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Ascending a Tower

Du, Fu (712-770 CE)

I ascended a tower while every part of China is plagued by frequent ills 1.
The nearby flowers upset me.
The Jin River 2 brought the beauty of Spring to the entire world.
The passing clouds around Yu-lei Mountain 3 were as unpredictable as the past and present affairs.
The Tang dynasty will endure forever like Polaris.
The enemy on the western mountain 4 shall invade China in vain.
What a pity it is that people have built a temple to worship the Last King 5.
In the same spirit with which Liang Zhu-ge recited "Liang-fu Mountain" 6
I wrote this poem at sunset.

1 This poem was written in the Spring of 764 CE. Up until this time Fu Du had lived in the State of Shu (present day Sichuan Province) for five years. After the rebellion led by Lu-shan An and Si-ming Shi was crushed in the Spring of 764 CE, Tu-fan (an ancient name for Tibet) captured Chang-an City, the capital of the Tang dynasty. Emperor Dai-zong fled. Soon after General Zi-yi Guo recaptured the city and Emperor Dai-zong returned to the capital. At the end of 764 CE, Tu-fan captured some northern cities in the State of Shu. In addition, the eunuchs held absolute power in the emperor's court and military governors set up separatist regimes by force of arms. Thus, the Tang dynasty was beset with difficulties dealing with domestic and foreign affairs.

2 The Jin River is a tributary of the Min River. The Jin River started in Pi-xian City of Sichuan Province and passed by the southwestern part of downtown Cheng-du City in Sichuan Province. Fu Dus thatched hut was near the Jin River.

3 Yu-lei Mountain is located in present day Mao-wen-xian City, Sichuan Province.

4 "The enemy on the western mountain" refers to Tu-fan.

5 The Last King refers to Chan Liu, the last king of the Kingdom of Shu-han. Chan Liu was the son of Bei Liu, the founding king of Shu-han. Chan Liu was not a wise king. Here Fu Du used Chan Liu to hint that Emperor Dai-zong was not a wise ruler either. However, King Chan Liu had a wise prime minister, Liang Zhu-ge to help him govern his kingdom. In contrast, Emperor Dai-zong trusted only eunuchs and there was no wise prime minister to assist him. Consequently, Fu Du wrote this poem to express his concern with state affairs.

6 The essay "The Biography of Liang Zhu-ge" in the chapter entitled "The History of the Kingdom of Shu", a volume of the book The History of the Three Kingdoms, says, "Before Liang Zhu-ge became the prime minister, he was a farmer. While he tilled his fiields, he loved to recite the poem, Liang-fu Mountain." In Chinese mythology, one's soul goes to Tai Mountain or its neighboring mountains (e.g. Hao-li Mountain) after death. Liang-fu Mountain is near Tai Mountain. The poem "Liang-fu Mountain" was a dirge to honor three brave and strong men: Jie Gong-sun, Kai-jiang (expand territory) Tian, and Ye Gu. It says,
"If one goes out of the city gate of Qi's capital (Qi was a state during the Warring States Period),
One can see Dang-yin Village (southeast of present day Lin-zi City in Shangdong Province) in the distance.
There are three tombs in the village.
They were built in almost the same style.
Whose tombs are they?
Jie Gong-sun, Kai-jiang Tian, and Ye Gu.
Their muscular strength could move Nan-shan Mountain (a.k.a. Niu [cattle] Mountain, south of Qis capital) and make earth collapse.
Two peaches killed all three.
Who could design this diabolic plot?
It was the prime minister of Qi, Ying Yan."
    The poem "Liang-fu Mountain" was based on a story in the essay "Advice" in Ying Yan's Spring and Autumn Annals. The essay says, "Jie Gong-sun, Kai-jiang Tian, and Ye Gu served King Jing-gong of Qi. They were famous for fighting tigers. One day Prime minister Ying Yan passd by. They did not salute him. Yan went to the king and told him, I have heard that a wise king recruits brave and strong men because they are loyal to the king, respect senior officials, maintain order and security inside the nation, and intimidate the enemy outside the nation. The government benefits from their service and people admire their bravery. Consequently, the government offers them a respected position and generous salary. Now your brave and strong men disregard senior officials. They endanger the government and should be removed. King Jing-gong said, 'If one tries to wrestle with them, one will worry that one may not win. If one tries to stab them, one will worry that one may miss the target.' Ying Yan said, 'Their strength is able to defeat the enemy, but they disregard senior officials.' Then Yan asked the king to send a messenger to offer the three strong men two peaches. The messenger told the three men, 'Why don't you earn a peach by describing your contributions?' Jie Gong-sun looked up the sky and said with a sigh, 'Prime Minister Yan is a wise man. He asked the king to count our contributions. If we do not earn peaches, we will be considered useless cowards. There are three of us, but only two peaches. In order to earn a peach I must describe my outstanding contributions. I fought an old wild boar and then a young tiger. Such contributions will distinguish me from the others and earn me a peach.' Then he stood up, taking a peach. Kai-jiang Tian said, 'I used my sword to repeatedly defeat the enemy. Such a contribution will distinguish me from the others and earn me a peach.' Then he also stood up, taking a peach. Ye Gu said, 'I escorted the king across the river. A giant tortoise bit the king's horse and dragged it into the middle of the river near Di-zhu Mountain. I could not swim, so I went upstream for a hundred steps and then downstream for six miles to chase the tortoise and then killed it. My left hand held the horse by the tail and my right hand held the tortoise by the head. Then I shot out of the water like a crane. People near the pier shouted "The river god." They referred to the tortoise' head. Such a contribution will distinguish me from the others and earn me a peach. You two should return your peaches.' Then he stood up, drawing his sword. Jie Gong-sun and Kai-jiang Tian said, 'We are not as brave as you and our contributions are not as great as yours. We are greedy if we do not return our peaches. However, we would become cowards if we do not die.' Then they both returned their peaches and committed suicide. Ye Gu said, 'It would not be benevolent if the two men died and I alone remain alive. It is not virtuous to exaggerate one's achievements and humiliate others with words. It is cowardly if one hates what one has done and remains alive. Even though the two men died for integrity and I may keep the peaches, I do not want to be a coward without virtue.' Consequently, he also returned his peaches and committed suicide." In the poem "Liang-fu Mountain", people were impressed by the three brave men's fervent spirits of integrity. Although Ying Yan was a wise prime minister, his means to punish the three men were somewhat diabolic, so this poem condemns Prime Minister Yan for his lack of tolerance for talented people.