Gui Youguang

My study Xiangjixuan used to be called South Chamber. It was only ten feet by ten, large enough for one person to live in. As it was nearly one hundred years old, dust and flakes of plaster fell and the roof let in rain. When I moved my desk, I could find no place to keep it off the rain.It faced the north and the sun could not get inside. Soon after noon it turned dusky. I did some repairs to the roof to stop it leaking, opened four windows in front and built a wall around.When the sun was reflected from the wall, the room brightened up. I planted orchids, laurels, bamboos and trees about and, therefore, the old railings looked brighter with colors. The bookself was filled with books on loan. I read and chanted aloud, beating time by swaying back forth. Sitting in it I could hear various sounds emanating from outside. It was so quiet round the steps that small birds often came looking for food there, not scared of men's presence. On the fifteenth night of the lunar month the bright moon flooded half of the wall. When a gentle breeze arose, laurel leaves shimmered flecks of moonlight on the wall and it was pleasing to see the shadows dancing and hear the leaves rustling in the wind. I lived in this room, happy in some ways and sad in others.

Previously the courtyard was all the way through from south to north. When my uncles began to live separately, they put up low walls here and there with small doors in them. Dogs in the east barked toward the west. Guests had to go through the kitchen to wine and dine. Sometimes chichens roosted in the hall. The courtyard was first partitioned by fences and later by walls. Such changes had taken place several times.

We had an old maid who once lived in this room. She was the maid of my late grandma. She had nursed two generations of my family. My late mother had been very kind to her. The room was connected with my mother's bedroom on the west and she once came over. "That's where your mum stood when she came," she would tell me. "I was holding your elder sister in my arms when she cried. Your mum tapped on the door with her fingers, asking:'Is the child cold or is she hungry?'I answered her from this side…" Before she was finished I wept and so did she.

Since I was fifteen I had been reading in this study. One day Grandma came and said:"I haven't seen you for ages, my child. Why do you shut youself up in here like a girl?" When she left she closed the door behind her, mumbling to herself:"Since long none of my family have got anywhere with their studies. Hopefully, this child will be of some promise. " In a few moments she returned with an ivory tablet in her hand, saying:"This is the tablet with which my grandfather Duke Taichang attended court sessions during the years of Xuande. You may have use for it some day." Looking at it today I felt as if it had occured just the day before. I couldn't help bursting into tears.

On the east of my study there used to be the kitchen. To get to the kitchen one had to pass my study. Though I lived in it with the windows closed, gradually I learned to tell by the tread who was passing by. The room got fired for several times,but it didn't break down.Maybe it had been protected by gods.

The occupant of Xiangjixuan comments: Window Qing of Sichuan made so much profits from her mining of cinnabar that she topped the whole country and the Emperor of the Qin Dynasty built a terrace in her honor. When Liu Bei and Cao Cao were fighting each other for the rule of China, Zhuge Liang emerged from Longzhong. When Widow Qing and Zhuge Liang lived in obscurity in far-off corners, how did they become know to the outside world? This humble man is now living in this shabby room, but when I raised my brows and look up, I claim to see magnificent prospects in it. People who get to know about it will think I am no more than a frog at the bottom of the well.

Five years after I wrote the above article, I got married. My wife often came to my study, asking about things of old or learning calligraphy at my desk. When she returned from her visit to her parents she told me what her sisters had asked:"We hear there is a chamber in your home, but what is a chamber really?" Six years later my wife died. The condition of the room worsened and I left it as it was. Another two years later I fell ill and was laid up in bed for a long time. Feeling bored, I had South Chamber renovated and it looked a bit different from before. Since then I had been away from home most of the time and seldom lived in it.

In the courtyard there was the loquat my wife planted the year she died. It stood there with graceful poise, its top spread out with exuberant foliage.

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