Chinese palindromes

FOREWORD

This is a treatise on Chinese palindromes.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I helped Professor Y.T. Hsiung promote his hard cover book of Chinese palindrome poems.  A palindrome is a word, a line, a verse, a sentence etc. that reads the same backwards as forwards.  Here are some examples:  “Madam, I’m Adam.”  “Poor Dan is in a droop.”  (From the Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition).  “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!” (From Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary).  And of course, the most famous one attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte is:  “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” 

DEDICATION

This treatise is dedicatged to the memories of Y.T. Hsiung and Charles Wu Chung-yue.

Profeswsor Hsiung Yin-tso, author of the Chinese Palindrome Poems of Four Seasons, published his monumental book of palindrome poems in 1978.  In 1981, he attended the 5th World Congress of Poetry in San Francisco.  On February 14, 1988, he dedicated a copy of his English translation of Chinese Palindrome Poems of Four Seasons to my wife and me upon his golden wedding anniversary to his beloved wife Myra Chan.  In 1935, Y.T. Hsiung served as the first acting Consul General of the Chinese Consul of the Republic of China in San Francisco.  Later he served as Consul General of the Toronto Consulate of the Republic of China for five years.  In the 1950s, he served as General Secretary of the Advisory Commission on Strategy of the Presidential Palace of the Republic of China on Taiwan where he studied Chinese painting from Master Huang Chun-pi and later taught Chinese painting at the San Francisco State University.  Y.T. Hsiung graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1930.

Charles Wu Chung-yue, renowned Chinese calligrapher, agricultural engineer, and elementary school, junior high, senior high and university colleague of Jiang Zemin, past president of the Communist People’s Republic of China, was born in Yangzhou, China, and graduated from Nanjing University with Jiang Zemin.  While Jiang Zemin became an electrical engineer, Charles Wu became an agricultural economist and agricultural engineer.  Jiang Zemin secretly joined the Chinese Communist Party while Charles Wu continued his study in the printing industry.  With a Master’s degree in chemical engineering from Japan’s Chiba University, he became plant manager of the Taipei Arts Printing Plant, professor of the Department of Printing at the Chinese Cultural University, then hired by the New Moon Inks Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1970s.  He later settled in San Francisco and began writing for the Chinese Times of San Francisco, the China Youth Morning News, the China Times, the Far East Times and the United Daily News.

INTRODUCTION

In English, the letters are the basic units used to construct a palindrome.  In Chinese, the characters are the basic units used to construct palindromes.  In vernacular Chinese, there are many palindromic constructions in daily use.  Here are some examples:

yao` bu yao`? Do you want it or not?

da` bu da`?  Is it big or not?

da”’ bu da”’?  Are you going to make that phone call or not?  Are you calling or not?  Do we fight or not?

xie”’ bu xie”’?  Are you going to write it or not?

xue” bu xue”?  Are you going to learn or not?

And, sa bu sa?  do we kill (attack) or not? 

And the infamous Cao Cao said: 

Sa! Sa! Sa! Sa! Sa! Sa! Sa! (His famous “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”exclamation).

In all of these, the meaning and the order of the letters and characters are preserved.  In Chinese palindromic poetry, however, only the characters and their order are required to be preserved.  The meaning of a particular line of a palindromic poem read forward may not be the same when read backwards. 

Chinese palindromic poetry is known as “hui wen shir”.  Hui means cycling and returning.  Wen means writing, and shir means poetry.

As you will see, my purpose is to introduce this form of Chinese poetry and preserve it. 

