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Bai Juyi and “On the Cold Spring Pavilion”

            Remembering south of the river,

   I cherished most my recollection of Hangzhou.

   In a temple I looked for sweet osmanthus blossoms during full moon,

   In a pavilion I lay down, watching the rising tide.

   When can I revisit south of the river?

The poem “Remembering South of the River”, composed by Bai Juyi before leaving Hangzhou after his term as Governor there, is a historically renowned masterpiece, in which he had conveyed all his emotional attachment to Hangzhou. Such emotional attachment, just like waves of the West Lake never faded with time and was shared by millions of readers.

Hangzhou is fortunate, as is the West Lake. Without Bai Juyi, none of the classic poems about Hangzhou would exist. Bai used to write about the clarity of the West Lake, the beautiful vegetation of the Baisha Causeway, and the clear spring water of the Six Wells. He composed more than two hundred poems for Hangzhou, which have been deeply imprinted in the Chinese literature:


   Wildflowers will soon flourish enough to overwhelm one's eyes,

   but now the shallow grass barely submerges a horse's hooves.

   The east side of the lake was my favorite--I don't come this way often enough;

   In the shade of green willows lies White Sand Embankment.


  Who has built the Baisha Causeway beside the Gushan Temple?

   When the grass is green, it looks like the belt of a skirt.


   When arrived on shore please turn around and look,

   The Palace of Penglai is in the middle of the sea.


   Slowly leading the boat to the center of the lake,

   Like a diamond flower sliding on a mirror.


   I cannot discard Hangzhou and walk away,

   Part of the reason is the West Lake

Bai Juyi was was born in Xinzheng, Henan Province. He passed the examinations and became a palace graduate in the year 800AD, and was appointed to several posts in the government, as Scholar of the Hanlin Imperial Academy, Assistant Reminder of the Emperor, and the Assistant Secretary to the Prince’s Tutor. Being a straightforward man, Bai was famous as a bold adviser to the Emperor, which brought him enemies who had power. Therefore he was banished from the court and demoted as an official of Jiangzhou. Later he was sent as Governor of Zhongzhou, a remote place in Sichuan. When he was still young, Bai went with his father to the south of Yangtze River Delta with his father to seek for refuge in troubled times and was impressed by Hangzhou, “Hangzhou lived up to its fame, the outskirts of which are by the riverside… with a noble-minded governor in town, the landscape seems more scenic and attractive.” In 821, China got a new emperor, Muzong. Muzong's reign was characterized by political conflicts between officials, and by previously subdued regional military governors who began to challenge the central Tang government,, which lead to a new round of warfare in the north of the river. Again, Bai Juyi wrote a series of memorials in remonstrance. Yet his suggestions had never been accepted by the Emperor. He felt that “there is no use to save the world”, so he asked for being “sent away”, and was appointed as the Governor of Hangzhou in the second year of Changqing period (AD822) under Muzong’s reign. While Hangzhou was a place that he had long been yearning for, he still felt depressed because of his unsuccessful career. In his poem “Getting Up Late on a Boat”, he described his feeling as follows:


   Retired from the court as a useless man,

   In the court of patriots there are talents.

   Better walk toward the Qiantang Lake,

   Singing and drinking for several years.

With his initial plan to indulge himself in “singing and drinking” in Hangzhou, his attachment to the scenic West Lake grew with time, which had changed his mind. He ordered the construction of Qiantang Lake Dike and the dredging work of the Six Wells. Over the following years he devoted himself to the welfare of the local people, and was respected by local residents. Faced with compliments from others, Bai just smiled calmly and said, “The water in the lake is the only thing that I can leave you with to help you through difficult times.”

Bai Juyi used his leisure time to enjoy the beauty of West Lake.  Lingyin Temple was among one of his favorites. In the poem “Staying at Lingyin Temple”, he wrote:


   In my six-hundred days of stay in the county,

   I’ve been to Lingyin Mountain for twelve times.

   I stayed overnight in Tianzhu Temple for the falling laurel blossoms,

   I got drunk in Lingyin Temple for the blossoming pomegranate flowers.

