Northern Mountain's Rejection 1

Kong, Zhi-gui 2 (447-501 CE)

    The Patron God of Northern Mountain and the Guardian Angel of Temple Grass are galloping along the post road, raising dust in their wake. I pray that when they arrive at Northern Mountain, they will inscribe my words on the mountainside.

    A true hermit must be one whose outward expression reveals supreme integrity, whose thoughts are above politics and worldly interests, whose behavior is clean like white snow and whose ambition for moral achievements soars straight up to touch the clouds. In history it is not difficult to find someone with a straight stature and a reputation bright as the sunset clouds, who regards gold as no better than mustard and would discard a world of wealth as readily as he removes his grass sandals. For example, long ago people heard the sound of a phoenix from a wind pipe 3 on the bank of the Lo River, and Men Su met a lumberjack along an extended marsh 4. Indeed, such hermits existed. I do not expect people to end up with personalities that are very different from those with which they started, and change their mind back and forth like threads dyed one minute yellow and the next green. Di Mo would shed sad tears and Zu Yang would cry bitterly over such inconsistent people 5. How absurd it is to temporarily retreat to a forest with a heart polluted by vanity or to be morally clean and become soiled later. I am sighing. Zi-ping  Shang no longer exists and Chang-tong Zhong has gone forever 6. The sequestered and winding places of Northern Mountain feel lonesome. Who will appreciate them in a thousand years?

    In the present day, there is someone named Yong Zhou, an outstanding scholar. His writings are remarkable and his knowledge is broad. However, he imitates Eastern Lu and Southern Guo 7 by concealing himself in seclusion. He assumes the air of a hermit by living in Temple Grass just like the false piper 8. On Northern Mountain, he wears a kerchief 9 to fool the cloudy valley and entice the pine and laurel trees to consider him a hermit. Although he disguises himself as a hermit living by a river, his mind is tied to the high rank of nobility.

    When he first arrived at Northern Mountain, he wanted to topple Fu Chao (Man in a Nest) and uproot You Xu 10, despise all the schools of philosophers, and scorn kings and dukes. His manners were more brilliant than the sun. His integrity was as clean as the frosty air across the autumn. Sometimes he lamented that hermits were gone forever. Sometimes he complained that the noble children did not visit great Northern Mountain. He discussed emptiness described in Buddhists’ classics and verified the truth of Xuan-xue 11 with Taoists. How could Wu-guang 12 be good enough to match him? Juan-zi 13 paled in comparison.

    After the royal guards cleared the road and entered the valley on horses, and the crane-head letter 14 went to the hill, Zhou's persona galloped away; his spirit scattered; his will changed; his soul shook. During a welcome banquet, his expression was animated, his nose was stuck up in the air, and his sleeves were rolled up 15. He burned the clothing made of water chestnut leaves and tore his lotus-leaf clothing as well 16, thus exposing an ugly desire to curry favor from the powerful. The wind and clouds felt lonesome and sorrowful. The rock spring sobbed, disheartened. The forest and mountain felt that something was missing. The trees and grass lowered their heads as if they had lost their relatives.

    Later he received a golden seal and stamp pad 17, and became the Mayor of Hai-yan (sea salt) City, the leader of the surrounding towns. His heroic portrait could be seen everywhere along the coast. His fame spread over the east side of the Zhe River. He threw his books of Taoism away and stopped visiting Buddhist altars. The sounds of flogging and the noise of crowds interrupted his thoughts. Red tape and busy schedules filled his mind. He stopped singing and playing the zither, and no longer had time for wine and poetry. He was often entangled with performance evaluations for city officials. His mind was always busy determining punishment for various criminals. He wanted to exceed the past achievements of Zhang and Zhao 18, and wanted to surpass the records of Zhuo and Lu 19. He determined to outperform the distinguished officials in the Three Assistant States 20 so that his good reputation would gallop to all the governors.

    It seemed that high rosy clouds only reflected their loneliness. The moon rose by itself: it had no company. The green pine tree had no one to enjoy its shade. The white clouds had no one to befriend. The dam on the brook was destroyed. The people who left Northern Mountain would not come back. The desolate stone path craned its neck for visitors. When a whirlwind entered the curtain, a fog flowed out of a row of chambers. The tent with fragrant orchids around it was empty. The night cranes complained. The apes had mouths agape when they heard that the hermit had left the mountain. In the past, I heard that Guang Shu threw away his hair clasp to live in seclusion along a seashore 21. Now I see that Zhou has taken off his orchid 22 and put on the mayor's cap with fancy tassels. Consequently, Southern Mountain derided him and Northern Mountain laughed at him. All the valleys competed to ridicule him. All the mountain peaks were surprised and made fun of him. They sighed because Zhou deceived them and no one came to console them. Therefore, the forest felt endless shame and the brook reproached itself ceaselessly. The autumn laurel trees repelled the wind 23, and the spring lichen on the pine trees would not let the moon show its beauty. They all lavishly praised the hermits on Western Mountain 24 and severely condemned the whims of a false hermit by the eastern pond.

    Now Mr. Zhou hastens to prepare for a boat trip from Hai-yan City to the capital 25. Although he is obsessed with the imperial court, he still wants to walk along the path on Northern Mountain to look like a hermit. Shall we let the flowers feel ashamed and let the grass be insulted? Shall we allow him to humiliate the green mountain and contaminate the red cliff again? Shall we let his footprints pollute the orchid path and let him use the clean pond water to wash his ears? Let us close the mountain caves and shut the entrance of the mountain path with clouds, disperse the light mist, quiet the loud torrent, stop Zhou's intruding horses at the neighboring town, and intercept his carriage at the entrance of the valley. A fountain of grass awns bristles up angrily; galls rise in the multitude of branches. Some trees prepare to whip their limbs to break the carriage wheels and others get ready to lower their branches to sweep away the tracks of the wheels. The Patron God of Northern Mountain does not welcome a false hermit. Please turn around and go back.


