Confucius conducting an archery meeting

Once, when Confucius was conducting an archery meeting in a vegetable garden at Kio-hsiang, the lookers-on surrounded it like a wall. When the proceedings reached the point when a Master of the Horse should be appointed, he directed Dze-lû to take his bow and arrows, and go out to introduce those who wished to shoot, and to say, ‘The general of a defeated army, the Great officer of a ruler-less state, and any one who has schemed to be the successor and heir of another, will not be allowed to enter, but the rest may all enter.’ On this, one half went away, and the other half entered.

After this, wishing to send the cup round among all the company, he further directed Kung-wang Khiû and Hsü Tien to raise the horns of liquor, and make proclamation. Then Kung-wang Khiû raised his horn, and said, ‘Are the young and strong here observant of their filial and fraternal duties? Are the old and men of eighty here such as love propriety, not following licentious customs, and resolved to maintain their characters to death? If so, they may occupy the position of guests.’ On this, one half of those who had entered went away, and the other half remained.

Hsü Tien next raised his horn, and proclaimed, ‘Are you fond of learning without being tired? are you fond of the rules of propriety, and unswerving in your adherence to them? Do those of you who are eighty, ninety, or one hundred, expound the way of virtue without confusion or error? If so, you can occupy the position of visitors.’ Thereupon hardly any remained.

The Birth of Confucius

Confucius’ father Shü-leang Heih was a soldier of great prowess and daring bravery. In the year B.C. 562, when serving at the siege of a place called Peih-yang, a party of the assailants made their way in at a gate which had purposely been left open, and no sooner were they inside than the portcullis was dropped. Heih was just entering, and catching the massive structure with both his hands, he gradually by dint of main strength raised it and held it up, till his friends had made their escape.

Shuh-leang Heih had married in early life, but his wife brought him only daughters, to the number of nine, and no son. By a concubine he had a son, named Mang-p’e, and also Pih-ne, who proved a cripple, so that, when he was over seventy years, Heih sought a second wife in the Yen family, from which came subsequently Yen Hwuy, the favourite disciple of his Confucius. There were three daughters in the family, the youngest being named Ching-tsae. Their father said to them, “Here is the commandant of Tsow. His father and grandfather were only scholars, but his ancestors before them were descendants of the sage emperors. He is a man ten feet high, and of extraordinary prowess, and I am very desirous of his alliance. Though he is old and austere, you need have no misgivings about him. Which of you three will be his wife ? ” The two elder daughters were silent, but Ching-tsae said, “Why do you ask us, father ? It is for you to determine.” “Very well,” said her father in reply, “you will do.” Ching-tsae, accordingly, became Heih’s wife.

She prayed for a son in the dell of mount Ne

Ching-tsae, fearing lest she should not have a son, in consequence of her husband’s age, privately ascended the Ne-k’ew hill to pray for the boon. As Ching-tsae went up the hill, the leaves of the trees and plants all erected themselves, and bent downwards on her return. That night she dreamt the God Black Te appeared, and said to her, “You shall have a son, a sage, and you must bring him forth in a hollow mulberry tree.” One day during her pregnancy, she fell into a dreamy state, and saw five old men in the hall, who called themselves the essences of the five planets, and led an animal which looked like a small cow with one horn, and was covered with scales like a dragon. This creature knelt before Ching-tsae, and cast forth from its mouth a slip of gem, on which was the inscription, “The son of the essence of water shall succeed to the withering Chow, and be a throneless king.” Ching-tsae tied a piece of embroidered ribbon about its horn, and the vision disappeared. When Heih was told of it, he said, ” The creature must be the K’e-lin Unicorn.”

A Unicorn Sent a Slip of Gem

As her time drew near, Ching-tsae asked her husband if there was any place in the neighbourhood called “The hollow mulberry tree.” He told her there was a dry cave in the south hill, which went by that name. Then she said, “I will go and be confined there.” Her husband was surprised, but when made acquainted with her former dream, he made the necessary arrangements. On the night when the child was born, two dragons came and kept watch on the left and right of the hill, and two spirit-ladies appeared in the air, pouring out fragrant odours, as if to bathe Ching-tsae : and as soon as the birth took place, a spring of clear warm water bubbled up from the floor of the cave, which dried up again when the child had been washed in it. The child was of an extraordinary appearance ; with a mouth like the sea, ox lips, a dragon’s back, on the top of his head was a remarkable formation. Heih and Ching-tsae cohabited in the dell of mount Ne and prayed together for a son, and that when she had obtained it, she commemorated it in the names K’ew and Chung-ne.

The Star K’uei

A scholar, as famous for his literary skill as his facial deformities, had been admitted as first academician at the metropolitan examinations. It was the custom that the Emperor should give with his own hand a rose of gold to the fortunate candidate. This scholar, whose name was K’uei, presented himself according to custom to receive the reward which by right was due to him. At the sight of his repulsive face the Emperor refused the golden rose. In despair the miserable rejected one went and threw himself into the sea. At the moment when he was being choked by the waters a mysterious fish monster called Ao raised him on its back and brought him to the surface. K’uei ascended to Heaven and became arbiter of the destinies of men of letters, or the God of Literature.

