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Showing posts from September, 2012

A Tale of Two Friends

You know the Chinese proverb, “It is on road that determines the strength of the horse.' Well, let me tell you a tale of two good friends.

Let us call the friends Leu Yao [long road] and Ma Lih [horse strength]. The words Leu and Ma happen to be surnames, you know. Leu Yao was a young man of considerable means. Ma Lih went in for gambling, and was often in difficulties, from which his generous friend helped him out several times. He at length followed his friend's advice, and reformed, passed his examinations, and became a mandarin.

Leu Yao, however, had bad luck, lost all his relatives except his mother, and was so reduced in means that he had to live in a mat hut. Hearing of his friend's good fortune, he determined to go and visit him, a journey of some hundreds of li. He left all the cash he had with his mother, and begged his way to his friend's yamun. Ma Lih received him heartily, but took no notice of his tale of sorrow, merely bidding him to eat, drink, and be …

Fanning the Grave

A legend of the wife of Chwang-tsz (Zhuang zi, 庄子), the Taoist sage.

Chwang-tsz (B.C. 330) was out walking by a certain hill, where he saw a woman fanning the grave. He inquired the reason of the strange procedure. She answered that her husband, who was buried there, had ordered her not to quit his grave until the clay was dry. As she wished to go home as soon as possible, she was fanning it to accelerate the tardy process of drying. The philosopher fanned it dry at once with his magical fan, returned home, and related the story to his wife, who vehemently condemned the widow's scanty respect for the dead.

After a while, Chwang-tsz was taken ill and died. His widow had promised that she would never marry again, but she soon became enamoured of a young man who introduced himself as one of the deceased philosopher's pupils. They were soon betrothed, but he fell ill with cholic, and in reply to her solicitous inquiries, said that there was only one efficacious remedy for him, na…

The Monk is here, but where am I?

A stupid yamun underling was once taking a rascally Buddhist monk to a prison. As he started with his prisoner, he was afraid of forgetting his things and his errand, so he began mumbling, 'Bundle, umbrella, cangue, warrant, monk, and myself. At every two or three steps he repeated the list, until the monk, seeing the sort of man he had to deal with, treated him at an inn on the way until he was so drunk that he wanted to sit down by the wayside and sleep. When he had gone off, the monk took off his cangue, shaved the man's head, put the wooden collar upon him, and fled. On coming to, the man exclaimed, 'Let me wait until I have counted everything. Let me see. Bundle and umbrella are here. ' Then feeling his neck, he cried, ' And the cangue, too; and here beside me is the warrant.' Then half-scared, ' Hai ya! I don't see the monk, ' but rubbing his itching pate, he gleefully added, 'The monk is still here. But where am I? Bundle, umbrella, cangu…

Story Of Li Tan

In the tenth year of T'ang Tai Chung's reign, his Empress died. She was a woman of no ordinary talent and virtue. He built her a splendid mausoleum, but the next year consoled himself by collecting beautiful damsels for the imperial seraglio. Among these was a young girl of fifteen, named Wu Chow . She was of low parentage, but soon procured great favour for herself, and high official posts for her near relatives, by her exceptional beauty and wit.

An imperial censor, however, predicted calamity to the realm in connection with her name. The Emperor was alarmed, and sent away Wu Chow into a Buddhist nunnery, where her history is involved in some very serious scandals.

She did not remain long in seclusion, for T‘ang Kao Chung, in fulfilment of an early vow he had made her, removed her back to Court. The reason given for the step in the orthodox history books is, that Kao Chung's Empress considered it the only means by which the influence of a certain inmate of the palace co…

Yu Boya and Zhong ziqi: the Romance of Guqin

In the old days described in the Spring and Sympathetic Autumn Annals, when China consisted of a host of rival States hard to amalgamate, there lived a celebrated statesman of the name of Yü Peh-ya. His birthplace was the capital of the kingdom of Ch'u, which is now the present Kingchow , to the west of the modern Wuchang. But his star of good fortune led him into an official post in the kingdom of Tsin, which occupied what is now the southern half of Shensi, and the north-west of Honan.

The King of Tsin, wishing to send an embassy of friendly congratulation to the King of Ch'u, Peh-ya sought and obtained the commission. Having reached the capital, he was granted a royal interview, and was entertained in sumptuous style. He naturally wished to visit his ancestral graves, and call upon such of his relatives and friends as the great change-worker Time had spared as yet.

Public business being ended, he took his leave of his royal host, pleading that he was suffering from ill-hea…

The Lake of the Flayed Child

In old China, filial piety was honoured and enforced by law to its extreme, whosoever curses father or mother is to die.

Once a woman was frightening a stubborn boy by crying, 'Come, mandarin, come! the boy has struck his mother.' Which cries was heard by a passing by mandarin, and he stopped his chair. The mother explained that she was talking in sport. She urged that the child was not old enough to know good and evil.