   Imperial edict of commission has arrived,

   Rescript from the prince is hastening.

   Most of the monks are watching the sky sadly,

   The guests are feeling at sea as well.

   The temple is dark, smoke covering the bamboos.

   The forest smells sweet, raindrops falling on plum blossoms.

   Bidding farewell to the bridge, I still love the white stones.

   Saying goodbye to the cave, the green moss

   Step by step I walked out of the pine trees, asking for direction.

   Drinking on the running horse, the cup looks like flying.

   Who asked the Cold Spring water,

   To accompany me out of the mountain?

From the poem we can see that he had been to the temple twelve times within 600 days. Such frequency is evidence of his strong affection to the Lingyin Temple. He also expressed his feelings in another poem, “Lingyin Temple”.


   The one temple gate is shared by two temples;

   The two temples were separated from one temple.

   The eastern ravine flows into the western ravine;

   The southern clouds are originated from the northern clouds.

   Blossoms in the front can be seen at the back;

   Bell rings from above can be heard from below.

   Imagining the place my teacher advocated his view;

   Blossoms of Lily and fragrans are falling one after another.

The friendship between Bai and the monks in Lingyin, Tianzhu and Taoguang Templea contributed greatly to his frequent visits to Lingyin Temple. Sometimes he would stay over-night in the temple when it was too late. He had a most profound friendship with Master Taoguang of the Taoguang Hut (now Taoguang Temple). Master Taoguang was a monk from Sichuan Province, whose master had told him that “Move on when you encounter ‘Tian’. Stop when you encounter ‘Chao’” before his setting off. During the years of Muzong, Master Taoguang was in the “Chao Gou Wu”of Lingyin Temple.

   Later, Bai Juyi was appointed Governor of Hangzhou. Master Taoguang came to realize that “I’ve encountered both ‘Tian’ (Bai’s courtesy name being Letian) and ‘Chao’. This must be the place for me to stay for the rest of my life.” He then built a temple and settled there.

The Taoguang Hut was surrounded by wonderlands. Walking through the winding paths from Lingyin Temple, one could see the old trees dancing with luxuriant bamboos. Sweet fragrance of grass filled the air. The toll of the monastery and the rippling of spring water echoed in the valley. Looking out from the Taoguang Hut, one could see the Qiantang River merging with the sky, just like a waterfall from the galaxy, which was rather amazing and cleared one’s misted mind. This was one renowned scene of the Qiantang River.

At the first encounter Bai Juyi and Master Taoguang became best friends. They often wrote poems to each other. Master Taoguang once invited Bai to inscribe words on the Taoguang Hut. Bai replied with “Fa’an”. Later the name of the hut had been changed into “Fa’an Hut” for a while. However, given the enormous influence of Master Taoguang, the name of the hut was changed back to “Taoguang Hut” eventually. As a courtesy response to the hospitality of Mr Taoguang, who received his frequent visit, Bai once invited the master to a dinner party to repay his hospitality. He wrote, “I sincerely invite you to have dinner with me. After the dinner with a vegetarian diet we can have a cup of tea together.” He thought that Master Taoguang would come because they had already prepared a vegetarian diet. On the contrary, Master Taoguang did not show up. He replied to Bai with a poem, expressing his attitude of staying away from the secular world:


   Monks secluded in the mountain,

   Favor an idle life in woods and caves.

   Their favorite hobbies are nothing,

   But channeling water to plant lotus.

   As white clouds are reluctant to fall down,

   the bright moon would not leave the sky.

   Downtown may not welcome monks either,

   Can you not hear the birds twitter?