Chinese Palindromic Poetry By Prof. Yin-tso Hsiung

The Chinese poem is the most beautiful and profound form of literature in the world.  The effect of a Chinese poem is the same as that of a Chinese painting.  It reflects the innermost feelings of people’s hearts and minds with wonderful impressions of actual scenes and facts.  This relationship is aptly expressed as “A poem in a painting and a painting in a poem.”  The most important elements of Chinese poetry are:  the description of the circumstances, the characters and style, and the elegant, rhythmic vitality.  Among the various kinds of Chinese poems there is one known as palindromes.  The verses can also be read in a reverse way.  The first palindromic poem recorded in Chinese literature history was the famous “Revolving, reversible and waving picture” [xuan” ji zhi jin”’ tu”] composed by So Fe, wife of General Tu Tao of the Qin dynasty (207-245 B.C.).  It consisted of 841 characters and could be read in various ways: forward, reverse, diagonally, and repeating every other character and then start with the next character. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Chinese Literature, it could be formed into 7,658 poems.  This poem is the only one in existence.  It had not been surpassed in the past nor will it be surpassed in the future.  Though it can be formed into many poems, because of the complicated compositions and the restricted positions of the characters, it is impossible to form good and expressive poetic sentences.  Since that poem was written, there have been various other kinds of palindromic poems composed in different forms, such as in the forms of a square, a triangle and a circle.  The square form, for instance, with 20 words can be formed into 40 poems.  Because of the difficulty in placing the proper characters in line, the sentences are for the most part ambiguous and unnatural.  They lack, too, the rhythmic harmony of true poetry.  The most proper Chinese palindromic poems are the ones having verses with five or seven characters to a line.  These two types of poems must be written according to strict rules.  The writer not only must use proper rimes but also must select the proper characters so that the meaning of the verses can also be natural in a reverse way.  Therefore in writing a palindromic poem one encounters great difficulties, consequently a great deal of time is needed to accomplish such a task.  Chinese poets can write a poem without much effort if the rules of rimes and the differentiation of the oblique rimes from the rimes in even tones are understood.  At the same time the poet must also be mentally armed with a great deal of poetic knowledge and mastery of the art.  Sometimes very beautiful verses can be formed easily as the poet’s thought progresses. Because of the obstacles that are encountered in composing palindromic poems, not many poets wish to spend time and energy in composition.  This explains why so few palindromic poems are in existence.  A decade ago a certain Mr. Wang Chung Hou of the China Society in Singapore wrote a book entitled The Most Profound Literature in the World.  He spent several years in making a collection of about 400 poems.  Mr. Lee Yang and Mr. Tsao Tsu Feng of the early Ch’ing (Qing) dynasty wrote 80 palindromic poems each.  The famous scholars of the Sung dynasty,  Mr. So Tung Po and Mr. Wang An-shih each wrote a few.  The advanced type of poem is called tsu [ci”] which is composed with an irregular length of verses.  To write a palindromic tsu is a very difficult task.  One must be able to write poems well before attempting to write a tsu.  There are only a few palindromic tsu recorded in the history of Chinese literature.  There are several hundred different rimes of the tsu but only a few can be written as palindromic.  The most difficult type is the combination of palindromic poetry with the tsu because the poems can also be converted into tsu by changing the punctuation.  Generally speaking it is very difficult to write palindromic poems but it is not altogether impossible.  It takes a lot of time and energy, of course.  Chinese literature is most profound and enjoyable.  I am greatly puzzled why Chinese youth wish to change the standard Chinese characters by blindly following the idea of the Chinese Communists.  Would those who have the responsibility of the Renaissance Movement of Chinese Literature take up themselves the sacred duty of correcting this grave mistake?  (West & East Monthly, Vol. XXIII No. 12, December 1978)

The Asian Week, an English language journal for the Asian American community in San Francisco, California, published the following article on September 8, 1983, on Professor Yin-tso Hsiung and his Chinese palindrome.

San Francisco — If you don’t catch the full meaning reading from beginning to finish, start at the end and read backward.  That would be seen as the advantage of the palindrome, perhaps one of the rarest forms of poetry in the world.  Originated in China in the second century B.C., the palindrome reads forward or backward, and in some cases inside out.  An example in English would be, “Madam I’m Adam,” though referring to that example as poetry would no doubt offend many who take their literature seriously.  According to Prof. Yin-tso Hsiung, the first palindrome in Chinese history was written by So Fe, wife of General Tu Tao of the Chin (Qin) dynasty (207-245 B.C.), consisting of 841 characters.  The poem could be read forward, backward or in a number of other directions, in fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Chinese Literature, So Fe’s composition could be formed into 7,658 poems by reading in different ways.  It remains one of the classics of the palindrome to this day.  Later palindromes were exercises in “word games,” the professor said, with some being shaped into circles, triangles or other geometric shapes.  Prof. Hsiung, 78, is one of the world’s experts on palindromes – he has composed more than 200 himself, more than any other Chinese poet in recorded history.  A translated example of his work: 

     In the remote valley, a gold-colored orchid is named national flower.

     With genteel petals and purple skin its color is brilliant.

     By the flowing cloudy rays, there are vivid pictures with the angelic stalks.

     The glorious new spring welcomes the fragrant blossoms.

When the Chinese characters are read in reverse order, the poem undergoes a change:

     The perfumed blossoms give welcome to the spring’s new beauty.

     Its angelic stalk and magnificent image beautify the flowing rays.

     With brilliance of purple color, its flesh and skin are extremely fine.

     In the flowery country, it is named the blossom of a golden valley.

Not many people write palindromes because “they can cause headaches” during their composition, Hsiung said.  The famous scholars of the Sung dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) So Tung Po and Wang An Shih each wrote several, and Lee Yang and Tsao Tsu Feng of the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) each wrote 80 palindromic poems.  Wnag Chung Hou of the China Society in Singapore spent several years researching and collecting 400 palindromes which he published in a book entitled The Most Profound Literature in the World.  Prof. Hsiung is the first to publish a collection of his own palindromes.  The art form remains obscure because of the discipline required, and also because of the pandora’s box of interpretations and different readings available in any single poem.  “This is a literary game, but who has time to read that many poems in a single piece?”  laughed Prof. Hsiung.  “I recently heard about a man from San Francisco State University who earned his doctorate by reading just a few poems out of one of the classic palindromes.”  Prof. Hsiung’s volume of palindromes thus is a collector’s item.  Perhaps even more unusual is that he took on the mammoth task of translating the entire collection into English.

