Shu Shi: The Towering Terrace ~ 《凌虚台记》 苏轼 with English Translations



《凌虚台记》 苏轼





The Towering Terrace
Shu Shi

At the foot of the Zhongnan Mountain, the daily lives of the city people seemed inseparable from the mountain. Of the mountains around the cities, none were as high as the Zhongnan mountain, and, of the cities nearby, none were as close to the Zhongnan Mountain as Fufeng County. Needless to say, Fufeng County, because of its close proximity to the Mountain, was the best place to view its summit. But the prefect did not know that the Mountain was there. Thought this oversight did not impact the prefect’s government affairs, it defied common sense. This was the reason why the Towering Terrace was built.

Before he constructed the Terrace, Prefect Chen used to stroll leisurely about the foot of the mountain, with a stick in hand. He noticed the mountain peaks rising one after another over the tops of the trees like knots of hair on the heads of passerby, as seen from within the walls of the courtyard. He noted, “There is something remarkable about this place.” He therefore ordered that a pond be dug, and with the excavated earth, he built a terrace that surrounded the very eaves of his estate. Then the visitors who ascended the Terrace were confounded at the height of the Terrace, thinking that they were standing on a hill newly sprung from a vigorously active mountain. With pride, Prefect Chen said, “It should be named the Towering Terrace.” and asked his subordinate Su Shi to write an account of its creation.

Su Shi replied, “It is beyond man’s ability to predict the rise and fall of the affairs in the world. This place used to be a wilderness choked with weeds, blanketed by frost and frequented by foxes and poisonous snakes. Who could then tell where would be a Towering Terrace? A rise is always followed by a fall, in an eternal cycle for balance. Thus no one can tell when the Towering Terrace will turn into wilderness again. I have ascended this Terrace with you, and have observed the landscape. To its east were the Qinian Palace and Tuoquan Palace of King Mu of the Qing Dynasty; to its south were Changyang Palace and the Wuzuo Palace of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty; and to its north were the Renshou Palace of the Sui Dynasty and the Jiucheng Palace of the Tang Dynasty. In the prime of their prosperity, their magnificence, splendor and unshakable stability surpassed the Terrace by no less than a hundredfold. But in a few generations, it became impossible to imagine their former wonder, for even the broken tiles and rubble no longer existed. They were supplanted by crop-growing fields and thorny hills. What of this simple Terrace? We cannot even trust the Terrace to last forever, let alone human affairs! One’s life is marked by vicissitudes, drifting from gain to loss and from success to failure. It would be wrong to take pride in one’s good fortune, and be self-complacent, for there are many other things in the world which we may count on. Why should we mind the survival or extinction of a Terrace?”

After this talk with Prefect Chen, I went home and put it down in writing.

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