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Showing posts from March, 2010

The Phoenix Bird Would Not Alight Except On The Wu-t‘ung Tree

Hui Tzŭ was prime minister in the Liang State. Chuang Tzŭ went thither to visit him. Some one remarked: "Chuang Tzŭ has come. He wants to be minister in your place," Thereupon Hui Tzŭ was afraid, and searched all over the State for three days and three nights to find him. Then Chuang Tzŭ went to see Hui Tzŭ and said: "In the south there is a bird. It is a kind of Do you know it? It started from the south sea to fly to the north sea. Except on the wu-t‘ung tree, it would not alight. It would eat nothing but the fruit of the bamboo, drink nothing but the purest spring water. An owl which had got the rotten carcass of a rat, looked up as the phoenix flew by, and screeched. Are you not screeching at me over your kingdom of Liang?"

The Tortoise Would Rather Be Alive And Wagging Its Tail In The Mud

Chuang Tzŭ was fishing in the P'u when the prince of Ch'u sent two high officials to ask him to take charge of the administration of the Ch'u State. Chuang Tzŭ went on fishing and, without turning his head, said "I have heard that in Ch'u there is a sacred tortoise which has been dead now some three thousand years, and that the prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed in a chest on the altar of his ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its remains venerated, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?" "It would rather be alive," replied the two officials, "and wagging its tail in the mud." "Begone!" cried Chuang Tzŭ. "I too will wag my tail in the mud." Musings of a Chinese Mystic, by Lionel Giles, [1909]

The Joyous Life Of Tuan-Mu-Shu

TUAN-MU-SHU of Wei was descended from Tse-Kung. He had a patrimony of ten thousand gold pieces. Indifferent to the chances of life, he followed his own inclinations. What the heart delights in he would do and delight in: with his walls and buildings, pavilions, verandahs, gardens, parks, ponds and lakes, wine and food, carriages, dresses, women and attendants, he would emulate the princes of Ch'i and Ch'u in luxury. Whenever his heart desired something, or his ear wished to hear something, his eye to see or his mouth to taste, he would procure it at all costs, though the thing might only be had in a far-off country, and not in the kingdom of Chi. When on a journey the mountains and rivers might be ever so difficult and dangerous to pass, and the roads ever so long, he would still proceed just as men walk a few steps. A hundred guests were entertained daily in his palace. In the kitchens there were always fire and smoke, and the vaults of his hall and peristyle inces

An old farmer of Sung

There was one old farmer of Sung who never wore anything else than coarse hempen clothes; even for the winter he had no others. In spring, when cultivating the land, he warmed himself in the sunshine. He did not know that there were such things as large mansions and winter apartments, brocade and silk, furs of fox and badger in the world. Turning one day to his wife he said : "People do not know how pleasant it is to have warm sunshine on the back. I shall communicate this to our prince, and I am sure to get a rich present." A rich man of the village said to him : "Once there was a man fond of big beans, hemp-stalks, cress and duckweed. He told the village elder of them. The village elder tasted them, and they burnt his mouth and gave him pains in his stomach. Everybody laughed, and was angry with the man, who felt much ashamed. Such a man do you resemble."

The neighbour of Yang Chu once lost a sheep

The neighbour of Yang Chu once lost a sheep. He began to search for it with all his kinsfolk, and asked assistance also from the servants of Yang Chu, who in astonishment said: "Oh, oh! why do you require such a large number of persons to seek for a single lost sheep?" The neighbour replied: "There are many crossways to pursue and search out." On his return he was asked if he had found his sheep, and replied that he had given up the search. Yang Chu asked him why he had given up the search. The neighbour answered: "Among the crossways there were a great many small diverging tracts. Not knowing which to follow I gave up the search and returned." Yang Chu became pensive and wrapped in thought. For a whole day he neither smiled nor spoke. His disciples, astonished at his attitude, asked him the reason, saying: "A sheep is an animal of little value; furthermore this one did not belong to you, Master. Why does its loss disturb your usual amiable hu

