February 26th, 2013

hasui moon at magome

The persistence of Zhang Dai's memories

Reading Spence's book about the late Ming essayist Zhang Dai, can't help thinking what a lovely time the rich Ming literati seemed to have had.
Zhang Dai mentions other clubs or groups that his own relatives convened-- his grandfather had a history club, one of his uncles had a humor club and Zhang's own father loved to meet with a select group to discuss etymologies of old place names and to set geographical conundrums.
I mean, not very different from online society in terms of activity, back in the days of MLs; but how much pleasanter to meet face to face over tea or wine.

Zhang Dai sounds to me like a Chinese counterpart to Sei Shonagon, writing brief polished vignettes of aesthetic moments in his life that stuck in his memory-- moon viewing with a group of actresses, tea brewing with his refined uncle, a boat trip on a lake after a great snowfall. He wrote these down after the fall of the Ming, when he was living in solitude and partly in hiding from the new Manchu warlords, because he refused to shave his head in the ugly Manchu style. Zhang's memory became sharper with privation, having what I'd call detailed flashbacks to his glorious past in his reduced present. I envy him: the best I can do is fleeting phantom impressions, out the corner of the mental eye, that says '*this* is like something you saw in Tokyo, or Spain, or 1958, if only you could remember what it was.' In the absence of memory, I have to let Hasui do my remembering for me.