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Dragon's Gall

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A banner showing an image of blue gentian flowers with a speckled brown moth flying among them, showing the title Dragon's Gall and the author's name Jelenedra on a pale cream coloured background. The banner was made by AO3 user ladyofrosefire.

 

 

Proposed Exhibition Catalogue: Dragon’s Gall

 

Recovered from the excavation of the Cloud Recesses in 34 Chongjian1, the tapestries of Shui Jing, called Jiuzai, styled Shanhong-nushi2, are one of the only surviving examples of the fibrecrafts of the Yangyan era3.

At first, academic interest in the tapestries related primarily to their historical and artistic value. The collection demonstrates a clear progression from Shui Jiuzai's first attempts to her final creation, both in her technical skill and her artistic sensibilities. They also represent several unique properties of GusuLan textiles, most notably the use of gentian-derived dye to create shades of blue and green, a technique which has been lost to history.

It was only in 55 Chongjian that the collection was examined by noted GusuLan Sect historian Cang Qiong, who discovered its most famous quality: each piece includes a secret message, encoded in the warp and weft. Thanks to the work of scholars at Caiyi City University, the written works of Shui Jiuzai have been revealed to the world, almost a millennium after their creation.

For the first time, Gusu National Museum is proud to present Dragon’s Gall: The Complete Works of the Last Madam Lan.

Warning: This exhibition contains materials some patrons may find disturbing.

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Fragments I, Shui Jiuzai
Cotton fibre
Est. 115 Yangyan
These unfinished works are prized by historians as an example of a master honing her craft. Close examination reveals that many of the pieces were unravelled and re-woven, perhaps many times, as the artist developed her technical skills. More recently, these pieces have been used to follow Shui Jiuzai's first attempts at inserting passages of text into her weaving. Note that in the earliest pieces, the thread used to spell her name is visible to the naked eye; in later fragments, the characters become known only through close examination or touch.

 

Shui Jing

 

Shui Jing

 

Shui Jing

Shui Jing

Shui Jing

Shui Jing

 

Shui Jiuzai

 

Shui Jiuzai

 

Shui Jiuzai

Shui Jiuzai

Shui Jiuzai

 

Shui Jiuzai
Shanhong-nushi

 

Shanhong-nushi

Shanhong-nushi

Shanhong-nushi4

 

 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Fragments II, Shui Jiuzai
Cotton and silk fibre
Est. 115 - 116 Yangyan
In this period, the artist experiments with finer materials and more complex messages. Parts of these pieces were unravelled and the thread re-used, rendering sections of text illegible. The information in this piece, cross-referenced with contemporaneous administrative records of Meili5, identify Shui Jiuzai’s birth family as prominent silk artisans from the Yangtze River delta. It is likely Shui Jiuzai learned the art of weaving as a child, and took it up again upon her arrival in the Cloud Recesses. If the reference to Lan Haozhi is accurate, it can be inferred that Shui Jiuzai was married to Lan Miao, called Haozhi, styled Qingheng-jun6.  

 

[                    ] the sudden rain
Hidden [                     ] pine tree
Always lurking in the mountains near,
Somewhere unknown deep in [            ]7

 

Lan Baiyun8 was not worthy of Biyue9
[          ] unworthy hands [        ]
[    ] Shanhong-nushi, in her arrogance
Has made herself Madam Lan

 

Gentian House is very beautiful
I would have little to complain of [           ] to leave



My would-be [                      ] poured no tea
[               ] I bowed thrice with a blade at my throat 

 

The day of [             ] closed buds from my window 
Three times, I have seen the gentians bloom 
Three times, I have seen a forest white with snow 

 

The Shui family of [           ] Taihu10
[           ] silk [              ] the broken river

 

Gentian roots run deep
Once the flower blooms, it cannot be replanted. 
[                  ] beloved by the Lan
They, too, cannot be moved.