In the Preface to the English translation of the Chinese Palindrome Poems of Four Seasons by the author Yin Tso Hsiung by Rosemary C. Wilkinson, president, 5th World Congress of Poetry, USA, 1981,  She wrote:

When first reading this collection of palindrome poems I felt the flow of China come alive in my heart.  It was no longer a matter of words and metaphors but my presence before the massive mountains dwarfing quaint villages, boats so minuscule with a lone man guiding each, fog dissolving above lakes, and disclosing wind slanted, or majestic pines, fragrant plum orchards and vast li of golden wheat fields.  The spareness of words, purity of intention, reveal the attraction of the Western mind for the East.  The tranquil and quiet is felt as only a magnet can draw.  The sentences, complete thoughts in themselves, are as the fresh fallen snow yielding newness of desired knowledge.  I am drawn to the meager, pure unadorned imagery, sans all superfluity.  I long to dwell in the precious old, the treasured, respectful way of life in China.  To see the mist rise, clear after a rain, huge farm animals, patient toil in the soil, crops yielding so plenteous, would be my great joy.  To sit at the feet of scholars and drink in the wisdom of China’s literature, dwell there for a time to write poetry, is my future goal.  This collection of Y.T. Hsiung’s draws us close to the heart of China, all the more resolving the deep mystery that noble land holds for us all.  Never should China behold her purity of old polluted with modern technology.  Let there remain a place upon the earth for oriental retreat to restore equanimity on the quantum ladder of evolution.  Survival of our planet depends on such balance. (Rosemary C. Wilkinson, President, 5th World Congress of Poetry, USA, 1981)

Prologue by Ling Fu Yang, in the winter of 1977, Carmel, California, at age 94:

Ever since the first palindrome poem was composed by Lady So Fe, entitled “Revolving, Reversible and Waving Picture” in the Qin dynasty (207-245 A.D.), not many palindrome poems have been written.  Two renowned scholars of the Sung dynasty (960-1276) Su Tong Po and Wang An Shih did compose a few each, but there are only two palindrome collections in existence written in the early Qing dynasty:  80 poems pertaining to the spring season by Lee Yang and 64 poems pertaining to lady’s chamber, blossom and moon by Tsao Tsu Feng.  Besides these two, I have never seen any other collection.  Mr. Yin Tso Hsiung has composed two hundred palindrome poems of the four seasons with pure imagery and excellent poetic sentence constructions.  This is the most important work in the field of Chinese palindromic poetry ever written.  By reading this, one would be able to avoid illnesses and to enjoy longevity.

Prologue by Huang Chun Pi, winter, 1977, Taipei, Taiwan, at the age of 82:

Yin Tso Hsiung writes excellent poems and paints well.  At his leisure he has composed palindrome poems, combining them in a volume.  They constitute great rhythmical melodies which can stimulate one’s mind.  They can encourage people towards making more effort in palindromic poetry writing and to revive this lost art.

Chinese calligrapher and writer Charles Wu Chung Yue of San Francisco said in his critique of Y.T. Hsiung’s Four Seasons Palindromes:  “The written Chinese language is unique in that it consists of monosyllabic characters with four distinct tones and versatile morphemic rules that lend themselves to the construction of beautiful and elegant phrases and verses.  Palindrome verses are those that can be read forwards and backwards without losing their rime.”

Here are eight palindromes from Prof. Y.T. Hsiung’s Chinese Palindromes of Four  Seasons and his English translations:

Chun You”  Spring Tour

chun you” yi` qie` jing”’ you xin,

mu` ji” fen fang se` shuang”’ shen”,

chen” xiao”’ shan yun” cong yu` qi`,

ren” xing” ban` jiu”’ zui` gan chun”.

Touring in the spring is pleasant in a scenic environment.

Glancing at the beautiful scenery is indeed refreshing.

At dawn, the clouds in the mountains furnish fresh air.

People walking on the tour bring with them wine for a delightful drink.

Reverse of Spring Tour

chun” gan zui` jiu”’ ban` xing” ren”,

qi` yu` cong yun” shan xiao”’ chen”,

shen” shuang”’ se` fang fen ji” mu`,

xin you jing”’ qie` yi` you” chun.

Sweet wine accompanies the people walking on the tour.

The pure air flows with the clouds at daybreak.

In cheerful spirit, the colorful surroundings attract their eyes.

The new magnificent view is enjoyable for touring in the spring.

Chun Deng Spring Lamp

qiong” hua tu”’ yan` ye` guang hong”,

geng”’ geng”’ fu” xia” ying` bi` kong,

qing jiu”’ gong` yin” chun xing qian”’,

geng can” yi zhan”’ yu` lou” dong.

Rare flowers of the candle are shining,

glowing with red light in the evening.

The floating clouds illuminate the sky.

Drinking wine while composing poems together,

poets enjoy the spring.

In the early morning, the lamp is still alit in the east of the terrace.

