Tuesday 20 February 2024

Utopia v Shangri-la

  I think it was in one of Korean Literature Now's Inkstone articles that I came across a reference to Peach Blossom Spring as a phrase meaning 'utopia' in Chinese (though I'm also in the middle of reading a translation of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, so it could have been mentioned there). The "Spring" is spring as in source of a river, not the season. The phrase originates in a story Tao Yuanming wrote, sometime before 427 BCE. I'm not sure if it was a tale he recorded, or one he invented.

This translation by Rick Davis and David Steelman titles the piece "Peach Tree Shangri-la". I'm not familiar with the book that Shangri-la was created for, or the publications that were inspirations for it. I did find it interesting that the place described in Peach Blossom Spring doesn't seem like a utopia to me, perhaps because it is described as founded by people who isolated themselves to "avoid the chaos of war during the Qin Dynasty" but seem to have kept the customs of that time. I can't believe that the customs of the Qin Dynasty would be a basis for a utopian existence (though I'm not an expert on Qin customs). 

It has the theme of being backward looking, like Eden. But I feel like the isolation is also an argument against it being a utopia; that is a theme I would like to investigate further. Also the contrast between utopia, hidden societies (Shangri-la) and secret societies (like the Illuminati idea, but perhaps there are other secret society models to compare to utopias).