Right and wrong in the eyes of ordinary kings and great robbers might be rooted in might first, and only second, laws called right.
Robber Chih seized the wives of others and had strength to fend off any enemy and curse people in the vilest language. People all lived in dread of him. One day Confucius (Kung Fu) went up to his camp and wanted to reform him. Robber Chih flew into a great rage of it. His hair stood on end and bristled. He said,
“Crafly hypocrite, you make up your stories, babbling absurd eulogies of kings. You pour out fallacious theories. By clacking your tongue you seem to invent “right” or “wrong”, and leading astray rulers – setting up ideal of “filial piety”, and hoping to worm your way into favour with the rich and eminent. You’d better run home. If you don’t I’ll take your liver.”
His voice sounded like the roar of huge tiger with glaring eyes. However, Confucius managed to talk to him, due to utter politeness to his face. He wanted the bandit to stand up as a gentleman of true talent, he said. Robber Chih could then win further fame in step with the already established set-up affairs of things. The bandit declined,
“Those who can be swayed with offers of gain are mere idiots. Who are fond of praising men to their faces are also fond of damning them behind their back.
I have heard that in ancient times the birds and beasts were many. The Yellow Emperor [legendary ancestor of the Chinese] could not attain the primal virtue of older days. He fought instead, till blood flowed. Later it came about that the strong oppressed the weak, the many abused the few. You come cultivating the way of kings, speaking your deceits, leading astray, hoping thereby to lay your hands on wealth with your honeyed words. How can this “way” of yours be worth anything? Even the Yellow Emperor could not preserve his virtue. A close look into emperors and men of worldy gains and esteem shows that all of them for the sake of gain brought confusion to the Truth – forcibly turned against their true form. They deserve the greatest shame!” said Robber Chih.
(Zhuangzi. See Watson 1968, 323-31, extracts)
Some children were playing together when one of them fell into a tall water jar and was in danger of being drowned. The other children ran shrieking for help, all except Si Mah Gwang. She seized a stone, threw it at the water jar and broke a hole in it. The water rushed out and the child’s life was saved.
(Final tale in S. N.’s Ancient Legends of China 18–?)
People of Southern China used to train elephants and teach them to do many useful things. They worked for farmers and woodcutters, and helped make the roads twice a year; for an elephant could do many times more work than any other animal. So wise were the elephants that people came to believe they could see even into the hearts of men.
A judge named Ko-Kia-Yong had a wise old elephant that was trained to do this wonderful thing, it was said. Three cases which were brought before him, were decided by the elephant. And this is how one such decision was made:
A man came before the judge and said that some robbers had been in his house during the night and had taken his gold and jewels all that he had; and he asked the judge to find and punish the thieves.
In three months, five robbers had been found. When they were brought to the judge, they bowed before him and each one said, “I have never stolen anything.”
The man and woman who had been robbed were called. And the woman said, “That man with the long grey hair is the one who robbed us.”
The judge asked, “Are you sure it is he, and how do you know?”
She answered, “Yes, I remember. He took the bracelet from my arm and I looked into his face.”
“Did the other four rob you also?” asked the judge.
The woman answered, “I do not know.”
But the judge said, “The man who you say is a robber, seems not like one to me. His face is kind and gentle. I cannot decide according to your testimony. I know of but one way to find out, and we shall soon know the truth in this matter. My elephant shall be brought in to examine the men. Those who are not guilty need have no fear.”
Four of the men looked glad.
They were stripped and stood almost naked before the judge and the law, and the elephant was brought in.
Then the judge said to the elephant, “Examine these men and tell us which is the robber.” The elephant touched with his trunk each of the five accused men, from his head to his feet.
And the white-haired man and the three others stood still and laughed at the elephant with happy faces, for they knew in their hearts they were not guilty and they thought the elephant knew. But the fifth man shivered with fear and his face changed to many colours. While the elephant was examining him, the judge said, “Do your duty,” and rapped loudly. The elephant knocked him softly with his trunk, and he confessed at once.
Then the judge said to the four guiltless men, “You may go.” And to the woman he said, “Be careful whom you accuse.” Then he said to the elephant, “Food and water are waiting for you. I hope you may live a long time and help me to judge wisely.”
After this many wise men who were not superstitious went to the judge and said:
“An elephant cannot read the heart and mind of man. How could an elephant read the heart of man, a thing which man, himself, cannot do? Please explain.”
And Ko-Kio-Yong, the wise judge, laughed and said, “My elephant eats and drinks as other elephants do. It is a belief among our people that he can read the hearts of men. The honest believe it and have no fear if they have done no wrong. Thieves, on the other hand, get fearful and confess rather easily in front of him.”
