Ode to E-pang Palace

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Ode to E-pang Palace 1

Du, Mu 2 (803-852 CE)

China became unified when the State of Qin conquered the six states 3.
Only after all the trees on Shu Mountain were felled did E-pang Palace appear.
The mammoth complex of buildings and towers stretched more than 300 miles
And separated people from the sun and sky.
The construction of the palace began in the north at the foot of Li Mountain 4,
Turned west, and then advanced toward Xian-yang City 5.
Two mighty rivers 6 ran through passages in the wall of the palace.
Every fifty feet, there was a tower.
Every one hundred feet, there was a pavilion.
The long corridor was full of twists and turns.
The corners of the roof’s ridges were protruding as if beaks were pecking upward.
Each building matched its terrain and showed its craftsmanship.
If one viewed the structure from a mountain peak,
The yards appeared aligned like a honeycomb
And the gutters seemed to wind like a whirlpool.
The torrential rain cascaded down like a waterfall from the high rising eaves.
A long bridge 7 lay above the waves like a dragon.
One wondered why one could not see clouds that always surround a dragon.
A four-lane overpass ran across the sky like a rainbow.
However, how could a rainbow appear without any rain?
One might easily become lost in the misty maze of tall and short buildings.
When the stage was warmly enlivened with dancing and singing,
One felt like one was bathing in Spring sunshine.
After the dance was over,
The quiet stage and cold sleeves of the dancers' garments would make one feel
Bleak and desolate as if one was caught in wind and rain.
On the same day and in the same place, one's feelings varied greatly.
The royal concubines and princesses of the six states
Were forced to leave their palaces and were taken to the State of Qin 8.
They were singing in the morning
And playing music in the evening to amuse the emperor.
At first glance, it seemed that stars were twinkling.
However, it was only the mirror boxes the ladies opened to apply cosmetics.
At first glance, it seemed that copious rolls of green clouds 9 were floating by.
It was discovered that the ladies were combing their long hair into buns.
The Wei River swelled and became oily
Because they removed their make-up and washed it into the river.
Plumes of smoke rose at a slant and fog spread sideways
Because the ladies were burning fragrant plants.
Suddenly a thunderous sound surprised the ladies.
It was the emperor's carriage passing by.
By listening to the distant rumbling of the wheels,
It was difficult to tell where the carriage was going.
The complexions and faces of the ladies were extremely charming and beautiful.
They craned their necks, looked far away and wished the emperor would visit them.
Some of them never saw the emperor during his 36-year reign 10.
The collections of the States of Yan and Zhao,
The productions of the States of Han and Wei,
And the treasures of the States of Qi and Chu
Were plundered from their people for generations.
They were piled up like mountains.
People were not allowed to keep any of these treasures
And they were all moved to Qin's palace.
Precious sacrificial vessels were used as caldrons.
Jade was treated like stone.
Gold was considered chunks of earth.
Pearls were considered sand.
They were discarded everywhere around the palace.
The Emperor of Qin did not cherish them.
Well, what the Emperor of Qin desired was also what all the people in China wanted.
The Emperor of Qin loved gaiety.
Everyone wanted his family to live happily as well.
Why did the Emperor of Qin not allow people to keep a trifling amount
When he collected the treasures from them
Given that he only planned to use them as dirt?
In the palace,
There were more columns supporting the beams than there were farmers in fields.
There were more rafters attached to the ridgepoles than there were women around looms.
There were more nail heads than there were grains in a barn.
There were more staggered seams between shingles
Than there were silken threads woven in the clothes one wears.
There were more vertical railings and horizontal thresholds
Than there were city walls in the nine states 11.
There were more musical sounds from the royal orchestra
Than there were chattering noises in a market.
The extravagance of the emperor made all the people irate,
But they did not dare to voice their anger.
The dictator was becoming more arrogant and stubborn.
Once the border guards staged an uprising,
Han-gu Pass immediately fell to the rebels.
It was pitiful that E-pang Palace became an expanse of ashes
After the rebel leader, General Yu Xiang, set it on fire 12.
Alas! It was not Qin, but the six states that destroyed themselves.
It was not the rebels, but the Emperor of Qin himself who killed his entire family.
Alas! If each of the six states had loved their people,
They would have become strong enough to keep Qin at bay.
If Qin could have loved its people,
Then the Qin dynasty could have lasted not only three but thousands of generations 13.
Who would have been able to kill the entire royal family of Qin?
The government of Qin was not able to mourn its own demise
And caused later generations to lament them.
If the later generations only lamented Qin's tragic ending,
But failed to learn a lesson from it,
Then the vicious cycle would repeat itself.
That is, the later generations would be lamented by their posterity as well.

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1 E-pang Palace was located northeast of present day Chang-an City in Shaanxi Province.

