Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2010


A man of the Lu State lived alone in a cottage, and a neighbour, who was a widow, lived alone in another. One night, there was a terrific storm of wind and rain; the widow's cottage was destroyed, and she herself ran across to the man and asked to be taken in. The man, however, bolted his door and refused to admit her; whereupon the widow called to him, saying, "Where, sir, is your charity of heart, that you do not let me in?" "I have heard," replied he, " that until a man is sixty, he may not share a house with a woman. Now, you are young, and I too am young; so that I dare not receive you." "Sir," said the widow, " why not play the part of Liu-hsia Hui? Besides, I am an old dame, and not a damsel of doubtful reputation; there would be no scandal talked about us." "Liu-hsia Hui," answered the man, "was a man of eminent virtue, and could hold a lady in his lap without the slightest imputation on his moral char


Confucius noticed in the ancestral temple of Duke Huan of the Lu State certain vessels which stood awry, and enquired of the verger what these vessels were; to which the verger replied that they were goblets for use at banquets. " I have been told," said Confucius, "that when these goblets are empty they stand awry, that when they are half full they stand up straight, and that when filled up they topple right over. A wise ruler would use them as a warning, and see that such were always placed alongside of his guests." Then turning to his disciples, the Sage said, "Let us try them with water;" and accordingly water was poured in until the goblets were half full, when they stood up straight. They were then filled up, and at once toppled over. " Alas! " cried Confucius, heaving a deep sigh, " there are men who are full of wickedness, but they do not topple over." (by Wang Su, found in the book Gems of Chinese Literature, by H. A. Giles)

Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao

In the Warring States period, there was a man of the state of Chao named Lin Hsiang-ju (蔺相如); he was employed by the king of Chao and handled the affairs of the land. The minor state of Chao had for generations possessed an unusual jade disc, made from the Ho jewel. The king of the powerful state of Ch'in heard of the disc and offered to trade fifteen cities for it. Chao, a militarily weak state, could not refuse and sent Lin Hsiang-ju with the disc to the Ch'in King. Hsiang-ju, however, perceived that the king had no real intention of ceding fifteen cities and said to the king, "The jewel has a flaw. if you will give it to me, I will show you where it is." Once he had the jewel back in his hands, he backed himself up against a pillar and threatened to smash the disc against the pillar if the king did not follow proper ritual, fast and purify himself for five days, and honestly offer the fifteen cities. The king promised to do so. While waiting for the king t

Zhang Liang and the Yellow Stone Old Man

Chang Liang (张良,运筹帷幄之中,决胜千里之外) was the friend and adviser whose counsels contributed so much to the success of Liu Pang, founder of the Han Dynasty. Having had occasion, in his youth, to oblige an old man by picking up his sandal for him, the latter then presented him with a book from which he drew the wisdom that distinguished him so much in after life. Liu Pang said, " In concocting stratagems in the tent for winning battles a thousand miles away, I cannot compare with Chang Liang." Here is the story from Szuma Chien, Records of the Historian, translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1979) One day, Chang Liang was stolling idly across the bridge at Hsiapi when an old man in rough homespun approached, dropped a shoe under the bride and turning into Chang Liang, said, "Boy! Go down, and fetch my slipper!" Chang Liang was astounded and wanted to hit the fellow. But controlling himself on account of the other's age, he went


A certain person having forwarded some elixir of immortality to the Prince of Ching, it was received as usual by the door-keeper. " Is this to be swallowed? " enquired the Chief Warden of the palace. " It is," replied the door-keeper. Thereupon, the Chief Warden purloined and swallowed it. At this, the prince was exceedingly wroth, and ordered his immediate execution; but the Chief Warden sent a friend to plead for him, saying, " Your Highness' servant asked the door-keeper if the drug was to be swallowed; and as he replied in the affirmative, your servant accordingly swallowed it. The blame rests entirely with the door- keeper. Besides, if the elixir of life is presented to your Highness, and because your servant swallows it, your Highness slays him, that elixir is clearly the elixir of death; and for your Highness thus to put to death an innocent official is simply for your Highness to be made the sport of men." The prince spared his life.


When Tzu-chu died, his wife and secretary took counsel together as to who should be interred with him. All was settled before the arrival of his brother, Tzu-k'ang; and then they informed him, saying, "The deceased requires some one to attend upon him in the nether world. We must ask you to go down with his body into the grave." "Burial of the living with the dead," replied Tzu-heng, " is not in accordance with established rites. Still, as you say some one is wanted to attend upon the deceased, who better fitted than his wife and secretary? If this contingency can be avoided altogether, I am willing; if not, then the duty will devolve upon you two." From that time forth the custom fell into desuetude. *The custom of burying living persons with the dead was first practised in China B.C. 580. It was said to have been suggested by an earlier and more harmless custom of placing straw and wooden effigies in the mausolea of the great.

