Saturday, March 31, 2007

from dynastic song to the internet age – a reflection on genealogical record

This article was written in the autumn of the year 1144AD, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD) by a minor official that lived in Chaozhou Fu 潮州府, the present land of the Teochews. To date this would have been 863 years old. It is a preface to his family genealogical record, and his was the 11th generation.

Pouring thro the pages made me to ponder what the social and political conditions were then, that allowed this ancestor of mine to have this record to be written, and that I am able to read it today.

Though it was during the Tang Dynasty where the the might and influence of the Chinese Empire spead far and wide, it was during the Song, I believe that literature and learning truly seeped into the social structure.

As I recall the history lesson that I learned in secondary school, printing was invented during the Song Dynasty. Just like this age with the invention of the Internet and the proliferation of blog journalism, the invention of movable type wood block print would have caused a sort of a social revolution in the spread of learning and literacy, and for that matter journalism.

Though it might not have been as global a scale then as the spread of Internet and blogging as it is now, printing however would have proliferated to the other parts of the empire along with the migration of the Song people to escape the invaders from the north. They would have brought along their learning and invention to the new land and ‘blog’ their family history.

Fast forward 800 years on, in the year 2807AD, thro some future search engine a kinkonkid found this page, lo and behold – he made connection with his roots and traced it back to 1,600years of family history.

He thus ponder, what was the social environment then ….SGX hitting new peak of above 3,300pts, the Flyer wheel is three-quarter done and making the last connection to make it full circle, the IR construction moving ahead full steam… the little red dot has survived eight centuries and four score…


1. Though there were constant wars with the Nurchen tribe - 女真族 - the ancestors of the Manchu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), from the North in the border region, the Song Dynasty was a period of relative prosperity, social stability & cultural maturity as a whole for the society.

Though the Tang Dynasty (618-960AD) before the Song was famous for her poets, such as Li Bai (李白) and Dufu (杜甫) the number of recorded poets from the Song Dynasty far exceeded that of the Tang. There were more than 6,800 recoded poets with known and un-known names from the Song Dynasty, compared to about 2,000 odd from the Tang Dynasty.

2. The Song Dynasty 宋朝代 (960-1279AD) commenced with the reign of the first Song emperor, posthumously known as Song Taizu 宋太祖 in 960AD. The year where the emperor reign was accorded the name Jian Lung 建隆and thus in Chinese historical record the year 960AD is recorded as 建隆元年 Year 1 of Jian Lung .

With the invasion of the Nurchen and the fall of its capital Kaifeng, the Song court retreated to the south and the year 1126AD is designated as the start of the Southern Song Dynasty.

3. 新安古氏家谱序 – Xin An Gushi JiaPu Xu

古氏盖姬(ji)姓也诗云古公亶(dan)夫来朝走马率(lv)西水浒 (xu)至(zhi)于歧(qi)下昔大王居‘彬’迁居称古公其后以为姓大王也史叙之详矣(yi)然后世子孙固有究其傅
岐梁之间古氏之姓往往居多自历代载之史傅名誉(yu)显著尚有拓焉(yan)汉有古道子又有孝子古初蜀有广陵功曹古牧魏有尚书古弼(bi)北齐中散大夫古起唐有县令古之奇作县令箴(zhen)入于文选有飞独县令古云应自唐末由鼻祖二十五府君本河东人也任洪州通判七府君任虔 (qian)化县令生二十府君秘书郎集洪州书记生十九府君任揖 (yi)大祝生三府君任窦 (dou)州都监史生六子
六曰十七府君讳全赏居圳边奕世相传子孙历仕我宋勃兴削(xiao) 平僭(jian)乱混一区宇端拱间曾祖成之中程宿榜连名三十八宿之列授棉竹县令以词学独冠炎荒厥 (jue)后逍遥物外脱履尘寰何其异也 皇 佑中驰名场屋联荣仕籍独祖宗悦擢(zhuo)勋骑都尉及子凤仪升潮典郡荣耀闾禄及其亲福荫后裔流芳馀韵既炽且昌至毕(bi)暂榜 革 忝窃上帝获续祖风徒荣州县二十馀载仕徒艰险颇厌尘荣隐居於逸老堂偶因闲暇览旧祖图列为家谱贻传子孙使之知所自出益知艰难之业敦睦亲之义共激欢以绍箕裘咸遵式训庶有祖而有宗斯无忝於前人耳


