Anecdotes Reflected in Couplets| The Stories of Cuihu Lake Reflected in Couplets
What will you think of first when it comes to Cuihu Lake?
Perhaps the lake like emerald glaze immersed with daylight,
Perhaps a pond of lotus flowers blossoming and waving in the wind,
Perhaps the lively homeland of fish and gulls where algae lean against the reflection of clouds,
Or evergreen plants in company with the tower throughout four seasons. .
When it comes to Cuihu Lake, you might think of untold frames of beautiful scenery, but please do not forget them —
plaques and couplets singing high praise of Cuihu Lake.
They guard every trace of Cuihu Lake’s history in profound silence with either vigorous or delicate strokes.
▼ Let’s take a look at the stories about the plaques and couplets in Cuihu Lake Park. ▼
The most “palatable” couplet
The most “palatable” couplet in Cuihu Lake Park is definitely “the spring breeze from miles away makes string beans green, the autumn water in the bay makes Manchurian wild rice pure and white.” It is written by Chen Rongchang and carved on the western gate of the park.
In the Yuan Dynasty, Cuihu Lake was connected to Panjiawan, a beautiful bay in the embrace of Cuihu Lake. Regardless of sun or rain, the bay is always rippling gorgeously. During the dry season, people of Kunming will grow some aquatic vegetables on the exposed shoal. Therefore, Cuihu Lake used to be nicknamed the “sea of vegetables.”
“The spring breeze from miles away makes string beans green, the autumn water in the harbor makes Manchurian wild rice pure and white,” exactly describes the scene at that time.
The author is Chen Rongchang. His style name is Xiaopu and his pen name was Xuzhai, which changed to Kunsou when he returned to his hometown. He was not only an imperial scholar during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, but also a famous scholar in Modern Yunnan. He also taught at the Jingzheng Academy (formerly located in the Courtyard of the Sports Commission of Kunming on North Cuihu Lake Road, and the alma mater of Yuan Jiagu, a highest scorer in the imperial examination of economics during the late Qing Dynasty). Chen Rongchang was good at calligraphy and had drawn from Yan Yanqing and Qian Li since he started learning calligraphy, but when he grew old, he began to draw from Mi Fu.
1. The Long Couplet Poem of Daguan Pavilion
2. Eight Views of Jiulong Pond
In addition to the couplet carved on the Western Gate, The Long Couplet Poem of Daguan Pavilion, a long couplet poem carved at the entrance of the Gallery of the Culture of Clean Governance on the Zhulin Island in Cuihu Lake Park, as well as Eight Views of Jiulong Pond, a suite of poems for which Cuihu Lake is famous, was created by Chen Rongchang.
The Most “Erudite” Couplet
The author is Qian Nanyuan, originally named as Qian Feng and born in Kunming, Yunnan Province. He became an imperial scholar in the 26th year of the reign of Emperor Qainlong, and was later promoted to the imperial censor. Qian Nanyuan was a clean and upright official, but he displeased Emperor Qianlong and his rank was degraded because he impeached Guo Tai, a henchman of Heshen (an official of the Qing Dynasty who was favored by Emperor Qianlong). When he attempted to impeach Heshen for the second time, he suddenly died in the Yunnan Mansion in Beijing. Later generations found the draft of a memorial to Emperor Qianlong under his pillow, which listed more than 20 guilty charges against Heshen.
Qian Nanyuan was good at painting lean horses. Because his poems, essays, calligraphy, paintings and couplets were all famous, he was called “the most comprehensive man in Central Yunnan.”
1 Strong Cultural Ambience in the North (Li Qunjie)
2 Wenjin Bridge
In addition to the couplet, the northern gate also features four Chinese characters “北涌文风, which means strong cultural ambience in the north” (written by Li Qunjie, Director of the Chinese Calligraphers Association and Chairman of the Calligraphers Association of Yunnan Province) on its top; there is a three-hole bridge outside the northern gate named Wenjin Bridge, which is the closest bridge in Cuihu Lake Park to Yunnan University.
The Most Imposing Couplet
Located at the foot of Luofeng Mountain in Kunming, Cuihu Lake Park used to be a bay in Dianchi Lake. It was completely separated from Dianchi Lake after Shams al-Din, Administrator of Government Affairs of the Central Secretariat, completed the hydraulic project to dredge the estuary in the 13th year of Ziyuan period during the Yuan Dynasty. Overlooked by Luofeng Mountain, Cuihu Lake is green and dazzling and thus called “emerald in the city” by people of Kunming.
In the Cuihu Lake Park, the most imposing couplet is definitely “the mighty seemed to move away two pagodas; it also seemed move back Wuhua Mountain along with itself” on the northern gate. It was derived from Taihua Temple by Guo Wen, a poet from Central Yunnan, and originally used to depict how Dianchi Lake is overlooked by Wuhua Mountain. However, because Cuihu Lake is also near Wuhua Mountain, as well as two pagodas of Dade Temple, it has been borrowed to depict how Cuihu Lake is overlooked by Wuhua Mountain since ancient times.
The author of this couplet is Yuan Jiagu, a highest scorer in the imperial examination of economics during the late Qing Dynasty. Through a contrast of the static mountain and pagodas and the floating lake, it makes the Wuhua Mountain and the Dade Temple seem alive. Not only does this couplet feel imposing, but also it depicts the geographical environment around Cuihu Lake.