'We will see about that, ' said the magistrate. 'Bring a bowl of rice and a bowl of muck.'

The child chose the former.

'He does know, you see. Flay him.'

It was done.

The place where this cruel incident happened was called the Lake of the Flayed Child to this day. Although some say, in Chinese, the sounds, being almost identical with those of melon seeds, those two words, and not the flayed child, may form the more correct name of the place.

A Chinese Diogenes

During the epoch known as that of the Three Kingdoms [221-265], Ts'ao Ts'ao, a lawless and prominent character of that period, ordered an erratic philosopher named Ti'ao Hen to come to his court. On his arrival, Ts'ao Ts'ao treated him very shabbily, at which he raised his eyes to heaven, saying, ' Heaven and earth are wide ; why then are no men to be found ? ' Ts'ao replied that he had some teens of warrior chieftains under him, and enumerated several, with commendatory remarks on each one. Ti'ao Hen laughed sneeringly, and said, 'The first may do to condole with folks after a bereavement ; the second might manage to guard a grave ; the third might answer for a doorkeeper ; the fourth, a ballad singer ; the fifth, a beater of drums and gongs ; the sixth, a cowherd ; the seventh is good at litigation ; the eighth might carry letters; the ninth, sharpen knives and swords ; the tenth can drink wine, lees and all ; the eleventh might make a fair b…

The Origin of Tea-drinking

There was a monk named Ta Ma who came from the West to China to enlighten the Chinese.

He exposed himself to every possible hardship, being self-denying in the extreme. He lived only upon the herbs of the field; and in order to attain to the highest degree of sanctity, determined to pass his nights as well as days in contemplation of doctrine.

After some time spent thus, he became so weary that he fell asleep. This lapse troubled him sorely.

On awaking the next morning he determined to expiate his vow-breaking sin by cutting off his eyelids! Returning to the place the following day, he was surprised to find that each eyelid had become a shrub, the plant, indeed, which we now call tea.

He took of the leaves and ate them, and found that as he did so his heart was filled with extraordinary exhilaration, and that he had acquired renewed strength for his contemplation. The event being known, his disciples spread the news far and wide.

The 'Military Emperor' Wu-te of Wei was once af…

The poor farmer and his fox wife

Once a poor farmer lived in a mud-brick hut with thatched roof. Having no wife, he was wont to cook one meal a day, and eat the cold leavings in the morning.

A fox took pity upon him, and, when he was out, entered the house, changed herself into a woman, cleaned up the place, cooked a meal for him, and then disappeared. This went on for some days, until the farmer determined to watch and find out who his kind and unknown visitor was. So he crouched behind a water jar and waited. Soon he observed a fox entering through a hole in the wall, then turn a somersault, landing on her feet a handsome woman, the fox's skin falling to the ground. The farmer got hold of the skin, and secreted it under the pig trough, when all her good deed were done, she came and searched, but not finding the skin, had to rain a woman, and become the farmer's wife.

In after years he said jokingly to one of his children, 'Your mother is a fox.' The mother asked for his proof of such a statement. He…

The fox arrogating the tiger's power to terrify

A she fox was overtaken by a tiger, which was about to devour her.

The fox remonstrated with the tiger, and claimed that she possessed a superiority over other animals, all of whom she declared stood in awe of her. In proof of this, she invited the tiger to accompany her, and witness her power.

The tiger consented, and quietly followed. Every beast fled at their approach, and the tiger dare not attack the fox, not considering that the terror was caused by his own appearance.

Hence the saying, 'the fox arrogating the tiger's power to terrify.'


The Spirit of the Hills

A famous hermit was once deep in his meditations, when he saw a form standing before him, who introduced himself as the spirit of the hills, and said he had come for instruction in doctrine.

Having received it, he asked what recompense he could give. The hermit answered, 'The hill where I generally meditate has no pines; could you move these thither for me?'

'You humble servant,' replied the spirit, 'never fear.' And he bowed exit.

That night there was a great thunderstorm, and the morning saw all the pines transplanted around the dwelling of the hermit.

(A string of Chinese peach-stones (1895), Cornaby, William Arthur)


The Battle Was Lost By A Crane

A certain prince of the seventh century B.C. (Yi Kung of the State of Wei) carried his fondness for cranes to the point of folly. The people were uncared for, while the royal park became an aviary for his pet birds, upon the choicest of which he conferred patents of nobility. When he rode forth, one of these favourites must accompany him in a special chariot.

By and by the northern barbarians invaded his frontiers. He must arouse, and assemble an army ; but the militia would not enroll themselves. Upon a number of the fugitives being captured by his guards, they exclaimed, "You have wherewith to defend the country; why do you want us ? "

" What mean you ? "

" The cranes."

" Of what use are they to defend the country ? "

" Why then nourish the useless, and neglect the populace ? "

The battle was " lost by a crane."