“Peach Blossom Shangri-la” (桃花源记)

Peach Blossom Shangri-la Project


Peach Blossom Shangri-la | By Tao Yuanming [1] 陶渊明

During the Taiyuan era [2] of the Jin Dynasty [3] there was a man of Wuling [4] who made his living as a fisherman. Once while following a stream he forgot how far he had gone. He suddenly came to a grove of blossoming peach trees. It lined both banks for several hundred paces and included not a single other kind of tree. Petals of the dazzling and fragrant blossoms were falling everywhere in profusion.

Thinking this place highly unusual, the fisherman advanced once again in wanting to see how far it went. The peach trees stopped at the stream’s source, where the fisherman came to a mountain with a small opening through which it seemed he could see light. Leaving his boat, he entered the opening. At first it was so narrow that he could barely pass, but after advancing a short distance it suddenly opened up to reveal a broad, flat area with imposing houses, good fields, beautiful ponds, mulberry trees, bamboo, and the like.

The fisherman saw paths extending among the fields in all directions, and could hear the sounds of chickens and dogs. Men and women working in the fields all wore clothing that looked like that of foreign lands. The elderly and children all seemed to be happy and enjoying themselves. The people were amazed to see the fisherman, and they asked him from where he had come. He told them in detail, then the people invited him to their home, set out wine, butchered a chicken [5], and prepared a meal. Other villagers heard about the fisherman, and they all came to ask him questions.

Then the villagers told him, “To avoid the chaos of war during the Qin Dynasty [6], our ancestors brought their families and villagers to this isolated place and never left it, so we’ve had no contact with the outside world.” They asked the fisherman what the present reign was. They were not even aware of the Han Dynasty [7], let alone the Wei [8] and Jin. The fisherman told them everything he knew in great detail, and the villagers were amazed and heaved sighs. Then other villagers also invited the fisherman to their homes, where they gave him food and drink. After several days there, the fisherman bid farewell, at which time some villagers told him, “It’s not worth telling people on the outside about us.” [9]

The fisherman exited through the opening, found his boat, and retraced his route while leaving markers to find this place again. Upon his arrival at the prefecture town he went to the prefect and told him what had happened. The prefect immediately sent a person to follow the fisherman and look for the trail markers, but they got lost and never found the way.

Peach Blossom Shangri-la
Peach Blossom Shangri-la

Liu Ziji [10] of Nanyang [11] was a person of noble character. When he heard this story he was happy and planned to visit the Shangri-la, but he died of illness before he could accomplish it. After that no one else ever looked for the place.


Tao’s autobiographical summary of several paragraphs, “Biography of the Gentleman of the Five Willows,” written in the third person, is a stylized tour-de-force that does not reveal much but is infused with self-abnegating simplicity.

Quiet and of few words, he does not desire glory or profit. He delights in study but does not seek abstruse explanations. Whenever there is something of which he apprehends the meaning, then, in his happiness, he forgets to eat. …

His house with surrounding walls only a few paces long is lonely and does not shelter him from wind and sun. His short coarse robe is torn and mended. His dishes and gourds are often empty, yet he is at peace. He constantly delights himself with writing in which he widely expresses his own ideals. He is unmindful of gain or loss, and thus he will be to the end.

Five Willows Path next to the entrance of Land of Illusion
Five Willows Path next to the entrance of Land of Illusion


Recluse Tradition in Society of China

“Unlike any other culture or country, China has fostered hermits and eremitism throughout its long history, with legendary and historical accounts, philosophical and religious discussion, artistic and literary presentations, and of course, actual hermits and recluses.”

“Because only the affluent and educated had the opportunity to pursue reclusion based on moral principle in ancient China, concepts of reclusion were tied directly to political and social factors affecting the moral individual. Renunciation of office, power, and security, undertaken voluntarily, was precisely the proof of integrity that distinguished the solitude of a shaman, peasant, or woodcutter living in a remote mountain or in a far-away village from the reclusion of  an urban and literate official.

This initial observation does not mean that becoming a recluse was merely the pose of a rich man who might have family money to soften the economic blow of quitting a lucrative post in the city. For many, eremitism was an uncushioned blow for the sake of moral principle. For others it was a philosophical liberation for which material simplicity or hardship was not unwelcome. And for still others of modest or poor families, reclusion was the option of an educated but principled individual. “

“The idea that office could be refused despite qualifications and ambition, or that office-holders would not feel morally obliged to exercise their talents on behalf of corrupt others, is a radical political and social idea.

Confucius concludes that a perspicacious and flexible view of the world would not only yield the individual a moral insight superior to that of other methods or interpretations but would also offer practical insight into what to do. What to do meant how to judge present circumstances and decide about participating or not participating in dangerous situations such as court life or official service. “Worthy men shun the world,” says Confucius in the Analects (14.37)… The texts attributed to Confucius … are in fact a nuanced avocation for a higher moral view pointing to reclusion as an ethical act.

