The Marquis of the Sea Exploration

Duke of Shade

Three trees are still flourishing in the Round City so impressed the Qianlong emperor in the 18th century that he conferred imperial titles upon them. The tall Chinese pine, some 800 years old, that covers the Round City like an umbrella, was dubbed the Duke of Shade; the other vintage trees to its north and south were named The Marquis of the Sea Exploration and the White-robed General respectively.

Return to Beihai Park through the north gate of the Round City. Continuing north across the fine marble bridge flanked at each end by pailous (bearing the names "Accumulated Jasper" and "Heaped Clouds"), you come to Hortensia Isle (Qionghua Dao) For many decades a number of large earthenware vats were placed at the base of the mountain to the west of the bridge, which contained a collection of marvelous goldfish genetically engineered for grotesqueness. We cannot resist quoting at length Peter Quennell's precise paean to these creatures written after his visit to Peking in the early 1930s:

         As large very often as a clenched hand, gross and torpid, softly colored and slow swimming, each of them was an Elagabalus (an eccentric Roman emperor) of the fish world, a puffy boneless sybaritic freak, accompanied when it moved by its own draperies, a tail and fins considerably longer than itself, which eddied, rippled and drooped like a gauzy train.

Imagine a group of opulent Prench bourgeoisies, inconsolable yet voluptuous in widow's weeds. They suggested the catafalque or the crime passionef the husband slayer sobbing in the dock or the Niobe-like relict of a great man oozing between the arms of her supporters...Aany centuries of cultivation lay behind them, the Bourbons and Hapsburgs of their breed, a queer comment on nature's elasticity and the Chinese passion for stretching it to the full and squeezing a strange beauty from horror and ugliness.


Osbert Sitwell, the British writer and world traveler, was similarly taken by these creatures of the shallow depths:

...and all of them have eyes that are yet more fantastic than their bodies; protruding, bulbous eyes, eyes at angles, swivel eyes, eyes at the top of their heads, eyes like those of dragons, eyes like those of German Princes in the eighteenth century....So they float, goggling at time itself, flickering and turning, clad in their draperies of sable and gold, engaged, some of them, a fter the manner of Salome, in an eternal Dance of the Seven Veils...Nevertheless, here these creatures are what—to paraphrase Walter Pater—in the ways of a thousand years, men have come to desire.