Mulberry fields (idiom)

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In China, at least since the middle of Tang Dynasty, the phrase mulberry fields (Hanzi=桑田; pinyin=sāngtián; Japanese=souden) is a metonimia for the land which was or will be covered by oceans.[1][note 1] This term is often used in Chinese literature and poetry, for example in Zuo Zhuan (comment for Chun Qiu) about the death of Duke Jing of Jin which mention the "Shaman of Mulberry Fields" (Chinese: 桑田巫; pinyin: sāngtián wū).[note 2][2][3] Along with the "blue seas" phrase, since Han Dynasty, these two phrases were combined into an idiom that has meaning about changing.[4][5]

The mathematic book shushù jìyí 数术记遗 (shushù jìyí) by Xu Yue from Han Dynasty[6] mentioned an idea about the turning of blue seas into mulberry fields.[5] Yan Zhenqing, in his literature Magu Shan Xiantan Ji (痲姑山仙墰記), wrote that on the high tops of Mount Magu could still be found the clam and oyster shells, and he also mentioned about the gardens and fields which once were under the water.[1][5]

The blue sea turned into mulberry fields[edit]

"The blue sea turned into mulberry fields" (traditional Chinese: 滄海桑田; simplified Chinese: 沧海桑田; pinyin: cānghǎi-sāngtián; fig. "the transformations of the world")[4] appears in the hagiograph works of Ge Hong, i.e. "Shenxian zhuan".[5] The idiom is composed by four characters, each has meaning: 沧 "blue, dark green; cold"; 海 "sea, ocean; maritime"; 桑 "mulberry tree; surname"; 田 "field, arable land, cultivated".[4] This idiom can also be interpreted as "time will bring a great change into the world" or "everything will be change in time".[7]

When the immortal Wang Yuan invited Magu to come to his house for a feast, after the food was being served, Magu said:

Since I became an immortal, I have seen the Eastern Sea turn to mulberry fields three times. As one across to Penglai, the water only his waist-depth. I wonder whether it will turn into a dry land once again.[1]

Wang drew a long breath and said:

O, all the sages say that Eastern Sea once again will become blowing dust.[1]

Blue seas where once was mulberry fields[edit]

"Blue seas where once was mulberry fields" (Chinese: 渤澥桑田; pinyin: bóxièsāngtián) was written on Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian. The idiom can be interpreted as "the time will bring great changing" or "the wheel of fate is spinning". Each characters of the idiom has meaning: 渤 "swelling; the gulf of Hebei"; 澥 "gulf"; 桑 "mulberry tree; surname"; 田 "field, arable land, cultivated".[4]

Literary works[edit]

A popular roman story from Korea tell of a beautiful peasant girl named Choon Hyang, who was proposed to by a noble young man named Yi Doryung. Wolmai, Choon Hyang's mother, agreed, as long as Yi Doryung was willing to give a marriage letter secretly to them and promise to never leave her daughter.[note 3] Yi Doryung wrote this letter:

Blue seas may be turn into mulberry fields, and mulberry fields may be turn into blue seas but my heart for Choon Hyang will never be changed. The heaven and earth with all the gods become the witnesses.[8]

In the end of Qing Dynasty, Prince Chun (1840-1891) lamented the destruction of Mingheyuan Garden (traditional Chinese: 鳴鶴園; simplified Chinese: 鸣鹤园; pinyin: mínghèyuán; lit. "Singing Crane Garden") by Taiping Rebellion. He wrote a sentence:

White mulberries swallowed by darkest seas, and are you not lamenting?[9]


  • "The Sea and the Mulberry Field" is a title of a biography book by Xuanlan Nguyen about her struggles to freed herself and her family from the grip of the ruling party in Vietnam.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joseph Needham, as being cited by Robert F. Campany, said that this subject gave a notion on Taoism belief, that "over vast eras", the geological change will turn the ocean into land and vice versa.
  2. ^ In this case, sāngtián can be a name or a place.
  3. ^ In Korean tradition, the marriage between a noble and commoner can't be held formally.


  1. ^ a b c d Robert F. Campany (2002). To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong's Traditions of Divine Transcendents. California: University of California Press. pp. 261–263. ISBN 9780520927605.
  2. ^ Minford, John; Lau, Joseph S. M. (2000). Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations. 1. Chinese University Press. pp. 171–172. ISBN 9789629960483.
  3. ^ May, Brian; Tomoda, Takako (2002). "The Story of Dr Huan, Duke Jing and the Shaman from Mulberry Fields". 7 (3). Journal of the Australian Chinese Medicine Education and Research Council.
  4. ^ a b c d anonim. "mulberry field". MDBG Chindic. Retrieved 16 November 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d Lu Yongxiang. A History of Chinese Science and Technology, Volume 1. Shanghai: Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 978-3-662-44257-9.
  6. ^ Helaine Selin (2013). Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 1041. ISBN 9789401714167.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ anonim (17 September 2011). "Chinese Idiom: "沧海桑田"". Ninhao. Retrieved 16 November 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ C. S. Song (2012). In the Beginning Were Stories, Not Texts. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. pp. 81–82. ISBN 9780227680230.
  9. ^ Vera Schwarcz (2014). Place and Memory in the Singing Crane Garden. Filadefia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780812291735.
  10. ^ Xuan-Lan Nguyen (2009). "The Sea and the Mulberry Field". Amazon. Retrieved 16 November 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)