Cultivation Stories of Ancient Chinese Poets: (Part 1) Preface

Mei Songhe

PureInsight | January 27, 2003

[] Before people began to divide historical records into two parts, real history and fables, cultivation was a given concept in everyday life. In contrast, modern Chinese no longer take the cultivation concept as a given. It is when humankind continued to separate himself from gods and started to deny the existence of gods that the concept of cultivation ceased to be part of people's daily lives.

Despite people's disbelief in cultivation nowadays, traditional cultivation has never ceased to exist. There was no way for people to know the existence of those genuine cultivators who cultivated in secluded mountains, forests, or Buddhist or Taoist temples. No matter how many there were, people just did not believe in their existence. But the truth is that there were also many cultivators throughout history who remained members of our everyday society. As a Chinese idiom puts it, "A minor hermit hides in the mountains; a major hermit hides in the cities." The historical records left behind are those who had distinguished social positions and wrote extensively. Those countless cultivators who had no distinguished social positions or written records are forever forgotten in the endless flow of history.

A commonly shared problem among modern historians is that they tend to study the historical personages from an existing fixed perspective that they are very familiar with. As a result, they often fail to see a historical figure as a three-dimensional person. If we allow ourselves to have a new perspective on prominent Chinese literary figures, we would discover that many renowned Chinese poets and litterateurs in history were also cultivators.

Allow me to give you an analogy. Standing on top of the same mountain will only grant us a view from that mountaintop. Therefore, to command a different view, one must climb to the top of a different mountain. In the upcoming series, "Cultivation Stories of Ancient Chinese Poets," we will introduce selected renowned poets and intellectuals from Chinese history who were also cultivators. We will thus obtain a fresh view of Chinese poets and intellectuals from a different mountaintop.

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