Anecdotes of Tung Fang-so

A Recluse at Court.

Tung Fang-so’s original surname was Chang (张). Owing to his eccentric and humorous behavior at the Han court, his nickname was Guji (“Buffoon”). He proclaimed himself the first “recluse at court”. When fellow courtiers called him crazy, he replied, “People like me are known as those who escape the world by taking it easy at court.”

The Cackling Magpie.

The Emperor Wu of Han was one day a showery day having a feast with some of his courtiers, when Tung Fang-so appeared under the dripping eaves, holding a weapon in his hand. On the Emperor asking the reason of his appearance, Tung Fang-so smiled, and said he had been sent for by the Supreme, who told him there was a magpie on a withered cypress behind the palace cackling vigorously toward the East. “So I was commanded to go and find out the reason of the noise it was making.”

“And how should you know ? ” asked the Emperor, who had risen from the now finished feast.

“Oh, I know a thing or two about the affairs of men,” he replied, with a laugh. ” I saw the wind was in the East, so, by reason of the bird’s long tail, it must perforce turn its head that way. Moreover the branch was slippery with the rain, for which two reasons the magpie began to cackle. What a joke ! “

The Sacrificial Meat.

On another occasion when the Emperor Wu of Han intended to present his courtiers with some sacrificial meat, Tung Fang-so, being the only one present, did not wait till the others arrived, but cut off a piece of the meat and departed. On being ordered to apologise, he replied, “How impolite not to wait for the imperial bidding to receive the gift which had been made ! How bold of me to draw my sword and cut the meat ! How generous of me not to cut too much ! How kind of me to take it home as a present for my little lady ! “

The Emperor laughed at the apology, and gave him another present of meat and wine for his wife.

The “Records of an Inquest into the Sacred” tells a story about Emperor Wu encountering a monster blocking Hangu Pass , “Thirty or forty feet in length, its body resembled in shape that of a buffalo or an elephant. It had black eyes that blazed with light, and its four legs were so firmly planted in the ground that every effort to dislodge it was unavailing.” All the courtiers were terrified except for Tung fang-so, who sprinkled gallons of wine over the monster, which gradually melted away. He explained to the emperor, “This may be called the product of an atmosphere of sorrow and suffering. Now, wine has the power to banish grief, and that is why it was able to dispel this phantom.”

The emperor exclaimed, “Oh, man of much learning, to think that your knowledge can extend as far as this!”


Tung fang-so left the world as an Immortal . A number of people observed him mount a dragon and fly northwest up into the sky until “he was enveloped in a dense mist which made it impossible to see where he went.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: