From Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings
|The Yongle Bell, cast in 1403 at the end of the first year of the reign of the Emperor Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. Weighing nearly fifty tons, its sound could be heard fifty kilometers away on a clear night. The bell is housed in the Great Bell Temple, located in the Haidian District of Beijing and built in the year 1733. Image courtesy of Cultural China.|
His failure to learn the language didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the “weird beauty” of the six tales included in his book, and he instead relied on the work of various European Sinologists to help him create his own versions and understand the historical and linguistic allusions. “To such great explorers,” he acknowledged in a preface, “the realm of Cathayan story belongs by right of discovery and conquest; yet the humbler traveller who follows wonderingly after them into the vast and mysterious pleasure-grounds of Chinese fancy may surely be permitted to cull a few of the marvellous flowers there growing.”
|Illustration of Ko-Ngai’s tale, from P. Dabry|
de Thiersant’s La piété filiale en Chine (1877)
The story of Ko-Ngai is one of the collection entitled Te-Hiao-Tou-Choué, or “A Hundred Examples of Filial Piety.” It is very simply told by the Chinese narrator. The scholarly French consul, P. Dabry de Thiersant, translated and published in 1877 a portion of the book, including the legend of the Bell. His translation is enriched with a number of Chinese drawings. . . .The drawing that accompanied Ko-Ngai’s story in Thiersant’s book is reproduced to the left.
Twenty years later, after Hearn had been living in Japan for a decade, he admitted that his versions of the tales were the “early work of a man who tried to understand the Far East from books,—and couldn’t; but then, the real purpose of the stories was only artistic.” Nevertheless, he insisted, “I would change nothing.”
(For additional information on Lafcadio Hearn, see the introduction to the previous Story of the Week, “The Legend of Tchi-Niu,” also from Some Chinese Ghosts.)
Notes: The Son of Heaven is an honorific for the Emperor of China. Hearn’s book also included a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar to American readers, although most of them should be clear from context. His definitions of the terms used in this story are reprinted below:
- Fo. Buddha is called Fo, Fuh, Fuh-tu, Hwut, F˘at, in various Chinese dialects. The name is thought to be a corruption of the Hindoo Bodh, or “Truth,” due to the imperfect articulation of the Chinese. . . .
- Fuh-yin. An official holding in Chinese cities a position corresponding to that of mayor in the Occident
- Kwang-chau-fu. Literally, “The Broad City,”—the name of Canton. It is also called “The City of Genii.”
- Lí. A measure of distance. The length of the lí has varied considerably in ancient and in modern times. The present is given by Williams as ten lí to a league.
- Ta-chung sz’. Literally, “Temple of the Bell.” The building at Pekin so named covers probably the largest suspended bell in the world, cast in the reign of Yong-lo, about 1406 AD, and weighing upwards of 120,000 pounds.
* * *The water-clock marks the hour in the Ta-chung sz’,— in the Tower of the Great Bell: now the mallet is lifted to smite the lips of the metal monster, . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!
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