Lord Chaos

The Ruler of the Southern Ocean was Shû (Heedless), the Ruler of the Northern Ocean was Hû (Sudden), and the Ruler of the Centre was Chaos. Shû and Hû were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well. They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said, 'Men all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing, while this (poor) Ruler alone has not one. Let us try and make them for him.' Accordingly they dug one orifice in him every day; and at the end of seven days Chaos died

Cook Ding was cutting up an ox

Cook Ding (Ting) was cutting up an ox for the King Wén-huì. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. Movements and sounds proceeded as in the dance of 'the Mulberry Forest' and the blended notes of 'the King Shâu.' The King said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!' Having finished his operation, the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dào (Tâo), something in advance of any art. When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the entire carcase. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, my

Shadow talks and Butterfly dreams

The Penumbra asked the Shadow, saying, 'Formerly you were walking on, and now you have stopped; formerly you were sitting, and now you have risen up:--how is it that you are so without stability?' The Shadow replied, 'I wait for the movements of something else to do what I do, and that something else on which I wait waits further on another to do as it does. My waiting,--is it for the scales of a snake, or the wings of a cicada? How should I know why I do one thing, or do not do another? 'Formerly, I, Zhuāng Zhōu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself I did not know that it was Zhōu. Suddenly I awoke, and was myself again, the veritable Zhōu. I did not know whether it had formerly been Zhōu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Zhōu. But between Zhōu and a butterfly there must be a difference. This is a case of what is called the Transformation of Things.'

Useful or Useless

A man of Sòng, who dealt in the ceremonial caps, went with them to Yüè, the people of which cut off their hair and tattooed their bodies, so that they had no use for them. Huì Zi told Zhuāng Zi, saying, 'The king of Wèi sent me some seeds of a large calabash, which I sowed. The fruit, when fully grown, could contain five piculs (of anything). I used it to contain water, but it was so heavy that I could not lift it by myself. I cut it in two to make the parts into drinking vessels; but the dried shells were too wide and unstable and would not hold (the liquor); nothing but large useless things! Because of their uselessness I knocked them to pieces.' Zhuāng Zi replied, 'You were indeed stupid, my master, in the use of what was large. There was a man of Sung who was skilful at making a salve which kept the hands from getting chapped; and (his family) for generations had made the bleaching of cocoon-silk their business. A stranger heard of it, and proposed to buy the art of

The small and the great

In the bare and barren north there is the dark and vast ocean,--the Pool of Heaven. In it there is a fish, several thousand lî in breadth, while no one knows its length. Its name is the kuēn. There is (also) a bird named the péng; its back is like the Thài mountain, while its wings are like clouds all round the sky. On a whirlwind it mounts upwards as on the whorls of a goat's horn for 90,000 lî, till, far removed from the cloudy vapours, it bears on its back the blue sky, and then it shapes its course for the South, and proceeds to the ocean there. A quail by the side of a marsh laughed at it, and said, 'Where is it going to? I spring up with a bound, and come down again when I have reached but a few fathoms, and then fly about among the brushwood and bushes; and this is the perfection of flying. Where is that creature going to?' This shows the difference between the small and the great.

Pride and extravagance lead to calamity and ruin in more ways than one

Mr Yü was a wealthy man of the Liang State. His household was rolling in riches, and his hoards of money and silk and other valuables were quite incalculable. It was his custom to have banquets served, to the accompaniment of music, in a high upper hall overlooking the main road; there he and his friends would sit drinking their wine and amusing themselves with bouts of gambling. One day, a party of young gallants happened to pass along the road. In the chamber above, play was going on as usual, and a lucky throw of the dice, which resulted in the capture of both fishes, evoked a loud burst of merriment from the players. Precisely at that moment, it happened that a kite which was sailing overhead dropped the carcass of a rat in the midst of the company outside. The young men held an angry consultation on the spot: 'This Mr Yü,' they said, 'has been enjoying his wealth for many a long day, and has always treated his neighbours in the most arrogant spirit. And now, alth