 

I wove my first silk [          
                    ] my mother’s knee
When I traded the needle for the sword
She [                                      ]  

 

Two silent years without sword or brush
My hands have returned to youthfulness
My back and eyes will be elderly soon 

 

I long for Chunyu Temple11 [              ] walk the sword path
[                                                     ] the jianghu 

 

Lan Haozhi wishes his unworthy wife to exercise her duties 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Two Gentians In Bloom, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibre
Est. completion 116 Yangyan
The first known complete work of Shui Jiuzai’s collection, and the first appearance of the vividly blue gentians that would become her motif12. This also represents the artist’s first use of the code that would ultimately make up all her messages, created by skipping or doubling threads in the weft. Shui Jiuzai’s output is comparatively small compared to other fibre artists of the era; based on the gradually increasing quality of the silk used in her work, historians speculate that she was required to spin and dye her own thread, a laborious, time-consuming process13.  

 

Digital art depicting an image of two simple, stylised, blue gentian flowers in full bloom, with a handful of blue-green leaves around them, on an off-white background. An effect has been applied to make it appear as though the image is on woven fabric. Art created by twitter user gogomi.

My days are the same. 

I sleep until mao shi, when the guards change. 

At chen shi, servants who do not raise their eyes bring the morning meal. My husband’s younger brother comes to seal my meridians. Waste is removed. The linens are examined for proof of my good conduct. 

I weave. 

At wei shi, the afternoon meal comes. Water jugs are refilled. 

I weave. 

At you shi, the evening meal arrives. 

At xu shi, Lan Haozhi attends upon his wife14

At hai shi, Lan Haozhi retires to the hanshi. The guards change.

I weave. 

I spent many months afraid of solitude. To meditate with my core sealed is merely to sit with my thoughts; this is unwise. I am still forbidden to write or paint. I am only permitted to weave, and to serve my husband. 

A gentian seed may sprout in even poor soil and hold fast to the mountainside. 

A second heart beats beneath mine. 

I have new fears. 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Gentians and Wild Ginger, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibre
Est. completion 116 Yangyan
This piece appears to have been created simultaneously with Owl and Magpie, perhaps as a study or an experiment in technique15 . Based on the year and the information provided, the text in question is likely A Thesis on Regulating Qi , an instructional manual and collection of case studies authored by monk and healer Tan-luan. The use of wild ginger in the image is a clear reference to Lan Haozhi. 

 

Lan Haozhi read to me extensively from an account of a noble scholar; the advice of Tan-luan, who I understand has never been pregnant himself, is to diminish outside interference. He advocates dismissing midwives and birthing assistants and leaving the woman to give birth alone. Tan-luan reports the patient he treated in this manner survived, and the birth went smoothly. 

I have been spared childbed fever16. Despite the words of Tan-luan, I am advised by the midwife who eventually stopped my bleeding that this is a miracle. 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Owl and Magpie amidst Snow-Covered Gentians , Shui Jiuzai 
Silk fibre
Est. completion 116 Yangyan
The largest of Shui Jiuzai’s works, Owl and Magpie17 embeds a historical taboo within classical art forms. While the Yangyan era gave rise to notable female cultivators, politicians, and artisans, women make up less than three percent of the surviving historical record. Of that fraction, Shui Jiuzai’s Owl and Magpie and Crane in Flight are the only known surviving works to give a woman’s account of her experience with childbirth. 

 

I fell in love with you the moment you tore me open and finally slipped from my body; the moment I gathered you, bloody and squalling, in my arms; the moment you latched onto my breast and would not let go, even though my milk had not come in, even though you gained nothing from it but a mouthful of sour skin. I fell in love with you a thousand thousand times while we waited, both of us weeping as I struggled through the afterbirth, crouched in the spreading pool of my own blood. I had no knife, not even a single shard of broken pottery. I was not strong enough to sever the cord with silk thread; I had to use my teeth.

They did not come in the night, though I know they must have heard me labouring. They came precisely at chen shi. They brought a bucket of water and a stiff brush so I could scrub my blood and waste from the floor; they brought the same bitter congee that came every morning. They brought a wet nurse for you, but no healer, no midwife. When you latched onto the nurse, when you had given suck, when they were finally satisfied of your perfection - your well-formed limbs, your clear eyes - they took you away from me.

