Ancient Chinese Stories: The Tale of Old Man Yu Gong and The Mountain

In Xi An

Welcome back to the ancient Chinese story blog everybody. Today’s old Chinese story is very famous and I will be translating myself from Chinese Bai Hua into English. It is a rather old story that shows us something about Chinese culture; the emphasis of hard work. It shows us that the ancient Chinese just like their descendants today work very hard, but there is another moral to this tale as well. Work on something that is feasible, be passionate in your field, and anything is possible. Today’s ancient Chinese stories’ story is 愚公移山 (yu gong yi shan)。When translated from Chinese to English, the story title is The Foolish Old Man Moves The Mountain. I will leave his name as Yu Gong for my translation of the tale today. I wish I could give you some more background on the story but sadly I never found the history of this ancient tale. Just a note, I will be translating only a part of today’s ancient Chinese tale because I found out unfortunately that the textbook I have only has part of it in it.


Once upon a time there was an old man named Yu Gong, and he was almost 90 years old. In front of the entrance to his home was two big mountains, for his family, it was very inconvenient for his family to come and go. One day, Yu Gong said to his family, “These two mountains in front of the entrance, they are just too inconvenient. Why not get rid of these mountains?”

His son and grandson heard this and then said right after, “What you say is true,  tomorrow we shall start to do it!”

His wife felt it was too difficult to move a mountain and said, “Do you guys see how tall those mountains are? How can you guys move such large mountains? And where will you put so many rocks and stones?”

They all replied, “We only need to work hard, and then we most certainly shall be able to move those mountains. We can take all the stones on the mountains and put them into the sea.” On the second day, Yu Gong and his family began to move the mountain. His neighbor had children; they heard they wanted to move the mountain, and together happily they went to move the mountain with them together. They weren’t scared of strong winds, if it was raining,  in summer they feared not heat, in winter they feared not the cold, and everyday they worked nonstop. There was an old man named Zhi Sou (智叟;the wise old man) who saw Yu Gong and his family at work moving the mountain.

He thought that this was ridiculous and said to Yu Gong, “Now you are so old, and you are near the end of the road, is it really possible to move the mountains?”

Yu Gong replied, “You still don’t have a young intelligent grandson. Even though I will die soon, I still have a so, when my son dies, I still shall have a grandson. We will move the stones on the mountain little by little and it shall become smaller. If we work everyday nonstop, why should we not be able to move this mountain?” Zhi Sou heard this, and was speechless.


On a sadder note, I believe this is only part of the text, from what my Chinese friends tell me. The tale does end on a happy note for our dear Yu Gong.  The heavenly emperor heard about how hard Yu Gong was working and asked the mountain gods to move the mountains away. Yu Gong in the end, proved that anything with determination could be done and embarrassed Zhi Sou. Quite the ancient story indeed.

As I mentioned before, today’s ancient story has a nice moral to the story; work hard, and anything is possible. It also shows how determined the people of Old China, the ancient Chinese and even today will work hard. In a way, for the time this was written, that was pretty bold for any Chinese or anyone in the world at that time to say they could move a mountain.

On a note, the picture used in the Ancient Chinese Stories blog was taken in Xi An, and was at Yang Guifei’s old bathing grounds. If anyone has any nice pictures of Ancient Chinese sites, feel free to post them up. Thank you to all the people also who comment and read my blog, glad to see there are still some interested in ancient cultures of any sort. A big thanks to my friends also for seeing that the story was incomplete.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Zhang on August 22, 2009 at 8:39 am

    This story come from Han Dynasty. The writer is Lie Zi (citation needed) That’s what I know. My Chinese language teacher told me this story once. I think it’s a little bit crazy. God move the mountain away :S

    But it has a nice moral value at least, nice blog dude!


  2. Posted by Babloo on November 20, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I read Urdu translation of a similar Chinese story. It conformed to the details except that “god” is replaced with a natural ending by human hands. Perhaps it were writers own twist.


  3. what is the story, where they take the problem of moving the mountain to the wise man, and he tells them that they must do a special ritual… he tells them to take down their house (shack) put all the materials on their back, put on a blindfold, and then to do a special dance facing the mountain, which involves them moving there feet, and to do this for one whole day (or something like that). so they go and they do everything he says. they do the ritual for a whole day, and they take off their blindfolds and to their amazement, the mountain has moved! the thing that they did not know is that, when they do the dance, it leaves them one step back everytime they do the sequence!


    • Posted by Joseph Ahdoot on November 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Bo, I actually have not heard this story and it does sound interesting. If I do get the time I will put some research into it to find out more.


  4. Posted by Akinola James on September 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    What a wonderful story.


  5. The old fool are really fool,the whole family are not clever for even respond such a question,even the wise old man is not wise at all ,for the mountains are really growing taller a little bit every day,so even if you work hard for another million years , the two big mountains will still be there,even taller.


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