Bill Clinton and the Nine Horse Mountain

Informant (N) is a 53 y/o Chinese woman who is a first-generation immigrant to the US and has lived in the US for around 23 years.

I: Can you tell me about the story about 九马画山 (jiu ma huà shān) we heard by the tour guide when we visited Guilin?

N: (trans.) The Nine Horse Mountain’s rock face has a lot of plants and colors, which is why it’s known as 画山. Legend has it that on this mountain you can “see” nine horses on the rock face, and it’s said that the more horses you can see, the farther that person will go in terms of accomplishments. When President Bill Clinton visited Guilin, he was very excited to see the mountain, but when he got there he wasn’t able to see a single horse, which is saying he’s not very bright.

九马画山的石壁不是有各种植物,颜色啊,所以就称为画山。在这座石壁上呢,传说是能看出九匹马,看得越多人就走的越远,也说越成就。说是Bill Clinton去桂林旅游的时候,他很期待去看这座山,但一到的时候一匹马都看不出,就说他很笨。

I: Why is it that he’s not very bright?

N: (trans.) You can at least see one horse in the mountain, but he couldn’t even see one. But of course, seeing horses is really just saying the person has a vivid imagination.



This conversation took place over the phone. The original performance of this folklore was given by a tour guide while on a boat on the [] River.


The story my informant tells me is a legend, a narrative that is based in the real world but isn’t necessarily factual—both Bill Clinton and the mountain exist, but the number of horses he saw is highly debated. This legend also acts as a subtle dig towards Clinton, which, given the fact that the original performance was in Chinese and given by someone Chinese, makes reasonable sense. Placing a person of importance in such a location also gives the location a heightened sense of fame, making it more alluring to international tourists and participate in the legend (counting the horses on the rock face), which is how belief in this legend also continues.