Chinese & Art Classroom

Chinese Classical Poem 170 & Shirley Created Painting, Article, Music & Poem Song 170 for Mei Hua by Wang Anshi Dec 20, 2015

Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in Chinese & English Dec 19,2015
Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in English & Chinese Dec,21,2015
With Shirly Together to Learn the Poem
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See Shirley Created Painting for the Poem -Dec 31, 2014

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Original Poem, Lyrics of the Song in Chinese and Pronunciations

You can click on any Chinese Character to open the New Character Board and see its Chinese pinyin, meaning, pronunciation and follow my reading, you can also click on the links to enter the Painting Column, to see more paintings and art notes that I wrote for the poem.

梅花 -- Méi huā

王安石 -- Wáng ánshí

墙角数枝梅 -- Qiángjiǎo shùzhī méi,
凌寒独自开 -- líng hán dúzì kāi。
遥知不是雪 -- Yáo zhī búshì xuě,
为有暗香来 -- wèi yǒu àn xiāng lái。

The Main Meaning of the Poem and the Lyrics of the Song in English

There're a few plum blossoms at the corner of the wall,
Flowering alone in the cold and early spring.
I know they are not snow from far away place,
For their fragrance has come with the creeze.

About the poet:
Wang Anshi(1021 - 1086) was a great politician, ideologist, litterateur and a great prime minister in Song Dynasty and Chinese history. :-)

Wang Anshi was from a little official family and had a good education. So, he was a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations in 1042 when he was 21 years old.

Since then, he was an officer on many different positions and made a series achievements so that he became a prime minister twice. The first time in 1070 to 1074, the second time was in 1075 to 1076.

As an official, Wang Anshi he had been keeping his political dream -- wanted to change the weakness of the country and enhance the country by some reform and innovation.

In his opinion, the country’s weakness and privation because the government did not understand and follow the laws or moral standards, so, he wished to resolve these issues by following the ancient wise saints and those successful dynasties to do some reforms.

As a prime minister, he led a big size innovations on politics, economy, finance and limitary systems in the nationwide,boosted the development of the irrigation and water conservancy,improve the national finance and the limitary.

Wang Anshi was admired as "The reformer of China in the 11th century " by Mr. Lenin (1870 - 1924).

As any innovation and reform in the history, his innovations and reforms touched and hurt some officers’ interests so that he was against not only those the conservatives, but also many officers so that he was dismiss from his premier minister position twice. Though he was used by the emperor several times later, his innovation could not be continued and then to be abolished. In 1086, on the 10th year after he was dismiss from his premier minister position, he was died of grief.

As a philosopher, Wang Anshi was involved in researching the study of Confucian classics and be admired “ Tong Ru – Belearned Confucianist ” and he created his “Jinggong Xinxue ” which was the biggest school of thoughts in his times. Meanwhile, he used the
The traditional “Wu Xing ” five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), to explain every thing’s form and change, it developed Chinese ancient native materialism. His proposition “ Xin gu xiang chu   -- because the interaction between Yin and Yan, the old thing is constantly changed to be new thing and the new thing is constantly. Along with the times, everything is changed, people’s thoughts and work methods should also be changed along with the time… ” Latter was just the foundation of the theory of the reform and innovation of Mang Anshi. This philosophic view has been succeeded by the thoughts of the later ages.

Wang Anshi’s biggest literature achievement was on essays. He was one of the Eight Great Masters of Tang and Song Dynasties. The other seven people are Hai Yu and Lui Songyuan of Tang Dynasty, and Su Shi, Shu Xun, Su Che, Ou Yangxiu and Zeng Gong of Song Dynasty.

His poetry was learned from Du Fu, was good at reasonable, rhetoric and allusion.   

His Lyrics were unique, washed out of the washes the completely cosmetics away in the Wu   Dynasties, open the first signs of the bold and unconstranined school of the layrics of Song Dynasty.

There are about 4 of his books of essays, poems and lyrics in the world.

Enjoy the Poem

Plum blossom is the number one of the “Four Gentlemen of Flowers” (plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum)in Chinese culture.

Because it is the first flower which blossoms in the cold and early spring with its sweet smell, beautiful feature and bright colors, just like a brave gentleman who keeps living and working in the hard environment with a positive and optimistic life attitude, plum blossom has been chanted and extolled by the poets in the history. It symbolizes of the qualities which is strong and indomitable, noble and grace, loyalty and stability; while Chinese people believe the five petals of a plum blossom symbolize five lucks: delight, happiness, longevity, smooth going and peace.

