Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

"The true joys of the world are but fivefold..."

It is always delightful to be reminded how sensitive and intelligent people of the past were. Below is a quote from the magistrate Yuan Hongdao's letter to his friend:

To my mind, the true joys of the world are but fivefold, and of this you must be aware. To see with one’s eyes all the most sensuous sights of the world, to hear with one’s ears all its most beauteous sounds, to taste all the world’s greatest delicacies and to join in all the most interesting conversations; this is the first of the true joys afforded us.

Within one’s hall, to have food-laden vessels arrayed in the front and music being played in the background; to have one’s tables crowded with guests and the shoes of men and women scattered everywhere; for the smoke of the lanterns to rise to the heavens and for jewellery to be strewn across the floor; when one’s money is exhausted one sells off one’s fields; this is the second joy.

To have secreted in one’s book trunks ten thousand volumes, all of which are rare and precious; to have a studio built besides one’s residence and to invite into this studio a dozen or so true friends and to appoint as master of them someone with the extraordinary insight of a Sima Qian, a Luo Guanzhong or a Guan Hanqing; to then divide them into groups and to have each group compose a book, the prose of which will be far removed from the faults perpetrated by those pedantic Confucian scholars of the Tang and Song dynasties and to have recently completed some masterpiece of the age; this is the third joy.

To buy a junk worth a thousand taels; to invite on to this junk a musical troupe along with a courtesan and a concubine or two and a couple of idle travellers; to have a floating home and mansions afloat; to be able to forget the approach of old age; this is the fourth joy.

If one were to indulge oneself in this manner and to this degree, however, before a decade had passed by one would find one’s money exhausted and one’s fields sold. But then, in a state of total penury and living hand to mouth, to ply the brothels with one’s begging bowl in hand, to share one’s meals with the orphaned and the infirm, to live off the favour of one’s friends and relatives, all without the slightest pang of shame; this is the fifth great joy.

Quoted in "The Epistolary World of a Reluctant 17th Century Chinese Magistrate: Yuan Hongdao in Suzhou" by Duncan Campbell.

Image from here.

Tags: 1600s, 17th century, quote, suzhou, yuan hongdao, 袁宏道

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