The Imperial Palace, the formal Forbidden City, possesses not only the perfectly-preserved ancient architectural complex on a large scale, but also affluent historical artistic masterpieces and imperial exquisites, as well as a batch of masters called the "national treasure" studying cultural relics. However, no one would associate the fate of the masters with Xiangyang Lake if the unprecedented Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) didn't break out.
In the spring of 1970, when Shan Shiyuan was exiled to Xianning with the "big forces" from Imperial Palace, he was 63 years old beyond the retiring age. Legging from Yanjing ( today's Beijing ) to the south of Hubei Province, they couldn’t help feeling the sense of vicissitudes, just as a poem wrote, "the swallows from distinguished families fly into ordinary families' backyards". On hearing that many the May Seventh Cadre School students came from Beijing where used to be the imperial place, honest and stocky farmers from Gantang Town of Xianning hurried around to see those rare people and grab news.
Recollections lingered in mind. Shan Shiyuan was assigned to the ninth company of the second regiment. At that time, about 400 people in a company were exiled, some were three generations together, some were couples together, while he was alone. At the beginning of Cultural Revolution, he was locked into so-called "bullpen". He could bear criticism and denouncement at the public meeting, because it was a common scene at that time. But what made him awkward was, he used to never worry about daily chores under the care of his wife Huang Xin, who was left behind in Beijing, and right now he had to look after himself. Before going to Xiangyang Lake, he stayed in Jiayu County for a period of time, warding the company's bricks with some experienced experts such as Tang Lan. Because gales often came from the spacious shore, they had to rely on their own efforts and used the bricks to build a temporary shelter to protect themselves from the gales, but only one person could shatter in at each time. Seen from afar, they looked like a giant buddha in an ancient grotto temple. When they first came to Gantang Town, there was a supply store in the main street, students from the May Seventh Cadre School joked that going there was just like going to "Wangfujing" (a commercial center located in Beijing). Now that intellectuals daydreamed themselves still in the capital, Shan Shiyuan also recalled the days in Beijing: on Nov.5th, 1924, the last emperor Pu Yi was impelled from the Forbidden City, the ruling Nationalist government established the Commission on After-Care of Deposed Imperial Family. He took up the job of counting antiques of Qing court at the age of 17. On Oct.10th, 1925, as a staff in the palace, he was privileged to attend the foundation ceremony of the Imperial Palace. Due to long time working in the Imperial Palace library and literature museum, he tried out the secrets of the palace. Between 1930 and 1934, he majored in sinology as a graduate in Peking University. He wrote his graduate thesis The Chronological Table of Ministers in Charge of Commercial Intercourse, and made up an expansion to The Table of Draft History of the Qing Dynasty; after that he published Details of Archives Explanations. Therefore, he became the pioneer of historical archival science. At the same time, he was an early member of the Society for the Study of Chinese Architecture. After the foundation of PRC, He long served as vice president in charge of the business of the Imperial Palace.
Coincidently, in 452 Highland of Xiangyang Lake, Shan shared the room with Shen Congwen from Chinese History Museum. Since Shan shiyuan hadn't received his baggage, Shen Congwen offered daily appliances to him. They were both into cultural relics. Shen Congwen was employed by the Forbidden City at the beginning of winter in 1956, serving as vocational instructor in embroidering research group, and they were old acquaintances. Therefore, they often strolled and chatted together. In cadre school, Shan Shiyuan, who was not familiar with household jobs, had to adapt to new surroundings. He had to do a lot of work like heating water, reaping rice, mending dams, building houses, pasturing cattle and feeding pigs. His little finger of the left hand fractured because of excessive drudgery and couldn't extend all the year round.
Even so, he had no complaints about it. He often appreciated seagulls hovering over the river in Jiayu County, listening to birds' singing in the countryside of Gantang Town, his free and ease air reflected a kind of quietness like Chuangtzu (a great thinker in ancient China). Xianning is known as the osmanthus town throughout the country. When in the golden fall, he would like to find a big osmanthus tree for leaning on, refreshing mind and threw out all the worries.In 1971, Shan Sn was arranged to Danjiang Branch School because of his old age and disability. Soon he returned to Beijing. 25 years later, he had his daughter Shan Jiayun send a short letter to Xianning. The message was written like this, "I promised to write the work and life in Xiangyang Lake, but every time I wrote, I always dropped out , which resulted in no composition. But what impressed me most, was the beautiful realm of Xiangyang Lake and Gantang Town where the fragrance of osmanthus filled in the air and the ganoderma grew everywhere on the ground. I just reeled this off in return for the hospitality I received". This elegant inscription was attached with a sentence in four-character rhymes, in English it was"Xiangyang and Gantang, full of osmanthus fragrance in the air, full of ganoderma on the ground, is like a wonderland. Every time I think of it, I desire to run for it." (P.S. "I worked two years in Gantang Town of Xianning where I was so enchanted by its osmanthus fragrance and ganoderma that I lived there for long. After leaving there for more than 20 years, I often recalled the memories there .")
Shan was not only the consultant of the Palace Museum, but also a member of National Cultural Relic Appraisal Committee , as well as committee member of fifth and sixth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and councilor of China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification. He was also second to none because he was the only one of experts who accompanied with the Forbidden City for more than 70 years.
Xianning, its Beauty should once ignite the spark of Shan Shiyuan’s fervent love. Thus Xiangyang Lake had a gloomy
past but a splendid image today. (written by Li Chengwai)