The villagers of Mahuai Village in Guizhou province recently brought an old Chinese fable, “The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains,” to reality, with the completion of a 200-meter-long tunnel finally linking their isolated village with the rest of the world.
The leader of this ambitious project was a woman named Deng Yingxiang, who has been crowned the “Foolish Old Woman” for her efforts. Deng and her fellow villagers completed the tunnel using just basic tools like chisels and hammers, hoping to escape from the inconvenient isolation they have lived under for years in the mountainous region of southern Guizhou.
The tunnel has changed what was once a winding 2-hour journey into a straightforward 15 minute ride via motorcycle or van.
The perseverance and willpower shown in this project mirrors the virtues touted in a 4th Century BC Chinese fable. In the tale, a “foolish” old man is determined to dig straight through a pair of meddlesome mountains using only hoes and baskets if need be. When confronted about the lunacy of his plan, the old man replies that if he is not able to finish the task, then it fall to his sons and then to their sons, and so on and so on, until the mountains are finally removed.
Later, Mao Zedong would go on to adapt the fable in a famous 1945 speech. It would become one of the most frequently read stories of his “Little Red Book,” with schoolchildren being made to memorize the text during the Cultural Revolution.
Here’s Mao’s version, FYI:
Today, two big mountains lie like a dead weight on the Chinese people. One is imperialism, the other is feudalism. The Chinese Communist Party has long made up its mind to dig them up. We must persevere and work unceasingly, and we, too, will touch God’s heart. Our God is none other than the masses of the Chinese people. If they stand up and dig together with us, why can’t these two mountains be cleared away?
While some netizens found this story endearing, others were more concerned about the dangers and consequences of such a project. Speaking about the construction process, one villager explained that “In order to dig the cave, her [Deng] husband was deafened by an explosion and she lost her nails.” At one point, the cave was even so shallow that they were forced to dig on their stomachs and chisel away above their heads.
Netizens also questioned whether the tunnel itself was up to code. Did it have enough light and ventilation? Was there free Wi-Fi? The whole thing also begs the question that if Beijing thinks it can build a tunnel under Everest, can they not do a little more to help out some Guizhou villagers with their 200-meter-long tunnel?
By Eugenia Xiao
[Image via Xinhua]