Haier Alley and the Lu You Memorial Hall
Walking by the Lu You Memorial Hall in Hangzhou's Haier Alley amid the patter of spring rain, one cannot help but think of the "flower-selling song".
Nestled in downtown Hangzhou, Haier Alley, or Haier Xiang in pinyin, went by the name of Baohefang Brick Alley (Baohefang Zhuanjie Xiang) during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), it became known as Clay Figurine Alley (Ni Haier Xiang), as the alley was lined with clay figurine shops. Overtime, Ni (clay) was dropped from its name, and the alley has been called Haier Alley ever since.
At first glance, the alley seems different from other old alleys. But on closer inspection, you will find it is quite extraordinary, thanks to a "flower-selling song" which originated more than 800 years ago.
The "song" is in fact a poem written by the Southern Song poet Lu You in Lin'an (present-day Hangzhou) in 1186.
Just Clearing up after a Spring Rain in Lin'an
(Lin'an Chunyu Chuji)
In recent years, my interest in affairs worldly became like a veil thin,
why still ride up to the capital and be a guest then?
All night I listen to the spring rain in the room,
tomorrow morning deep in the alley they'll sell apricot flowers in bloom.
Bored, on paper cropped I cursively write,
and play with tea-making by the window bright.
Fret not my robes white will be tainted by the imperial dust,
for I shall return home for the Qingming festival fast.
The second stanza is so well-known in China that even toddlers can recite it. Haier Alley, in turn, is immortalized in these two lines.
Born in Shanyin (present-day Shaoxing) during the last years of the Northern Song Dynasty, Lu You (1125-1210) is one of the most highly regarded and prolific Chinese poets. He is renowned for penning close to 10,000 poems and numerous works of prose.
Lu is particularly noted for the passionate patriotism expressed in his poems. During his career, he made unremitting efforts to drive out the invaders and reclaim the territories lost to the Jin Dynasty（1115-1234）, in stark contrast to the imperial court, which was controlled by a peace faction at the time. As a result, Lu often fell into disfavor with the establishment and had never attained any real success in his career as an imperial official.
When he wrote the poem "Just Clearing up after Spring Rain in Lin'an" (Lin'an Chunyu Chuji), Lu was already 62 years old, having been dismissed five years earlier and staying in his hometown ever since. He went to Hangzhou not for vacation, but because he was recalled, waiting at Haier Alley for an audience with the emperor before he formally took office. While Lu's commitment in regaining Northern Song's territories was still unwavering, he had by then grown increasingly disillusioned with the imperial court. While brewing tea and writing cursive script nonchalantly seemed quite natural for someone of Lu's age, such tranquility belied his discontent and indignation. Hence the last stanza of the poem, which betrayed his frustration: "Fret not my robes white will be tainted by the imperial dust, for I shall return home for the Qingming festival fast."
Lu You had travelled frequently between his hometown and Hangzhou, and he stayed at Haier Alley a number of times, which had been spoken of in his other poems and essays. A small alleyway has thus gained fame. Nevertheless, in 2004, a controversy emerged. When Haier Alley was ready for renovation, some argued against the demolition of the building at No. 98, believing that it was Lu's old residence in Hangzhou, and should therefore be turned into a memorial. Others objected to the idea, contending that Lu was indeed put up at the southern section of Haier Alley, not No. 98, which was in the northern section and much larger than Lu's description. It would be too presumptuous to simply designate No. 98 as "Lu You's Old Residence".
The technicalities are not incorrect: the building at No. 98 was later found to be of the Qing era (1616-1911); no above-ground architecture from the Southern Song period can now be found in Hangzhou. On the other hand, although No. 98 is not Lu's former residence, the building is the closest to its original appearance to ever be discovered. Coupled with the fact that Lu did stay nearby, it is only fitting to designate such a architecture as the Lu You Memorial Hall.
A memorial hall to Lu You does not necessarily have to be his old residence. What matters more is that he used to stay at the alley and left behind a "song" that has been sung for ages and will be sung for generations to come.
November 23, 2023
November 22, 2023