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  • Julia Min

长寿乐·南昌生日 Nanchang’s Birthday




























Nanchang’s Birthday

- to the tune of Longevity Grace.

written by Li Qingzhao translated by Julia Min

On a day the calendar plant grew its sixth leaf,

the winter sun about to rise by the mulberry tree,

the water clock dripping low on silver arrow scale,

the Dipper Stars on the Milky Way turning sails,

you were born with a silver spoon in your palm,

since then you were the moony pearl of charm,

well-bred for gentle class n wedded to your oyster.

For your birthday today, your offspring gathered,

in the Place of Honour built by your forefather,

who retired to return in glory from the Emperor.

Now I see an array of blue-blooded gentlemen -

the esteemed, the renowned and the eminent.

For generations down, your family is civil servant

to the Crowns, favoured for countless achievements.

Many have held the seal of gold in green ribbon.

Now both sons are appointed as governors, given

the Tiger’s Tally to command on military mission,

and a caroche with bear handrail on the sedan,

so close to the throne, so promising and prominent.

Today, before you both gentlemen kneeled down,

followed by the Purples and Blues in the crowd,

blessing you with food in porcelain n wine in jade.

I, too, wish you to live long as pines and toonas,-

a reward for the worthy only in kindest grace.



This Ci poem could be the most intellectual birthday poem ever written, which led to a most challenging translation work I ever translated into English. Li Qingzhao is not confirmed as the writer as some critics think that the language style is more complicated than most of her poetry, esp. so to contemporaries as there are so many things in it do not exist anymore but were well known by the Song people. It is indeed an aristocratic birthday celebration in the 12th century China, a most flourishing time in history where the gentlemen’s class exceeds any other dynasty not only in number and income, but also in quality and prestige. So, in my humble opinion, it could be Li Qingzhao’s creation ( could be in her late fifties) for the readership was the invited guests, ‘the Purples and Blues’, in the birthday celebration at the Place of Honour. As you may know, their intellectual level, as gentlemen and gentleladies of the Song, was way out of our lead today. It was most likely written right there, and then recited, and then sung by some celebrity, a popular entertainment of the time. Li Qingzhao was never a flattery type. The intelligence and sincerity showed here explains her close relation with the Han family. Her father was a student of Premier Han Qi (the ‘forefather’), so both families have been close for generations. Nanchang could be her close friend since childhood, but had all the luck in the world that Li Qingzhao was unfortunately deprived of. The tone of this ci poem overflows with her heartfelt admiration for her friend’s happy family, especially her sons. So it is not just a story of Nachang’s , or the Han’s, past and present, but also a contrast between Nanchang and Li Qingzhao if you know what our poet had been through before this day.


1. Calendar plant : a legendary plant that grows one leaf a day until the full moon and then falls a leaf a day until the moon is waned. So, the 6th leaf means the 6th day of the month in the lunar calendar which the Chinese used before the solar calendar was introduced;

2. Mulberry tree: legend has it too that the winter sun rises from a place where there was a big mulberry tree;

3. Water clock: a water dripping clock device with an arrow-shaped silver scale in it to tell the time. The water would be almost finished for refill early in the morning.

4. The Dipper Stars: the stars that would shift in direction before daybreak;

5. The Place of Honour: a very famous place in history, the residence built and named by Hanqi upon his return after his retirement from the Royal Court. The site is preserved today in Anyang, Henan Province. There is still a stone scripture there telling the story.

6. Golden seal in green ribbon: the seal used by high officials appointed by the emperor;

7. The Tiger’s tally: a tally given by the emperor to high officials with military power, such as a great general; it works like an official order to summon the army for a mission.

8. A caroche with a bear:a handrail in the front of a descent carriage, or a caroche, hinting the high position of the person sitting in it.

Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

chǎng shòu lè ·nán chāng shēng rì

wēi hán yīng hòu ,

wàng rì biān ,

liù yè jiē mì chū xiù 。

ài jǐng yù guà fú sāng ,

lòu cán yín jiàn ,

biāo huí yáo dòu 。

qìng gāo hóng cǐ jì ,

zhǎng shàng yī kē míng zhū pōu 。

yǒu lìng róng shū zhì ,

guī féng jiā ǒu 。

dào rú jīn ,

zhòu jǐn mǎn táng guì zhòu 。

róng yào ,

wén bù zǐ jìn ,

yī yī jīn zhāng lǜ shòu 。

gèng zhí táng dì lián yīn ,

hǔ fú xióng shì ,

jiá hé fèn shǒu 。

kuàng qīng yún zhǐ chǐ ,

zháo mù zhòng rù chéng míng hòu 。

kàn cǎi yī zhēng xiàn 、

lán xiū yù zhòu 。

zhù qiān líng ,

jiè zhǐ sōng chūn bǐ shòu 。



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