No time or energy for work

Mr Liu lost his job at court. Much later when he was offered his old job back, he replied:

江上月明胡雁過
世事空知學醉歌

Over the moon-lit river the wild geese cross
That’s all I know, except wine and song

劉長卿 (Liu Changqing, 709-785 CE)

We can learn a lot about being out of work and enjoying the idle life by reading the poems of those fellows living in the Tang Dynasty era when Chinese culture was at its most brilliant. These men of great accomplishments had ideals and ideas on how to serve the state. But often, because of court intrigues or joining the wrong faction, many lost their jobs and some even their lives.

Mr Liu was one of them who were disgraced. He joined a floating population of nature lovers, i.e. individuals living in the mountains and by the riverbanks, writing poems, drinking wine, and watching the moon and the changing seasons. Some of them were still hoping that an imperial recall would come to summon them back to an important role at court.

In his idling, Mr Liu wrote another poem about listening to music

彈琴
劉長卿
泠泠七弦上
靜聽松風寒
古調雖自愛
今人多不彈

On Hearing the Zither
Your seven strings are like the voice
Of a cold wind in the pines,
Singing old beloved songs
Which no one now cares for.

Folks like Mr Liu and his fellow ex-officials were following a tradition set by Confucius who lost his post as adviser to the ruler of his state. Confucius then spent years in exile, wandering from state to state, accompanied by a band of loyal students. None of the other dukes employed him.

In old age, when Confucius finally returned home, his neighbour mocked him, saying, “You wear yourself out running here and there, lecturing, teaching and counselling people to do good. Nobody appreciates what you have done and you have wasted your entire life. Despite all your meddling, the empire is still the same, with corrupt officials and bad rulers.

“Look at me – I run my own business and make profits, and I spend my free time quietly sipping the best fragrant wine and fucking the prettiest women money can buy.”

What kind of life would you rather live?

Contents

Oil nude by Wang Zhenhua, 1988