Be Persevering, Dauntless, and Concerned with the World
(Clearwisdom.net) Liu Yuxi was a famous writer and poet in the Tang Dynasty. He was from Luoyang, from a home environment that strongly influenced him. His scholarly family descended from generations that had studied Confucianism. From childhood, he demonstrated talent, intelligence, and diligence. He was extremely knowledgeable and of unusual energy. When Liu Yuxi was 19 years old, he went to study in China's capital city, Changan, and submitted his suggestions to the Imperial Court. In the Ninth Year of Zhenyuan (793CE), he passed the state level test and became an inspector for the Imperial Court. Since he was extremely dissatisfied with the behavior of corrupt officials, regional separatism, and factional fighting, he actively supported reform which, unfortunately, did not succeed. As a result, the rest of his life was full of tragedy. He was demoted several times, but this did not discourage him. Instead, he wrote articles to show his aspirations, honesty, and broad-mindedness. Though in adverse circumstances, his concern was for the country and the people.
In the first year of Yongzhen (805CE), Liu Yuxi was demoted to be a high official in Lianzhou (now Lian County, Guangdong Province). When he traveled to Jiangling, he was demoted again and became a low official in Langzhou. He was once more promoted and called back to the capital. He wrote a poem entitled " Touring Around Xuandu Temple," which enraged corrupt officials. He was subsequently demoted again to be a high official in Lianzhou, then demoted to Kuizhou and Hezhou. He was not disheartened. Instead he kept his optimistic attitude towards life and work.
When he went to Hezhou, Anhui Province, he was given a three-room official house according to the rules at that time. But Mr. Ce, the mayor of Hezhou, was a snobbish person. Knowing that Liu Yuxi ended up in his county because he had been demoted, Mr. Ce created many obstacles for him. First he arranged for Mr. Liu to live in a damp house near a river. Instead of complaining about the location of the house facing the river, Mr. Liu was very happy and wrote an antithetical couplet and put it on his door. The couplet read "Watching boats in the river, I had the leisure to recall all the struggles and fights in the Imperial Court though I am now in Hezhou."
Mr. Liu's action enraged Mayor Ce. He ordered one of his clerks to move Mr Liu from the south of the city to the north of the city. The size of the house was reduced from three rooms to one and a half rooms. The new house was situated near the Desheng River and there were rows of willow trees nearby. It was different scenery. Mr Liu didn't complain. Instead he settled down calmly. He wrote another couplet that read: "Near the green willow trees at the river, my mind still in the capital though my body is now in Liyang."
Seeing that Mr. Liu was carefree and very content, Mr. Ce moved him into the city again to a one-room house with only one bed, one table, and one chair. Within half a year, Mr Liu had moved three times, each time to a smaller house. He ended up living in a one-room house, but he continued his usual study and writing. In this one-room house he wrote an article titled "A Motto for My Humble Drawing-Room" and had it carved on a stone and put the stone in front of his house. This article gained a lasting reputation, making people feel the peace of his inner heart amidst the din of the world. "A Motto of My Humble Drawing-Room" says: "A mountain is famous not because it is high but because it has a spirit dwelling in it. A well is efficacious not because it is deep but because it has a dragon hiding in it. No matter how humble my drawing-room is, the fragrance of my virtue has brightened it. Look! The moss has already dyed the steps green! The reflective light of the grass through the bamboo curtain has colored my room a shadowy blue! Easy conversations mingled with merry laughter burst forth from the room now and then. Not a single vulgar person among my friends; they are all learned scholars. Sometimes we play ancient strings and sometimes we enjoy ourselves with the delightful books. There is no decadent music to numb our brains nor office correspondence to weary us to death. Oh! I've always longed for Zhu Gouliang's thatched cottage and yearned for Yang Zhiyun's pavilion as well. I fancy they were just as humble as mine, weren't they? Confucius says, 'What harm will it be to be plain?'"
Liu Yuxi and Bai Juyi were classmates. When Mr. Liu was demoted, Liu and Bai became good friends. Later, Liu Yuxi resigned from the position of official in Hezhou and returned to the capital. When he passed by Yangzhou, he met Bai Juyi. Bai Juyi felt it was unfair that Mr. Liu had been demoted for such a long time. Bai wrote a poem to praise Liu Yuxi's talents and reputation and expressed sorrow about his friend's unfortunate fate. Liu Yuxi was demoted twice, lasting 23 years. Liu Yuxi wrote a poem in reply, consoling Bai Juyi not to worry about his lonely and wasted years. His understandings of life also deeply affected Bai Juyi's life in old age.
Later, Liu Yuxi went back to the capital and became an official again. As soon as he arrived at the capital, he wrote a poem to express his strong opinions even though he had been demoted many times. Later on, he held more official posts. He was concerned with people and regarded helping all people in the world as his task.
When Liu Yuxi was appointed as the official in Suzhou, there was a flood, and the bodies of people who died due to hunger were everywhere. When he arrived, he opened a barn to provide food for the hungry, exempted them from taxes, and decreased their terms of service, which helped people to recover from the disaster quickly and to live and work in peace and contentment. The people in Suzhou loved and appreciated him. He, as well as Bai Juyi and Wei Yingwu, who also held official posts in Suzhou, were honored as "Three Distinguished Persons." The townspeople built a memorial hall called the "Hall of Three Distinguished Persons." The emperor also praised his contribution and awarded him a purple and golden fish bag.
When Liu Yuxi went back to Luoyang in his old age, he held more official posts. He did not feel despondent about his experiences during 23 frustrating years; his attitude to life was at a higher realm. He wrote: "Do not think it is late when the setting sun touches the top of a mulberry tree; the spreading sunset's glow can still illuminate the sky red." How optimistic and unrestrained he was! It displayed Liu Yuxi's personality. Time brings great changes to the world. Where are the beautiful houses, golden carriages, and good horses we had before? Where are the fortunes and reputations we had before? Only pure and good characteristics are lasting in history. Only selfless thoughts and broad hearts coexist with Heaven and Earth!
December 10, 2006