Lu Ji (陆机) – ‘The Joy of Writing’ (c. Late 3rd Century CE)

Lu Ji (261-303) – Early Confucian and Daoist Scholar

Lu Ji (261-303) – formal birth-name ‘Shi Heng’ (士衡) or ‘Scholar of Weight’ – and was a native of Wu Town, in Wu County (now part of Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province). Lu Ji had a recognized ‘profound way with words’ and considered ‘literacy’ an art form – like military skills, agriculture or spiritual self-cultivation, etc. As a famous compiler of texts, he was renowned for his beautiful calligraphy. Lu Ji came from an prominent political and military family and lived during the time of the Western Jin Dynasty Period (near the end of the ‘Three Kingdoms’ Period).  

Once, on a journey to Brent Cross in North London about fifteen years ago, my family group visited a very large and well stocked book-shop (either a Foyles or Borders – none of us can remember now!). It is at this book-shop that I located (and purchased) an English translation of Lu Ji’s Chinese-language text entitled ‘文賦’ (Wen Fu) or ‘Cultural Literacy – Dynamically Deployed and Explained’. Perhaps a shorter translation in English could settle on ‘Literary Theory’. The usual English rendering of ‘Literary Essays’ or ‘Essays on Literature’ are far too simplistic, Eurocentric and lacking in the sheer philosophical (and spiritual) depth conveyed in the original title. The ‘Wen Fu’ is no ordinary book, as within its pages lie the ‘secrets’ of how to read and write to the highest levels of communication, meaning and persuasion! This is the book entitled ‘The Art of Writing – Teachings of the Chinese Mysteries’ – Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, Shambhala, (1996), Pages 10-11 (for the purposes of this article). Although Shambhala is a pro-US publisher that all but ignores, belittles and side-lines the thriving spirituality extant within Mainstream China – this little booklet is rather obscure and probably bucks Shambhala’s usual bias trend – although, of course, the only genuine connection with Mainland China is Lu Ji’s original Chinese-Language text! 

This is Chapter Four – the text that I find inspiration and which I wish to convey: 

The Joy of Words 

Writing is joy – 

So saints and scholars all pursue it. 

A writer makes new life in the void, 

Knocks on silence to make a sound, binds space and time on a sheet of silk 

And pours out a river from an inch-sized heart. 

As words give birth to words 

And thoughts arouse deeper thoughts, 

They smell like flowers giving off scent, 

Spread like green leaves in spring; 

A long wind comes, whirls into a tornado of ideas, 

And clouds rise from the writing-brush forest. 

The following is another rendering by Shih-Hsiang Chen, 1952, modified after consulting a translation by Sam Hamill, 1991 – which gives the date of the ‘Wen Fu’ as being composed in 300 CE – just two years before the death of Lu Ji (who was just 42-years old when he passed away):  

The Joy of Writing 
Writing is in itself a joy, 
Yet saints and sages have long since held it in awe. 
For it is being, created from a void; 
It is sound rung out of profound silence. 
In a sheet of paper is contained the infinite, 
And, evolved from an inch-sized heart, an endless panorama. 
The words, as they expand, become all-evocative, 
The thought, still further pursued, will run the deeper, 
Till flowers in full blossom exhale all-pervading fragrance, 
and tender boughs, their saps running, grow to a whole jungle of splendor. 
Bright winds spread luminous wings, quick breezes soar from the earth, and clouds arise from the writing brushes. 

Both these translations are the rendering of this original Chinese-language paragraph found in the ‘Wen Fu’: 







How do the above (English) translations stand-up to scrutiny? This is my ‘new’ translation taking into account the context of the Chinese cultural nuance (as expressed through the traditional characters used): 

Expressing what is heard in writing – like listening to joyful music – is a happy experience! 

For the enlightened Sage – this activity is an (outer) expression of (inner) virtue – one which is greatly admired! 

Each new written character forms in the void and manifests out of emptiness – each new sound – once granted its expression – echoes throughout the void! 

Written on white-cotton which enfolds the universe – each new character is profoundly expressed – as it profoundly flows from the (small) centre of the expressing mind! 

The characters so expressed – possess a profound worth that is forever increasing and expanding – with a depth of meaning forever accruing – as their presence fills the universe!  

Each character expresses an immeasurably profound meaning – just as a beautiful flower exudes an endless and beautiful fragrance! Is this not how robust forests and beautiful gardens grows? Resplendent in its perfected expression of natual processes! 

A whirlwind of creativity stirs-up the content of the mind – forming a cascade of ideas – just as the writing-brush touches the sheet – clouds of characters are form – traversing the sky! 

English Language Reference: 

Chinese Language Reference:陆机文赋/10900884

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