Hangzhou's 'old mayor' honored in birth anniversary celebration

Wu Huixin
Su Dongpo, a prominent poet, writer and calligrapher, is recognised as a pinnacle of 11th-century Chinese literature.
Wu Huixin
Hangzhou's 'old mayor' honored in birth anniversary celebration
Ti Gong

A portrait of Su Dongpo

Su Dongpo, a prominent poet, writer and calligrapher, has been hailed as a pinnacle of 11th-century Chinese literature. In Hangzhou, residents see Su as the designer of the current West Lake and “old mayor” of the city.

“The Legend of Su Dongpo,” including varied Su-related stories, archives and performances scattered across China, has been listed as national intangible cultural heritage items for years. The centuries-old Shou Su Hui (寿苏会), which literally means “celebrating Su’s birthday,” is the core of the cultural heritage. On the 19th day of the twelfth lunar month, organizations from around the country host Shou Su Hui to eulogize the great master.

The tale originated in the Song Dynasty when ancient people started to celebrate the scholar’s birthday by hosting storytelling, calligraphy, ink-wash painting and book reading activities. The tradition continued throughout dynasties and reached its apex during the Republic of China (1912-1949).

This year marks the 987th anniversary of Su’s birth. Zhonghua Book Company, a time-honored publisher established in 1912 in Shanghai, hosted a Shou Su Hui in Hangzhou’s West Lake, inviting a group of professors to trace Su’s footprints across the city.

During his tenure, Su was concerned with the suffering of people and left behind a legacy of many contributions to the city. These included dredging the West Lake and piling up the Su Causeway, which helped solve drought problems faced by farmers, winning Su much praise from the locals.

Hangzhou's 'old mayor' honored in birth anniversary celebration
Ti Gong

Shou Su Hui attendees visit stone inscription in the city’s hilly area left by Su Dongpo.

The book company’s Shou Su Hui began the celebrations from Huiyin Temple, where a Su statue measuring 2.3 meters in height was dug out. It is believed the only ancient statue of Su found in China.

The temple, which is located at the intersection of Faxiang Lane and Santaishan Road, dates to AD 927 when Buddhism penetrated Hangzhou. The then Emperor Qianliu of Wuyue Kingdom (AD 907-978) presided over the construction. Its huge collection of Avatamsaka Sutra scrolls attracted many believers. However, the temple fell into ruin over the centuries.

In 1996, archeologists discovered a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) stone statue from the original foundation of the temple. It is believed to be Su according to the archives and inscriptions on the temple’s wall.

In 2004, the temple was rebuilt in accordance with its ancient layout, featuring the Southern Song (1127-1279) style and covering 15,000 square meters. Now, the olden statue is standing in a pavilion, showing Hangzhou people’s constant respect to the old mayor.

Then, Shou Su Hui attendees visited Damai Ridge, where there is Su’s only stone inscription in Hangzhou. It has tremendous historic importance as evidence of the presence of Su when he toured around the ridge during his second tenure in Hangzhou.

In modern day, the city still boasts a great many cliff accounts by scholars, officials and even the emperor concerning a trip, a certain event or expressions of personal mood, varying from a few words to full passages.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), scholars invented a rubbing method to reproduce inscriptions on stone surfaces. This method turns three-dimensional inscriptions into two-dimensional marks on paper.

Hangzhou's 'old mayor' honored in birth anniversary celebration
Ti Gong

Calligraphy works are on display at this year’s Shou Su Hui celebration.

Thanks to this skill, the cliff inscriptions could be shown in the modern era. Attendees paid a visit to the Zhejiang Museum, in which they lingered over the rubbings of Su’s stone inscriptions carved in other cities.

On January 29, the Hangzhou West Lake Scenic Area Committee hosted another Shou Su Hui in the Su Dongpo Memorial Hall to commemorate the old mayor.

At the crossroads of the Su Causeway and Nanshan Road, the government has built the memorial hall to worship the old mayor. It features exhibits devoted to Su, plus examples of Hangzhou cuisine. Behind the museum, Su’s calligraphy work and poems were carved on the walls.

Burning incense, drinking tea, making flower arrangements and painting were the four favorite activities among ancient scholars. Su was no different. The committee’s Shou Su Hui focused on the ancient pastime, inviting intangible cultural heritage inheritors to perform on the spot.

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