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.’

A man in the Ch’i State was afraid the universe would collapse and fall to pieces

There was once a man in the Ch’i State who was so afraid the universe would collapse and fall to pieces, leaving his body without a lodgment, that he could neither sleep nor eat.

Another man, pitying his distress, went to enlighten him. ‘Heaven,’ he said, ‘is nothing more than an accumulation of ether, and there is no place where ether is not. Processes of contraction and expansion, inspiration and expiration are continually taking place up in the heavens. Why then should you be afraid of a collapse?’ The man said: ‘It is true that Heaven is an accumulation of ether; but the sun, the moon, and the stars–will they not fall down upon us? His informant replied: ‘Sun, moon and stars are likewise only bright lights Within this mass of ether. Even supposing they were to fall, they could not possibly harm us by their impact.’ ‘But what if the earth should fall to pieces? ‘The earth,’ replied the other, ‘is merely an agglomeration of matter, which fills and blocks up the four comers of space. There is no part of it where matter is not. All day long there is constant treading and tramping on the surface of the earth. Why then should you be afraid of its falling to pieces? Thereupon the man was relieved of his fears and rejoiced exceedingly. And his instructor was also joyful and easy in mind.

But Ch’ang Lu Tzu laughed at them both, saying: ‘Rainbows, clouds and mist, wind and rain, the four seasons–these are perfected forms of accumulated ether, and go to make up the heavens. Mountains and cliffs, rivers and seas, metals and rocks, fire and timber–these are perfected forms of agglomerated matter, and constitute the earth. Knowing these facts, who can say that they will never be destroyed? Heaven and earth form only a small speck in the midst of the Void, but they are the greatest things in the sum of Being. This much is certain: even as their nature is hard to fathom, hard to understand, so they will be slow to pass away, slow to come to an end. He who fears lest they should suddenly fall to pieces is assuredly very far from the truth. He, on the other hand, who says that they will never be destroyed has also not reached the right solution. Heaven and earth must of necessity pass away, but neither will revert to destruction apart from the other.

The Master Lieh Tzu heard of the discussion, and smiling said: ‘He who maintains that Heaven and earth are destructible, and he who upholds the contrary, are both equally at fault. Whether they are destructible or not is something we can never know, though in both cases it will be the same for all alike. The living and the dead, the going and the coming, know nothing of each other’s state. Whether destruction awaits the world or no, why should I trouble my head about it?

The Simpleton of the North Mountain and The Wise Old Man of the River-bend

The two mountains T’ai-hsing and Wang-wu, which cover an area of 700 square li, and rise to an enormous altitude, originally stood in the south of the Chi district and north of Ho-yang. The Simpleton of the North Mountain, an old man of ninety, dwelt opposite these mountains, and was vexed in spirit because their northern flanks blocked the way to travellers, who had to go all the way round. So he called his family together, and broached a plan. ‘Let us,’ he said, ‘put forth our utmost strength to clear away this obstacle, and cut right through the mountains until we come to Han-yin. What say you? They all assented except his wife, who made objections and said: ‘My goodman has not the strength to sweep away a dunghill, let alone two such mountains as T’ai-hsing and Wang-wu. Besides, where will you put all the earth and stones that you dig up? The others replied that they would throw them on the promontory of P’o-hai. So the old man, followed by his son and grandson, sallied forth with their pickaxes, and the three of them began hewing away at the rocks, and cutting up the soil, and carting it away in baskets to the promontory of P’o-hai. A widowed woman who lived near had a little boy who, though he was only just shedding his milk teeth, came skipping along to give them what help he could. Engrossed in their toil, they never went home except once at the turn of the season.

The Wise Old Man of the River-bend burst out laughing and urged them to stop. ‘Great indeed is your witlessness!’ he said. ‘With the poor remaining strength of your declining years you will not succeed in removing a hair’s breadth of the mountain, much less the whole vast mass of rock and soil.’ With a sigh, the Simpleton of the North Mountain replied: ‘Surely it is you who are narrow-minded and unreasonable. You are not to be compared with the widow’s son, despite his puny strength. Though I myself must die, I shall leave a son behind me, and through him a grandson. That grandson will beget sons in his turn, and those soils will also have sons and grandsons. With all this posterity, my line will not die out, while on the other hand the mountain will receive no increment or addition. Why then should I despair of levelling it to the ground at last? The Wise Old Man of the River-bend had nothing to say in reply.

One of the serpent-brandishing deities heard of the undertaking and, fearing that it might never be finished, went and told God Almighty, who was touched by the old man’s simple faith, and commanded the two sons of K’ua O to transport the mountains, one to the extreme north-east, the other to the southern comer of Yung.

Ever since then, the region lying between Chi in the north and Han in the south has been an unbroken plain.

(from Book of Lieh-Tzü, Translated with Introduction and Notes by LIONEL GILES. There is another version here.)

Notch the boat in search of the sword

A man from the state of Chu was crossing a river. In the boat, his sword fell into the water. Immediately he made a mark on the boat. The boat man was very curious and asked the swordsman.

“This is where my sword fell off,” he said.

When the boat stopped moving, he went into the water to look for his sword at the place where he had marked the boat.

The boat had moved but the sword had not. Is this not a very foolish way to look for a sword?

