The Tower of King Teng 1
Wang, Bo 2 (650-675 CE)
Hong-zhou City was called Yu-zhang City during the Han dynasty. If one
studies the heavens, it lies below a line dividing Yi Star and Zhen Star. In
terms of geography, the city connects Heng Mountain and Lu Mountain. Three
rivers 3 to the city's south are its lapels. Five lakes
surround the city like a belt. The city controls the States of Jing and Chu and
has a road leading to Ou-yue. The city has treasured swords which shine so
brightly that the light may reach the Constellations of Herdboy and the Southern
Big Dipper 5. Because this place is blessed, talented people come
forth in great numbers. Ru Xu enjoyed Fan Chen's couch 6. As this
grand city displayed its prosperity, talented scholars came to this party like
stars circling the moon. The city's moat and watch tower lie between China and
its neighboring country. The host and guests of the party included all the best
scholars in southeastern China. General Yan, the host and military governor, has
a high reputation. We could see from a great distance that his escorts were
holding fork-headed flags and approaching the party. Yu-wen, the role model and
new mayor of Feng-cheng City, rode in a curtained carriage and stopped to join
the celebration. We had to work nine days to receive a day off. During this
holiday friends came together in crowds. The guests greeted each other. Many of
them came from a great distance. All the seats were filled with ladies and
gentlemen. They discussed both literature and military affairs. Regarding
literature, their talent could compete with Poet Meng's 7. Their
conversation was brilliant and impressive like a dragon flying or a phoenix
dancing. As for war strategy, some said that leadership should stimulate courage
like the sea god's purple lightning. Others said that the military should be
full of noble spirit and dignity like cold frost. The variety of the topics,
like the weaponry in General Wang's armory 8, included everything. My
father was appointed to be the Mayor of Jiao-Zhi City. As I accompanied him when
he traveled to assume his office we passed by this beautiful area. I was only a
teenager and knew very little. However, I had the good fortune to attend this
great party in person.
The party was held on September 9th, at the end of autumn. The
muddy rainwater had dried on the ground, so the cold lake had become
transparent. The light mingled with lingering mist, the entire mountain appeared
purple at sunset. Incoming guests rode carriages along the mountain path in high
spirits and visited scenic spots on the plateau. After arriving at the green
delta, they climbed up the stone steps and entered the Tower of King Teng. The
layers of mountain peaks were towering with greenery above the clouds. The
reflected image of the tower was rippling on the lake water. Its red color was
flowing back and forth. The lake seemed bottomless. Cranes gathered at the
riverside. Geese landed on a small island. They were far down on the winding
area of the archipelago. Cassia trees and orchids were planted in the front yard
of the tower which was built to match the grandeur of the mountains.
Opening the embroidered door, we came out, ascended to the top floor and
looked down on the engraved roof ridges. The plateau was so broad that we could
not see its ends. The huge waves at the river bend were intimidating; they might
swallow us at any moment. We could see the entrances of villages here and there
below. Rich families rang the bells to announce dinner and displayed their
caldrons while they ate. The large boats and warships were jammed at the port.
The view of the waterway was obscured. Their sterns were sculpted into the shape
of a dragon or a phoenix. The rainbow disappeared and the rain stopped. The
colorful sunshine penetrated the clouds and the earth lit up. The clouds at
sunset and a lonesome goose flew together. The autumn water and the endless sky
blurred into one color. The fishermen sang evening songs. Their voices reached
far down to the shore of Lake Po-yang. The ranks of wild geese were startled by
the cold air. They would not fly further north. Their honking was stopped at the
river bank south of Hen Mountain.
