Yuan Xiao and lantern riddles History of lantern riddles  

“Riddles” is one of traditional and historic expressions for implying, in the <Guo yu> called “hidden words”, <Han fei zi> called “enigmatic language”, < IV Shi Chan Qiu> called “hinting language”, “hidden”, “enigmatic” and “hinting” are the meaning of “hide and lurk”. Basically, it used some words, objects or
  movements to “replace” the real meaning in expression. It looks prosaic from outside, but inside contain deep and far meaning. The most two famous “enigmatic language” records, which were the phases that Chun Yu Kun wanted to convince Qi Wei King “there is a big bird resting in king’s garden, it has not flown and it also hasn’t cried for three years”, also Shao Ru Zi tried to admonish Wu King fighting Jing “The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind”. The first one used analogy method and the latter one also used movement. They all speak out of meaning, and really mean something, there were really typical “enigmatic language”

In these two stories, we could see some buffoonery meaning. In fact, “enigmatic language” was the trick that “comedians” used to abolish tedium and made jokes to please liege lord in early Qin and Han dynasty, it was just one kind of entertainments or games. However, someone liked Chun Yu Kun and Shao Ru Zi who used those kinds of traceless and buffooning talk to mock and remonstrate against monarch skillfully, had showed great results. Therefore, literati and officialdom started to pay attention on “enigmatic language”. Like Dong Fang Shao in HanWu monarch period, he was one of famous scholars and “implication experts”. <Wen Xiao Diao Long-Xie Yin> was written by Liu Xie had said: “Since Wei dynasty, not comedians, but gentlemen liked to use implied words and riddles”. Since then “riddle” appeared formally, and became a new literature game for scholars.

According to Liu Xie’s explanation, “riddle” was “resound its words, confused people”. The word “confuse” was intentionally to confuse people with words various usage. It could use words to make riddles was one of characteristics in Chinese Han words. In the “Cao E Bei Mi” was written by Cai Zi, Eight words “huang juan you fu wai son ji jiu (黃絹幼婦外孫虀臼)” had implied four words “jue miao hao ci(絕妙好辭)”. “huang juan” was one kind of colors (colored silk); “you fu” meant teenage girl (young girl); “wai son” meant daughter’s son (grandson); “ji jiu” meant spicy (ji was one kind of spice plants, it was often quashed in stone mortar before eating, jiu in this sentence meant ji jiu and used to take spices, combined spices as part of phase – ancient time writing). It was fully used the shape of han characters – “separated-combined character” (words could be separated and also could be combined), and it was first developed skill in riddle language.

In Han Wei six dynasty period, scholars’ riddles were spread around, and the major body was “separated-combined form” (separated or combined character). The famous Kong Rong had written a poem which hided six words “Lu Guo Kong Rong Wan Ju”; others like Yang Xiu used the word “combined (合)” to imply “one person with one mouth”; IV An in Jin dynasty had written a word “feng (鳳)” to deride JiXi as “ordinary bird”; Xu Zhi Cai in Bei Qi dynasty mocked the family name of Wang Xin,“ if it added Yan(言)”, it become the word Kuang (誑, means deceive); if added Quan (犬), it became the world Kuang (狂,means crazy); if it added neck and feet (頸足)”, it become the word Ma (馬, means horse); if it added horn and tail (角尾)”, it become the word Yang (羊, means sheep). They all use the same way to make riddles. Even in the Tang dynasty, using separated-combined form to make riddles was really popular. For example in the legend story “Xie Xiao E Chuan”, LeeGong used the riddle “車中猴,門東草,禾中走,一日夫” to imply the enemies who killed her father were Shen Lan and Shen Chun. This was a great example.
In general speaking, from Han dynasty to Tang dynasty, it was the time to originate Chinese riddle. Riddle makers often liked to use character shape and it was less formal. It was just fun to take the shape of the character.

After Song dynasty, “ShangMi(商謎)”(Shang meant discussion and study) was incited by the WaShe artists . Riddle guessing was scholars interests and became townspeople entertainments. At the same time, riddle making had a great development, it could combine with the meaning of words and opened up its imagination. For example, FoYin monk used two hundreds and fifty Tong Qian (ancient money) to make a ShangMi with Su Dong-Po. Dong-Po had to think for a while and he suddenly realized there were four words on one Tong Qian(Mou Mou Tong Bao某某通寶). If there were two hundreds and fifty of Tong Qian, it would have one thousand words. Therefore, the answer is the book called <Qian Zi Wen (千字文)>. This riddle had used the principle of “words as articles ”.

In the Song dynasty, picture riddles also had been showed. In the SongZhengHe year, painters like to hide few verses of poem in their painting. For example, they would paint several butterflies chasing after the horse which was to express the meaning of horse running fast on the field. In the painting of SuWuMuYang(蘇武牧羊), he was lying on the grass and several butterflies was flying around him which was to express the meaning of homesick. Both painting were not just paintings, they had contained some deep and far meanings. It had added the fun of the painting. Another good example was the poem made by Su Dong-Po “長亭短景無人畫,老大橫拖瘦竹筇;回首斷雲斜日暮,曲江倒蘸側山峰”(see the picture), he used the shape, length and position of character to express it. It was a very unique skill.

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