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Guanxiu Insisting on Not Changing Fourteen into Forty

Guanxiu (852-913) was a Buddhist monk, poet and painter of Late Tang Dynasty and Five Dynasties from Lanxi, Zhejiang Province. His original surname was Jiang and his courtesy name was Deyin (literally “hidden virtues”). He became a monk at an early age and was known for his poetry and painting. As a famous Buddhist monk, he sometimes lived in a temple and sometimes roamed around. Guanxiu was known for painting Buddha, and his paitings were characterised by the usage of dense lines and vigorous strokes, which create primitive and simple images. Most Buddhas in his paintings were with long eyebrows, big eyes, giant cheeks and high noses, which were features of the so-called Buddhist face. His cursive calligraphy was highly skillful, with vigorous pen movement and casual yet elegant style. People at that time compared him with the famous Buddhist monk and cursive calligrapher Huaisu of the Tang Dynasty and later the world called his calligraphy “Jiang Style”. His painting works included The 16 Arhats, The Picture of An Eminent Monk, The Picture of Vimalakirti, The Picture of Subhuti and so on. Besides, his poetry Chan Yue was popular in and after his time. His poems had enjoyed equal fame and reputation for a long time as his calligraphy and painting.

In Tianfu period of Tang Dynasty (901-903AD), Guanxiu was living in Lingyin Temple, which became his lingering and sentimental attachment in his later life. This can be observed from his poem to a fan of Hangzhou. The poem was entitled To Hangzhou Governor Song Zhen and said as below:

“Leaving my county office I fight against summer heat at home; still do I miss living in Lingyin Temple.

There are Xie Tiao’s words in monks’ chambers; and the temple tablet was written by Ge Hong.

On the trees in moonlight shadow macaques sleep right; in the ponds of the hill crouch lotuses sparsely sit tight.

But I greatly love tranquility and seclusion, so don’t build a hut of mine.”

Guanxiu lived in a time historically called “the Reign of Wuyue” when Qian Liu, king of Wuyue, brought a golden age to Hangzhou. Born poor and humble, the king of Wuyue built the Qiantang River Dike and expanded state territory, promoting Hangzhou to an important city in the south of Yangtze River Delta with the fame of being “Heaven on Earth”. After enthronement, Qianliu took a wide range of wisemen and intellectuals under his wings, while expanding the influence of Buddhism and building temples. Those famous brains like Pi Rixiu, Luo Yin, Hu Yue received generous favour from him. To further smoothen the communication with them, Qian Liu voluntarily learned reading and composing poem, through which he could converse with them. Thus, many famous intellectuals came to visit him, among whom was Guanxiu, the Buddhist poet and painter. Having heard that many famous brains had come to King of Wuyue, he wrote a poem to the king too, which goes:

“Honor and power came, which elude freedom; several years passed, with mountains and hills been trod.

In the banquet, three thousand guests get tipsy and drunk; one sword fights in frost to earn fourteen states.

Colza and clothes are to all but brocade only to some; the splendour of Xie Tiao’s works shies away beautiful rosy clouds.

Some day when your name is in Lingyun Pavilion, will you still envy those high officials in the old days?”

The king loved Guanxiu’s poem very much, particularly the line “In the banquet, three thousand guests get tipsy and drunk; one sword fights in frost to earn fourteen states.” But he thought that it would be better “fourteen states” should be changed to “forty states” to give more grandeur. Secretly, Qian thought the Kingdom of Wuyue was small in territory and weak in power and he desired to expand his territory and power by defeating others larger than his own, so that he hated people teasing him with smallness of his state. Qian decided to invite Guanxiu to court, but under the condition that Guanxiu should change “fourteen” to “forty”.

Expecting Qian’s invitation, Guanxiu exulted to hear that he was finally invited, but was infuriated by the additional condition. “It is as hard to change a poem as it is expand the territory of a state. As free and unrestrained as drifting clouds and wild storks, whereelse can’t I live and fly?” Guan said so before leaving in a huff.

Guanxiu had integrity and was used to living as a free roamer. It was in his nature to think that “There will be a place for me even if it is not here”. Therefore when Qian forced him to change “fourteen” into “forty”, it was such a violation to his will that Guanxiu decided never to let it happen. Such determination and inclunation had long been expressed in a poem of his chanting Flying Peak during his time in Lingyin. The poem said:

“I used to live in pure land, and come here nor for a rest.

Never say goodbye to Buddha’s paradise kingdom, though state of the emperor is good.

If that tree can only be sojourn, my life should be less fixed.

White apes do not bother to answer the call; dew drips from pine trees on macaques.”

Guanxiu went to Sichuan after leaving Hangzhou and sent a poem to Meng Zhixiang. In the poem, there was a line “With my bottle and bowl getting old and worn, I came here cross thousand mountains and rivers”. Zhixiang was overjoyed to receive the poem and he treated Guanxiu with high respect. Later Guanxiu was kindly received by Wang Jian, the former king of Shu, who bestowed a violet kasaya and a title “Chan Yue” (literally “Chan Moon”) upon him. Thereafter people called him Master Chan Yue. Guanxiu died at his own house at the age of eighty one in the second year of Qianhua period of Liang Dynasty.

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