Why is the last sentence of "Xiang Jixuan's Record" so touching?

In the courtyard, there is a loquat tree, planted by my wife in the year she passed away, and now it stands tall and lush." When reading this sentence, it always feels particularly poignant and melancholic, but upon careful consideration, the reason is not entirely clear. This sentence is very simple and plain, so why does it touch people so deeply?

When I perused the life of Gui Youguang, I discovered that his essay “Xiang Ji Xuan Zhi” was written in two parts. The first four sections were written in 1524 when Gui Youguang was 18 years old, about ten years after his mother’s death, to reminisce about a few things related to his mother in Xiang Ji Xuan. The latter two sections were penned in 1539, when Gui Youguang was 33 years old, four years after his wife’s death.

What did he do in those fifteen intervening years? “After writing this record, five years later, my wife came to my family.” So, around the age of 23 or 24, he married a wife. How did they meet? In another essay, “A Brief Account of My Late Wife,” he wrote, “At the age of sixteen, I had a wife, a girl betrothed to me by my mother.” This means he married a girl his mother had betrothed to him sixteen years after her death, and this “Brief Account” was written the second year after his marriage, inspired by feelings after the birth of a daughter. “When I held my daughter, cherishing her, my thoughts of my late wife intensified, and in the middle of the night, we would cry together, reminiscing. I am then lost in thought, for there exist people in this world without mothers.” Imagine, he looked at his daughter at night, remembered his mother, and couldn’t help crying, while his wife could only hold him, comforting him like a child. The world is so cruel; he married the girl his mother arranged for him, and years later, when he cried out of missing his mother, it was this woman who understood his sorrow. It’s as if fate mysteriously arranged for someone to continue loving you on my behalf.

“Then, often in the pavilion, I would join her in inquiring about ancient matters or leaning over a desk studying texts. When my wife returned to her parental home, she would say to her younger sister, ‘I heard there’s a loft in my husband’s home; what is this loft?'” The latter part he wrote about post-marriage life, reading in the pavilion, with his wife often deliberately coming over to see him, sometimes asking about ancient matters, sometimes leaning on the desk practicing writing, even bragging about the loft at her parental home. These lines remind me of Nalan Xingde’s poem: “Don’t let wine disturb the heavy sleep of spring, or betting books be lost in the fragrance of spilled tea, for everything at that time seemed so ordinary.”

“Six years later, my wife died, and the room was left in disrepair.” Six years into the marriage, his wife passed away. This is evident in another piece he wrote while supplementing “Xiang Ji Xuan Zhi,” a eulogy for a servant girl named Han Hua titled “Eulogy for the Burial of Han Hua,” which begins, “The servant, a companion maid of Wei, my late wife.” It was indeed his late wife’s accompanying maid. Though he was writing a eulogy for Han Hua, every mention related to his wife, how Han Hua would tease him and his wife would laugh ceaselessly; Han Hua’s playful eating gestures, which she pointed out to Gui Youguang for amusement. In this eulogy, he recalled all the happy moments of his wife. After writing everything, it’s all about her, and yet it’s all about you too.

Stringing together the timeline: he lost his mother at 8, wrote the first four sections of “Xiang Ji Xuan Zhi” at 18, married the woman his mother had betrothed to him at 24, had a daughter at 25, lost his wife at 29, became bedridden with long-term illness and lost the servant girl Han Hua at 32, and then at 33, he took up “Xiang Ji Xuan Zhi” again to write the final two sections.

The first half reminisces about his mother, and the second half mourns his deceased wife. Just like that, he entombed the two most important women in his life within the same text. In the blink of an eye, it’s a century of life, where love is but a fleeting moment outside of order.

All these writings were from the early years of Gui Youguang’s hardships when he came from a declining family, repeatedly failing the imperial examinations. It was right after he finished supplementing the text the second year that he finally passed the exam. Yet, he failed eight more times afterward, experienced remarriage, the loss of his wife, and the death of his son, until nearly 60 years old when he finally passed the highest imperial examination. Six years later, he died from a serious illness.

It then dawned on me that it’s not the recorded emotions that are profoundly touching, but rather it’s how the text hides the many helplessness and regrets of life within the flow of time, embodied amongst the lush greenery. We can only try to comprehend the intricate and indistinct sorrows and yearnings between the lines over time. The emotions of past and present are indeed interconnected.

