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The Overlook Levitating above the Clouds

Su, Dong-po (1036-1101 CE)

   If one lives at the foot of Zhong-nan-shan Mountain, it is appropriate that one's food, drink and daily life be connected to the mountain. Among the mountains in all directions, Zhong-nan-shan Mountain is the tallest. Among the cities surrounding Zhong-nan-shan Mountain, Fu-feng City is the closest. People in Fu-feng City should, therefore, visit Zhong-nan-shan Mountain frequently. However, Mayor Chen of Fu-feng City did not even know that Zhong-nan-shan Mountain existed. Although the mayor's obliviousness did not cause any damage to the mountain, it would have been more appropriate to give the mountain due attention. His guilt over his lack of proper regard, contributed to his later desire to build an overlook on the peak of Zhong-nan-shan Mountain.

   Before the overlook was built, Mayor Chen strolled around its location with a cane. Because there were woods blocking his sight, the surrounding mountain peaks looked like a group of hair buns of people who were traveling on the other side of a wall. Mayor Chen said, "There must be wonderful scenery behind the woods. I wish I could see more." Consequently, he ordered workers to dig a square pond in front of the planned overlook and use the removed soil to build an overlook until its height reached that of a house roof. Later people who climbed to the top of the overlook did not feel that it was an artificial one. It seemed that the mountain protruded out from its top and formed this overlook naturally.

   Mayor Chen said, "It should be called the Overlook Levitating above the Clouds." Then he told his subordinate, me, to write a story about the overlook. Therefore, I told him, "One cannot predict when a structure will start being created, nor when it will be completed, nor when it will deteriorate. When this location was a wilderness, full of weeds, covered by dew and frost, harboring fugitive foxes and snakes, could anyone have predicted that an overlook would be built here? Construction and deterioration follow each other and form an endless cycle. Thus we cannot know when this overlook will once again become wilderness. I climbed this overlook with you in the past. To its east used to stand Qi-nian and Tuo-quan Palaces of King Mu-gong of the State of Qin. To its south used to be hunting grounds and the worship palace of Emperor Wu-di in the Han Dynasty. To its north used to be Ren-shou Palace during the Sui dynasty, renamed Jiu-cheng Palace during the Tang dynasty. These palaces were so magnificent, beautiful and solid that this overlook would pale in comparison. However, when one attempted to search for the rough outlines of the palaces after a few generations, he could not even find a broken ceramic shingle or a collapsed wall. The locations where the palaces used to be had already become fields of rice and corn, or hills of briers. By comparison, how long will this overlook last? Thus even a solid overlook cannot last long, not to mention sudden coming and going of personal wealth. If one intends to boast his architectural creation to please himself, then he would be wrong. There are things in this world that can last, but they have nothing to do with this overlook." After telling the above story to the mayor, I went home to record the event.