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  • Julia Min

於潜女 Yuqian Women


原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

旧版英译:戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)

新版英译及赏析: 闵晓红(2023)






The Yuqian Women

written by Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

old En. trans. by G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)

new En. trans.+ annot. by Julia Min ( Feb. 2023)

Snow blouses, blue skirts, the Yuqian women wear.

Their feet are pale as frost because they’re bare.

Just a silver comb, in two loops they dress up hair;

Wind or rain, their silver headbands stay, I swear.

The palace style’s descended from Wu-Yue period

To honour their King Qian, their legend figure.

The willows start shedding catkins to Yun River.

The women in fresh make-up cross it in gondola

To charm their woodmen husbands on their return.

No Yuqian man trades his girl for a posh lady fair.


1. ‘Yuqian’: a county about 200 km from Hangzhou.

2. ‘Wu-Yue’ and ‘King Qian’: King Qian (Qian, Miao钱镠) , the founder of Wu-Yue State during the Ten States period between the Tang and the Song. Hangzhou was the capital. To save his people from the catastrophe of a war with Song’s Zhao army, he gave up his crown for peace and the united Song Dynasty. Many famous men have come from the Qian family even in modern China.

3. ‘Yun River’ another name for River Tiao; ‘Yun’ is chosen for the assonance in the line.

4. ‘gondolas’: so translated as I imagine the boat likely to be the Chinese gondola (蚱蜢舟), a localization strategy applied in translation as the English definition refers to the boat generally used in Venice. It serves well the romantic vibes between the lines.


In 1093, Su Shi inspected Yuqian area where the Wu-Yue culture had flourished since the early Han Dynasty. The traditional dress, the silver head coverings, and the charming openness of Yuqian women took his fancy. In contrast would be the courtesans, the mythical ladies and the various ideal women of some folklore. Again, catkins are associated with softness and the feminine in culture, with true love and spiritual nourishment.

If you step back for a panorama view of the artistic world in China and Europe, you’ll see the similarity in the main features of the Renaissance --- the general trends in aesthetic tastes evolved from the luxurious palace art to the simple style of common subjects, to their everyday life in the country villages. Bright colours gradually gave way to simple plain colours like light blue, light green, black and white. This occurred across the board not only in poetry but also in paintings, statures, music, and designs. I sincerely wish this new perspective could inspire more studies on the rhymes and vibes of the Song Dynasty art.


1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min and Huang Haipeng,published by the People's Publication House Henan Province in 1990 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵,闵晓红,黄海鹏) (Yuqian Wome: Black skirts, snow blouses, the Yuqian women wear. / Their feet are pale as frost because they’re bare. / They whirl and dance, in two loops pin their hair; / In storms their silver headbands stay, I swear, / Descended straight from the palace and their / Precious ancestors to themselves, who take great care /To honor the old ruler. By Tiao stream catkins fill the air, / An eyebrow of a woodthrush wings down to where / One of these waits her woodman-lover hurrying there; / No Yuqian husband trades his lady for some mythical lady fair.”)

2. pictures from


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