Good Stories from China: Paradise Beyond Peach Blossom
This story took place during the Jin Dynasty's Taiyuan period (376-396) in Wuling, a place near Dongting Lake in South China.
There was a man who made a living by fishing. One day when traveling along a river by boat, he forgot how far he had gone. Suddenly he saw woods of peach blossom by the riverside, extending from the bank for several hundred meters. The woods were made purely of peach trees, and flower pedals danced colorfully in the air. Underneath the woods green grass was beautifully fresh.
The fisherman was quite amazed. He rowed his boat forward, wondering how far the woods spread. Toward the source of the river where the peach trees thinned out, a mountain appeared. At the mountain side he saw an opening with shimmering light. Getting off his boat, he entered the opening.
The opening was quite narrow in the beginning, barely enough for him to pass through. After some steps, however, it suddenly widened into a whole new world. In front of him appeared vast land with orderly houses, rich fields, beautiful ponds, mulberry trees and bamboo plantings. He could see roads extending in all directions, and hear cocks' crow and dogs' barking. Working in the field were men and woman who dressed in a style clearly of a foreign land. Old or young, people all looked happy and care-free.
They were surprised at the sight of the fisherman. They asked him where he came from, and he answered in detail. They invited him to visit their homes, where they prepared wine, slaughtered chicken, and cooked food for him. Hearing about the visitor, villagers all came to see him.
They explained, “Our ancestors came to this isolated land with their families and friends to escape the unrest during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Since then we have not left, so we have lost contact with the outside world.” They asked the fisherman what period it was; they did not know about the subsequent dynasties of Han and Wei, not even the then-current dynasty of Jin. The fisherman described to them things he knew, to which they listened with great interest.
Other villagers continued to invite him to their homes and treated him with wine and food.
After a few days, the fisherman was ready to leave. The villagers asked him, “Please do not to tell the outside world about us.”
Exiting through the opening, the fisherman found his boat. On the way back, he tried to memorize as many landmarks as he could. Upon returning home, he went to see the county official and told him his experience. The official sent people to follow him to retrace according to the landmarks. But soon, he lost the landmarks and could not find his way back to that village.
A noble man named Liu Ziji from a northern county Nanyang heard this story and made a plan to search for the place. But he was unable to carry it through, as he soon died of illness.
Since then no one has ever asked about the Paradise beyond Peach Blossom.
Source: “Tao Hua Yuan Ji (On the Paradise beyond Peach Blossom)” by Tao Yuanming (c. 365-427), a nature poet. This story gave birth to the Chinese expression “Shiwai Taoyuan (peach paradise in the other world),” symbolizing an ideal land of lasting peace and harmony.