买一花，不自惜；然有竹据其间，或芟而去焉，曰 【毋以是占我花石地】，而京师人苟可致一竹，辄不惜数千钱；然遇霜雪，又槁以死。以其难致而又多槁 死，则人益贵之；而江南人甚或笑之，曰【京师人乃宝吾之所薪】！呜呼！奇花石诚为京师与江南人所贵；然穷其所生之地，则绝徼海外之人视之，吾意其亦无以甚异於竹之在江以南。而绝徼海外，或素不产竹之地，而使其人一旦见竹，吾意其必又有甚於京师人之宝之者，是将不胜笑也。语云 【人去乡则益贱，物去乡则益贵】。以此言之，世之好醜，亦何常之有乎？
I have strolled in the gardens of the capital’s titled and wealthy, and seeing what is collected there – not one rare plant or stone from distant borders across the seas is lacking – only the bamboo cannot be had. We south of the Yangtze cut bamboo for kindling; for the garden we also purchase rare plants and stones from abroad, some spending countless sums for a rock, a fortune to buy a single flower, all without regret. Yet if there is bamboo standing in the midst some would hack it away saying, “This will not occupy my bed of flowers and stone“. But if in the capital people are able to obtain a single bamboo, then the sum of several thousands is not regretted, ever knowing that upon the first frost or snow it will wither and die. Men greatly prize the fragile and unobtainable, yet those from the south would even mock them saying, “So the people of the capital prize our firewood”. How sad! Rare plants and stones are indeed prized by those of the south and the capital, but were their place of origin plumbed and men from those distant borders across the seas look upon them, I believe they would think those less wondrous than the bamboo south of the Yangtze. And in faraway lands across the seas perhaps no place grows bamboo, so I believe those strangers upon suddenly seeing bamboo would invariably prize it more greatly than those living in the capital, and both would laugh without end. It is commonly said, “A man away from home is worthless, a thing away from home is precious”. In view of this, how can there be constancy among people’s likes and dislikes?
My uncle, a gentleman holding the Guanglu position, cultivates a garden on the banks of the Jing stream, everywhere planting bamboo and not other trees. Among the bamboo a small pavilion is set to pass moments of leisure with guests reciting verse and singing within. On occasion he spoke to me, “I can not strive with those of influence in the surpassing of plants and stone, yet only by gathering what is native to this place I need not labor and my garden flourishes thusly; I am complete. In this way I am styled Master of Bamboo Rill. Nephew, you should write down such words for me”.
I replied, “How in fact are you unable to compare with the influential by conveniently gathering what is native to the land? It is not that you alone have a deep affection for the bamboo, but rather are unwilling to pronounce so to others? Long ago men discussed the bamboo, considering that being void of pretty color and fragrance it was not liked; and as its wondrous strangeness is unequal to stone, and its guiling beauty and charming delicacy unequal to the flower, yet it stands forth as a gentleman of pride and independence, aloof from the vulgar. In this, from antiquity to the present, an absolute few have known how to appreciate the bamboo.
And those of the capital, how can they understand and value bamboo, merely wanting to use it as they would a rare plant or rock to vie in display of wealth? Thus as people from the capital prize it, and people south of the Yangtze denigrate it, their failure to understand the bamboo is one and the same. You sir, grew up surrounded by sumptuous circumstance and are able not to become dissolute in its midst; fine clothing, stables, squires, maidservants, singers and dancers, all those things many wealthy men greatly desire you deny; especially do you steadfastly refuse reckless intercourse with others. In manner stern, aloof and unique, for this do you take pleasure in the bamboo, and all those many things that men fancy and like cannot by nature stand among the bamboo! Even if bamboo were not native to this place, you sir would do utmost to gather it here and then take pleasure in it; you, sir, by might can gather together strange plants and stone yet your pleasure would not be found in their midst.
How sad! Before, the bamboo could not be taken from the south but taken now because is it prized. I have thoughts upon thoughts on this.
- Tang Shunzhi (1507-1560)