Travellers who visit Kaohsiung City—southern Taiwan’s largest metropolis—will notice an oddly shaped mountain called Bànpíng Shān, Mount Banping. Its name literally means half-screen, because the gentle slope on one side of Mount Banping gives way abruptly to a cliff. The mountain was given its distinctive name after some locals remarked that the cliff-face resembled a folding screen.

The following Taiwanese folktale is an origin myth that reveals how Mount Banping ended up with its distinctive shape!

Image: Korean 10-panel folding screen
Traditional East Asian folding screen
Walters Art Museum / Public domain

The Origin Story of Mount Banping

Once upon a time, there was an old sage who was seeking an apprentice. The old sage sought a youth who was honest and thought long and hard on how he might find an ideal candidate. After much effort, the old sage had an idea—he chuckled to himself deviously and began his preparations….

Just what could the old sage be scheming?

One day, an old tāngyuán (a type of spherical rice dumpling) vendor appeared with his old cart at the foot of Mount Banping (which wasn’t called that just yet). The old vendor put up a sign that posted the price of the dumplings. To everyone’s surprise, the sign listed that a single dumpling costs one penny. Two dumplings were two pennies. Yet, somehow, three dumplings were provided for free!

The dumpling stand was soon swamped with hungry visitors—all asking for three dumplings at a time. The old vendor worked tirelessly to fulfill the orders. Business seemed good; but, of course, the old man was giving away all his dumplings without charge.

Photo: A bowl of tangyuan dumplings
Image source

After weeks, a shy, soft-spoken young lad approached the old vendor just before he was closing up his stall for the day. Much to the old vendor’s amusement, the youth placed an order for a single dumpling.

“Why order just one when you can get three for free?” The old vendor asked.

“Well, I’ve passed by your stall several times the past few weeks,” the young lad replied, “and I noticed you giving away all your dumplings without making any money so I felt bad for you. I don’t have a lot of money so one is all I can buy, but I thought this might help you a little.”

Hearing this, the old vendor revealed his true identity. He was the wise old sage who was seeking a kindly youth to be his apprentice and he knew he had found his ideal candidate.

As for the dumplings—they were made from dirt from Mount Banping! When the greedy customers found out, they all looked at the mountain and, sure enough, where once there was a gentle slope, a sharp cliff-face now stared back at the greedy customers. The tricksy old sage had used the soil from half of the mountain to make his dumplings.

It was then that the greedy customers start to notice a dull pain in their bellies. Soon, many fell ill to stomach sickness—their punishment for taking advantage of a poor old vendor, who turned out to be a sage.

Photo: Mount Banping of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mount Banping of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
WEI, WAN-CHEN(魏琬臻) / CC BY-SA

Mount Banping Today

After centuries as an important limestone quarry site, Mount Banping and its surrounding areas were converted in 1997 to parklands popular with hikers and cyclists. Today, it is famous for its ideal vantage points overlooking the cityscape of Kaohsiung.

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Posted by:The Island Folklore Society

A society for the collection, preservation, translation, promotion and celebration of Taiwanese Tales & Traditions. Visit islandfolklore.org to learn more.