On the Verge of Tears
Years ago, I went by night train to Mao Ling, a sacred place in Shaanxi Province, to pay homage to the sculptures standing before Huo Qubing’s1 tomb.
As it was a long way from the terminal station to Huo’s tomb, I had to hurry on with my journey on foot under the starry sky of Northwest China, sometimes along a broad road, sometimes on a narrow footpath. The day was just dawning when I arrived at Huo’s tomb. Not a pedestrian in sight. I lost no time in presenting myself before the majestic carved works of great magnitude before the tomb, I was beside myself with agitation. The immortal art treasures will be my permanent spiritual prop. Whenever I am discriminated against in a foreign country, whenever I stand in awe before a foreign outstanding work of art, whenever I am disheartened, whenever I suffer agony…, these imperishable stone carvings of amazing grandeur will inevitably appear in my mind’s eye.
I loitered for quite a long while among the sculptures, which were an integrated mass when viewed from afar and very intriguing when scrutinized close by. Traceable among the rough marks of hatchet and chisel were delicate lines zigzagging. Insensate as they were, the carved stones were brimming with life and vigor. Artists from all over the world cannot help feeling awed when they visit this place. “Our forefathers did much better than you!” I declared, maybe affected by Ah Q’s2 philosophy of “spiritual victory”. We are indeed very lucky to have our forefathers standing tall and upright in the world history of art. This is certainly a matter for rejoicing.
In 1989, while revisiting Paris, I felt all sorts of emotion surging up within me, Back in China, when I paid another visited to Xi’an and the sculptures before Huo Qubing’s tomb. I was seized with mixed feelings, I just felt like crying with abandon as I stand once more before Huo’s tomb, before the Chin Dynasty terra cotta warriors and horses and before the Han Tang upright stone tablets bearing ancient inscriptions. But I refrained from tears because I was then accompanied by my wife and surrounded by numerous spectators. Why did I feel like having a good cry? Because my motherland is so great and because of my fears about the descendants of the eagle turning out to be sparrows.
1. Huo Qubing (140-117BC), famous general of the Western Han Dynasty.
2. Ah Q, also Akiu, main character in Lu Xun’s famous novella The True Story of Ah Q (1921-1922). A typical “champion of spiritual victory”, he declares himself a winner whenever he has been humiliated.