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To the Tune of "Pride of Fishermen" 1

Fan, Zhong-yan 2 (989-1052 CE)

As the Autumn arrives,
The fortress at the frontier becomes bleak and desolate.
The wild geese south-bound to Heng-yang City do not linger here.
The sound of the killing spirit 3 mingled with that of bugles rises from all directions.
The fortress is surrounded by thousands of mountains.
The mist from the wilderness looms near.
The setting sun illuminates the solitary city which has bolted its gate 4.

I drink a cup of wine
As I miss my family more than a thousand miles away.
We cannot return home until we inscribe our victory on Yan-ran Mountain 5.
As the frost covers the ground
And the remote flute music continues to arouse homesickness,
We cannot fall asleep.
The soldiers shed tears
And the general’s hair turns gray 6.


1 In 1038, King Yuan-hao Li of the Kingdom of Western Xia declared himself emperor. His troops attacked the Song army frequently. The border defense of the Song dynasty was weak. The Song troops were defeated first in Yan-zhou City (present day Yan-an City in Shaanxi Province), second on the Hou-shui-chuan River, and third at Ding-chuan Fortress. In 1040, Zhong-yan Fan was transferred from Mayor of Yue-zhou City to Mayor of Yan-zhou City and Imperial Deputy Commissioner in charge of planning and building the defense of Shaanxi Province. Yan-zhou City was the major transportation link between Western Xia and Shaanxi Province. When Zhong-yan Fan arrived at Yan-zhou City, he found only desolation because the city had been set afire and looted by the enemy. Soldiers had no ramparts for defense. They were scattered in the city. This poem was probably written during this period. Fan quickly summoned scattered soldiers back, chose generals to train them, strengthened the fortification, and united the troops of neighboring kingdoms. The generals in the Kingdom of Western Xia were fearful of Fan and said, "There are millions of soldiers in Marshall Fan's chest." Consequently, they no longer dared invade China's borders. This poem is impassioned, heroic, and moving. It expresses his heroic spirit to fight against the enemy and devote himself to his country. More importantly, Zhong-yan Fan was the first poet who wrote about defending borders with firsthand experience in the form of Ci poetry. He swept away the feminine style of the Garden School of Ci Poetry and became a pioneer who opened the path for Dong-po Su and Qi-ji Xin's heroic and vigorous style of Ci poetry.

2 Xi-wen was Zhong-yan Fan's alternate first name. He was a descendent of Lü -bing Fan, a prime minister during Empress Ze-tian Wu's reign. Zhong-yan Fan’s ancestors originally lived in Bin City (present day Bin-xian City in Shaanxi Province). Later, they moved to Wu-xian City of Su-zhou County (present day Su-zhou-shi City in Jiangsu Province). When he was two years old, his father died. His mother subsequently married Mr. Zhu of Chang-shan City. At that time Zhong-yan Fan took his step-father's surname and was called Yue (happy). When he grew up and discovered who his real father was, he said farewell to his mother and went to Ying-tian-fu City (present day Shang-qiu-shi City in Henan Province) College which was tuition-free, and studied under Master Tong-wen Qi. He read books day and night. When he was tired on winter nights, he would wash his face with cold water. If he did not have enough food to eat, he would drink thin gruel to survive. In 1015, he passed the Advanced Exam and was appointed to the position of staff officer in Guang-de City. After he assumed his office, he sent for his mother and took good care of her. Then he returned to using his original family name and changed his first name to Zhong-yan. In 1021, Fan was a city official in charge of salt storage and distribution at Tai-zhou City. Fan proposed to build a sea dike to prevent floods. In 1024, the emperor's court appointed Fan as Mayor of Xing-hua City in charge of building the sea dike spanning Tong-zhou, Tai-zhou, Chu-zhou, and Hai-zhou four cities. After the dike was finished, people called it Fan's Dike. In 1026, Fan's mother died. Fan returned home at Ying-tian-fu City and honored the mourning period of three years. During this period, Shu Yan, the Mayor of Ying-tian-fu City, appointed Fan to teach classics at Ying-tian-fu City Academy of Classical Learning. Under Fan's guidance many students became great scholars. In 1029, Emperor Ren-zong led court officials to cerebrate his mother’s 60th birthday. At this time Fan returned to the emperor's court and became the emperor’s literary consultant through Shu Yan's recommendation. The emperor's mother was the true power of the empire during this period. Fan considered the cerebration damaging to the emperor's dignity and suggested that E Liu, the emperor's mother, return her power to the twenty year old emperor. The prime minister suppressed the proposal twice and demoted Fan to deputy mayor at He-zhong-fu City. Three years later, the emperor's mother died. Emperor Ren-zong appointed Fan as his advisor. In 1033, the areas along the Yangtze River and along the Huai River suffered severe draught and a plague of locusts. Fan requested the emperor quickly send officials to aid the victims. Emperor Ren-zong ignored him. Fan asked, "If the palace fails to provide meals for half a day, what will you do?" Then the emperor sent Fan to aid the victims. After Fan returned to the palace, he brought back the type of wild grass that the victims had eaten during the famine and gave it to Emperor Ren-zong as a souvenir. Later, Fan criticized Emperor Ren-zong's decision to depose Queen Guo. As a result, Fan was demoted to Mayor of Mu-zhou City. A few years later, Fan became the Mayor of Su-zhou City. Due to his meritorious service of preventing floods by water control, Fan was summoned back to the palace and became the Mayor of Kai-feng-fu City, the capital of the Northern Song dynasty. Because he offended Yi-jian Lü , the corrupt prime minister, Fan was demoted again to Mayor of Rao-zhou City. In 1038, King Yuan-hao Li of the Kingdom of Western Xia rebelled. In 1040, Fan planned and built the defense in Shaanxi Province to fulfill his duty as Scholar of the House of Dragon Pictures. He had defended the frontiers for several years. His orders were clear and strict. The Qiang Tribe called him "The Old Man of Dragon Pictures". In 1043, Fan was appointed to be the Vice President of the Privy Council and soon after he was reappointed to deputy prime minister in charge of state affairs. He attempted to reform the government on a grand scale, but he suffered great opposition. Consequently, he resigned his position and was demoted to Mayor of Qing-zhou City. Soon after he died from illness. The emperor honored him by giving him the posthumous name "Wen-zheng" (Duke of Virtue and Literature).

3 The sound of the killing spirit refers to the sound of the north wind and the neighing of the enemy's horses.

4 This line hints that the enemy's troops greatly outnumbered Fan's army defending the city.

5 Yan-ran Mountain is now called Hang-ai Mountain which is located in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. General Xian Dou of the later years of the Han dynasty banished and then chased the northern Huns more than one thousand miles north of the Great Wall. When his troops ascended Yan-ran Mountain, General Dou ordered Gu Ban to write a poem to celebrate the victory and ordered others to inscribe the poem on the mountain. Thus, this line shows Fan's determination to prevail: His troops could not return home until they crushed the rebellion and completed their mission.

6 Here "the general" refers to Zhong-yan Fan. The title of the following video is “A General”: