Yoshikawa Kojiro on sashimi in Tang China

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[This is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei]

In 1976 I was in Kyoto for my sabbatical leave and I attended Yoshikawa Kojiro's (Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎; 18 March 1904 – 8 April 1980) private seminar on Tu Fu (712-770).  The seminar was held in a room in the Kyoto University Faculty Club and we were reading Tu Fu.  One day when we were reading "Lìrén xíng 麗人行" ("Ballad of Beautiful Women"),Yoshikawa looked up and said to me:  "Méi xiānshēng, Zhōngguórén zài Táng cháo yǐjīng zài chī sashimi 梅先生, 中國人在唐朝已經在吃 sashimi" ("Mr. Mei, the Chinese were already eating sashimi during the Tang Dynasty [618-907]"). And he pointed to this passage:  "Shuǐjīng zhī pán xíng sù lín, xī jīn yànyù jiǔ wèi xià, luán dāo lǚ qiè kōng fēnlún 水精之盤行素鱗,犀筋饜飫久未下,鸞刀縷切空紛綸。")  ("Crystal plates brought out raw fish; Satiated revelers stopped using their ivory chopsticks; [The chefs] wielded their ornate cutting knives in vain.")

I forgot why Yoshikawa Kojiro was holding this private seminar; maybe he was planning to translate the complete works of Tu Fu.  I did not learn much else from Yoshikawa sensei.  I have always felt that the Chinese learned sashimi from Japan, but Yoshikawa thought it was the other way around and he was able to prove his point by citing Tu Fu's "Liren xing".

————-

Original Chinese of the "Ballad of the Beautiful Women", followed by two English translations of each line by Alex Lam and Stephen Owen and a translation into Mandarin.

  1. Ode to Beautiful Ladies
  2. Fair Ladies: A Ballad
  3. translated by alexcwlin/edited by Adam Lam
  4. translated by 哈佛大学的宇文所安教授(Prof. Stephen Owen)

三月三日天氣新,

  1. Weather is clear and fresh on third day of third lunar month.
  2. On the third day of the third month, the weather is fresh,

長安水邊多麗人。

  1. Beautiful women are plentiful along waterfronts of Chang'an.
  2. by the waters of Chang'an are many lovely ladies.

態濃意遠淑且真,

  1. They are innately sophisticated, graceful and refined;
  2. Appearance voluptuous, their mood remote, pure and true,

肌理細膩骨肉勻。

  1. their skins are supple and soft; their physiques are well-proportioned.
  2. their skin's texture, delicate and glossy, flesh and bones well-matched.

繡羅衣裳照暮春,

  1. Their embroidered silk dresses are radiant at spring's dusk.
  2. Embroidered gossamer gowns shine in the end of spring,

蹙金孔雀銀麒麟。

  1. Pattern designs include tightly stitched golden phoenixes and silver unicorns.
  2. peacocks done in gold appliqué, unicorns of silver.

頭上何所有,

  1. What are they wearing on their heads?
  2. And what do they have on their heads?—

翠微㔩葉垂鬢脣。

  1. Jade-green jewelry drapes down sides of both temples.
  2. kingfisher-feather fine leaf tiaras dangling in tresses to lips.

背後何所見,

  1. What are seen at backs?
  2. And at their backs what do we see?—

珠壓腰衱穩稱身。

  1. Pearl-mounted waistbands keep dresses fitted to bodies.
  2. pearls encumbering waist aprons, fitted perfectly to the body.

就中雲幕椒房親,

  1. Among the people are relatives of palace's queen,
  2. Among them are the cloud-like tents, the kin of the Peppered Chambers,

賜名大國虢與秦。

  1. and two who were bestowed titles of Guo and Qin States first ladies.
  2. those granted title to great states, to Guo and to Qin.

紫駝之峰出翠釜,

  1. From jade-colored cauldron comes maroon camel-hump delicacy.
  2. The purple hump of a camel comes forth from an azure cauldron,

水精之盤行素鱗。

  1. White-colored fish is served on crystal platter.
  2. and on a platter of crystal pale-white scales go.

犀箸厭飫久未下,

  1. Being tired of rich food, rhino-horn chopsticks long remain in mid-air.
  2. From surfeit the rhino-horn chopsticks long have not been plied,

鸞刀縷切空紛綸。

  1. Quick knives have sliced slivers of dish ingredients for nothing.
  2. the threadlike slices of phoenix knives are a-flurry in vain.

黃門飛鞚不動塵,

  1. Bureaucrats' fast horses are careful not to kick up dust.
  2. The Yellow Gate's flying bridles do not stir the dust,

御廚絡繹送八珍。

  1. Imperial chefs uninterruptedly send over gourmet dishes.
  2. in continuous streams the Royal Kitchen sends along eight precious foods.

簫鼓哀吟感鬼神,

  1. Mournful flute and drum tunes could strike a chord with supernatural.
  2. The mournful droning of pan-pipes and drums stirs the spirits and gods,

賓從雜遝實要津。

  1. Guests and their servants are bustling at front door.
  2. attendant guests throng around—this is truly the gate to power.

後來鞍馬何逡巡,

  1. A rider comes on saddled horse with an air of smugness.
  2. A saddled horse comes later—how leisurely it advances!

當軒下馬入錦茵。

  1. He dismounts in front of carriage and walks over an adorned carpet.
  2. at the great carriage he gets off the horse and goes in on the brocade mat.

楊花雪落覆白蘋,

  1. Poplar fluff rains on and covers duckweed.
  2. Willow flowers fall like snow covering white water-clover.

青鳥飛去銜紅巾。

  1. Green bird flies over to pick up red handkerchief with beak.
  2. a bluebird flies away, a red kerchief in its beak.

炙手可熱勢絕倫,

  1. With an inflated ego, house-master's imposing presence is unrivaled.
  2. Heat that can burn the hands, power beyond all measure

慎莫近前丞相瞋。

  1. People are cautioned not to come near or Prime Minister would be irked.
  2. — take care not to come close before the Minister's angry glare!

白话译文

三月三日阳春时节天气清新,长安曲江河畔聚集好多美人。

姿态凝重神情高远文静自然,肌肤丰润胖瘦适中身材匀称。

绫花绫罗衣裳映衬暮春风光,金丝绣的孔雀银丝刺的麒麟。

头上戴的是什么珠宝首饰呢?翡翠玉做的花饰垂挂在两鬓。

在她们的背后能看见什么呢?珠宝镶嵌的裙腰多稳当合身。

其中有几位都是后妃的亲戚,里面有虢国和秦国二位夫人。

翡翠蒸锅端出香喷的紫驼峰,水晶圆盘送来肥美的白鱼鲜。

她们捏着犀角筷子久久不动,厨师们快刀细切空忙了一场。

宦官骑马飞驰不敢扬起灰尘,御厨络绎不绝送来海味山珍。

笙箫鼓乐缠绵宛转感动鬼神,宾客随从满座都是达官贵人。

有一个骑马官人是何等骄横,车前下马从绣毯上走进帐门。

白雪似的杨花飘落覆盖浮萍,青鸟飞去衔起地上的红丝帕。

杨家气焰很高权势无与伦比,切勿近前以免丞相发怒斥人!

Source

————-

Readings

"Awesome sushi barbecue restaurant" (8/8/19)

"Sushi in Sochi" (2/27/14)

"Zo sashimi" (8/10/19)



11 Comments »

  1. jin defang said,

    August 11, 2019 @ 11:15 am

    Did Yoshikawa-sensei mention what was eaten with the raw fish? It can be toxic, especially given the lack of refrigeration and sanitary standards back then. Wasabi, which according to an NHK program I saw, became the normal accompaniment only in the mid-19th century. It's believed to have anti-microbial characteristics.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    August 11, 2019 @ 11:27 am

    I seldom get sick after eating a meal, but about 15 years ago, I became violently ill after eating raw fish in Shanghai. I ate it against my better judgement, but it was the pièce de résistance of a banquet held in my honor, and the hosts were proud to be able to offer it to me. The flesh was mushy and had no resistance to the teeth, plus it completely lacked the delicious flavor of fresh, genuine, chilled sashimi. I knew as I ate it that I was in for trouble that night.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    August 11, 2019 @ 12:08 pm

    It's amazing that Nick Williams invoked "sashimi" in the title of his lengthy review of Stephen Owen's complete translation of the poetry of Du Fu. What's even more incredible is that Nick's discussion of sashimi in Du Fu is about a different poem than the one cited in this post.

