Congratulations to Yuan Li on His Return to the Winding Valley
Han, Yu 2 (768 -824 CE)
There is a winding valley south of Tai-hang Mountain. In the valley, there
are rich soils, luxuriant vegetation, and sweet spring water, but few
inhabitants. Some say, "The valley winds between two mountains, so it is called
the Winding Valley." Others say, "The secluded location and difficult passage
invites hermits to meander around this valley." My friend Yuan Li lived there.
Yuan said, "I have witnessed the life of a dignitary. He is the one who does
favors for others and is celebrated during his time. While he sits in the
emperor's court, he appoints and dismisses officials, and assists the emperor in
giving orders. When he goes out, his entourage displays splendid flags and
various weapons to flaunt his importance. His guards lead the way with his
followers crowding behind, blocking traffic. Servants provide the dignitary with
supplies and services. They line both sides of the road and speed along with his
errands. If the dignitary is happy, he will reward them. If he is angry, he will
punish them. Talented people congregate around him and praise his greatness by
comparing him to historical figures. He never tires of listening to these
stories. His wives have arched eyebrows and rosy cheeks. They wear white powder
and paint their eyelids green. They are beautiful outside and brilliant inside.
Their voices are clear and melodious, and their footsteps seem weightless. While
they walk, their sleeves and the trains of their garments flow behind them. They
live lives of leisure in fancy chambers. Some are jealous; others are secure.
They compete to win their master's love with beauty and delicacy. This is the
life of a person who assumes authority and is regarded highly by the emperor.
"I have no objection to a life of high rank and would not try to escape from
it if given the opportunity. It is my fate that I cannot enjoy such a fortunate
life. I live simply in the wild and climb mountains to look into the distance. I
love to sit under a luxurious tree all day and then take a bath in a limpid
spring. The wild vegetables I gather in the mountains are delicious. The fish
caught from the water are fresh. My daily life has no set schedule. I do
whatever pleases me. I would rather be found blameless by future generations
than be honored by people around me. I would rather be free from worry than
enjoy sensual pleasure. If one does not desire a splendid carriage or fancy
clothing, he will not be punished for his greed by knife and saw. If one is not
involved in politics, his emotions will not be affected by promotions or
demotions. This lifestyle suits one who is idealistic but has no chance to
realize his dreams. I resolved to pursue this ideal.
"Suppose one serves a high-ranking official at the official's
door, busily running about to follow the trend to worldly success. His feet are
going to advance, but he hesitates to move. He wants to speak the truth, but he
does not have the courage to do so. By and by he no longer feels shame for being
corrupted. Once he violates the law, he may be sentenced to death. However, he
still wants to pursue that unattainable wealth and power by any means until he
becomes old and dies. It is easy to decide whether or not this kind of life is
After listening to Yuan's words, I admired his decision to return home.
Therefore, I toasted him and sang for him, "The Winding Valley is your paradise.
You may cultivate its land. Its spring can cleanse and can be enjoyed for its
beauty. This valley is difficult to reach. Who would want to take this land from
you? The Winding Valley is long and deep. It is so wide that you have plenty of
space to live. It is sinuous: it goes one direction and then suddenly turns
back. It is a great joy to live in this place. The traces of tigers and leopards
are remote; horned dragons have fled and hidden. The patron god protects this
land and repels ill omens. The food and drink produced here will give you a long
and healthy life. You have everything you need, what else do you desire? Let me
prepare my carriage and feed my horses. I would like to follow you to the
Winding Valley and live a carefree life."
1 After Han's friend Yuan Li was dismissed from his office, Han wrote him
2 Tui-zi was Yu Han's other first name. He was a native of Nan-yang City
(present day Meng-xian City of Henan Province). His ancestors used to live in
Chang-li City (west of present day Xu-shui-xian City in Hebei Province), so he
called himself "Yu Han from Chang-li City" When he was three, his parents died.
His brother's wife raised him. He studied hard during his early years and
mastered the Six Bibles and various schools of philosophy. In 792 CE, he passed
the Advanced Exam. At the peak of his career, he was the Deputy Minister of the
Civil Service. He was given the posthumous name "Wen" (literature) by the
emperor. While he was the Deputy Minister of the Judicial Department, Emperor De
sent an envoy to India to acquire Buddha's bones. Yu Han wrote the emperor a
letter to admonish him for his edict. Emperor De was furious and wanted to put
Han to death. Due to Du Pei and others' rescue effort, Han's punishment was
reduced from death to a demotion to the position of mayor of Chao-zhou City. His
reputation of moral courage caused a sensation throughout China. He had great
expectations for himself and regarded developing Confucianism as his
responsibility. From the Wei and Jin dynasties through the Tang dynasty,
Buddhism and Taoism were popular. Yu Han rejected them without regard for his
own life. In the early Tang dynasty, writers loved to write essays in poetry
form. Han advocated that an essay must have a virtuous theme and tried to
revolutionize literature by reverting to an ancient style. He also advocated for
replacing the contemporary essays written in poetry form with prose. Han's views
on literature greatly affected the literature of both his contemporaries and
later generations. Anthologists of later generations collected the essays of Yu
Han, Zong-yuan Liu, Xiu Ou-yang, Gong Zeng, An-shi Wang, Xun Su, Shi Su, and Che
Su as exemplary essays for literature students, and called the above eight
essayists the Eight Masters of Literature During the Tang and Song dynasties. Yu
Han was ranked first.
Dong-po Su commented on Yu Han's writing: "Chinese literature had been lifeless
for eight generations until Han published his essays. Han proposed that an essay
must have a virtuous theme. His effort in promoting virtue saved China from
drowning in pessimism."