Our deep thoughts started to flow smoothly and our inspirations flew high and
fast. A cool breeze came from the fresh songs of nature. When fine music
surrounded the party, the white clouds seemed unwilling to leave. Under the
green bamboo trees at Sui-yang Garden 9, the guests' poems at King Liang-xiao's party might have matched Yuan-ming Tao's. The light of lotuses in
the pond at Ye City 10 shone on the brush pens at Lin-chuan City
11. We had a nice day, beautiful scenery, a mood for art appreciation, and
great entertainment. It was rare to have this kind of party with a wise host and
distinguished guests. We enjoyed watching the sight across the sky and made the
best out of this holiday. The high sky and broad earth made us feel that the
universe was endless. As happiness ended, sadness came. We realized that fortune
and misfortune are dictated by fate. Facing west, we saw Chang-an City beneath
the sun from a distance. Facing east, we pointed to Wu-hui City nearby among the
clouds. As we looked down south, the land's elevation dropped steeply and
continued to descend into deep South Cnina Sea. As we looked up north, Tian-zhu
Mountain 12 was tall, but the North Star was even further away. Tall
mountains are difficult to cross. Who will pity the one who has lost his way?
People met like algae floating randomly in a lake. You could not expect any help
from these strangers. Yuan Qu was a talented official, who missed his king but
could not see him. How many years did Yi Jia have to wait for the emperor to
summon him back to Xuan Hall 13?
Alas! One may have no luck and one's life journey may suffer many setbacks.
Tang Feng of the Han dynasty was recommended to Emperor Wu for his talent when
he was more than ninety years old. He was already way past the retirement age.
General Guang Li 14 won many wars, but because of bad luck he did not
receive the title of duke. Yi Jia could not realize his political dream even
though his emperor was great. Hong Liang 15 had to flee to a bay on a
sea even though he lived in a great era. Fortune seemed to ridicule the above
people. However, a virtuous man is content with what he can have and a
broad-minded man resigns himself to fate. Once one establishes a goal, he should
pursue it like General Yuan Ma 16. The older he was, the stronger he
became. Even when his hair turned gray, he would not change his mind. One should
pursue one's goal like Bo-yi 17 as well. The poorer he was, the more
steadfast he became. If one persists in one's pursuit, then one will remain
clean even after drinking from the Spring of Greed 18 and remain
optimistic even after encountering difficulties. The Northern Sea seems far
away, but a speedy storm can reach it from the south. Although the morning has
already passed, it is still not too late to start one's work in the evening.
Chang Meng 19 was an official of integrity, but he never realized his
political dream. Occasionally, I would like to live wildly and freely as Ji Ruan
20, but I will not let my emotion run out of control as he did.
I am a low-ranking official with a three-foot ribbon 21 and only a
student. I wish I could have the opportunity to ask for tassels as Jun Zhong did
at my age 22. I would like to discard my pen
23 and pursue
a military career. I especially admire General Que Zong's spirit that desired to
ride on a strong wind 24. Now I give up my career to pursue wealth
and power, and follow my father to his distant job to take care of him. Although
I am not as talented as the treasured tree of the Xie family
would like to have nice neighbors like those who Mencius' mother found for her
son by moving from place to place 26. After settling down at Jiao-zhi
City, I was to receive my family education from my father. This morning I raised
my sleeves to greet my seniors and was glad to enter the dragon's gate. I have
not yet met De-yi Yang, so I patted my Reaching-the-Clouds 27 poems
and felt sorry for myself. When I met General Yan, I felt as though I was
meeting a congenial friend as Bo-ya had met Zi-qi Zhong 28. So why
should I feel ashamed to play the melody, "Flowing Water" 29?
Alas! Great scenery will not last and a great party will not repeat. The
Orchid Gazebo 30 no longer exists and Chong Shi's summerhouse has
become ruins. I was honored to write parting words for this grand party. Our
host hoped that all the guests could ascend the tower and write poems for the
occasion. I took the liberty of respectfully presenting a short poem with eight
stanzas and one rhyme. Hopefully, everyone will follow my lead and present a
poem as mighty as a river like Yue Pan's and as mighty as an ocean like Ji Lu's
The tall Tower of King Teng overlooks the river's delta;
After the geisha girls have finished dancing,
Their ribbons rest and their tambourines stop ringing.
