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Showing posts from January, 2009

Snake-like Reflection of a Bow in the Cup

Nearly 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty, there was a county magistrate called Ying Chen. One summer day, he invited his secretary Du Xuan to his house and treated him with wine. On the north wall of the room hung a red bow. It was reflected in Du Xuan's cup. Du Xuan took the reflection for a squirming snake. He was very frightened but he dared not turn down Ying Chen's offer because Ying was his superior. He had to swallow the wine with his eyes closed.

  When he was back at home he felt so painful in his chest and stomach that he could hardly eat and drink any more. He sent for the doctor and took some medicine, but nothing could cure him. When Ying Chen asked Du Xuan how he got so seriously ill, Du told him he drank the wine with a snake in his cup the other day. Ying Chen found something strange about that. He returned home , thought hard, but he could not find an answer. Suddenly the shadow thrown by the bow on the wall caught his eye. "That's it!" h…

Yu Gong Moved Away Two High Mountains

There were two high mountains between Jizhou in the south and Heyang in the north. One was called Taihang Mountain and the other Wangwu Mountain. Both of the mountains were very high.

Just to the north of the mountains lived an old man called Yu Gong (literally means "foolish old man")who was nearly 90 years old. With the two high mountains just in front of his house, his family and he had to walk a long way around the mountains whenever they had something to do on the other side of the mountains.

One day, Yu Gong called all his family together to talk about how to move the two mountains to other places. His wife said, "An old man like you cannot even move a small hill, not to mention the two high mountains. Even if you can, where can you throw so much earth and stone?"
"the Bohai Sea is big enough to contain all the earth and stone," Yu Gong said.

So it was decided. His children started to dig the mountains, led by the old man Yu Gong.

A man named …

Kong Rong Gives up the Biggest Pear

Kong Rong (153-208), the 20th generation descendant of Confucius, was a high official during the reign of Emperor Ling of the Eastern Han Dynasty. As he was good-tempered and hospitable, his house was always full of guests. He was a noted poet and was one of the “Seven Famous Personages of Jian An.” 
Kong Rong was once appointed the prefect of Beihai, hence named Kong Beihai. During his tenure of office, Kong Rong constructed cities, built schools, and advocated Confucianism. Kong Rong upheld etiquette, and had made his name heard in his childhood for a "giving up the biggest pear" story. 
In Kong Rong’s Family, there were seven brothers in his family and Kong Rong was the sixth son. When he was four years old, he was asked to choose a pear in priority. However, Kong Rong choose a smallest pear, leaving big ones to his elder brothers. Every time the siblings ate pears, his elder brothers always took big ones. He, however, always picked up the small one. 
When asked by the adult…

Jingwei bird determines to fill up the sea

Once upon a time, the youngest daughter of Emperor Yandi, legendary ruler of primitive China, went boating on the Eastern Sea. While she was enjoying herself, a strong wind rose on the sea and her boat capsized. Just before she was buried by the surging waves, she turned into a beautiful bird. The bird looked like a crow, but had a colorful head, a white bill and two red claws. She lived on Fajiu Hill where grew a lot of mulberry bushes, and when she flew over the roaring sea, it cried sadly in the sound "jinwei, jingwei". That was why people called it "Jingwei".

Jinwei hated the sea so much that it decided to fill it up. Every day, it flew to and fro between the mountain and the sea, carrying a twig or a pebble from the mountain and dropping it into the sea.
One day, the roaring sea said to Jingwei, "Poor little bird, stop doing that meaningless thing! You'll never fill me up." Jingwei replied, "I'll fill you up no doubt! I will, even if it…

Lao-tzu Riding a Blue Ox

Lao-tzu, originally named Li Erh and style named Tan. He was from the state of Ch'u in the Spring and Autumn period during the 6th century BC. He was a historiographer in charge of the archives of Chou.
Confucius once traveled to Chou because he wished to ask Lao-tzu about the rites. Lao-tzu said:"The sages you speak about have long withered along with their bones. Also, when a gentleman attains proper timeliness, he rides in a carriage; when his time has not come, he wanders about with the wind. I have heard that a good merchant fills his storehouses but appears to have nothing; a true gentleman is overflowing with virtue but looks as if he was a fool. Give up your prideful airs and your manifold desires, get rid of your stiff deportment and your lascivious thoughts. all these do you  no good at all. I have nothing else to tell you."
Confucius left and later told his disciples, "Birds, I know, can fly; fish, I know, can swim; animals, I know, can run. For the running…

Sai Weng Shi Ma: Maybe

Once upon a time a peasant had a horse. This horse ran away, so the peasant's neighbours came to console him for his bad luck. He answered: "Maybe". The day after the horse came back, leading 6 wild horses with it. The neighbours came to congratulate him on such good luck. The peasant said: "Maybe". The day after, his son tried to saddle and ride on one of the wild horses, but he fell down and broke his leg. Once again the neighbours came to share that misfortune. The peasant said: "Maybe". The day after, soldiers came to conscript the youth of the village, but the peasant's son was not chosen because of his broken leg. When the neighbours came to congratulate, the peasant said again :"May be". This story is from Huai Nan Tzu, you may find another slightly different version here.

