"A leaf of all colors plays a golden-stringed fiddle..."

The Annotated "China Cat Sunflower"

An installment in the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
David Dodd
1997-1998 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California Santa Cruz
Copyright notice

China Cat Sunflower

Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Look for awhile at the China Cat Sunflower
proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun
Copper-dome Bodhi drip a silver kimono
like a crazy-quilt stargown
through a dream night wind

Krazy Kat peeking through a lace bandana
like a one-eyed Cheshire
like a diamond-eye Jack
A leaf of all colors plays
a golden string fiddle
to a double-e waterfall over my back

Comic book colors on a violin river
crying Leonardo words
from out a silk trombone
I rang a silent bell
beneath a shower of pearls
in the eagle wing palace
of the Queen Chinee

China Cat Sunflower

Hunter has posted the manuscript of an early draft of the song in his archives.

Musical details:

Recorded on:

An enduring song in the band's repertoire, usually paired with "I Know You Rider" in concert, leading to the designation "China/Rider."

A reader writes:

Date: Mon, 08 Jul 1996 13:51:32 -0700
From: Ken Rattenne

Hi David,


Anyway, this message is in reference to China Cat Sunflower. This is purely a piece of trivia-with-a-small-T. During the period of 1971-72 and then again between 1976 and 1980 I was in a Bay Area band called China Cat, the name adopted by myself as a direct result of my love that Dead song. IN addition, we covered a few Dead arrangements of cover songs (Know You Rider, Not Fade Away). Since i was the bass player (and one of the creative forces in that band) I worked into our songs a lot of syncopation. The Dead were a big influence.

But wait, there's more. We weren't just a garage band. By 1979 we had released a single on Atlantis Records of LA and were getting lots of air play in the SF Bay Area market...the name China Cat was well-exposed during that period.

If you have time, check out my China Cat page, which (of course) features a direct link to your China Cat Sunflower page.

Ken Rattenne

Oroboros covers the song in their live performances.

In an interview in Relix (vol. 5 #2, p. 24), Hunter said: "I can sit right here and write you a China Cat or one of those things in ten minutes...How many of those things do you need...?"

In his Box of Rain, Hunter writes:

"Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know exactly what I'm talking about. It's good that a few things in this world are clear to all of us."

In an interview in Golden Road (Spring, 1991, p. 29) Hunter says:

" 'China Cat' took a long time to write. I wrote it in different settings and added this and that to it. It was originally inspired by Dame Edith Sitwell, who had a way with words--I like the idea of quick, clicky assonance and alliteration like 'See me dance the polka, said Mr. Wag like a bear, with my top hat and my whiskers, that tra-la-la trapped affair.' I just like the way she put things together. I'd have to admit that before you could trace it back that there was some influence."

(Sitwell's influence on this song may also be found in the closing line.)

The Dame Edith Sitwell poem quoted by Hunter goes like this:


'Tra la la la la la la la
See me dance the polka,'
Said Mr. Wagg like a bear,
'With my top hat
And my whiskers that--
(Tra la la la) trap the Fair.

Where the waves eem chiming haycocks
I dance the polka; there
Stand Venus' children in their gay frocks--
Maroon and marine--and stare

To see me fire my pistol
Through the distances blue as my coat;
Like Wellington, Byron, the Marquis of Bristol,
Buzbied great trees float.

While the wheezing hurdy-gurdy
Of the marine wind blows me
To the tune of Annie Rooney, sturdy,
Over the sheafs of sea;

And bright as a seedsman's packet
With zinnias, candytufts chill,
Is Mrs. Marigold's jacket
As she gapes at the inn door still,

Where at dawn in the box of the sailor,
Blue as the decks of the sea,
Nelson awoke, crowed like the cocks,
Then back to dust sank he.

And Robinson Crusoe
Rues so

The bright and foxy beer--
But he finds fresh isles in a Negress' smiles--
The poxy doxy dear,

As they watch me dance the polka,'
Said Mr. Wagg like a bear,
'In my top hat and my whiskers that--
Tra la la la, trap the Fair.

Tra la la la la--
Tra la la la la--
Tra la la la la la la la


This note from a reader:

Subject: china cat sunflower
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 1996 10:15:30 -0500
From: MADnies666@aol.com

Dear David,


Now to a couple of notes about China Cat. First, people may want to know that the poem Polka, that Hunter cites has been set to music, along with about 40 other Sitwell poems by the British composer William Walton (1902-1983). 'Polka' appears in a piece for reciter and chamber ensemble called "Facade." There are many recordings of the music, which is funny and ironic, but not many with reciter. There was one on London with Jeremy Irons but I think that it's out of print now. I believe that there is a recording with Sitwell doing the reciting on EMI or Pearl but I'm not sure. In any event anyone interested in some wonderfully witty word fantasys, and some droll music should try to hear this piece.


