Cloudy with showery outbreaks, know wot I mean?

“Rain. Good.”—The Shipping Forecast

My old friend Tian Qing, now pre-eminent pundit of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a constant source of stories.

Long ago in summer 1989 he organized a wonderful festival of “religious music” to take place in Beijing, but it inevitably had to be postponed. With him now “indisposed” for a couple of years, his colleagues at the Music Research Institute managed to reschedule the festival for the following summer—among the many Daoist and Buddhist groups attending was our very own Li family band of household Daoists, led by the great Li Qing (my book pp.174–6).

By 1992 Tian Qing was rehabilitated, but still under a certain scrutiny. One of the groups in the 1990 festival was the “Wutaishan Buddhist Music Troupe”, consisting of (former) Buddhist monks trained at the Wutaishan mountain temples and nearby. (For “Buddhist music”, and “troupes”, see here and here.)

In collaboration with Tian Qing I was now working with BBC Radio 3 to invite the group to perform for the amazing Spirit of the Earth festival on the London South Bank.

Time was getting short, and the BBC urgently needed the monks’ names in order to get their work permits. So Tian Qing innocently sent me the list by telegram, with no comment—just their eight poetic Buddhist names, that make no obvious literal sense:

了滿了充雲枝雲瑞任亮成德玄平玄貴
Liaoman Liaochong Yunzhi Yunrui Renliang Chengde Xuanping Xuangui
or
Final and complete final and ample cloudy branches cloudy and auspicious trusty and bright accomplished virtue profound equality profound nobility

We later learnt that the Chinese authorities spent months trying to decipher this cryptic message to a foreigner, convinced it was some counter-revolutionary code.

The UK tour was great, though, and Tian Qing is now a distinguished leader and cultural pundit. So that’s all right then.

One thought on “Cloudy with showery outbreaks, know wot I mean?

  1. Pingback: Shanxi, summer 1992 | Stephen Jones: a blog

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