Zen story: "Worse than a clown"

There was a young monk in China who was a very serious practitioner of the Dharma.

Once, this monk came across something he did not understand, so he went to ask the master. When the master heard the question, he kept laughing. The master then stood up and walked away, still laughing.

The young monk was very disturbed by the master's reaction. For the next 3 days, he could not eat, sleep nor think properly. At the end of 3 days, he went back to the master and told the master how disturbed he had felt.

When the master heard this, he said, "Monk, do you know what your problem is? Your problem is that YOU ARE WORSE THAN A CLOWN!"

The monk was shocked to hear that, "Venerable Sir, how can you say such a thing?! How can I be worse than a clown?"

The master explained, "A clown enjoys seeing people laugh. You? You feel disturbed because another person laughed. Tell me, are you not worse than a clown?"

When the monk heard this, he began to laugh. He was enlightened…

A Roc's flight of ten thousand li

Peng Cheng Wan Li ---- A Roc 's flight of ten thousand li-A bright future

In the Chinese Taoism classic "Chuangtze", there was a legend like this:

Once upon a time, a gigantic fish named Kun lived in the northern sea. No one knew how large it actually was. This fish could change itself into the enormous bird called Peng (roc), measuring thousands of kilometers in length. When the bird was spreading its wings, it looked like huge clouds in the sky. It could, in one stretch, fly from the northern sea to the southern sea on the other side of the globe and soaring up to 90,000 li (45,000 kilometers) in the heaven.

The bird can surely fly over a long distance without stop. Now people use this idiom to with others have a long career or a bright future

The Monkey King and Mango

There was once a kingdom of monkeys in the forest. The King of the Monkeys was very very large, and was very kind and wise. One day, the King was strolling & he noticed mango trees along the side of a river. He also noticed a human castle downstream. He then ordered the monkeys to remove all the mangoes from these trees, "or there would be disaster". The monkeys did not understand the King's intention, but they did as told anyway. All the mangoes were taken off these trees except one. This one was hidden behind a nest.

One day, this mango was ripe and fell into the river. It flowed downstream where the human King was having a bath. He noticed the mango & asked the Prime Minister what it was. The PM told him it was a "mango", a fruit of wonderful taste. The King then ordered that the mango be cut into small pieces & he gave a small piece to each of his ministers. When satisfied that the mango was not poisonous, he ate the rest of it & realized h…

Hua Bing Chong Ji ---- Draw a pancake to allay hunger - Feed on illusions

Hua Bing Chong Ji ---- Draw a pancake to allay hunger - Feed on illusions

Lu Yu lived in the Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdom Period (220-280). He was orphaned at age of ten, then lost his elder brothers one after another, so he took the task of supporting his sister-in-law and nephew through a period of extreme hardship. He was praised all around for his noble behaviour and deep knowledge.

Since he was a learned man of integrity, in time Lu Yu became a senior official, and the Emperor of Wei placed great trust in him.

Once the emperor was selecting talents for a post, officials recommended a lot of famous people. The emperor of Wei said, "I would like to let Lu Yu select the right person instead of those well-known but incapable ones. Fame is just like a pancake drawn on the wall. You cannot eat it."

Lu Yu suggested the emperor to combine examination with selection. From then on, officials were appointed according to their real ability. Lu Yu's method for selection w…

Look at someone with a new eye -Treat someone with increased respect

Lü Meng was a general of Wu during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-180). He was born in such a poor family that he did not get any chance to go to the school when he was a child. However, there was still less time for reading when he served in the army after he grew up.

Once the king of Wu summoned Lü Meng and said to him, "Since you are now a general in power, you had better read some books to widen your horizon."

Lü Meng answered, "I am so busy with military affairs that I am afraid I have little time to read."

The King said, "Are you busier than I am? Even I often find time to read books on the art of war and gain much benefit from them. To read more about the experience left by our ancestors will make you progress."

Lü Meng then did according what the king said. He concentrated himself on reading history and military writings. On day, Military Governor Lu Su visited Lü Meng and was surprised to find that Lü Meng had become very knowledgeable. Lu Su, who he…

Look for a noble steed according to its picture

Bo Le was a famous horse-judging master. He wrote a book titled Xiang Ma Jing (classics of how to judge a horse) to tell people the way of recognizing good horses. It writes, "A good horse is with wide forehead, bulging eyes and round hoofs."

