Archive for January, 2008

Trance Around My Blog #10: the boyos are coming!

January 21, 2008


9 Feb. Zouk. Enuf said.


a textual blast from the past

January 20, 2008

I was rummaging through my stuff for some things for Ed, and so I decided to post what I had written for the ’06 compre finals (which I remember didn’t go down well with my then-charges). It had been a long time since I had tried my hand at writing anything, and it still strikes me as unusual since I was never a big fan of Chinese culture and the last thing I’d expected was for the idea for the bare bones of the story to strike me one night over dinner with WS and refuse to go away. Thus in a couple of hours I actually finished composing the whole thing on WS’ desktop.

The original version differs very slightly from its finished form; containing one or two lyrical turns of phrase which I ultimately junked because they didn’t contribute anything significant to the narrative or the characters, but made the whole passage more difficult for my charges to read (and understand). You will probably find similarities between this and many other things that have been published; well, what can I say but it’s a me original and I only consulted Wikipedia to ground some of the locations in actual history. But the idea of destiny and human agency is a powerful (perhaps universal?) one, and this remains one of the tightest, most focused pieces I had ever composed, including the obligatory twist at the end.

So here is the finished version, which has always been untitled (because I could never find a suitable title for it, the more urgent task being to get as many questions out of it as required by the exam TOS):

Long time ago, during the Warring States Period in China, there lived a man named Shang in the State of Zhao.  Shang was supposed to be executed for killing a neighbour in his village, but as the country was losing the war with the State of Wei, it needed every able-bodied man for the war effort. Thus, the courts were under pressure by the Emperor to consider every case carefully before sending men to the gallows. 

Shang’s case was deliberated at length by the courts.  At last, one magistrate wearily suggested, “Send him to the front instead.  The way things are going, he will surely end up dead, and this too in the service of Zhao.  Wouldn’t we be killing two birds with the same stone?” 

Hearing this, his colleagues agreed, and so Shang was sent to the front.  He took part in several bloody battles, but, as luck would have it, emerged from all of them unscathed.  During a particularly brutal encounter near Dalusha River, as he lay among his battered comrades, their commander mortally hurt, and defeat imminent, Shang stepped forward, and rallied his unit to victory.

Over the next year, Shang’s engagements were met with similar victories, and it was not long before he was given his own command.  Gradually, Zhao saw a reversal of fortunes in the war.  Shang was involved in every triumphant campaign, every hard-won skirmish.  His reputation grew, and soon everyone in Zhao had heard of the famous General Shang.  His deeds on the battlefield became required study, and by the time of the decisive Battle of Guiling ten years later, Shang’s name was now uttered in the same breath as Tian Ji and Sun Bin, heroes whose bravery and decisive action had saved Zhao centuries ago.

Shang returned from the front highly admired and respected by his countrymen.  In fact, his aides took pains to hide from him the fact that people were quietly comparing his wartime actions with the Emperor’s. There were even rumours that Shang’s name had been mentioned in the Imperial court as the new Grand Commander of the Army of Zhao.

Amid all the public adulation, one magistrate was heard in the public square loudly declaiming, “Do not be deceived!  Your ‘General Shang’ is nothing more than a condemned criminal!”

At first he was widely ridiculed but then, slowly, as whispers grew into murmurs and still further into fervent chatter, others came forward and corroborated his story with observations such as “Yes, I knew him in the village” and “Remember how fond he was of his wine and women?”  Like scum in a pond, claims that Shang had left many unpaid debts and favours also surfaced overnight.

Word of Shang’s past spread quickly to the rest of Zhao. The people were divided on what to do with him.  Some argued that years of loyal, courageous and life-threatening service in the military had fully redeemed him and his crime.  His enemies argued that with every living breath Shang mocked and made a travesty of the law.  The dead man’s family vowed revenge, bemoaning the absence of justice for their loved one.

Zhao erupted into unrest. As the violence grew and threatened to plunge the country into civil war, the Imperial court pleaded with the Emperor to rule summarily on the issue and stop the fighting.

* * * * * *

The public squares were packed as thousands thronged to listen to the Imperial edict being delivered.

“By the order of His Majesty, the Son of Heaven and Ruler of Men:  Justice is the guardian of Order and Peace on Earth.  Man’s Justice must be in line with Heaven’s Justice.  When Justice is delayed, it is abused.  It was Heaven’s Justice that Shang did not die in battle, but lived to lead Zhao to victory.  So it must be Man’s Justice now to make right the abuse of Justice then, which led Shang to live when he should have not.  It is thus decreed that the magistrate be executed for the murder of the villager.”

first barrage: the charge of the 77

January 15, 2008

first barrage
of the charge of the 77
nibbling frantically away
at the never-ending pile
but hark!
some child-poet’s soul beckons me to minute distraction
and I am taken back
to my raw youth,
seething in mock rage at my supposed privations
of my past
gratified yet burdened by this awesome sense
of responsibility
then i toll on and