Reverse of Spring Lamp

dong lou” yi` zhan”’ yi can” geng,

qian”’ xing chun yin” gong` jiu”’ qing,

kong bi` ying` xia” fu” geng”’ geng”’,

hong” guang ye` yan` fu”’ hua qiong”

In the east terrace the lamp still alight in the early morning.

To enjoy the spring the poets compose poems and drink together.

The sky reflects red cloudy rays constantly.

The red glow of the candle flame in the evening throws out rare flowers.

Xia` Chan”  Summer Cicada

huai” yin lu` liu”’ bao` zhi yin”,

xiao”’ lu” qing can tiao” gu”’ yin,

tai” yue` xie” qing chui” bin` ying”’,

lai” feng nuan”’ cui` long` you qin”.

On the branches of leguminous and willow trees, the cicadas chirp.

With morning dew for their meals, they play ancient melodies.

When the court moon is slanting, their shadows appear.

While the warm wind is blowing, they play lutes again.

Reverse of Summer Cicada

qin” you long` cui` nuan”’ feng lai”,

ying”’ bin` chui” qing xie” yue` tai”,

yin gu”’ tiao” can qing lu” xiao”’,

yin” zhi bao` liu”’ lu` yin huai”.

The fine lute plays a melody while the warm wind is blowing.

The shadow is hanging where the moon shines slantingly on the terrace.

When the ancient melody is playing, the cicadas adjust their meals

with fresh dew in the morning.

They sing on the branches of willow trees,

where the shady leguminous is green.

Xia` Wa  Summer Frogs

qing cao”’ chi” tang” pu chui` he”,

lu` wa qun” yue` tiao` qing bo,

ting” shen ye` rao”’ sheng jing meng`,

ning” jing` shan cun hua an` duo.

A pond of green grass is spread with the leaves of the water lily.

A group of green frogs jump on the clean ripples.

In a deep court, the cry of frogs disturbs one’s dream.

A tranquil village is surrounded with flowery banks.

Reverse of Summer Frogs

duo an` hua cun shan jing` ning”,

meng` jing sheng rao”’ ye` shen ting”,

bo qing tiao` yue` qun” wa lu`,

he” cui` pu tang” chi” cao”’ qing.

With river banks and villages decked with flowers all around, the hill is tranquil.

A dream is awakened by the disturbing sound at night in the deep court.

On the ripples, like the jumping green frogs,

the water lily leaves spread in the pond where the grass is green.

Qiu Lu`  autumn Dew

hong” mian” ying` yan` ge” fen ya,

ri` bi` yun” xiao zhao` cai”’ xia”,

qiong” bi` han” guang mang” san` zi”’,

cong” feng leng”’ ye` luo` yan xie”.

The reddish floss-like clouds reflect on wild geese and separate the crows. 

The sunset covers the cloudy sky and the colorful rays.

The heaven is blue with purplish beams.

The dense maple trees with cold leaves drop in the mist.

Reverse of Autumn Dew

xie” yan luo` ye` leng”’ feng cong”,

zi”’ san` mang” guang han” bi` qiong”,

xia” cai”’ zhao` xiao yun” bi` ri`,

ya fen ge” yan` ying` mian” hong”.

In the mist the falling leaves drop among the cold maple trees.

Purplish rays spread twinkling beams in the blue heaven.

The colorful cloudy vapors cover the sky while clouds shade the sun.

The crows separate the wild geese reflecting on the reddish floss clouds.

Qiu Ju”  Autumn Chrysanthemum

huang” hua yan` leng”’ ao` qiu shuang,

su` se` fu” jin dian”’ yu` fang.

cang cui` yao” feng mi” bi` yue`,

ying”’ qing han” dan` an` ning” xiang.

Yellow blossoms are beautiful and proudly disdaining the autumn frost.

The plain color of its golden appearance is like a jewel.

With blue and gree branches, the chrysanthemum sways in the wind under the blurred moonlight.

With a clean and light shadow it contains fragrance.

Reverse of Autumn Chrysanthemum

xiang ning” an` dan` han” qing ying”’,

yue` bi` mi” feng yao” cui` cang.

fang yu` dian”’ jin fu” se` su`,

shuang qiu ao` leng”’ yan` hua huang”.

Fragrance congeals dimly with a clear shadow from blossoms. 

The moon is full as the magical wind swings the blue and green branches.

The smooth jade dots with golden appearance have plain colors.

In the frosty autumn, unafraid of the cold, are refreshing yellow chrysanthemums.

 Dong Qiao”  Winter Woodsman

han” feng tou` gu”’ ling”’ yun” fei,

ta` xue”’ shan dian jin` bi` hui.

luan” yuan”’ xun” xin xun” lu` jing`,

can” yang” luo` chu` dan qiao” gui.

The piercing wind penetrates the valley, while the clouds fly low along the peak.

Stepping in the snow on the hilltop, he feels entranced in blue light.

The hills are far, to gather fire twigs, he has to climb the pass.

At sunset, he returns home loaded with firewood on his shoulder.

