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李長春《謁三蘇祠》 “Visiting the Shrine of the Three Sus” by Li Changchun

百坡何處問荒

池舘猶存菡萏

寂寞江山空有淚,

飄零詞客豈無

豐神夜照峨眉月,

氣象芒寒井絡

欲起摩挲前代碣,

綠苔蒼蘚已冥[1]

A hundred slopes, where to ask about the deserted pavilion? [2]

In the garden pond remains the viridescence of lotus.

Lonely rivers and mountains shed tears in vain:

Don’t the wandering men of letters have spirits?

[Their] glamour outshines the moon above Mt. Emei at night;

[Their] aura eclipses stars in the Weaving of Well. [3]

[I] want to get up and stroke those ancient steles,

Which have worn away [under] green moss.

* From San Su ci zhi 三蘇祠志 (Beijing: Zhongguo wenshi chubanshe, 2011), 130.


[1] Red characters rhyme. [2] Wei Liaoweng 魏了翁 (1178-1237) had a Baipo Ting 百坡亭 (Hundred-Slopes Pavilion) built on the pond of the Su family’s old residence, alluding to Su Shi’s lines about his transformation into a hundred of himself. The word po 坡 (slope) here refers to Su Shi’s style name, “East Slope.” The pavilion and the pond were both destroyed later. [3] The word jingluo 井絡 (Weaving of Well) refers to jixiu 井宿 (Mansion of Well), which is one of the seven constellations of the south. A mansion in the sky is traditionally believed to correspond to a geographical region on the earth. The Mansion of Well corresponds to the Min mountains (north of Chengdu) but often represents the wider Sichuan area.

 

Before I set off for Sichuan, I was determined to visit Meishan, a small city south of Chengdu. It was the hometown of the prominent Su family that produced Su Xun 蘇洵 (1009-1066) and his two sons Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101, courtesy name Zizhan, style name Dongpo, or “East Slope”) and Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039-1112). Like Liuzhou, where Liu Zongyuan is almost the only eminent historical figure associated with the city, Meishan doesn’t have many historical figures to talk about other than the three Sus. But the three Sus are quite something. For years, numerous people have been visiting this place just for them as I did.

My friend and I arrived in Meishan on a rainy evening, and she was nice enough to accompany me to visit the Shrine of the Three Sus the following morning despite the pouring rain. I found the poem translated above in the nice compilation San Su ci zhi 三蘇祠志 (Records of the Shrine of the Three Sus) that I picked up in the shop. Little is known about the poet Li Changchuan 李長春 other than that he was a Ming dynasty figure. In fact, I found two Ming figures by this name and am not sure which one was the poet. This poem caught my attention as the poet might have also visited the shrine on a rainy day, as the world was “shedding tears.”


Left: The entrance to the shrine

Right: The Su brothers and their mother

Or perhaps line 3 is about the poet on the verge of tears in front of the melancholy landscape surrounding a then deserted place. The earliest shrine of the Three Sus was built during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) on the site of the old residence of the Su family. Like Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, the Shrine of the Three Sus went through cycles of being deserted and reconstructed. We don’t know the precise year of Li Changchun’s visit, but from his verse the shrine was clearly a deserted place which left the poet feeling it was unworthy of the Sus.

At the fall of the Ming, the shrine was burned down during wartime. By the mid-seventeenth century, there was nothing left but five steles and an iron bell cast in 1457. A Liu Kehai 劉可海 from another town in Sichuan accompanied his son to study with a tutor in Meishan. When they passed by the shrine, Liu Kehai was struck by the fact that the three illustrious literati were commemorated in such a simple shrine. He decided to pay homage by funding the casting of a bell, with the names of all contributors (including patrons of the project and the craftsman) inscribed on it. The calligraphy of the inscription is far from good, but I’ve found it amazing and rather touching. After all, the bell has survived all vicissitudes and is still standing, attesting to the humble attempts of some common people from hundreds of years ago to celebrate the Three Sus and to be associated with their legends.


The iron bell on display in the shrine.

Another interesting thing about the shrine is the lotus. The current building complex in the park was roughly shaped by the reconstruction project in 1665, but the pond seems to be older. Like Li Changchun’s poem (line 2), many records and writings collected in the San Su ci zhi suggest there has always been a pond with lotus. Of course, people would love to believe that, despite the destruction and reconstruction of the buildings, the lotus plants are descendants of the ones planted by Su Xun’s very hands. It is said that twin lotus flowers blossomed on the same stalk in this pond in the year when Su Shi and Su Zhe got their jinshi degree (1057), so the appearance of twin lotus flowers, of which we can find a specimen in the shrine’s display, came to be considered as an auspicious omen.


Left: View from the current Hundred-Slopes Pavilion, built in 1928

Right: The specimen of twin lotus flowers

Across the pond one can see the statue of Su Shi, made in 1982 and inspired by Su Shi’s portrait inscribed on a Ming stele (1396). Among the Three Sus, the father Su Xun was the only one who lived most of his life in Meishan and was buried there. In 1068, the two brothers left Meishan for good after the mourning period for their father. However, the statue and the shrine will undoubtedly continue to encourage local people to aspire to the three literary giants.

Left: Su Shi’s portrait inscribed on the 1396 stele. The portrait is said to be a live portrait of Su Shi, originally drawn by the Northern Song artist Li Gonglin 李公麟 (1049-1106).

Right: The statue of Su Dongpo, north of the lotus pond.


 

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