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June 3, 2016

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Home » Feature » Beats of History

Literature filled with ‘saintly’ fishermen tales

ANCIENT Chinese literature often portrayed fishermen as wise men living in seclusion.

Take, for example, “Dialogue Between Fisherman and Woodcutter.” It is narrated in the musical qin ge (an art form in which musicians sing while playing the guqin) format in which a fisherman talks about Taoism in a simple language with a woodcutter.

There are so far more than 30 versions of “Dialogue Between Fisherman and Woodcutter” recorded in scrolls. The earliest existing one is found in “Xingzhuang Taiyin Xupu” by Emperor Xiao Luan of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In it, the talks between the fisherman and woodcutter deal with the truth about rise and fall, loss and gain in the world.

The music creates a scenery of high mountains and flowing rivers with the two men going through their work at a leisurely pace. The lyrics are composed of questions by the woodcutter and the fisherman’s replies, in a tone that reflects indifference toward wealth and fame.

Fishermen are seen as worldly wise men and live better than the scholars fighting for their goals. Confucius referred to fishermen as “saints” after listening to a fisherman’s elaboration of the Taoist realm of inaction. A fisherman persuaded Qu Yuan not to be obsessed about convincing too many people.

The most famous fishermen in Chinese history were probably Lu Wang in Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) and Yan Ziling in Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220).

Lu fished with a pole without any hook or bait which caught the attention of King Wen of Zhou. He told the king he was interested in catching only those fish who wished to be caught. Impressed, the King recruits him as his adviser.

Yan helped Emperor Liu Xiu get back his crown, but chose to live in seclusion as a fisherman in Fuchun Mountain in Zhejiang Province.

Click here to listen to the music.


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