And in David Gans' Conversations with the Dead, Hunter says:

"I think the germ of [China Cat Sunflower] came in Mexico, on Lake Chapala. I don't think any of the words came, exactly--the rhythms came.

I had a cat sitting on my belly, and was in a rather hypersensitive state, and I followed this cat out to--I believe it was Neptune--and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there's some essence of that in the song." --p. 24

China Cat

This note from a reader:
Date: Thu, 16 May 2002 14:57:11 -0400
From: "Borner, Brooke [PVTC]"


Great website! Just wanted to mention something which you probably have heard many times before: I believe the 'China Cat' in China Cat Sunflower refers to the beckoning porcelain cats that adorn the front windows of Japanese restaurants and teahouses, etc. The figure is called is known as Maneki Neko and is believed to bring customers and wealth to a merchant's establishment. The legend of the Maneki Neko is that a traveling man, who was sitting out a storm under a tree one day, was beckoned to the porch of a nearby temple by a cat that appeared to be waving to him. When the traveler approached the cat, a lightning bolt hit the tree where he had been sitting only moments before. The grateful traveler became a benefactor of the temple and the image of the waving cat entered the popular iconography of Japanese culture forever. Most Japanese businesses even today have a china cat in the front window or above the cash register.


This note from a reader:
Subject: china cat sunflower
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 1996 10:15:30 -0500
From: MADnies666@aol.com

Also, I can't help but wonder about the Sunflower in CCS. It makes me think of two things immediately; VanGogh and Allen Ginsburg. I think the VanGogh is a stretch for while there are some psychedelic aspects to the Sunflower paintings, they really are too virulently angry and psychotic to have much connection to such a warm, childlike song like China Cat.

On the other hand, I would be surprised if anyone who had hung out in coffee houses in the early sixties and hung with Neal Cassidy would be unfamiliar with "Sunflower Sutra" by Ginsberg. The poem appears in Howl and other poems which is dedicated to, among others, Cassidy. The sunflower in this poem is more likely linked. While it is some times a dark presence, a representation of mortality, it is also a symbol of hope, of at least a once lived life. It is rather more all encompassing, somthing our worldly, joyous China Cat might be. Just a thought.


Proud-walking jingle

A reader, Joe Zomerfeld, notes that this phrase parallels the line in "The Eleven":
"Six proud walkers on the jingle-bell rainbow"

midnight sun

An oxymoron, though one which is actually applied to arctic regions such as Scandinavia and Alaska (the land of the midnight sun). Some similar flavor to the two words "Dark" and "Star" (q.v.). Compare the line in "So Many Roads"

Copper dome

This note from a reader:
From: YukisDad@aol.com [mailto:YukisDad@aol.com]
Sent: Thursday, November 21, 2002 5:41 AM
Subject: Input for China Cat

Thanks for your amazing work on the Dead lyrics. I visit often. With regard to China Cat, another vector you may want to include is:

"Proud walking jingle in the midnight sun... Copper dome bodhi..."

On the corner of Castro and 18th streets in SF, there's a bank with a copper dome. Just up 18th street is a popular bar, The Midnight Sun.



"(Sanskrit and Pali: "awakening," enlightenment"), in Buddhism, the final Enlightenment, which puts an end to the cycle of transmigration and leads to Nirvana, or spiritual release; the experience is comparable to the Satori of Zen Buddhism in Japan. The accomplishment of this "awakening" transformed Siddhartha Gautama into a Buddha (an Awakened One).
The final Enlightenment remains the ultimate ideal of all Buddhists, to be attained by ridding oneself of flase beliefs and the hindrance of passions..."
--The Encyclopedia Britannica.

Leonardo words

Maybe a reference to the fact that Leonardo da Vinci wrote in mirror script.


Both pearls and the moon are "symbols of the Buddha-nature inherent in all beings." (Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems, p. 63.")

According to Pao-chih (418-514),

Why should you look
for treasure abroad?
Within yourself you
have a bright pearl!
Quoted in Burton Watson's translations of the Cold Mountain poems, p. 73.)

Note also the parallel between the "shower of pearls" in China Cat Sunflower and the "nightfall of diamonds" in Dark Star.


For information on crazy quilts in general, see Crazy Quilt Central.

