Where the will is not diverted from its object, the spirit is concentrated

When Kung-nî was on his way to Khû, as he issued from a forest, he saw a hunchback receiving cicadas (on the point of a rod), as if he were picking them up with his hand. ‘You are clever!’ said he to the man. ‘Is there any method in it?’

The hunchback replied, ‘There is. For five or six months, I practised with two pellets, till they never fell down, and then I only failed with a small fraction of the cicadas (which I tried to catch). Having succeeded in the same way with three (pellets), I missed only one cicada in ten. Having succeeded with five, I caught the cicadas as if I were gathering them. My body is to me no more than the stump of a broken trunk, and my shoulder no more than the branch of a rotten tree. Great as heaven and earth are, and multitudinous as things are, I take no notice of them, but only of the wings of my cicadas; neither turning nor inclining to one side. I would not for them all exchange the wings of my cicadas;–how should I not succeed in taking them?’

Confucius looked round, and said to his disciples, “Where the will is not diverted from its object, the spirit is concentrated;”–this might have been spoken of this hunchback gentleman.’

Learned Men in Lû

At an interview of Kwang-dze with duke Âi of Lû, the duke said, ‘There are many of the Learned class in Lû; but few of them can be compared with you, Sir.’

Kwang-dze replied, ‘There are few Learned men in Lû.’

 ‘Everywhere in Lû,’ rejoined the duke, ‘you see men wearing the dress of the Learned;–how can you say that they are few?’

‘I have heard,’ said Kwang-dze, ‘that those of them who wear round caps know the times of heaven; that those who wear square shoes know the contour of the ground; and that those who saunter about with semicircular stones at their girdle-pendents settle matters in dispute as they come before them. But superior men who are possessed of such knowledge will not be found wearing the dress, and it does not follow that those who wear the dress possess the knowledge. If your Grace think otherwise, why not issue a notification through the state, that it shall be a capital offence to wear the dress without possessing the knowledge.’

 On this the duke issued such a notification, and in five days, throughout all Lû, there was no one who dared to wear the dress of the Learned. There was only one old man who came and stood in it at the duke’s gate. The duke instantly called him in, and questioned him about the affairs of the state, when he talked about a thousand points and ten thousand divergences from them.

Kwang-dze said, ‘When the state of Lû can thus produce but one man of the Learned class, can he be said to be many?’

(Kwang-dze, Zhuāng zi, 庄子)

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.’

A goby in the carriage rut

The family of Zhuāng Zhōu being poor, he went to ask the loan of some rice from the Marquis Superintendent of the Hé (the Yellow River), who said, ‘Yes, I shall be getting the tax-money from the people soon, and I will then lend you three hundred ounces of silver;–will that do?’

Zhuāng Zhōu flushed with anger, and said, ‘On the road yesterday, as I was coming here, I heard some one calling out. On looking round, I saw a goby in the carriage rut, and said to it, “Goby fish, what has brought you here?”

The goby said, “I am Minister of Waves in the Eastern Sea. Have you, Sir, a gallon or a pint of water to keep me alive?”

I replied, “Yes, I am going south to see the kings of Wú and Yuè, and I will then lead a stream from the Western Jiāng (the Yangtze River) to meet you;–will that do?”

The goby flushed with anger, and said, “I have lost my proper element, and I can here do nothing for myself; but if I could get a gallon or a pint of water, I should keep alive. Than do what you propose, you had better soon look for me in a stall of dry fish.”‘

The lower the service, the more are the carriages given.

There was a man of Sòng, called Cáo Shāng, who was sent by the king of Sòng on a mission to Qín.

On setting out, he had several carriages with him; and the king of Qín was so pleased with him that he gave him another hundred.

When he returned to Sòng, he saw Zhuāng Zǐ, and said to him, ‘To live in a narrow lane of a poor mean hamlet, wearing sandals amid distress of poverty, with a weazen neck and yellow face;–that is what I should find it difficult to do. But as soon as I come to an understanding with the Lord of a myriad carriages, to find myself with a retinue of a hundred carriages,–that is wherein I excel.’

Zhuāng Zǐ replied, ‘When the king of Qín is ill, the doctor whom he calls to open an ulcer or squeeze a boil receives a carriage; and he who licks his piles receives five. The lower the service, the more are the carriages given. Did you, Sir, lick his piles? How else should you have got so many carriages? Begone!’

A man who was frightened at his shadow and disliked to see his footsteps

There was a man who was frightened at his shadow and disliked to see his footsteps, so that he ran to escape from them. But the more frequently he lifted his feet, the more numerous his footprints were; and however fast he ran, his shadow did not leave him. He thought he was going too slow, and ran on with all his speed without stopping, till his strength was exhausted and he died. He did not know that, if he had stayed in a shady place, his shadow would have disappeared, and that if he had remained still, he would have lost his footprints:–his stupidity was excessive!

