blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Qian Liu, good king of Hangzhou

May 25th, Wednesday

Peaches ripening by West Lake
The sun had come out, so I stayed under the shade of the many, many trees near the West Lake. I'd intended to take a boat ride but enjoyed the waterfront so much that I simply ambled along, taking things in, for five hours, through a park called Orioles Singing in the Willows. Not sure about the orioles, but I saw and heard blackbirds and some more of the birds I'd first noticed in Suzhou with the flecks of yellow and black and white crowned heads (which I now believe to be Chinese bulbuls, Pycnonotus sinensis), and there were willows all around me, also plane trees with mottled trunks (platanus orientalis, I guess). What an idyllic place. One little tree hanging over the water was a peach tree.

Sculpture of the legend
To my delight, I found a tourist attraction that had hardly any other people going round it and which only cost me 15 CNY to explore: a restored temple with subsidiary buildings and courtyards dedicated to the memory of the founder of Hangzhou, Qian Liu, and his successors.

There was a legend about this good king's birth illustrated by a sculpture in one of the courtyards. When he was born in the year 852 a red light flashed in the sky and his parents, local peasants, were frightened by "the sounds of troops and horses"-- a thunderstorm, I daresay, but the baby's father took it to be an ill omen and decided to throw his newborn son down a well. An old woman, Po Liu, prevented him from doing this. The Poliu well is still there, by the way. The child grew up as a seller of salt, but at the age of 20, upset by the riots flaring up at the end of the Tang Dynasty, he joined the army. He made his way up through the ranks of the military and finally became king of the 13 cantons of Wu Yue prefecture in the year 923. He was the first ruler to have walls built around the city of Hangzhou and encouraged peaceful pursuits among his subjects, weaving, agriculture. He also built an extensive dyke along the Qiantang River to counteract the tidal bore that still happens regularly (like the Severn bore in Britain).

Inside the temple
King Qian Liu, sculpted far larger than life in the main hall along with his four immediate successors (slightly smaller in size) was revered to almost godlike status. The medieval writer Su Shi wrote about Qian Liu's achievements on four stone tablets, three of which I saw, re-inscribed by a Ming Dynasty carver. He died at the age of 81, having set a high value on children's education, inventing codes of conduct for his family which basically amounted to
  1. Don't be arrogant. 
  2. Don't be extravagant. 
Wikipedia lists 38 sons of Qian Liu! His descendants have largely been philosophers, educators, literary men, scientists. I saw a wall of their faces, some of them photographs because the line has continued to the present day. The king's grandson was also "remarked highly by historians" for peacefully "submitting" his territory to the Song Dynasty regime, thus taking responsibility for the peaceful unification of China in those days.
Stele at the temple, inscribed with the good king's history

Entrance to Orioles Singing in the Willows


May Chien Busch said...

Dear Allison,
What a lovely post about your visit to Hangzhou. I made a similar trip just before you were there, and it is a special place. These were my ancestors and I am deeply touched by your writing about the Good King Qian of Hangzhou. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
May Chien

May Chien Busch said...

Dear Alison - I apologize for misspelling your name.