Buys the glittering casket and return the pearls to the seller

A man of the state of Chu went to the state of Zheng to sell his pearls. He had a casket made of the wood of the magnolia tree, and then had it scented with cinnamon and pepper, set with jewels, carved in rose patterns, and inlaid with jade. A man of the state of Zheng bought the casket but gave back the pearls. Thus we can say that the man from Chu knew how to sell his casket but not how to sell his pearls.

The moral of this story normally is to show lack of judgement as one who buys the glittering casket and return the pearls to the seller, rather not the seller. But this actually is quite misunderstanding the original meaning of Han Feitsu who is the original author.

In “Han Fei tzu”,there is another story come with this one: King Qin married his daughter to Prince Jin. The King Qin sent his daughter with 70 beautifully dressed servant girl to Prince Jin. Prince Jin just ignored his wife but loved his 70 concubines. King Qin is quite foolish on marrying his daughter but very good of marrying his servant girls.

The seller of the jewel is as foolish as King Qin, who over-decorated his casket, the casket is far more valuable than the jewel itself, so the buyer just bought the jewel casket and gave back the jewel to the seller. So did Prince Jin who couldn’t gave back his wife to King Qin, so he just ignored her and enjoyed the happiness with his 70 concubines.

Did the buyer lack of judgement? did he overpaid for the casket? Not at all.

Sai Weng Shi Ma: Maybe

Once upon a time a peasant had a horse. This horse ran away, so the peasant’s neighbours came to console him for his bad luck. He answered: “Maybe”.

The day after the horse came back, leading 6 wild horses with it. The neighbours came to congratulate him on such good luck. The peasant said: “Maybe”.

The day after, his son tried to saddle and ride on one of the wild horses, but he fell down and broke his leg. Once again the neighbours came to share that misfortune. The peasant said: “Maybe”.

The day after, soldiers came to conscript the youth of the village, but the peasant’s son was not chosen because of his broken leg. When the neighbours came to congratulate, the peasant said again :”May be”.

This story is from Huai Nan Tzu, you may find another slightly different version here.

Look for a noble steed according to its picture

Bo Le was a famous horse-judging master. He wrote a book titled Xiang Ma Jing (classics of how to judge a horse) to tell people the way of recognizing good horses. It writes, “A good horse is with wide forehead, bulging eyes and round hoofs.”

One day, the son of Bo Le went out to look for a good horse according to the description in the book. After a while, he came back, bringing with him a toad.

He told his father, “I have found a horse similar to your picture but its eyes are not bulging enough and hoofs not round.” Bo Le did not know whether to laugh or to cry at this.

He kidded his son, “This horse is good at jumping instead of being ridden. What you’ve done is to look for a horse according to the picture.”

From what Bo Le said we draw the idiom, depicting those who work mechanically or try to locate something by following up a clue.

Adding feet to a drawing of a snake

An official in the ancient State of Chu gave a pot of wine to his men to celebrate the Spring Sacrifice ceremony. One of the men said: “We have only one pot of wine, and it’s only enough for one. So, let’s play for it. The first one to finish drawing a snake in the ground wins the pot of wine.”

The others agreed and started drawing their snakes in the ground.

Then, there was a winner, or so he thought. He had finished his drawing and reached for the pot of wine. But, when he saw that the others hadn’t finished their drawings, he arrogantly said to them: “How slow you are! The way you’re going, I can add feet to my snake and still win the pot of wine.”

So, he did. He added feet to his snake. But before he could finish, another man grabbed the pot of wine and said: “What snake has feet? That’s not a snake! So, I win!”

The moral of the story is that sometimes going too far can be as bad, or worse, than not going far enough.

Sheep get lost on forked roads

Sheep will easily get lost when there are too many forked roads.

One neighbor of Yang Zi, a famous scholar, lost a sheep. He asked all his relatives and friends and Yang Zi’s servant for help.

Yang Zi asked, “Why do you send so many people out just for one lost sheep?”

His neighbor said, “Because there are a lot of branch road.”

After a while, all the people came back. “Have you found the sheep?” Yang Zi asked.

“No,” they answered, “Each road has branch roads and each branch has its forked roads. We just do not know which road to follow. So we give up.”

On hearing this, Yang Zi became silent. His student did not understand what the teacher was thinking about. He passed the question to Xin Du Zi, a friend of Yang Zi. Xin Du Zi replied,

“Your tutor is worrying about your study. What have happened reminds him of the difficulty of learning and researching. He thinks that if you fail to find the right orientation and method of study, you can accomplish nothing, just like those people trying to find the lost sheep.”

The idiom is used to show that when confronted with so many choices and complicated things, one who seeks truth is likely to get loss or go astray without a correct method.

Tang Dynasty Li Bai: grinding iron rod to make a needle

This legend is about Li Bai, a great poet in Tang Dynasty.
Li Bai was naughty and disliked study when he was a child. One day he saw an old woman grinding an iron rod on a big stone when he was playing by a river. Driven by curiosity, Li Bai came up and asked,

“What are you doing, granny?”

“Grinding an iron rod,” said the old women without stopping grinding.

“Then what for?” he asked again.

“To make a sewing needle,” was the answer.

“What?!” little Li Bai was puzzled, “you want to grind so big a rod into a needle? It will take many years.”

“This doesn’t matter. As long as I persevere in doing so, there is nothing you cannot achieve in the world. Certainly I can make a needle from the rod.”

Deeply moved by what the old woman said, Li Bai took effort to study since then and finally became one of the greatest poets in China.

So long as you have put a great deal of effort, you can grind an iron rod into a needle-Perseverance spells success