Category Archives: TRADITIONAL CULTURE

An Honest Deed That Led to a Reunion

Lu Yu said to the boatman, “If you get everybody out of the water, I’ll reward you with 20 Taels.’ (Sun Mingguo / The Epoch Times)

CHINESE CULTURE

BY SU LIN, THE EPOCH TIMES

August 1, 2019 Updated: August 1, 2019

There were three brothers, Lu Yu, Lu Bao, and Lu Zhen, who lived outside the east gate in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, during the Ming Dynasty. Lu Yu had a son named Xi’er. One day when Xi’er was 6 years old, he went with the children from next door to a temple fair and never returned.

Lu Yu and his wife, Wang, looked for their child for days, but there was no sign of him anywhere.

Distraught, Lu Yu decided to leave home to do business and look for Xi’er at the same time. A few years went by. One day, he came to a place called Chenliu and found a green cloth bag in a latrine. He opened the bag and was astonished to find 200 taels of silver in it.

Lu Yu thought: “Whoever lost the money must be desperately looking for it. A life might be at stake. Honesty is a virtue. I’ll wait here for the owner to come back for his money.”

A day passed, and nobody showed up. Lu Yu had no choice but to continue his journey. He met a businessman named Chen Chaofeng at an inn in Suzhou, Anhui Province. They talked about business, and Chen sighed and said he had lost a bag in Chenliu with 200 taels of silver in it.

Lu Yu asked him to describe the bag. The description matched the bag he had found. He promptly took out the bag to return to Chen.

Chen was delighted. He offered to split the money down the middle with Lu Yu as a reward, but the latter declined.

In gratitude, Chen invited Lu Yu to his residence. He was keen to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to Lu Yu’s son if he had one. Lu Yu cried and told him about his son who had gotten lost.

Chen sighed and said: “I have a boy here whom I bought from another man for three taels of silver some years back. He’s 13 now. You can take him to be your son. It’s my way of repaying your kindness.”

Chen brought the boy to Lu Yu. The boy had a scar at the corner of his left brow. Lu Yu’s heart skipped a beat, for his son had fallen down when he was 4, and it had left a scar at the corner of his left brow. He asked the boy where he hailed from and who had sold him.

The boy said: “I’m not sure. I only remember my father is called Big Lu. I also have two uncles. I was duped and taken away before I was sold here.”

Lu Yu cried: “I’m your father! It has been so many years. Never in my dreams did I think I would run into you here!”

Chen and his family rejoiced at the Lus’ reunion. With sincere gratitude, Lu Yu said to Chen, “I owe it to you that I could be reunited with my son.”

Chen replied, “You did yourself a big favour by returning my money to me.”

The two families’ children were betrothed to each other. Chen gave the father and son 20 taels for them to go home.

The following morning, Lu and his son bade farewell to the Chens and came to a river. There was a commotion. A boat had capsized, and there were a few people in the water crying for help. Onlookers were arguing with some boatmen at the bank, who demanded to be paid for getting the people out of the water.

Lu Yu was eager to save the people. The 20 taels came to his mind. “I could offer them to the boatmen as a reward,” he thought.

He said to the boatmen, “If you get everybody out of the water, I’ll reward you with 20 taels.”

In no time, everybody was rescued.

Lu Yu gave the 20 taels to the boatmen. The people from the capsized boat were coming up to Lu Yu to thank him when someone shouted from among them, “Where did you come from, Brother?” It was Lu Yu’s youngest brother, Lu Zhen.

“Heaven helped me save my brother!” Lu Yu exclaimed. He told his brother about the 200 taels, the 20 taels, and his reunion with his son.

Lu Yu asked Lu Zhen why he had come to Suzhou. Lu Zhen replied: “It has been a few years since you left home. We were told that you had died in Shanxi. Your wife is already in mourning, and yet Lu Bao is trying to force her to remarry. She refused, of course. Go home quickly to your wife, before it’s too late.”

Lu Bao panicked. He jumped onto the boat and headed home.

The middle brother, Lu Bao, was wicked. When he heard that a widower in Jiangxi was looking for a wife, he offered Lu Yu’s wife to him. The two men agreed on a price of 30 taels.

Lu Bao got the money and told the man: “My sister-in-law is stubborn. I’m certain she will not leave with you. Come to my house in the evening with a sedan chair. The one wearing a white hairband in mourning will be my sister-in-law. Just grab her, put her in the sedan chair, take the boat the same night, and go.”

Lu Bao’s wife, Yang, told Wang: “My husband has married you off to a Jiangxi man. He’ll come in the evening for you. You had better start packing your things.”

Wang cried and turned the idea down flat. “My husband may be dead, but I’ve yet to see his body. Let’s wait till Lu Zhen comes back with news of Lu Yu before we do anything. Please do not force me! And how can I marry anyone when I’m still in mourning?”

Yang looked for a black hairband for Wang, but it was Heaven’s will that she could not find one. So she exchanged hers with Wang.

Dusk fell, and the Jiangxi man came to the Lus’ house with a bridal sedan. When the door was opened, a band of people headed straight for the woman wearing a white hairband.

Yang cried out, “I’m not the one!” But the band just grabbed her, stuffed her into the sedan, and sped off.

The following morning, Lu Bao came home and could not find his wife. When he saw his sister-in-law wearing a black hairband, he got suspicious and asked Wang what had happened. Wang told him about the switched hairbands.

Lu Bao pounded his chest. At the end of the day, it was his own wife he sold.

Lu Bao was about to leave when five people came in. They were none other than his brothers Lu Yu and Lu Zhen, his nephew Xi’er, and porters bringing in their luggage and goods. Ashamed of himself, Lu Bao ran out the back door.

Lu Yu said: “Had I not returned the 200 taels of silver, I wouldn’t have found my son. And had I kept the 20 taels, I wouldn’t have run into my brother and found out what had happened in the family. It is Heaven’s will that we are reunited. Lu Bao got a taste of his own medicine for trying to sell my wife.”

Lu Yu became even kinder to others. His family prospered. Xi’er married Chen Chaofeng’s daughter and had many descendants.

The tale of Lu Yu’s encounter is an excellent example of integrity and kindness.

*This story is from “Stories to Caution the World, Vol. 5, Big Brother Lu’s Honesty Led Him to His Son”. “Stories to Caution the World” is the second of the three collections of vernacular fiction written by Feng Menglong in the Ming Dynasty.

Leonardo and the Strength of Meekness

A detail from Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist.” (Public Domain)

FINE ARTS

Reaching within: What traditional art offers the heart

BY SHARON KILARSKI, EPOCH TIMES

July 10, 2019 Updated: July 16, 2019

If just one work by Leonardo da Vinci sings for me the word genius—genius, that is, in the original sense of the word, which describes a life guided by a spirit or even a higher power—it is his drawing “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist.”