亶父積德 古氏流芳 蛰蛰螽斯 既炽且昌
续厥云孙 列祖有光 辑斯谱牒 庆福绵长

大宋绍兴十四年甲子岁菊月吉日十一世知潮州府中宪大夫 革敬撰

- 2006。04。08 /上午7点55分 - 抄记 -

Translated as : Preface to the Genealogical Records of the Gu Clan, from the Hall of Xin An)

The Preface was recorded as the 14th year of Shaoxing 绍兴 十四年, which is the year 1144AD.

The article wa written in traditional Chinese, Wen-Yen-Wen(文言文), the writing style of the literati before the new language movement that swept thro China during the May 4th movement in 1919.

Whatever the article means, I could not read it well, and will not attempt to translate it. However with my shallow foundation in self-taught Chinese & with a Chinese-Chinese dictionary in hand, I ploughed thro the article word by word, and guess I could decipher about a third of what the content.

Anyone who knows Wen-yen and could help to translate the document would be much appreciated.

I typed it in Words and digitized it - however as I was using the Pinyin system from Microsoft, I could not find some of words, and have to leave it with the ‘sound’ equivalent.

- 革公派 - 古氏族谱 - 民国十八年修
-title translated as : Gu Clan Genealogical Records from the GeGong Branch – edited in 1929 (18th year of the Republic)


2. 风与云 - 中国诗文论集, [日] 小川环树著, 周先明译 - 北京中华书局, 2005

- title translated as ‘Wind and Cloud’ a collection of articles on Chinese Poems/Prose – originally written in Japanese by Ogawa Tamakiand translated by Zhou Xianming. Publisher Beijing Zhong Hua ShuJu

- Professor Ogawa Tamiki (1910-1993) of Kyoto University was an authority and an outstanding researcher of Chinese studies in Japan.

2. 宋诗鉴赏辞典 – 上海辞 书出版社, 2002

- title translated as ‘Dictionary for the Appreciation of Song Poem ‘ published by Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe.

3. The National Heritage Board has a website for recording one’s roots.

The Singapore Family Tree website is a service that you can use to safekeep your family memories and share it across generations. Start by building your family tree and then invite your family members through the system. You can upload and share photos, create your family webpage, and even print out your family tree.

4 .

Song Dynasty – Technology - Printing

‘Printing technology in the form of movable type was invented by Bi Sheng in the 11th century. The work of Bi Sheng was written of by Shen Kuo (mentioned above), in his Writings Beside the Meng Creek (夢溪筆談 Mengxi Bitan). Movable type, alongside woodblock printing, increased literacy with the mass production of printed materials. This meant that parents could encourage sons to learn to read and write and therefore be able to take the imperial examination and become part of the growing learned bureaucracy.’


Saturday, March 10, 2007

a touch of cultural tang @ telok ayer street

It was not as grand a performance as the Dream of the Great Tang (梦回大唐) – a resplendent musical cum cultural troupe that came from Xian (西安)- that was held at the Esplanade last year, but the performance at Telok Ayer Street nevertheless has traveled an equally long journey be it in distance or in time. It is a pedigree of music that is truer in its essence and form to the original Tang version. And further it is closer to our hearts as it was inherited from our folks who brought along the music with them when they came to this shore.

Most of us would have heard of the Tang Quartet, if we have yet to watch them performing, at least we have read of them often in the local daily. However what of the Xiang Ling Musical Ensemble (湘灵音乐社)? Is it another Wayang (Drama) troupe that performs in the street corner to celebrate the deity birthday, you may ask.

Well, no. The Xiang Ling Musical Ensemble plays a genre of classical Chinese music known as the Nanyin (南音)or Nanguan(南管 ). Literary it means the southern musical sound or the southern wind instrument. Historically Nanyin music is directly descended from the music of the Tang Dynasty & it has retained its originality in its musical score and in the composition and formation of the musical ensemble.

