To an Old Friend Lost in Tibet

Dear Friend, Where are you now?

Chinese (Han) and Tibetan (Fan) armies battled for centuries in the regions west of China. There was the important Silk Route to protect and valuable jade found in Xinjiang province. Yuezhi (identified in the first line of the poem) refers to nomadic tribesmen who settled in the grasslands of the eastern Tarim Basin area (Xinjiang). These include Tibetans.

To an Old Friend Lost in Tibet

Mei Fan Guren
(to be without) (Tibet)(old friend)

To an Old Friend Lost in Tibet

Last year you were sent to Yuezhi,
Beneath the fortress wall the army disappeared.
Between China and Tibet I’ve heard no news,
Between the living and the dead, a long farewell.
No one gathers up an empty tent,
Gives back a horse or a tattered flag.
Wishing to make sacrifice but unsure,
So, I’ll cry at this time to the ends of the earth.



Mei Fan Guren

Qiánnián shù yuè zhī, chéngxià méi quán shī.
Fān hàn duàn xiāoxī, sǐ shēng cháng biélí.
Wúrén shōu fèi zhàng, guī mǎ shí cán qí.
Yù jì yí jūn zài, tiānyá kū cǐ shí.

By Zhang Ji (c. 766–830)

Battle of Talas, 751

China and Tibet fought at various times during the Tang dynasty. They also concluded alliances for short periods. In the mid 650s, the Tibetans fought the Tang dynasty over control of the Tarim Basin. This battle seems to early for our poet. Zhang Ji could be referring to the Battle of Talas (751) that took place in Central Asia near present day Kyrgyzstan. Tibetan forces allied with an expanding Muslim army to defeat the Tang forces. Yuzhi may refer to the enemy that encountered the Tang forces. Fan 蕃 referring to Tibet and Han 漢 to the Chinese people. Also, the An Lushan Rebellion (755 to 763) caused a massive disruption of the Tang dynasty, including the fall of its capital Chang’an, the emperor fleeing to Sichuan, and, for a period of time, no news between the west and the east. Tibet, for a time retook man of its former holdings, and even temporarily, Chang’an. The Uighurs, another nomadic tribe, entered the picture and helped restore a semblance of order, with the loss of the Tarim Basin to the Uighurs.

Notes on Translation

Fan , Tibet

故人 guren, old friend; Wuren 無人, no one

Qiannian 前年, the previous year, last year

Yueshi 月支, another name for tribes living west of China’s Gansu province, ancient Bactria.

Si sheng 死生, life and death.

Tianya 天涯, the opposite end of the earth. The Tianshan mountains are to the north of the Tarim Basin. tiānyá kū (cry) cǐ (this) shí (time). Zhang Ji is creating an anniversary date to make sacrifice and honor his old friend who may or may not have died.

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