Classical Chinese philosophy and stories: lofty mountains and flowing water (高山流水)

By | July 17, 2013

During the Spring and Autumn Period, a government official, Yu Boya was good at playing the strings. There was a connoisseur of music called ZhongZi who was good at appreciating and judging the meaning contained in the music.

One day, Yu Boya went to Tarzan (in Wuhan today) for a tour, he encountered a sudden storm and found a shelter under a rock. With sadness and lonely heart, he took out the string (古琴, China’s oldest stringed musical instrument) and played the melodies reflecting the continuous heavy rain; Then, he played the tone of a landslide. At the peak of the performance, the woodcutter Zhong Ziqi came over from behind a clump of chrysanthemum and said: “Good music! Really good music!”

After hearing the compliments, Yu Boya got up and greeted Zhong Ziqi, then he continued to play. Yu Boya thought about the high mountains and played the tone of mountains, Zhong Ziqi listened and nodded his agreement and said “what a great and lofty mountain!” Then Yu Boya thought about the flowing water, Zhong Ziqi heard, clapped and said: “just like the wonderful, mighty, rushing rivers!”

After this, the two had become very good friends. And they made an appointment to meet again in the coming year. However, in the second year, Yu Boya came but only found out that Zhong Ziqi had passed away. He was much cherishing the friendship that he broke the string that he carried with him all the time and never played the string again.

Since then, lofty mountains and flowing water (高山流水) has become a classic story depicting the very good friendship in China. The story also describes the classic definition of true friendship in the traditional Chinese culture: the two friends do not need to spend too much time together, but they understand each other by heart.

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