as “white dunou”. In summer, [people] surround the tree with fire and roast it to extract more resin which will then congeal in winter for them to collect. Therefore, [this resin] melts in summer and congeals in winter and is known as “black dunou”. The locals collect the resin with a gourd ladle, and boatmen exchange pieces of porcelain for it. The resin leaves a long trail of pure aroma, and the black variant is prone to melting. [One can] break a gourd ladle soaked in the resin and burn the pieces to get a similar aroma, which is the so-called “dunou-gourd incense” today.


* From Zhao Rukuo 趙汝括 (1170-1231), Zhufanzhi 諸蕃志(Wenyuange Siku Quanshu文淵閣四庫全書 vol. 594, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987) , 2.3b-4a; see: https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gb&file=228984&page=115. [3]


[2] The kingdom existed during late sixth to the early ninth century in Indochina, with its centre located in modern Cambodia. [3] For a slightly earlier record of dunou, see Zhang Bangji 張邦基 (fl. 1131) Mozhuang manlu 墨莊漫錄: https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gb&file=80521&page=58.

 

I always enjoy reading how a poet bothers to deliver a simple message with poetry, just as Yuan Haowen did for his friend Lei Yuan 雷淵 (courtesy name: Xiyan 希顏, 1184-1231). He could have sent a note, saying, “It’s a cold evening. I have nothing better to do and just realised my favourite incense will soon be out of stock. Could you, my dear friend, spare some of your goodies for me?” But of course, that would make him even more bored.


Yuan Haowen was not the only fan of dunou. Since its introduction during the Northern Song (960-1127), many writers and poets have extolled this precious incense resin. Zhang Yuangan, the poet I blogged about last week, also dedicated a poem (again, to the tune “Huanxisha”) to the dunou incense. As one might expect, dunou is also a luxury, perhaps even more than rose water. According to an early twelfth-century record, a tribute to the court included tens of jin (approx. 0.633 kg) of black dunou and only one or two jin of white dunou. About 40 grams of the black dunou cost 30,000 coins and white dunou 80,000. [4] We should note that 10,000 coins could buy three thatched houses at that time! [5]


This kind of luxury good always come with juicy stories, and here’s one that I love. When dunou had just became the new exotic in vogue, 40 grams cost up to 200,000 coins in the capital. In a banquet hosted by the notorious minister Cai Jing 蔡京 (1047-1126), he asked an old maidservant to serve his honoured guests with a box of about 100 grams of dunou. Instead of taking a small amount for the incense burner at his seat, a cunning minister poured all the resin into his garment. The maidservant went back to her master with an empty box and asked if she might offer a toast to that guest. With her master’s permission, the good old woman went back with a cup of drink and poured it into the guest’s garment, thereby destroying all the resin he had taken.[6]


The legend of dunou continued to enchant people after the Song times. By the Ming dynasty, people had developed multiple formulations for fragrance and spice mixes with dunou, which can be found in treatises on perfume such as Zhou Jiazhou’s 周嘉胄 (1582-c. 1658) Xiangsheng 香乘 (History of Perfumes). The eminent pharmacologist Li Shizhen 李時珍 (1518-1593) also offered an exclusive formula for eliminating skin dullness and blemishes with dunou as the main ingredient. “Long-term application,” he wrote, “will infuse the skin with jade-like radiance.”[7]


It would appear that dunou had become an important imported raw material for Chinese perfumery just like, say, agarwood and frankincense. But the interesting thing is, despite all the documentation, we don’t really know what dunou is. Dammar gum and the resin of the terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) have been proposed, but not without objection. [8] Generally speaking, dunou seems to be an aroma reserved for literary enthusiasts and specialists on historical perfumes nowadays. I’m not sure if I could afford it even if it existed now, and I don’t think I have a friend who has luxury goods to spare. However, if one day the mystery is unravelled and dunou is re-introduced to modern perfumery, I would certainly have a good reason for visiting a luxury boutique.


[4] For reference, a tribute might contain 31,000 jin of frankincense during the same period. [5] For more records about what different amounts of money could do around the twelfth century, see Cheng Minsheng 程民生, Songdai wujia yanjiu 宋代物價研究 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008), 593-607. [6] See Zeng Zao 曾慥 (fl. 1126), Gaozhai manlu 高齋漫錄: https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=en&file=89211&page=20. [7] See Li Shizhen, Bencao gangmu 本草綱目: https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=en&file=52850&page=130. [8] See Zhang Yongyan 張永言, “Hanyu wailaici zatan” 漢語外來詞雜談(補訂稿), in Zhejiang Daxue Hanyushi yanjiu zhongxin jianbao 浙江大學漢語史研究中心簡報 3-4 (2007): 13.


An maidservant taking care of the incense burner; detail of “Ting ruan tu” 聽阮圖 by Li Song 李嵩 (1166-1243). She is holding a small box in her left hand and seems to be putting something (possibly resin) into the burner.

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

A ding-style incense burner similar to the one in the painting from the Southern Song (1127-1279).

Picture credit: Shanghai Museum



A servant offering incense burner to a guest; detail of the album leaf “Zhuyuan pingu” 竹院品古 by Qiu Ying 仇英 (1505-1552)

Picture credit: Palace Museum, Beijing

A Souther Song incense burner similar to the one in the painting.

Photo source: Qian Handong 錢漢東. Rizhao xianglu: Zhongguo guci xianglu wenhua jiyi 日照香爐:中國古瓷香爐文化記憶 (Shanghai: Shanghai wenhua chubanshe, 2009), 95.


 

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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.


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