On Seeing A Pupil Of Kung-sun Dance The Chien-ch`i
On the nineteenth day of the tenth month of the second year of Ta-li (15 November
767), in the residence of Yuan Ch`ih, Lieutenant-Governor of K`uei-chou, I saw Li
Shih-er-niang of Lin-ying dance the chien-ch`i.
Impressed by the brilliance and thrust of her style, I asked her whom she had studied
under. “I am a pupil of Kung-sun”, was the reply.
I remember in the fifth year of K`ai-yuan (717) when I was still a little lad seeing
Kung-sun dance the chien-ch`i
and the hun-t`o at Yen-ch`eng. For purity of technique and self-confident attack she
was unrivaled in her day.
From the “royal command performers” and the “insiders” of the Spring Garden and
Pear Garden schools in the palace down to the “official call” dancers outside, there
was no one during the early years of His Sagely Pacific and Divinely Martial Majesty
who understood this dance as she did. Where now is that lovely figure in its gorgeous
costume? Now even I am an old, white-haired man; and this pupil of hers is well past
Having found out about the pupil’s antecedents, I now realized that what I had been
watching was a faithful
reproduction of the great dancer’s interpretation. The train of reflections set off by this
discovery so moved me
that I felt inspired to compose a ballad on the chien-ch`i.
Some years ago, Chang Hsu, the great master of the “grass writing” style of
calligraphy, having several times
seeen Kung-sun dance the West River chien-ch`i at Yeh-hsein, afterwards discovered,
to his immense
gratification, that his calligraphy had greatly improved. This gives one some idea of the
sort of person Kung-sun
In time past there was a lovely woman called Kung-sun, whose chien-ch`i astonished
the whole world. Audiences numerous as the hills watched awestruck as she danced,
and, to their reeling senses, the world seemed to go on rising and falling, long after
she had finished dancing. Her flashing swoop was like the nine suns falling, transfixed
by the Mighty Archer’s arrows; her
soaring flight like the lords of the sky driving their dragon teams aloft; her advance like
the thunder gathering up its dreadful rage; her stoppings like seas and rivers locked in
the cold glint of ice.
The crimson lips, the pearl-encrusted sleeves are now at rest. But in her latter years
there had been a pupil to whom she transmitted the fragrance of her art. And now in
the city of the White Emperor the handsome woman from Lin-ying performs this dance
with superb spirit. Her answers to my questions have revealed that there was good
reason to admire, my ensuing
reflections fill me with painful emotion.
Of the eight thousand women who served our late Emperor, Kung-sun was from the
first the leading performer of the chien-ch`i. Fifty years have now gone by like a flick
of the hand – fifty years in which rebellions and disorders darkened the royal house.
The pupils of the Pear Garden have vanished like the mist. And now here is this dancer,
with the cold winter sun
shining on her fading features.
South of the Hill of Golden Grain the boughs of the trees already interlace. On the
rocky walls of Ch`u-t`ang the dead grasses blow forlornly. At the glittering feast the
shrill flutes have once more concluded. When pleasure is at its height, sorrow follows.
The moon rises in the east; and I depart, an old man who does not know where he is
going, but whose feet, calloused from much walking in the wild mountains, make him
wearier and wearier of the pace.