In the numerous poems of chanting plum blossoms, Mei Hua – Plum Blossom by Wang Anshi is a popular and unique one.

It was written after Wang Anshi’s reform was fail and he was dismissed second time from the position of primer minister so that he had to retire from the capital and stayed in Jiangning (in today’s Nanjing).

By praising the strong vitality of the plum blossoms which bloom alone at the corner of the wall in the cold early spring, this little poem compares Wang Anshi itself to the plum blossoms to illustrate his own distingue quality and strong individual character.

Let us imagine, as a former premier minister, Wang Anshi had made so hard effort to develop his reform on theory and practice on politics, economics, finance and limitary with a beautiful dream to help his country to go forward rich, strong and prosperous as his whole career for so many years, however, along with the reform was fail, his dream was broken, he itself was dismissed and be squeezed out of the capital. His circumstance was isolated and hard, his heart was alone. This situation was just similar to the plum blossoms at the corner of the wall in the cold early spring – although he was pushed out of the center of the country and was forced to be in a corner, instead of surrendering, he would still like to distribute the refreshing fragrance to the human world, kept his strong, noble and unsullied qualities.

It is the typical Confucians and Chinese intellectuals’thoughts and feelings “ Da ze jiang ji tian xia, qiong ze du shan qi shen -- When we are successful, we should try to let others be benefited, when we are fail, we should still maintain our integrity and kindness alone in the world.”
Anyway, from this little poem, we can still see even though Wang Anshi was living in a corner of the country, he did not till forget the politics and his country.

Now let us share the poem one line by one line:

The first line:   “墙角数枝梅 -- Qiángjiǎo shùzhī méi” means there are a few branches of plum blossoms at the corner of the wall.

qiáng”n. means wall; “墙角Qiángjiǎo”phrase, means at the corner of the wall; shù, numeral. means a few, several. “zhī”n. means branch. “ shùzhī”phrase, means a few /several branches. “ méi” n. plum blossom.

The second line: “凌寒独自开 líng hán dúzì kāi”-- blooming alone in the cold early spring defiantly. ”

líng”adv. defiantly; vi. approach. “ hán”a. means cold. “独自dúzì”adv. alone. “ kāi”v. means open, blossom, bloom, flower.

Instead of writing plum blossoms’ features directly, the first two lines express their spirit: In a cold, silent and maybe desolate early spring, all of the plants have not budded yet, there are only a few of branches of brave plum blossoms blooming alone at the corner of the wall in the cold spring defiantly.

With the phrase“墙角Qiángjiǎo”—corner of a wall, points out where the plum blossom are flowering. This is a place out of the way, a place there is no one paying attention to it and there is no anyone recognizing the worth of them and look after them, hints the environment of the plum blossoms is quite bad and they are not be appreciated at all. However, just in the low position, the simple and crude place, the plum blossoms are blooming by themselves. It is not only outstanding the plum blossoms’ feature and spirit, but also expresses Wang Anshi itself ‘character: Even though I am far away from the capital and live out of the way, I would still keep my own beautiful dream and to be alive positive and sunny as the beautiful plum blossoms no matter where I am and how low social position I am in.

Then, use the phrase“独自dúzì”—alone. On surface, it shows us the information “early”-- it is too early so that they are the only flowers and the number one flowers which are the messengers of the spring, to bloom their beautiful flowers in the world. In fact, it is writing how the poet Wang Anshi would like to keep his own dream and belief in the bad environment alone. Then use the words“línghán”—to challenge the cold and to defiantly blossom earliest. To write the time once more and to emphasize how early it is while expressing the character of the plum blossoms, how they are brave, strong and have the courage to challenge the hard environment.

On literal, it writes the plum blossoms and praise their golden quality; in fact, it is writing the quality of the poet itself. It is comparing the strong and noble quality of the plum blossoms to Wang Anshi itself and these people who can keep moral principle and righteous opinions and defy the squeeze out and hitting for helping their country more powerful and prosperous.

Because, since becoming an official, Wang Anshi had been keeping his reform for the country under the very big pressure. Instead of getting necessary support from the emperor and his colleagues, he was against aggressively by the conservatives, so that he was dismissed from the position of primer minister twice and was forced to stay in the far away place from the capital. In this situation, when he looked at the plum blossoms at the corner of the wall in the cold early spring, he could feel him itself so much similar to the alone plum blossoms.   

However, no matter what has happened, instead of choosing a place, low their heads to the cold, or waist bent to the wind and snow, with their firm and tenacious, unyielding, noble and unsullied, keep budding and flowering in any hard environment.   