Scholars don’t agree when the work was created; some say as early as 1499 to 1500 and others as late as 1506 to 1508. Some just throw up their hands and say a range that encompasses the extremes of those dates.

The drawing is not a typical cartoon, which most often was a preparatory work for a painting or fresco. It bears no pricked holes along the sketched lines that would have been dusted with charcoal to transfer the image onto a canvas or wall. So it may be that Leonardo intended it as a completed work.

It is similar in subject matter to his painting “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne,” now in the Louvre. But little St. John does not appear in that painting. Instead, the toddler Jesus is playing with a lamb, meant to symbolize the sacrificial lamb he is destined to become.

 

“The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci. Louvre. (Public Domain)
“The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci. Louvre. (Public Domain)

 

Bernardino Luini, who is said to have worked with Leonardo, certainly based his own painting “Holy Family With Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist” on Leonardo’s cartoon but added Jesus’s father, St. Joseph, as well.

 

“Holy Family With Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist,” circa 1503, by Bernardino Luini. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. (Public Domain)
“Holy Family With Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist,” circa 1503, by Bernardino Luini. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. (Public Domain)

From Motherhood to Motherhood

Leonardo said a lot by setting these figures, as they are, in one nearly static pose. The drawing tells a story of motherhood through time—for nothing suggests the mother-child bond more aptly than a child on a mother’s lap.

Over the generations, from lap to lap to lap, mothers hold their children until they see them off and into the world to embark on their own journeys. Of the two mothers, the larger and more substantial one is St. Anne, who holds her child Mary as an adult: Mary as a mother herself.

Mary cradles her own child, still a babe, as he reaches out. He is almost crawling away from her, out to his own future meeting with John the Baptist.

The tight grouping, especially of those in the family—Anne, Mary, and Jesus—shows clearly the bonds between them. But even more so do their expressions. Our eyes follow St. Anne’s. She looks adoringly at her daughter, who in turn gazes at her son.

Reclaiming Meekness

Overall, it is Mary’s face that transfixes me. Was there ever a face with such sweetness, composure, innocence, and compassion? The longer I look, the deeper I feel these qualities have been immortalized.

Mary, who exemplifies feminine virtues such as gentleness, modesty, deference, and nurturance, has long been a symbol of meekness, characterized, for example, in the Christmas carol “Silent Night” as “tender and mild.”

But while meekness can mean submissiveness, its synonyms include patience and forbearance, and even adjectives like long-suffering and resigned.

Anyone who’s been a mother or has closely watched a mother knows that patience is crucial to the role. But unless a child has turned wayward, we don’t often think of mothers as long-suffering.

But aren’t they? In the course of rearing a child and even in the years beyond those early ones, mothers are likely to endure the pain that their children do, whether it’s a cat scratch, doing poorly on a test, a romance turned sour, or bouts of chemotherapy. Every trial the child faces, the mother, in some measure, does as well.

What tremendous strength this requires! How strange that we should see these attributes as weakness. In the attributes of patience and forbearance, we can see in Mary the wisdom to gracefully submit to a power greater than her own. This, however, takes strength of character.

Leonardo makes just this point. Taking another look at Mary and Anne, we see that these women are not meek in the sense of weakness. Irrespective of the soft expressions on their faces, Leonardo embodied them with tremendous strength: These legs are more than sturdy. These laps are solid and can bear the weight of the world.

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist.” (Public Domain)
Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist.” (Public Domain)

 

Of course, this is not just a painting about motherhood and children. Not only are these biblical figures, but St. Anne’s index finger points to heaven.

Radiant With Compassion

Somehow, with just touches of white chalk, Leonardo managed to show a soft light on St. Mary and the Christ child and around Mary’s head, and the light seems to emanate from within them. And both of these faces share the same three-quarter perspective.

Anne and John, who both face and mirror Mary and Jesus, are slightly shaded, likely because the master artist wanted to acknowledge the lack of their spiritual status in comparison to that of the Madonna and child.

Baby Jesus seems to be wriggling out of Mary’s arms as she patiently watches him give a benediction to St. John, who one day will baptize him and set him on his journey as savior.

Taken together—in a visual arc moving from Anne to Mary to Jesus to John—this is an image of human love meeting God’s compassion as it pours forth, beyond the family, to the world, as represented by Jesus’s benediction to John.

Strength and Compassion

The image of Anne’s finger pointing to heaven seems almost out of place in this intimate scene. As Anne gazes at her daughter, why is her hand telling us something else? It seems unconnected to the story of family love and God’s compassion.

I believe Leonardo shows us a way to better ourselves spiritually. The finger is pointing to heaven for our sake.

How can what is depicted in this drawing speak to us? First, of course, we can understand that Anne and Mary represent more than mothers. It is not only mothers who can empathize with the pain of their children; fathers can as well. And, going one step further, the ability to show empathy and compassion is not reserved for parents alone.

Since every life in its course must submit to troubles, illnesses, and death, on this point, all humanity is one family. And we can, as all traditional spiritual paths remind us, treat each other with compassion as we suffer through life together.

But doing so requires patience to endure insults, disregard faults, and allow ourselves to feel each other’s troubles as our own.

How well Leonardo’s drawing reveals that enduring for others is the same thing as compassion. When we reach within for the strength to endure, we approach the sublime, and rest there in perfect composure and peace.

Art has an incredible ability to point to what can’t be seen so that we may ask “What does this mean for me and for everyone who sees it?” “How has it influenced the past, and how might it influence the future?” “What does it suggest about the human experience?” These are some of the questions we will explore in our series Reaching Within: What Traditional Art Offers the Heart.

Introducing the Sonnet

“Allegory of Lyric Poetry,” 1753, by François Boucher. Oil on canvas. 45 1/4 inches by 62 3/4 inches. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, 1969. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

How 14 eloquent lines bring clarity

BY LORRAINE FERRIER, EPOCH TIMES

June 19, 2019 Updated: June 19, 2019

“They are eloquent who can speak low things acutely, and of great things with dignity, and of moderate things with temper,” Cicero wrote in “The Orator.”

The traditional sonnet can allow this level of communication to occur. The rhyme and rhythm of a sonnet may even evoke the poem’s meaning before the words are actually understood. This is due to the structural integrity of the sonnet.

If the structure is lost, so too is the harmony—of the rhyme and the reason. Like musical notation without its bars, it falls from grace into discord.

