General Kwan’s Bamboo Poem – 关帝诗竹



I acquired this replica bamboo painting from a Chinese bookstore at Bras Basah Complex sometime in 1990 at $168. It is worth every cent. This is my favorite painting.

The painting then moved on to two other HDB flats I bought and sold. [I didn’t make any profits cuz both were resale flats. In fact, I lost nearly 50K on the 2nd flat] Now it is finally hung here in Pasir Ris. Every now and then I would just stare and admire it’s plain beauty and simplicity.

There is no original painting of the above in this world. Only replicas. Many years after the artist’s passing, someone engraved it on a stone wall. From there, replicas are made and proliferated.

General Guan Yu or Kwan Kung lived from AD160 – AD219 during the Eastern Han dynasty. That’s nearly 2,000 years ago. He is one of the best known and well loved historical icon throughout the Chinese world. His exploits are fictionised and immortalized in “The Romance of Three Kingdoms” – a great Chinese historical literature. He is revered and worshipped by the Chinese.

Let’s analyze the simple painting. There are only two stalks of bamboo with lots of bamboo leaves. We know bamboo trees can never be uprooted by strong winds. They bend and sway with the powerful winds. They are majestic and sturdy throughout all seasons.

Often Chinese artists like to draw bamboo – sometimes with pandas cuz Chinese value it’s qualities of resilience and poise. It’s timeless gracefulness and stoical existence inspire generations of artists to capture them in their works of art.

According to legend, General Kwan drew this bamboo poem. The two verses are not supposed to be written on the side of the painting. In its original, the poems were embedded or rather incorporated within the bamboo leaves. Only by examining those bamboo leaves then only the poem can be deciphered and interpreted.

Why is it written in such a way? We need to understand the circumstances under which General Kwan painted the bamboo with the hidden poem.

Actually General Kwan was under the “captivity” of Cao Cao – the most powerful warlord then. General Kwan was treated with the utmost respect and accorded full honours with limitless privileges. Cao Cao tried ways and means for 12 years to co-opt him into his army. Unlike the MIWs, neither high salary nor “directorships” tempt him. He had no monetary value and cannot be bought!

General Kwan’s loyalty to his master and sworn brother Liu Bei was beyond question. General Kwan was worried that Liu Bei might doubt his integrity. So he decided to draw the bamboo painting as a gift to Liu Bei. When Cao Cao saw the painting, he didn’t think much of it and let it pass through.

Even with my severely limited Chinese knowledge, I have memorized the two verses and could recite with ease.

The 1st verse says no thanks to the lord or host – referring to warlord Cao Cao. General Kwan declines the latter’s overtures and favours. His heart is still steadfast and loyal to his only master.

The 2nd verse tells the reader not to belittle the withered and insignificant bamboo leaf. The leaf may be withered but it will never drop. It will hang on tenaciously no matter what happened. In other words, General Kwan was telling his master and sworn brother Liu Bei that he was still loyal to him. Do not doubt his integrity. He is an honorable lieutenant.

You can imagine when Liu Bei received that painting from General Kwan, he was so much overwhelmed!

That is why in the Chinese community whether it’s the mainstream or underworld triad gangsters, General Kwan is still revered and worshipped for his code of conduct and honour. He cannot be bought. No amount of money can seduce him.

In every police station in Hong Kong, General Kwan is worshipped. The underworld triad gangsters also endorsed him. Almost all the Chinese police officers either in Hong Kong, Singapore or elsewhere and the underworld mafia honour General Kwan for his universal traits.

Even in ancient China, many successive emperors bestowed title after title posthumously to General Kwan until his status is elevated to that of King, Emperor and even Bodhisattva. Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism regard him highly as an icon of loyalty, honour and justice.

Throughout the years, I have collected some images big or small of General Kwan in different poses either in full battle gear or otherwise i.e. standing, reading or riding a horse.

General Kwan appeared in this world nearly 2,000 years ago. It looks like he will outlive us for eternity!

Read related article here.

Read about Zhuge Liang – the greatest Chinese scholar and military strategist.

Read about General Kwan from another perspective.