How yen-tzu would not die with his prince

[Twenty-fifth year of Duke Hsiang: -- In the fifth moon, in summer, Ts'ui of the Ch'i state, slew his prince. -- Annals.] Duke Chuang committed adultery with Ts'ui-tzu's wife, and Ts'ui-tzu slew him. Thereupon Yen-tzu planted himself at the door of the latter's house. "Are you going to die with your prince," cried his attendants. "Was he my prince only?" asked Yen-tzu, "that I alone should die," "Will you flee the country?" said the attendants. "Was his death my crime, that I should flee?' asked Yen-tzu. "Will you then go home?" enquired the attendants. "Where," said Yen-tzu, "is there a home for him whose master is dead? It is not enough for a prince to be merely above the people; the commonwealth is in his hands. It is not enough for a minister merely to draw his pay; the commonwealth is his trust. Therefore, when the prince dies for the commonwealth, his minister dies with him; when


There was a man who had a pet bird, very like a starling, which he taught to talk; and the bird was in the habit of travelling about with him all over the country as his companion. This went on for some years, until once he found himself far away from home with all his money spent and without means of getting home. He was in a great state of perplexity, when suddenly the bird said to him, "Why not sell me? Try to get me into the prince's palace; I ought to fetch a good sum, and then you will have enough to get home with." To this the man said, "My dear bird, I couldn't do it; I couldn't bear to part with you." "Never mind that," said the bird; "Wait for me under the big tree a little way out of the city." So he took, the bird along, chattering together as they went, until he was seen by a eunuch of the palace, who promptly reported to the prince. The prince at once sent for the man and offered to buy the bird; but the man said that he

Football on a lake

The two Chais, father and son, were known for miles round their home as first-class football players. Even up to the time he was forty the father went on with the game, and might have been playing till sixty if he hadn't come to a sad end, being drowned in the great lake near by. Now, about eight years afterwards, young Chai had to go a long journey which took him across this same lake, and as it was already evening, he determined to anchor his boat for the night. It was a lovely moonlight night, when suddenly, as he sat enjoying the view, he saw a very strange sight. Up out of the lake came five men carrying a huge mat, which they spread on the top of the water. Next they brought up bowls of food, and wine in kettles, -- they could scarcely have been ordinary bowls and kettles, because when the men knocked them together there was no sound of crockery or metal, but a funny, wooden-like sound difficult to describe. When the food was all spread on the mat, three of the men sat down t


Hundreds of years ago, there were a great many learned men in China, who were always trying to find out something which would make them live for ever. They mixed up all kinds of things together, and boiled them for a long time over the fire, and then drank the juice. Some of them were soon poisoned, while all the rest made themselves very ill, and did not live any longer than other people. One man sent a bottle of his mixture to the king, only it never reached his Majesty, because it was stolen and drunk up by the door-keeper of the palace. At this the king was very angry, and sent for the door-keeper and ordered his head to be cut off on the spot. But the door-keeper said, " Please, your Majesty, if you kill me, it shows that the medicine I drank cannot make people live for ever; so that it would have been of no use to your Majesty." The king laughed at this, and let him off. However, there was another man, who had spent about fifty years in trying to make this wonderful m

Theft of a duck

In a country village, there lived an honest old farmer, named Chang, who had a large flock of fine fat ducks. One day, a good-for-nothing fellow named Lin who lived nearby, stole one of these ducks and carried it off to his home and ate it for supper. In the middle of the night he began to itch violently all over; and when morning came, he found to his horror that he was entirely covered with feathers which were growing out of his skin and now began to smart terribly. He was in great pain all day but at night he managed to get off to sleep, and then he dreamt that a man appeared to him and said, " You are being punished for stealing that duck; and you will never get well until you go to Mr. Chang and make him say, " You dirty thief! '" Lin was very much troubled at this, but he soon thought of a plan by which he hoped to escape. He went to see Mr. Chang and said to him, " Sir, I have something to tell you privately. Your duck was stolen by old Wang who lives dow

Learning Magic or The Taoist Priest of Lao-Shan

Many years ago, there was a man named Sung, who was not very fond of work but longed to be a magician and do all kinds of wonderful tricks. So one day off he went to a temple on a mountain, and there he found an old priest, with long hair flowing down his back, and sitting on a rush mat. Making a low bow. Sung asked the priest if he would be kind enough to teach him magic. "Ah," replied the priest, " I am afraid you are not strong enough for that." Sung begged the priest to let him try; and so he was allowed to stay in the temple and join in with the other pupils. Very early next morning the priest sent for him, and giving him a hatchet told him to go out and cut firewood. This he went on doing every day for a month, until his hands and feet were so sore that he secretly began to wish himself home again. One evening, when he came back, he found two strangers drinking wine with the priest. It was already dark, and as no candles had been brought in, the old priest t