How Tzu Lu met a recluse

Once when Tzu Lu was following the Master on a journey he happened to fall behind. Meeting an old man carrying a basket on his staff, Tzu Lu asked him, “Have you seen my Master, sir?” “You,” said the old man, “whose four limbs know not toil, and who cannot distinguish the five grains, who may your Master be? ” With that he planted his staff in the ground and commenced weeding.

Tzu Lu joined his hands together in salutation and stood waiting.

The old man kept Tzu Lu for the night, killed a fowl, prepared millet, and gave him to eat, introducing also his two sons.

Next morning Tzu Lu went his way and reported his adventure; “He is a recluse,” said the Master, and sent Tzu Lu back again to see him, but on his arrival the old man had gone.

Whereupon Tzu Lu said to the sons: “It is not right to refuse to serve one’s country. If the regulations between old and young in family life may not be set aside, how is it that he sets aside the duty that exists between a Prince and his ministers? In his desire to maintain his own personal purity, he subverts one of the main principles of society. A wise man in what ever office he occupies, fulfils its proper duties, even though he is well aware that right principles have ceased to make progress.”


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 character, but I am unable to do so. I will follow my own inability in striving to imitate the ability of Liu-hsia Hui.”

When Confucius heard this, he said, ” Good indeed! Can a desire to be good, without the attempt to succeed, be accounted wisdom?”

Kong Rong yields the bigger pears

孔融 K’ung Jung, died A.D. 208, a descendant of Confucius in the 20th generation. He has five elder brothers, and one younger brother.

When K’ung Jung at four years of age was asked why he chose all the small pears and left the bigger ones for the rest of the family he replied, “I am a small boy, so I take the small pears.”

The King of Chu Lost His Bow

Once upon a time, the king of Ch’u State went on hunting in his Yün-mêng Park, he drew his bow, and put on arrows to shoot snakes and rhinoceroses, but he lost his bow.

His attendants wished to search for it, but the king stopped them, saying,

–The king of Ch’u has lost the bow, and a man of Ch’u will get it, what need to search for it?

When Confucius heard of this, he said,

–The king of Chu is good and kind, but not quite perfect.

And he went on saying,

— When a man gets rid of his bow, and another man finds it, it is all right. But why must it be a man of Ch’u?

Does Confucius object to the ‘local patriotism’? The king of Ch’u would leave his bow to an inhabitant of Ch’u only, Confucius commented that the king of Ch’u is good and kind, but he was not a sage, his love didn’t extended to embraces all mankind, so he was not quite perfect. What if the King of Ch’u lost his throne?

Four Metropolitan Graduates

Once upon Ming Dynasty, there were four friends named Máo Péng, Tián Lún, Gù Dú, and Liú Tí. They all passed Imperial Civil Service Examinations, and received the “Metropolitan Graduate” degree. This was the highest degree of the time, as the candidates were interviewed by the Emperor himself, so the degree also called “Received Scholar” or “Promoted Scholars” (进士, Jìn Shì).

All of them were apointed important magisterial posts. Graduate Máo Péng was appointed as Inspector of Eight Prefectures, Tián Lún  the Inspector of Jiāngxī Province (same as Provincial Governor), Gù Dǔ the Governor of Xìnyáng City, Liú Tí the magistrate of County Upper-Chài, which was at the next lower bureaucratic level than Xìnyáng, also in Hénán Province. Before the four graduates went to their office, they bid fareware to their Supervisor (who was also their examiner, according to the tradition), and went to Twin-Pagoda Temple after the celebration feasts. The four friends knelt down in front of the altar, and sworn to the Buddha to be incorruptible officials who would uphold the law.

There’s a saying, a Taoist finds the true Way of Life and immortalised, all his pat chicken and dogs rise to the Heaven. Graduate Tián has an older sister who was married to a Yáo family in County Upper-Chài where Graduate Liú was the Governor. Both of the Yáo brothers, Yáo Tíngchūn and Yáo Tíngméi, were married and lived with their widowed mother. Learning that her brother’s success, woman Tián became very arrogant. She turned out to be such a shrew that her mother-in-law couldn’t stand any longer, so she separated the big family to three. The woman Tián thought the family separation wasn’t fair, so their relationship was even getting worse.

It was the Yáo Tíngchūn’s birthday, his mother let her younger son Tíngméi prepare a family feast, and invited Tíngchūn to celebrate his birthday, but woman Tián refused to go. Yao Tíngchūn came back drunden, and praised his sister-in-law Yáng Sūzhēn better behavior, who knows all the rules of propriety. Isn’t it foolish to praising another woman in front of his own wife? Of course, this made his wife very angry, and they had a big row. At the time she secretly laid out a deadly trap to kill her brother-in-law, in order to revenge and possess all the family property.

The next day, the woman Tián pretended to feel sorry for her bad behaviour and wanted to make an apology. She invited her brother-in-law Tíngméi to have a drink, and poisoned him to death.

