Picturing Science in Modern China

Fortune teller 算命 [Suanming]

Chen Shizeng 陳師曾, “Fortune teller” 算命 [Suanming], leaf 28. Beijing Social Life and Customs 北京風俗圖 [Beijing fengsu tu], ca. 19141915. Album leaf, ink and color on paper; 28.6 x 36.4 cm. National Art Museum of China.

卻怪世人憎直語,                            While blaming common people for
                                                            loathing straight talk,
談玄微中曾南翔。                            he speaks about the abstrusities tactfully
                                                            as if Zeng Nanxiang.[i]
壽夭祸福端由命,                            Long or short-lived, misfortune or blessing,
                                                            these are all decided by destiny.
江海淺深寧可量。                            The depth of rivers and oceans,
                                                            how could it be measured.
                                                   穆庵 Pure and Silent Hut.

迷性迷性,                                     The unenlightened, the unenlightened:
笑我說命。                                     you laugh at me for telling fortunes.
手鼓一通,                                     After a peal of tambourine sound,
世人莫醒。                                     none of the common people awake.
我目雖盲,                                     Though my eyes are blind,
我心尚省。                                     my mind can still see things clearly.
熙熙攘攘,                                     [Everyone] in the hustle and bustle, 
誰参此境?                                     who can match such a state of mind?
                                                   青羊居士 The Layman of Black Ram

驀山溪(算命子)                            “Crossing over the Mountain Stream”
                                                   (The Fortune Teller)

瞽者沿街招摇,昼則算命,                 The blind [always] wander the streets. They do          
                                                   fortune-telling in the daytime

夜則弹唱。                                     while singing and playing instruments at night.
盲詞瞎話 ,                                    The blind man’s talk filled with nonsense[ii]
賺盡人間世 。                                 grasps all of the earthly world.
萬戶簇春城 ,                                 Myriad houses cluster in the city of spring.
怎生來暗中能記 。                           How could he stealthily learn all of them.
一篇成相,                                     After a bit of speech,
悵悵未教扶 。                                 he is disappointed for not converting [the customer].
心自静,                                        His mind is just calm,
耳偏靈 ,                                       although he has sharp ears.
不礙繁華地 。                                 This bustling place doesn’t bother him.

時辰年月,                                     With the hour, day, month, year,
八個天生字。                                  he can reckon the horoscope of one’s birth.
勘了與批評 ,                                 Investigating and commenting on it,
便如何忖人心事 。                           this is how he guesses one’s thoughts.
夜來明去 ,                                    While the night comes and the light fades,
幾部腹中書 。                                 a few books are in his mind.
牌子曲,                                        Several tunes and songs,
鼓兒辭 ,                                       lyrics by the drum.
又是閒風味 。                                 Then, it’s leisure time and being carefree.

                                                   Translated by Lulu Yu, The University of Alberta


[i] Zeng Nanxiang 曾南翔 probably refers to a Southern Song dynasty fortune teller mentioned in Yang Wanli’s 楊萬里 two poems on fortune-telling.

[ii] This phrase is a pun. It not only refers to the one who talks as being a blind man but also implies that the talk itself is groundless.