Lament for the Old Battlefield
Li, Hua 1 (?-766 CE)
All I could see was a huge expanse of flat sand. There were no traces of men
within view. The river wound around like a belt. The mountains rose and fell in
disorder. The place was dark and desolate as the sun was setting and the wind
was howling. The frozen raspberry stems were snapped by the wind. The grass was
burned by the chill. It was as cold as a frosty morning. Birds would not land on
this haunted place and a herd of beasts passing by would stampede and become
scattered. A constable told me, "This was an old battlefield where an entire
army was annihilated. On a cloudy day one can hear the weeping of ghosts." It
was disheartening. Was it a battlefield of the Qin dynasty? Was it a battlefield
of the Han dynasty? Or was it a battlefield of modern times?
I heard that the two states, Qi and Wei, sent many soldiers to garrison their
borders. Two other states, Chu and Han recruited mercenary soldiers. These
soldiers traveled thousands of miles, walking under the scorching sun and
sleeping on dew-drenched ground year after year. In the morning, the soldiers
let their horses graze on the grass in the sand. At night they waded through icy
waters. The horizon was wide, and the sky was high. It was difficult for them to
find their way home. The soldiers devoted themselves to their swords and had no
one to listen to their grievances. From the Qin dynasty forward, China has
fought many wars around our borders. It has frequently suffered heavy losses. In
ancient times, neighboring countries would not invade China because China
promoted virtue. While Chinese culture and education went off track, the
military started to display its prowess. Its morals strayed from virtue. The
military did not aspire to virtue because it thought it was impractical.
When the north wind blew across the desert, the enemy took advantage and
snuck in. The defending general dismissed the enemy as impotent, so he had to
fight against them in front of his camp. The army flags flapped on the wild
battlefield 2. The soldiers wearing armor waded through torrential
rivers 3. Marshal laws were strict and fearsome. A commander held
absolute authority and a soldier's life was not worth a straw. Sharp arrows shot
through bones. Sandstorms blew on soldiers’ faces. As our troops engaged with
the enemy, the sound of war drums shocked the mountains and the rivers. The
power of battle-cries could have split a river in two. The rushing soldiers and
horses built up the momentum of destruction as if a thunderstorm were coming.
Near the chilly seashore a heavy snowstorm made it difficult for the traveling
soldiers to breathe. The snow came up to their knees and their breath froze on
their mustaches. Their coats could not hold in their body heat for long. Their
skin started to crack and their fingers were becoming numb. Eagles hid in their
nests. The war horses hesitated and did not dare to advance. The northern
foreigners who were used to cold weather took this opportunity to invade China.
After being caught in the horrible atmosphere of the war, they killed people
brutally. They robbed our army supply wagons and attacked our soldiers. Our
generals were killed and our colonels surrendered. The corpses covered the shore
of the large port. Blood filled the caves 4 near the Great Wall. No
matter how rich or poor these people were, they all became bones. Such a
horrible scene was beyond description.
As the sounds of drums died out, our strength was exhausted. The arrows were
used up; the bow strings were broken. However, the battle raged on. The two
armies marched toward each other and confronted an imminent death. When the
swords met, even metal broke into pieces. If we had surrendered, we would have
wandered in a foreign country for life. If we had chosen to fight, our bones
would have been left exposed in the desert. The birds were silent and the
mountains were quiet. The night was long and the wind sounded ominous. As ghosts
gathered together, the clouds became heavy. As spirits assembled, the sky became
dark. The sunshine was so cold that the grass did not grow. The moonlight was
bitterly lonesome and the earth shone white with frost. How gloomy it was!
General Mu Li of the State of Zhao used only a few soldiers to defeat the
Huns. The enemy fled and he advanced a thousand miles. In contrast, the Han
dynasty used up all its wealth fighting wars, so its people became poor and
exhausted. This shows victory depended on a few talented generals rather than
the number of soldiers. The Zhou dynasty repelled the Xian-yun
Tribe north to Tai-yuan City. After Zhou's troops built Shuo-fang City
for defense, they returned without any casualties. The government celebrated
their victory with a banquet and honored the soldiers by handing out medals in
recognition of their heroic deeds. The soldiers were happy, harmonious, and
enjoying peace. The emperor and the generals trusted and respected each other.
The Qin dynasty built the Great Wall east to the sea. The mammoth project cost
many people’s lives. A thousand miles
of dark red trailed behind 7. Though the Han dynasty defeated the
Huns and captured Yin Mountain 8, dead soldiers were scattered across
the battlefield. Its gains could not compensate its losses.
All people have parents who raise them, care about them and hope that they
may live a long life. They have brothers who cherish them as their hands and
feet. They have spouses who respect them as guests or friends. It is a great
blessing to be born, and a hateful evil to be killed. After a battle, one's
family remained uncertain of one’s fate. When there was a rumor spread around,
one could only half believe and half doubt. The person that one worried about in
daytime would appear in one's dreams at night. When one honored a spirit with
food and wine, he wept and wished that a miracle could unite him with the
spirit. The entire world was sad; even the grass and the trees looked wretched.
If we did not honor these spirits, they would not have any place to settle.
After the war, there were years of hardship because people were scattered
everywhere. The aftermath was devastating. Was this chance or fate? There have
been wars since ancient times, and it seems impossible to change this trend.
Therefore, the best way to protect our country is to befriend our neighbors and
let them defend us.
Xia-shu was Hua Li's alternate first name. He was a native of Zan-huang
City. He passed the Advanced Exam during the Kai-yuan period. When he was young,
he was broad-minded. He appeared open and frank, but inside he was cautious. He
always kept his word. During the Tian-bao Period, he became the Attorney
General. His impartiality and incorruptibility regarding impeachment offended
powerful officials. Later, he resigned his position and lived in seclusion at
Shan-yang City. He advised his children to farm for a living and be content with
poverty. During his late years, he did not write much and became a Buddhist.
This sentence refers to the land war.
This sentence refers to the naval war.
"The caves" refers to mountain caves. The Great Wall was built on the
Xian-yun was a tribe to the north of China during the Zhou dynasty. During
Emperor Xuan-wang's reign, Xian-yun invaded China and closed in on the capital.
The emperor ordered General Ji-fu Yin to lead the troops to war. General Yin
banished Xian-yun north to Tai-yuan City and then returned home.
Shuo-fang City was located at Ordos City in Nei Monggu Autonomous Region.
Blood is originally red. After a while, it will darken.
Yin Mountain in Nei Monggu Autonomous Region had a military advantage. It
could block the Huns who lived north of the Gobi Desert from invading China.