Chengdu rains a lot in July. We are here in July. Chengdu is the land of the pandas, Sichuan food, shadow puppets, face changing, and more teahouses per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is the land of the thatched roof house of Chinese poet Du Fu. He is considered by many to be China’s greatest poet. He changed the subject matter of poems from how beautiful the landscape or nature is to how wrong it is for people surrounded by wealth to be hunger. Du Fu was poor throughout his life. He had to travel from place to place with his family to find a living as a poet.
It is said that during a fierce storm the roof of his thatched home blew off and he and his family suffered the elements of the storm. But during the storm he wondered about how the people without even a thatched roof house were making it in such times as these. He was a poet with a strong social conscience. Of course if he had rhapsodized in his poems about the beauty of the cherry trees he might have had more wealth. But he instead chose the course of a poet with a concern for humanity. Below are some lines from his poems.
Tonight we start the season of White Dew,
The moon is just as bright as in my homeland.
My brothers are spread all throughout the land,
No home to ask if they are living or dead.
The letters we send always go astray,
And still the fighting does not cease.
"Wine and meat rot behind vermilion gates, while on the roadside, people freeze to death"
Today, his sojourn in a thatched roof home is memorialized. There are shops, a museum, and most substantially a garden. I am overwhelmed by the huge bonsai garden. Bonsai was originated in China. The Chinese originally used the word penjing while the Japanese would use the word bonsai. The Japanese as a rule will focus on a particular tree; the Chinese will choose a landscape. Of course these different styles merge in each country as time goes on.
Bonsais are amazing as they are usually modeled after something seen in Nature. They are pruned, roots cut, and watered as the bonsai grower meditates on Nature and humanity through the keeping of their bonsai. Du Fu lived most of his life in poverty. This simple fact may have given him eyes to see that poems should be written about the reality of the world. His roots were trimmed and he saw the sometime selfish nature of humanity. Things as they are sometimes in reality.
But these bonsais we see everywhere in his memorial garden show a promise of how things can be. But it takes our loving and intentional care to help them grow into something beautiful. Something much like the landscapes the poets rhapsodize about.
The forecast is for rain in Chengdu, always is in July, but I have plans to make it a great day.