The Foolish Old Man Who Moved the Mountains
This famous ancient Chinese fable from Liezi extols perseverance, determination and eagerness to surmount difficulty. Two huge mountains lay directly in front of the Foolish Old Man’s house. The Foolish Old Man, who was almost ninety years old, had to take a long detour whenever he went out. To get rid of this inconvenience, he led his sons and grandsons in chipping away at the mountains year after year. They would not give up despite jeers of the Wise Old Man, and eventually moved God, who sent heavenly spirits to move the mountains away. Originally, this fable pondered the relationship between foolishness and wisdom, the finite and the infinite, the forces of humans and the forces of nature as well as the relationship between the ways of humans and the ways of heaven. Since the Tang and Song dynasties, however, its underlying message about courage and perseverance in the face of challenge and adversity has gained increasing appreciation. Since then, the “Foolish Old Man Who Moved the Mountains” has become a synonym for forging ahead in the face of difficulties and persevering to the very end.
The Wise Old Man of the River Bend laughed at the Foolish Old Man and tried to stop him, saying, “You’re really too foolish! With the few years and little strength that you still have, you wouldn’t even be able to fell a tree on the mountain. How can you possibly move all the soil and rocks?” The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain heaved a long sigh and said, “You are so pigheaded! Even widows and orphans know better. It is true that I will die, but my sons will survive and they will have sons. Then their sons will have sons, and those sons will also have sons, and I will have endless sons and grandsons, but these two mountains will grow no higher. Why can’t they be leveled?”(Liezi)
The tales of the mythical bird Jingwei filling in the ocean and of the Foolish Old Man moving the mountains are about determination. (Yang Yi: A Record of the Jinsha Temple in Longquan County, Chuzhou Prefecture)
If everyone has the determination of the Foolish Old Man, we can move mountains; if we have the ambition of Jingwei, it will not be hard to fill in the ocean. (Cai E: A Call for Donations to the Army)