The Arborist, Humpback Guo
Liu, Zong-yuan (773 A.D.-819 A.D.)
We do not know Humpback Guo's
original name. Because he was deformed, he walked bent over low like a camel
with a raised hump. Consequently, the villagers called him Humpback. After he
heard his nickname, he said, "Great! Humpback is a suitable name for me."
Therefore, he abandoned his own name and called himself Humpback.
He was born in Feng-le 1 Village, in the west part of Chang-an
City. He made a living by planting trees. In Chang-an City, fruit sellers or the
rich people who tried to beautify their garden, all competed for his service
with excellent offers. The trees he planted or transplanted all lived. They
would grow large and luxuriantly and produce more fruit earlier. Although other
arborists secretly observed him planting trees and tried to imitate his method,
still no one could equal his talents.
A man questioned Humpback about his secrets of planting trees. He replied, "I
cannot make a tree live longer and grow up. All I can do is develop a tree's
potential by acting according to the tree's nature. Thus, the roots should be
spread out and covered with old soil. Fertilizer should be distributed evenly.
After the tree is planted, the top soil should be packed. Then the tree should
be left alone. In other words, after I leave the tree, I do not return to look
at it. When I plant a tree, I treat it like my son. After I plant the tree, I
put it aside as if I am discarding it. Then the tree's nature is protected and
its potential can develop. All I do is help avoid stunting its growth. I do not
have the ability to make it grow tall and abundant. All I do is not hinder the
growth of its fruit. I do not have the ability to make the tree bear fruit
earlier and make the bounty more plentiful. Other arborists plant trees
differently. When they plant a tree, they bend the roots like a fist and fail to
leave old soil on the roots. When they feed the tree, they add either too much
or too little fertilizer. Even if they can correct their problems, they dote on
the tree too much and worry about it too often. They constantly watch it and
stroke it. After leaving the tree, they return and want to do something more to
it. They scratch its bark to check if the tree is alive. They shake its roots to
check if the soil is properly packed. By their interference, the spirit of the
tree is driven away. Although they claim they love the tree, they actually
damage it. Although they claim they worry about the tree, they actually act like
its enemy. Therefore, their trees do not grow as well as mine. I have no special
talent in planting trees."
The same man questioned again, "Is it possible to apply your method of
planting trees to politics?" Humpback answered, "I only know how to plant trees.
Politics is not my specialty. However, while I live in the village, I see that
the officials love to give orders. It seems that they sympathize with people's
ignorance, but the orders actually become disasters for the people. The
officials constantly come to say, 'We urge you to cultivate, encourage you to
plant, and will assist you with your harvest. You should reel silk and weave
cloth early. You should provide for your children and attend your livestock.'
They beat drums to gather people and strike wood to summon them. Even if we do
not take meals, we still cannot find enough time for ourselves simply because we
have to respond to these officials. How can we find peace and prosperity?
Therefore, we are sick and tired. Is such an interference similar to the
improper way of growing trees?"
After listening to Humpback's words, the man who had questioned him smiled
and said, "I have learned to govern people by asking about growing trees." I
wrote this story as a cautionary tale for a government.
1 In Chinese, "Feng" means "plentiful"; "le" means "happy".