The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan sonnet and the English sonnet, also known as the Shakespearean sonnet, as this is the type of sonnet Shakespeare wrote. They differ in their rhyming schemes, but both encourage eloquent discourse.

How the Sonnet Came to Be

The first sonnets were thought to be written between 1220 and 1250, at the court of Emperor Frederick II of Sicily, in southern Italy. It was the emperor’s notary and legal assistant, Giacomo da Lentino, who wrote the majority of these sonnets.

Sonnets were used as poetic dialogue in the court to convey arguments and counterarguments, explore ideas and concepts, and normally end with a solution. The sonnet gave the court poets a vehicle to demonstrate their wit, wisdom, and intellect.

Statue of Francesco Petrarca at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (Frieda/CC BY SA 3.0)
Statue of Francesco Petrarca at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (Frieda/CC BY SA 3.0)

In the 1330s, Francesco Petrarca, more commonly known as Petrarch, popularized the form. The Petrarchan sonnet is the Italian sonnet as we know it today. Petrarch’s “Canzoniere,” or “Song Book,” written over 40 years, contains 317 sonnets along with other kinds of poems, for example, ballads and madrigals. Petrarch’s “Canzoniere” inspired the love poetry of Renaissance Europe.

The Petrarchan sonnet uses a “volta” (turn) to divide the 14 lines of the sonnet into two distinctive parts. The first eight lines (the octave) are an outpouring of a problem: the thoughts and feelings that need addressing. It’s at this point in the sonnet that the volta comes, where the poet redirects or restates the idea, thoughts, or feelings. The last six lines (the sestet) address the issue, emphasize a point, and normally provide a solution.

The rhyming scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is ABBA ABBA for the octave and CDE CDE or CDC DCD for the sestet.

Petrarch also stretched the sonnet into longer narratives by stringing several sonnets together, as seen earlier in Dante Alighieri’s “Vita Nuova” written 1274–91.

How the Sonnet Came to England

In 1520, the sonnet came to England, to the court of King Henry VIII, where Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, wrote the first sonnets in English.

Wyatt became acquainted with French and Italian poets when he traveled to Italy and to the papacy on diplomatic missions. When he returned to England, Wyatt translated Petrarch’s sonnets.

Wyatt adapted the Petrarchan sonnet to make the last two lines rhyme (the couplet), and Howard changed the octave to introduce more variation in the rhymes. The rhyming scheme of the English sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

In general, the rhythm of sonnets in the English language follow an “iambic pentameter,” meaning each line must have five (penta) “iambs.” One iamb is one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable.

Shakespeare’s couplet in “Sonnet 18” sums up the enduring romance of this poetic form:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Child Prodigies of Classical Music

Prodigy Umi Garrett is now 18 years old. She was the Category A Grand Prix winner, at age 10, of the II Chopin International Competition in Hartford, Conn., in 2010.(UmiGarrett.com)

Motivated from within or without?

By Jani Allan

May 1, 2019 Updated: May 2, 2019

There was always music in our house when I was growing up: operas and piano sonatas and string quartets. I still remember the sound of the needle poised on a record making the noise of hushed applause before the music started.

When I was 4, my mother asked me if I would like to learn to play the piano. I replied that I would teach myself. She immediately set about finding me a teacher. A series of teachers, really, as I was deemed a prodigy; I moved up the totem pole of tutors.

My mother’s ambitions for my concert-pianist future coursed through her veins. My last teacher was Professor Adolph Hallis. Professor Hallis accepted only exceptional pupils.

His other star student was Marian Friedman. Marian was talented, diligent, and dedicated. I could tell. I would be sitting on a tapestry couch in the waiting room, waiting for her to be released.

When I was 10, I played with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra. When, at age 14, I was selected to play at the Young Artists Concerto Festival, I started having pre-recital nerves. I also resented the four hours I had to practice the piano every day. Prodigiousness in childhood does not always predict adult eminence.

Marian went on refining her brilliance. She is described as a “connoisseur’s pianist” by The Boston Globe. In the Globe’s July 13, 2005 article, it was reported from Rhode Island that Mark Malkovich III, general director of the Newport Music Festival for 30 years, celebrated his 75th birthday with a present to himself: getting Marian Friedman to play a recital.

She is extremely low-profile.

At What Price?

Stories of child prodigies in the classical genre have a long history and include the greatest composers in Western history.

When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 6, he performed on the harpsichord for The Empress of Austria.

Maria Theresa and her family looked at his chubby, dimpled hands moving precisely on the keyboard and were charmed. When he finished the performance, the story goes, he ran up to the empress, climbed up on her knee, and kissed her.

She returned the kiss, enchanted by his character and his talent. He was giving piano and violin recitals. It is said that at the age of 3, he had perfect pitch. By age 5, he had composed a concerto and by 8, his first symphony.

Mozart’s father, Leopold, was probably the original pushy parent, forcing him to perform all over Europe. Few know that Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl), was also a prodigy, but her destiny was marriage.

Mozart seemed to cope with the great expectations that come with precocious talent.

Others haven’t.

Violinist Niccolò Paganini was locked in a room and forced to practice, a regimen that, some said, helped him to develop a drinking problem by the time he was 16.

Niccolo Paganini portrait by ean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres" width="855" height="1200" /> Some child prodigies develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pressures they suffer. A portrait of Niccolò Paganini, 1819, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. (Public Domain)
Niccolo Paganini portrait by ean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres” width=”855″ height=”1200″ /> Some child prodigies develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pressures they suffer. A portrait of Niccolò Paganini, 1819, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. (Public Domain)

Some prodigies thought to have “the gift” had demanding fathers who doubled as demanding teachers.

Lang Lang is a Chinese concert pianist whose accomplishments include performances with the Berlin Philharmonic at the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, a White House state dinner, and sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. From the age of 2, Lang Lang would sit with his father, Lang Guoren, who made his son practice up to four hours a day. As Lang Lang grew older, he practiced eight hours a day. Growing up in Mao’s China, the father’s own dreams of musical success were smashed. He wanted his son to be the musician he was never allowed to be.

Did his determination border on psychological or physical abuse? Lang says no. He and his father wanted the same thing: for Lang Lang to become a globally famous musician. “I was never forced to play the piano,” he said in a China Daily article.

Genius as an Abnormality

What are child prodigies? Are they completely different human beings? Apart from agreeing that prodigies possess levels of ability that most adults never can, we still don’t know where prodigiousness originates from. The debate of nature versus nurture continues to rage.

Writer David Shenk goes as far as to argue that prodigiousness is not in fact genetic.