Because Tíngméi’s widow Yáng Sùzhēn no longer had a husband, her older brother Yāng Chūn came to take her back to her father’s house. However in fact Older Brother Yáng Chūn had conspired with the murderous Woman Tián, and had arranged to sell Yáng Sùzhēn as a wife to a cloth merchant named was Yáng Chūn. On the road she was therefore forcibly given over to Yáng Chūn to be his wife.

Yáng Sùzhēn was very unwilling and fought and quarreled with Yáng Chūn. Just then along came the Graduate Máo Péng, passing by on an inspecting tour on behalf of His Majesty, the Emperor, under the disguise of a fortune-teller. He asked why they were carrying on so. When Yáng Sùzhēn told of how her husband had been murdered and she had been sold, Yáng Chūn was moved to great sorrow and abandoned his plans to marry her. Instead they vowed that they would become sworn siblings. The GraduateMáo was very sympathized for Yang’s ordeal and therefore wrote a complaint letter for her.

The two sworn siblings and the Graduate Máo travelled together to report the outrage at the local Yamen, where the magistrate was none other than Graduate Liú, who, however, was out making merry and was unavailable for ordinary business. So, they went to the Yamen at Xìnyáng city, which was at the next higher bureaucratic level.

When the two sworn siblings arrived at Xìnyáng City, they were set upon by a criminal gang, and became separated. Yang was rescued by a nearby inn-keeper Sòng Shìjié, who had once worked at the Xìnyáng Yamen. When Innkeeper Sòng heard her story, he was very sorry for her, and took her as an adopted daughter. She still had the letter that Graduate Máo had written for her, and Innkeeper Sòng helped her get it to the Yamen, where the magistrate was none other than the Graduate Gù, who immediately issued warrants for the arrest of Woman Tián and Yáng Qīng.

The Graduate Tián hasn’t yet gone to report his post in Jangxi Province and temporarily remained at home. His older sister was arrested and been taken away, then his mother asked him to write a letter to Graduate Gù to get her daughter released. Graduate Tián was reluctant to do so, but could stand his mother’s entreat with many tears, he wrote a letter along with 300 taels of silver as well to be carried by a trusted messenger to Graduate Gù in Xìnyáng City. When the messenger arrived in Xìnyáng, he put up at Sòng’s inn. Something about him made Sòng suspicious, and in the night Sòng made a small investigation and discovered, read, and copied the secret letter. He knew that if the letter and the money reached Graduate Gù, then his adopted daughter’s case would be lost.

When Gù received the letter (and the money), he immediately released Woman Tián, and he had Yáng Sùzhēn beaten and imprisoned for making a false accusation. Just for good measure, Innkeeper Sòng was also given 40 strokes for helping her.

Some time later, an Imperial Inspector chanced to come through Xìnyáng, and Sòng bumped accidently  into the cloth merchant Yáng Chūn, who was separated with his sworn sibling Yáng Sùzhēn, they together managed to get a complaint to the Inspector, tell him of the murder by Woman Tián, and how Woman Tián and Yáng Qīng had sold Yáng Sùzhēn, and how the Graduate Tián had bribed Graduate Gù. And Sòng provided a copy of the letter he had copied.

The Imperial Inspector was none other than Received Scholar Máo, who had originally met Sùzhèn and had drafted her original complaint. He took on the case, had Woman Tián and Yāng Qīng punished, and, with great sadness, brought about the dismissal of the corrupt Graduates, his own one-time friends Tián, Liú, and Gù.

(This story is from a Chinese Opera 四进士 Sì Jìnshì, or Four Metropolitan Graduates. Part of the plots was adopted from David K. Jordan’s translation (without asking for permision, ^_^

The picture was screen printed from a comic book, edited by  小戈, and illustrated by 张锡武, published in 1960).

Food Handed out in Contempt

During a great dearth in Qí, Qián-áo had food prepared on the roads, to wait the approach of hungry people and give to them.

(One day), there came a famished man, looking as if he could hardly see, his face covered with his sleeve, and dragging his feet together.

Khián-áo, carrying with his left hand some rice, and holding some drink with the other, said to him, ‘Hey, Poor man! come and eat.’

The man, opening his eyes with a stare, and looking at him, said, ‘It was because I would not eat “Hey come and eat’s” food, that I am come to this state.’

Qhián-áo immediately apologised for his words, but the man after all would not take the food and died.

When Zēng-zǐ heard the circumstances, he said, ‘Was it not a small matter? When the other expressed his pity as he did, the man might have gone away. When he apologised, the man might have taken the food.’

Oppressive government is more terrible than tigers.

In passing by the side of mount Tài, Confucius came on a woman who was wailing bitterly by a grave. The Master bowed forward to the cross-bar, and hastened to her; and then sent Zǐ-lù to question her.

‘Your wailing,’ said he, ‘is altogether like that of one who has suffered sorrow upon sorrow.’

She replied, ‘ It is so. Formerly, my husband’s father was killed here by a tiger. My husband was also killed (by another), and now my son has died in the same way.’

The Master said, ‘Why do you not leave the place?’

The answer was, ‘There is no oppressive government here.’

The Master then said (to the disciples), ‘Remember this, my little children. Oppressive government is more terrible than tigers.’