Eliot Weinberger

from wind and bone

four hundred years from the fall of the han to the rise of the Sui: continual war, famine, floods, peasant revolts, millions fleeing south from barbarian conquerors: the Period of Disunion: twenty-nine dynasties in the north and six in the south: “Poem Written on the Way to My Execution” becomes a genre.


The twenty-eighth of the fifty chapters in his book is called “wind bone,” wind and bone, and is the most mysterious. To express emotions one must begin with wind; to organize the words, one must have bone. He whose bone structure is well-exercised will be well-versed in rhetoric; he who is deep of wind will articulate well his feelings. It would seem that wind is sentiment and ideas, and bone is language, but Liu also says that to be thin in ideas and fat in words, confused and disorganized, is a sign of the lack of bone. And yet when ideas are incomplete, lifeless and without vitality, it is also a sign of the lack of wind. What is wind and what is bone have never been conclusively determined by the generations of Chinese critics, but what is certain, according to Liu Hsieh, is that the perfect combination or balance of wind and bone, the metaphor for the ideal poem, is a bird.