Fun with Tang Dynasty Poetry: "Roaming Tigers"

Wen Sige

PureInsight | August 1, 2005


Roaming Tigers

By Zhang Ji

There are dark forests in both the northern and southern mountains,
Fierce tigers will circle around the villages in broad daylight.
At dusk tigers roam everywhere taking lives for food.
Frightened by the tigers' power, the deer dare not make any sound.
In the valleys tigers breed their offspring every year.
Male and female tigers come up and down the mountains in large groups.
There is a village near the tigers' dens in the valley,
Where tigers often come and eat the villagers' brown calves.
Rich young men dare not shoot the arrows at the tigers.
They only pretend to check for the tigers' tracks in the forests.

About Zhang Ji

Zhang Ji (766-830 A.D.) was also known as Zhang Wenchang. Many of his poems were written as lyrics for songs and reflect the reality of society at the time.

The Author's Interpretation

The mountain is a metaphor for the territory of China. Northern and southern mountains mean everywhere in society. Hence, "dark forests in both the northern and southern mountains" means that all of society had become the territory of depraved and ferocious thugs. Everywhere people went, they were haunted by the dark force of the thugs. Tigers normally come out of their caves and hunt at dusk. The fact that tigers (thugs) would circle the villages in broad daylight means that they no longer had any fear of the law as the sun is a symbol for the law or justice. In Chinese literature, a mountain is also a metaphor for powerful backers, in this case corrupted government officials. Hence, the lawless tigers living in the mountains also means that the thugs have dirty government officials in their pockets. The line about the tigers attacking and eating people at dusk means that the thugs take advantage of their power and bully ordinary civilians to death as the sun (symbolizing order, justice or the law) goes down.

The deer is peaceful in nature and is often used as a symbol for civilians who seek nothing but a peaceful life. They dare not to complain about the thugs. Besides, what is the use of complaining? It will only bring the tigers' attention to them, which would put their lives at risk. Tigers breed every year, and when they come down the mountains to hunt, they hunt in large groups. This means that the thugs and the corrupted government officials form liaisons by marriage to expand their territories. Those who live in their territories are the poorest victims.

The ox is the most important kind of livestock for a farmer. When thugs take away farmers' calves before they grow up, the poor farmers find it even more difficult to survive. "Rich young men" refers to local law enforcement agencies that were supposed to protect innocent civilians and uphold the justice. But they, too, feared the power of the thuggish groups. They pretended to fight crimes such as checking the tigers' tracks to fool the honest and gullible victims of the thugs.

Although this poem was written about 1,200 years ago, today's people in China can still relate to the lawless society portrayed in the poem. However, the word "tiger" still does not do justice to the description of those corrupted government officials throughout the entire hierarchy of the Chinese Communist government today.

Translated from:

Add new comment