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The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains

The Taihang and Wangwu Mountains, which had a periphery of seven hundred li (1) and were a hundred thousand feet high, originally lay south of Jizhou and north of Heyang.

The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain, nearly ninety years of age, lived behind these mountains. He was unhappy about the fact that the mountains blocked his way to the south and he had to walk round them whenever he went our or came back, so he called the whole family together to talk about the matter. " What would you say," he said to them,"if I suggest that all of us work hard to level the two mountains, so as to open a way to places south of Yu Prefecture and the Han River?" Many voices said they agreed to the idea.

But his wife had her doubts. "With your strength," she said, "you could hardly remove a small hill like Kuifu. What could you do with the Taihang and Wangwu Mountains? Besides, where could you deposit the earth and rocks.?"

"Carry them to the shores of the Bohai Sea and north of Yintu," said several people.

The old man, helped by his son and grandson who could carry things, began to break rocks and dig earth, which they carried in baskets and dustbins to the shores of the Bohai Sea. The seven-year-old son of a widow named Jingcheng, one of the old man's neighbours, came running up to offer his help. One trip to the sea took them a long time: they left in winter and came back in summer.

The Wise Old Man at the River Bend stopped the old man. He laughed and said, "How unwise you are! At your age, old and feeble as you are, you cannot even remove one hair on the mountain, let alone so much earth and so many rocks!"

The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain heaved a long sign and said, "You are so conceited that you are blind to reason. Even a widow and a child know better than you. When I die, there will be my sons, who will have their sons and grandsons. Those grandsons will have their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity. But the mountains will not grow. Why is it impossible to level them?" The Wise Old Man at the River Bend could not answer him.

The Old Man's words were heard by a god with snakes in his hands. He was afraid that the old man would really level the two mountains, and reported the whole thing to the Heavenly God. Moved by the old man's determination, the Heavenly God ordered the two sons of Kua'ershi to carry the two mountains on their backs and put one east of Shuo and the other south of Yong. After this, there were no more mountains between Jizhou and the Han River.

from Lie zi (Writings of Lie Yu Kou)




(1) li: Chinese unit of length.



The Cowherd and the Girl Weaver

On the east bank of the Heavenly River(1) lived a girl weaver, daughter of the Emperor of Heaven. She worked hard year in and year out, weaving colourful clothes for gods and goddesses.

Since she lived all alone, the emperor took pity on her and allowed her to marry the cowherd on the west bank of the river. However, she stopped weaving after she was married. Greatly outraged, the emperor forced the girl back across the river and allowed her to join her husband only once a year.

from Xiao Shuo (Folk Tale)


On the seventh day of each autumn, magpies would suddenly become bald-headed for no obvious reasons at all. According to legend, that day the cowherd and the weaver met on the east bank of the river, and magpies were made to form a bridge for them. And for this reason the down on their heads was worn out.

from Er ya yi (Book of Plants and Animals)


(1) The Heavenly River: the Milky way.



Chang'er Flies to the Moon

Yi got some elixir from the Queen of the West, but his wife Chang'er stole it and flew away with it to the moon. Thereafter she lived on the moon in the form of a toad, and was called the Moon Spirit.

from Huai nan zi (Writings of Prince Huainan)



People of ancient times said that there was a bay tree and a toad on the moon. Some strange books even said that the bay tree was five thousand feet tall, and that under it there was a man chopping at it all the time. However, the tree healed itself immediately after each cut. This man, who cam from Xihe, bore the name of Wu Gang. He had done something wrong while learning to become an immortal, and as a punishment was made a life-long tree chopped on the moon.

from You yang za zu (Notes from Youyang Mountain)



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