I could have fought them. It would be easy to lie now and say I could not. Would it have done any good? I was so weak I could barely stand, almost naked and entirely unarmed. My core was sealed. But I had my teeth. I had my fingernails. I had rage, that constant companion, and I had my newfound mother’s love.

I suppose you already know what stopped me, if you are allowed to know me at all. Until that morning, I had thought perhaps there was hope. Perhaps if I was a good and dutiful wife, who paid for blood with blood. Perhaps then.

Then the wet nurse took you, and I knew the truth. They did not wish for me to be a wife. They did not even wish for heirs. They only wished that I had died, and saved them the embarrassment of my existence.

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Deer Among Gentians and Pine Trees, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
Est. completion 117 Yangyan 
The Cloud Recesses’ records of births and deaths, including the births of Lan Haozhi’s children, were damaged or destroyed during the Sunshot Campaign (139 Yangyan - 1 Paijie). Many of these records were recreated during the Paijie era, but they remain largely incomplete. Based on the year they were created, it is believed both Owl and Magpie and Deer Among Gentians relate to the birth of Lan Haozhi’s first child, Lan Huan, called Xichen, styled Zewu-jun18; however, as the name of Lan Xichen’s mother is not recorded, it is impossible to confirm. 

 

After everything, I did not truly think they would allow me to attend your hundred-day ceremony; besides, I was still on strict bedrest, by order of the midwife. It is impossible to keep track of the days when I am too weak to walk to the window. I did not know it was so soon. 

Lan Haozhi recommenced his visits within a month of the birth. I told him what I wished to name you whenever I saw him; softly, carefully, every time. I did not wish to anger him when I was vulnerable. I did not wish to prolong his interest. But I wanted to name you, my child, my firstborn, my only son. 

In a better world, I would be far from here. We would be with our family, and I would name you Shui Lu19

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Fragments III, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
E
st. 117 Yangyan 
Unlike the other Fragments , which are collections of unfinished pieces, Fragments III was once a complete tapestry. While the age and fragility of the fabric makes it difficult to be sure, the nature of the damage and the marks visible at the edges of some pieces indicate that the tapestry was torn apart by human hands. It is speculated that Shui Jiuzai herself destroyed this work, perhaps as a result of postnatal depression. While the damage is such that the image cannot be fully reassembled, the tapestry appears to depict the gentian flowers which were a signature of Shui Jiuzai’s work, alongside a black bird which may be a crow or raven20

 

Twelve months before the next attempt
No sooner lest [                             ] 
Yet Qingheng-jun is diligent in his duties to the sect 

 

She came too soon 

 

If he had left me 
If he had left me alone 
If he had not left me alone

 

I held her until morning

 

They did not [              ]
Would not even take her 
What more [                              
               ] dignity of the dead

 

The debt is paid

 

If I had a daughter her name would be Shui Xian21

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Daffodils and Gentians, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres 
Est. 117 Yangyan 
The artist’s smallest standalone work also has the most complex use of colour, with the orange and yellow daffodils a rare departure from Shui Jiuzai’s blue and green colour palette. The artist’s depiction of vibrant flowers in full bloom stands in stark contrast to the profound grief she expresses in the text. 

 

I could not bring you into this world
I would not wish to if I could 
But when your breath stopped 
I longed to see you breathe again

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Crane in Flight Above Gentians and Pine Trees, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
Est. completion 118 Yangyan 
The composition of the pine trees in this piece directly references Deer Among Gentians; fittingly, the interwoven text also discusses the birth of one of Shui Jiuzai’s children. The date of this work, cross-referenced with surviving correspondence between Lan Xichen and his sworn brothers, suggests this tapestry describes the birth of Lan Zhan, called Wangji, styled Hanguang-jun22

 

Digital art depicting an image of white crane with a red patch on its head, taking flight from stylised pine trees into a clear sky with a few stylised clouds. Below the pine trees are gentians. All of the line art is blue. An effect has been applied to make it appear as though the image is on woven fabric. Art created by twitter user gogomi.

