22 February 2012

Dunhuang Letter of Regret

We've all been there.....some more than others. The wine ebbs and flows, the conversations rise and fall with each course. Pause is only taken to allow for quick quaffs of wine or hurried portions of food to be wolfed down. The atmosphere is vibrant, one feels completely at ease with the evenings company. Just as you make a mental note of how this must be one of your best dinner party outings ever you breach the topic of religion, feminism, or sexual deviance. The conversation stops immediately. All eyes turn and fix on you. People look on expectantly, waiting for the end of the sentence that will put all of this into context, as this could only be an absurd joke or play on words...... Sadly your response is to grab the nearest glass and continue quaffing.

Fair enough, this may be an ever so slightly exaggerated example, however the sentiment holds true. People may take comfort in knowing that there is, in fact, an official etiquette for dealing with such situations that dates back to the 9th Century. Created by the Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette was a template they insisted officials used to send apologies to any offended dinner guests.

The shamed diner would copy the template text, add in the concerned parties names, sign the letter and then offer it with the head bowed.

The letter was discovered in Western China and is part of the International Dunhuang Project.

The apology note read as follows:

"Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame."

Written centuries ago yet still applicable to this day.

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