Since ancient times, the literary culture of Chinese civilization has exalted poetry as a vehicle, not only to express oneself, but to dialogue with the divine and each other. It began with the earliest poetry collection, the Book of Poetry (or Poetry, Shijing,《诗经》), dating from the 11th to the 7th century BCE. The dialogical nature of poetry is so important that Confucius (551BCE–479 BCE) even said: “Without learning [the Book of] Poetry, one cannot speak” (不学诗，无以言).1 He used poetry to address Tian (“Heaven,” 天) as well as his disciples in the Analects (Lunyu, 论语). The earliest poet, Qu Yuan 屈原 (340 BCE–278 BCE) conversed with Tian in a monologue to express his quest for meaning and significance with great intensity in the 373 lines of poetry of the well-known “Questions to Tian” (Tianwen,天问).
The dialogical nature of poetry continues, from the imperial examination system (Kejuzhi, 科举制) where one recited and responded with poetry, to the day-to-day table meals where one replies to the other with poetic verses. One such form is the couplet (Duilian, 对联) written on red paper and hung vertically on either side of a doorway. It consists of an upper line (Shanglian, 上联) followed by a responsive lower line (Xialian, 下联) in parallel structure with complementary or contrasting themes under a short horizontal line of summary (Hengpi, 横批).
Although Chinese language has changed dramatically over the centuries, the magic of poetry as a dialogical vehicle is unabated. Chinese elites and common people learn to express their thoughts and feelings with this literary medium in dialogue with others, that purports their character, worldviews, and cultivation. Even Mao Zedong (1893–1976) utilized poetry to express his revolutionary romanticism and refuted his opponents with sharp-tongued rejoinders.
The following poem “A Love Banquet Waiting for You” is juxtaposed with Haizi’s (1964–1989) well-known poem “Facing the Sea, [Watching] the Flowers Bloom in the Warmth of Spring” (面朝大海, 春暖花开).2 Although Haizi wrote the poem two months before his suicide in 1989,3 it has been included in high school textbooks, read by educated Chinese, and subject to scholarship over the last few decades.
Following the rhythm and images in his poem, my poem introduces complementary and contrasting ideas as well as tones and metaphors from a Christian perspective. The repeated lines of “Today” in contrast to Haizi’s “From tomorrow on” signify that salvation is available today (Luke 4:21).
The first stanza resonates with Haizi’s theme of everyday activities and connection with the world as a poet, yet with distinctive images of “prayer, breathing, gratefulness, and banquet.” In the second stanza, the outward reaching to “every shaking hand, every passing face” grounded in prayers on bended knees is in contrast to Haizi’s letter writing to his “dear ones.” The contentment without measure is also in contrast to Haizi’s “lightning of contentment” that is short-lived. The blessing to the world in the last stanza is an outward-looking posture with biblical images: children and friends from nearby and distant lands (Acts 2:39), the clapping of hands of the whole creation (Isaiah 55:12) and the lifting up of hands (Psalms 63:4; 134:2).
Throughout the poem, there is a deliberate motif of the rich Chinese culture of homecoming where meals are served and guests entertained. It resonates with the biblical theme of God’s hospitality, expressed in Jesus’ table fellowship especially in the Gospel of Luke.4 This banquet image symbolizes God’s presence in the face of evil power (Psalms 23:5). The eschatological significance in Jewish understanding is reflected in the messianic banquet when God breaks into human history in the new age to come and hosts a great feast for his people. 5 Precisely in Haizi’s sentiment that is full of seclusion and nostalgia in a “dusty world” (Chenshi, 尘世), the invitation of God can take place in the spirit of humility and openness without bypassing the cultural symbols and poetic beauty. Haizi also becomes an inspiration for the Christian journey, to enliven and deepen the very life, given by God, within the cultural soil.
A Love Banquet Waiting for You
—To Haizi and his generation
Today, I am a contented person
Morning prayer, jogging, drinking water, concerns for the world
Today, breathing in simple air
I am grateful, enjoying a banquet
Homecoming with guests, refreshing drink and delicious food
Today, the moment my knees straighten
the river of love floods me
Let it flow
to every shaking hand, every passing face
and tell them how wide and long and high and deep is this contentment
May sun, moon, stars, sea, desert
and river clap their hands
May black, yellow, white, brown children
and friends from nearby and distant lands, known and unknown
lift up their hands together with me
May we find the homecoming path in this dusty world
May we enjoy the contentment of surrendering death for life
living on earth as in heaven
There is a love banquet waiting for you
May you share refreshing drink and delicious food
in the abundance of HOMECOMING
Confucius. The Analects. Translated by Raymond Stanley Dawson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Haizi, 海子. Haizi Shi Quanji. [The Complete Poems of Haizi]. Edited by Xichuan, 西川. Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2009.
Karris, Robert J. Eating Your Way through Luke. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006.
Story, J. Lyle. “All Is Now Ready: An Exegesis of ‘the Great Banquet’ (Luke 14:15-24) and ‘the Marriage Feast’ (Matthew 22:1-14).” American Theological Inquiry 2, no. 2 (2009): 67-79
Yang, Xiaoli. A Dialogue between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke—Chinese Homecoming and the Relationship with Jesus Christ. Theology and Mission in World Christianity. Vol. 9, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2018.
- Confucius, The Analects, trans. Raymond Stanley Dawson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 68.
- Xiaoli Yang, A Dialogue between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke—Chinese Homecoming and the Relationship with Jesus Christ, vol. 9, Theology and Mission in World Christianity, (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2018), 295-7.
- Haizi, 海子, Haizi Shi Quanji [The Complete Poems of Haizi], ed. Xichuan, 西川 (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2009), 504.
- Robert J. Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006).
- J. Lyle Story, “All Is Now Ready: An Exegesis of ‘The Great Banquet’ (Luke 14:15-24) and ‘The Marriage Feast’ (Matthew 22:1-14)”, American Theological Inquiry 2, no. 2 (2009).
Image credit: Screenshot from “A Love Banquet Waiting for You” video.
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