excerpt from Shi Ji 117: The Biography of Sima Xiangru

The Shanglin Park of the Son of Heaven


“To the east of it lies Cangwu,

To the west the land of Xiji;

On its south runs the Cinnabar River,

On its north, the Purple Deeps.

Within the park spring the Ba and Chan rivers,

And through it flow the Jing and Wei,

The Feng, the Hao, the Lao, and the Jue,

Twisting and turning their way

Through the reaches of the park;

Eight rivers, coursing onward,

Spreading in different directions, each with its own form.

North, south, east, and west

They race and tumble,

Pouring through the chasms of Pepper Hill,

Skirting the banks of the river islets,

Winding through the cinnamon forests

And across the broad meadows.

In wild confusion they swirl

Along the bases of the tall hills

And through the mouths of the narrow gorges;

Dashed upon boulders, maddened by winding escarpments,

They writhe in anger,

Leaping and curling upward,

Jostling and eddying in great swells

That surge and batter against each other;

Darting and twisting,

Foaming and tossing,

In a thundering chaos;

Arching into hills, billowing like clouds,

They dash to left and right,

Plunging and breaking in waves

That chatter over the shallows;

Crashing against the cliffs, pounding the embankments.

The waters pile up and reel back again,

Skipping across the rises, swooping into the hollows,

Rumbling and murmuring onward;

Deep and powerful,

Fierce and clamorous,

They froth and chum

Like the boiling waters of a cauldron,

Casting spray from their crests, until,

After their wild race through the gorges,

Their distant journey from afar,

They subside into silence,

Rolling on in peace to their long destination,

Boundless and without end,

Gliding in soundless and solemn procession,

Shimmering and shining in the sun,

To flow through giant lakes of the east

Or spill into the ponds along their banks.

Here homed dragons and red hornless dragons,

Sturgeon and salamanders,

Carp, bream, gudgeon, and dace,

Cowfish, flounder, and sheatfish

Arch their backs and twitch their tails,

Spread their scales and flap their fins,

Diving among the deep crevices;

The waters are loud with fish and turtles,

A multitude of living things.

Here moon-bright pearls

Gleam on the river slopes,

While quartz, chrysoberyl,

And clear crystal in jumbled heaps

Glitter and sparkle,

Catching and throwing back a hundred colours

Where they lie tumbled on the river bottom.

Wild geese and swans, graylags, bustards,

Cranes and mallards,

Loons and spoonbills,

Teals and gadwalls,

Grebes, night herons, and cormorants

Flock and settle upon the waters,

Drifting lightly over the surface,

Buffeted by the wind,

Bobbing and dipping with the waves,

Sporting among the weedy banks,

Gobbling the reeds and duckweed,

Pecking at water chestnuts and lotuses.

Behind them rise the tall mountains,

Lofty crests lifted to the sky;

Clothed in dense forests of giant trees,

Jagged with peaks and crags;

The steep summits of the Nine Pikes,

The towering heights of the Southern Mountains,

Soar dizzily like a stack of cooking pots,

Precipitous and sheer.

Their sides are furrowed with ravines and valleys,

Narrow-mouthed clefts and open glens,

Through which rivulets dart and wind.

About their base, hills and islands

Raise their tall heads;

Ragged knolls and hillocks

Rise and fall,

Twisting and twining

Like the coiled bodies of reptiles;

While from their folds the mountain streams leap and tumble,

Spilling out upon the level plains.

There they flow a thousand miles along smooth beds,

Their banks lined with dikes

Blanketed with green orchids

And hidden beneath selinea,

Mingled with snakemouth

And magnolias;

Planted with yucca,

Sedge of purple dye,

Bittersweet, gentians, and orchis,

Blue flag and crow-fans,

Ginger and turmeric,

Monkshood, wolfsbane,

Nightshade, basil,

Mint, ramie, and blue artemisia,

Spreading across the wide swamps,

Rambling over the broad plains,

A vast and unbroken mass of flowers,

Nodding before the wind;

Breathing forth their fragrance,

Pungent and sweet,

A hundred perfumes

Wafted abroad

Upon the scented air.

Gazing about the expanse of the park

At the abundance and variety of its creatures,

One's eyes are dizzied and enraptured

By the boundless horizons,

The borderless vistas.

The sun rises from the eastern ponds

And sets among the slopes of the west;

In the southern part of the park,

Where grasses grow in the dead of winter

And the waters leap, unbound by ice,

Live zebras, yaks, tapirs, and black oxen,

Water buffalo, elk, and antelope,

'Red-crowns' and 'round-heads',

Aurochs , elephants, and rhinoceroses.