In the Chin State, which was infested with robbers, there lived a certain Ch'i Yung, who was able to tell a robber by his face; by examining the expression of his eyes he could read his inmost thoughts. The Marquis of Chin employed him in the inspection of hundreds and thousands of robbers, and he never missed a single one. The Marquis expressed his delight to Wên Tzu of Chao, saying: 'I have a man who, singlehanded, is ridding my whole State of robbers. He saves me the necessity of employing a whole staff of police.' Wên Tzu replied: 'If your Highness relies on a detective for catching robbers, you will never get rid of them. And what is more, Ch'i Yung is certain sooner or later to meet with a violent end.' Meanwhile, a band of robbers were plotting together. 'Ch'i Yung,' they said, 'is the enemy who is trying to exterminate us.' So one day they stole upon him in a body and murdered him. When the Marquis of Chin heard the news, he was gre


Mr Shih of Lu had two sons, one of whom was a scholar and the other a soldier. The former found in his accomplishments the means of ingratiating himself with the Marquis of Ch'i, who engaged him as tutor to the young princes. The other brother proceeded to Ch'u, and won favour with the King of that State by his military talents. The King was so well pleased that he installed him at the head of his troops. Thus both of them succeeded in enriching their family and shedding lustre on their kinsfolk. Now, a certain Mr Mêng, the neighbour of Mr Shih, also had two sons who followed the selfsame professions but were straitened by poverty. Envying the affluence of the Shih family, Mr Mêng called at his neighbour's house, and wanted to know the secret of their rapid rise in the world. The two brothers readily gave him the desired information, whereupon the eldest son immediately set off for Ch'in, hoping that his cultural attainments would recommend him to the King of that Sta


Duke Ching of Ch'i was travelling across the northern flank of the Ox-mountain in the direction of the capital. Gazing at the view before him, he burst into a flood of tears, exclaiming: 'What a lovely scene! How verdant and luxuriantly wooded! To think that some day I must die and leave my kingdom, passing away like running water! If only there were no such things as death, nothing should induce me to stir from this spot.' Two of the Ministers in attendance on the Duke, taking their cue from him, also began to weep, saying: 'We, who are dependent on your Highness's bounty, whose food is of an inferior sort, who have to ride on broken-down hacks or in creaking carts--even we do not want to die. How much less our sovereign liege!' Yen Tzu, meanwhile, was standing by, with a broad smile on his face. The Duke wiped away his tears and, looking at him, said: 'To-day I am stricken with grief on my journey, and both K'ung and Chü mingle their tears with mine.

A Exchange of Hearts

Kung-hu of Lu and Ch'i-ying of Chao both fell ill at the same time, and called in the aid of the great physician Pien-ch'iao. Pien-ch'iao cured them both, and when they were well again he told them that the malady they had been suffering from was one that attacked the internal organs from without, and for that reason was curable by the application of vegetable and mineral drugs. 'But,' he added, 'each of you is also the victim of a congenital disease, which has grown along with the body itself. Would you like me now to grapple with this? They said, 'Yes'; but asked to hear his diagnosis first. Pien-ch'iao turned to Kung-hu. 'Your mental powers,' he said, 'are strong, but your willpower is weak. Hence, though fruitful in plans, you are lacking in decision. Ch'i-ying's mental powers, on the other hand, are weak, while his will-power is strong. Hence there is want of forethought, and he is placed at a disadvantage by the narrowness

Why Heaven dips downwards to the north-west, all rivers and streams roll to the south-east

[Another version of Chinese world creation myth in Lie Tzü, Book V. An ingenious theory to account for the apparent westward revolution of the heavenly bodies, as also for the easterly trend of the great Chinese rivers.] Heaven and earth are themselves only material objects, and therefore imperfect. Hence it is that Nü Kua of old fashioned many-coloured blocks of stone to repair the defective parts. He cut off the legs of the Ao (gigantic sea-turtle) and used them to support the four corners of the heavens. Later on, Kung Kung fought with Chuan Hsü for the throne, and, blundering in his rage against Mount Pu-chou, he snapped the pillar which connects Heaven and earth at the north-western comer. That is why Heaven dips downwards to the north-west, so that sun, moon and stars travel towards that quarter. The earth, on the other hand, is now not large enough to fill up the south-east, so that all rivers and streams roll in that direction.