One day, the son of Bo Le went out to look for a good horse according to the description in the book. After a while, he came back, bringing with him a toad.

He told his father, "I have found a horse similar to your picture but its eyes are not bulging enough and hoofs not round." Bo Le did not know whether to laugh or to cry at this.

He kidded his son, "This horse is good at jumping instead of being ridden. What you've done is to look for a horse according to the picture."

From what Bo Le said we draw the idiom, depicting those who work mechanically or try to locate something by following up a clue.

To have an image of bamboo in one's mind

Wen Yu-ke, a painter of Song Dynasty, was fond of bamboo very much. He planted many groves of bamboo around his house, and he watched them every day to catch their different styles in different seasons.

Therefore, the bamboo he painted always looked true to life.

Su Shi (great poet and one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song) once praised he was good at painting bamboo, because he had already formed images of bamboo in his mind before he actually started painting.

"To have an image of bamboo in one's mind" is often used to describe someone who has already had an overall thinking before he decides to do something.

Adding feet to a drawing of a snake

An official in the ancient State of Chu gave a pot of wine to his men to celebrate the Spring Sacrifice ceremony. One of the men said: “We have only one pot of wine, and it’s only enough for one. So, let’s play for it. The first one to finish drawing a snake in the ground wins the pot of wine.”

The others agreed and started drawing their snakes in the ground.

Then, there was a winner, or so he thought. He had finished his drawing and reached for the pot of wine. But, when he saw that the others hadn’t finished their drawings, he arrogantly said to them: “How slow you are! The way you’re going, I can add feet to my snake and still win the pot of wine.”

So, he did. He added feet to his snake. But before he could finish, another man grabbed the pot of wine and said: “What snake has feet? That’s not a snake! So, I win!”

The moral of the story is that sometimes going too far can be as bad, or worse, than not going far enough.

Sheep get lost on forked roads

Sheep will easily get lost when there are too many forked roads.

One neighbor of Yang Zi, a famous scholar, lost a sheep. He asked all his relatives and friends and Yang Zi's servant for help.
Yang Zi asked, "Why do you send so many people out just for one lost sheep?"

His neighbor said, "Because there are a lot of branch road."

After a while, all the people came back. "Have you found the sheep?" Yang Zi asked.

"No," they answered, "Each road has branch roads and each branch has its forked roads. We just do not know which road to follow. So we give up."

On hearing this, Yang Zi became silent. His student did not understand what the teacher was thinking about. He passed the question to Xin Du Zi, a friend of Yang Zi. Xin Du Zi replied,

"Your tutor is worrying about your study. What have happened reminds him of the difficulty of learning and researching. He thinks that if you fail to find the right orientation and method of study, you …

Sacrifice the plum tree for the peach tree

This idiom comes from an ancient poem:


Now there is a peach tree by a well,
And a plum tree next to it.
When worms come to gnaw at the root of the peach tree,
Te plum tree invites them to gnaw at its own root.
Finally, the plum dies, ossified.
Even trees could sacrifice itself,
Why couldn't brothers help each other


This poem originally advise people love each other, and sacrifice yourself for your brothers, but vicious people treat this as scapegoat strategy, that sacrifice the plum tree for the peach tree, or substitute one thing for another, whereby someone else suffers the consequences. Of course there are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal.


Five Brothers vie each other


One family has five brothers, all serving a minister as attendants. Every five days, they go back home for a reunion, decorating their horses and garments with shining gold. They vie with each other for ostentation and extravagance, attracting crowds of onlo…

Tang Dynasty Li Bai: grinding iron rod to make a needle

This legend is about Li Bai, a great poet in Tang Dynasty.
Li Bai was naughty and disliked study when he was a child. One day he saw an old woman grinding an iron rod on a big stone when he was playing by a river. Driven by curiosity, Li Bai came up and asked,

"What are you doing, granny?"

"Grinding an iron rod," said the old women without stopping grinding.

"Then what for?" he asked again.

"To make a sewing needle," was the answer.

"What?!" little Li Bai was puzzled, "you want to grind so big a rod into a needle? It will take many years."

"This doesn't matter. As long as I persevere in doing so, there is nothing you cannot achieve in the world. Certainly I can make a needle from the rod."

Deeply moved by what the old woman said, Li Bai took effort to study since then and finally became one of the greatest poets in China.

So long as you have put a great deal of effort, you can grind an iron rod into a needle-Perseveranc…

An evil member of the herd

Huangdi (Yellow Emperor) - the first legendary ruler in China - went to the countryside to visit an old friend with his entourage. They met a boy keeping watch over a herd of horses on their way.