Scientists continue to debate the origins of prodigiousness. General intelligence, working memory, or even a form of autism could be responsible, they argue, as NeuroNation reports. Piano teacher Veda Kaplinsky of Juilliard said to The New York Times: “Genius is an abnormality and can signal other abnormalities … ADD or OCD or Asperger’s.” Scholars argue that Mozart himself was on the autism spectrum.

Child Prodigies Today

There is a long history of child prodigies in the classical music genre. Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Mendelssohn are just a few.

But in recent years, a growing number of prodigies of increasingly young ages are reaching a global audience. China has an estimated 30 million young pianists and 10 million young violinists, The New York Times says. And Newsweek reports that Chinese prodigies are attending European and North American music schools and conservatories.

According to Murray McLachlan, a teacher at Cheltham’s School of Music in Manchester, England, the success of the Chinese at music competitions is unsurprising. McLachlan observed, in the Independent, that this success derives from the rock-solid work ethos of their families.

“Musicians are doing more advanced things at a younger age than ever before,” Kaplinsky said, in Newsweek. “Today kids are recording the Chopin études at age 10,” she said. “When I was young, nobody played them until they were adults.”

Chopin,_by_Wodzinska" width="640" height="863" /> Chopin’s études, considered some of the most challenging pieces in the piano repertoire, are now being played by children. Portrait of Chopin, 1835, by his fiancée Maria Wodzinska. (Public Domain)
Chopin,_by_Wodzinska” width=”640″ height=”863″ /> Chopin’s études, considered some of the most challenging pieces in the piano repertoire, are now being played by children. Portrait of Chopin, 1835, by his fiancée Maria Wodzinska. (Public Domain)

It’s the Olympic syndrome: Records exist in order to be broken.

Umi Garrett, who was 8 years old when she played Liszt on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” displayed the commonality of prodigious children: an extraordinary desire and dedication.

She told Ellen that she would play the piano “all day long” if she could.

Choosing a Path

This begs the question, should I have cut short my own classical music career?

I was 18 when it was decided that I would go to the University of the Witwatersrand to study for a bachelor’s degree in music.

At the last minute, I changed my mind about doing music and enrolled for a degree in fine arts instead.

Wits School of Arts in the 1970s shines like a diamond in the dust bunnies of my memory.

I’ve come to understand that the ultimate achievement of any human being is love. We need to love what we do. If we hesitate, then we need to rock with the waves and invent a new way of being in the world.

Jani Allan is a South African journalist, columnist, writer, and broadcaster.

Stories From the Students’ Rules: Humility and Duty as a Sibling and Before Elders

Along with his father Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi was a renowned calligrapher of the Chinese Jin Dynasty. (Public Domain)

BY DANIEL TENG

March 19, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2019

The “Standards for Being a Good Student and Child” (Di Zi Gui) is a traditional Chinese textbook for children that teaches children morals and proper etiquette. It was written by Li Yuxiu in the Qing Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Kang Xi (1661-1722). In this series, we present some ancient Chinese stories that exemplify the valuable lessons taught in the Di Zi Gui. The second chapter of the Di Zi Gui instructs readers to fulfill their duties as siblings.

It is written in the Di Zi Gui:

The older brother shall be friendly
And the young brother respectful.
When elder and younger are harmonious,
Xiao (filial piety) is achieved.

Taking riches lightly,
There is no cause for resentment.
Speaking with tolerance,
Anger will dissipate naturally.

A good sibling should always place his elder and younger siblings before himself. A famous example is the descendant of Confucius Kong Rong, who learned to share at an early age.

Kong Rong (153-208 A.D.), the 20th-generation-descendant of Confucius, was a high-ranking official during the reign of Emperor Ling in the Eastern Han Dynasty. As he was once the chancellor of Beihai (present-day Weifang, Shandong Province), he was also known as Kong Beihai. During his tenure, Kong Rong built cities and schools, and advocated Confucianism. He was also a famed poet and essayist.

Kong Rong was known to be good-tempered and hospitable, and his house was always full of guests. Kong Rong upheld etiquette, and as a child he became a household name when he demonstrated great generosity among his brothers.

There were seven brothers in Kong’s family and he was the sixth son. When Kong Rong was four years old, being the youngest child then, he was given first priority in choosing from a basket a pears. However, he chose the smallest pear, leaving the big ones for his elder brothers. Even after his younger brother was born, Kong Rong would give his older and younger brothers the larger pears, leaving the smallest for himself.

When asked why, Kong Rong said, “My elder brothers should have the bigger pears because they’re older, but my younger brother should also have the bigger pear as it’s my responsibility to take care of my younger brother.” Kong Rong’s response earned the praise of the Kong family and of those who heard of it.

This story has been handed down as a much-told story of etiquette and fraternal love, and to this day it remains an essential part of children’s formative education.

Prime Minister Li Mian Forfeits his Friend’s Gold

Li Mian (717-788 AD) was an official and general of the Tang Dynasty, serving as a chancellor during the reign of Emperor Dezong. He was a descendant of Tang’s founding emperor, Emperor Gaozu.

Li was poor during his early years, but he did not try to seek ill-gotten wealth. He instead spent his time studying texts, from which he acquired an honest and trustworthy character. One day, Li met a rich scholar who was going to the capital to complete his studies and take the Imperial Exam.

The two became very good friends. But the scholar became seriously ill one day, and Li took care of him and treated him just like his own sibling.

The scholar eventually succumbed to his illness. Before his death, he begged Li to keep the balance of his gold that remained after paying for his funeral arrangements. Li had no choice but to accept the gift, in order for the scholar pass on in peace. Ultimately, however, Li did not keep a single dime. He secretly hid the gold under the scholar’s coffin, and returned the scholar’s silver to the scholar’s family.

During his appointment as Jie du shi in Lingnan, Li didn’t use his power to usurp the fortunes or property of the foreign merchants. He always politely declined any gifts from merchants, and, on his retirement, he even threw all the rhino horns and ivory his family had received into the river.

During his two decades of service as an official, Li distributed his salary to his relatives and subordinates, leaving little for himself. As a result, he was found to have no savings when he passed away. Li was honored greatly and given the posthumous title of Zhen Jian, meaning “He Who is Pure and Simple.”

Be Humble Before Your Elders

It is stated in the Di Zi Gui:

When addressing a distinguished elder,
Do not use his personal name.
When before a distinguished elder,
Do not show off your talents.

Aside from requiring the use of proper salutations when speaking with elders, an important aspect of traditional Chinese etiquette is modesty.

An ancient calligrapher from the Jin Dynasty, and Han Dynasty founding hero Zhang Liang famously respected their elders in their youth. They learned to be humble and hence acquired knowledge and skills from their elders.

