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Zheng Xie 鄭燮 on bird keeping


[I] just mentioned that one mustn’t keep a bird in a cage,[1] yet how can I not love birds? [I] just [meant to say] there’s a proper way of keeping them. If one wants to keep birds, the best way is to plant trees, surrounding the house with hundreds of them, thick and luxuriant enough to make a kingdom of birds, a home for birds. At dawn, when [we’ve] just woken up from our dreams, still tossing and turning in bed, [we] hear a chorus of chirping voices like the music of “Yunmen” and “Xianchi”.[2] When we grab a robe, get up, wash our faces and mouths and sip our tea, [we] see [them] spread their wings and radiate their colours, flitting about so swiftly that our eyes cannot catch up. The pleasure from one bird in a cage is certainly not comparable. The fun of life tends to be found when all beings live in accordance with their nature, with [the world between] the sky and earth as a park, the rivers and streams as a pond – such is a great delight! Comparing it to putting a bird in a cage and a fish in a basin, which way is greater and kinder?

* From Zheng Xie 鄭燮 (1693-1765), Zheng Banqiao ji 鄭板橋集 (Taipei: Hongye shuju, 1982), 19.

[1] This passage is appended to Zheng Xie’s letter ("Weixian shu zhong yu shedi Mo di er shu" 濰縣署中與舍弟墨第二書) to his brother, to whom he entrusted his son. In this letter, he mentions that he hates to put a bird in a cage to please himself and urges his brother to bring up his son to be a kind and caring person who respects all beings. Lin Yutang 林語堂 (1895-1976) has translated the entire letter, together with this postscript; see Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of China and India (New York: Random House, 1942), 1078f. [2] “Yunmen” and “Xianchi” are both legendary pieces of music of the high antiquity.

Detail of the handscroll "Qiaolin bai que" 喬林百雀 (A Hundred Sparrows in a Lofty Grove), attributed to Lin Liang 林良 (1416-1480); see

Picture credit: The Cleveland Museum of Art

A little neighbour of mine


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