In the north, where in the midst of summer

The ground is cracked and blotched with ice

And one may walk the frozen streams or wade the rivulets,

Roam unicorns and boars,

Wild asses and camels,

Onagers and mares,

Swift stallions, donkeys, and mules.

Here the country palaces and imperial retreats

Cover the hills and span the valleys,

Verandahs surrounding their four sides;

With storied chambers and winding porticos,

Painted rafters and jade-studded corbels,

Interlacing paths for the royal palanquin,

And arcaded walks stretching such distances

That their length cannot be traversed in a single day.

Here the peaks have been levelled for mountain halls,

Terraces raised, storey upon storey,

And chambers built in the deep grottoes.

Peering down into the caves, one cannot spy their end;

Gazing up at the rafters, one seems to see them brush the heavens;

So lofty are the palaces that comets stream through their portals

And rainbows twine about their balustrades.

Green dragons slither from the eastern pavilion;

Elephant-carved carriages prance from the pure hall of the west,

Bringing immortals to dine in the peaceful towers

And bands of fairies to sun themselves beneath the southern eaves.

Here sweet fountains bubble from clear chambers,

Racing in rivulets through the gardens,

Great stones lining their courses;

Plunging through caves and grottoes,

Past steep and ragged pinnacles,

Homed and pitted as though carved by hand,

Where garnets, green jade,

And pearls abound;

Agate and marble,

Dappled and lined;

Rose quartz of variegated hue,

Spotted among the cliffs;

Rock crystal, opals,

And finest jade.

Here grow citrons with their ripe fruit in summer,

Loquats, persimmons,

Wild pears, tamarinds,

Jujubes, arbutus,

Peaches and grapes,

Almonds, damsons,

Mountain plums and litchis,

Shading the quarters of the palace ladies,

Ranged in the northern gardens,

Stretching over the slopes and hillocks

And down into the flat plains;

Lifting leaves of kingfisher hue,

Their purple stems swaying;

Opening their crimson flowers,

Clusters of vermilion blossoms,

A wilderness of trembling flames

Lighting up the broad meadow.

Here crab apple, chestnut and willow,

Birch, maple, sycamore and boxwood,

Pomegranate, date palm,

Betel nut and palmetto,

Sandalwood, magnolia,

Cedar and cypress

Rise a thousand feet,

Their trunks several arm-lengths around,

Stretching forth flowers and branches,

Rich fruit and luxuriant leaves,

Clustered in dense copses,

Their limbs entwined,

Their foliage a thick curtain

Over stiff and bending trunks,

Their branches sweeping to the ground

Amidst a shower of falling petals.

They tremble and sigh

As they sway with the wind,

Creaking and moaning in the breeze

Like the tinkle of chimes

Or the wail of flageolets.

High and low they grow,

Screening the quarters of the palace ladies;

A mass of sylvan darkness,

Blanketing the mountains and edging the valleys,

Ascending the slopes and dipping into the hollows,

Overspreading the horizon,

Outdistancing the eye.

Here black apes and white she-apes,

Drills, baboons, and flying squirrels,

Lemurs and langurs,

Macaques and gibbons,

Dwell among the trees,

Uttering long wails and doleful cries

As they leap nimbly to and fro,

Sporting among the limbs

And clambering haughtily to the treetops.

Off they chase across bridgeless streams

And spring into the depths of a new grove,

Clutching the low-swinging branches,

Hurtling across the open spaces,

Racing and tumbling pell-mell,

Until they scatter from sight in the distance.

Such are the scenes of the imperial park,

A hundred, a thousand settings

To visit in the pursuit of pleasure;

Palaces, inns, villas, and lodges,

Each with its kitchens and pantries,

Its chambers of beautiful women

And staffs of officials.

Here, in late fall and early winter,

The Son of Heaven stakes his palisades and holds his hunts,

Mounted in a carriage of carved ivory

Drawn by six jade-spangled horses, sleek as dragons.

Rainbow pennants stream before him;

Cloud banners trail in the wind.

In the vanguard ride the hide-covered carriages ;

Behind, the carriages of his attendants.

A coachman as clever as Sun Shu grasps the reins;

A driver as skilful as the Duke of Wei stands beside him.

His attendants fan out on all sides

As they move into the palisade.

They sound the sombre drums

And send the hunters to their posts;

They comer the quarry among the rivers

And spy them from the high hills.

