Chao Buzhi: An Account of a Visit to North Mountain at Xin-cheng ~ 晁补之·《新城游北山记》 with English Translations







An Account of a Visit to North Mountain at Xin-cheng

Chao Buzhi

Thirty miles north of Xin-cheng, we went ever deeper into the mountains, where the plants, trees, streams, and rocks became increasingly isolated. At first we could still ride among the teeth of the stones. On every side were huge pines, some bent over like the awnings of carriages and others straight like parasols; those that stood upright were like human beings, and those that lay down were like great serpents. Among the grasses beneath the pines were streams bubbling up, then disappearing until they fell into wells of stone with a ringing sound. Among the pines were vines some twenty or so feet long, twisting around like great eels. On the top there were birds, as black as mynah birds, with red crests and long beaks, bobbing their heads up and down and pecking with a rapping sound.

A little farther west a single peak rose abruptly to a prominence, and there was a path marking a division on it, a path that could be traveled only on foot. We tied our horses to outcroppings of stone and went up, helping each other along. When we looked up through the bamboo, we could not see the daylight. We went on like this for four or five leagues until we heard the sounds of barnyard fowl. Monks in cassocks of pain cloth and slippers came out to greet us. As we talked with them, they stared at us in wide-eyed amazement, like deer that could not be touched. At the summit there was a building with twenty or so rooms, its balconied outer hallways curving along the course of the cliff wall, twisting like the course of a snail or a rat, after which we came out into the open again. There doors and windows face one another. As we sat down, a howling gust of mountain wind came, and all the chimes and clappers in the halls were set ringing. We few looked around at one another in surprise, not knowing into what kind of realm we had come. And when it was evening, we all went to bed.

It was then November; the heaven were high and the dew clear, the mountains deserted and the moon bright. We looked up at the stars, which together shed a great light, as if they were right over us. Through the window twenty or so stalks of bamboo began tapping against one another with an endless clacking. Among the bamboo, palm and plum trees stood dark and ominous, looking like disheveled demons holding themselves apart. And we few again looked around at one another, our spirits so shaken that we couldn’t get to sleep. As it gradually grew light outside, we all left.

Several days after I returned home, I was still in a daze as if I had encountered something, so I wrote this account from memory. I never went there again, but I always see what occurred in my mind’s eye.

(Stephen Owen 译)

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