Reverse of Winter Woodsman

gui qiao” dan chu` luo` yang” can”,

jing` lu` xun” xin xun” yuan”’ luan”.

hui bi` jin` dian shan xue”’ ta`,

fei, yun” ling”’ gu”’ tou` feng han”.

The returning woodsman shoulders firewood at sunset. 

Climbing alone the pass for fuel twigs, he reaches the hills.

Blue light entrances the tops of hills, as he steps on the snow.

The flying clouds cover the peak and the valley, while the penetrating wind is cold.

Dong Si`  Winter Monastery

shen shan si` yuan”’ ting zhong ming”,

bao”’ shu` yun” chuang” cui` ying”’ heng”.

jin dian` shan` fang” hua ji” xue”’,

mu` yu” zhai gu”’ yin”’ jing sheng.

In the deep mountains, the monastery is far away but we can hear the bell.

The stately tall trees and the pennants in the clouds present a treasured view.

By the golden hall and the monk’s chamber, the blossoms accumulate snow.

The sounds of wooden fish (a hallow percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block and shaped like a fish, originally used by Buddhist priests to beat rhythm when chanting scriptures) and service drum echo the Buddhist chanting.

Reverse of Winter Monastery

sheng jing yin”’ gu”’ zhao yu” mu`,

xue”’ ji” hua fang” shan` dian` jin,

heng” ying”’ cui` chuang” yun” shu` bao”’,

ming” zhong ting yuan”’ si` shan shen.

The sounds of monks’ chanting in unison follow the beats of the wooden fish instrument.

 Snow is accumulating in the greenhouse, the Buddhist hall is of gold color.

The traversing shadow of pennants beckons tall trees in the clouds.

The sound of the monastery bell is heard from afar in the deep mountain.

The natural beauty of the four seasons has always been a favorite subject of Chinese painters and poets.  The multitude of descriptive characters and terms lend themselves more readily to the construction of palindromes, and such characters fit more easily to the strict meter and rhyme required in Chinese poetry.  Here is an attempt by an unknown writer to compose a palindrome with ten characters.  They produce a set of four verses of seven characters each.

hua zhi hao”’ ying”’ jing` chuang sha,

ying”’ jin` chuang sha ying` ri` xie”.

The flowers on their stalks provide a beautiful shadow that fills the window screen.

At the end of the shadow that fills the window screen shines the slanting sun.  [translation by Victor Chen]

Reversed:

xie” ri` ying` sha chuang jin` ying”’,

sha chuang ying”’ jin` hao”’ zhi hua.

The slanting sun shines on the screen of the window and fills it with its shadow.

The screen of the window fully reflects the beautiful flower. [translation by Victor Chen]

Another attempt is the following 56-character untitled palindrome written by a Zhang Yan (Zhang Ji Yu) of Haiyan (sea salt) county of unknown coastal province and unknown period.

shi qiao du” ye` yi ting” fang,

ji” ji` qing” huai” xing` gan”’ chang”,

zhi lou` chi` xia” nong” lao” jiu”’,

ding”’ fu” qing zhuan` xi` piao xiang,

li” li” yue` ying”’ ban hua jing`,

sa` sa` feng sheng han` zhu” lang”,

shi” mu` yu` gui chou” yuan”’ dao`,

si jun wei` jie” jiu”’ hui” chang”.

As the poetic verses knock at the silence of the lonely night in the fragrant courtyard,

with the feeling of loneliness and lingering emotions,

I drink from the leaking wine jug the pink colored and pungent wine.

Above the incense burner floats the green word-like images made of smoke from the incense with its fragrance lingering in the air.

The widening shadows of the moon moves the garden path.

The sa-sa sound of the wind shakes the bamboo hallway.

The time has come to fulfill the desire to return home but one is worried about the lengthy distance one has to travel,

and in longing for you my lover, my stomach is churning over and over.  [translation by Victor Chen]

In reverse

chang” hui” jiu”’ jie” wei`jun si,

dao` yuan”’ chou” gui yu` mu` shi,

lang” zhu” han` sheng feng sa` sa`,

jing` hua ban ying”’ yue` li” li”,

xiang piao xi` zhuan` qing fu` ding”’,

jiu”’ lao” nong” xia” chi` lou` zhi,

chang” gan”’ xing` huai” qing” ji` ji`,

fang ting” yi ye` du” qiao shi.

With the stomach churning I think about my lover. 

I worry about the long distance he has to travel to return and I long for this worry to end. 

The bamboo wind chime hanging in the hall rattles as the wind whispers and blows.

The garden path lined with flowers seems to move as the shadow of the moon fades away.

The fragrance lingers in the air like greenish images of words floating over the incense burner.

The sweet wine smells pungent as its pinkish color emerges from the leaky wine jug.

I embrace my longing in loneliness as the fragrance fills the hall the whole night

while I stay alone reading poetic verses that seem to pierce the night.  [translation by Victor Chen]

This particular palindrome is very interesting.  Reading forward, it describes the traveling man longing to return home to his beloved.  In reverse, it describes the woman who is at home in the evening longing and waiting for her man to come home.