The musical ensemble consists of string, wind and percussion instruments. In the typical Nanying style, during the performance the pipa (琵琶)a string instrument, it is held slanted as in the same manner of holding a guitar, instead of holding it upright as what it is now. This style of holding the pipa is depicted in the painting of the court ladies of the Tang Dynasty playing the instrument. The Nanyin music is more mellow and soothing then the typical score of the Chinese orchestra music.

When the Tang Dynasty (618-960AD) ended after a reign of 342 years, this music continues to survive in the remote corners of the great empire. This music is nowadays found mainly in southern China in Fujian (福建) Province, Quanzhou, (泉州) and further south in Yunnan (云南)Province in the LiJiang (漓江)area.

Away from their native land, the Nanyin music is now found in areas where there are Fujian, Quanzhou migrants & mainly in Taiwan and South-east Asia. The early traders and migrant brought the music along with them to the far corners of the world where they made their new home.

The Xiang Ling Ensemble performed in front of the Fujian Association at Telok Ayer Street last Sunday night, 04March, the first full moon day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, aka Yuan Xiao ( 元宵). The musical group was formed 70years ago. It was a cultural feast of sort on that night and was the first time that I watched a Nanyin performance though I have read of it before.

In order to imbibe in the full cultural and historic glory of the humble music, one has to know a bit of its historic origin as well as the story behind some of the musical pieces that the ensemble played or the arias sung that night,, such as The Night of the Lantern Festival (元宵十五),and the story of the Han Dynasty beauty Wang Zhaojun( 王昭君) leaving for the frontier. The MC did a great job in introducing the history of the music to the audience, albeit in Mandarin.

It’s not only the short history of 188 odd years that we find in Telok Ayer that links us back to the beginning of the founding of this city port in 1819 . Looking beyond the sight and deeper down, I hear the sound and felt the spirit of the cultural Tang in our streets. It’s only if we care to find…



1. According to the MC the next performance of the Nanying musical ensemble will be in the evening of April 6th at the Tian Fu Gong (天福宫) Temple, Telok Ayer Street. It is Good Friday, which coincides with the birthday of Goddess of Mercy (观音诞), yet another cultural fest.

2. Yuan Xiao (元宵) is also known as Lantern Festival in many parts of China. It is the first full moon night of the Lunar New Year. It’s more commonly know as Chap Goh Meh (十五夜), in the local Fujian (福建)/ Hokkien dialect among the local population. Whereas the other dialect groups such as the Cantonese or the Hakka would call it Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节)or Yuan Xiao Festival.

It is the Chinese Valentine's day, where maiden would toss oranges into the rivers while making a wish for a good husband. It seems that Penang has revived this practise where locals and tourists alike would toss oranges to the sea, making a wish.

How about the Lion City reviving this age old practise too - tossing oranges into the Singapore River during Yuan Xiao Festival - adding another event into the river calendar of festivities.

3. In China especially, Yuan Xiao Festival is celebrated with lighting lanterns at night. However custom seems not to have been continued over here. Locally lanterns are lit on the Moon Cake Festival which falls on the full moon night of the 8th lunar calendar, which is also the Autumn Festival.

4. The Chinese festivals if one care to note, usually occurs during the lunar-solar solstices. It had its roots millenniums ago in an agrarian society. It is a celebration of the seasons and not particularly of any religious origin. The Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival (春节), for that matter.

5. In the olden days, during the Yuan Xiao Festival ( 元宵 节), family which has given birth to a baby boy would proceed to the ancestral temple (宗祠)to light lantern and hang it on the temple beam, one for each male born the year before.

Thus during the new year, it was customary to greet newly wedded couples, 添丁发财 (Tian Ding Fa Cai ) , meaning May you have a new baby boy and be prosperous.

In this age when the birth rate is less than desirable to replenish the population,, we may need to re-popularize this greeting again, albeit with a touch of equality for the gender.