Friday, 16 October 2009

I was ready to sink into the earth with shame

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that over a thousand years ago, much like today, certain human beings were frequently making drunken fools of themselves at dinner parties and waking up the next day filled with regret. In fact, this was such a regular occurrence in one region of China that a standard form letter of apology was created by the area’s beautifully named “Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette,” copies of which were signed by hungover local officials and handed, with heads bowed, to disappointed dinner hosts—a ready-made apology for the previous night’s bad behaviour. This particular version has been dated to 865 AD.

Translation follows.

Recommended reading: Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road.

Translated Transcript

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. It was due to a vessel of my small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologize in person, but meanwhile I beg to send this written communication for your kind inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.