Why is it so moving? I believe it’s because one day you and I will eventually dissipate, but the loquat tree in the courtyard will remember.

I’ll share a story of mine, which is actually my grandmother’s story.

The moment that evoked emotions wasn’t due to a heartbreak but during the winter break of my junior year in college. My grandparents raised five children, with two aunts marrying far away, and my father, being the youngest son, lived with my grandparents. The year I was born, my grandmother planted an apricot tree in front of our house. The tree was as old as I was. During my childhood, in March, the apricot blossoms would bloom fragrantly, covering the tree in white and pink, and a gust of wind would bring down a sweet-smelling rain of petals. This tree grew up alongside me, even though I rarely got to eat its apricots. The year I was taking the university entrance exam, my grandmother fell seriously ill and passed away two weeks before I received my admission notice. Later, I left my hometown to attend university. In my sophomore year, my parents sold the old house and moved to a new one in the city center. People can move away, but the tree could only stay. That winter of my sophomore year, when I went back to see the tree, someone had inexplicably sawed off a long branch. I felt a deep pain in my heart, as if I couldn’t even preserve the last thing my grandmother left behind. During the summer break of my junior year, when I visited the tree again, it was full of lush greenery, thriving and robust, bringing a slightly sour sentiment to my heart, seeing the tree as if seeing my grandmother. My grandmother’s life, following my grandfather here and there, has seen the bustling world, the avarice of desires, the pretense of integrity, and the truth in simplicity, a life of twists and turns, an ordinary yet legendary existence. Now, only this tree full of crisp sounds remains; besides me, who else knows the stories behind it? It has been eight years since my grandmother left, the apricot tree still stands, and I, having left my hometown, have never again seen the apricot blossoms in full bloom. The courtyard has an apricot tree, planted by the hands of my grandmother in the year of my birth, now flourishing within my heart.

The textbook we used was the Su-Teaching edition, and this particular piece wasn’t emphasized, but I remember reading it once and being moved to tears. However, my admiration isn’t limited to the last sentence; I also cherish the preceding descriptions, the way the wind moves shadows and the lovely, leisurely pace of it all. I always imagine what that scene might be like.

I don’t agree with making fun of ancient people. Perhaps he had a second wife, which, under the societal norms of his time, was completely normal. His first wife, his mother, and even the elderly women in his home were all equally cherished individuals in his heart. Judging ancient people’s marital ethics with modern standards is merely a way to attract attention.

He expressed genuine emotions, and we felt them.

“I have previously studied the ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi Style.’ The creation of this style is systematic. To write in this style, one can attempt the following:

① Writing should be simple yet filled with scattered life details.

② Focus on memories, with a significant time span, selecting details from different time periods.

③ The conclusion should be filled with realism, describing harsh realities with emotionless words.

By mastering these three points, one can write in the plain and simple yet profoundly moving ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi Style.’

Below is a sample article written by “Kaikai550” on Weibo (http://weibo.com/kaikai550?from=myfollow_all), which fully embodies the above three points. Please feel free to watch and appreciate it: http://t.cn/zHdhl8V (QR code for automatic recognition).

“It’s probably because ‘the time you’ve been away from me has allowed a small tree to grow with lush branches and leaves.’ It’s very simple, but you can sense the author’s longing for his wife in it.

“I believe that what makes this sentence great is its implicit and plain language. Such unspoken emotions are the most touching. Similar sentences include the following:

  1. Dad’s flowers have fallen. I’m no longer a child.

  2. 1997 has passed, and I miss it greatly.

  3. You’ve lived for a whole twenty-six years, and I’ve lived longer, it’s been thirty-eight years now.

  4. It’s as if all the birds have found their trees, and the vast land has become truly clean and pure.

To add a note, many words sound exceptionally moving, not because the sentence is exceptionally well-written, but because of the touching stories behind them. For example, this sentence from “Dream of the Red Chamber”: even a primary school student can write, ‘It’s snowing outside, and the earth is so clean.’ It’s not the same thing at all. Only those who have read “Dream of the Red Chamber” and understand the impermanence of life can appreciate the profound meaning behind this sentence.

