Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moving Mountains - 愚公移山

A few weeks ago, I made fun of myself for being an NPR Nerd (or an NPaRsehole as my friend, Andy, put it) and constantly using NPR stories in my blog posts. Well, I'm going back to another well I've been frequenting recently and am going to discuss a Peter Hessler quote on here again.

I really enjoyed Country Driving. Different from Hessler's other books. Still is excellent. Impeccably written. I may try to formally review it at some point.

There's a section of the book I liked that reminded me of an ancient fable I learned while studying Chinese when I was back in Xi'an.

I'm first going to present Hessler's piece and then the fable it reminded me of.

From Country Driving, on pages 304 and 305:
At Lishui, the exit led straight to the city's Economic Development Zone. After the peacefulness of the new expressway, it was a shock to enter the half-built industrial park, where most roads had yet to be paved. Earth movers and bulldozers worked around the clock, and rugged farmland surrounded the zone on all sides, a reminder of how this place had looked until recently. The scale of the construction project was impressive - nearly six square miles. The director of the economic zone, a man name Wang Lijiong, told me that in order to prepare for the factories they had leveled exactly one hundred and eight mountains and hills.


Every time I met an official, I scrambled to write down the numbers, and then in the evening I'd look at my notebook and wonder if they could possibly be true. But Director Wang Lijong's remark about moving one hundred and eight mountains made me stop scribbling. I asked the man to explain what he meant.

"Pretend that this is a mountain," he said, pointing at a spot on the table between us. He moved his finger a few inches over. "This is another mountain. Between them there's a valley. So we take the tops off the two mountains, and we fill in the valley. We lower the high parts and raise the low parts, and we make it as flat as possible."

"He ran his hand along the table - perfectly flat. He continued: "There's a saying here in Lishui. 'For every nine acres of mountains, there's half an acre of water and half an acre of farmland.' With such a small percentage of good land, we had no choice but to move the mountains."
And here is the fable this passage reminded me of. First, in Chinese and then my (attempt at a) translation:


于是愚公决定带领全家人搬走这两座大山,那一年他已经九十多岁了。一天,他把全家人召集到一起,说:“我想和你们一起搬走门前的两座大山,你们同意吗?” 全家人无论是儿子还是孩子都表示同意。可是愚公的妻子却说:“你已经这么老了,连石头都搬不动,怎么可能搬走那么大的两座山呢?再说,那么多的土和石头放到哪儿呢?” 是啊,这真是个问题, 大家商量了半天,决定把土和石头运到渤海去。

第二天,愚公就带着全家人开始挖山,不管是男人还是女人,都去挖土搬石, 连七八岁的小孩子也去帮忙。他们把土和石油运到大海,往返一次,要一年的时间。但是他们还是不停地挖呀运呀。不管是春,夏,秋,冬,全家人一天也没休息过。

有一个叫智叟的老人看到他们这么干,觉得太可笑了,就对愚公说:“你可太笨了,您这么大年纪了,连山上的树都砍不动,这么可能搬走大山呢?” 愚公说:“不是我太笨了,是您太没理想了,还是如女人和孩子呢。我死了,我的儿子会继续挖;我儿子死了,孙子会继续挖;子子孙孙会永远延续下去。山虽然很高,可是却不可能再长高了,只要我们坚持下去,就一定能把山搬走。”



The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains

A long, long time ago, there was an old man named Yu Gong. There were two tall mountains just in front of his family's home. One mountain was called, Taihang Mountain, and the other, Wangwu Mountain. The mountains blocked the road near the family's house. Whenever the family wanted to go anywhere, they had to traverse the mountains. Going anywhere was so inconvenient.

Because of the trouble that the mountains had caused his family, Yu Gong, a ninety year-old, decided to move the mountains. One day, he asked every family member to come together. He said: "With all of you, I want to move these two mountains, do you all agree to this?" All of Yu Gong's children and grandchildren agreed to this idea. But Yu Gong's wife said: "You are already so old. You can't even pick up a rock. How are you going to move two huge mountains? What's more, where would we put the dirt and rocks if we did move these mountains?" Yes, this was a serious question. Everyone discussed the problem for a long period of time. They decided that they should put the earth from the mountains in the Bo Sea.

On the second day, Yu Gong led everybody to start digging. Both men and women dug. Even seven and eight year-olds helped out. Everyone carried the earth with them to the Bo Sea. One round-trip to the sea took one year. Despite the difficulties, the family didn't stop. They went in spring, summer, fall, and winter never taking a rest.

A wise old man named Zhi Sou saw the family working one day. He thought they were so silly. He said to Yu Gong: "You are so stupid and old. You can't even chop down a tree. How can you move a mountain?" Yu Gong responded: "It's not that I'm dumb. It's that you don't have any ambition. You're no more capable than a woman or a small child. When I die, my children will keep digging. When my children die, my grandchildren will continue digging. Generation after generation can forever continue. Although the mountain is tall, it won't grow any taller. We just have to continue to work and one day the mountain will be gone."

Yu Gong's family continued to dig up the mountain. The two mountains' spirits both began to worry. In heaven, the spirits told Yu Di (the supreme deity of Daoism) about what was happening. Yu Di was moved by the persistence of Yu Gong's family. Yu Di then asked two spirits to come down to earth and move the two mountains.

This ancient story has taught generation after generation of Chinese people the following: no matter what difficulties you face, persist, persist, and persist and you will succeed. However, some young people today think that Yu Gong was an idiot: Why wouldn't Yu Gong just move his family? Isn't it easier to move one's house? Some people even believe that Yu Gong was a pioneer in destroying the environment. What do you think? What's your opinion of this story?
This story is in the second volume of my Chinese text book - 发展汉语.

Looking back on this fable (I haven't thought about it in some time), it doesn't exactly apply to Hessler's experience in Zhejiang Province. There might be a little bit of a connection. I don't know.

Just talking with about this story with Qian, she says that the 愚公移山 fable is a very traditional one that every Chinese person knows. She also says that it, in some ways, captures a spirit of Chinese society that goes back generations.

As the fable asks, what's your opinion of this story? Does it at all apply to the economic development that Hessler saw in present-day China?


andy said...

I can not claim "NPaRsehole" as mine, buddy of mine, Dan in Louisville, KY is where I credit it.

For more information about Dan from Louisville, KY, just look him up!

I love the term.

Mark said...

How can you write onto your blog, I thought blogger was blocked in China?

Mark said...

@Andy - Sorry for the mis-citation!

@Mark - I'm not in China now. I'm living in the US. But when I was living in China, I accessed Blogspot via proxy servers. It was annoying, but worked.