The ci”

The ci” is a poem with seven characters in the first verse, five in the second, seven in the third, nine in the fourth, seven in the fifth, five in the sixth, seven in the seventh, and nine in the eighth. 

Themes

Certain themes lend themselves to palindrome construction much more easily than others.  For example, it is not difficult to construct palindrome verses describing nature’s color schemes of the four seasons and natural scenery.  Here is an example of a palindrome poem, its reverse, it’s ci”, and it’s ci” reversed, with a color scheme composed by Victor Chen.

A Summer Scene poem

jin` xia` chu lu` pei` hong” hua,

huang” kui” jian` ri` zhan”’ jin hua”,

zi”’ wei wei rui” man` pu”’ cao”’,

li` bi` he” hua lian” chi” li”’,

jiao”’ lan” yao` bai” hua se` dan`,

fen”’ ying huan` huang” ting” li` ying”,

jin”’ hong” chen” dian` xia” yun” fu”,

ming” chan” wa yin” cang sheng` qi”.

As summer approaches, the first green is complimented by red flowers. 

The yellow sunflower sees the sun and displays its golden beauty. 

The crape myrtle grows prosperously and spreads among the garden grass.

The beautiful green lotus flower in the lotus pond is with the carp.

The white orchid shines with its white flowers of light color.

The pinkish cherry blossom glows brilliantly and is welcomed by the draba oreades.

The colorful rainbow of orange and indigo and the rosy clouds float about.

The call of the cicada and the song of the frog accompany the deep greenery as it grows prosperously and with equal fullness.  [composed in Chinese and translated into English by Victor Chen]

Reverse of A Summer Scene poem

qi” sheng` cang yin” wa chan” ming”,

fu” yun” xia” dian` chen” hong” jin”’,

yin” li` ting” huang” huan` ying fen”’,

dan` se` hua bai” yao` lan” jiao”’,

li”’ chi” lian” hua he” bi` li`,

cao”’ pu”’ man` rui” wei wei zi”’,

hua” jin zhan”’ ri` jian` kui” huang”,

hua hong” pei` lu` chu xia` jin”.

Full and prosperous deep greenery accompanies the song of the frog and the call of the cicada.

Floating rosy clouds with indigo and orange rainbow are colorful.

They welcome the draba oreades and the brilliantly glowing pinkish cherry blossom.

The light whiteness of the flower glows with the white of the orchid.

The carp in the pond with the lotus flower and green of the lotus plant are beautiful.

The grass in the garden spreads prosperously with the purple color of the crape myrtle.

The elegant golden color displays itself as the sun sees the yellow of the sunflower.

The red color of the flower accompanies the green as the beginning of summer aproaches.  [composed in Chinese and translated into English by Victor Chen]

A Summer Scene [ci]

jin` xia` chu lu` pei` hong” hua,

huang” kui” jian` ri` zhan”’,

jin` hua” zi”’ wei wei rui” man`,

pu”’ cao”’ li` bi` he” hua lian” chi” li”’,

jiao”’ lan” yao` bai” hua se` dan`,

fen”’ ying huan` huang” ting”,

li` ying” jin”’ hong” chen” dian` xia”,

yun” fu” ming” chan” wa yin” cang sheng` qi”.

As summer approaches, the first green are complimented by red flowers. 

The yellow sunflower sees the sun and puts on a show. 

The elegant golden crape myrtle prosperously expands.

The garden grass and the beautifully green lotus flower are in the lotus pond with the carp.

The white orchid glows with the lightly white colored flowers.

The pinkish cherry blossom glows gloriously around the draba oreades, and the draba oreades welcomes the colorful rainbow and the orange and indigo clouds.

The clouds float as the call of the cicada and the frog’s song announce the deep greenery’s coming into fullness and bloom.  [composed in Chinese and translated into English by Victor Chen]

Reverse of A Summer Scene [ci”]

qi” shen` cang yin” wa chan” ming”,

fu” yun” xia” dian` chen”,

hong” jin”’ ying” li` ting” huang” huan`,

ying fen”’ dan` se` hua bai” yao` lan” jiao”’,

li”’ chi” lian” hua he” bi` li`,

cao”’ pu”’ man` rui” wei,

wei zi”’ hua” jin zhan”’ ri` jin`,

kui” huang” hua hong” pei` lu` chu xia` jin`. 

The full blossom of the deep greenery is celebrated by the song of the frog and the call of the cicada. 

The floating clouds show off as pinkish clouds and in indigo and orange colors. 

The rainbow’s multiple colors welcome the draba oreades with brilliant glory.

The cherry’s pink color and the light colored flower’s white shine together with the orchid’s white color. 

The carp is in the pond of lotus flowers with the beautiful green of the lotus.

The grass in the garden extends prosperously.

The crape myrtle’s elegant gold is displayed as the sun appears.