More than a thousand years ago there lived an Empress of China, who was a very bold and obstinate woman. She thought she was powerful enough to do anything. One day, she even gave orders that every kind of flower throughout the country was to be out in full bloom on a certain day. Being a woman herself, she thought that women would govern the empire much better than men ; so she actually had examinations for women and gave them all the important posts. This made a great many men extremely angry ; especially a young man named Tang, who was very clever and had taken many prizes. He said he couldn't live in such a country any more ; and sailed away with an uncle of his and another friend, on a long voyage to distant parts of the world. They visited many extraordinary nations ; in one of which, the people all had heads of dogs ; in another, they flew about like birds ; in another, they had enormously long arms with which they reached down into the water to catch fish. Then there was

The wonderful pear-tree

Once upon a time a countryman came into the town on market-day, and brought a load of very special pears with him to sell. He set up his barrow in a good corner, and soon had a great crowd round him ; for everyone knew he always sold extra fine pears, though he did also ask an extra high price. Now, while he was crying up his fruit, a poor, old, ragged, hungry-looking priest stopped just in front of the barrow, and very humbly begged him to give him one of the pears. But the countryman, who was very mean and very nasty-tempered, wouldn't hear of giving him any, and as the priest didn't seem inclined to move on, he began calling him all the bad names he could think of. " Good sir," said the priest, " you have got hundreds of pears on your barrow. I only ask you for one. You would never even know you had lost one. Really, you needn't get angry." "Give him a pear that is going bad ; that will make him happy," said one of the crowd. "The o

Never Addict to Reading

In 獨異志 Record of strange and singular things, we read that, "李廣 Le-kwang, the imperial historian of the 北齊 northern Tse dynasty, was most intensely addicted to reading; one night he dreamed that a man came to him, saying, 'I am your 心神 heart and mind, you have oppressed me by excessive labour ; I therefore now take my leave of you ;' after this Kwang became suddenly ill and died."


When I was a little boy, I went one day to the fair. There were crowds of people there, and the noise, with everyone talking at the top of their voices, drums beating, and music playing, was enough to make a man deaf. 偷桃 In the middle of it all, I saw a man suddenly walk into an open space. He was leading a boy by the hand, and cried out that he would do any trick anyone asked him to do. Now it was a cold day, with snow lying on the ground, and when one of the crowd asked him to get some peaches, the magician didn't seem to like the idea at all. He grumbled and grunted for a bit, but suddenly cheered up, and cried: "Done! Of course I can't get peaches here, in this frosty weather. But I know where they grow, up in the Great Sky Garden. We must try to fetch them from there." So saying, he took out of his box a huge ball of cord. He unfastened a good length of this, and threw it high into the air, where it seemed to hook on to something no one could see. Quickly the

The Emperor of Qin and the Spirit of the Sea

The Book San Qi-lüe Record (三齊略), says that Qin Shi-huang ( 秦始皇 ) wished to construct a stone bridge in the midst of the sea, so that he could cross over to find out the place of sunrise; but as this was not within the compass of human power, the Spirit of the Sea (海神) set up the buttresses for him. The Spirit drove stones down into the Eastern Sea from the Mountain Chengyang. All stones stood up and moved eastward. The Spirit whipped those slow stones to urge up, he flogged them so hard that all stones bled. You can still see red bloodstains on those stones on the Mountain Chengyang till today. Qin Shi-huang was grateful for the kindness of the Sea Spirit, and doing honour to him, sought an interview; the spirit of the sea replied, saying, ' My form is ugly, and you must not delineate it ; on condition of your not attempting this, I will meet with your Majesty.' Qin Shi-huang then constructed a stone pier, upon which he went out about ten miles into the sea, and obtained an

With money you can make the devil turn the mill

With money you can make the devil turn the mill : "When a sum mounts up so as to penetrate even to the spirits, there is no affair that may not be turned; I was afraid lest some calamity should come upon me, and could not but desist from my inquiries."


Long, long ago, on the top of a mountain called the Flower-and-Fruit Mountain, there lay all by itself a queer-shaped stone egg. No one knew what bird had laid it, or how it had got there ; no one ever saw it, for there was nobody there to see. The egg lay all by itself on some green grass, until one day it split with a crack, and out came a stone monkey, a monkey whose body was of shining polished stone. Before long, this wonderful stone monkey was surrounded by a crowd of other monkeys, chattering to one another as hard as they could. By and by they seemed to have settled something in their minds, and one of them came forward and asked the stone monkey to be their king. This post he accepted at once, having indeed already thrown out hints that he thought himself quite fit to rule over them. Flower-and-Fruit Mountain Soon after this, he determined to travel in search of wisdom, and to see the world. He went down the mountain, until he came to the sea-shore, where he made himself