River Snow 江雪

On reading River Snow, by Liu Zongyuan, one cannot help but wonder what he means by the two Chinese characters 江 river 雪 snow.

Online, there are multiple images by Chinese artists depicting snowy scenes on  river banks, including Early Snow on the River (江行初雪)* by artist Zhao Gan (10th c.); and the considerably later Whirling Snow on the River Bank (藍瑛 江皋飛雪圖立轴 絹本設色 明代 )** by Lan Ying (1639).

I could try and give the characters a meteorological interpretation, but this would not be poetic or accurate. I suppose that River Snow is one of those concepts like musical notation, it must be seen and felt to be understood.

I could also give the characters a Taoist and Buddhist interpretation with river representing life’s journey and winter its lateness. I will leave that up to the reader.

One who has stood on a frozen lake or by a river full of ice and seen the snow whirling about in crystals that are blue and white might have a sense of Liu Zongyuan’s real meaning which is sensory rather than verbal.

And a wonder to behold.


*江行初雪 incorporates the two Chinese characters for river and snow (first and last characters) but translates literally as river trip early snow.

**藍瑛 江皋飛雪圖立轴 絹本設色 明代 translates literally as blue crystals,  river marsh, whirling snow, a figure standing in an arbor, silk, paint, Ming Dynasty.


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