… The origins of the moral hero’s values may lie in the religious concept of self-purification, secularized by the time of Confucius. Self-purification such as fasting and avoidance of sense and emotional stimulants (like music) became philosophical concepts. Thus, fasting from food became internal or mental fasting, a mental and spiritual equilibrium that involved avoidance of what worldly people value. As the Confucian text puts it, this mental fasting is a prerequisite to any other kind of perception or right judgment.

Thus a facet of popular religion in ancient China such as fasting — a form of self-purification which would be deemed a shamanic or personal requisite to communing with ancestral spirits — became a philosophical principle under Confucianism, linking ostensible asceticism with eremitism. This link was retained and extended by religious Taoism, which, however, reverted to ritual. Philosophical Taoism would refine and secularize apparent asceticism to form a stronger basis for eremitism.

Where Confucius prepared the intellectual shift from ritual to asceticism, Chuang-tzu and Taoism prepared the philosophical shift from asceticism to a philosophy of eremitism. Where Confucius might say that a mourner’s fast was pointless without a mental fast, or that service was pointless without a moral motive, Taoism would go further in saying that physical reclusion was pointless without moral reclusion.”

idyllic life
idyllic life

Around my door and yard no dust or noise.
In my bare rooms, no busyness.
After so long a prisoner in a cage
I have returned to things as they are .

Tao Qian, Returning Home


Ambition & Transcendence

[ Hongjie Wang]

Although Confucianism and Daoism have different attitudes to yinshi, the recluse tradition has a close relation with these dominative ancient philosophies which constituted the psychological foundation of Chinese intellectuals.

Confucius –  “knows the impracticable nature of the time, and yet will be doing them”.  … both Confucius and Mencius held a positive attitude towards yinshi 隐士 and their behaviors, a distinct type of Chinese yin tradition which was derived from classical Confucians, means the Confucian can hide and go into seclusion in harsh times and will return to society whenever chances come. Simply, the Confucian secludes according to occasions and necessities.

Daoist –  often seclude themselves from society and chase tranquility and spontaneity inside a personal scope.

The former holds a spirit of ambitions, while the latter would like to follow Laozi’s instructions to pursue transcendence like the nature of water.

A Confucian or a Daoist? – So when Chinese intellectuals showed their respects to the spirit of Confucius, they also looked yinshi as among their greatest social benefactors and have encouraged rather than discouraged their pursuit of the principle, however unconventional and reclusive such pursuit might seem. Paradoxically, as a traditional Chinese intellectual, sometimes he is an official in the court, but sometimes he would hide himself to pursue the natural principle; in one place he is a Confucian who would like to fulfill his political ideals, but in another place, he disappears into the mountain and lives an unknown life; even he took office with high position, fame and fortunes, he can still be a yinshi inside his heart; even when he is a yinshi in the mountain, he can also influence the politics of the state. So who is he indeed? A Confucian or a Daoist? Or the mixture of the both? Probably this is one of the reasons why Chinese intellectual can solve the conflict between virtue and politics in his heart successfully and harmoniously. Seclusion and public service can be seen as the dark and light sides of the moon, inseparable and complementary. The roles of both official and recluse are the two sides might show together in one Chinese intellectual, which help him fulfill the different ends at different periods in his life.

Garden – back to nature

Cloud Ladder - striving to the Heaven
Cloud Ladder – striving toward heaven


The project reflects on the identity holding an in-between status – yinshi 隐士(recluse of China). Universally speaking,  yinshi refers to a person disengaging from world affairs. He strives for changing the world with idealistic pursuit during a period of time, then for different reasons, withdraws into solitude, enjoys idyllic life and becomes seemingly disconnected from society, until a proper chance to step out … More specifically, within Chinese culture, a yinshi obtains personality between Doaist and Confucian. As long as retaining the inner coherence and independent thinking, he is willing and capable to adjust his position for a particular social situation.

The project also rethinks an ideal society, Peach Blossom Shangri-la, proposed by Chinese intellectual in ancient time. It is a small, isolated world built on fertile land, in where people lead a peaceful, simple lifestyle based on social equality and welfare. Later the text is developed to  popular theme in folk culture of China. The author of Peach Blossom Shangri-la, Tao Yuanming, is regarded as one of the most significant Chinese recluses as well as writers.

On “Land of Illusion” in Second Life, the performance is interpreting the theme with symbolic approaches. In the east, yinshi is idlly wandering in Peach Blossom Shangri-la; in the west, a group of people are climbing on the cloud ladder while struggling for keeping balance … The implications of symbols are listed below.


East – Meditating in Peach Blossom Shangri-la (read translation of original text on the top)

II. “Drifting Inspirations 曲水流觞” is a game in ancient China, especially popular for gathering of scholars. The rule of the game is, sitting along the winding river, the players put their cups full of wine in the upper reaches of the river and let them flow with the water. If the cup stops in front of someone, this person must make an extempore verse those who could not would be punished by having to drink.[1]

West – Climbing Cloud Ladder on Great Fire Wall

I. Confucius’ chariot implies striving in society and hoping to change the world with their idealistic principles, and persistently follow the footprint of Confucius who “knows the impracticable nature of the time, and yet will be doing them.”

