Message from a dead father to his child


Before long I will leave this earth. I am trying to stay calm, to talk with you for the first and last time on this paper. I fear you can’t imagine what it’s like, alas. To face this moment and be unable to see you once, to hug you once, to kiss you once ... I am heartbroken. My regret is unending. 

  –Huang Wen-kung 黃溫恭 (1920–1953), a political prisoner condemned to execution in 1950s Taiwan, writing to his unborn child. The family was told he had killed himself. His daughter finally received her father's letter in 2008, at age 56, after her daughter found it in government archives.


我不久就要和世間永別了。用萬分的努力來鎮靜心腦,來和妳做一次最初而最終的紙上談話吧。我的這心情 恐怕妳不能想像吧! 嗚呼!臨於此時不能見妳一面,抱妳一回, 吻妳一嘴…………我甚感遺憾! 長恨不盡!



Confucius: We do not know life, how can we know death?


Ji Lu asked about the best way to serve ghosts and spirits. The master said, "You have not yet served humans well, how is it you wonder about ghosts and spirits?" Ji Lu ventured to ask about death. The master said, "We do not yet understand life, how could we understand death?"

  --Confucius (ca 551–479 BC), as quoted in The Analects, 先進 (Xian Jin). 


Li Yu: How much sorrow can there be?


To the Tune of The Beauty from Yu

Spring flowers, autumn moon, when do they come to an end?
Looking at past times, I know just how much
In the little tower last night, an east wind again
I cannot bear to turn my head toward the old country under the bright moon
The carven railings, the jade-white steps must still be there
Only the fair faces have changed.
I ask you, how much sorrow can there be?
As much as the great river flowing east in spring floods.

    --Li Yu 李煜 (937-978), last king of the southern Tang dynasty, lost his kingdom and finished his life a prisoner of the new Song dynasty. Li Yu is considered one of China's major poets. 

You can hear famous Chinese singer Deng Lijun 鄧麗君 (Teresa Deng) singing this poem here



Xin Qiji: I somehow cannot mention it


To the tune "The Ugly Slave-girl"

When I was young and had never tasted grief, I loved to climb towers.
I loved to climb towers to write elegant poems about my grief.
But now that I have tasted the utmost dregs of grief, I somehow cannot mention it.
I somehow cannot mention it. Instead I say, "What nice brisk autumn weather."

      --Chinese poet Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (1140-1207)



Shi Jing: No one else has no one-- only I bear such grief


The tall thriving herbs
are not herbs, they are hao weeds.
Alas, my father and mother,
who had me and took such pains.
The tall thriving herbs
are not herbs, they are wei weeds.
Alas, my father and mother,
who had me with toil and care.

This wine-jar is empty now,
ashamed to stand near the full ones.
Living as lonely as this,
I should have died long ago.
No father-- no one to support.
No mother-- no one to take care.
When I go out, I brood on their deaths.
When I come in, no one is there.

My father begot me, alas,
my mother nurtured me, alas.
They loved me, they fed me,
they raised me, they taught me.
They watched me, they sheltered me.
I want to pay back their goodness,
boundless as the wide sky.

The southern mountains are stark and cold,
the howling wind is rising.
No one else has no one to help,
only I have this grief.
The southern mountains are ridges of stone,
the howling wind is blasting.
No one else has no one to help,
only I have this sad end.

      --This poem is from the ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry, or Shi Jing 詩經. It is a collection of the songs of the people and has been studied in China since the time of Confucius (551-479 BC). The songs date from 1000 BC to about 700 BC. This poem is number 202. The whole poem in Chinese is here. Here are some other English translations of the entire poem.  a  b  c




父兮生我, 母兮鞠我。


Li Qingzhao: Seeking, seeking

Every sound is slow

Seeking and seeking, searching and searching,
cold, cold, clear, clear,
dismal, dismal, wretched, wretched, mourning, mourning.
Suddenly hot, then cold at times,
so hard to bear.
Two or three cups of watery wine--
how can that help me bear the rushing evening wind?
The wild geese are passing
my heart is breaking
we were so close since long ago.

