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Writing implements

| 2020-04-07 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
This character refers to writing implements such as pens, pencils or brushes. The upper part of this character symbolizes bamboo while the lower part refers to hair. The two parts together provide a vivid depiction of the Chinese writing brush, which consists of a wooden shaft and a pinch of hair as its tip.
 

 
马上相逢无纸笔
mǎ shàng xiāng féng wú zhǐ bǐ
Ma shang means “on horseback.” Xiang feng refers to an encounter. Wu means “do not have” and zhi bi refers to paper and writing brushes. This term depicts two people meeting each other on horseback with no writing implements at hand. 
 
This is a line from a poem by the Tang poet Cen Shen (718–769), “Meeting an Envoy on His Way to the Capital.” “Gazing east toward home, endless the road stretches far away./ My sleeves wet with tears that never seem to dry./ Encountered on horseback, no paper or brushes around,/ I must rely on you to pass the word that I’m safe and sound.” It is said that Cen composed this poem in the year 749 on his way to Anxi Protectorate (a protectorate established by the Tang Empire in 640, covering present-day Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and part of Central Asia).  
 
Born in a declining aristocratic family, Cen had to rely upon his literary skill to secure government appointment through the examination system. In 749, Cen’s ambitions led him towards a stint of military service in the northwest frontier, where he served as a subordinate to General Gao Xianzhi. On his way west, Cen met a friend who was heading east to the capital, Chang’an. This encounter provoked Cen’s homesickness. He looked back and could see nothing but a long road vanishing into the horizon, as it had been days since he had left Chang’an. On thinking that he would be far away from his family for a long time, he burst into tears. The last part of the poem is the most famous for its touching, artless sincerity. Cen’s ambitions for making contributions to his homeland interwove with his longing for his family. He wanted his friend to carry a note to his family, asking them not to worry about him. However, both were in a rush on horseback and there was neither stationery nor time to compose something. In the end, Cen could only say to his friend, “Please tell my family that I’m safe and sound.”
 
​edited by REN GUANHONG