Hello, Li Yinhe! Those who don’t know Wang Xiaobo might feel nothing special about this sentence. But if you’ve read Wang Xiaobo’s love letters, you’ll understand how lovely this sentence is.

“A sentence I came across, it gave time a measurement and turned longing into something countable.

“Gu Youguang’s Complete Interpretation of ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi’ - ‘Why is the last sentence so moving?’

Gu Youguang’s complete interpretation of ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi’ by Professor Fu Peng: https://www.zhihu.com/video/1563136551869210624

This sentence at least conveys the following information: the loquat tree was planted in memory of his wife’s passing. “Today it stands tall and flourishing,” indicates that his wife has been gone for a long time. On a deeper level, it reveals that for all these years since his wife’s passing, he has been cherishing her memory. How much sorrow and longing can be conveyed with just one character, “矣”! Though the words are simple, the emotions are truly profound and sincere!!

The most potent catalyst of emotions in this world is time.

Upon closer examination, you’ve been gone for so long!

This is my favorite classical text, true to its genuine nature and good conscience! I believe that what makes ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi’ touching lies not only in its skillful use of literary techniques to derive significance from the small but also in its resonance with the commonality of the human soul.

  1. The helplessness of humans in the face of death—life and death are grand—but the past is past.

  2. The longing of humans for true love—kindred spirits are hard to find—his wife is both a dear companion and a close friend, but he does not express it explicitly.

  3. The nostalgia of humans for time gone by—the past is like smoke—tears flow as they gaze at the loquat tree, lamenting that they too have grown old.

So deep within us, we feel the need to cherish life; cherish good friends even more; and most importantly, cherish the present moment.

A lonely grave a thousand miles away, no words can express the desolation.

In the courtyard, there is a loquat tree, which my wife planted in the year of her passing. Now it stands tall and flourishing.” - The last sentence of ‘Xiang Jixuan Zhi.’ This is a profound remembrance of the departed. Seeing an object triggers thoughts of a person, and with this glimpse of the loquat tree, the bygone time is filled with love.

Because within this time, there are memories of the person we miss and the things they missed, the entire span of years becomes heavy and dense. This is the weight of time, and also the weight of life.

As one reaches old age, when the colors of time fade away, washed away by the river of time, the only thing that remains is this heavy longing, it’s the abstract anchor of your life in this concrete world, sometimes it’s just this anchor that makes a person’s life full of strength. It makes you feel that this life is worth living.

A few days ago, we mentioned Marcel Proust, the French writer who proposed that tastes and details observed can evoke deeply stored and profound memories in the mind. This is known as the “Proustian Effect,” named after the writer himself.

Clearly, this loquat tree serves as an inducer for Gu Youguang’s “Proustian Effect.”

Gu Youguang, a prominent writer in the Ming Dynasty. His writings are simple in language but profound in meaning. Even Wang Shizhen, a renowned Confucian scholar of his time whose literary views differed significantly from Mr. Gu’s in his earlier years, praised his writings in his later years, saying, “They flow like water when the wind is blowing, becoming literature. When the wind subsides, they are forgotten like water. Trimming and adding decorations, the words are extravagant. When he returned to the Jiangnan region, he excelled even Chen Liang. Gu Youguang, a master for a thousand years, following in the footsteps of Han and Ouyang. I may have been reluctant in the past, but now I deeply admire.”

One of his representative works, “Xiang Jixuan Zhi,” explores the various ups and downs of the “century-old house” in Xiang Jixuan. It interweaves memories of his grandmother, mother, wife, and nurse, expressing feelings of the presence of loved ones even after they are gone and the changes of the world. The remembered individuals each have their own stories, all related to family trivia, yet rich in human warmth.

This article is included in “The Collected Works of Mr. Zhencuan,” and the last sentence of the text is the most touching: “In the courtyard, there is a loquat tree, which my wife planted in the year of her passing. Now it stands tall and flourishing.”

“亭亭如盖” (tall and flourishing) represents the prosperity of this world, and it is precisely this prosperity that alleviates the loneliness of his deceased wife at the quan台.

When you take a look at this loquat tree, it reminds you of your wife’s appearance and smile. You recall the laughter and conversations between your wife and her sisters when she returned home. Imagine the moment when this woman, speaking to her sisters from her family, must have been radiant with happiness when she said that her family had a pavilion. Because this pavilion was the place where she and Mr. Zhencuan lived.

