兵車行 Bīng-chē xíng (Ballad of the Army Carts)
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Du Fu (杜甫) – Original Text (c. 750 AD)
1. Chē lín-lín,
2. Mǎ xiāo-xiāo,
3. Xíng-rén gōng-jiàn gè zài yāo,
4. Yè-niáng qī-zǐ zǒu xiāng-sòng,
5. Chén-āi bū jiàn Xiān-yáng-qiáo.
6. Qiān yī dùn zú lán dào kū,
7. Kū-shēng zhí-shàng gān yún-xiāo.
8. Dào-páng guò-zhě wèn xíng-rén,
9. Xíng-rén dàn yún: ‘Diǎn-xíng pín.
10. ‘Huò cóng shí-wǔ běi fāng Hé,
11. ‘Biàn zhì sì-shí xī yīng-tián.
12. ‘Qù shí lǐ-zhèng yǔ guǒ tóu,
13. ‘Guī-lái tóu bái huán shù-biān.
14. ‘Biān-tīng liú-xuě chéng hǎi-shǔi,
15. ‘Wǔ-huáng kāi-biān yì wèi yǐ.
16. ‘Jūn bū wén Hàn-jiā shān-dōng ér-bǎi zhōu,
17. ‘Qiān cūn wàn luò shēng jīng qǐ.
18. ‘Zòng yǒu jiàn fù bǎ chú lí,
19. ‘Hé shēng lǒng-mǔ wú dōng xī.
20. ‘Kuàng fù Qín bīng nài kǔ-zhàn,
21. ‘Bèi qū bū-yì quǎn yǔ jī.
22. ‘Zhǎng-zhě suí yǒu wèn,
23. ‘Yì-fū gǎn shēn-hèn?
24. ‘Qiě rú jīn-nián dōng,
25. ‘Wèi xiū Guān-xī zú.
26. ‘Xiàn-guān jí suǒ zū,
27. ‘Zū-shuì cóng-hé chū?
28. ‘Xìn zhī shēng nán è,
29. ‘Fǎn-shì shēng nǚ hǎo;
30. ‘Shēng nǚ yóu dé jià bì-lín,
31. ‘Shēng nán mái-mò suí bǎi-cǎo.
32. ‘Jūn bū jiàn Qīng-hǎi tóu,
33. ‘Gǔ-lái bái-gǔ wú-rén shōu
34. ‘Xīn guǐ fán-yuān jiù guǐ kū,
35. ‘Tiān yīn yǔ shī shēng jiū-jiū.’
English Translation 1 by David Lunde
Wagons rattling and banging,
horses neighing and snorting,
conscripts marching, each with bow and arrows at his hip,
fathers and mothers, wives and children, running to see them off–
so much dust kicked up you can’t see Xian-yang* Bridge!
And the families pulling at their clothes, stamping feet in anger,
blocking the way and weeping–
ah, the sound of their wailing rises straight up to assault heaven.
And a passerby asks, “What’s going on?”
The soldier says simply, “This happens all the time.
From age fifteen some are sent to guard the north,
and even at forty some work the army farms in the west.
When they leave home, the village headman has to wrap their turbans* for them;
when they come back, white-haired, they’re still guarding the frontier.
The frontier posts run with blood enough to fill an ocean,
and the war-loving Emperor’s dreams of conquest have still not ended.
Hasn’t he heard that in Han*, east of the mountains,
there are two hundred prefectures, thousands and thousands of villages,
growing nothing but thorns?
And even where there is a sturdy wife to handle hoe and plough,
the poor crops grow raggedly in haphazard fields.
It’s even worse for the men of Qin*; they’re such good fighters
they’re driven from battle to battle like dogs or chickens.
Even though you were kind enough to ask, good sir,
perhaps I shouldn’t express such resentment.
But take this winter, for instance,
they still haven’t demobilized the troops of Guanxi*,
and the tax collectors are pressing everyone for land-fees–
land-fees!–from where is that money supposed to come?
Truly, it is an evil thing to bear a son these days,
it is much better to have daughters;
at least you can marry a daughter to the neighbor,
but a son is born only to die, his body lost in the wild grass.
Has my lord seen the shores of the Kokonor*?
The white bones lie there in drifts, uncollected.
New ghosts complain and old ghosts weep,
under the lowering sky their voices cry out in the rain.”
