> Features > CHINESE PROVERBS

Clean

| 2019-08-22 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
This character usually means “pure” or “clean.” When combined with bai (white), the term means “pure white.” When combined with shen (body), the term means to “preserve one’s purity” or “lead an honest and clean life.”
 

 

无人信高洁 
wú rén xìn gāo jié 
Wu ren means “nobody” and xin means “believe.” Gao jie refers to the virtue of nobility and purity. This line, taken literally, means that no one believes that [I am] a noble person. 
 
This is a line from a poem titled “A Poem About a Cicada Written in Prison.” Its author is the credited Tang poet Luo Binwang (619–687). “Outside a cicada is stridulating in the depths of autumn,/ While in jail I am tortured by a surge of homesickness./ Hoary-haired with grief, how can I endure/ Such plaintive singing of the black-headed creature?/ Heavy dew has encumbered it from taking wing,/ Its sounds easily muffled by strong winds./ Nobody in the world trusts my noble and unsullied nature,/ Who is there to vindicate my innocence?” (trans. Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang) 
 
Luo composed this poem in 678, when he was put in jail for criticizing Wu Zetian, Empress of China during the Tang Dynasty. It is deep autumn, and Luo sits in the prison, listening to the broken sound of cicadas. He recalls the hardships and injustices he has experienced. Driven by loneliness and the sentiments of the season when everything is fading away, Luo is overwhelmed with homesickness. 
Luo compares himself to a cicada, which was born for a season, its being in accordance with the laws and forces of nature. Its wings are inherently thin, yet it doesn’t seek to change its nature to resemble those better suited. The heavy dew and strong winds indicate the dark and complicated political world where he had spent years in a low position. The difficulty of the cicada taking wing and making itself heard imply the frustrations of all his ambitions and the lack of freedom of speech. The last two lines depict the cicada perching on tall trees and singing in the wind, resonating with the rhythm of heavenly order. Feeding on the dew of high autumn, it fears being potentially misunderstood as being aloof. It represents Luo’s longing for justice and vindication. He hopes in the poem that one day someone might see his honesty and virtues. 
 
edited by REN GUANHONG