> Features > CHINESE PROVERBS

wooden or bamboo slips

| 2018-12-27
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

When used as a noun, this character refers to wooden or bamboo slips, the material used for writing in ancient China before the widespread use of paper. It also refers to books in general. When used as an adjective, it means being simple or brief.


 

衣冠简朴古风存
yī guān jiǎn pǔ gǔ fēng cún

The literal meaning of yi guan is hats and gowns. Jian pu is a reference to being simple and unadorned. Gu feng refers to ancient customs or traditions, in particular a simple lifestyle in ancient times. Cun is a verb, known as “to keep or sustain.” The proverb depicts a place where people dress simply and plainly, and follow a traditional lifestyle.


This is a verse from a poem by Lu You (1125–1210), who flourished in the 12th century as a towering figure among poets of the Song Dynasty. This poem, “A Visit to a Village West of the Mountains,” portrays a peaceful and cheerful countryside life in a year of harvest. “Don’t sneer at the lees in the peasants—wine,/ In a good year they’ve chicken and pork to offer guests./ Where hills bend, streams wind and the pathway seems to end,/ Past dark willows and flowers in bloom lies another village./ They greet the spring sacrifice here with pipes and drums,/ And dress simply, keeping up the old traditions./ Some evening when I’m free and there is moonlight,/ I shall stroll over with my stick and knock at their gate.” (Translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang).

 

The first half of the poem shows the author’s affection towards those hospitable villagers who prepare hearty food to welcome their guests. The third and the fourth verses are regarded as one of the best-known philosophical sayings in China. The pathway that looks like to end in the rolling hills and winding streams represents one’s darkest hour or tough time when there seems no way out. However, when walking through a grove of willow trees and blooming flowers, another village suddenly appears. It signifies that a glimmer of hope often lies out of the darkest moment, just like the light at the end of the tunnel.


The last half of the poem reveals a festival mood for the coming spring sacrifice, a day of sacrifice to the god of land. The author expressed his admiration towards the villagers who still followed the old traditions and lived a life of contentment and simplicity.

 

(edited by REN GUANHONG)