II. Cloud Ladder in folk culture usually symbolizes high social positions.

Scene I: taking place at Monument ’08 (cloud ladder + Confucius chariot): a group of people (8 to 15), in both ancient China and modern clothing, are climbing the Cloud Ladder leading to the sky.  Occasionally, a few of them are falling from the clouds down to the water.
(Performers will teleport to Grand View Garden for the next scene)

Performance Schedule:
6:30PM (Second Life Time) Jan. 31, 2009, or right after “Winter Blossom” Dance performance by Story House Nightingale Group.

Red Chambers Court Yard [Second Life URL]:

Scene II: taking place at Peach Blossom Shangri-la (next to Grand View Garden): playing ancient game “drifting inspirations” by the brook streaming through “Land of Illusion,” while others are relaxingly or entertaining themselves in the garden.

Performance Schedule & Location: TBA

Discussion: Recluse &  Society

从表层来讲,在中国,隐士总是受到尊重,文人士大夫向来以推崇隐士文化来表明自己出尘脱俗的精神境界。之所以称之为隐士,是因为这些智者本可以凭借 才智,出身等跻身于官僚政客,但为了保持自由独立意志,他们选择隐居于山林,过着接近自然,远离人世间名利烦扰的田园生活。隐士文化在中国政治,文化,特 别是文学史上占有重要地位,而道家思想则是隐士文化的主导理念。略进一步的历史学观察则说明,儒家思想和行为准则亦尊崇隐士精神。在考虑将“隐士”在“太 虚幻境”中诠释时,我最感兴趣的是这种极为普遍的东方知识分子的心理状态。

In China, the recluse always receives the respect. The intelligentsia esteems the recluse culture to indicate their ideological level. We call it the “recluse,” because these wises originally may rely on their knowledge, skills, the family background and so on, to advance into the bureaucrat or politician, but in order to maintain the free, independent will, they choose to lead a idyllic lifestyle in the wooded mountain, close to nature, far away from the world fighting for  fame and fortune. However, taking a closer look into Chinese history, we can easily trace out that not only a Doaist, who obtains spiritual inheritance to becoming a recluse, but also a Confucian.

Tao's poem
Tao’s poem in Grand View Garden

I built my hut within where others live,
But there is no noise of carriages and horses.
You ask how this is possible:
When the heart is distant, solitude comes.
I pluck chrysanthemums by the eastern fence
And see the distant southern mountains.
The mountain air is fresh at dusk.
Flying birds return in flocks.
In these things there lies a great truth,
But when I try to express it,
I cannot find the words.

Tao's Peach Blossom Utopia
Tao’s Peach Blossom Utopia

Uneasy was the bird which had lost the flock;
In the evening of the day it still flew alone.
Uncertain, with no fixed resting place …
Now it has alighted on this solitary pine,
Now it has folded its wings and come home from afar.

– Tao Qian


In the virtual world performance/machinma project, Yinshi (Recluse of China), we focus on interpreting this in-between status in society: leaving or staying, withdrawing or striving, which indicates an unlimited spirit in a limited universe. This kind spirit results an inner live without boundaries, without becoming the slave of knowledge and world affairs; it recovers the energy of life, and reveals the life itself.

Endure. The world is vast. Often we can come back or move around for pursuing our vision.

Reflection. Adjust your shape to fit into it so that you won’t loss it.

Peaceful. Nothing is worth to fight for compared with one’s inner coherence.

Make your voice out, otherwise the energy will break your inner live. And this voice must be make and must be real.

Let it go. Let it be. No action before thinking. No thinking even, because thinking is action too. Observe, and come back to the inner garden, where only images live in. Beauty. Let it be. This is my life, nobody can give more or steal it. I can contribute to the world if I like. And there are people I really care about. There are actions must be taken to benefit them. For people are innocent, silenced.

Far off, I gaze at the white clouds,
I think deeply of the ancients …
I think of you, recluses:
A thousand years after, I cherish your principles.
Searching their essence, I cannot exhaust it. …
That the ancients cannot be with me
only I can know how sorely I regret it.

– Tao Qian


Preferences/Translator’s Notes

[1] Chinese nature poet, c. 365-427. This prose story is one of the poet’s most well-known works.

[2] 376-396.

[3] 265-420 (actually two sequential dynasties, the”Western” and the “Eastern”).

[4] A place in present-day Hunan Province.

[5] “…set out wine, butchered a chicken”: A stock phrase meaning to entertain a guest lavishly.

[6] 221-206 B.C.

[7] 206 B.C. to A.D. 220.

[8] A.D. 220-265.[9] The villagers would just as soon keep their existence secret.

[10] A retired scholar of the Jin Dynasty.

[11] A place in present-day Henan Province.

This translation is based on the Si Ku Quan Shu text with editorial emendations and punctuation

by the translators. It was done by Rick Davis (Japan) with help from David Steelman(Taiwan).

eText cited from: Project Gutenberg

Related Topics:

Tao Yuanming

Drifting Inspirations

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