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Visiting Bao-chan Mountain

Wang, An-shi 1 (1021-1086 CE)

    Bao-chan Mountain is also called Hua Mountain 2. Monk Hui-bao of the Tang dynasty lived here and was buried here, so the mountain was named after him. The current location of Hui-kong Zen Temple was the former site of Hui-bao痴 home and then his tomb. Three miles east of the temple is Hua-yang Cave 3. The cave gains its name because it is located on the southern side of Hua Mountain. A little more than one hundred feet away from the cave there is a tablet that has fallen over, lying on the path. Wind and rain have weathered the characters; all that remains legible is "Hua Shan 4". Today we call it Hua Mountain because in Chinese "colorful" and "flower" are pronounced almost the same 5 and misinterpretation gradually changed the name of the mountain. Inside the cave, the floor is flat and expansive. There is a spring coming from the side wall. On this wall many people have recorded their travels. This cave is called the Front Cave. Three miles further uphill, there is another cave which is deep and far-reaching. It was chilly as we entered it. When we asked people how far the cave extends, we found that even the most experienced visitor had not reached its end. We call this cave the Recessed Cave.

    My two friends 6, two brothers 7 and I entered the cave, carrying a torch. As we went further into the cave, it became more difficult to proceed and the sights became more beautiful and remarkable. One individual who lacked an adventurous spirit wanted to leave, so he said, "If we do not leave now, the fire will die out." Therefore, we all left with him.

    We had only reached one tenth of the furthest known distance traveled into the cave. Even so, we noticed that there were fewer visitors' etchings to the left and right. The further depths were even less frequently traveled. At that moment we still had the strength to continue and our fire was sufficient for a while. After we exited, some of the others blamed the cowardly one for cutting our expedition short. I also regretted that we followed his request to exit, and thereby failed to make the most of our adventure.

    Consequently, I sighed: When our forefathers observed the heavens, earth, mountains, rivers, grass, trees, insects, fish, birds and beasts, they often gained insight by expanding the breadth and depth of their thoughts. If a place is near and flat, there are many visitors. If a destination is remote and risky, few people arrive. The most beautiful and marvelous sight is often found in a remote and dangerous location that people rarely attempt to reach. Thus, one cannot reach one's destination unless one has the will. Even if one has the will to continue despite others giving up, he will still not reach his destination if he lacks strength. Even if one has the will and the strength, and does not give up when others do, one still cannot reach one's destination unless one has the tools to overcome the dark and uncharted path. However, if I have the ability to reach my destination but I fail to do so, for others it is laughable, for myself it is regrettable. If I have done my best, but I cannot reach my destination, at least I will not suffer regret and others will not have reason to criticize my failure. This is what I have learned from my experience visiting Bao-chan Mountain.

    As for the tablet lying on the ground, I lamented that the old writing could not be properly understood because of misinterpretation. Actually, there are many objects and locations whose names and true meanings later generations fail to preserve. This is why a scholar must contemplate and approach truth prudently.


1 Jie-fu and Ban-shan were An-shi Wang's alternate first names. He was a native of Lin-chuan City of Fu-zhou County during the Northern Song dynasty. Lin-chuan City is now called Lin-chuan-xian City which is located in Jiangxi Province. In 1042 CE, An-Shi Wang passed the Advanced Exam at the young age of twenty-two. Xiu Ou-yang wrote a poem to congratulate him. It said, 鄭s I grow older, I pity myself for my unfulfilled ambitions./ Talented as you are, who can compete with you from now on? This shows that Ou-yang valued Wang highly. Later, Wang followed Ou-yang's teaching and dedicated himself to writing Chinese classics. He became one of the Eight Greatest Essayists during the Tang and Song Dynasties.
    During Emperor Shen-zong's reign, Wang was appointed prime minister twice. He served his first term between the ages of forty-nine and fifty-four and his second term between the ages of fifty-five and fifty-six. While he was the prime minister, he attempted to make political reforms by establishing new law codes for agriculture, irrigation, transportation, the tithing system, and enlisting laborers. However, his reforms failed. Many historians attribute the failure to his practice of appointing the wrong people to execute his plans. In 1076 CE, Wang resigned his position as prime minister.
    Before Wang, China's Civil Services Exams were based on the ability to write poetry. Wang made a drastic change by using the analysis of the Six Classics for the exam topics. He wrote the essay, "In a Neighborhood, Virtue Is Beautiful" as a model. Thus, he took the lead in writing the stereotyped form of Chinese literary essays. This change greatly influenced later Chinese scholars' approach to studying.
    As revealed in the essay "Visiting Bao-chan Mountain", Wang had a strong character that allowed him to persevere. He also had an amazing ability to think and to organize. He claimed that the purpose of literature is to serve society, that its content must be true and virtuous, and that ostentatious expressions are not as important as virtuous themes.

2 "Hua" means "colorful".

3 "Yang" means the southern side of a mountain.

4 "Hua Shan" means "Flower Mountain".

5 There are four basic tones in Mandarin (the Beijing dialect). The first tone (-) starts near the top of a speaker's voice range and continues on that level until the end. The second tone (/) starts at the mid-range and rises rapidly to the top of the range. The third tone () starts below mid-range, dips to the lowest pitch, and rises above mid-range. The fourth tone (\) starts near the top of the range and falls very rapidly toward the bottom. Flower (huā) and colorful (hu ) [the tone mark is placed over the main vowel letter] are two examples.

6 "My two friends" refers to Jun-gui Xiao and Hui Wang. Jun-gui Xiao, a.k.a. Jun-yu Xiao, was a native of Lu-ling City, present day Ji-an-xian City of Fu-jian Province. Hui Wang, a.k.a. Shen-fu Wang, was a native of Chang-le City, present day Chang-le-xian City of Fujian Province.

7 "Two brothers" refers to An-guo Wang. a.k.a. Ping-fu Wang, and An-shang Wang, a.k.a. Chun-fu Wang.