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Liu Yang. Cadence of a Timeless Poem: A Southern Song Silver Plate Decorated with a Chased ‘Red Cliff’ Scene

On the night of the sixteenth day of the seventh moon, 1082, Su Shi (1037–1101), a Chinese scholar-official of the Northern Song period (960–1127), took a leisurely moonlit boat ride with several friends on the Yangzi river at Huangzhou (present-day Huanggang, Hubei province). By that time Su had already established his fame as a statesman and poet, but was in exile for political reasons. On the boat they drank wine and marvelled at nature’s grandeur; they passed beneath an escarpment known as Red Cliff, a famous ancient battle site. ‘The moon rose above the eastern mountain, and hovered between the Dipper and the Cowherd star. White mist lay across the water; the light from the water reached the sky’. One of the companions began to play a sad song on a flute, as wine drinkers are apt to do, lamenting the infinity of the universe and their own mortality. Also smitten by the mighty Yangzi, however, Su Shi found solace in a dialectical philosophy: ‘If you look at them from the point of Change, then heaven and earth never stay the same for even the blink of an eye. If you look from the point of what is unchanging, then all things, and I, are inexhaustible’. He urged his friends to share and rejoice in the natural phenomena with a sanguine attitude.

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Jan/Feb 2016
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