2 Mu-zhi was Mu Du's alternate first name. He was a native of Wan-nian City (present day Xi-an City in Shaanxi Province) in Jing-zhao County during the Tang dynasty. His ancestors lived in Du-fan Village near Chang-an City, so people called him Fan-chuan (river) Du. He was also called Shu-ji (secretary) Du, Si-xun (official in charge of medals) Du, She-ren (official in charge of the emperor's edicts or guards) Du, and Zi-wei (legislator) Du. He was the grandson of You Du. Mu Du was handsome, loved to sing and dance, and was a master essayist and poet. In 828 CE, he passed the Advanced Exam. He was the mayor of Huang-zhou City, Chi-zhou City, Mu-zhou City and Hu-zhou City in succession. At the peak of his career, he was an official in charge of the emperor's edicts or guards in the Legislative Bureau. Du considered saving the world his responsibility. He annotated The Art of War written by Wu Sun. Du was upright and extraordinarily principled, but he did not bother with small matters. He wrote poems to criticize government policies and point out their major advantages and disadvantages. He also wrote poems to describe how he enjoyed women and song. His poetry in the classical style is smooth, mellow, graceful and straightforward. His poetry in the contemporary style is as vigorous, magnanimous and unrestrained as Fu Du's. Therefore, people call him Xiao (little) Du. He and Shang-ying Li were equally famous.
    While Mu Du was a censor, he was sent to Lo-yang City to assume his office. At that time Yuan Li resigned his position as the Minister of Education (in charge of feudal ethics) and returned home. He employed many geisha girls to entertain his guests and lived an extravagant life. Famous people in Lo-yang City all visited his mansion. Yuan Li invited many court officials to his house. Because Mu Du held the position as the head of law enforcement, Li did not dare to invite Du to his parties. Du asked Li’s guests to express his wish to visit Li. Li could not help but invite Du to one of his parties. While the geisha girls sang and danced on the stage, Du sat alone in the back row to scrutinize those girls. After drinking three cups of wine, Du asked Li, "Who is Zi-yun (purple cloud)?" Li pointed to the geisha girl. Du gazed fixedly at her for quite a while. Finally Du said, "She has a well deserved reputation. It is a great pleasure to see such a beauty." Li laughed. All the geisha girls glanced back and smiled. After drinking three additional cups of wine, Du rose and loudly sang his improvised poems, "The beautiful lobby held a grand party./ Who wanted the censor to come?/ The censor suddenly spoke absurd remarks and amazed all the guests./ Two lines of geisha girls glanced back at the same time." Du was carefree and at ease as if no one was around him. Mu Du did not bother with small matters. Consequently, another of his poems says, "The ten years during which I lived a dissipated life in Yang-zhou City seem like a dream./ I have earned a notorious reputation as a fickle man with a circle of geisha girls." Wu-ling Wu presented "Ode to E-pang Palace" written by Mu Du to Yan Cui, an examiner and the mayor of the western capital (Chang-an City). After Cui read this poem, he let Du pass the Advanced Exam.
    The scores of an exam may not reflect an examinee's true abilities. This is because some people may become too nervous during the exam to perform at their normal level. Consequently, during the Tang dynasty the decision of whether a person could pass the exam largely depended on the recommendations of social elites and the literary work that the examinees handed in before the exam. The work handed in before the exam was called a working book. If one sent in his work many times, the work was called a prep book.
    After Yan Cui published the list of examinees who passed the Advanced Exam in the eastern capital (Lo-yang City), he went to work in his office at the western capital. Mu Du wrote a poem about the publication. It says, "Thirty-three people failed the Advanced Exam./ They rode horses and returned home./ The young people in Chang-an City love to make wine./ Before long Spring scenery will arrive at the area south of the Great Wall."
    While Mu Du worked for Cheng Xuan, Du visited Hu-zhou City. The Mayor of Hu-zhou (lake-city) City, Jun Cui, opened a water show and invited all the citizens to come to the show. He asked Mu Du to find time to attend. Du saw a beautiful girl in the show. She was only a child. Fourteen years later, Mu Du became the Mayor of Hu-zhou City. By that time the girl was already married and had children. He was upset and wrote a poem. It says, "I lament I seek beauty too late./ I saw her years ago in a budding stage./ A storm has caused all the red petals to fall./ Abundant green foliage creates shade and the branches are full of fruit."

3 "The six states" refers to the States of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, and Wei during the Warring States Period.

4 Li Mountain is located one mile southeast of Lin-tong-xian City in Shaanxi Province.

5 Xian-yang City is in Shaanxi Province.

6 "The two mighty rivers" refers to the Jing River and the Wei River. Both rivers originate from Gansu Province.

7 "A long bridge" refers to the bridge running across the Wei River from E-pang Palace to Xian-yang City. The Old Stories of Three Advisors says, "Zhong-wei Bridge was six feet wide and 380 feet long. There were 68 sections, 750 columns, and 220 beams. It was also called Shi-zhu (stone column) Bridge."

8 The essay entitled "The Biography of the Emperor of Qin" in Chinese History written by Qian Si-ma says, "Whenever the Emperor of Qin conquered a state, he emptied its palace, appropriating the beautiful women and precious musical bells of the conquered king for his own palace."

9 "Green clouds" refers to the hair buns of beautiful ladies. Their hair was as plentiful as clouds.

10 This statement describes the multitude of the emperor's concubines.

11 Emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty divided China into nine states: Yong, Liang, Yu, Ji, Yan, Qing, Xu, Jing and Yang.

12 "The border guards" refers to She Chen, Guang Wu, and their fellow soldiers. In July 209 BCE, She Chen, Guang Wu and their 900 fellow soldiers staged an uprising at Da-ze-xiang Village in Qi-xian City. The entire population of China responded to their call one after another. In October 207 BCE, Bang Liu arrived at Xiang-yang City through Wu Pass. The Second Emperor of Qin, Zi-ying, surrendered. In December, Yu Xiang entered Han-gu Pass and massacred all the inhabitants of Xiang-yang City. He killed Zi-ying and the extended family of Qin, captured their treasure and women, and burned E-pang Palace. The fire lasted three months. See the essays entitled "The Biography of the Emperor of Qin", "The Biography of Yu Xiang" and "The Biography of She Chen" in Chinese History.

13 In fact, the Qin dynasty lasted only two generations.