CHINESE FOLK COUPLETS
Number 10–A/B: Series 1982
Writing couplets for public display is an ancient Chinese poetic tradition. Once created exclusively by scholars, couplets are now sold by stores and street painters. Especially popular during Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), bright new couplets may also be written and displayed on gateposts or walls on any important occasion: birth, birthday, homecoming, marriage, death. Travelers may also see couplets at scenic vistas, on temples, in restaurants, and on private houses. In the Chinese countryside, they are commonly displayed beside the main farmhouse door—A on the left, B on the right. While the Communist Revolution reduced this poetic tradition to political slogans after 1949, the folk couplet has regained much of its pre-revolutionary tradition today.
According to Ma Meng in Chinese Couplets (Hong Kong,1969), “A couplet is made up of two components which are called the Head and Tail. The number of characters of each must be the same, but each usually implies a connotation in contrast to the other. Word for word or phrase for phrase, the Head and Tail must correspond in syntactical arrangements.”
This couplet, one of twelve collected from a street painter in Rugao, Jiangsu Province, during Spring Festival, 1982, by George Venn, is rendered in pre-revolution style. The panels all display four traditional aspects: multiple colors on one brush, the ideogram becoming image, ancient Chinese motifs—longevity and heaven, happiness and earth—and New Year sentiments: prosperity, happiness, long life. Moving rapidly, the experienced folk artist may complete one line of a couplet in a few minutes, a skill long and difficult to master.
In Chinese characters:
A. 風 邀 請 花 舞
B. 彈 簧 振 鳥 唱
In Pinyin (phonetic transcription):
A. Feng yao qing hua wu
B. Chun dao niao neng yan
In English (general meaning):
A. Wind invites flowers to dance
B. Spring inspires birds to sing
Translations by Chen Zhao-quan, Changsha Railway University,
Changsha, Hunan, 1982
Chinese characters by Daisy Rothgery, Eastern Oregon University,
La Grande, Oregon. 1983
This couplet was presented to Eastern Oregon University by George Venn, Professor of English and Writer in Residence (1970-2002), on his retirement in June, 2002.