All over the ground, heaps of yellow flowers
wan, withered, outworn
as they are now who will pick them?
Watching at the window
alone how was I born so unlucky?
The wutong trees shed even more fine rain
at twilight, drip drip drop drop
This time
how can there be only that one word-- "anguish"?

           --Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084- about 1151), a Chinese poet. She wrote this famous poem when she lost her beloved husband. The "yellow flowers" are yellow chrysanthemums, used only at funerals. The Chinese bury the dead in mounds, so the heaps of flowers remind her of graves. The wutong tree is often evoked in autumn laments or songs about sad love. 

This is my own translation. I'm not sure it's completely correct.




Chen Jiru hosts his own funeral party

Calligraphy by Chen Jiru

At such an hour on such a day of such a month, the master died. Shortly before his demise he summoned his children, grandchildren and friends, saying, "Rather than making sacrifice to me after I die, you had better offer me wine while I am still alive." Thereupon his family and friends formed a line and went forward one by one to present him wine as if they had been participants in a memorial service. The master drank and ate gleefully. With his chin up, he shouted at the company, "Why don't you show grief and weep?" Thereupon the whole company burst in tears. Some of them began to sing funereal songs between rounds of drinking. The sadder the singing, the more everybody drank; the more everybody drank, the better the singing. The master was so pleased that he got up and danced. He pinned flowers to his cap and twisted and clowned like a child. Nobody was allowed to leave until he was thoroughly drunk. When the master was finally about to expire he told those who were attending him: "It is always said that dying is accompanied by apparitions. Sometimes the dying one is summoned by messengers riding on a gold-and-silver floating platform; sometimes a welcome team descend from the clouds with flying banners and sonorous music. I am now seeing none of these. If you see anything, it must be an illusion." When he finished talking he clapped his hands, laughed loudly, and then expired. At this moment a white rainbow [hung] suddenly rose from the hall and, with its head straight up, it flew away into the blue sky. Everybody marveled at this occurrence.

              --Chen Jiru 陳繼儒 (1558-1639), Ming dynasty painter, scholar and hermit, in his own autobiography. From Mingren Zizhuan Wenchao 明 人自傳 文 鈔, cited in The Confucian's Progress: Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China (1992) by Pei-yi Wu 吳佩怡 (1927-2009)

If you have the original Chinese, could you please send it? Thanks.

Zhuangzi: I have no one to talk to now


Zhuangzi was in a funeral procession and walked by Huizi's gravemound. Turning his head to speak to his followers, he said, "There was a man from Ying who got some plaster on the tip of his nose, thin like a fly's wing. He got a workman named Shi to chop it off for him. The workman Shi moved his axe so that a wind was made. He obeyed and chopped it. The plaster was taken off and the nose was unharmed, while the man from Ying did not change countenance.

"Prince Yuan of Song heard about this. He summoned workman Shi and said, 'Try that on the orphaned one.'* Workman Shi said, 'Your servant once could chop like that. However, your servant's [working] material is long dead.'

"Since Master Hui has died, I have no material [to work with]. I have no one to talk to any more."

     --Zhuangzi (4th century B.C.)


--徐無鬼 (# 6), 雜篇, 莊子

* [Hereditary rulers often referred to themselves as "the orphaned one" because their fathers were dead.]

Su Shi: Who knows where the swan flies?


Remembering the past with Ziyou at Mianchi Temple

When it comes down to it, what is human life like?
It must be like a flying swan that alights on snow or mud.
Sometimes it leaves footprints on the mud.
Then the swan flies off-- where? to the east? to the west?...

       --Su Shi (蘇軾) (1037-1101), also known as Su Dongpo (蘇東坡). Ziyou was his younger brother, Su Che (蘇轍).