Sima Xiangru Inscribing on the Bridge Gateway
Sima Xiangru Inscribing on the Bridge Gateway (相如题桥)’ was a popular theme in theatre from at least the Song (960 – 1279) through to the Qing (1644 – 1911) dynasty. Sima Xiangru (司马相如) was a Western Han (202 BCE – 8CE) scholar unsuccessful in making a career in civil services. However, Wang Ji, the magistrate of Linqiong county, was impressed by his dazzling talents and invited him to live in his house as a guest.
One day, a rich local businessman, Zhuo Wangsun (卓王孙), held a house party for Wang and Sima, at which Sima played the qin zither. Zhuo’s recently-widowed daughter, Wenjun (文君), heard the music and was fascinated by Sima’s performance as well as his genteel manner and bearing. The two fell in love and she eloped with him. Mortified, Zhuo Wangsun refused to support the couple and the poverty-stricken lovers had to earn their living by running a wine-shop by the roadside.
One autumn day, encouraged by his wife, Sima made up his mind to leave home to seek his fortune in the capital, Chang’an. Wenjun went to see him off at the Bridge of ‘Ascending to the Realm of Immortals’ (昇仙桥) on the outskirts. When he made farewell to his wife, Sima vowed that he would not cross the bridge again unless he did so riding in a grand carriage drawn by four horses.
Sure enough, his ambition was realised in a few years’ time and he enjoyed a triumphant home-coming ceremony given by the local officials. The anecdote has encouraged generations of young men leaving hometown to seek fortunes in the big world!
Read more on the story in this blog.
Fig 1. close-up from beaker porcelain vase, China, ca.1650, formerly of the Stamen Collection
Fig 2-3. celadon jar, 14th century, courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art
Fig 4. square Cizhou-type stoneware wine flask, late Yuan- Early Ming dynasty (c. 1280-1398), courtesy of the British Museum, London
Fig 5. Longquan ware jar, Yuan dynasty (ca.1320-1368), courtesy of the British Museum, London