An unfortunate epigraph?

There was a bit of a brouhaha in Chinese literary circles at the end of last year, concerning a stone inscription composed by none other than popular essayist and chief advocate of that nebulous thing we call ‘Chinese culture’, Yu Qiuyu 余秋雨.

The inscription was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance at the newly re-opened Zhongshan scenic area in Nanjing, and basically, the accusation is that Yu’s composition is at best “半文不白”, not quite literary Chinese and not vernacular either; and at worst complete and utter tosh.

I’m not going to provide a full translation (it’s not really worth it) but it’s certainly interesting to see a popular modern writer of prose have a go at writing such an epigraph (for which the accepted style is completely different). The full text follows at the end of this post. I will say that one line does feel particularly odd (hasty translation mine):


In the year 2004 the people of Nanjing embarked upon the grand renovation plan, contributing five billion in funds, relocating 13 villages and over 20,000 people…

This doesn’t seem like the kind of sentence that you’d want on an epigraph: committing to popular memory the bulldozing of 13 villages. But hey, I don’t command millions in book advances*.

You can read some reactions to this on the Sinological discussion board 国学数典 Guóxué shùdiǎn (Chinese):

From what I gather a lot of people are using this as an example of everything that’s wrong with modern China’s obsession with celebrity, and in particular ‘celebrity intellectuals’ such as Yu Dan 于丹 and Yi Zhongtian 易中天. In fact, one of the funnier commentators suggests pity for the 136-tonne stone that has suffered the indignity of the inscription…

*This may sound a tad snide so I’d like to reveal that I did at least enjoy his 《文化苦旅》 wénhuà  kǔlǚ

Full text ( :

余秋雨 •整治纪念碑碑文
华夏大地,美景无数,却有寥寥几处,深嵌历史而风光惊人。其中之一,在南京钟山之麓。此地山雄水碧,古迹连绵,徜徉其间,步步皆是六朝熏风,南唐遗韵;隐 隐可见大明王气,伟人身影。每当清秋时节,重重悲欢归于枫叶,滔滔故事凝于静穆。山岚夕阳,明月林禽,真可谓中国文化之最高诗境也。
钟山风景,美则美矣,无奈龙虎际会,风雨苍黄,历尽浩劫,日渐颓芜。所幸得逢盛世,重新打点江山,南京人民于甲申之年启动整治宏图,斥资五十亿,搬迁十三 村,移民两万余,增绿七千亩,新建栈道,呼集物种,辟出诸多公园,重修两大陵墓,一时气象万千,如画卷新展,岭苑初洗,经典再现。金陵古城,自此更可俯仰 岁月,迎迓远近;中华文明,由此增一聚气之谷,读解之门。主事者命余作文,方落数语,已烟霞满纸,心旷神怡。
余秋雨  己丑秋日  文并书

2 responses to “An unfortunate epigraph?”

  1. Cary Elwes says:


    This offends my finely honed literati sensibilities.

  2. Wukailong says:

    Ouch! That’s horrible.

Leave a Reply to Wukailong