关帝诗竹的传说 :
传说关羽身居曹营十二年,没有被曹操的重赏厚禄而动心,仍然时时刻刻挂念着刘备,朝夕思归。后来,当他斩颜良,诛文丑之后,方知刘备在袁绍处,急切想归。但又恐自己在曹营被待为上宾,刘备疑其心变,便作画"风雨竹",借竹名佳节壮,以喻自己虽人在曹营而不辱名失节。 此画别具风格,由片片竹叶组成字的诗文。从画的鉴赏角度看,两棵竹子栩栩如生,形象逼真,字丝毫无损于画;从字的角度看,把字巧妙的揉在画中,画中带字,字画相兼,构思精巧,艺术高超。凡有幸观赏者,无不为之惊叹。 风雨竹所组成的诗是:"不谢东君意,丹青独立名。莫嫌孤叶淡,终久不凋零。"前两句形如雨竹,其意为:竹子受到人们的喜爱而享有盛名,是靠自己一年四季挺拔清秀,并不因时令的变化而盛衰。 后两句恰似风竹,其意为:莫嫌竹子叶疏清淡,但却长久青翠,永不枯败凋零。 "东君"是双关,表面上指东风、春风,说我竹子茁壮成长不以来你东风吹拂,我并不感激你什么;另一层面的意思是指"东家"曹操,因为关公当时客寓曹公。关公如今要离开曹操,护二嫂、寻大哥,并不感谢曹操的封赠。 关羽作画后,便封金挂印,保护二位皇嫂偷偷离开曹营,过五关,斩六将,立尽艰辛,终于同刘备、张飞两兄弟团聚了。 后人把这幅风雨竹画刻在石碑上,称之为关帝诗竹碑。

帘卷西风 (15/01/2009)

宁可我负天下人, 不教天下人负我。

The above Chinese article is reproduced from here.











About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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5 Responses to General Kwan’s Bamboo Poem – 关帝诗竹

  1. Mike Loh says:

    Thanks for the post. Co-incidentally I have a print of the same painting which I bought during my first trip to China over 30 years ago. As for Lui Bei, do you mean to say “Liu Bei”? Interesting that you collect General Kwan’s statues. I collect whatever I can of smiling Buddha big and small – usually bald, rotund with a big grin – reminds me of myself ha ha.


  2. Oh Thks Dr Mike for pointing the error. I mis-spelt it. I also got some laughing Buddhas. The Buddhists believe that he could be the next Buddha to return to earth and savior of mankind. Hahaha just a prophecy only. Fengshui Master Lyn Yap says if u keep a small jade laughing Buddha with you – you will be blessed with fortune and luck!


  3. dotseng says:

    Very interesting. I have learnt so much today. TQ for inviting me to your blog. Do you mind one day if I drop in to see this scroll?

    Darkness 2012


    • Sure. It gives me great satisfaction that you like my General Kwan post. If I happen to come across that bamboo painting, I will buy it for you! A gift from a fellow blogger!

      I have followed your blog regularly. Unabashedly I should add that I’m your ardent admirer.

      “举杯邀明月, 对影成三人”
      I’ve also commented on your above latest Li Ba’s verse. Beautiful lyrics indeed!

      Thank you for visiting my blog. Pls drop by when you are free.

      “Any activity that requires you to discipline the mind: work through ideas, structure your thoughts, shape them with the power of words has to add rather than subtract from the whole idea of character building”


    • gintai says:

      This afternoon, I searched the whole Fortune Centre (Fu Lu Shuo) building opposite Rochor Centre and Bras Basah complex for that elusive scroll. I can’t find it anymore. I requested the charming young lady at “Prajna Music” @Bras Basah Complex #01-71 Tel: 6336 4933 to source for me. A copy of this pic was emailed to her. Immediately, she gave a call to Taiwan to ask for it. So far … no production. I told her to let me know once they decide to mass produce it – be it in bamboo slabs/sticks form, scroll, ceramics or in whatever media where the above as in the pic is re-produced! In the meantime, we can only wait and see. Will keep you updated.


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