Han Yu's Severe Reprimand to His Nephew

(Han Yu xun zhi)

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Han Yu (A.D. 768-824) is a celebrated scholar, as well as a well-known writer and statesman during the Tang Dynasty. He is entrusted with the scholarly education of his nephew Han Xiangzi. Han Xiangzi is an intelligent but wild child, and is hard to tame. It is said that, in his previous life, he was a white crane and that the Taoist Immortal Zhong helped his soul leave the crane's body to be reborn as a boy in the family of Han Yu's brother.

Following the deaths of the boy's parents when he is young, he is raised by Han Yu. He soon masters what Han Yu teaches him and — following a meeting with Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese Taoism — begins receiving teachings from the Immortals when just a teenager.

Han Yu is not pleased to see his nephew wasting his precious time with Taoism instead of studying hard. He admonishes the boy for neglecting his studies. To his surprise, Han Xiangzi tells Han Yu that he has different goals from those of his uncle. He continues to go to Mount Zhong Nanshan to practice Taoism, and finally becomes one of the Eight Immortals himself.

Han Xiangzi tries many times to help his uncle understand Tao, but Han Yu refuses to listen. At a banquet one day, Han Xiangzi tries to persuade Han Yu to give up life in officialdom and to study Tao with him instead. Han Yu is adamant, however, that Han Xiangzi should dedicate his life to Confucianism rather than Taoism, so Han Xiangzi demonstrates the power of Tao by making flowers grow and blossom at will. He also writes a poem to his uncle: 'Clouds envelop Qinling Mountain and I do not know where my home is. The snow covers Languan Pass and the horses will go no further.' Han Yu dismisses all this as nonsense, not realizing that the poem is a prophecy that will only be understood later, when Han Yu is driven into exile.

Several years later, Han Yu is demoted by the Emperor for his opposition to the Emperor's blind faith in Buddhism. Han Yu is transferred to Chaozhou in Canton Province and, on his way to his post in China's far south, a heavy snowfall on the Lan Pass buries him. Suddenly, his nephew Han Xiangzi appears out of nowhere, and sweeps the snow away from his uncle. Han Xiangzi tells his uncle that this journey will benefit him in the end and that that he will eventually go back to his official post and be allowed to return home with his family. The prophecy soon comes true. Han Yu finally begins to realize that the real world is only a place to learn about Tao. He then composes the famous poem which has been sung for generations, including the verse his nephew had given him:

'With a memorandum presented to His Majesty early in the morning,
Here I am banished to Chaozhou thousands of miles away late in the evening
With hopes of helping my lord in ridding himself of all superstitions
I will not dare to value myself, although there is not much time left in my life
Clouds envelop Qinling Mountain and I do not know where my home is.
The snow covers Languan Pass and the horses will go no further.
I know the reason why you are here,
Coming from afar to claim my bones by the river where I am buried.'

The poem and the story have become a popular subject and plotline in many forms of art, including opera. For a similar story in this collection, please see the entry for Han Wen Gong was Trapped in Snow.