Then the carriages and horsemen thunder forth,

Startling the heavens, shaking the earth;

Van guard and rear dash in different directions,

Scattering after the prey.

On they race in droves,

Rounding the hills, streaming across the lowlands,

Like enveloping clouds or drenching rain.

Leopards and panthers they take alive;

They strike down jackals and wolves.

With their hands they seize the black and tawny bears,

And with their feet they down the wild sheep.

Wearing pheasant-tailed caps

And breeches of white tiger skin

Under patterned tunics,

They sit astride their wild horses;

They clamber up the steep slopes of the Three Pikes

And descend again to the river shoals,

Galloping over the hillsides and the narrow passes,

Through the valleys and across the rivers.

They fell the 'dragon sparrows'

And sport with the xiezhi,

Strike the xiage

And with short spears stab the little bears,

Snare the fabulous yaoniao horses

And shoot down the great boars.

No arrow strikes the prey

Without piercing a neck or shattering a skull;

No bow is discharged in vain,

But to the sound of each twang some beast must fall.

Then the imperial carriage signals to slacken pace

While the emperor wheels this way and that,

Gazing afar at the progress of the hunting bands,

Noting the disposition of their leaders.

At a sign, the Son of Heaven and his men resume their pace,

Swooping off again across the distant plains.

They bear down upon the soaring birds;

Their carriage wheels crush the wily beast.

Their axles strike the white deer;

Deftly they snatch the fleeting hares ;

Swifter than a flash

Of scarlet lightning,

They pursue strange creatures

Beyond the borders of heaven.

To bows like the famous Fanruo

They fit their white-feathered arrows,

To shoot the fleeing goblin-birds

And strike down the griffins.

For their mark they choose the fattest game

And name their prey before they shoot.

No sooner has an arrow left the string

Then the quarry topples to the ground.

Again the signal is raised and they soar aloft,

Sweeping upward upon the gale,

Rising with the whirlwind,

Borne upon the void,

The companions of gods,

To trample upon the black crane

And scatter the flocks of giant pheasants,

Swoop down upon the peacocks

And the golden roc,

Drive aside the five-coloured yi bird

And down the phoenixes,

Snatch the storks of heaven

And the birds of darkness,

Until, exhausting the paths of the sky,

They wheel their carriages and return.

Roaming as the spirit moves them,

Descending to earth in a far corner of the north,

Swift and straight is their course

As they hasten home again.

Then the emperor ascends the Stone Gate

And visits the Great Peak Tower,

Stops at the Magpie Turret

And gazes afar from the Dew Cold Observatory,

Descends to the Wild Plum Palace

And takes his ease in the Palace of Righteous Spring;

To the west he hastens to the Xuanqu Palace

And poles in a pelican boat over Ox Head Lake.

He climbs the Dragon Terrace

And rests in the Tower of Lithe Willows,

Weighing the effort and skill of his attendants

And calculating the catch made by his huntsmen.

He examines the beasts struck down by the carriages,

Those trampled beneath the feet of the horsemen

And trod upon by the beaters;

Those which, from sheer exhaustion

Or the pangs of overwhelming terror,

Fell dead without a single wound,

Where they lie, heaped in confusion,

Tumbled in the gullies and filling the hollows,

Covering the plains and strewn about the swamps.

Then, wearied of the chase,

He orders wine brought forth on the Terrace of Azure Heaven

And music for the still and spacious halls.

His courtiers, sounding the massive bells

That swing from the giant bell rack,

Raising the pennants of kingfisher feathers,

And setting up the drum of sacred lizard skin,

Present for his pleasure the dances of Yao

And the songs of the ancient Emperor Ge;

A thousand voices intone,

Ten thousand join in harmony,

As the mountains and hills rock with echoes

And the valley waters quiver to the sound.

The dances of Bayu, of Song and Cai,

The Yuzhe song of Huainan,

The airs of Dian and Wencheng,

One after another in groups they perform,

Sounding in succession the gongs and drums

Whose shrill clash and dull booming

Pierce the heart and startle the ear.

The tunes Jing, Wu, Zheng, and Wei,

The Shao, Huo, Wu, and Xiang music,

And amorous and carefree ditties

Mingle with the songs of Yan and Ying,

'Onward Chu!' and 'The Gripping Wind'.

Then come actors, musicians and trained dwarfs,

And singing girls from the land of Didi,

To delight the ear and eye

And bring mirth to the mind;

On all sides a torrent of gorgeous sounds,

A pageant of enchanting colour.