I did not know you would survive until you did, until I untangled you from the cord and cleared your mouth and gave my own breath into your lungs and you began to cry. At least I had milk for you this time; at least I had this single thing to offer you. 

You came so much faster than I thought you would. Holding you is a crime; I am wracked with guilt. If I could cradle you again in the depths of me to keep you safe, I would. I could only hold you, feed you from my own body, wipe my blood from your skin with my sleeves. The night came and went in sensations. Your heartbeat against mine. The heat of your body. The sound of your breathing when you slept, in the hollows of my body. 

I had more time with you than I had with xiao-Lu, and so perhaps I know more of who you are, or who you will be. You were strong from the first. My hair fell near your face and you seized it with a force that shocked me. You looked so much like xiao-Lu, a life in miniature, luminous, but you were impatient, not content with simple closeness as xiao-Lu had been. 

Will you think me cruel if I say I wished you had been imperfect? I knew I would never see xiao-Lu again; there was no sense in hoping for it. But if your heart had been weak, if your spine had been curved, if your eyes had been clouded, perhaps they would have let you stay with me. 

I know already you will survive your hundredth day. I already know I will not be given the chance to name you. If I could, I would call you Shui He23.

They took you in the morning. I could not even weep. 

 

 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Gentians With Butterfly and Pheasant, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
Est. completion 119 Yangyan 
This piece uses the image of a butterfly and a pheasant, both traditionally regarded as highly positive symbols24 , to contain a series of questions that border on the fatalistic. If Shui Jiuzai’s account of three pregnancies within two years is accurate, it seems almost certain she was suffering from postnatal depression at this time, although medicine at the time did not recognise this condition.

 

It is said that no feat of cultivation allows the future to be known, yet I know mine. Is this  wisdom or arrogance?  

When I am gone, will they burn my work? Will Lan Haozhi lock it away, as he did his wife? In trapping my secrets in fabric, have I trapped my soul as well? 

Will anyone ever read this?  

Will my children read this? 

Perhaps it is better that they do not. Perhaps it is kinder if the truth of Lan Haozhi’s cruelty is invisible to them; if I am gone before they are old enough to understand, the secret will be kept forever.  

Is it better to remain ignorant? If my mother had been a prisoner in her own home, would I prefer to know the truth25

If my children were older, would I know them well enough to answer these questions? 

Would it be kinder to let them know that their mother loves them, and let them believe that their father loved their mother in his turn? 

How can I tell them all the things they ought to hear from their mother? They are not even permitted to know my name. 

These are not questions I can answer. My foresight is not much of a blessing. The only thing I know with certainty is not useful to me; it is only that I will die here, in this house, watching the gentians from my window. 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Fragments IV , Shui Jiuzai 
Cotton and silk fibres 
Est. 120-123 Yangyan 
The unfinished edges make it clear that these pieces are not a completed tapestry that was subsequently taken apart. Much like Fragments I , they appear to be examples of the artist experimenting with new techniques. Unlike Fragments I , these pieces have been deliberately burnt. When they were initially recovered, it was thought that perhaps they had been damaged when the Cloud Recesses burned in 137 Yangyan26 , but later examination showed that the damage must have occurred contemporaneously with the creation of the pieces. 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Gentians by the Flooding River, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
Est. completion 124 Yangyan 
This tapestry is the most complete account of Shui Jiuzai’s life that exists. It is almost impossible to verify any part of the account she gives here. While letters between the Chief Cultivator of the time and his subordinates confirm that the title of Shanhong-nushi was bestowed on a rogue cultivator at the Black Crow Ridge Hunt, there is no way to confirm whether this was Shui Jiuzai, or if she merely adopted the title for her own purposes. 

 

I try to tell my children who I am. I know they are too young to understand; I know that one day in twenty-eight27 is not an antidote to the bitter tea they are fed by their sect. I try anyway. What else can I do? I have seen the gentians bloom and fade nine times. Everyone I have ever known has done their mourning. The only thing I will leave behind are my children and my weaving.

