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experiment which goes wrong

Po Chü-i, a distinguished poet of the T'ang dynasty, attempts an ancient Taoist recipe for the elixir of eternal life. The chemical experiment involves the fusing of sulphur and mercury into a substance which the poet then intends to eat. Fortunately something goes wrong, as he explains with wry humour:

'My platform of clay was accurately squared, the compass showed that my tripod was perfectly round. At the very first motion of the furnace bellows, a red glow augured that all was well. I purified my heart and sat in solitary awe. In the middle of the night I stole a furtive glance. The two ingredients were in affable embrace. Their attitude was most unexpected, They were locked together in the posture of man and wife, intertwined as dragons, coil on coil. The bell sounded from the Chien-chi Kuan, dawn was breaking on the Peak of Purple Mist. It seems that the dust was not yet washed from my heart. The stages of the firing had gone all astray. A pinch of the elixir would have meant eternal life. A hair-breadth wrong, and all my labours lost.'

Quoted Bamber Gascoigne The Treasures and Dynasties of China, Cape 1973, page 137

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