Renowned calligrapher Wang Xizhi, known as the Sage of Calligraphy in China, lived during the Jin Dynasty (303–361 A.D.) and had seven children, among whom his youngest son, Wang Xianzhi, (344-386) was also a distinguished calligrapher.

By the time Xianzhi was 15 years old, he had already achieved a great level of skill in calligraphy and often received praise from his father and other elders. Xianzhi hence became arrogant and lazy, thinking that his ability was already excellent and that he no longer needed to put in the effort to work hard and improve himself.

There is a story about how Wang Xizhi helped his son realize the foolishness of his arrogance and understand the importance of diligence. One day, Wang Xizhi was summoned to the capital and to bid him farewell, his family held a lavish dinner. Fine food and wine were served at the feast. While slightly intoxicated, Wang Xizhi had a sudden inspiration to write some words of wisdom as guidance for Xianzhi.

Wang Xizhi wrote a poem on the wall called “Precepts Against Arrogance” (戒驕詩 ), advising Xianzhi not to be arrogant but to work hard. Xianzhi, however, was not entirely convinced. He copied the poem dozens of times each day, and just before his father returned home, he erased his father’s words when no one was looking and rewrote it in the same location on the wall, imitating his father’s calligraphy.

Xianzhi was very proud of himself. In his arrogance, he thought his calligraphy was just as good as his father’s and that no one would be able to tell the difference.

When Wang Xizhi came home, he looked intently at the poem on the wall for a long time, then scratched his head and sighed.”Could I have drunk too much wine that night, to have written such clumsy characters?” he exclaimed.

His son instantly blushed, feeling deeply uneasy and ashamed. Wang Xianzhi finally realized that only through diligent study and hard work could he eventually become a renowned calligrapher.

Zhang Liang and the Shoes of the Old Sage

Zhang Liang (around 262–189 B.C.), courtesy name Zhifang, was born in the State of Han (located around what is now the center of Henan Province). In order to avoid the chaos of war, his family moved to Nanyang in Henan and then moved to the Pei Kingdom. Later on, he settled down in Pei Kingdom and became a citizen there.

In Zhang Liang’s childhood, on a windy, snowy winter day, he happened upon Yishui Bridge in the town of Xiapi. There he met an old man wearing a yellow shirt and a black hood. The old man threw one of his shoes down to the bridge on purpose and said to Zhang Liang:

“Little boy, please go to pick my shoe back up for me.” Zhang Liang did not hesitate. Regardless of the danger of slipping into the river and being exposed to the cold wind, he went down to the bridge and picked up the shoe for the old man. The old man did not take the shoe, but offered his foot to Zhang Liang and asked him to put the shoe on for him. Zhang Liang did not mind and respectfully did what the old man told him to do. The old man smiled and said: “Boy, I see much promise in you. Come here tomorrow morning and I will teach you some things.”

Zhang Liang respected the elder and put his shoes on for him.
Zhang Liang respected the elder and put his shoes on for him.

The next day, before the crack of dawn, Zhang Liang came to the bridge and saw that the old man was already there. The old man said: “You came here later than me. I cannot teach you the Tao today.” It happened like this three times.

The third time, Zhang Liang finally got to the bridge earlier than the old man. The old man finally gave Zhang Liang a book and said: “When you fully understand this book, you will be able to serve as the chief military counselor for a king in the future. If you need my help in the future, come to see me. I am the yellow stone at the foot of Gucheng Mountain.”

Zhang Liang went back home and he studied the book very carefully. Finally he mastered its essence. He was able to understand all of its intricacy and became very familiar with military tactics. Later, he assisted Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han dynasty, to found the Han dynasty and unite China.

Every thought shows one’s true colors

Yu Liangchen wished to become a scholar-bureaucrat, which was only achievable by passing the civil service exam. Here the exam candidates gather to see the exam results. A painting by Qiu Ying, circa1540. (Public Domain)

Ancient Chinese Stories: What’s Inside Counts

BY ANONYMOUS

March 6, 2019 Updated: March 6, 2019

During the Ming Dynasty, Yu Liangchen and his peers created a community where members did good deeds and were forbidden to kill, visit prostitutes, curse, or talk behind others’ backs.

Yu ran this community for many years, yet he encountered misfortunes, one after another.

Yu took the imperial examinations seven times but never passed.

He and his wife had nine children—five boys and four girls—but four of the boys and three of the girls died early. The surviving boy was very smart and had two birthmarks on the sole of his left foot, and the couple loved him dearly. Sadly, at age 6, he disappeared while playing outside. Yu’s wife wept over the loss of her children and eventually became blind.

In addition, the family was by this time living in poverty.

Yu wondered why he was punished with such a horrible fate when he’d never committed any wrongdoing.

An Unexpected Visitor

One evening, when Yu was 47, he heard a knock at the door. An old man was outside. After Yu invited him inside, the elderly gentleman explained that he had come to visit because he knew Yu’s family was feeling low.

Yu noticed that the man’s manner of speaking was not that of an ordinary mortal, so he treated him with deep respect. He told his guest that he studied hard and did good deeds his entire life but still had a horrible life.

“I have known about your family for a long time,” said the guest. “You have too many evil thoughts, you complain and pursue fame, and you dishonored the Jade Emperor. I’m afraid even more punishment awaits you.”

Stunned, Yu asked, “I know that a person’s good and evil deeds are all recorded in detail. I vowed to do good for others and controlled my behavior. How have I been pursuing fame?”

“You say you don’t kill, but you constantly cook crabs and lobsters in your kitchen. You say you watch your words, but you’re always sarcastic, angering many gods. You say you don’t use prostitutes, but your heart moves when you see beautiful women,” answered the old man.

Ming Dynasty portrait of a Chinese official. (Public Domain)
Ming Dynasty portrait of a Chinese official. (Public Domain)

“It’s even worse that you claim you’re dedicated to doing good deeds. The Jade Emperor sent a messenger to check your records, and you’ve not done one single good deed in many years.

“On the contrary, your thoughts are filled with greed, lust, and jealousy. You elevate yourself through belittling others. You want revenge whenever you think of the past. With a mind this malicious, you can’t escape disaster. How dare you pray for blessings?” continued the guest.

“Master, you know all about me. You must be an immortal! Please save me!” cried Yu, panic-stricken.

The old man advised: “I hope you can abandon greed, lust, jealousy, and various desires. Don’t pursue fame and self-interest. Then you will be rewarded with goodness.” He then disappeared.

Rewarded With Goodness

The next day, Yu prayed to heaven and swore to change. Determined to eliminate all improper thoughts, he gave himself a Taoist name: “Empty Thought.”