This one glance, this loquat tree, suddenly pulls the author back to the past, just like Proust at that time, when he took a bite of the Madeleine cake. All at once, the floodgates of memory are thrown open.

When you read this sentence, did you feel as if your five internal organs and six viscera were pulled for a moment? Not painful, but it made you unable to come back to your senses for a while.

As an inadequate student of the humanities, I cannot provide answers based on my acquired knowledge.

Here’s a somewhat biased one:

When my grandmother passed away, I attended her funeral without shedding a tear. I didn’t even feel sad.

Three months after her passing, while standing outside a pastry shop, I contemplated whether to buy some pastries. She had a sweet tooth. But then it suddenly struck me that she wasn’t here anymore, and I burst into tears outside the pastry shop.

Her belongings were still there, and the people she had spoken to were still around. It’s just that she wasn’t there anymore.

Maiden’s Angry Response!

When I studied this in high school, the teacher asked us which sentences or words in the article were well-used. I said, “The last sentence, blablabla, said so much!” I wanted to answer this question! (Sorry, I got a bit too excited.)

Here’s roughly what I meant:

First, it’s about life and death, the ups and downs, but the author ends it with a simple sentence. It’s more heart-wrenching than something like, “I miss you so much!!!““It’s terrifying how many years have passed!” If you bring in more backstory and plot, you’ll feel the helplessness and sadness of human life even more.

Second, it resonates with the readers. If the reader also happens to know the impermanence of life and how time flies, they’ll understand the author’s true feelings and relate it back to their own lives, so it has an impact.

Third, the artistry. The author doesn’t directly say, “I’ve grown old” or “You’ve been gone for a long time,” but it feels like following a clue to open a door and discover a scene, seeing a tree that instantly brings back memories of the past. There’s a feeling of suddenly hitting the funny bone (sorry for the inaccurate metaphor, but I hope you understand) and being deeply affected, similar to the works of Dazai Osamu.

Fourth, I personally think the word “矣” (yǐ) is very important, and it can be translated as “了” (le). It gives a sense of seeing through the world, experiencing countless hardships, and finally smiling with resignation. “了” indicates completion, and it immediately conveys the long span of time while expressing a serene sorrow. Many sentences are changed with the addition or removal of “了,” and I encourage you to try some examples yourself.

Fifth, concretization (with some overlap with the third point). Time is abstract, and it’s not easy to imagine being in the moment. However, when it’s associated with a loquat tree, it becomes more vivid. For example: “Grandma carried a basket, as if carrying the distant past.” (Well, this might be a bit of a different stylistic technique, but the framework is similar.)

Now, I’m a sophomore, and I regret not majoring in language and literature. Instead, I became a miserable medical student. Sigh.

To be honest, this sentence is incomprehensible to most high school students. It is only through experiencing the ups and downs of life that one can truly empathize.

Grieving without sorrow, lamenting without harm, sincere emotions, deep and lasting sentiments. This is a classical Chinese text I really like. When I read it as a child, I felt deeply moved. Even though I knew little as a child and my understanding was vague, the emotion was clear and palpable. It’s strange why others didn’t feel anything while reading it, but I felt a sense of sadness and a vivid picture in my mind. Now I understand that almost everyone has similar experiences around them. Few truly take the time to feel, observe with spirituality, and appreciate the joy that a single word or a sentence can bring, the deep emotions they can evoke. Being top of the class doesn’t matter, getting into a prestigious school doesn’t matter, earning a six-figure income doesn’t matter. Few can truly understand this kind of sentiment. As time passes, I feel that every word and sentence strikes the heart, and I’m filled with a thousand emotions. Additionally, I remember reading “Wo Yu Di Tan” by Shi Tiesheng, and I felt that these two pieces of writing share something in common. Genuine sentiments truly converge on different paths. Even now, I can’t help but go back and read them again, often finding myself inexplicably moved.

I’m still a bit excited to reply for the first time. Please bear with me.