The sunflower’s yellow flowers accompanied by flowers in red complimented by green indicat early summer is near.  [composed in Chinese and translated into English by Victor Chen]

Here are a few palindrome verses composed in Chinese and translated by Victor Chen

Dreams and Illusions

I dream of illusionary heavy flames and remember the roaring sounds of the battlefield,

Fire of the cannon from the attack and the defensive positions take away by force all lives,

Defeat and victory ceaselessly recur endlessly,

With remnant limbs and the remnant leg stumps I an thankful to have survived.

In reverse:

Ilusionalry Dreams

Returning alive thankfully with my leg and limbs remaining,

Luck that recycles has come to an end and there is no victory nor defeat,

Losing lives to seize and to defend the attacking cannon fire,

The roaring battlefield memories are thick in my flaming illusionary dreams.

Remembering Autumn

I see the wind blowing the willow and remember the autumn coolness,

The early dew and morning fog reflect the dawn,

At the end of the year I wait for the cold and prepare the heavy blankets an quilts,

I quietly contemplate, and pray and wish for New Year’s Eve.

In reverse:

Autumn Memories

Cool autumn makes me remember and see the willow flowing with the wind,

The dawn is reflected by the fog and the early morning dew,

 Heavy blankets are prepared for the cold as I wait for the end of the year,

On New Year’s Eve, I hope for prosperity and I pray with quiet thoughts. 

Rhyming

Chinese poetry requires that both the phonemes and the tones must rhyme.  The pattern can be illustrated by assigning the numbers 1=first tone, 2=second tone, 3=third tone, and 4=fourth tone, i.e., ma (1) mother, ma (2) numb, hemp, ma (3) horse, and ma (4) to scold.

A poem entitled the Lady’s Chamber has the following tonal rhythm:

1234212,  4321431, 1411243,  4224422, 1223213, 3412341, 2431233, 4124422.

Ma (1) ma(2) ma(3) ma(4) ma (2) ma (1) ma(2).

Ma(4) ma(3) ma(2) ma(1) ma(4) ma(3) ma(1),

Ma(1) ma (4) ma(1) ma(1) ma(2) ma(4) ma(3),

Ma(4) ma(2) ma(2) ma(4) ma(4) ma(2) ma(2),

Ma(1) ma(2) ma(2) ma(3) ma(2) ma(1) ma(3),

Ma(3) ma(4) ma(1) ma(2) ma(3) ma(4) ma(1),

Ma(2) ma(4) ma(3) ma(1) ma(2) ma(3) ma(3),

Ma(4) ma(1) ma(2) ma(4) ma(4) ma(2) ma(2).

The tonal rhythm of the Lady’s Chamber [ci”]

1234212, 43214.  3114112, 434224422.  1223213, 34123.  4124312, 334124422.

The tonal rhythm of the Lady’s Chamber [ci”] in reverse

2244214, 33213.  4214321, 433123221.  2244224, 34211.  4113412, 342124321.

Notice here that the numbers are also monosyllabic and monotonic but the rhythm is obvious.  When read in German, also monosyllabic and monotonic up to the number six (sechs), the tonal rhyme is still retained.  However, in Spanish, Italian and Greek, the numbers are not monosyllabic and the rhyme is broken.

Again, certain themes lend themselves more easily to palindrome construction while other themes do not.  Themes of color, nature, plants, and surprisingly pornographic descriptions lend themselves very easily to palindrome construction.  Buddhist chants and scriptures are almost impossible to be rendered in palindrome construction. 

Properties of Chinese characters

Many Chinese characters of different meanings share the same pronunciation and the same tone.  For example, [ji] can be a small night stand, a machine, a chicken, a foundation, to gather, to pile up, to stimulate, etc.  To convey the exact meaning of an expression, context and juxtaposition become very important. 

Context

In English, especially when call letters are used, one uses “Charlie” for the letter “c”, “David” for the letter “d”, etc. to clarify which letter is being called out.  The same thing is necessary in conversational Chinese to specify a particular character.  Common terms are often used to specify a particular character.  For example, [wei”’] can mean a “tail” or ‘great” and to specify which character one wants to convey, one would say:  “[wei”’] as in [wei”’ ba].”  The term [wei”’ ba] is a specific term meaning “the tail.”  The character [wei”’] is thus indentified and will not be mistaken for another character [wei”’] meaning “great, glorious.”  To identify this character, one says:  [wei”’] as in [wei”’ da`].”  The term [wei”’ da`] is a specific adjective meaning “great” as in the “great leader.”  The reverse of [wei”’ da`] is [da` wei”’] which is meaningless unless it is used with [ba], thus [da` wei”’ ba] is a specific term meaning “a big tail.”  Another example of this is the juxtaposition of [da`], [bian`] and [zi”’].  The term [da` bian`] is a specific term meaning “to defecate.”  The term [da` bian` zi”’] is a specific term meaning “a large ponytail.”

Dual uses of characters

Certain characters are more suitable for palindrome construction that others.  These are characters with dual uses.  They can be a noun that represents different things, or a character that can serve as either an adjective or an adverb without change, or a verb that indicates two distinct actions.  For example, [yang”] means the sun, the male, the male genitalia, and [yin] means a dark place, the female, the female genitalia, and [chuan] means to don, to wear, to put on, to go through, to pierce and to penetrate.