At dawn the pictures on the columns look like flying clouds bound to Nan-pu
At sunset the rain of Xi Mountain 33 is revealed when the pearl
blind 34 is raised.
Time, like clouds or reflections in water, passed quietly without notice;
Things changed, stars moved, and many years have elapsed since its glorious
Where is King Teng now 35?
The river beyond the balustrade continues to flow and murmur alone.
1 King Teng, Yuan-ying Li, was the twenty-second son of Emperor Gao-zhu of
the Tang dynasty. The Tower of King Teng was built by him. It was located in
present day Nan-chang City in Jiangxi Province. The Annuals of Jiangxi
says, "During the Xian-qing Period, while Yuan-ying Li was the Commander of
Hong-zhou City, he built this tower. Near the time the building was completed,
he received the title, 'King Teng'. Consequently, he named his new tower after
his new title. Later, General Bo-yu Yan became the Commander of Hong-zhou City.
His son-in-law, Zi-zhang Wu, was a writer. Yan ordered Wu to compose an essay
about the Tower of King Teng in advance so that he could boast of Wu's talent at
the party celebrating the Chong-yang (Double nine, September 9th) Festival. At
this time Bo Wang was on his way to Jiao-zhi City. His boat arrived at Ma-dang-shan
City, 450 miles away from Hong-zhou City. On the night before the Chong-yang
Festival he dreamed that a god promised to create a wind to assist him. At dawn
his boat reached Hong-zhou City, enabling him to join General Yan's party. Yan
asked his guests to write an essay for the occasion. All of them politely
declined except Bo Wang. He accepted the challenge. After he presented this
essay of his, everyone at the party admired his talent." Miscellaneous
Records During the Tang Dynasty says, "Bo Wang wrote 'The Tower of King Teng'
when he was fourteen. Although Bo Wang attended the party, General Yan did not
pay attention to him. Yan wanted his son-in-law, Poet Meng, to present the essay
for the occasion. In fact, Yan ordered Meng to compose an essay in advance. When
Yan passed paper and pens around to his guests, all of them politely declined
except Bo Wang. He accepted the challenge. Yan was furious, showed his contempt
by shaking out his sleeves and left. However, he secretly sent people to
discover what Wang was writing. The first one reported, 'Hong-zhou City was
called Yu-zhang City during the Han dynasty.' Yan said, 'It is average.' The
second one reported, 'If one studies the heavens, it lies below a line dividing
Yi Star and Zhen Star. In terms of geography, the city connects Heng Mountain
and Lu Mountain.' Yan commented, 'They are stale words.' The third one reported,
'Three rivers to the city's south are its lapels. Five lakes surround the city
like a belt. The city controls the States of Jing and Chu and has a road leading
to Ou-yue.' After Yan heard the report, he murmured to himself and then
remained silent. In a moment reports arrived one after another. Yan only nodded
his head and smiled. When Yan heard the report saying, 'The clouds at sunset and
a lonesome goose flew together. The autumn water and the endless sky blurred
into one color.', he rose startled and said, 'Bo Wang is a true genius. This
essay of his will be immortal.' Soon Wang completed his essay. General Yan was
greatly pleased. They enjoyed the festivity to the utmost. When Wang was about
to leave, General Yan awarded him a gift certificate for 500 rolls of silk.”
The Records says that Bo Wang wrote this essay at the age of fourteen. This
is incorrect. According to various experts' verifications, when Wang wrote this
essay, he was already twenty-six.
