Bamboo Stalk Lyrics by Liu Yuxi
Willow trees dangle blue-green; the river flows languidly as
I hear my lover's voice, singing joyfully as he walks upstream
Clear morning skies in the East; while in the West it rains
...It almost seems heartless, and yet my lover sings in blue-green
I knew he wouldn't approve of my translation. The illustrious Wang sensei is no pushover, that's for sure.
But, what to do about translating the word for China's blue-green color, qīng (青)? A color that is so associated with late spring and early summer it is thought to express the color of nature itself. A green so deep it is blue. Like the dark moss at Nikko, the color of willow trees and slowly moving rivers, dragons, dragonflies, tea and bamboo, all of these things are known as qīng. In spring, people talk of "stepping on blue" （踏青→ getting out and walking in nature）, and along with the Japanese idea of the gods of the fields returning from their long slumber around this time of year, this concept of the return of blue-green is deeply connected to Japanese sensibilities surrounding cherry blossom viewing. The best time of year in which to begin a love affair (since we know from Genji that everything is sure to be dashed to hell by the start of autumn), it is a time for picnicking and picking herbs outdoors (山菜摘み）...the time of 清明; late spring into early summer is a world of blue-green.
And so as the famous poet said: "Shu rivers are green and Shu mountains are blue" (蜀江水碧蜀山青).
My beloved too loves painting in blue. In fact, you could almost say he was obsessed with the color. And, while-- like me-- he loved all shades of blue-green-- one shade in particular fascinated him. Sometimes, he and I would wile away the hours playfully trying to describe some particular shade of color to each other. He, though, always came back to that one specific shade:
"Close your eyes and imagine the color of the sky, in early morning after a rainshower..."
I closed my eyes and recalled that slowly over the years, my Emperor's unquenchable “yearning for blue" was a beautiful, imperial dream which had somehow worked its way into my own heart. And, I became fascinated not so much by his passion as by his method. For what better way to "capture" a particular shade of color than in porcelain?
So an emperor dreams of blue. And being the wish of an Emperor, his wish was everyone's command and it wouldn’t take long for the ingenious potters at nearby Ru to provide him with exactly what he as looking for:
The most beautiful porcelain in the world
Because Ru ware was created with the Emperor’s particular taste in mind and then disappeared so mysteriously without a trace after the fall of his dynasty, it has been forever after associated with my man. And, with less than 100 surviving examples, a very small piece was sold several years ago at Sotheby’s in New York for approximately 1.5 million dollars. The National Palace Museum in Taipei holds the great majority of the remaining pieces, with a fairly large number held in British museums as well.
As rare as they are stunningly beautiful; the celadon glaze ranges from pale green to a lavender blue and is characterized by its delicate opalescent quality caused by minute crystals and air bubbles trapped in the glaze. It is this shimmering quality--this transportive luminecence-- which reminds me of the luxerious purple of the Roman emperors. But then again Huizong's blue, in my opinion is far finer yet.
Due to its watery translucency and magnificent green-blue color, the quality of its much admired glaze reminds one more than anything else of jade, and although countless artists and even scientists have tried to re-create it, its exact method of production remains a mystery.
Researcher, Fumito Kondo, on assignment for Japan’s NHK, visited the Ru kiln site not all that long ago, and he describes his meeting with a Chinese researcher, a certain Mr. Zhu, who had been working for over 20 years en-situ, attempting to unlock the glaze’s secrets. Kondo writes,
On the day we arrived at Ru to begin filming, 30 pieces of celedon were being fired. The color in celedon glaze is extremely delicate and so slight changes occur depending on where the vessel is placed inside the kiln. Mr Zhu, carefully removing each piece, upon examing
them, discovered that not one piece had turned out! Mr. Zhu then
exclaimed that 20 years at Ru together with all the advances in
modern technology had been unable so far to bring back that very
mysterious color blue.
A shimmering blue-green-lavender that has somehow been lost forever. This dream of the rain-drenched color of the morning sky after a storm was, in his own words, "like a vision or a poem between us...a work of floating imagery...a dream: it is very blue...very deep. Blue..."
-- Recommended viewing: Ru Ware at the Palace Museum
The oars dip in silence, gentle
As the soft light over the waters
Or the ripples slowly spreading
From the shadow of the shore.
Far away the leaves are falling
Into an autumn that is you
And me, our lives gently touching,
Here and beneath the waters,
Like a moon and sky that sets
An evergreen blue.