It is not permitted for me to reveal myself. Lan Qiren was quite clear on this account, and xiao-Lu tells me that his uncle questions them after each visit. I have been harshly discouraged from telling them anything of my natal family. It seems safe, though, to tell them stories of the rogue cultivator Shanhong-nushi, so long as those stories are not tied too closely to a time or place they may recall when they are older.

So I have told them stories of the person I used to be, before I was diminished. I tell them of my days training at Chunyu Temple, and give them what little I can of the methods I learned. I tell them of my early night hunts along the Northern Silk Road, of the strange things I saw there. When I can, I tell them of the worst monsters I encountered, the ones that looked like men. I am careful not to describe the men in question. 

As often as they ask for it, I tell them the story of how Shanhong-nushi changed the course of a river to sweep away the evil beasts plaguing the valley below. This story is not, in the strictest sense, true. If Lan Haozhi has not arranged for the records to be destroyed, perhaps my children will find the real story one day; how I broke a dam wall to restore the flow of water to a village LanlingJin had determined were not in need of it. 

Should I tell them the true lesson of the story? Should I warn them away from invoking the wrath of rich men? Would it have been harder for Lan Haozhi to hide me here if Jin Guangshan did not desire my disappearance, or was it enough that Lan Haozhi is a sect leader? 

They are very young. We have time. For now I will tell them how the Chief Cultivator, amused by Shanhong-nushi’s impertinence, gave her a title after her success at Black Crow Ridge. Perhaps one day I can tell them of Shui Jing, called Jiuzai28.

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Gentians Amidst Snow, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
124 Yanyang
Unusually for both classical tapestries and for Shui Jiuzai in particular, this tapestry displays gentians without flowers, wilting under the weight of winter snow. The vivid shades of blue which are a hallmark of her work are entirely absent; the only colour is a pale green, almost grey, which marks dying stalks. Instead, Shui Jiuzai uses the flaws in her own technique to create different textures of white, giving the impression of snow carried on the wind above. 

 

I have been a poor gardener.

I knew already that one day of every twenty-eight would not be enough. I knew that the Lan medicine is bitter as the gentian, that all the honey in the world could not sweeten it. I knew, but it hurts no less.

I told my children a story of Xi Wangmu29 coming down from the west. My little bird, my xiao-He, spoke to me in his father’s voice: “Lying is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.” 

Gentian roots run deep. They cannot be moved once they are planted.

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Gentians Beneath Maple Trees, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
125 Yangyan
The maple trees in this piece are a reference to Lan Sen, called Qiren, styled Danfeng-jun30. While Shui Jiuzai only references Lan Qiren twice in her writing, there is little doubt she felt his influence throughout her life. While Lan Haozhi undertook long periods of solitary meditation, Lan Qiren was responsible for the care and management of his brother’s wife31

 

Lan Qiren insists his brother is in seclusion, and yet Madam Lan is plagued by her husband’s desires32

I had at least hoped that the last fever would leave me barren. The heavens do not see fit to bless me in this way. 

It has already been a difficult pregnancy. The healers have determined that I ought to be on bed rest. One of them went so far as to suggest I should be prevented from weaving, lest it cause me agitation. Lan Haozhi was on the brink of agreeing; Lan Qiren dissuaded him.

I am expected to be grateful to Lan Qiren. Strange; I do not ordinarily feel gratitude towards a sword when its wielder stumbles.  

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

Unfinished Talisman, Shui Jiuzai
Silk fibres
Est. 125 Yangyan 
The image formed by the blue thread is a variation on a Lei Ting curse charm, a talisman calling on the Daoist god of thunder to enact swift punishment on wrongdoers. In her earlier writing, Shui Jiuzai makes reference to Chunyu Temple, a Daoist school that continues to train cultivators to this day; it seems probable that she learned this talisman there. While the cloth of the tapestry is finished, the talisman itself is missing the final characters which would allow it to be used.