Without providing context, a Chinese (Mandarin) tonal expression is not unique and therefore can be interpreted in various ways to convey different meanings with different characters with the same pronunciation.  The following is a structurally crude palindrome verse as a purely phonetic and tonal expression. Without providing context, the verse is indeterminable as to its meaning and it can be interpreted in different ways.  The context and meaning are determined by either a title or by different sets of characters of the same pronunciation.

Verse:  [yin] [chuan] [yang”] ying`] [ji”] [suo] [jin”’].

Reversed:  [jin”’] [suo] [ji”] [ying`] [yang”] [chuan] [yin].

The verse becomes meaningful only if a context or different sets of characters are given.  So let us put it into two different contexts by giving it two titles, let’s say:  Sun Ray and Urgency.

First title:  Sun Ray

Verse:  [yin] [chuan] [yang”] [ying`] [ji”] [suo] [jin”’].

The shade dons the sun’s ray and hastily shrinks and tightens.

Reversed: [jin”’] [suo] [ji”] [ying`] [yang”] [chuan] [yin].

The suddenly tightening and shrinking ray of the sun pierces the shade.

Second title:  Urgency

Verse:  [yin] [chuan] [yang”] [ying`] [ji”] [suo] [jin”’].

The female, donning the male as it hardens, rushes to tighten up.

Reversed:  [jin”’] [suo] [ji”] [ying`] [yang”] [chuan] [yin].

The urgently tightening and hardening male penetrates the female.

Many other such crude seven-character palindromic verses are possible. 

Buddhist literature

The classical body of Buddhist literature is usually not written in verse.  However, Chinese vernacular Buddhist literature is often in non-rhyming verse.  This body of Buddhist literature is not poetry.  The vocabulary of Chinese Buddhist literature contains a lot of transliterated and phonetically rendered Sanskrit names of the Buddha, and these names and terms do not readily lend themselves to the palindrome structure. 

Here is a palindromic verse using Buddhist words that I wrote as personal motto and mantra.  The palindrome pair is a 5-7-7-7 and a 7-7-7-5 character verse.

Xing” xiu zai` zi` guan

Xing” xiu zai` zi` guan

ji` chou” ji”’ xu wei”’ yan” xing”

xi” nu` fan” jie` ci” ji”’ lu”`

ning” can” ru` kong wu` xin` jing`

Practicing meditation is introspection

Prohibit hatred, excitement, superficial and false words and deeds,

Calm anger and worry, hold firm one’s prohibitions and self discipline,

Quietly meditate to enter emptiness and to realize tranquility of the heart.

Guan zi` zai` xiu sing”

jing` xin wu` kong ru` can” ning”,

Lu”` ji”’ ci” jie` fan” nu` xi”,

xing” yan” wei”’ xu ji` chou” joi`,

guan zi` zai` xiu xing”.

Calm the heart and realize emptiness to enter meditative calmness,

Discipline thyself, hold to one’s prohibitions to calm worries and anger,

Deeds and words of falsehood and superficiality, excitement and hatred are to be prohibited,

Introspection is the way to practice proper behavior.

Change of Dynasty

The winter frost appears and the fallen leaves cover the ground.

The bald branches meet the ice on their tips.

The moonlight is bright, the night air is cool,

I cover myself with leather coats, cotton blankets, and thick clothing,

and quietly sit in meditational practice.

I look up at the Lady in the Moon and remember as I sigh in sorrow for the lost nation,

Until the end of the severe cold, I hope for a change of dynasty.

 

[Reversed]

Dynastic change

As the dynasty changes, I hope the severe cold will end.

Saddened by the loss of the nation, I sigh, and I recall the Lady in the Moon and hope,

As I practice meditation sitting in silence.

I put on heavy clothes and cover myself with blankets of cotton and leather coats,

For the air is cool at night while the bright moon shines,

The ice on the tips meets the bald branches..

And covering the ground are fallen leaves of the dewy and frosty winter.

[Master Chen Says]

With this in mind, I hope that this treatise on Chinese palindromes will be of interest to all who would like to explore the intricacies of the Chinese written language and Chinese poetry. 

[Master Chen]

Enquiry about the value of General Y.T. Hsiung’s paintings

Pat or Alex, this is Victor.  I do not have your addresses or your phone numbers.  If you send them to me as you have this question, then I should be able to get your information easily.  

As far as I know, Y.T. Hsiung’s paintings have not been appraised nor put on the market.  The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco or Butterfield and Butterfield in San Francisco might be able to appraise the paintings.  And if Alex is willing, the volumes of the Four Seasons book that Alex has in storage down in Los Angeles, and maybe the paintings, could be presented online for sale.

29 Responses to Chinese palindromes

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    I am a grand-daughter of Y.T. Hsiung. I would like to learn more about you and your friendship with my Grandpa. I see your comments to Pat & Alex, my aunt & uncle.

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