Zhang Dai’s Epitaph by Himself
Zhang Dai from Sichuan, alias Potter Villa, was a fop when young, given to luxuries, loving fabulous housing, beautiful concubines, cute catamites, gay clothing, yummy delicacies, fine horses, glaring lights as well as stages, musical instruments, antiques, bets and pets, so on and so forth while loafing around, sipping tea or playing chess, addicted to books and poetry. Half a life of pain ends up with a dream vain. At the age of fifty, he withdrew to hills when his country was conquered and family ruined. He had few things with him: a bed and a desk worn out, a cauldron and a lute broken, fragments of books dogeared and an ink slab short of an edge. He had to manage with plain clothing and poor vegetables and from time to time ran out of food. It was totally a different world from what it was twenty years before.
He often murmured to himself: I’ve seven puzzles. People used to rise from poverty to peerage but now they fall like a beggar from nobility. What a disorder of ranks. That’s the first. Those having a low income want to live like a baron while those having short cuts to prominence live as a hermit in hills. What a disarray of status. That’s the second. A scholar goes up to a battlefield while a general turns out to be a man of letters. What a derangement of positions. That’s the third. One sits with a deity without flattery and goes with a beggar without pride, hence a blurring of dignity and humility. That’s the fourth. The weakly leave spits on their faces to dry while the strong gallop their steeds to war, hence a distinction of strength. That’s the fifth. Sometimes one strives for fame and interests; sometimes he is willing to lag behind. Does one play a game to lose? Such is a confusion of haste and laxity. That’s the sixth. When playing chess or gambling, one does not know what winning or losing is; when sipping tea one knows from which river the water has been got, the Min or the Zi. What a jumble of wits. That’s the seventh. These seven puzzles he could not solve. How could he expect others to solve them? Therefore, you may say he was rich and noble or poor and low; you may say he was wise or stupid; you may say he was strong or weak; you may say he was diligent or lazy. He failed to be a calligrapher, to be a swordsman, to be a moralist, to be a literatus, to be a Buddhist or to be agardener. He failed in all. You may call him a loser, a scum, a ruffian, a sluggard, a snorer or a good-for-nothing.
I was first called Root, then Mason, hence Mason by nickname. I was good at writing, having come out with The Book of Stone Cask, Genealogy of the Zhangs’, Martyrs, A Collection of Holy Library, Elucidation of the Changes, The Use of the Changes, A Discovery of History, Encountering Four Books, Dreaming, A Tale of the Bell, On Flushing Dale, A Garden Tale of the Past, Ten Volumes of theSeducing Sprite, Seeking a Dream on West Lake and A Volume of Ice and Snow. I was born on the early morning of Twenty Fifth Day of the Eighth Moon, Dingyou Year (1597) of Wanli’s Reign, son of premier Grand Washer of the Lu State and his wife called Potter Good. As a child I was inflicted with a phlegmatic disease and was reared by Lady Ma, my great great granny, for ten years. Then, my great-great grandfather, the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, had a few trunks of cow-bezoar bolus that I took all, as I lived there for sixteen years, and I was cured of the disease. When I was six, my grandfather took me to Martial Woods and came across Mr. High Brow riding a reindeer, who was a visitor to River Qiantang. He asked Grandfather, “I hear your grandson is good at writing couplets. May I have a try on him?” He pointed at Li Po Riding a Whale, a picture on a screen, saying: “Riding a whale, Li Po fished for the moon on the river.” I replied: “Driving a deer, High Brow blew to the wind in the county.” High Brow burst into laughter with a jump: “What a prodigy! He’s my little friend.” He expected me to be a great success, however, I turned out to be nothing!
After the year of Jiashen (1644), I was idle, unable to end my life or to survive well, gray hair waving, a walking corpse in the world. I was afraid I might kick off one day, left to rot like grass. Then, those whohad written their own epitaphs like Wang Ze, Tao Qian and Xu Wei occurred to me, so I mimicked them. While weighing words, I found my talents and myself quite insufficient, so I paused once and again. Nevertheless, I might as well write something about my likes and dislikes. I once dug my tomb at Mt. Cockhead in King Xiang’s town, my friend Li Yanzai wrote me an epitaph: “O great! The tomb of the greatest scholar Zhang Dai, alias Potter Villa, of the Ming Dynasty.” As Grand Phoenix, a hermit, built his own tomb near Yao Li’s, so I built mine in King Xiang’s town. One year later, I was in my seventies but I did not know when I would die and be buried, therefore I wrote nothing but a simple epitaph: Behold, Shi Cong, a poor billionaire, showed off his treasures; Bian He, a stupid loyal man, offered his jade as a tribute; Lian Po, an old general, fought hard in Zuo Lu; Sima Qian, a fake historian,padded out Records; Su Shi drooled for meat; Shu Qi and Bo E starved themselves. Bai Lixi was talented, but how could he sell his talents? All have learned from Tao Qian for nothing; all have admired Mei Fu in vain. To know who and what I was, you have to find a hermit called Wild Man in the Wild.