 

My meridians have been sealed for so long I am not sure if I could cultivate at all. It provides a certain motivation. Lan Haozhi has taken my freedom, my sword, my body, my family, my voice. Now, perhaps without even meaning to, he has taken my core.

For what I intend, I ought not need it. 

I am determined that this will be my last. Last pregnancy. Last tapestry. Last time watching the gentians bloom from my window.

Whether or not I achieve all I wish to in my final statement, it will be final33.

 

 

 

 

 

 

━━━━━━━━━━━━

TO: Liu Yuhua
FROM: Zhang Zhiqiang
SUBJECT: re: re: re: Exhibition proposal: Dragon's Gall

Yuhua,

You are surely aware we cannot accept this proposal. Not only is the artist an unreliable source at best, the Lan family remain one of our most significant donors. To ask them to fund an exhibit that would undoubtedly be seen by the press as malicious and unfounded gossip about one of their ancestors would be impolitic at best. Perhaps you do not fully understand the myriad complications of maintaining positive donor relationships in the current economic climate.

Were the tapestries of substantial historical interest, things might be different. However, as it stands, such an exhibit’s risks to the institution’s relationships outweigh any plausible benefit to the museum-going public.

Wang Gangjian is drafting a proposal for an exhibition on Paijie era silk art. Perhaps you could work with him on including one or two of the more technically skilled tapestries to round out his collection of hanfu and silk fans. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that commentary on the supposed encoded messages would detract from Wang Gangjian’s focus on the artistic, aesthetic, and visual merits of the works included.

Regards,

Zhang Zhiqiang
Director, Curation & Innovation
Gusu National Museum
“Revealing Hidden History”

━━━━━━━━━━━━

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

。゚❁ུ۪ °ₒ 𓂂 ˚ 𓂂 ₒ ° ₒ 𓂂 ˚˖⋆

 