I believe the reason why the last sentence of “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” is so touching is because it is mournful yet not heartbreaking, and it carries a lingering resonance. The time you’ve been away from me has made a tree age, indicating how enduring my longing for you is. It doesn’t mournfully say that your absence has turned my hair white, but rather, it appears to use objective events to reflect subjective emotions, only revealing a hint of nostalgia that can be felt through reminiscence. It reminds me of the movie “In the Mood for Love” (I’m not sure if the analogy is appropriate), where even the deepest emotions are expressed in the most subtle way.

The “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” is mainly divided into two parts: the first part consists of four paragraphs, and the second part consists of the fifth and sixth paragraphs. Let’s briefly go through them:

Paragraph 1

The opening describes the dilapidation of the house. However, the author still finds warmth in it and sweeps the room to pursue learning. Immersed in academics, he appreciates the natural beauty and finds solace in it. “The wind moves, the shadows sway, and it’s lovely” - recalling the beauty in memories.

Paragraph 2

Transitioning from joy to sorrow, the author recalls his childhood in Xiang Jixuan. The scene of his mother knocking on the door and asking, “Are you cold? Do you want to eat?” still vividly lingers. He narrates the old objects and his grandmother’s expectations of him.

Paragraph 3

He recalls a time when he was so familiar with the pavilion that he could recognize it by the sound of footsteps, expressing gratitude that Xiang Jixuan was not destroyed.

Paragraph 4

In his youth, he compares himself to historical figures who lived in humble dwellings, feeling as high as the heavens.

The above four paragraphs are the original text, and this article was supplemented by the author, Gui Youguang, with the last two paragraphs.

Paragraph 5

Five years later, his wife entered his home, often asking about his past in this pavilion or learning to write at the desk. She would also inquire about the stories she heard from her family about others’ chambers. Later, his wife passed away, times changed, and the house deteriorated without repair. Two years later, the author, suffering from a long illness,

had the house renovated since there was nothing else to do. However, after the renovation, the house seemed different from before. Since then, I have spent most of my time away, hardly living in Xiang Jixuan anymore.

Paragraph 6

In the courtyard, there is a loquat tree planted by my wife in the year of her death. Now it has grown lush.

The above is a brief summary of “Xiang Jixuan’s Record.”

From the author’s perspective, in the first half, we can see a sense of freedom and unconstraint, not bound by external things, some nostalgia for childhood, reminiscing about the past, but also carrying expectations, youthful arrogance comparing oneself to the heavens. There’s a sense of “setting clear goals in a humble abode, lurking in the fields, waiting for the day to embrace aspirations.”

But as we move forward, the scene changes. The author doesn’t mention his youth but begins to talk about the mundane life with his wife after marriage in this house. He even mentions his wife discussing other people’s chambers with her sisters from her family. This part is interesting, as the opening of the text says, “Xiang Jixuan, an old southern chamber.” According to the author’s interpretation, it implies that the current pavilion was transformed from an old southern chamber. When the wife discusses her sisters' chambers, this contrast seems to suggest that the author’s house is better than theirs.

Compared to the youthful mindset of comparing oneself to historical figures like Liu Cao and Kong Ming, this adds complexity to the narrative. There’s a sense of silently mocking oneself for not achieving anything. Worse still, the sentence “Afterward, six more years passed, my wife died, and the house, in disrepair, was not repaired” seems to bring sorrow. Comparing this to the author’s clear goals and aspirations when he wrote “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” as a young man, it has been eleven years, and the author seems to narrate his lack of achievements and how his wife passed away, and the house, now in disrepair, was left unrepaired. It’s like losing the ambition of his youth.

Afterward, two more years passed (thirteen years in total), and “I was bedridden for a long time, bored with nothing to do, so I had someone renovate the southern pavilion.” The author, bedridden from a long illness, perhaps started contemplating his past self. Maybe the pain made him see things differently, so he dared to confront the Xiang Jixuan that he once put so much emotion into. But this part doesn’t explicitly say it; it uses “bored” and “then” to convey a strong sense of sadness, as if the young man who once wrote “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” was now ashamed to revisit his past.

“Its structure was somewhat different from before, but I spent most of my time away, hardly living in Xiang Jixuan anymore.” This part is open to interpretation. Energetic people may see it as a continued effort, unwavering commitment. Those with a more subdued perspective may feel that maturity brings stability, and he has given up on the ambitions of his youth. Ultimately, this is a matter of personal interpretation. In the end:

“In the courtyard, there is a loquat tree planted by my wife in the year of her death. Now it has grown lush."