2 Zi-an was Bo Wang's other first name. He was a native of Long-men City in Jiang-zhou County. Long-men City was located west of present day He-jin City in
Henan Province. Bo Wang wrote a fluent and elegant essay at the age of six. When
he was nine, after reading Notes on the History of the Han Dynasty,
written by Shi-gu Yan, he wrote ten chapters to point out the author's error. At
the age of ten, he finished reading all the Six Bibles. In 644 CE, at the age
of fourteen he was recommended to the emperor due to his genius. The palace
arranged an oral exam for him. He received a high score and thereby was offered
a court position. Afterwards, he presented several poems to the emperor. After
King Pei heard Wang's talent, he recruited him to be his editor in charge of
revising historical records. When he was an editor, he wrote a book,
Ping-tai-chao-lue, with ten chapters. At that time many kings loved to raise
their own roosters for fighting. Wang wrote a playful essay titled "Kings'
Cockfighting". However, Emperor Gao lacked a sense of humor. After he read
Wang's essay, he thought the way Wang had described rooster fighting was close
to the way someone would describe sex. The emperor angrily rebuked Wang and
banished him from the palace. After Wang lost his job, he traveled to the
distant Han River. In 673 CE, Wang heard that there were many medicinal herbs
at Guo City, south of present day Ling-bao City in Henan Province. Consequently,
he applied for the position as councilor of Guo City. During his tenure, he was
inordinately proud of his ability and hated by his colleagues due to jealousy.
As it so happened, a government servant committed a crime and Wang hid him.
Later Wang feared the secret would be disclosed, so he killed the servant. When
the whole truth came out, Wang should have been sentenced to death. Later, he
was pardoned. His father, Fu-zhi was then a councilor of the State of Yong in
charge of officials' job evaluations. Because of his son’s crime, he was demoted
to Mayor of Jiao-zhi City. In 675 CE, Bo accompanied him when he traveled to
assume his office. When they sailed across South China Sea, Bo fell into the
water. Lingering fear made him sick and he died soon thereafter. Bo Wang's
essays were magnificent and beautiful. He, Jiong Yang, Zhao-lin Lu and Bin-wang
Lo were together called "The Four Brilliant Writers in the Early Tang Dynasty".
3 "Three Rivers" refers to the Jing River, the Song River, and the
4 "Five Lakes" refers to Lake Tai, Lake Po-yang, Lake Qing-cao (green grass),
Lake Dan-yang, and Lake Dong-ting.
5 During the Reign of Emperor Wu in the Jin dynasty, Hua Zhang asked Huan
Lei, "Why is there purple light between the Constellations of Herdboy and the
Southern Big Dipper?" Lei replied, "It is because of reflection from treasured
swords." Later, Lei became the Mayor of Feng-cheng City. He excavated a mountain
and unearthed two swords: Gan-jiang Swords and Mo-xie (virtuous) Sword. Here the
sentence in Wang's essay says that the city is not only strategically important,
but also contains extraordinary treasures.
6 Ru Xu , a man of integrity who was above worldly interests, often visited
Fan Chen, the Mayor of Hong-zhou City. Chen respected Xu so much that he
purchased a special couch just for Xu's visits. These two sentences in the text
say that Hong-zhou City has not only extraordinary treasures but also talented
7 Quan was Poet Meng's first name. He was a great master of literature and an
illustrious guest at the party.