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English Translation 2 by David Hawkes
The carts squeak and trundle, the horses whinny, the conscripts go by, each with a bow and arrows at his waist. Their fathers, mothers, wives, and children run along beside them to see them off. The Hsien-yang (Xianyang) bridge cannot be seen for dust. They pluck at the men’s clothes, stamp their feet, or stand in the way weeping. The sound of their weeping seems to mount up to the blue sky above. A passer-by questions the conscripts, and the conscripts reply:
“They’re always mobilizing now! There are some of us who went north at fifteen to garrison the River and who are still, at forty, being sent to the Military Settlements in the west. When we left as lads, the village headman had to tie our headcloths for us. We came back white-haired, but still we have to go back for frontier duty! On those frontier posts enough blood has flowed to fill the sea, but the Martial Emperor’s dreams of expansion remain unsatisfied. Haven’t you heard, sir, in our land of Han, throughout the two hundred prefectures east of the mountains briers and brambles are growing in thousands of little hamlets; and though many a sturdy wife turns her own hand to the hoeing and ploughing, the crops grow just anywhere, and you can’t see where one field ends and the next begins? And it’s even worse for the men from Ch’in (Qin). Because they make such good fighters, they are driven about this way and that like so many dogs or chickens.
Though you are good enough to ask us, sir, it’s not for the likes of us to complain. But take the winter, now. The Kuan-hsi (Guanxi) troops are not being demobilized. The District Officers press for the land-tax, but where is it to come from? I really believe it’s a misfortune to have sons. It’s actually better to have a daughter. If you have a daughter, you can at least marry her off to one of the neighbors, but a son is born only to end up lying in the grass somewhere, dead and unburied. Why look, sir, on the shores of the Kokonor the bleached bones have lain for many a long year, but no one has ever gathered them up. The new ghosts complain and the old ghosts weep, and under the grey and dripping sky the air is full of their baleful twitterings.
Note: Chinese place names originally translated using the older Wade-Giles romanization system have also been rendered in the more commonly used pinyin system in parentheses to assist the reader.
* Xian-yang: Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
* wrap their turbans: Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today. The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
* Han, Qin: Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms. Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
* Guanxi: The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
* Kokonor: This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”. Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.
The Tang Dynasty was initially considered a golden age of Chinese arts and culture. However, by the mid-8th century, the country was in decline due to continuous military campaigns as the imperial rulers attempted to extend their rule over more of Asia. As described in the poem, “The Ballad of the Army Carts,” these campaigns had a devastating impact on the common people in China. The conscription of young men to serve in the emperor’s armies depopulated much of rural China of its productive workforce, leading to declines in agriculture and starvation among the population. The lives of the common people were further impacted by heavy taxation imposed to support the emperor’s military campaigns. These extreme conditions contributed to internal rebellions and power struggles between opposing factions.
The life of Du Fu, like the whole country, was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755, and his last 15 years were a time of almost constant unrest. Du Fu’s poetry is nearly unique for his time for his empathetic writings about the sufferings of the common people as China was engulfed in wars of conquest and internal rebellions.
Du Fu (Chinese: 杜甫) (Wade-Giles romanization Tu Fu), who lived from 712–770 A.D., was a Chinese poet and politician of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). Along with his elder contemporary and friend Li Bai (also known as Li Po), Du Fu is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His greatest ambition was to serve his country as a successful government official, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations, and in spite of his brilliance, he twice failed the imperial examinations required for entry into the Chinese bureaucracy. Nevertheless, he was a highly literate scholar and an astute observer of his times. He wrote poetry throughout his life, undeterred by his personal circumstances.
Although initially he was little-known to other writers, after his death, his works came to be hugely influential in the literary cultures of both China and Japan. Of his poetic writing, nearly fifteen hundred poems have been preserved over the ages. He has been called the “Poet-Historian” and the “Poet-Sage” by Chinese critics. The range and quality of his work has been compared to the greatest poets of the western world, and some scholars have introduced him as the Chinese Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, Beranger, Hugo, or Baudelaire.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Du_Fu, downloaded on 24 September 2021
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1999). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66991-X (paperback).
Hung, William; (1952). Tu Fu: China’s Greatest Poet. Harvard University Press
Hawkes, David (2017) A Little Primer of Tu Fu. Hong Kong and New York: Chinese University of Hong Kong and the New York Review of Books. Note: this is a revised edition. The original publication of this book was in 1967, by the Oxford University Press.