Krazy Kat

The supreme creation of George Herriman (1880-1944), the Krazy Kat strip appeared daily from 1913 to the time of its creator's death.

"There are many ways to view Krazy Kat, and it has been analyzed exhaustively. It has been portrayed as a variation on the eternal triangle of tragic romances; as a grand statement on freedom versus authority; as an allegory on innocence meeting reality; and, of course, as a comic cacophony of obsessions. The strip had a Joycean affinity, especially in its high/low wealth of language. Herriman is supposed to have once responded to these analyses with the astonished reply that he merely drew a comic about a cat and mouse." -- Marschall. America's Great Comic-Strip Artists.. pp 110-111.

The US Postal service issued a Krazy Kat stamp in 1995, as part of their comics commemoratives issue.

Check out The Archy and Mehitabel page for more samples of Herriman's work. (Not to mention the wonderful Don Marquis!)

And this note from a reader:

Dear Mr. Dodd
First of all I'd like to express my deepest thanks to you for creating such an incredible website. I have spent many hours astutely reading all of the insightful annotations. Some of them have thoroughly blown my mind. I have to say that I feel I was born in the wrong decade. Being only seventeen and an infant in the eighties, I never had the chance to see the Dead live. This, more then anything, pains me. However, I still consider myself a loyal and dedicated fan, for I feel the message behind the music is not bound by the confines of time. The first dead tune I heard was off a tape my buddy made for me. It was a version of China/Rider from the Europe 72 album. Immediately I fell in love with the music. Naturally when I first discovered the site I went strait to the China Cat lyrics. What had Jerry been saying all those years? The line "Krazy Kat peeking through a lace bandana" interested me. The footnote about the cartoon was very insightful indeed, but I couldn't help but wonder if that was really what Mr. Hunter was referring to. Recently I read On The Road by the talented Jack Kerouac. My conscienceness was soaked in a feeling of understanding and connection when I read the line where Dean referred to Sid, the protagonist, as the "crazy cat". I am sure that Hunter was a fan of Kerouac because Kerouac was one of the beat gods whom the counterculture of the sixties idealized(and rightly so). Sid, the crazy cat, is a character who is utterly excited with life itself. He travels around the country meeting new people, observing life, and immersing himself in the freedom of thought, expression, and liquor. Most of Sid observes and the "Crazy Cat" "peeks". And is peeking not observing? Of course it is. Both the song and the book fill me with a similar feeling a feeling of glee and mirth. This was a connection I simply could not let pass me by. Perhaps the assumption that the lyrics are spelled with "k's" is incorrect. Or perhaps not. Just something to think about. Once again I'd like to thank you for all your work.

-Your fellow Dead enthusiast,

In slight amendment, this note from another reader:
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 18:15:17 EDT
From: FOURGAUGE@aol.com

I am new to your site and find it so amazing!! Thank You.
I happened to be reading China Cat Sunflower and clicked on the link to Krazy Kat. A fan wrote a letter about "On the Road" by Kerouac, but i am pretty sure she used a wrong name for a character. She probably meant to type Sal, but instead typed Sid. The character is Sal Paradise, and i dont even think there is a Sid in the book at all. Minor problem, but just letting you know.
Dave Harding


A reference to the Cheshire-Cat of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865): We first meet the Cheshire Cat in the Duchess' kitchen. She is nursing a baby:
"...The only two creatures in the kitchen, that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat, which was lying on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.
`Please would you tell me,' said Alice, a little timidly, for she was not quite sure whether it was good manners for her to speak first, `why your cat grins like that?'
`It's a Cheshire cat,' said the Duchess, `and that's why."

And a little later, she meets the cat again:

"...when she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire-Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off.
The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.
`Cheshire-Puss,' she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it's pleased so far,' thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
`I don't much care where---' said Alice.
`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
`--so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation. ..."
and later,
"`By-the-bye, what became of the baby?' said the Cat. `I'd nearly forgotten to ask.'
`It turned into a pig,' Alice answered very quietly, just as if the Cat had come back in a natural way.
`I thought it would,' said the Cat, and vanished again.'"
The cat makes one more (partial) appearance, at the Queen's croquet game. She orders him beheaded, but the executioner says he can't behead the cat, since only the head is visible.

