Friday, September 9, 2011

The lanterns of West Lake

I finished Jonathan Spence's book Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man. I love books which are evocative of different places and ages and different ways of seeing the world, and this is one of them.

I am also fascinated by China and Chinese history. It is about a historian and biographer named Zhang Dai, who lived throuh the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in the 1640s.

There are some remarkable scenes - for example, Zhang Dai recalls pleasure boating on the famous West Lake near Hangzhou when he was a teenager. The lake (still considered one of the highlights of China) was surrounded by villas and ornnamenal parks and trees and pavilions. At night there were lanterns everywhere on the boats, on land, reflected in the water. People banqueted and drank on the water. It is a glimpse of a very refined, elegant, aesthetically conscious society ( or at least one layer of it).

Fifty years later he returns, after the fighting that marked the fall of the dynasty. The pavillions are burnt down. The trees are gone.

No comments:

Post a Comment