8 "General Wang" refers to Seng-bian Wang, a native of Qi City during the
Southern Liang dynasty. Wang mastered nine schools of philosophy (Confucianism,
Taoism, philosophy of geomancy, philosophy of politics, philosophy of law,
philosophy of fame, philosophy of love without distinction, philosophy of
agriculture, and miscellaneous philosophy) and the seven military stratagems. He
was the Mayor of Jiang-zhou City and the Commander of the Eastern Theater. In
548 CE, he captured Jian-ye City and crushed the rebellion led by Jiang Hou.
He was awarded the title, Duke of Eternal Peace, for his victory. The seventh
chapter of Dan-qian (cinnabar and white lead powder
— formerly used in revising books) -za-lu
(miscellaneous records), written by Shen Yang of the Ming dynasty, says, "King
Ming Xiao wrote a letter to Seng-bian Wang saying, 'You should recruit all kinds
of private armed forces. After gathering enough soldiers, you should build a
powerful army and store all the frost-like lances and lightning-like tripods in
9 King Liang-xiao was the second son of Emperor Wen of the Han dynasty.
Liang-xiao rose to power during Emperor Jing’s reign. At Sui-yang City he built
the Eastern Garden and a palace to attract people who had the virtue required
for public service. He planted dodders and bamboo trees in the garden. The
Miscellaneous Records of the Western Capital says, "King Liang-xiao visited
Sorrow-free Hall. He gathered talented scholars in his party and asked them to
write poems. Yang Zou wrote a wine poem." Therefore, the later generations used
the party at the Liang Gargen to describe the magnificence of a banquet.
10 Ye City was located at present day Lin-zhang City, a place where Cao Cao
rose to power and a home of many writers. At the end of the Jian-an Period, Pi
Cao, the eldest son of Cao Cao, was the Commander-in -Chief. He, his younger
brother, Zhi Cao, and dignitaries such as Can Wang and Zhen Liu often visited
the Western Garden and communed there. The poem, "The Discussion at the Official
Gathering", written by Zhi Cao, says, "The lotuses emit red light from the green
11 "The brush pens at Li-Chuan City" refers to Xi-zhi Wang or Ling-yun Xie.
Xi-zhi Wang, an essayist and great calligrapher, was once the secretary of
internal affairs at Lin-chuan City. Ling-yun Xie, the best writer during the
Eastern Jin dynasty, was also once the secretary of internal affairs at
12 "Tian-zhu" means "sky-column". Tian-zhu Mountain is part of the Kunlun
13 Xuan Hall was the main building of Wei-yang Palace. Yi Jia was a talented
essayist. Emperor Wen appointed him to be "Distinguished Scholar". In less than
one year, he was promoted to a high-ranking official. The powerful dukes, Bo
Zhou and Ying Guan, opposed the promotion. Therefore, Jia was reassigned to be
the Tutor of the King of Chang-sha. Later, the emperor missed Yi Jia, so he
summoned him back to Xuan Hall, asked him questions about gods, and held him in
extreme esteem. Here the sentence in Wang's essay means "When can I be summoned
back to the palace by the emperor?"
14 General Guang Li of the Han dynasty was the Mayor of Beiping City during
Emperor Wu's reign. The Huns called him General Flying Tiger.
15 Hong Liang was a native of the Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdom
Period. He felt ashamed to serve the powerful. Evil officials slandered him.
Consequently, he fled to the Kingdom of Wu and hid himself at a bay on a sea.
16 General Yuan Ma was a native of Mao-ling City in Fu-feng County. Once he
told his guests, "After a man has made a resolution, the poorer he is, the more
steadfast he should be; the older he becomes, the stronger he should be.” In the Jian-wu Period, he was given the title,
"General of Crushing Waves". He crushed
the rebellion in the State of Jiao-zhi (present day Vietnam), so the emperor
made him Duke of New Peace. When the tribes at Wu-xi City in Wu-ling County
rebelled, he asked to lead the troops to crush them. At that time he was already
sixty-two. He wore armor, mounted a horse, sat on the saddle and looked around
to show that he was useful. Consequently, Emperor Guang-wu sent him to battle.
In the end General Ma died while serving.
17 Bo-yi was loyal to the Shang dynasty. He refused to eat rice from the
warehouse of the Zhou dynasty. He only ate grass growing on a mountain. Later,
he died from starvation.
18 Yin-zhi Wu went to Guang-zhou City to assume his office as mayor. Ten
miles before his destination, he stopped at the Spring of Greed in Shi-men City.
Local seniors told him, "If one drinks this water, he will become greedy even if
he is a man of integrity." After listening to their words, Wu drank the water
with a ladle and wrote a poem. It says, "The ancients said, 'If one just sips a
little, gold will fill his mind.' If Bo-yi were to drink this water, he would
not change his honesty."
19 Bo-zhou was Chang Meng's other first name. He was the Mayor of He-pu City
during Emperor Shun's reign in the Han dynasty.