A footnote in the wonderful The Annotated Alice speculates on the origin of the Cheshire Cat:

"`Grin like a Cheshire cat' was a common phrase in Carroll's day. Its origin is not known. The two leading theories are: (1) A sign painter in Cheshire (the county, by the way, where Carroll was born) painted grinning lions on the signboards of inns in the area (see Notes and Queries, No. 130, April 24, 1852, page 402), (2) Cheshire cheeses were at one time molded in the shape of a grinning cat (see Notes and Queries, No. 55, Nov. 16, 1850, page 412.) `This has a peculiar Carrollian appeal,' writes Dr. Phyllis Greenacre in her psychoanalytic study of Carroll, `as it provokes the fantasy that the cheesy cat may eat the rat that would eat the cheese.' The Cheshire Cat is not in the original manuscript, Alice's Adventures Underground.

Other references to the Cheshire Cat in Grateful Dead and related lyrics include the early Warlocks song "Can't Come Down", and "Down the Road." (lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by Mickey Hart) on Mickey Hart's Mystery Box, with its image of Garcia disappearing in the sky, leaving just "a smile in empty space."

The evocations brought out by the use of the word "Cheshire" include all the wonderful characters and situations of the Alice stories, which were widely evoked in rock lyrics of the late 60's, most notably in the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." A case could be made for the Beatles' "I am the Walrus" as well.

Diamond-Eye Jack

The Jack of Diamonds is not a one-eyed jack, contrary to what I wrote earlier in these pages. Thanks to Daniel Freeman for the correction!

And this note from a reader:

Subject: More China Cat
Date: Thu, 25 Jul 1996 17:05:49 -0700
From: Ken.Johnson@ci.seattle.wa.us

Seems to me that the "Diamond Eye Jack" refers to the shape of eyes on the clown in a Jack-in-the-Box, the toy not the meat.

Ken Johnson (still at kenj111111@aol.com)

And another reader writes:

Q: When is a one-eyed Jack a diamond?
A: When one-eyed Jacks are wild.
(See, e.g, Doin' that Rag, "One eyed jacks and the deuces are wild")

Double E

This is a mystery phrase. I'm coming to think that it actually originated with Bob Dylan's song, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh," which includes the line:
"Don't the brakeman look good, Ma, flaggin' down the double-e...."
although I have always previously thought that it really was a type of train, probably standing for the Double Express--therefore, a fast train. Might also be a shortened version of "Double-Ender," defined in Rail Talk as "a steam locomotive built to run equally well in either direction. It had two boilers and a central cab and firebox."

See also Warren Zevon's "Poor Pitiful Me," which contains the line:

"Laid my head on the railroad track, waitin' on the Double E."

This note from Daniel S. Dawdy, maintainer of the Cyberspace World Railroad:

Date: Tue, 25 Apr 95 12:36 CDT
From: "Daniel S. Dawdy"

Hi David:

Double E - I have never heard of this myself. You may be right, however, the most popular passenger locomotive in the 40's through the 60's was built by EMD and called an E-unit. It came in many styles starting with the E2, and up to the last ones built which were E9's. They were diesel-electric and most times, on long passenger hauls, were run with other E's. Could be two, three or more. I am just guessing here and may be way off base, but that's what comes to my mind. That may be a good one for the newsgroups. I checked my definitions and came up empty.

This could mean either that a Double E is a double-locomotive diesel-electric powered train, or that it is a reference to the E2 model built by EMD. More word could be forthcoming from the diesel experts! So stay tuned...

This note from a reader: (reprinted with permission)

Date: Wed, 8 Mar 95 12:15:08 PST
From: ken johnson
To: ddodd@serf.uccs.edu
Subject: Re: Just stopped by to say

The only thing I can add to the annotation, off the top of my head, is that "double-E waterfall" to me, as a musician, meant one of those unfretted notes way up the guitar neck, that when played through a flange/echo device provides cascades of echo/overtones, in an audio waterfall.

This note from a reader:

Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 11:12:50 -0500
From: "Jonathan T. Beers"
Subject: "double-e" train lyrics
Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry" includes the lyric: "Don't the brakeman look good, Ma, flaggin' down the double-e...."
Somehow, the China Cat lyric, "double-e waterfall" doesn't feel train related to me. Not sure what it connotates to me, though. Somehow related to the E-string on a guitar, maybe?

And this note from a reader:

Subject: the double E
Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 18:07:51 -0700 (PDT)
From: Candice Y Lin


Hi, I was in the Dead class that you visited at UCSC. Thanks for coming, I found you to be a most entertaining and interesting guest. I talked to my boy friend's dad, who's a train fanatic, about the mysterious double E. I'm sure you've already come up with this explanation, but we thought it meant the Evening Express train. Anyway, thanks for coming, I work at a library too.

