Anecdotes of poet immortals: Li Bai was also a master translator

It is well known that Li Bai, the poet immortal of the Tang Dynasty, was good at writing poems and lyrics for the compositions of Emperor Tang Xuanzong, and also good at commenting on current affairs of the world. In addition, legend has it that Li Bai was also a rare master of foreign languages.

The story of Li Bai, a poet and immortal, is described in Feng Menglong’s “The Wisdom of the World” of the Ming Dynasty. According to the book, Li Bai was the ninth generation grandson of Li Bureau, the Emperor of Western Liang. Li Bai was born from his mother’s dream that the star Taibai was in his arms, so his name was “Bai” and the word “Taibai”.

Li Bai was a handsome man with a clear-cut bone structure, and he had the appearance of being out of this world. When Li Bai was ten years old, he was already well versed in books and history, and he could speak fluently. People praised him and said he was an immortal, so he was also called Li Bailian.

Li Bai called himself Qinglian Jushi and traveled extensively throughout the years, seeing all the famous mountains and tasting all the wines. One year, Li Bai traveled to Chang’an. One day, he went to the Purple Palace and met He Zhizhang, a scholar of the Hanlin Academy, and they exchanged names and talked to each other. Soon after, they became brothers.

In that year, the Bohai Kingdom (698-926 AD) sent an envoy to the Tang Dynasty, and the court hastily announced He Zhizhang to receive the envoy and put the foreign envoy in a post house. The Bohai Kingdom was enfeoffed by the Tang Dynasty, and at its height its territory included the present provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, the coastal frontier area, and parts of the Korean Peninsula.

The next day, the Bohai envoy presented a letter of statehood. Tang Emperor Xuanzong ordered the Hanlin bachelors to read it to the court. All the bachelors opened it and were at a loss, only to see that the characters on the letter of state were like the footprints of birds and animals, and no one could read it.

The Tang emperor edict declared the courtiers and ministers, trying to find a minister who can translate the Bohai state book. However, no one in the court knew the language of Bohai, so they did not know whether the contents of the letter were goodwill or provocation.

He Zhizhang returned home from the court and told Li Bai about the matter. After hearing this, Li Bai was willing to share his worries with the emperor. So He Zhizhang introduced him to the court and met with the emperor. Li Bai read the book once and immediately translated it into the “Mandarin” of the Tang Dynasty, and was exceptionally fluent.

After hearing Li Bai’s translation, all the ministers marveled that Li Bai, a poet, had foreign language skills and was a master translator, reading foreign languages as if they were Chinese. I did not expect that there were such talents in the Tang Dynasty who were proficient in the language of Bohai.

At the same time, the ministers also because the ambassador came with bad intentions, look at each other. It turned out that the Bohai Kingdom sent an envoy to ask the Tang to give all the 176 cities in Goryeo to the Bohai Kingdom, otherwise they would invade the Tang.

Tang Xuanzong heard the contents of the letter, the dragon’s face is not pleased, pondering for a long time, to the officials to ask for countermeasures, but no one dared to answer.

Then, Emperor Xuanzong asked Li Bai what he would do. Li Bai said, “This matter does not require your Majesty’s sacred consideration, tomorrow to see the Bohai ambassador into the court, I face to face with the Bohai language to reply to the letter.” Emperor Xuanzong was so pleased that he hosted a banquet for Li Bai in the main hall. The poet drank happily and drank well.

The next morning, the Son of Heaven summoned Li Bai to the hall and saw that he was still drunk and his eyes were hazy, so he ordered someone to bring a sober soup. When the Emperor saw that the soup was too hot, he mixed it for him personally for a long time before giving it to him to drink. At that time, the officials were both surprised and delighted to see the Emperor treating Li Bai so kindly. They were shocked that His Majesty had given him a special favor, but they were happy that there was a rare foreign language talent in Tang. Among all the ministers, only Yang Guozhong and Gao Lux were unhappy.

When the imperial decree announced that the ambassadors would enter the court, Li Bai said to the ambassadors in the language of Bohai, “The small state has been rude, but His Majesty’s grace will not take it into account. Now we will draft a letter of reply, and you must listen to it!”

The Son of Heaven gave Li Bai to sit on a brocade couch near the imperial couch and write the draft edict. Li Bai saw that his boots were not clean and was afraid of dirtying the imperial couch. At his request, Emperor Tang Xuanzong ordered Yang Guozhong, a powerful minister, to hold the ink stone and sharpen the ink for Li Bai, and Gao Rex to take off his boots. The two powerful ministers did not dare to disobey the emperor, so they did as they were told. Li Bai sat down to write, and these two men stood to serve him.

Li Bai brushed his beard with his left hand and waved his brush with his right hand. In a short time, he wrote the edict in the language of Bohai. In front of the royal seat, Li Bai recited it in Mandarin and then read it to the ambassadors in the Bohai language. Li Bai’s voice was powerful and majestic. The ambassador was so shocked that he dared not speak out.

After the court was dismissed, the ambassador quietly asked He Zhizhang, “How big is that man’s official position in the hall? How could he make the Imperial Master hold the inkstone and the Captain take off his boots?”

He Zhizhang said, “The Emperor is a powerful minister, and the Captain is a close minister, but he is only a powerful person on earth. But the scholar Li is an immortal from heaven, who has come to help the heavenly kingdom.

When the ambassador returned to Bohai, he told the king what he had seen and heard in Tang, and presented a letter of reply from Tang. The king was amazed at the neatness and fluency of the writing in the book, and called his ministers to discuss the matter, saying, “The Heavenly Kingdom has the help of the immortals, how can we beat them?” So he wrote a letter to the king, saying that he was willing to pay tribute to the Tang Dynasty every year.

Li Bai’s excellent translation skills enabled the Great Tang to avoid a war and subdue the Bohai kingdom without making a move. A letter of state was equivalent to 100,000 soldiers, and it shocked a state thousands of miles away.

According to: The Wisdom of the World, Volume 9