| 2019-02-14
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character refers to night. The Lantern Festival is also called Yuan Xiao Festival, in which yuan refers to the first lunar month and xiao means the night. The dessert made of glutinous rice eaten at this festival is also called yuan xiao.


dēng huǒ lán shān chù

Denghuo refers to lanterns and lights while lanshan means to dim. Chu refers to a place. This is a line from a famous poem named “The Lantern Festival” by the great Song poet Xin Qiji (1140–1207).

Xin depicts in the former portion of the poem the magnificent spectacle of the Lantern Festival. “In the east wind tonight a thousand trees burst into bloom/ And stars are blown down like rain;/ The whole perfumed road is thronged/ With fine carriages and horses bright with gems;/ Phoenix flutes make music,/ The moon light flashes,/ Fish and dragon lanterns whirl the whole night long.” Then he mentions that he searches for a graceful lady who doesn’t move with the crowd in the most illuminated areas but stays in a secluded place where the lights are dim—“Golden willow and butterfly trinkets in her hair,/ Laughing and chatting she leaves a faint fragrance behind./ A thousand times I search for her in the crowd/ And, suddenly turning my head,/ Discover her where the lantern lights are dim.” The seclusion and peace of the lady has a sharp contrast with the aforementioned cheerful celebrations, conveying a sense of subtlety full of philosophy. The lady is quite different from the other women who join the crowd and enjoy the carnival. She seems to be more reserved and ethereal. It is said that the lady symbolizes the ideal ego of the author, who refuses to swim with the tide and wants to step out of worldly concerns and to keep an inner peace.

The renowned Qing scholar Wang Guowei (1877–1927) advanced his “theory of realm” with a quotation of the last three verses of this poem. He believed that the third realm, also the final realm of life, can be achieved after experiencing vicissitudes and hardship, and that one will suddenly find what one wants is already there. The awareness of the truth of life comes unexpectedly after a long search and a depth of experience, just like the lady, whom Xin Qiji searches for among people talking loudly. Her appearance drowns out the crowd.


(edited by REN GUANHONG)