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Li-Chung Wang

Su, Dong-po (1036-1101 CE)

Every object has its impressive feature to observe and ponder. If an object can make you think, it is enjoyable, whether beautiful or not. One may forget sorrow by drinking a fresh bottle of light wine or merely its dregs. One may keep oneself from hunger by eating only fruits and vegetables. Based on this philosophy, I will be happy wherever I go. People pray for good fortune and wish away misfortune because they regard good fortune as happiness and misfortune as sadness. People are unhappy for a number of reasons. First, one’s desire is unlimited, but the material that can satisfy one’s desire is limited. Second, to distinguish a like from a dislike is a never-ending battle in one’s heart. Third, difficult choices can lead one to indecision. Therefore, there is always plenty to lament and little to enjoy. Given such odds, it is foolish to seek good fortune and turn away from misfortune. Human beings seek good fortune and dread misfortune, not because of human nature, but rather because they are easily blinded by their material desires.

These people are consumed by their desire for an object and fail to detach themselves from the object. A fully occupied mind can change the size of the object upon which it is focused. If one becomes consumed by desire, then the object will appear big and tall. When one is confronted by the object’s overwhelming size, one will become dazed, confused, and torn in a dilemma. This is similar to watching a game through a small crack in a wall and trying to determine which side is winning. Consequently, one’s likes and dislikes will grow wild, and one’s joy and grief will follow automatically. Isn’t this human weakness a grave tragedy?

I was transferred from Qian-tang City to Jiao-xi City 1. I have been removed from the comfort of a rowboat and taken on the jolt of carriages and horses. I have left my beautiful mansion and now live in a thatched cottage. My old house faced a lake and a mountain; now my cottage is surrounded by mulberry trees and fields of hemp. When I first arrived in Jiao-xi City, we had had crop failure for years in succession, robbers and burglars were everywhere, lawsuits were backlogged, and the furnishing in my kitchen was simple and basic. All I could eat were fruits and vegetables. People started to doubt whether I would be happy here. After a year, my face was filling out and my white hair was turning black. I loved the purity of local customs and people here were comfortable with my unaffected manners as well. I tended my garden, cleaned my yard, and felled trees in neighboring Au-qiu City and Gao-mi City, to repair my cottage and make it livable. To the north of my garden there was a deteriorated stone overlook built along the top of the city wall. I made some repairs on the overlook and repainted it. Afterwards, I would often climb to the overlook along with my neighbors to sightsee and let our imaginations run freely.

Facing south, Ma-er Mountain and Chang Mountain appear and disappear indistinctly. Sometimes they look near; sometimes they look distant. Perhaps there are some recluses living there. To the east of the overlook is Lu Mountain where scholar Ao Lu of the Qin dynasty concealed himself in seclusion 2. Facing west, I see Mu-ling Pass 3. Seen from the distance, it looks more like a city wall. Perhaps it is the ruin of archways that people built to commemorate the victories of Prime Minister Shang Lü 4 and King Huan of the State of Qi. Facing north, I overlook the Wei River. It reminds me of Duke Xin Han’s achievements 5. At the same time I deeply lament that he was unable to die in peace 6.

The stone overlook is tall and stable. It is broad and bright. It is cool in summer and warm in winter. No matter whether it is a rainy or snowy morning, or a breezy moonlit evening, I am always there and my guests follow me as well. We pick vegetables from the garden, catch fish in a pond, brew sorghum liquor, cook brown rice, and then enjoy them. I said, “It is a great joy to visit the overlook.” When my younger brother, Zi-you 7, in Ji-nan City heard the story about the stone overlook, he wrote a poem for it and named it “The Transcendental Stone Overlook”. He chose the name to reflect the fact that I am happy wherever I go because I detach myself from material desires.


1 In 1072 CE, Prime Minister An-shi Wang established new law codes. Dong-po Su wrote a letter to the emperor. It said that the new law codes were inconvenient. The letter offended An-shi Wang. Consequently, Dong-po Su asked to be transferred out of the emperor’s court to another position. He was assigned to the position of judge at Hang-zhou City. After three years, he was reassigned to the position of Mayor of Mi-zhou City. Mi-zhou City was located west of Jiao-xi City.

2 Ao Lu concealed himself in seclusion on the mountain because the Founding Emperor of the Qin dynasty ordered him to sail the seas in search of the fountain of youth and he could not find it.

3 Mu-ling Pass was located west of Jiao-zhou City and is south of present day Lin-qu-xin City on Da-xian Mountain in Shangdong Province.

4 Shang Lü was Emperor Wu’s prime minister during the Zhou dynasty.

5 On the way to attack the State of Qi, Xin Han’s army crushed the troops of General Long-qie of the State of Chu at the Wei River.

6 Xin Han was later persecuted by Queen Lü.

7 Zi-you was Che Su’s alternate first name.

Translated by Li-Chung Wang

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