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The real Yu Gong chisels water channels across cliffs

By Erik Nilsson | | Updated: 2017-04-19 15:33

The real Yu Gong chisels water channels across cliffs

Huang Dafa shares his story with local primary school students. [Photo by Yuan Qingpan/China Daily]

An old fool and a wise man

Yu Gong was considered a fool. But I consider Huang Dafa to be wise.

Indeed, the legendary Yu Gong's success in moving mountains was ultimately because he had the gods on his side-albeit unbeknown to him.

Huang instead believed he could accomplish the seemingly impossible mission of leading villagers to carve 10 kilometers of irrigation channels into the dizzyingly precipitous bluffs of three karsts without assistance from above.

Or, at least he knew he had to try.

There was little choice.

People need water.

That's his wisdom, though-to act, although prospects seemed sublimely daunting.

Just waiting for a miracle wouldn't work.

They had to create their own.

The villagers he led ultimately took fate into their own hands and overcame unbelievable odds.

Huang isn't only wise but also brave, I realized when I actually climbed the mountains in remote Guizhou province's Cao-wangba village and teetered atop the waterway's edge.

The rim is only several centimeters wide. The fall would be hundreds of meters.

Plus, the cliff overhangs above in several parts, throwing off my balance as I tiptoed along the lip.

One wrong step would be the last.

It's an acrophobe's nightmare. And I'm mortified by heights.

Vertigo seized my soul many times.

I'm maybe more than half joking when I say I was perhaps more afraid of dying from fear than from falling.


The trick was to keep moving forward. Once I stopped, gravity exerted its downward tug on my psyche.

Physically, my legs melted.

Huang and the villagers started from even higher locations and rappelled down the mountain with ropes tied to their waists like a special-forces team-albeit one of farmers armed with only the most rudimentary of implements.

Indeed, Huang possesses not only Yu Gong's determination but also courage beyond the mythical figure's.

Yu Gong was tenacious. But he never rappelled down anything.

Yu gong yi shan, or the "old man moves mountains"-sometimes "man" is replaced with "fool" in the translations-was the first chengyu (four-character sayings based on ancient parables) I learned.

It's still my favorite-and even more so after spending a week with the real Yu Gong.

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