Monday, May 9, 2011

The Divine Tortoise


Divine Tortoise (Shengui tu)  [1]
Zhang Gui, Jin dynasty (1121-1234)

Handscroll, ink and color on silk, h: 26.5 cm, w: 53.3 cm

        The invention of writing in the proper sense of the word is credited to Ts'ang Hieh, also called Shih 'Huang, the "Record Sovereign" because he is the protector and patron saint of history and archival documents.  He is said to have lived in the twenty-eighth century B.C., and having ascended a mountain overlooking the river Loh, he saw a divine tortoise rising from the water.  It exhibited on its back mysterious tracings of letters which "lay bare the permutations of nature to devise a system of written records," [2] -- a report which imputes that he saw the character of the five elements on the tortoise's back.

[1]  This painting depicts a divine tortoise sprawling on the seashore, holding its head high and breathing out a current of air that forms a cloud. The red sun appears from behind the auspicious cloud. A vast expanse of water and sand dunes lie in the background, adding a sense of mystery to the picture.  The tortoise is one of the four divine animals (siling) along with the legendary qilin unicorn, phoenix, and dragon. Combined with the white tiger, they constitute the five auspicious animals (wurui). The painting features elaborate and fine strokes. The cracks on the tortoise shell can be discerned. Its simple composition and beautiful color bear certain characteristics of the academic style of the Song dynasty (960-1279). It is the only extent work of Zhang Gui.  At the top left of the painting is inscribed "Zhang Gui accompanies the emperor (Suijia zhang gui) ", under which two seals are affixed, one of them is "painting" (hua). Later collectors imprinted many other seals, including "heaven" (tian), "calendar " (li), "Treasured by Xiang Zijing's family (Xiang Zijing jia zhencang)".  This painting was included in The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat: the First Edition (Shiqu baoji chubian), a catalogue of the Qianlong Emperor's calligraphy and painting collection.

[2] Mayer's Chinese Reader's Manual, p. 228, I, No. 756.

Invention of writing text from: 
Paul Carus, Chinese Astrology.  LaSalle, Open Court, 1907.


Ancient Chinese Oracle Shell (Tortoise), Anyang, Henan Province.

From Wikipedia:  "The first indisputable examples of Chinese writing, dating back to the Shāng Dynasty in the latter half of the second millennium BCE, were found on oracle bones, primarily ox scapulae and turtle shells, originally used for divination. Characters were inscribed on the bones in order to frame a question; the bones were then heated over a fire and the resulting cracks were interpreted to determine the answer. Such characters are called 甲骨文 jiǎgǔwén "shell-bone script" or oracle bone script."

Evolution of Chinese writing from Oracle Bone stage to Modern Simplified style.

Chinese Stripe-Neck Turtle near the headwaters of Tiger River.


  1. This is all well and good, but what about the refreshing drinks of summer?

    I am trusting in the vodka gimlet, one of which I happened to have the other night in the bar next to my office, just because my companion had ordered one. I like the simplicity, and plan to experiment with the proportions of juice and vodka.

    I am also thinking to add some fresh lime juice to the two basic elements of vodka and Rose's.

    The one the other night was shaken up with ice then poured into a martini glass with a garnish of lime, and served by Russian blonde Oxana who is always nice. I liked that festive presentation, and plan to mix myself some that way, though without Oxana.

  2. This awakens really happy memories of city life, which I think is actually over for me, however much time I spend in cities in the future. Still, I miss it a lot sometimes, so thank you for that.

    What about the refreshing drinks of summer?

    A neighbor and friend of ours who used to visit often in Tuxedo drinks gimlets (gin gimlets). My mother really enjoyed vodka gimlets and either my father or mother taught me to make them.

    I like both and am a pretty good student of: a) how long a bottle of Rose's lasts in a private residence before going off; and b) the expertise required of the professional "mixologist" (a field that I think is in decline for any number of reasons I would be happy to discuss, but it's another sign of an enfeebled society).

    I really like the name Oxana.


  3. I am sure you could do a wonderful post on Rose's. Francie likes her Mount Gay gimlets on the rocks. Me, too, for that matter. The melt nicely measures Summer twilight time, or pre-twilight time.

    The wikipedia article on gimlets has some interesting information, including a quote from The Long Goodbye, where they figure prominently.

    If you are in the city of an evening I will introduce you to Oxana, who is as lovely as her name.

    Speaking of mounts, wasn't Mount Tom a nice place name? Alternatively, the answer to a Gibson Dorm riddle: What were Wasby's intentions vis-a-vis Satterwhite?

  4. Last question first: It's all coming back to me. We need to talk. I'll be in touch re dates. I should be in New York more beginning next week and all through the summer. Mount Tom was/is a good name. There's another Mount Tom that I visited in western (as I recall) Massachusetts at our second China adoption reunion. It was a beautiful place and, as I recall, we had a nice day. We journeyed there from the beautiful apartment I had overlooking the Charles in not-so-beautiful Waltham, close to the Route 128 River of Money/Corridor of Pain, Boredom and "white boards". I love The Long Goodbye. I even did a post on it a few months ago. We've given it to Jane to read. Rose's is a company that I wish were my family business. Or Tabasco. Or Outerbridge Bermudan pepper sauce. I was in touch with Tom S a couple of years ago and we had an inquiry about him recently. He seems to be alive and well in the Washington DC area still. Curtis

  5. Heyyy back. Tortoises everywhere today and, it is foretold, tomorrow. Curtis