From then on, he paid attention to every thought and action. He saw to it that all of his deeds, whether big or small, effectively benefited others. Whenever he had the chance, he told people about the principles of karmic retribution.

At age 50, Yu was hired to tutor the son of Zhang Juzheng, the prime minister of Emperor Wanli. Yu and his family moved to the capital, and Yu passed the imperial exams the following year.

One day Yu went to visit the eunuch Yang Gong and met Yang’s five adopted sons. One of them—a 16-year-old—looked familiar to Yu. Yu learned that he was born in Yu’s own hometown, Jiangling, but was separated from his family when he accidentally boarded a grain boat as a child.

Yu asked the boy to take off his left shoe. When he saw two birthmarks on the sole, Yu exclaimed, “You’re my son!”

The shocked eunuch was happy for them and immediately sent the boy to Yu’s residence. Yu rushed to tell his wife the good news. She cried so bitterly that her eyes bled. Her son held her face with his hands and kissed her eyes. Suddenly, her vision returned.

Yu was overcome with both grief and joy. He no longer wanted to be a high-ranking official and asked to return to his hometown. Admiring Yu’s moral character, Zhang approved his request and sent him a generous gift.

Back home, Yu worked even harder for others’ benefit. His son married and had seven children, who carried on their grandfather’s tradition. Influenced by them, people truly believed that karmic retribution is real.

Translated by Dora Li into English, this story is reprinted with permission from the book “Treasured Tales of China,” Vol. 1, available on Amazon.

Shen Yun Principal Dancer Kaidi Wu’s Ethereal Grace

Dancer Kaidi Wu is a lady of few words. She expresses herself through dance, a language she makes so vivid and beautiful that it moves audiences to tears. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

BY IRENE LUO, EPOCH TIMES

January 28, 2019 Updated: January 28, 2019

In a bustling restaurant of excited chatter and shouting toddlers, Kaidi Wu is the opposite of her surroundings. Her voice is like a spring breeze—gentle and slow, serene and unhurried. She seems to emerge from a different world, a realm of tranquility and grace.

Kaidi first saw Shen Yun Performing Arts after she had immigrated from China to Toronto, Canada. Like many in the audience, she thought to herself, “Oh, how I wish I could become one of them!”

Now, Kaidi is a principal dancer with the performing arts company that inspired her dream, and she has come to embody the ethereal beauty that had mesmerized her when she first saw Shen Yun.

as Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, in New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2016 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

Inner Beauty

Dressed in a flowing white gown adorned with yellow and blue, Kaidi flurries a pink silk cloth and floats across the stage as if carried by a cloud in New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television’s 2012 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. There’s a twinkle in her eyes, a smile on her lips. Immersed in Kaidi’s self-choreographed piece, audiences can almost see the rippling waters in a turquoise lake, feel the gentle breeze of a balmy morning, and hear the chirping swallows in a secluded valley.

How does a dancer capture such beauty, we wonder. “This kind of beauty should be the natural reflection of your inner self,” Kaidi tells us. It’s not about outward appearances, but instead about the channeling of inner virtues. Thus, classical Chinese dance cannot be separated from the cultivation of a kind and virtuous character.
Kaidi Wu performs as Ban Zhao, the first known female Chinese historian, in New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2014 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

This past September, in NTD Television’s recent competition, Kaidi chose to perform the role of Wang Baochuan. From an aristocratic family, Wang Baochuan had fallen in love with the commoner Xue Rengui because he was a kind man of excellent character. After they married, he rose up the ranks to become a Tang Dynasty general and was away on the battlefield for many years.

Living alone in a crude cave dwelling, Wang Baochuan “had to overcome all kinds of hardships. But she was not fearful, and she simply persisted in waiting,” Kaidi says. Eighteen years later, she was finally rewarded when she reunited with her beloved husband, who had returned triumphantly from the battlefield. Kaidi says that in Wang Baochuan, she saw loyalty, perseverance, and selflessness—all characteristics she admires.

As part of Shen Yun Performing Arts, Kaidi is not only reviving traditional Chinese dance but also showcasing the values of the ancients. Back then, the paragon of a Chinese woman epitomized refinement, grace, and virtue, things swept under by the tides of modernity.


Kaidi Wu performs in the technical portion of New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2016 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

A Tranquil Mind

When speaking about the challenges of learning classical Chinese dance, Kaidi reveals that her biggest challenge was mental, not physical. A teacher once told her that she was not steady enough as a dancer, as if holding her breath on the surface. She was like a leaf that drifted about at the whims of the breeze. “I easily became nervous,” Kaidi says.

Over time, she realized the source of the problem. “I worried about how others would view me. If I thought about myself, I would become more nervous.” She thus had to learn to calm her mind and dispel the insecurities that distracted her.

For Kaidi, handkerchief dances have always been especially challenging. One of the most impressive parts of the dance is when a dancer twirls her handkerchief into the air, performs a front aerial, and then successfully catches the handkerchief before it falls to the ground. As she worried about potentially failing to catch the handkerchief, she would do poorly. “When we perform, we shouldn’t think about ourselves. Just think about what you should do with a steady, unwavering heart,” Kaidi says.

Beginning in 2012, Kaidi was given lead roles in dances in Shen Yun’s world tours. Her new roles brought on more responsibility, and it became more important for her to maintain a steady mindset. “You can’t stand out by yourself,” Kaidi says. Instead, she strives to assimilate to the larger body, to perfect the performance as a whole.

“We are all doing the same thing. One person’s strength cannot match what the group has as a whole,” Kaidi says. Over time, she learned to focus less on herself and to adapt to those around her, putting their needs above her own. Only then could her performances truly move audiences.

Fulfilling Her Purpose

As a dancer, Kaidi evokes not only the grace of celestial fairies and imperial palace maidens but also the dignity of modern-day heroes. In Shen Yun’s 2017 world tour, in the piece titled “A Child’s Choice,” she played an orphaned girl who later discovers the truth behind her parents’ deaths. As practitioners of the Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Dafa, they had been brutally killed by the Chinese communist regime for their faith.

The dance’s storyline draws from real events occurring in China. The spiritual practice of Falun Dafa once had an estimated 100 million adherents in China. But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party ordered a nationwide persecution, beginning 19 years of brutality and inhumanity that continue to this day.

Instead of succumbing to the pressure of the persecution, Kaidi’s character continues her parents’ legacy, standing up for what is right. At the end of the piece, she resolutely unfurls a banner with the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—the central tenets of Falun Dafa. Her determination and fearlessness move audiences to tears.

