Letter to Fu Du 1

Cen, Shen (717 A.D.-770 A.D.)

We often walk together toward the magnificent palace.
You work at the Attorney General's office;
I work at the Department of Crape Myrtle 2.
We follow the royal guard to enter the palace in the morning;
Our clothes smell of incense when we return home in the evening.
As I watch flowers falling, I scratch my white hair and lament.
I envy the birds for they can fly freely 3 among the clouds.
Since the sacred emperor's court does not make any mistakes,
I can give little advice.

1 Both Du and Cen were advisers in different departments of the emperor's court. During their time, a general rebelled, a father and a son fought for the emperorship, and the government suffered frequent acts of corruption. They were advisers in name only. The advisers were not allowed to talk about the government's serious mistakes. They could only perform their duty in trivial matters. One time Du was almost beheaded because he advised the emperor to save an innocent official. Consequently, Cen wrote Du this letter to ridicule the fact that the government failed to allow free expression.

2 The Department of Crape Myrtle was the Department of State.

3 The birds can fly freely, but the advisers were not allowed to speak freely.