Tao Yuanming the Hermit
Tao Yuanming (365- 427) received a Confucian education that highlighted social responsibility of the intellectual. But, the political system of his time being as it was, with accessibility to a successful political career determined by birth, he could find no proper position with the government to put his ideas to use; and so he eventually ended up as a hermit, taking delight in wine and simple country living.
There was not much a man educated in Confucianism could do other than to work with the government. Tao Yuanming found himself left with few choices but to take what was offered, to make a living, if not to fulfill his ideals as a statesman. His first government service started when he was 29. The vain, pompous bureaucratic life was utterly against his lively disposition, and he soon resigned.
He lived without employment for 11 years, before he entered the much-loathed bureaucracy for a second time. His second service lasted for just over a year, and ended in AD 401 when his mother died, an occasion for which it was customary as well as compulsory that a filial government official should resign and stay home for a long period of mourning.
He received government position for a third time. But nothing was to his liking, and he was tom between the perceived necessity to work and his love for freedom and simplicity in the countryside. After serving in some insignificant positions for less than 80 days, he resigned again, this time for good. He could not even stay long enough to harvest the sticky rice he had grown for winemaking on the government estate. He turned into verse all the anxiety and distress he felt at being a magistrate, and the relief and happiness upon his ultimate decision to return to nature. Home, I'm on My Way became one of his masterpieces.
Living a secluded life, Tao Yuanming directed his mind to writing poems about country living, and how much he enjoyed it, despite (or maybe because of) its simplicity and hardship. With over 120 poems surviving to this day, Tao Yuanming is regarded as the initiator of a genre in Chinese poetry devoted to the praise of nature and country life, in authentic and simple language that became an attractive motif.
Shying away from the political realities of his time, Tao Yuanming envisaged what he believed was a perfect state of utopia in his epic poem, Out of Peach Village. It is a story about a fisherman stumbling upon a lost world, where he finds the inhabitants, who say they are descended from a community fleeing an ancient war, now living in a peaceful, righteous, paradisiacal society. There is no hunger, no poverty, no war, no crime, no laws, no government, and no tax collectors. Everybody lives happily according to their nature. Implying there might be nowhere to find or to found a society like this, Tao Yuanming had his fisherman leave the place, where a river flowed out into his world through a peach valley, and then lose his way back in his attempt to revisit it, despite all the markers he had left on his way out.