Growing up in a family of Falun Dafa practitioners, Kaidi had personally experienced the far-reaching claws of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution. When she was living in China with her grandparents (her parents had immigrated to Canada first), their home was raided by police because they practiced Falun Dafa. At elementary school, Kaidi was discriminated against, forcibly held back one year, and sometimes bullied by her classmates, who once hit her with a water bottle. At the time, young Kaidi was simply bewildered. It wasn’t until she was about to leave China that she came to realize she had been treated unfairly because of her family’s faith.

Kaidi speaks of these past circumstances lightly, and she laughs as she recalls how clueless she was back then. Although her own suffering was relatively minor, she feels for her fellow Falun Dafa practitioners in China who have lost their freedoms, their careers, and even their lives as a result of the persecution. She thus cherishes opportunities to portray these stories on stage. “Many people say they cannot believe this is happening in China. Many people also say they were moved to tears,” Kaidi says. At these moments, she feels in her heart, “We didn’t do this for nothing. Everything we do is worth it.”


Kaidi pulls off challenging dance techniques with poise and confidence, the hallmarks of a seasoned performer. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

As our interview concluded, we set off for a photo shoot in a nearby park. At our last stop on the sandy beach of a lake, we asked Kaidi to perform a few dance poses and leaps. She found a nearby wooden pole to lean on as she stretched, and she pressed on it two or three times to check its sturdiness. In the next second, she had kicked her leg effortlessly behind her head to form a straight line pointing to the heavens.

As she took off her sneakers for the photo shoot, we saw that her toes and heels were covered in scars, the battle wounds of a professional dancer. But she seemed not to notice the existence of these wounds. Wearing an unadorned black shirt, she leapt into the air with the brilliant colors of sunset as her backdrop, blossoming in time that seemed to stop. Her silhouette was like an imprint of her many years on stage, a decade of stirring splendor. Through it all, we see the warm smile on her face, gentle and sincere, accompanied by the radiant hues of twilight.

Published with permission from Elite Lifestyle Magazine.

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2019: The Year of the Pig

BY LILY CHOO, EPOCH TIMES

January 29, 2019 Updated: January 30, 2019

The Chinese New Year is celebrated on Feb. 5, marking the beginning of the year of the Pig in the Chinese zodiac.

It is a time for reflection, for resolutions, and new hope in the year to come. Some believe the year of the Pig will bring wealth and prosperity.

According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, the first day of the Chinese lunar year may fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February.

The Chinese lunar calendar incorporates both the lunar cycle and the position of the sun. According to legend, the calendar dates back to 2600 B.C., when the mythical Yellow Emperor started the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac and named an animal to represent each year in the 12-year cycle.

The 12 animal signs are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

A pig lantern displayed at the Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai, China to mark the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Pig, which starts on February 5. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sign of the Pig

The Pig is the twelfth sign in the Chinese zodiac. If you were born in 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, and 2019 your Chinese zodiac sign is likely the pig. It is important, though, to consider the day of your birth in January or February in regard to the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Pig is perhaps the most complex symbol, since it has both positive and negative elements. The positive elements are wealth (symbolized by the piggy bank), good fortune, friendship, patience, popularity and peace.

Pigs are associated with stupidity in both Eastern and Western cultures. In English, the word “Pigheaded” means stupid or stubborn. In Chinese, the word “pig head” is used when scolding at someone who is stupid. The Pig represents negative personality traits such as being stubborn, careless, absent-minded, disorganized and mischievous.

New Year Wishes: A Year to Expect Wealth

The Chinese people believe the year of the Pig will bring wealth and prosperity. Besides having a stable income, they hope to make more money, and some believe it is an auspicious time to make new financial investments.

The year of the Pig is expected to bring joy, friendship and love for all the zodiac signs as the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Happy Chinese New Year! (過年好! guò nián hǎo)

The Golden Pig brings you good fortune! (金豬報福! Jīn zhū bào fú)

Lucky and joyful year of the Pig! (福豬頌春! Fú zhū sòng chūn)

Peace and good health in the year of the Pig! (豬年安康! zhū nián ān kāng)

The year of the Pig arrives and good fortune comes! (豬年到 好運到! zhū nián dào, hǎo yùn dào)

Year of the Pig brings luck and joy. (Catherine Chang/The Epoch Times)

New Year Traditions

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese festivals. The celebration usually lasts 15 days, from New Year’s Day to the Lantern Festival, which is the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

There are many traditions and customs associated with the Chinese New Year. Families thoroughly clean their homes in order to sweep away any ill fortune and to make way for good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with delicate red paper cutouts and poetic couplets—pairs of corresponding lines of poetry that express people’s joy and hope for the New Year.

Fireworks, firecrackers, red packages, the lion dance, the dragon dance, and lanterns with riddles are other common customs and traditions observed during the Chinese New Year period.


Friends dine on a feast to celebrate Chinese New Year during a community activity in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China on Jan. 14, 2006. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Many families gather for a big family reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and the Chinese people also visit their relatives as part of the New Year celebration.

Children learn traditional paper cutting with festive red paper, the Year of the Pig, in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, China on Jan. 30, 2019. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Lion dancers perform at a Chinese New Year celebration in a small community in upstate New York, U.S. on Jan. 31, 2016. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Celebration with Couplet Verses

Couplet Verses or Chinese New Year Couplets, Chūn Lián (春聯) in Chinese, are an important part of the New Year celebration. Also known as antithetical couplet, it is often in traditional style and reflects hope, peace and prosperity for the year to come.

Chinese couplets are usually a pair of successive lines of verse, especially a pair that rhyme, and the number of characters in each line is the same. The structure is very strict and well-defined.

The first line is the “head” and the second line is the “tail.” In a couplet, a balance must be found between head and tail, between each character in one and the usually contrasting character in the same position in the other, and in tone, rhyme, and meaning.

A horizontal streamer (橫披, hénɡ pī), which normally has four characters, is added above the entrance and between the two vertical streamers to indicate the theme of the couplets.

A woman walking past a wall decorated with new year couplets at a traditional market on Di Hua street to mark the coming Lunar New Year—the Year of the Pig—in Taipei on Jan. 25, 2019. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644), Zhu Yuangzhang, issued an order before the New Year’s Eve requiring every householder to write couplets on red paper and post them on entry door frames to welcome the New Year.

In the morning of the New Year, the emperor dressed himself in plain clothes and went door-to-door reading the couplets. Whenever he saw well-written scrolls, he was very happy and praised the writers’ talent.

With the emperor’s advocacy, the tradition of writing New Year couplets became a custom that has been continued to the present day.

