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  • A Short Tale of Louguantai
  • Şerban Toader1 (bio)

This is a true and personal story of a visit to Louguantai in the summer of 2018, when I unintentionally found myself paying a visit to the venerable Daoist Ren Farong 任法融 (b. 1936), after a series of events and encounters that seemed to unconsciously guide me to meet him. First, a Daoist fortune-teller’s hermetic note in Shenyang suggested that I choose Chang’an (modern Xi’an) as my next stop.

Once there, I became aware that Master Ren was in the vicinity, noticing posters that showed his picture, but I took this as a coincidence unrelated to my plans. Then, while having Huashan on my mind, I kept meeting people who pointed to Zhongnan shan instead, and one even agreed to join me on a trip there. Once at the foot of the mountain, I realized that this was Ren’s home and I could try to see him, but a series of obstacles almost made me lose hope

A Fortunate Fortune Slip

There were no mysterious elements in my 2018 China trip, but it turned out delightful, funny, and even fantastic. At the moment of getting ready to say goodbye to my student group in Liaoning, where I had been as part of a summer camp arranged by my university, I was indecisive about choosing a destination for the seven days I had for traveling on my own. The short-list of options contained the former capital Xi’an and the charming coastal city of Xiamen.

I unexpectedly got directions from a fortune slip I obtained during a casual visit to a Daoist temple in Shenyang. This was odd, because the [End Page 187] question I asked was about my love life, not my travel destination. No clue regarding the former, however, written in the customary quatrain, the clearest geographical direction: The road to Chang’an is full of brilliant light!


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Guidance to the Sage

I embarked and traveled fast. Eventually, on the left side of the railway, I noticed the legendary sacred mountain of the west, Huashan—also a major Daoist center—my most desired and prime destination once I got to Xi’an. As soon as I entered the guesthouse, however, I met a young Chinese woman named Sophie who heard of my plans and, with a careless yet serious air, mentioned another major Daoist mountain, Zhongnan shan near Xi’an as one populated by hermits. This, of course, is not [End Page 188] the greatest attraction, since they would by nature avoid people—unless they were inauthentic hermits in search of spiritual business.

The following morning, Sophie left the guesthouse and I too had to change accommodation. In the next guesthouse, an underground old-style household, a girl named Weiping asked me without prompting whether I was planning to visit Zhongnan shan, which I had casually mentioned at the reception.

My mouth said “yes” before my brain could really make a decision, and we agreed to leave the next morning for the mountain. At the bus station, in my ignorance and total lack of organization, I once more faced a decision about where to go when the ticket seller asked:

“Zhongnan shan? But where? The Buddhist part? The Daoist section?”

“Daoist!” I answered without hesitation while my companion turned her face towards me to notice my expression. The weather was very hot. A taxi took us from the highway to the foot of the mountain.

The driver insisted on being our guide and, with his left hand on the steering wheel, suddenly produced a plastic portrait of the famous Daoist monk and calligrapher Ren Farong with his right!


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This amazed me no end: on the previous day in Xi’an I had noticed his portrait in a poster on a wall next to my guesthouse in the art dealers’ neighborhood. “Interesting,” I said to myself, but heading for Zhongnan was my priority, so I thought of some quest for the venerable, but only upon return from there. [End Page 189]

As a matter of fact, I had been aware of him...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1941-5524
Pages
pp. 187-192
Launched on MUSE
2022-02-07
Open Access
No
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