The Peach Colony – Shi Wai Tao Yuan
During the reign of Taiyuan of Chin, there was a fisherman of Wuling.
Lesson / Koan : Seasons are signals.
One day he was walking along a bank. After having gone a certain distance, he suddenly came upon a peach grove which extended along the bank for about a hundred yards. He noticed with surprise that the grove had a magic effect, so singularly free from the usual mingling of brushwood, while the beautifully grassy ground was covered with its rose petals. He went further to explore, and when he came to the end of the grove, he saw a spring which came from a cave in the hill.
Having noticed that there seemed to be a weak light in the cave, he tied up his boat and decided to go in and explore. At first the opening was very narrow, barely wide enough for one person to go in. After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were bamboos and mulberries; farmers were working and dogs and chickens were running about. The dresses of the men and women were like those of the outside world, and the old men and children appeared very happy and contented. They were greatly astonished to see the fisherman and asked him where he had come from. The fisherman told them and was invited to their homes, where wine was served and chicken for dinner to entertain him. The villagers hearing of his coming all came to see him and to talk. They said that their ancestors had come here as refugees to escape from the tyranny of TsinShih-huang (builder of Great Wall) some six hundred years ago, and they had never left it. They were thus completely cutoff from the world, and asked what was the ruling dynasty now. They had not even heard of the Han Dynasty, not to speak of the Wei (third century A.D.)and the Chin (third and fourth centuries). The fisherman told them, which they heard with great amazement. After a few days, he took leave of them and left. The villagers begged him not to tell the people outside about their colony.
The man found his boat and came back, marking with signs the route he had followed. He went to the magistrate’s office and told the magistrate about it. The latter sent someone to go with him and find the place. They looked for the signs but got lost and could never find it again.
In the East, “Shangri-la” means an ideal living place, like the Garden of Eden or heaven in western countries. Shangri-la (Shi Wai Tao Yuan) was built according to the poetic imagery depicted in Tao Hua Yuan Ji by the famous poet Tao Yuanming in the Jin Dynasty.
Tao Yuanming is perhaps best known today for his short but intriguing depiction (in prose) of a land hidden from the outside world called “Peach Blossom Spring” (桃花源記). The name Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源 Tao Hua Yuan) has since become the standard Chinese term for ‘utopia’.