    See Nicholas Morrow Williams, "Sashimi and History: On a New Translation of Du Fu", China Review International (University of Hawai'i Press), 21. 3-4 (2014), 201-244.

    https://muse.jhu.edu/article/646920/pdf

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 12, 2019 @ 9:25 am

    From Lin Zhang:

    It is said that "脍" and "鲙" are the characters for sashimi in ancient China. While some accounts on the internet believe that "不得其醬,不食。"(鄉黨第八) indicates that Confucius has this consciousness of eating sashimi in an anti-microbial method, this sentence lacks a subject. Thus we are not sure whether the sauce is for sashimi or regular meat. But "食不厭精,膾不厭細。"(鄉黨第八) may suggest that sashimi was exquisitely eaten in ancient China.

    Also, I found another Tang poet's account of sashimi. 王昌齡: "冬夜伤离在五溪,青鱼雪落鲙橙齑。" The way they describe sashimi in ancient China reminds me of blowfish sashimi, the pieces are light and transparent.

    [VHM: here are some photos of fugu / blowfish sashimi; warning! don't eat this fish under uncertified conditions, because it is highly toxic unless prepared by specially trained chefs]

  5. Victor Mair said,

    August 12, 2019 @ 9:28 am

    The chapter of the Analects cited by Lin Zhang gives a fascinating glimpse into the folkways of Confucius among his fellow villagers or townsmen (xiāngdǎng 鄉黨). Here I quote just the passage from that chapter that deals with the sage's rules pertaining to food:

    食不厭精,膾不厭細。食饐而餲,魚餒而肉敗,不食。色惡,不食。臭惡,不食。失飪,不食。不時,不食。割不正,不食。不得其醬,不食。肉雖多,不使勝食氣。惟酒無量,不及亂。沽酒市脯不食。不撤薑食。不多食。祭於公,不宿肉。祭肉不出三日。出三日,不食之矣。食不語,寢不言。雖疏食菜羹,瓜祭,必齊如也。

    He did not dislike to have his rice finely cleaned, nor to have his mince meat cut quite small. He did not eat rice which had been injured by heat or damp and turned sour, nor fish or flesh which was gone. He did not eat what was discolored, or what was of a bad flavor, nor anything which was ill-cooked, or was not in season. He did not eat meat which was not cut properly, nor what was served without its proper sauce. Though there might be a large quantity of meat, he would not allow what he took to exceed the due proportion for the rice. It was only in wine that he laid down no limit for himself, but he did not allow himself to be confused by it. He did not partake of wine and dried meat bought in the market. He was never without ginger when he ate. He did not eat much. When he had been assisting at the prince's sacrifice, he did not keep the flesh which he received overnight. The flesh of his family sacrifice he did not keep over three days. If kept over three days, people could not eat it. When eating, he did not converse. When in bed, he did not speak. Although his food might be coarse rice and vegetable soup, he would offer a little of it in sacrifice with a grave, respectful air.

    [Translation by James Legge; source]

  6. liuyao said,

    August 13, 2019 @ 11:28 am

    I thought this post was in part inspired by the recently concluded popular "TV" series 《長安十二時辰》, which may have included scenes featuring sashimi. I tried to google some screenshots but didn't find any.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    August 13, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

    I am intrigued by the chosen address, "Méi xiānshēng". Given the existence of erhua, would "Méir xiānshēng" not have been possible, as well as being more faithful to the English/American pronunciation ?

  8. Thomas Rees said,

    August 13, 2019 @ 10:50 pm

    Nobody's responded to this. Well, here goes…

    "Méi" 梅 isn't a (partial) transcription of "Mair"; it's VHM's (梅维恒's) Chinese surname. It's appropriate that such a distinguished Sinologist has a fully Chinese name (?sinonym).

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    August 14, 2019 @ 2:15 am

    Thank you, Thomas — explanation much appreciated.

  10. Lai Ka Yau said,

    August 14, 2019 @ 9:00 am

    @Philip Taylor: I believe the 梅先生 is referring to Tzu-Lin Mei (梅祖麟), who is the author of the guest post?

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    August 14, 2019 @ 2:03 pm

    Ah, thank you, missed that. Much appreciated !

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