The Wars on Snail’s Horns

King Yíng of Wèi made a treaty with the marquis Tián Móu of Qí, which the latter violated. The king was enraged, and intended to send a man to assassinate him.

When the Minister of War heard of it, he was ashamed, and said to the king, ‘You are a ruler of 10,000 chariots, and by means of a common man would avenge yourself on your enemy. I beg you to give me, Yán, the command of 200,000 soldiers to attack him for you. I will take captive his people and officers, halter and lead off his oxen and horses, kindling a fire within him that shall burn to his backbone. I will then storm his capital; and when he shall run away in terror, I will flog his back and break his spine.’

Jì Zǐ heard of this advice, and was ashamed of it, and said to the king, ‘We have been raising the wall of our capital to a height of eighty cubits, and the work has been completed. If we now get it thrown down, it will be a painful toil to the convict builders. It is now seven years since our troops were called out, and this is the foundation of the royal sway. Yán would introduce disorder;–he should not be listened to.’

Huá Zǐ heard of this advice, and, greatly disapproving of it, said to the king, ‘He who shows his skill in saying “Attack Qí” would produce disorder; and he who shows his skill in saying “Do not attack it” would also produce disorder. And one who should merely say, “The counsellors to attack Qí and not to attack it would both produce disorder,” would himself also lead to the same result.’ The king said, ‘Yes, but what am I to do?’

Huì Zǐ, having heard of this counsel, introduced to the king Tài Jìn Rén, who said, ‘There is the creature called a snail; does your majesty know it?’

‘I do.’

‘On the left horn of the snail there is a kingdom which is called Provocation, and on the right horn another which is called Stupidity. These two kingdoms are continually striving about their territories and fighting. The corpses that lie on the ground amount to several myriads. The army of one may be defeated and put to flight, but in fifteen days it will return.’

The king said, ‘Pooh! that is empty talk!’

The other rejoined, ‘Your servant begs to show your majesty its real significance. When your majesty thinks of space–east, west, north, and south, above and beneath–can you set any limit to it?’

‘It is illimitable,’ said the king.

And his visitor went on, ‘Your majesty knows how to let your mind thus travel through the illimitable, and yet as compared with this does it not seem insignificant whether the kingdoms that communicate one with another exist or not?’

The king replies, ‘It does so.’

And Tài Jìn Rén said, finally, ‘Among those kingdoms, stretching one after another, there is this Wei; in Wei there is this city of Liáng; and in Liáng there is your majesty. Can you make any distinction between yourself, and the king of that kingdom of Stupidity?’

To this the king answered, ‘There is no distinction.’

And his visitor went out, while the king remained disconcerted and seemed to have lost himself.

When the visitor was gone, Huì Zǐ came in and saw the king, who said, ‘That stranger is a Great man. An (ordinary) sage is not equal to him.’

Huì Zǐ replied, ‘If you blow into a flute, there come out its pleasant notes; if you blow into a sword-hilt, there is nothing but a wheezing sound. Yáo and Shùn are the subjects of men’s praises, but if you speak of them before Tài Jìn Rén, there will be but the wheezing sound.’

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