Still, this was not the most salient factor that linked Bai Juyi and Lingyin Temple. It is his “On the Cold Spring Pavilion” that made both Bai Juyi and the pavilion well-known for millennia. At that time, it was a convention for each Governor of Hangzhou to build a pavilion in scenic places — the Xubai Pavilion by Xiangli in the valley of Lingyin Mountain, the Houxian Pavilion by Han Gao, the Guanfeng Pavilion by Pei Changli, and the Jianshan Pavilion by Lu Yuanfu. The Cold Spring Pavilion was built by Lang Yuanxie. However, what made it famous was the essay written by Bai Juyi. The landscape of Lingyin Mountain was universally acclaimed at that time. Many pavilions had been built there. Yet none of them enjoyed a great reputation as the Cold Spring Pavilion did, which probably have enjoyed the fame of the person that composed about it.. In the prose, Bai wrote: “Of all the sceneries in Southeast, Hangzhou is the best; In Hangzhou, the scenery of Lingyin Temple is the most outstanding; in the temple, the Cold Spring Pavilion comes first.” Some people may wonder the reason why he as the Governor did not choose to build his own pavilion. “The five pavilions that face each other stand like fingers. It can be said that all the beautify sceneries are there, the pavilions which needed to be built have all been built. Though having clever minds and broad visions, there is nothing for me to add to.” Bai believed that many pavilions had already been built and there was no need for another one. However, it was much more meaningful to write a memoir for the pavilion rather than building up another one. The memoir brought fame to the pavilion, linking the pavilion with Bai Juyi. He also inscribed two characters——“Leng Quan”, literally “Cold Spring”--on the pavilion. The character “Ting” for “Pavilion” was added two hundred year later by Su Dongpo, a literary giant of Song Dynasty, which constitute another legend of the Lingyin Temple and the Cold Spring Pavilion.

   Indeed, Bai had composed poems for other pavilions such as the Houxian Pavilion. But only the Cold Spring Pavilion can pass its name down the history, probably due to the scenic surroundings of the pavilion. In the poem “Cold Spring Pavilion” by Wang Baiting, the beautiful and splendid scenery of the Cold Spring was vividly described and presented too.

The beautiful scenery, plus the fine poems and memoir written by Bai Juyi——this is what makes the pavilion famous.

By the time when Bai Juyi’s completed his term as the Governor of Hangzhou, he was reluctant to leave. He expressed his sentiments in a poem:


   Everywhere I turn around I see something I cherished.

   Among all these, what I missed the most is the West Lake.


The parting scene was touching. In the poem “Farewell to the citizens” he wrote:


   The elders have blocked the road.

   Fine wines served on the farewell feast.

   Tears running on the faces.

   Heavy taxation resulted in poverty.

   Starving farmers wandering in dry lands.

   The only thing left is the lake,

   That can save my people from droughts.


Bai Juyi bid farewell to the citizens of Hangzhou. Reluctantly he started off upon the journey to Luoyang. Upon departure, he wrote, “I can only go to Tianzhu Mountain, then take away two pieces of stones. The stones are like a thousand pieces of gold, yet they cannot ruin my reputation.” He still missed Hangzhou long after he had left there. In his poem “Inscription on the County’s building”, he wrote:


   I had been appointed twenty government posts,

   and had been an official for thirty years.

   Among all the landscape I’ve been to and all the things I’ve been through,

   I missed Hangzhou the most.


Modestly, he described himself in the following way: “Three years as a Governor, I did nothing for the citizens”, “Not talented enough to alleviate starvation and poverty”, and “I did nothing to change some bad customs”. However, no one can deny the fact that he had made great contributions to Hangzhou. Like Su Dongpo, Bai Juyi’s achievements as the Governor and a literary giant are unparalleled. Therefore it is undebatable to say that “Without Bai and Su, the landscape of the West Lake would not be the same.”

In 824, Bai Juyi left Hangzhou, and never came back, except his everlasting affection to the city.

   “Remembering south of the river,

   I cherished most my recollection of Hangzhou.

   In a temple I looked for sweet osmanthus blossoms during full moon,

   In a pavilion I lay down, watching the rising tide.

   When can I revisit south of the river?

The temples in Lingyin Mountain still exist. The bells in the Buddha Halls still echo. The Cold Spring Pavilion is still reflected in the clear spring water, standing forever. Yet the poet has already gone to glory, and never came back.


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