1 重建, chóng jiàn (to rebuild / to re-establish / reconstruction); era name [return to text]
2 水晶 shuǐ (water) jīng (crystal); 救灾 jiù zāi (to relieve disaster / to help victims); 山洪女士 shān hóng (mountain flash flood / torrent) nǚ shì (an honorific) [return to text]
3 阳焰, yáng yán (dazzling sunlight / glare of sunlight); era name [return to text]
4 Yangyan era records speak of Shanhong-nushi as a rogue cultivator with a reputation for creative solutions to intractable problems. [return to text]
5 Capital of the historical state of Gongwu; modern Wuxi. [return to text]
6 蓝淼 lán (surname) miǎo (a vast expanse of water); 浩智 hào zhì (expansive wisdom); 青蘅君 qīng (green) héng (wild ginger) jūn (an honourific); at the time, GusuLan Sect Leader, and believed to be Shui Jiuzai’s husband. [return to text]
7 只在此山中, [ ]深不知处; a reference to the formal name of the Cloud Recesses, itself derived from the classical poem Visiting the Absent Hermit by Jia Dao: “I asked the child under the pine, / who says ‘the master has departed for herbs.’ / Always lurking in the mountains near, / somewhere unknown deep in the clouds.” [return to text]
8 蓝白云, lán (surname) bái yún (white cloud); an elder of the GusuLan sect, recorded to have died in 115 Yangyan. [return to text]
9 闭月, bì yuè (hiding the moon); assumed to be the name of Shui Jiuzai’s sword, derived from the idiom 闭月羞花 (hiding the moon, shaming the flowers). [return to text]
10 One of the lakes of the Yangtze River delta. [return to text]
11 春雨 chūn yǔ (spring rain / gift from above); one of many Daoist temples that offered training in cultivation to their disciples. [return to text]
12 Shui Jiuzai’s gentan motif is so pronounced that this exhibition was named for the species she depicted, 龙胆 lóng dǎn (dragon’s gall), renowned for the famously bitter flavour of the plant when used in medicinal tonics. [return to text]
13 An alternative explanation is that Shui Jiuzai’s account of her limited freedoms is inaccurate or metaphorical, and her duties as Madam Lan dominated her time. [return to text]
14 Lan Haozhi’s wife was the last person to bear the title of Madam Lan. Lan Xichen, his son and successor, was unmarried during his time as sect leader. Lan Wangji, who succeeded his older brother, eventually married his cultivation partner. Both Lan Wangji and his husband were noted as being firmly against the use of Madam Lan as a title, and subsequent sect leaders, even those who married women, appear to have followed this precedent and declined to apply the title to their spouses. [return to text]
15 Shui Jiuzai likely learned to weave on a two-person loom, and adapted techniques for a one-person loom to create her tapestries. Many of her early works contain technical errors, particularly uneven tension in the warp and selvedge. These technical errors may have been deliberately invoked by Shui Jiuzai to keep her woven messages from being detected. [return to text]
16 Shui Jiuzai’s writings imply she suffered postnatal haemorrhage following the birth of her firstborn, and may have experienced haemorrhage or puerperal fever at later paturitions. These complications likely contributed to her eventual death. [return to text]
17 Owls are widely considered to be ill-omens in folklore of the era, while magpies are harbingers of joy. [return to text]
18 蓝涣, lán (surname) huàn (to dissipate); 曦臣 xī chén (chancellor of the morning sun); 泽芜君 zé wú (life-bringer) jūn (an honourific) [return to text]
19 水鹿, shuǐ (water) lù (deer); as a whole, indicates the Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor). Shui Lu is also homophonous with 水陆 (water and land) and 水路 (waterway / journey by water) [return to text]
20 In local folklore, crows and ravens were said to be messengers of the goddess Xi Wangmu, and built burial mounds for distinguished people. [return to text]
21 水仙, shuǐ (water) xiān (immortality); as a whole, translates as (narcissus / daffodil / person who wanders abroad and does not return) [return to text]
22 蓝湛 lán (surname) zhàn (clear water); 忘机 wàng jī (to be free of worldly concerns); 含光君 hán guāng (light-bearer) jūn (an honourific) [return to text]
23 水鹤 shuǐ (water) hè (crane); the crane is a symbol of eternal love and loyalty, and when arranged together with pines as in this tapestry, indicates a wish for longevity and eternal youth. [return to text]
24 While the butterfly is associated with marital harmony, they are also a feature of the tale of the Butterfly Lovers, a classical tragedy, Pheasants symbolise beauty and good fortune, but local folklore advises that a pheasant refusing to sing can cause rivers to flood. [return to text]
25 While some historians believe Shui Jiuzai’s references to imprisonment are intended as literal, others posit they are poetic allusions to her unhappy marriage. [return to text]
26 The QishanWen Sect burning the Cloud Recesses is widely considered to be one of the primary causes of the Sunshot Campaign, which commenced two years later. In Flooding River, Shui Jiuzai references an encounter with the Chief Cultivator, Wen Ruohan; it is not known what, if any, relationship they maintained. [return to text]
27 Correspondence from Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji confirm that they saw their mother on the days of the full moon, and at no other time. [return to text]
28 There is no evidence in the historical record that either of Shui Jiuzai’s children ever knew her name. [return to text]
29 西王母 xī wáng mǔ (queen mother of the west); a goddess believed to serve as a guardian to all Daoist women [return to text]
30 蓝森 lán sēn (forest); 启仁 qǐ rén (to initiate benevolence); 丹枫君 dān (red) fēng (maple) jūn (an honourific) [return to text]
31 Correspondence between Lan Wangji and his cultivation partner confirms that attending the Sect Leader’s spouse, even if that spouse did not take the title of Madam Lan, was one of Lan Qiren’s formal duties until at least 20 Paijie. [return to text]
32 Rape within a marriage was not acknowledged as a crime or as a possibility in this era. [return to text]
33 While no relevant record of death was recovered from the Cloud Recesses, correspondence between Lan Wangji and his cultivation partner notes Lan Wangji’s mother died in 126 Yangyan, likely from complications arising from late-term miscarriage. [return to text]