Candice Lin


Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 21:24:23 -0800
From: "Roserunner (Scott Baldwin)"
Subject: China Cat

Wonderful site!

I've meditated many times on the lyrics of various Dead songs. Your site adds insight to several of them.

I have a thought about the mysterious Double E Waterfall in China Cat Sunflower.

We all know Hunter is mightily interested in the Old West. A railroad buff once told me that a very popular train guage in the West of the 1880s was a Double E Guage. All trains of the period had steam engines. The boiler for those engines was stoked by a fireman. It was a hot job. Especially during the summer. Every once in a while, the train would stop at a water tower, to refill the water holding tank for the boiler. The mechanism for the refill involved a boom attached to a water tower. A hose dangled from the end of the boom, to provide some direction to the water. The hot sweaty fireman would swing the boom over the opening for the holding tank, pull the cord and let the water pour down. When the tank was full, he would close the valve, and swing the boom back out of the way.

My thought is that sometimes a fireman would pause, pull the cord for a moment, and let the water cascade over him, providing great pleasure. As Jerry said "All the golden yummies, for SECONDS at a time!" That water cascading from the train water tower sure seems like a "Double-E waterfall over my back" to me :)

Just my $.02.

Thanks for the great site.

Happy trails,

And this note from Dave Manoni, pointing to a guitary instruction site that tells of a chord called the Double E:


I was curious about the Double-E in China Cat. I went looking around and found this:


Take it easy.


Another theory:

Subject: Double e
Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2001 19:04:34 -0500
From: "Trevor Balmer"

I wanted to thank you for all your work on the site. It is absolutely one of my favorites. I do have another 'double e' reference point for the China Cat lyrics. See what you think-

While in the Army I bought some US Savings Bonds. These bonds are designated as series EE bonds. A partial tie-in to The 'I'm Uncle Sam' lyric from US Blues? Thanks again!

Trevor in Georgia

This note from a reader:

Subject: Double E
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 03:50:12 -0700
From: "Roger Stomperud"

Hi again David

About "China Cat Sunflower", the "double-e" line, if it refers to trains, means (as far as I am concerned) the type of locomotive used by the train. General Motors and their EMD (their diesel loco division) had a series of 'covered wagon' locomotives begun in the late 1930's with the FT. This was a two truck, 4 axel 1500hp loco, and it was soon replaces by the F series, another 2-T/4-A engine. For passenger service EMD developed the E series, a 2-truck, 6 axel loco with more horsepower. So to me, double-e simply means a train powered by two EMD E series locos.

The musician in me tells me that that has nothing to do with the song. It doesn't really make sense (Hunter and his cat were on Neptune when they wrote it, remember), but in music we have double flats and double sharps. And then there are double stops, perhaps more common to the violin family than the guitar, but used by both.

In "Box Of Rain" Hunter claims that he's never been asked the meaning of his lyrics for China Cat Sunflower, but he has revealed bit about where it comes from and the circumstances surrounding the writing them.

Just rambling....
Roger Stomperud

And still more mail on this line:

Date: Fri, 06 Oct 2006 16:58:10 -0400
From: Philip E. Coyle
Subject: China Cat Sunflower--double e

Dear David,
Here is my take on "double e waterfall," which seems to me definitive:

The previous line refers to a "golden string fiddle," so I have always taken it that the "double-e" refers to the Southern Appalachian Mountain fiddling technique of playing a simultaneous "E" on both your A and E strings. Thus the golden-string fiddle leads you to a musical waterfall, flowing over your back.
Ted Coyle
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Western Carolina University

And this:

Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 09:47:33 -0400
From: "Schellbach, Peter"
Subject: Double-e waterfall

I was exploring some trivia on your excellent site and got tied up on the interpretations of the "double-e" in CCS. The "double-E waterfall" has to be the guitar itself. Two E strings (high and low) and it's slung over one's back...

eagle wing palace

Compare Hunter's lyric "Invocation" from the Eagle Mall Suite:
"To the Eagle Palace with walls of water we came..."

palace of the Queen Chinee

A quote from the Dame Edith Sitwell poem "Trio for Two Cats and a Trombone":
"To the jade 'Come kiss me harder'
He called across the battlements as she
Heard our voices thin and shrill
As the steely grasses' thrill,
Or the sound of the onycha
When the phoca has the pica
In the palace of the Queen Chinee!"
See the general footnote above, under the song's title, for Hunter's comments on Sitwell's influence.
keywords: @comics, @cats, @nonsense, @cards
DeadBase code: [CCAT]
First posted: February, 1995
Last revised: October 12, 2006