Dongguan Hanji ― Memories of China

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Caroline Young, artwork and text

QFWF, 15-11-2020
Memories of China

Cai Wenji, the famously beautiful daughter of noted historian, musician and poet, Cai Yong, lived during the late Han period. She followed in her father’s footsteps, even mastering the playing of the guqin, the Chinese zither.

In 195, amid the turmoil of the weakening Han dynasty, she was kidnapped by the marauding Xiongnu[1] and held for ransom.

For twelve years she languished in a barbarian territory and dutifully bore the Xiongnu chieftain two sons.
Yet, all during this period she never stopped yearning for her beloved China.

Finally, in 207, the warlord Cao Cao became prime minister of China.
He was a great friend of the late Cai Yong, and he personally negotiated the ransom and release of Cai Wenji, but sadly, she had to leave her sons behind.

Upon her return, she found that her late father’s works on the history of the Eastern Han dynasty had been lost due to the ravages of war.
Completely from memory, she compiled four hundred volumes of her father’s writings, producing the Dongguan Hanji, the most comprehensive history of the Han dynasty to date.

[1] The nomadic Xiongnu kingdoms extend beyond the Great Wall north to lake Baikal, east to the Liao river, and west to Congling. Source: Barbara Bennett Peterson (2016) Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. London: Routelegde, Taylor & Francis Group.

As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates living in Hong Kong, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.