A Man of Yen Returned to His Native Country

There was once a man who, though born in Yen, was brought up in Ch'u, and it was only in his old age that he returned to his native country. On the way thither, as they were passing through the Chin State, a fellow-traveller played a practical joke on him. Pointing to the city he said: 'Here is the capital of the Yen State'; whereupon the old man flushed with excitement. Pointing out a certain shrine, he told him that it was his own village altar, and the old man heaved a deep sigh. Then he showed him a house, and said: 'This is where your ancestors lived'; and the tears welled up in his eyes. Finally, a mound was pointed out to him as the tomb where his ancestors lay buried, whereupon the old man could control himself no longer, and wept aloud. But his fellow-traveller burst into roars of laughter. 'I have been hoaxing you,' he cried; 'this is only the Chin State.' His victim was greatly mortified; and when he arrived at his journey's end, and

The Man Cured of Loss of Memory

Yang-li Hua-tzü, of the Sung State, was afflicted in middle age by loss of memory. Anything he received in the morning he had forgotten by the evening, anything he gave away in the evening he had forgotten the next morning. Out-of-doors, he forgot to walk; indoors, he forgot to sit down. At any given moment, he had no recollection of what had just taken place; and a little later on, he could not even recollect what had happened then. All his family were perfectly disgusted with him. Fortune-tellers were summoned, but their divinations proved unsuccessful; Wizards were sought out, but their exorcisms were ineffectual; physicians were called in, but their remedies were of no avail. At last, a learned professor from the Lu State volunteered his services, declaring that he could effect a cure. Hua-tzu's wife and family immediately offered him half their estate if only he would tell them how to set to work. The professor replied: 'This is a case which cannot be dealt with by means o

A Dream or not a Dream

A man was gathering fuel in the Cheng State when he fell in with a deer that had been startled from its usual haunts. He gave chase, and succeeded in killing it. He was overjoyed at his good luck; but, for fear of discovery, he hastily concealed the carcass in a dry ditch, and covered it up with brushwood. Afterwards, he forgot the spot where he had hidden the deer, and finally became convinced that the whole affair was only a dream. He told the story to people he met as he went along; and one of those who heard it, following the indications given, went and found the deer. On reaching home with his booty, this man made the following statement to his wife: 'Once upon a time,' he said, 'a wood-cutter dreamt that he had got a deer, but couldn't remember the place where he had put it. Now I have found the deer, so it appears that his dream was a true dream.' 'On the contrary.' said his wife, 'it is you who must have dreamt that wood-cutter who had caught a d

The Great Musician Kuei

When the Yellow Emperor fought with Yen Ti on the field of P'an-ch'üan, his vanguard was composed of bears, wolves, panthers, lynxes and tigers, while his ensign-bearers were eagles, ospreys, falcons and kites. This was forcible impressment of animals into the service of man. The Emperor Yao entrusted K'uei with the regulation of music. K'uei was a composite being, half beast, half man, of irreproachable virtue. The prince of Jing had a daughter, with splendid black hair and very beautiful, so that her brightness cast a light around her, and she was named 'the dark Lady'. Kuei Married her and she bore to him a son called Po-fong. Kuei was man of perfect virture, his son, on the other hand, is said to have had 'the heart of a pig'. He was insatiably gluttonous, covetous and quarrelsome. Kuei was a great musician, he invented music and dancing. When he tapped the musical stone in varying cadence, all the animals danced to the sound of the music. Whe