Hermit / Recluse
In ancient China, this term referred to those who were capable of being an official or even a ruler but who chose to live in seclusion. They had different reasons for this. One might be that they were tired of formalities and red tape and considered such a role as hypocritical, and wished instead for a simple and natural way of life. Another reason was that some were dissatisfied with the corrupt politics of the day, and did not want to get involved, or wished to avoid being persecuted. Yet others chose to withdraw into a hermit-like way of life just because they wanted to give away their posts or positions to those who were more capable and more virtuous. Such people usually had good virtue, but they were not mainstream. It might however be considered being hypocritical to persist in such a way of life for its own sake, and be seen as dereliction of social responsibility.
Accompanying his teacher Confucius on a trip, Zilu had fallen behind. When he ran into an old man carrying a weed basket on the staff upon his back, Zilu asked: “Did you see my teacher?” The old man answered: “You can neither toil with your limbs nor tell apart the different grains. Who is your teacher?” So saying, the old man put his stick aside and set about cutting wild grass. Zilu stood there in reverence. The old man then asked Zilu to stay the night, made a chicken dish for dinner, and asked his two sons to meet Zilu. Zilu left the following day and told Confucius about this encounter when he caught up with his teacher. Confucius said: “He is a hermit.” He urged Zilu to go back and pay his respects. Yet, the old man had left when he got there. Zilu thereupon said: “It is against morality and justice to refuse the duties of an official. If etiquette between adults and children are not to be neglected, how can the responsibilities and obligations between a monarch and court officials be ignored? In seeking to maintain his purity, he has allowed human relations to fall into confusion. It is to observe morality and justice for a scholar to assume official duties. The righteous way cannot be followed through. This is rather obvious.” (The Analects)
For ancient hermits, it is not that they meant to hide their whereabouts, to shut up about their own opinions or to withhold their wisdom from application. It is rather that the condition of the times was against them. (Zhuangzi)
Some lead a secluded life in order to fulfill their aspirations, some stay away from worldly affairs in order to keep intact their morals, some enjoy a peaceful life just to contain their own hot temper, some shun danger to keep themselves safe, some consider worldly life as contaminated just to keep their moral integrity, and some just cannot accept the worldly life to seek a simpler and cleaner life. However, when seeing them reconciling themselves to working in open fields and looking unconventional and haggard, we cannot but wonder whether they really love to stay with birds and fish and are really fond of forest and grasses. It may be their own innate characters that have led them to such a way of life. (The History of the Later Han Dynasty)