(Yicai Global) Aug 1 -- Stories of people abandoning city life and living as hermits in the countryside have become the Chicken Soup for the Soul of our time.
These tales inspire admiration whenever they are published on social media sites, but also spark debates about fake seclusions. Stories of modern reclusive adventures have gone viral online and provoked intriguing discussions.
The traditions of solitary living in China are drastically different from those in the West. Chinese eremitic culture is not all about living a life of self-denial and mortification, but encourages people to distance themselves from their material existence.
Road to Heaven: Encounters With Chinese Hermits
Bill Porter [USA]
Published by Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House in February 2017
American writer Bill Porter traveled from Beijing way to Zhongnanshan and the Wuyishan Mountains in 1989 looking for contemporary Chinese eremites. Most of the hermits that he met were Taoist priests and Buddhist monks on spiritual quests to solve riddles about seclusion and self-transcendence. Porter later wrote Road to Heaven, drawing on his experiences from his tour. The book has been introduced to China and reprinted many times.
What sets the work apart from other similar publications is the fact that Road to Heaven is written as a travel memoir and naturally expresses the author's thoughts and feelings. It is full of profound revelations while maintaining a high degree of readability. Porter traveled to other parts of China after the book's publications, and wrote several other works.
Men of the Cliffs and Caves: The Development of the Chinese Eremitic Tradition to the End of the Han Dynasty
Aat Vervoorn [Australia]
Published by Shandong Pictorial Publishing House in September 2009
This book traces the original of Chinese intellectual hermits to the Confucius era. It talks about different modes of eremitism in China up to the Han Dynasty's end, with insightful discussions on the evolution of traditional Chinese philosophical concepts.
The author concludes that Chinese eremitism has been a 'secular business' right from the beginning. When a being realizes that her autonomy or personality integrity is at stake, she may react by retreating from politics and affairs of state and pursue lofty moral ideals.
Zhongguo Gudai Yinshi (literally translated as Hermits in Ancient China)
Published by The Commercial Press in September 2015
As a publication on ancient Chinese eremitism intended for readers without special knowledge on the subject matter, Zhongguo Gudai Yinshi talks about various aspects of being a hermit, including politics and hermits, what they wear, where they live, their social lives and the relationships between hermits and drinking and poetry.
The historian-writer spiced the book up with interesting stories, and expressed his opinions in a straightforward way. In one chapter, he lists reasons why ancient people became hermits, including war and social unrest, repression, officialdom, aversion to fame and wealth, and waiting for authorities that appreciate their talent.
Status Formation Mechanism and Social Influence of the Recluse in China
Published by Social Sciences Academic Press (China) in December 2011
This book is focused on the social legitimacy of the hermit role. Through the textual records of hermits in different times, the author analyzes their self-identity and shaping identity in different periods as well as psychological demands accepted and praised by the hermit society.
Xunfang Zhongnan Yinshi (literally translated as Looking for Zhongnan Hermits)
Published by Nanhai Publishing House in December 2011
This is the Road to Heaven of the 21st century, but it is no match for Bill Porter's book in terms of composition and ideology.
More than 20 years after Porter's visit, Zhang Jianfeng went to a famous mountain looking for eremites living there in the new century. The book contains many color photos, and the people he met have a contemporary look. Unlike Road to Heaven, which conveys (albeit somewhat vaguely) the message that being an eremite involves making certain sacrifices, Zhang's book depicts modern hermits who lead an idealistic lifestyle. The book mentions some mystical stories, and readers need to decide if they are credible themselves.
Living a Poetic Life: Memoir of an Eremitic Female Photographer
Published by Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House in September 2016
The author used to be an eremitic photographer. Her stories and photos were popular on social media sites and were once the envy of many netizens. She "walks through idyllic mountains and rivers, and dances amid flowers, accompanied by birds," the editor wrote in the book's preface. Stories of eremites like Xiangzi make readers reflect on their desires, greediness and hidden ambitions.