Here are maidens to match

The goddesses Blue Lute and Princess Fu:

Creatures of matchless beauty,

Seductive and fair,

With painted faces and carved hairpins,

Fragile and full of grace,

Lithe and supple,

Of delicate feature and form,

Trailing cloaks of sheerest silk

And long robes that seem as though carved and painted,

Swirling and fluttering about them

Like magic garments;

With them wafts a cloud of scent,

A delicious perfume;

White teeth sparkle

In engaging smiles,

Eyebrows arch delicately,

Eyes cast darting glances,

Until their beauty has seized the soul of the beholder

And his heart in joy hastens to their side.

"But then, when the wine has flowed freely and the merriment is at its height, the Son of Heaven becomes lost in contemplation, like one whose spirit has wandered, and he cries, ‘Alas! What is this but a wasteful extravagance? Now that I have found a moment of leisure from the affairs of state, I thought it a shame to cast away the days in idleness and so, in this autumn season, when Heaven itself slays life, I have joined in its slaughter and come to this hunting park to take my ease. And yet I fear that those who follow me in ages to come may grow infatuated with these sports, until they lose themselves in the pursuit of pleasure and forget to return again to their duties. Surely this is no way for one who has inherited the throne to carry on the great task of his forbears and insure the rule of our imperial house!’

"Then he dismisses the revellers, sends away the huntsmen, and instructs his ministers, saying, ‘If there are lands here in these suburbs that can be opened for cultivation, let them all be turned into farms in order that my people may receive aid and benefit thereby. Tear down the walls and fill up the moats, that the common folk may come and profit from these hills and lowlands! Stock the lakes with fish and do not prohibit men from taking them! Empty the palaces and towers, and let them no longer be staffed! Open the storehouses and granaries to succour the poor and starving and help those who are in want; pity the widower and widow, protect the orphans and those without families! I would broadcast the name of virtue and lessen punishments and fines; alter the measurements and statutes, change the colour of the vestments, reform the calendar and, with all men under heaven, make a new beginning!’

“Then, selecting an auspicious day and fasting in preparation,

He dons his court robes

And mounts the carriage of state,

With its flowery pennants flying

And its jade bells ringing.

He sports now in the Park of the Six Arts,

Races upon the Road of Benevolence and Righteousness,

And scans the Forest of the Spring and Autumn Annals.

His archery now is to the stately measures of ‘The Fox Head’

And ‘The Beast of Virtue’;

His prey is the Dance of the Black Cranes,

Casting the heavenly Cloud Net,

He snares the songs of the Book of Odes,

Sighs over ‘The Felling of the Sandalwood’

And delights in the ruler who ‘shares his joy with all’.

And wanders in the orchard of the Book of Documents.

He spreads the teachings of the Book of Changes,

Sets free the strange beasts penned in his park,

Ascends the Bright Hall,

And seats himself in the Temple of the Ancestors.

“Then may his ministers freely present before him their proposals for the betterment of the empire, and within the four seas there is no one who does not share in the 'spoils' of this new hunt. Then is the empire filled with great joy; all men turn their faces toward the wind of imperial virtue and harken to its sound. As though borne upon a stream, they are transformed to goodness; with shouts of gladness they set forth upon the Way and journey to righteousness, so that harsh punishments are set aside and no longer used. Finer is this ruler's virtue than that of the Three Sages of antiquity, more plenteous his merits than those of the Five Emperors. When a ruler has achieved such virtue, then may he enjoy himself at the hunt without incurring blame. But to gallop from morn to night in sunshine or rain, exhausting the spirit and tiring the body, wearing out the carriages and horses, draining the energies of the huntsmen and squandering the resources of the treasury; to think only of one's own pleasure before sufficient benefits have been bestowed upon others; to ignore the common people and neglect the government of the nation, merely because one is greedy for a catch of pheasants and hares - this no truly benevolent ruler would do! Thus, from what I can see, the kings of Qi and Chu merit only pity. Though their domains are no more than a thousand li square, their hunting parks occupy nine tenths of the area, so that the land cannot be cleared and the people have no space to grow food. When one who is no more than a feudal prince attempts to indulge in extravagances fit only for the supreme ruler, then I fear it is the common people who will suffer in the end!”

At these words Sir Fantasy and Master No-such abruptly changed countenance and looked uneasily about, quite at a loss for words. Then, backing off and rising from their places, they replied, “We are uncouth and ignorant men who do not know when to hold our tongues. Fortunately today we have received your instruction, and we shall do our best to abide by it.”