Couplet Verses for the Year of the Pig:

The Pig is the most valued among the six farm animals [pig, cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog] (六畜豬為首 liù chù zhū wéi shǒu)

Spring takes the lead among the four seasons (一年春佔先 yī nián chūn zhàn xiān)

The Dog keeps guard for a peaceful 2018 (狗守太平歲 gǒu shǒu tài píng suì)

The Pig ushers in a prosperous 2019 (牽富裕年 zhū qiān fù yù nián)

Although the Pig is the last (Chinese) zodiac sign (雖屬生肖後 suī shǔ sheng xiào hòu)

The Pig is ranked first among the six farm animals [pig, cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog] (卻居六畜先(què jū liù chù xiān)

Traditional African-American Gospel Songs Deliver Message of Hope and Freedom

(L: Wikipedia | Dave Brinkman (ANEFO), R: Illustration)

BY SIMONE JONKER

January 17, 2019 Updated: January 17, 2019

African-American spirituals are a valuable part of American history. Born out of an oral tradition that reveals Christian values while describing the hardships of slavery from the period of 1600 to 1870, the music and melodies of these songs are still being performed and appreciated today.

The negro spirituals are usually sung as part of Black History Month, which is observed during February each year.

Mahalia Jackson (©Wikipedia | Dave Brinkman (ANEFO))

African cultural traditions, which include drumming and dance, were brought with them from West Africa.

As their music was forbidden by European masters, the slaves took to the hills and valleys, singing and playing their instruments by rivers and secret worship houses.

Lyrics are accompanied by plaintive melodies, and are created in a “call and response” format.

Themes of love, forgiveness, compassion, judgment, death, and eternal life weave a ribbon of faith throughout the music, and furthermore call upon slaves to “walk with God.”


Harriet Tubman (©Wikimedia | Horatio Seymour Squyer)

The songs were born from pain and a yearning for justice and freedom. Interestingly, secret code words in the songs’ lyrics were used strategically for the very purpose of obtaining freedom.

For example, the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” was used by Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist, to warn slaves of danger or to tell them that it was safe to come out of hiding.

Tubman herself was an escaped slave and made around 13 missions to rescue family and friends using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

Another example is the song “Wade in the Water,” which too was to warn escaping slaves to leave the trail and get into the water to deter the dogs of slave catchers.

To the slaves, “Crossing the River Jordan” meant crossing the Ohio River, going North, and gaining freedom.


Dvořák (©Wikipedia)

When classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was touring the United States in 1893, he conducted research on Negro melodies.

“In the Negro melodies of America I find all that is needed for a great and noble school of music,” he told the New York Herald.

“They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, bold, merry, gay, or what you will. There is nothing in the whole range of composition which cannot be supplied from this source…I am satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded on what is called the Negro melodies.”

On another occasion, Dvorak added that they were “as great a melody as any Beethoven wrote.”

John Hurt (©Wikipedia)

Many African-American spirituals have a melody and rhythm intended to be heard and felt.

Due to limited education, the lyrics are mostly repetitious and written in a slave dialect. Nevertheless, the message and charm are undeniable, such as songs like, “Is Massa Gonna’ Sell Us Tomorrow?” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

American spirituals are a captivating American art form and have been performed by musicians such as Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, Bessie Smith, Marvin Gaye, and many, many more.

Moreover, this unique genre of music radiates healing and comfort to the brokenhearted, and delivers a message of hope and freedom to the oppressed.

Bao Xuan’s Magical Encounter

Image depicting the current-day Chinese saying which describes a united young couple who live happily even in poverty with the term “riding together in a carriage driven by deer”. (Internet photo)

BY JOYCE LO, EPOCH TIMES

January 7, 2019 Updated: January 7, 2019

Bao Xuan came from an impoverished family during the Western Han Dynasty, 2,000 years ago. His mentor appreciated his high morals and let his daughter Shaojun marry Bao, endowing them with a gorgeous dowry.

An Excellent Wife

Bao said to his bride: “You were born into a wealthy family and are used to luxurious ornaments. But I am poor, I could not accept such rich gifts.”

His bride answered: “My father saw that you paid attention to cultivating good conduct and virtue, leading a simple, thrifty life, thus he let me marry you so that I could serve you. As I’m your wife now, I will obey you.”

Bao Xuan laughed happily: “If you could think this way that is my wish.”

Shaojun put away all her luxurious dresses and ornaments and switched to simple attire, riding back to the village with Bao in a carriage drawn by deer.

After greeting her mother-in-law, Shaojun immediately started household chores, carrying out the duty of a daughter-in-law. As an excellent wife, together with her husband, Shaojun’s name was also recorded in the history book of the Han Dynasty.

People nowadays in China describe a united young couple who live happily even in poverty with the term “riding together in a carriage driven by deer”.

A Magical Encounter

Bao Xuan was later recommended to become a government officer.

Once on his way to the capital, Bao met a scholar who was hurrying alone on the road. The scholar suddenly had a heart attack. Bao tried to help him but could not save the man who died quickly.

Bao did not know the name of the scholar but saw that he carried a book of scrolls made of white silk together with ten pieces of silver. Bao used one piece of silver to arrange the burial of the scholar, placed the rest of the silver underneath his head, and the book of silk scrolls on his belly.

After saying prayers, Bao Xuan spoke into the scholar’s tomb: “If your soul can still work, you should let your family know that you are buried here. I now have other duties to attend to, I cannot stay here longer.” He bade farewell and carried on with his journey.

Upon arriving at the capital, Bao Xuan noticed a white horse following him. The horse would not allow anybody but Bao get close to it. It would not let anyone else feed it. So Bao adopted the horse.

After Bao completed his mission in the capital, he rode this white horse home but got lost on the way. He saw the residence of a marquis. As it was getting dark, he went forward to ask for lodging. He presented his name card to the master of the family.

The servant who saw the horse with Bao at the door reported to the Marquis: “This guest stole our horse”.

The Marquis said: “Bao Xuan is a man of good reputation. There must be reason for this. Do not say unfounded things.”

The Marquis asked Bao: “How did you get this horse? He used to be ours and we do not know why he disappeared.”

Bao told in detail his experience with the scholar and his heart attack. The Marquis was shocked: “That scholar, it was my son!”

The Marquis retrieved the coffin of his son. When he opened it, he saw the silver and the white silk scroll, all laying there as Bao described.

Sources: “Biographies of Exemplary Women” in “Book of the Later Han” or “History of the Later Han” a Chinese court document covering the years from 6 to 189 A.D.

“Lie Yi Zhuan,” a novel written by Cao Pi, the Emperor of Cao Wei.
Edited by Damian Robin