The third line: “遥知不是雪 -- Yáo zhī búshì xuě”means I know they are not snow from far away place.

yáo”a. means distant, remote, far, far away. “zhī”v. means know, realize.“”adv. means do not, no. “shì”help v. means be, is, are. “xuě” n. snow.

The last line: “为有暗香来 -- wèi yǒu àn xiāng lái” means because there is some delicate fragrance has come (with the breeze).

wèi”conj. because, for. “yǒu”v. have, there is/are. “ àn”a.dark, dim.“xiāng”a. fragrant, sweet-smelling. “lái”v. come, arrive.

The last two lines write the smell and color of the plum blossom with a quite novel and unique style.

遥知不是雪 -- Yáo zhī búshì xuě”I know they are not snow from far away place, hints how the plum blossoms pure, clean and white. With their color, to interact the vision of the readers. In ancient China, people usually compare the plum blossoms to snow and we can find the similar expression in the poem Plum Blossoms in the Early Spring近水花先发疑经冬未消buzhi jin shui hua xian fa, yi shi jing dong xue wei xiao -- I did not know the flowers blossom earlier by the water, I thought it was the winter snow had not melted yet” by Zhang Wei (? - 777) in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) . You can check this poem in the first volume of this series.

This line shows us the first two lines were written from far away and leaves a room to write the smell of the flowers.

为有暗香来 -- wèi yǒu àn xiāng lái” For there is the fragrance has come (with the breeze). Why did I know it is not snow but plum blossoms? Because I have smelled the fragrance from far away place already. If there were no the sweet smell, even though the poet had seen the several branches of the plum blossom over there, he would maybe still misunderstand the flowers to be snow. With the words “ -- Yáo zhī”know something from far away, “暗香 --àn xiāng – some delicate fragrance” to write the color and smell of the plum blossoms, and meet a very good artistic result.
The two words were from another very famous line by Lin Pu(967一1028): “疏影横斜水清浅,暗香浮动月黄昏 shu ying hengxie shui qingqian, hanxiang fudong yue huanghui – Sparse shadows (of branches of plum blossom) are slanting across the shallow water, some delicate fragrance (of the flowers) is floating at the dusk in the moonlight.”

Skillfully uses metaphor or simile, to express the firm belief, beautiful dream and strong and noble personal qualities of the poet by praising the plum which blooming in the blossoms is the outstanding character of this little poem; to learn from the predecessors, but be able to bring forth the new through the old is the second character of this poem; language is natural and easy to read, but implication is profound and lasting is the third character.


1. In many times, reform and innovation is one of the methods to push the society forward and make progress. However, most of time, the reformers and the innovators have no a good result. Why? Because no matter a big reform of a country or a small innovation of a company would certainly touch and “hurt ”some people, especially some officials and conservatives’interests. Therefore, if someone would like to start, or to lead a reform or a innovation, he or she must has the courage to prepare to lost his or her current position or interest. Because any reform and innovation perhaps success or fail.

On this meaning, I do respect all of the reformer and innovator who have worked for the social progress and the human civilization, no matter they were the leaders of some countries or some little potatoes of some organizations. Just because of their effort and given generation by generation, our world could   be developed until today’s level.

2. Any reform and innovation should be founded on respecting the work of the predecessors, to hold the good part of a system and to remove or   improve the backward part, instead of denying all of the current system and fact.

3. To learn arts is same. We must learn something from the tradition at the first, to inherit something best and excellent, to remove something out-of-date and to improve something according to the requirement of the times. The latter may be just reform or innovation of arts. Right?

For helping you to learn this poem, I created a piece of music first time in March, 2006 in Shenzhen, China; painted the picture in Chinese National Academy of Arts in Beijing in 2014; now, in my travel in Springfield, MO, USA, I have re-composed the music and recorded it in Chinese and in English, re-written the comment and re-translated the poem during the Christmas Vacation. I do hope my efforts will be some help with you on your Chinese culture and art.

I am lucky enough that professor Meng Weiye who has been my 3rd music coach since 2009 and my music director of my publication has heard my recording over, corrected my music and typed it to be former music score already. I would really like to follow his directions to re-record the music and my singing as soon as I go back China in Feb, 2016.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mike Joyce who has been my English tutor for free since 2002 and work partner since 2005 would like to continue to help me by correcting my English writing.

With a grateful heart, I would like to keep working hard on the little cross-cultural and comprehensive art dream... for you and for all of the people who are interested in Chinese culture, language and arts...

If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, you are welcome to write to or to publish your opinions on the Message Board as well.

Shirley Yiping Zhang
Written, Translated and Recorded on Dec 17-28, 2015 / March 5, 2006
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