Huangdi asked the boy, "Do you know the way to my friend's village far away from here?"

The boy said yes.

Then the emperor asked, "Do you know my friend?"

The answer was yes again.

Huangdi thought the boy was broad-minded. So he asked him, "Do you know how to rule a country?"

The boy said, "There is little difference between ruling a country and watching over a herd of horses. You simply have to drive the wild horses out of the herd."

The emperor left, brooding over the boy's words.

The idiom is taken from what the boy said and is used to describe anyone who has a bad influence on his peers, or an evil member of the herd. Equivalent idioms or sayings are: a rotten apple in the barrel, a black sheep; pests of society, etc.

Everything is Ready Except the East Wind

China has been divided into three kingdoms historically: Wei in the north, Shu in the southwest and Wu in the southeast.

Once Cao Cao from Wei led a 200,000 strong army down to the south to wipe out the kingdoms of Wu and Shu. Therefore, Wu and Shu united to defend his attack.

Cao ordered his men to link up the boats by iron chains to form a bridge for the Cao's passing from the north bank of Yangtze River to the south bank.

The General Commander of the allied army was Zhou Yu. He analyzed the situation carefully. Then he got a good idea. He decided to attack the enemy with fire. So he began to prepare for the coming battle. Suddenly he thought of the direction of wind. He needed the east wind to blow strongly in order to accomplish his scheme. However, the wind did not come for days. Thus Zhou Yu was worried about it. At that time, he got a note from Zhuge Liang, the military adviser of the State of Shu, which reads:

"To fight Cao Cao

Fire will help you win

Everything is ready

Exce…

Burn not your house to rid it of the mouse

There is a story in the book of Hanshu telling of a rich man, who being a lover of vase and had a large collection of it. Among them was a rare vase made of jade. The vase of exquisite workmanship and of historical value and he loved it dearly. One night he noticed a mouse passing near the precious vase. The mouse jumped into the vase and was trying to eat some food which the man had carelessly left there. The sigh infuriated the man and in a fit of rage he threw a stone at the mouse. For sure, the mouse was killed, but the precious vase was broken also. The loss of the vase pained the man greatly and he deeply regretted his own thoughtlessness, which bought him this unrecoverable loss. He now realized that any one, who cares for the present and overlooks consequences, is apt to bring disasters upon himself. So he exclaimed to warn people by saying do not burn you house to get rid of a mouse.

The vigil by the tree stump for another hare

In the state of Song there was a farmer in whose fields stood a tree stump. A hare, which was running very fast, dashed against the stump and died, having broken its neck.


So the farmer abandoned his plough and waited by the tree stump, hoping to get another hare. He did not get his hare but became a laughing stock in the state of Song.

His spear against his shield

A man of the state of Chu had a spear and a shield for sale. He was loud in praises of his shield.

"My shield is so strong that nothing can pierce it through."

He also sang praises of his spear.

"My spear is so strong that it can pierce through anything."

What would happen, he was asked, if your spear is used to pierce your shield?

He was unable to give an answer.

It is impossible for the strongest shield to coexist with a spear that finds nothing impenetrable.

Ignorance of the objective world

In the State of Lu, there was a couple of husband and wife, the former being an expert shoemaker and the latter a skilled hand in wearing taffeta.

One day after consultations they decided to go to the state of Yue to earn a livelihood. The neighbors advised them not to go when they learned about their plan.

"Don't go there," said one neighbor, "If you go, you can never earn a livelihood."

"We cannot understand you," interrogated the couple, "We have a fine command of our art, how could we not earn our living with our work? Don't make a fool of us, please."

"Indeed, you have your skill," explained the man, "But have you taken notice of the fact that shoes are made for people and the silk taffeta are for hat-making? The people of Yue don't wear shoes, for they are barefooted. Again, they like to have their hair spread out over their heads and they never use hats. To whom should you sell your shoes and hats then?" Experi…

Aim south while driving northward

A certain northern traveler intended to travel to Chu. He started his journey on horseback by the foot of the Tai Hang Mountain by a way leading north. His friend was very surprised so he asked:

"Chu is situated in the south so why you northward instead of going southward?"

"Never mind", the traveler replied obstinately, "my horse is a good steed. It runs very fast."

"No matter how fast it runs," said his friend, "you can never reach Chu by going northward."

"I have prepared sufficient traveler expenses." replied the traveler.

"Sufficient traveling expenses cannot help you, either." continued his friend.

"Well," answered the traveler still more obstinately. "I have a strong and capable groom at my service."

"No groom, how capable and strong he may be, can be of any use to you if you stick to going northward." concluded his friend.

The traveler did not listen to his friend and so he never reache…