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The foolish old man who wanted to move mountains

Dave asked recently where the name 花崗齋之愚公 (Hua Gang Zhai zhi Yu Gong) comes from. In the old days, it was not uncommon for scholars to name their studio or office where they wrote. Usually the name had some connection with the location or had a classical allusion. I chose Hua Gang (Granite) Zhai (Studio) for two reasons. One, I’m a native of New Hampshire. Two, the term granite (hua gang yan 花岗岩) also can mean stubborness or obstinacy to the point of stupidity (ahem).

Yu Gong (愚公) is an allusion to the story of a foolish old man who moved a mountain that was blocking the path from his home…one rock at a time. His children told him that he would be dead before he moved it. The old man instructed them to continue his work after he was gone, replying, “My line will go on and on, but the mountain can never get taller or bigger–what do I have to worry about?” If you’ve ever worked on a dissertation, there’s something about this guy you love. There just is.

The chengyu 愚公移山 (yu gong yi shan) is a rough equivalent to the English saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” or the French vouloir, c’est pouvoir.” I thought it was a nice allusion. It’s not the most profound name, but it serves the purpose.

9 Comments on The foolish old man who wanted to move mountains

  1. 無名 - wu ming // October 17, 2006 at 10:50 pm //

    nice. more original than “anonymous,” at any rate. i love that old story, the sheer obstinacy of that man is heartening.

  2. Fantastic! I actually think it’s a great name for the blog – stubbornness, humor, and allusions to both your origin (New Hampshire) and your interest (China). Nicely played.

  3. I’d always thought a closer Chinese equivalent of “where there’s a will, there’s a way” was 天下无难事,只怕有心人. That one always delighted me just because it’s probably the only Chinese 俗话 less compact than its English equivalent.

    Incidentally, Yugong Yishan is also the name of a new music club on Gongti Bei Lu. It’s run by the same guy who used to run Loup Chante out by Qinghua, if you were ever there.

  4. 花崗齋之愚公 // October 18, 2006 at 6:47 am //


    Thanks for the compliment and thanks also for stopping by. Good to have you here.


    天下无难事,只怕有心人–I like it.

    I have been to old Loup Chante (I actually spent a week there one night to see the band meihao yaodian). I’ll have to check out the new club when I’m back in Beijing in January.

  5. davesgonechina // October 18, 2006 at 11:55 pm //

    Oh, BTW, I’m Silkworms. An old out of date blogger account kicked in.

  6. Funny. I thought you were contrasting a granite (basement) studio (apartment) with the ivory tower.

    Or were you, and I missed the explanation?

  7. 花崗齋之愚公 // October 20, 2006 at 8:05 am //


    Brilliant. It hadn’t even occurred to me. Of course, like any good academic, I should probably pinch your far more intelligent analysis and pawn it off as my own.

    Thanks for stopping by. Great comment.

  8. I suppose that while working on a dissertation you don’t want to hear this but…

    Mao used to tell that story a lot too, and for him the moral was different. In his version a spirit is impressed with the man’s sincerity and moves the mountain for him. Mao’s point, I think, was that even if what you are trying to do is crazy, and there is no way it can happen no matter how long you work it won’t matter. As long as your heart is red enough something magical will happen and everything will be ok.

  9. 花崗齋之愚公 // October 25, 2006 at 10:29 am //

    Thanks Alan,

    I hadn’t heard of Mao’s usage of the story. That’s certainly an interesting spin.

    As for the dissertation, well, either my heart will have to be Red enough or else I’m going to have to use my library card to commit 腹切り…

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