Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under ,


Chinese: 烂柯 (爛柯) (làn kē) / Japanese: 爛柯 (ranka)
The story of Ranka Mountain is one of the oldest myths about go (the ancient board game):
In the Zhejiang province of China there was a mountain inhabited by faeries. The story tells of an incautious carpenter, Wang Zhi, who went up on the mountain in search of wood. At a certain point, he came over a group of people gathered round a go board. He joined the group to watch, leaning his axe against the rock. One of the company gave him a prune to eat (!). Wang Zhi lost himself completely in the game; the moves made were of unsurpassable beauty, of course. Suddenly, one of the spectators turned to him and asked if he shouldn't be thinking about getting home at some point. Startled, he reached for his axe, but it crumbled to dust at the touch of his hand. Returning to the village, he learned that a hundred years had passed.
This myth was so popular that Ranka became one of the poetical words for Go in China and Japan. Literally, it means "rotted handle". Painters and poets used the myth. The following brief text was written by Zhang Yiling, to go with his painting "Ranka Mountain": "People envy the lifespan of fairies, but the life of a fairy is really quite pitiful. Who would trade a hundred years for a game of ‘weiqi’?" There is also a poem by  Meng Chiao encapsulating this.

Sadly I’ve been unable to find either the ‘Ranka Mountain’ image nor the Chiao’s poem in question. Instead I am posting another poem by the magnificent Meng Chiao, with a similar theme of roaming/homecoming:


The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer's back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?          

trans. A.C. Graham

Apparently the 'inch of grass' image was used by Roger Waters in modified form, in Pink Floyd’s 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' (!). In Chinese literature, the 'Wanderer's Song' is a well-known and popular poem that expresses the obligation to return parental love, a conventional virtue in Chinese morality.

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