The Search for Fusang December 21, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval , trackback
The snow is melting rapidly outside and just in time. Mrs B is suffering in the room above from what look like real contractions – Beachcombing conspicuously absent. Beachcombing then is going to let his source do all the talking today. If he hasn’t written much of a conclusion then the chances are that the balloon has gone up and the new world order has begun. Think Iran with the bomb, neo cons with aircraft carriers – the works in short.
The following appears in the encyolopedia of Ma Duanlin (obit 1322), a medieval Chinese scholar who had access to many ancient sources now lost to us. In his great tomes he describes the land of Fusang – the Fusang, incidentally, was the Chinese solar tree pictured here.
During the reign of the dynasty Tsi, in the first year of the year-naming, Everlasting Origin [499 AD], came a Buddhist priest from [the kingdom of Fusang], who bore the cloister-name of Hoei-schiu, i.e. Universal Compassion, to the present district of Hukuang, and those surrounding it, who narrated that Fusang is about twenty thousand Chinese miles in an easterly direction from Tahan, and east of the Middle Kingdom.
This would put the mysterious Fusang somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean. Its name seems to have been inspired by the monk’s observation of certain trees there.
Many Fusang trees grow there, whose leaves resemble the dryanda cordifolia [much debated translation of course!] the sprouts, on the contrary, resemble those of the bamboo tree and are eaten by the inhabitants of the land. The fruit is like a pear in form, but is red. From the bark they prepare a sort of linen which they use for clothing, and also a sort of ornamented stuff. The houses are built of wooden beams; fortified and walled places are there unknown. They have written characters in this land, and prepare paper from the bark of the Fusang.
The people have no weapons, and make no wars; but in the arrangements for the kingdom they have a northern and a southern prison. Trifling offenders were lodged in the southern prison, but those confined for greater offences in the northern; so that those who were about to receive grace could be placed in the southern prison, and those who were not, in the northern. Those men and women who were imprisoned for life were allowed to marry. The boys resulting from these marriages were, at the age of eight years, sold as slaves; the girls not until their ninth year. If a man of any note was found guilty of crimes, an assembly was held; it must be in an excavated place. There they strewed ashes over him [in a pit?], and bade him farewell. If the offender was one of a lower class, he alone was punished; but when of rank, the degradation was extended to his children and grandchildren. With those of the highest rank it attained to the seventh generation.
The name of the king is pronounced Ichi. The nobles of the first-class are termed Tuilu; of the second, Little Tuilu; and of the third, Na-to-scha, When the prince goes forth, he is accompanied by horns and trumpets. The colour of his clothes changes with the different years. In the two first of the ten-year cycles they are blue; in the two next, red; in the two following, yellow; in the two next, red; and in the last two, black. The horns of the oxen are so large that they hold ten bushels. They use them to contain all manner of things. Horses, oxen, and stags are harnessed to their wagons. Stags are used here as cattle are used in the Middle Kingdom, and from the milk of the hind they make butter. The red pears of the Fusang-tree keep good throughout the year. Moreover, they have apples and reeds. From the latter they prepare mats. No iron is found in this land; but copper, gold, and silver are not prized, and do not serve as a medium of exchange in the market.
Marriage is determined upon in the following manner. The suitor builds himself a hut before the door of the house where the one longed for dwells, and waters and cleans the ground every morning and evening. When a year has passed by, if the maiden is not inclined to marry him, he departs; should she be willing, it is completed. When the parents die, they fast seven days. For the death of the paternal or maternal grandfather they lament five days; at the death of elder or younger sisters or brothers, uncles or aunts, three days. They then sit from morning to evening before an image of the ghost, absorbed in prayer, but wear no mourning clothes. When the king dies, the son who succeeds him does not busy himself for three years with state affairs. In earlier times these people lived not according to the laws of Buddha. But it happened that in the second year-naming Great Light of Song [AD 458], five beggar-monks from the kingdom of Kipin [approx Pakistan] went to this land, extended over it the religion of Buddha, and with it his holy writings and images. They instructed the people in the principles of monastic life, and so changed their manners.
There have been numerous attempts over the years to connect this description to North America and particularly to Mexico. Here Beachcombing has to demure – at least slightly. Not that he doesn’t like the idea of Mexico being converted to Buddhism in the fifth century AD, by monks from Pakistan no less! He is not even put off by a pre-Columbian reference to horses. It takes all sorts and, besides, how easy it is to confuse some other beast of burden with an Arabian stallion. It is not even the vast spaces of the Pacific that worries Beachcombing – a distance so much greater than that across the Atlantic to North America. Beachcombing’s problem is, instead, with the other lands described by this same Buddhist monk who had perhaps quaffed overly on rice wine.
[The Kingdom of Women] is a thousand li to the east of Fusang. The bearing and manners of the people are very sedate and formal; their colour is exceedingly clear and white; their bodies are hairy and the hair of the head trails of the ground. In the spring they emulously rush into the water and become pregnant; the children are born in the autumn. These female-men have no paps on their bosoms, but hair-roots grow on the back of their necks; a juice is found on the white ones. The children are suckled a hundred days, when they can walk; they are fully grown by the fourth year. Whenever they see a man the flee and hide from him in terror, for they are afraid of having husbands. They eat pickled greens, whose leaves are like wild celery; the odour is agreeable and the taste saltish.
What we seem to have here are the eastern equivalents of the Irish Brendan legends: fantastic islands out in the ocean where the Chinese could let their imaginative hair down. Other opinions on Fusang exist, including attempts to identify it with Japan. Views on an e-postcard please. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com