Born in Shiping, Yunnan Province, the author Yuan Jiagu participated in at the entry-level examination at 22, and the special examination and the national examination at 23 at the province level(in the Chinese imperial examination system, there were four levels of examinations: the entry level, the province level, the state level and the final examination at the imperial palace, and each contestant must pass the previous level to win the qualification for the next level). Because he was often the top scorer, he was nicknamed “the king in examinations” by his mates. Later, Yuan Jiagu won the first place among 306 contestants in the imperial examination of economics, which was a breakthrough for Yunnan Province which had no top scorer in the imperial examination before. Yuan Jiagu was the former director of Yunnan Provincial Library and the first professor of Chinese language at Donglu University (the predecessor of Yunnan University). In his late years, he built a residence, as well as a garden named “Tree Garden” in Cuihui Lake. He also piled a mound named “Jinzhong Hill” and built a small gazebo named “Kejing Gazebo.” Besides, he grew flowers and vegetables for beautifying purpose, and encouraged himself with the following words: “the narrower the garden, the more delighted the mind; the narrower the garden, the more wholesome the body.”
Yuan Jiagu was a skillful and generous calligrapher. He was generous with most people who requested his calligraphy. At present, his calligraphies are scattered in many scenic spots of Kunming such as Cuihu Lake, Daguan Pavilion, Western Mountains and Heilong Pool in Kunming. The three Chinese characters “海心亭 (Haixin Gazebo)” in Cuihu Lake Park was also written by him.
“Easter Eggs” Hidden Behind Plaques and Couplets
1 Guanyu Tower• Gentle Moonlight
2 Camellia Garden • Jiadian Pavilion
3 At the Entrance of Guanyu Tower
4 At the Entrance of Lianhua Zen Temple
1 Guanyu Tower • Gentle Moonlight: The content on this plaque is taken from an essay of Shen Congwen. Because Cuihu Lake Park is close to Yunnan University, Shen Congwen, Zhu Ziqing and Wu Mi, among others, often came to the side of Cuihu Lake to drink tea, read books and talk about historical and current events. When it comes to Shen Congwen, the first thing that occurs to everyone’s mind should be the letter he wrote to his wife Zhang Zhaohe: I’ve seen a full moon only once in my life. But I soothed myself, saying, “I’ve walked on many bridges, seen clouds many times and drunken many types of wine, but I only love one person who is in her prime years.”
2 Camellia Garden • Jiadian Gazebo: The name of the gazebo “Jiandian (literally the best in Yunnan)” was taken from the line “camellia flowers are the best flowers in Yunnan according to the ranking.” Zixi Camellia Garden in Chuxiong boasts one of the world’s oldest artificially cultivated Camellia trees. This tree was grafted by a monk of Donglin Temple on a wild camellia tree as the rootstock during the reign of Kublai Khan in the Yuan Dynasty and it is now over 660 years old. It blooms every November until May of the next year, so its flowering period lasts for half a year. More singularly, it firstly grows red flowers called “Zixi Camellia Flower”, and after that, white flowers called “Tongzimian (literally, the face of a child).” Since it grows flowers of two colors, it is unique to Zixi Mountain. In the Ming Dynasty, a painter and monk wrote a poem for it, “Flowers vie with each other splendidly, and among them camellia flowers are the best in Yunnan according to the ranking. They bloom like fire on the branches, which lights up the sky against the residue of snow.” Cuihu Lake Park names the camellia garden after “camellia flowers are the best flowers in Yunnan according to the ranking” to indicate that “Camellia flowers of Yunnan Mountain are the best in the world.”
3.The Plaque and Couplet at the Entrance of Guanyu Tower: The plaque at the entrance of Guanyu Tower is carved with four Chinese characters “荷静风恬 (the lotus is static and the wind is still)” and the signature of the author Zhou Zhongyue, who served as the Secretary General of the Commanders-in-chief's Office during the Republic of China. Zhou Zhongyue had studied hard since childhood, and one time when he was reading a book, he had wanted to apply his buckwheat cake with some honey but mistakenly dipped it into the ink reservoir, so he smeared ink all over his mouth. This deed later became highly commended far and wide. The content of the couplet is “The city features a refreshing new attraction like the Buddhist paradise; the killer view of the tower is the misty wonderland” with the signature of the author Ma Zihua.
4. The Plaque and Couplet at the Entrance of Lianhua Zen Temple: Lianhua Zen Temple was a “Buddhist place” of Cuihu Lake during the Qing Dynasty. Back then, Lianhua Zen Temple surrounded by water and Yuantong Temple nestled against mountains were the two Buddhist resorts in Kunming. The content carved on the plaque at the entrance of Lianhua Zen Temple was taken from Lin Zexu’s letter, and the couplet “fish swims lithely in its own world where ten mu of lotus flowers blossom; an endless row of willows extends to a Buddhist temple which stands from afar” is the most famous couplet in Cuihu Lake Park, and the author is the Cantonese Ling Shiyi. In the couplet, “ten mu of lotus flowers” indicates expansive areas, “fish swims lithely in its own world” is a moving scene, “an endless row of willows” indicates the number is large, and the “Buddhist temple” is a static scene. The contrast between the moving fish and the static temple highlights the beautiful scenery of Cuihu Lake and Zen wisdom.