1 Humor is the opposite of seriousness. For example, everyone pursues wealth and power. However, if one spends all one's energy in pursuing them, much is lost. Thus humor helps one broaden one's vision and balance one's life.

2 Kong lived in the Kingdom of Qi during the Southern dynasty. He showed his literary talent at an early age. His writings were creative, playful, and outstanding. He was a state councilor during Emperor Gao-di's reign. At the peak of his career, he was the Minister of Personnel.

3 Prince Jin, the eldest son of Emperor Ling-wang in the Zhou dynasty, loved to play a wind pipe to imitate the sound of a phoenix. He traveled between the Yi River and the Lo River.

4 Shang L 's (ca. 700-742) Comments on Anthology says, "Men Su saw a lumberjack gathering wood while traveling along an extended marsh. Su asked him, “Do you want to make your living this way all your life?" The lumberjack replied, "I have heard that a sage has a boundless heart (literally, "has no chest") that is made of morality. You need not consider me strange and have pity on me." Then the lumberjack sang two songs and left.

5 Di Mo (ca. 479-381 BCE) and Zu Yang were Chinese philosophers. Di Mo shed sad tears when he saw plain threads because they could be dyed green or yellow. Zu Yang cried bitterly when he came to a fork in the road because it could lead either north or south. He said, "I can go north or south, but I will end up a thousand miles away from my destination if I make the wrong choice."

6 Zi-ping Shang and Chang-tong Zhong were hermits during the Eastern Han dynasty.

7 Eastern Lu refers to He Yan, a sage of the State of Lu during the Spring and Autumn Period. The essay "The Abdication of Kingship" in Zhuang-zi written by Zhou Zhuang (ca. 369-286 BCE) says, "The King of Lu heard that He Yan had achieved high morals. The king intended to appoint him, so he first sent a messenger to offer him a large sum of money. Yan stayed in a ghetto and fed his cattle himself. His clothing was made of coarse material. When the messenger arrived, Yan dealt with the messenger himself. The messenger asked, 'Is this He Yan's home?' Yan replied, 'Yes!' Then the messenger handed him the money. Yan said, 'Perhaps you did not listen carefully and made a mistake. Please go back and check it out. Otherwise, your master may blame you.' The messenger went back, checked with the king, and then returned to see Yan. This story shows that Yan was truly disgusted with wealth and power."
    The essay "Treating Things the Same" in Zhuang-zi says, "Zi-qi Nan-guo sat, leaning against a tea table. Looking up to the sky and sighing, he appeared dejected as if he had lost his soul. Zi-you Yan standing by his side asked, 'Why do you sigh so sadly? Even though your body may look like a withered tree, can your heart be like cold ashes?'"

8 For the source of the following story, please see the essay "The story of Hermit Nan-guo" in Han-fei-zi written by Fei Han (ca. 282-233).
    A long time ago, a royal music band was recruiting a wind piper. Nan-guo did not know any music, but he wanted the job. He was hired, but his pipe was always silent during any concert. Since the band consisted of a hundred members, his incompetence was never detected. Later generations call Nan-guo the piper who exploited people's gullibility and tendency to complete the full number.
    Temple Grass was a temple of Taoists where hermits love to live because most hermits were Taoists. Here the sentence means that Zhou was not a hermit but wanted to look like a hermit.

9 Hermits wore kerchiefs.

10 Fu Chao and You Xu were hermits during Emperor Yao's reign. The emperor wanted to abdicate his emperorship to them. Both of them refused. This part of the sentence means that Zhou wanted to exceed these two great hermits.

11 Xuan-xue, a branch of Taoism, was a school of philosophy which prevailed in the Wei and Jin dynasties.

12 Wu-guang lived during the Xia dynasty. After Emperor Tang of the Shang dynasty conquered China, he wanted to abdicate his emperorship to Wu-guang. The latter refused and fled.

13 Juan-zi lived in the State of Wei during the Spring and Autumn Period. He loved to eat herbs. While he lived in seclusion on Dang-shan Mountain, he wrote The Book of Heavens and Men, consisting of forty-eight essays.

14 The crane-head letter refers to the imperial decree. The decree was written in the crane-head style, a form of Chinese calligraphy.

15 He was so proud and elated that he let his ego get carried away and forgot his manners.

16 The clothing made of water chestnut leaves or lotus leaves were the attire of hermits.

17 Based on the political system in the Han dynasty, an official of rank with an annual salary more than sixty quintals of grain was given a bronze seal and stamp pad.

18 Chang Zhang and Guang Zhao were great generals in the Western Han dynasty.

19 Mao Zhuo and Gong Lu were outstanding officials in the Eastern Han dynasty.

20 The Three Assistant States refers to the three states near the capital city. They are currently located in the middle part of Shaanxi Province.

21 Guang Shu (?-45 BCE) in the Han dynasty gave up his government position and lived in seclusion along the East China Sea.

22 A hermit wore an orchid flower as a brooch.

23 A laurel tree shows its graceful movement as the wind blows.

24 Western Mountain refers to Shou-yang-shan Mountain where hermits Bo-yi and Shu-qi starved themselves to death. Emperor Wu-wang of the Zhou dynasty conquered the Shang dynasty, Bo-yi and Shu-qi refused to eat the grain of the Zhou dynasty. Therefore, they retired to Shou-yang-shan Mountain, gathered herbs as their staple, and died of starvation.

25 The capital of the Kingdom of Qi of the Southern dynasty refers to Jian-kang City (present day Nan-jing-shi City). Zhou's term as mayor had expired. He was going to the capital either to renew his term or to wait for a new assignment.