Custom Search

Sparse Shadows1

Jiang, Kui (1154-1221 CE)

The mossy branches are adorned with jade blossoms 2.
There is a pair of small green birds perching together on a branch 3.
At sunset I look at the plum blossoms
By the corner of the bamboo fence in this place that I am visiting.
Like a beautiful woman, the blossoms lean silently against a tall bamboo tree.
Zhao-jun Wang was not used to the life of a remote foreign country
And still secretly recalled the areas north and south of the Yangtze River 4.
With the pendants on her girdle jingling,
Her soul returned on a moonlit night
And became the solitude and tranquility of the plum blossoms.

I recall the story of Princess Shou-yang 5.
While she was taking a nap at Han-zhang Palace,
Petals of plum blossoms drifted down to her brow.
Instead of acting like the east wind that blows soft and beautiful flowers from their tree,
We should place the princess in a gold house 6.
After the fallen flowers float away with the waves,
It is useless to complain by singing the sad "Song of a Jade Flute".
If we wait until then to try to seek the delicate fragrance,
We may find that it has dissipated into the painting by the small window.


1 This poem sings the praise of plum blossoms. The following three websites provide music about plum blossoms. The title of the video file given on the first website is “Plum Blossoms”. The title of the video file given on the second website is “Searching for Plum Blossoms While Walking in the Snow”. The title of the audio file given on the third website is “Sparse Shadows”. This audio file shows how the above poem is sung. The accompanying music was composed by Kui Jiang in 1191. This is the earliest Chinese music with a known author.

2 A Guide to Plum Blossoms written by Cheng-da Fan (1126-1193) says, "In Shao-xing City and Wu-xing City, the moss tassels hang among the branches of ancient plum trees. The tassels are several inches long. When the wind arrives, the green threads sway gracefully."

3 Stories of Long-cheng (dragon city) City written by Zong-yuan Liu (773-819) says, "Shi-xiong Zhao of the Sui dynasty visited Lo-fu Mountain. One night he dreamed that he dined with a plain-clothed woman. There was a cherubic boy dressed in green, singing and dancing. When awaking, Zhao discovered that he was lying under a plum tree. There were green birds singing on the branches." The plain-clothed woman was the Goddess of Plum Blossoms; the cherubic boy in green was an incarnation of green birds.

4 Zhao-jun Wang was a court lady during Emperor Yuan-di's reign in the Han dynasty. Qiang was her alternate first name. She was married to the King of the Huns, Hu-han-xie, as a peace agreement between China and the Huns. For more details about Zhao-jun Wang, visit
    Wen-zhuo Zheng (1856-1918) said, "These two lines refer to the capture of Emperors Hui-zong and Qin-zong during the Song dynasty by the troops of Jin. The emperors' wives and concubines followed them north and endured diminished status in the foreign country. Jiang was sympathetic with the suffering of these royal ladies, so he compared them to Zhao-jun Wang."

5 Princess Shou-yang was the daughter of Emperor Wu-di, the founding emperor of the Liu-song dynasty. While she was taking a nap at Han-zhang Palace, petals of plum blossoms drifted down to her brow. The pattern of the petals inspired her to create the plum-blossom costume.

6 Before Emperor Wu-di of the Han dynasty inherited the throne, he was the King of Jiao-dong. During that time a princess asked him if he wanted her daughter for his wife. Wu-di replied, "If I were to marry A-jiao, I would place her in a gold house."