The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains

Genre: verbal lore

Category: Mythology

Collection date: Apr.27th, 2022

Main piece:  

Original script:


Full translation:

“Yugong was an old man. There were two mountains in front of his house. One is the Taihang mountain; the other is Mount Wangwu. The two mountains were so big that they blocked his way out. It was inconvenient to go out. Therefore, Yugong made a decision that he will remove the mountain. Then, he leads his family to take some stones from the mountain every day. He had a neighbor named Zhisou. Zhisou told him: ‘This is a big mountain. How can you move them? You’re doing stupid things.’ Yugong answered: ‘I can only move a little of the mountain, but I have kids, my kids will have kids, and the kids of my kids will have kids. As long as we persist, eventually, the mountain will be removed.”

Contextual data:

Social context:

This lore is one of the most prominent folktales in China. The informant learned this story from textbooks when he was in elementary school. It is often used by teachers at school to educate kids and encourage people to put effort into work. 

Cultural context:

The informant has a mixed cultural background of northern and southern Chinese. He defines himself to have a stronger connection with northern China, specifically Beijing. 

Informant’s comment:

“ The word choice in this story is smart. It uses characters’ names to metaphor bigger concepts. Yugong (愚公, direct translation: stupid man) seems to be stupid, and Zhisou (智叟, direct translation: smart man) seems to be smart. However, in fact, Yugong is a real smart man, and Zhisou only has small cleverness. I think this represents the spirit of the Chinese. As long as you pay an effort and be consistent, you can achieve your goal eventually.”

My comment: 

This is lore that has an author recorded in history. However, as it gets spread in communities, more variations of the story developed and the original author is no longer remembered by most people. Now, most people perceive this story as a tale spread through words of mouth.