January 30 1983: Clog-throwing Song

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Huang Yao had a weekly column called Moyuan Suibi in the Nanyang Siang Pao, a newspaper in Malaysia. 


擊壤歌

 

During the earliest part of Chinese civilization, the“Book of Songs” most commonly reflected the voices of the people, especially those of the commoners. Poems were divided into three types: “feng”, “ya” and “song”. “Feng” referred to “guo feng” (“airs of the states”), which was also known as folk songs. “Ya” referred to “da ya” (“major court hymns”) and “xiao ya” (“lesser court hymns”), written by the intelligentsia. “Song” (“eulogies”) were songs sung in temples. Even older than the “Book of Songs” were the “Ancient poems”.  “Clog-throwing Song”, a poem from the “Ancient poems Source” employed such simple language and had such a candid meaning that I was inspired to paint it.

The original poem goes like this: “Work from sunrise and rest at sunset/Dig wells for water and plough fields for food / How great the power of the Emperor, that does not affect me?” The last line reflects how the common people were independent and relied on their own hands to provide for themselves, with not a trace of the phrase “tyrannical authority is fiercer than a tiger”. This poem already existed between the period of Emperor Huang's reign till the time of Emperor Yao's reign. Since then some four thousand years have passed, but the piece still sounds fresh and new, and not at all ancient or outdated.

According to “Ages of Kings”, “The time of Emperor Yao was peaceful. People were bored and eighty or ninety years old folks started creating a song while 'clog throwing'.” 「擊」(“ji”) means “hit”. What is 「壤 」 (“rang”)? In ancient times, a game was played where they used wood as  「壤 」 (“rang”). Shaped something like a clog, its front part is large and its rear is sharp. First you put a piece of “rang” on the ground. Another player standing three or four steps away throws another piece of “rang” so as to hit the one on the ground, and so we call this “clog-throwing”, as can be seen in “Illustrations of the Three Talents”. This shows us that human beings are not divided by age but by wealth. In ancient times, old people used to play games just like they were children. “Clog-throwing” was a popular game back then. When they hit the clog, they would be so happy they would sing out loud, and this is where the song above came from.

During the reign of Emperor Yao, the lifestyle of the common people was still not too far away from more primitive ways of life. Everything was simple and the country was not over-populated. During those days, people did not have to scheme and plot against each other just to survive.

In those ancient times, people “dug wells for water and ploughed fields for food”. Everyone worked to provide for themselves. Unlike in modern times, as long as you have some form of control over others, you can then bully them. It is no wonder that the weak began to start revolutions. And that is why there are never-ending wars and fights, and no more peaceful days. Because of inequalities, there are imbalances, which leads to the subversion of the natural ways of the world. Such is the law of nature! If you want world peace, are you then able to put down your selfish heart and your desires? If not, no great mind can bring us out of this mess. During the time of the “Clog-throwing Song”, the world was not as populated as it is today. They did not have to fight for survival and could be “unaffected by the Emperor’s power”. But now, in order to go back to those peaceful days, the only road is “the Great Unity”.

Both Eastern and Western philosophers agree on this: “Be Contented, Be Happy”. All suffering originates from “greed”, which is why Buddhism advises people to change their ways of “greed, hatred, delusion”. This is actually very scientific. However, the human heart is inevitably unable to control all three emotions. All it takes is one slip and they will then fall into the deep valley, unable to pull themselves back again. Some get sucked into non-scientific, superstitious beliefs and become slaves of this “Su Shuo”. Therefore, human beings are always living in “unwise”, and some stupidly seek an escape through suicide.

When I first came to Malaysia in 1956, I visited a matrilineal clan in Sembilan with some friends and visited a place in Perak with a “Longshan Culture”. I also knew that two huge pieces of turtle shells with oracle bone scripts written on them had originated from the Peninsula… all these are closely linked to ancient cultures. It is a pity that no one is noticing or doing any research on them. After I fell sick the year before last, I was instructed not to work too hard. There is so much work that I will not have the time to complete, so I really hope that young people with the passion and the heart can accomplish them for me. There are so many treasures to uncover in this peninsular country that bridges the East and the West!

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