Us and Them

It was a tiny town, just a few neighbours. 使 使 They gave us machines to produce ten times more, but we wouldn't use them. So they threatened to kill us, but we didn't cut and run. 輿 Even if we had ships and wagons, there was nowhere to go. Even if we had armour and weapons, that was no way to resist. 使 Then they made us pay taxes, but they took it all for themselves.

Our food was delicious, our clothes were beautiful, our homes were peaceful, our ways were friendly. Neighbouring towns within sight of each other, our chickens and dogs could hear one another. Neighbours died of old age and weren't cruel or kind to each other.


I think this poem tells a story of long ago and far away, when human was ascendant, when people weren't colonizing and exploiting each other, when the rich and powerful weren't violent, dangerous thugs, and when normal people didn't do terrible things to each other to get ahead, or just to survive, and acts of kindness weren't heroic, just a matter of course.

I also think that, while this poem is a lament, it's also an affirmation of the inevitability and immanence of a human of good neighbours who share the beauty and joy of peace and contentment .

In the Yijing, is the back and forth of wishy-washy indecision, of the destructive motion of a violent earthquake, of the rhythm of well water as seasons change. Here I think it's what neighbours do to and for each other. It's our very personal response to the twists and turns of the deadly, inescapable, invincible, impersonal forces that shape us.

and are, "There was nothing [towards/against] which we could [sail/haul/pit] our [boats/wagons/army]."

is remit talking knots, referring to a method of using knotted cords to keep track of [social obligations and benefits?].


小 42 + 0
small, tiny, insignificant
囗 31 + 8
nation, country, nation-state
宀 40 + 11
widowed; alone, friendless
氏 83 + 1
people, subjects, citizens
人 9 + 6
cause, send on a mission, order; envoy, messenger, ambassador
yǒu yòu
月 74 + 2
have, own, possess; exist
shén shí
人 9 + 2
file of ten soldiers; mixed, miscellaneous
bó mò
人 9 + 5
older brother; father's elder brother; senior male 'sire'; feudal rank 'count'
zhī zhū
丿 4 + 3
marks preceding phrase as modifier of following phrase; it, him her, them; go to
口 30 + 13
receptacle, vessel; instrument
ér néng
而 126 + 0
and; and then; and yet; but; Kangxi radical 126
bù fǒu
一 1 + 3
no, not; un-; negative prefix
用 101 + 0
use, employ, apply, operate; use
zhòng chóng
里 166 + 2
heavy, weighty; double
歹 78 + 2
die; dead; death
yuǎn yuàn
辵 162 + 10
distant, remote, far; profound
xǐ sī
彳 60 + 8
move one's abode, shift, migrate
隹 172 + 9
although, even if
舟 137 + 0
boat, ship; Kangxi radical 137
yú yù
車 159 + 10
cart, palanquin; public opinion
wú mó
火 86 + 8
negative, no, not; lack, have no
戶 63 + 4
place, location; numerary adjunct
chéng shèng
丿 4 + 9
ride, ascend; avail oneself of; numerary adjunct for vehicles
田 102 + 0
armor, shell; fingernails; 1st heavenly stem
八 12 + 5
soldier, troops
chén zhèn
阜 170 + 8
exhibit, display; plead; surname
彳 60 + 9
return; repeat; repeatedly; hexagram ䷗
jié jì
糸 120 + 6
knot, tie; join, connect
shéng yìng
糸 120 + 13
rope, string, cord; measure, restrain
gān hān
甘 99 + 0
sweetness; sweet, tasty
qí jī
八 12 + 6
his, her, its, their; that
shí sì
食 184 + 0
eat; meal; food; Kangxi radical 184
羊 123 + 3
beautiful, pretty; pleasing
fú fù
月 74 + 4
clothes; wear, dress
宀 40 + 3
peaceful, tranquil, quiet
jū jī
尸 44 + 5
live, dwell, reside, sit
lè yuè
木 75 + 11
happy, glad; enjoyable; music
人 9 + 7
social customs; vulgar, unrefined
lín lìn
邑 163 + 12
neighbor; neighborhood
xiāng xiàng
目 109 + 4
mutual, reciprocal, each other
月 74 + 7
to look at, look forward; to hope, expect
隹 172 + 10
chickens; domestic fowl
犬 94 + 0
dog; radical number 94
耳 128 + 11
sound, voice, noise; tone; music
wén wèn
耳 128 + 8
hear; smell; make known; news
zhì dié
至 133 + 0
reach, arrive; extremely, very; Kangxi radical 133
老 125 + 0
old, aged; experienced; Kangxi radical 125
wǎng wàng
彳 60 + 5
go, depart; past, formerly
lái lài
人 9 + 6
come, coming; return, returning
dào dǎo
辵 162 + 9
path, road, street; method, way