Friday, September 09, 2011


Sweet Pear Tree

The Book of Odes, No. 16, tr. Burton Watson in The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. 20-21:
That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't hack it—
Lord Shao camped there.

That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't harm it—
Lord Shao stopped there.

That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't fell it—
Lord Shao rested there.1

1Tradition says that Lord Shao is Chi Shih, the duke of Shao, an early Chou period statesman mentioned in historical texts.
The Grand Scribe's Records, Volume V.1: The Hereditary Houses of Pre-Han China, Part I, ed. William H. Nienhauser, Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), p. 171 (from Hereditary House 4, 34.1550, tr. Hongyu Huang, footnotes and Chinese characters omitted):
Having regulated the western regions, the Duke of Shao achieved great concord among the myriad people. The Duke of Shao made an inspection tour of the district towns. [On his journey] there was a sweet pear-tree, and he decided lawsuits and administrative affairs underneath it. From the marquises and the earls down to the commoners everyone obtained his proper position and there was no one whose post was misassigned. After the Duke of Shao expired, the common people longed for his administration, cherished the sweet pear-tree and dared not fell it. They chanted an ode to it and composed the poem of "Kan-t'ang" (Sweet pear-tree).

Daniel Fertig comments:
As with many many other material objects and things from the natural world, in Chinese literature and culture, the pear tree took on and retained a symbolic meaning from this early use that would be understood by the cultural elites. In the case of the pear tree, as a result of the poem and story you cited, it became affiliated with the adjudication of legal cases. Thus, the title of the 13th century book of legal case studies that was used by government magistrates as a kind of legal handbook: Tang yin bi shi (棠阴比事) , translated by the Dutch sinologist, diplomat and writer Robert van Gulik as "Parallel Cases from Under the Pear Tree".


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?