A white tortoise

The ruler Yüan of Sung once dreamt at midnight that a man with dishevelled hair peeped in on him at a side door and said, ‘I was coming from the abyss of commissioned by the Clear Kiang to go to the place of the Earl of the Ho; but the fisherman Yü Zü has caught me.’ When the ruler Yüan awoke, he caused a diviner to divine the meaning of the dream, and was told, ‘This is a marvellous tortoise.’ The ruler asked if among the fishermen there was one called Yü Zü, and being told by his attendants that there was, he gave orders that he should be summoned to court. Accordingly the man next day appeared at court, and the ruler said, ‘What have you caught lately in fishing?’ The reply was, ‘I have caught in my net a white tortoise, sieve-like, and five cubits round.’ ‘Present the prodigy here,’ said the ruler; and, when it came, once and again he wished to kill it, once and again he wished to keep it alive. Doubting in his mind what to do, he had recourse to divination, and obtained the answer, ‘To kill the tortoise for use in divining will be fortunate.’ Accordingly they cut the creature open, and perforated its shell in seventy-two places, and there was not a single divining slip which failed.

Kung-nî said, ‘The spirit-like tortoise could show itself in a dream to the ruler Yüan, and yet it could not avoid the net of Yü Zü. Its wisdom could respond on seventy-two perforations without failing in a single divination, and yet it could not avoid the agony of having its bowels all scooped out. We see from this that wisdom is not without its perils, and spirit-like intelligence does not reach to everything. A man may have the greatest wisdom, but there are a myriad men scheming against him. Fishes do not fear the net, though they fear the pelican. Put away your small wisdom, and your great wisdom will be bright; discard your skilfulness, and you will become naturally skilful. A child when it is born needs no great master, and yet it becomes able to speak, living as it does among those who are able to speak.’

Whirl his axe so as to produce a wind

On the top of the nose of that man of Ying there is a little bit of mud like a fly’s wing, He sent for the artisan Shih to cut it away. Shih whirled his axe so as to produce a wind, which immediately carried off the mud entirely, leaving the nose uninjured, and the (statue of) the man of Ying’ standing undisturbed.

The ruler Yüan of Sung heard of the feat, called the artisan Shih, and said to him, ‘Try and do the same thing on me.’ The artisan said, ‘Your servant has been able to trim things in that way, but the material on which I have worked has been dead for a long time.’

(运斤成风, Yun Jin Cheng Feng)

The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the sparrow behind

螳螂捕蟬, 麻雀在后 táng láng bǔ chán má què zài hòu

The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind.

This story is excerpted from the Writings of Chuang-Tzu ( Kwang dze in James Legge’s transcribe system), or Zhuang zi (in modern Chinese Pīnyīn), name Zhōu (or Kâu in James Legges’s transcribe system).

This idiom when quoted in modern Chinese writing, a sparrow ( má què) is used instead of oriole, but in normal translation (as in a dictionary) an oriole is used. Oriole is mostly tropical songbird, the male is usually bright orange and black; or American songbird, male is black and orange or yellow.

In this story Chuang Tzu just say a strange bird with huge eyes from the south, its wings were seven cubits in width. The bird has large eyes but failed to see Chuang tzu approaching who was trying to shoot it with the cross-bow, since all the bird’s attention were on its prey, i.e., the mantis and cicada. This scenario startled and awakened Chuang tzu, because he wasn’t aware the forester who was behind him to find fitting object of reproach, either. If he shoot the bird, he would have become the victim of the forester just as the cicada of mantis, or both the cicada and mantis of the bird.

As Kwang Kâu (庄周, Zhuāng Zhōu in modern Chinese Pīnyīn) was rambling in the park of Tiâo-ling, he saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven cubits in width, and its eyes were large, an inch in circuit. It touched the forehead of Kâu as it passed him, and lighted in a grove of chestnut trees. ‘What bird is this?’ said he, ‘with such great wings not to go on! and with such large eyes not to see me!’ He lifted up his skirts, and hurried with his cross-bow, waiting for an opportunity to shoot it. Meanwhile he saw a cicada, which had just alighted in a beautiful shady spot, and forgot its care for its body. Just then, a preying mantis raised its feelers, and pounced on the cicada, in its eagerness for its prey, also forgetting its care for its body; while the strange bird took advantage of its opportunity to secure them both, in view of that gain forgetting its true instinct of preservation. Kwang Kâu with an emotion of pity, said, ‘Ah! so it is that things bring evil on one another, each of these creatures invited its own calamity.’ With this he put away his cross-bow, and was hurrying away back, when the forester pursued him with terms of reproach.

When he returned and went into his house, he did not appear in his courtyard for three months. When he came out, Lan Zü (his disciple) asked him, saying, ‘Master, why have you for this some time avoided the courtyard so much?’ Kwang-dze replied, ‘I was walking about in the park of Tiâo-ling, and forgot myself. A strange bird brushed past my forehead, and went flying about in the grove of chestnuts, where it forgot the true art of preserving itself. The forester of the chestnut grove thought that I was a fitting object for his reproach. These are the reasons why I have avoided the courtyard.’