20 Si-zong was Ji Ruan's other first name. He was a native of Wei City in the
Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdom Period. He loved wine and was
unconventional and unrestrained in manners. One time he rode a carriage to
ascend a mountain. When he reached a dead end of a mountain path, he wept
bitterly and returned.
21 In the protocol of the Zhou dynasty, the ranks of officials were divided
into nine classes: The emperor and kings were of the nine-star rank, archdukes
were of the eight-star rank,
dukes were of the seven-star rank, earls and counts were of the six-star
rank, viscounts and barons were of the five-star rank, sirs were of the
four-star rank, sergeants-first-class were of the three-star rank, sergeants
were of the two-star rank, and corporals were of the one-star rank. The chapter
titled "Green Aquatic Plants" of The Protocol says, "The length of a
corporal's ribbon should be three feet long." Bo Wang used to be a councilor of Guo City, so he compared himself to a corporal.
22 The Kingdom of Nan-yue (present day Vietnam) and the Han dynasty
negotiated peace. Jun Zhong was twenty years old. He asked the emperor for the
long tassels (The tassels of an officer’s hat represented the military position
Zhong desired). Soon he captured the King of Nan-yue and sent him to the Han
23 Chao Ban of the Han dynasty used to be someone's secretary. He despised
his job, so he discarded his pen, and aimed at achieving the rank of duke by
making great contributions to his country.
24 Que Zong was a native of Nan-yang City in the Kingdom of Song during the
Northern and Southern dynasties.Yuan-gan was his other first name. When he was a
child, his uncle asked about his ambition. He replied, “I want to be a boat that
rides on a strong wind and break waves of a thousand miles.” Later, the emperor
made him the Duke of Tao-yang as he had expected.
25 "The treasured tree of the Xie family" refers to Xuan Xie, the nephew of
Prime Minister An Xie in the Eastern Jin dynasty.
26 While Mencius was a child, his first neighbor was a thief. By and by,
Mencius learned to steal, so his mother decided to move. Unfortunately, they
moved next-door to a gambler. After Mencius watched him gamble many times, he
started to gamble as well. Therefore, his mother decided to move again. This
time she chose a scholar to be their neighbor. Because of the influence of his
neighbor, Mencius began to study books.
27 After Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty read "Reaching the clouds", written by Xiang-ru Si-ma, he
praised it very much. Therefore, De-yi Yang recommended Si-ma
to the emperor. Here "Reaching-the-Clouds poems" refers to Bo Wang's precious
28 Zi-qi Zhong was a native of the State of Chu during the Spring-fall
period. Bo-ya was a great zither player. While he improvised his zither music
with the theme of flowing water, Zi-qi Zhong would comment, "The water flows
like a mighty river." Thus, Zi-qi Zhong could read Bo-ya's mind from his music.
29 "Play the melody, 'Flowing Water'" means "present this essay of Wang's to
General Yan at the party".
30 The Orchid Gazebo was where Xi-zhi Wang, the Father of Chinese
Calligraphy, gathered his friends and had parties.
31 An-ren was Yue Pan's other first name. Shi-hen was Ji Lu's other first
name. They both were great poets during the Tai-kang Period in the Western Jin
dynasty. Criticisms on Poems says, "Yue Pan's talent is like a river; Ji
Lu's talent is like an ocean." Here Bo Wang used Pan and Lu to describe the
talent of the writers who attended the party.
32 Nan-pu City was located southwest of present day Nan-chang City in Jiangxi
Province. The city was a place where boats were coming and going.
33 Xi Mountain, also known as Nan-chang Mountain, was located west of present
day Xin-jian City in Jiang-xi Province and twenty miles away from the Gate of
the Zhang River.
34 A pearl blind is a bamboo blind decorated with pearls.
35 King Teng died in 684 CE, nine years after Bo Wang's death. Here this
sentence just means King Teng who had built this tower had to leave Hong-zhou
City and move on to another job.