Regarding the question of why the last sentence of “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” is so moving, let’s look at this sentence again.

From the author’s perspective, the entire text, filled with youthful spirit, childhood memories, nostalgia, expectations, aspirations, disappointments, and resignation, all converge in this loquat tree. With a simple “lush,” it conveys a myriad of emotions, making those who are in pain feel more pained and those who are nostalgic even more nostalgic. It’s different for each person:

*Viewing it from the perspective of an adult’s sorrow, it may seem as if the lofty goals and ambitions of youth have given way to acceptance of one’s fate. It’s a feeling of “the dictionary of adults doesn’t contain ‘easy.'” *For those who have achieved success, perhaps in the year of his wife’s death, he regrets setting lofty goals, and “lush” may signify that he has achieved something significant and hasn’t let down his past self. *From the perspective of a beautiful love story, the young and passionate youth, who once cared only about fame and entrusted his dreams to the world, now, even if he achieved nothing, still talks affectionately with his wife, perhaps laden with regrets. “Lush” may represent thick regret or the flourishing of longing, much like the saying “water you drink yourself is cold and warm.”

In the end, it’s a personal interpretation. What’s truly moving is not the loquat tree planted by Gui Youguang but the reflection of one’s past self.

I participated in the Ye Shengtao Cup essay competition in junior high school and was fortunate to win the second prize. If you don’t mind the length, please take a look.

The Old House

Grandma was getting old, and the house she lived in seemed old as well. At one end of the village, there was a winding path, like a ribbon, leading to a well on one side and several small houses on the other. I can’t help but wonder how much effort the elderly folks put into building such houses: thick stone walls, low windows, always reminiscent of the appearance of small mountain villages in movies.

When Grandma and Grandpa were strong, they also built beautiful houses. When my second uncle got married, we moved to a multi-story house, and Grandma and Grandpa started managing their old house.

Although the old house was old, Grandma cherished it like a temple. The walls were covered with paper, the walls were filled with paintings, and the floor was swept countless times a day. At dusk, with wisps of cooking smoke in the air, the old house was filled with Grandma’s chatter, filled with warmth. I could feel that it was a painting of warmth in a small village.

In the spacious courtyard, fruit trees were planted, one by one, by Grandpa and Grandma in many springs. When the flowers bloomed in spring, the whole yard was filled with fragrance. Looking at this tree, it’s beautiful, and that tree is also beautiful. The scent of the flowers, thick and sweet, as they shuttle between them, their figures rippling in the midst of the flowers. On scorching summer days, the persimmon tree opened its large umbrella, and Grandpa would sit under the tree, sipping tea leisurely, admiring the greenery he had planted with his own hands. I would stand on the low branches, calling out, laughing foolishly, and my clear calls would make Grandpa laugh heartily.

The one who guarded the old house was a little dog named Suli, brought from relatives’ homes in Zhucheng, a very majestic little dog. Grandpa always liked to call its name while stroking its furry head, and Suli always looked gentle. Every time we came back to our hometown, before we even saw each other, we could hear its welcoming barks from afar. After so many years, Suli, like the stone house, seemed to have grown old.

Listening to Grandma, during busy farming seasons, Grandpa would often place a basket of apples on a handcart and carry me, shuttling between the small paths in the fields. In front of the old house, as soon as Grandpa pushed the small cart out, I would happily dance.

Winter came and spring went, flowers blossomed and fell, and the old house peacefully accompanied the elderly and my childhood. I gradually grew fond of the old house, and my feelings for it grew deeper. After Grandpa passed away, Dad and my second uncle repeatedly advised Grandma to move in with each of us. Grandma always said with sadness, “Isn’t this house good? When I can’t walk anymore, I’ll go to your place…” Grandma’s eyes were full of attachment.

To the east of the old house, there was an apricot tree that Grandpa planted when he moved here years ago. Now it has grown tall. How much it resembles a large umbrella, tightly and affectionately leaning against the old house…


The last two paragraphs were added by my dad when he helped me revise the essay. When I studied “Xiang Jixuan’s Record” in high school, I suddenly realized and almost cried.