(Davis 1908, 181-84)
Master Chuang was walking in the mountains when he saw a huge tree, its branches and leaves thick and lush. A woodcutter paused by its side but made no move to cut it down. When Master Chuang asked the reason, he answered, ” There’s nothing it could be used for!”
Master Chuang said, “Because it is quite worthless to men like us, this tree is able to live out the years Heaven gave it.”
Down from the mountain, the Master stopped for a night at the house of an old friend. Delighted at that, the friend ordered his son to kill a goose and prepare it. “One of the geese can cackle and the other cannot,” said the son. “So which should I kill, dad?”
“The one that cannot cackle,” said his dad, the host.
Next day Master Chuang’s disciples questioned him. “The tree you know, got to live to a full, reap age because it seems worthless. The goose gets killed for a similar thing. What position should you take in that case, Master?”
Master Chuang laughed, saying, “I would say about halfway between those poles apart – between worth and worthlessness, in all likelihood. But even if “halfway” might seem a good position, you do not get away from trouble there.
Another thing would be to climb up on the Way (Tao) – that is different! There go drifting and wandering, neither praised nor damned, shifting a bit with the times, taking grand harmony (Tao) for your measure. Then, could you get into any trouble?”
(Zhuangzi. See Watson 1968, 209-10. Retold)
Bian Que was a popular doctor of Cai. One day he came across King Cai Huan, looked at him for a while and said, “You are ill. But it doesn’t matter, since the sickness is yet skin deep. It is easy to cure.”
The king squinted at him and said, “Many thanks. But I need no treatment at all! I am as fit as a fiddle.”
Bian Que shook his head and left without another word.
After his departure, the king made comments on him, saying to his men, “That’s the way a doctor shows his skills: treating healthy patients to cure non-illness.”
Ten days later, the king met with Bain Que again and doctor mentioned his illness once more, “Your Majesty, the sickness now has got into your muscles. You should not make light of it. Please take some medicine.”
The king pulled a long face and rejected the advice.
Another ten days passed. When change happened to put them together, Bian Que said to the king in earnest, “Really Your Majesty! The sickness is now already dwelling in your stomach and bowels. It will be mortal if you persist in objecting to a treatment in time!”
King Cai Huan got annoyed and sniffed scornfully.
Thus a dozen more days had slipped by before Bian Que showed his face. But hardly had he seen King Cai Huan when he took to his heels in a great hurry. Quite puzzled, the king sent a man to find out the reason. When the man caught up with Bian Que, the latter replied, “It’s curable when a disease doesn’t develop to its fatal degree. But now, by refusing a treatment, His Majesty has allowed his illness into his marrow, a case that nobody can deal with successfully.”
Five days afterwards, the king felt his body aching all over. At once he sent for Bian Que. But, foreseeing this, Bian Que had long gone to Qin and dodged such a request.
King Cai Huan dies at last, filled with pain and regret.
(Wilhelm 1921, “Hiding the Sickness”)
❋ Acupuncture diagnosis and treatment (with needles etc.,) is in part of this kind, believe it or not.
Chuang Tzu once said:
“Call a man a sycophant and he flushes with anger; call him a flatterer and he turns crimson with rage . . . See him set forth his analogies and polish his fine phrases to draw a crowd, until the beginning and end, the root and branches of his argument no longer match! See him spread out his robes, display his bright colours . . . in hopes of currying favour with the age – he doesn’t recognise himself as a sycophant or a flatterer. See him with his followers laying down the law on right and wrong – and yet he does not recognise himself as one of the mob. This is the height of foolishness!
He who knows he is a fool is not the biggest fool; he who knows he is confused is not in the worst confusion.
The man in the worst confusion will end his life without ever getting straightened out; the biggest fool will end his life without ever seeing the light. If three men are travelling along and one is confused, they will still get where they are going – because confusion is in the minority. But if two of them are confused, then they can walk until they are exhausted and never get anywhere – because confusion is in the majority. And with all the confusion in the world these days, no matter how often I point the way, it does no good. Sad, is it not? . . .
Lofty words make no impression on the minds of the mob. Superior words gain no hearing . . . With all the confusion in the world these days, no matter how often I point the way, what good does it do?” said Chuang.
(Zhuangzi. See Watson 1968, 139-40, extracts)
Once there was a man who dug up a big, earthenware cask in his field. He took it home with him and told his wife to clean it out. But when his wife started brushing the inside of the cask, the cask suddenly began to fill itself with brushes. No matter how many were taken out, others kept on taking their place. So the man sold the brushes, and the family managed to live quite comfortably.
Once a coin fell into the cask by mistake. At once the brushes disappeared and the cask began to fill itself with money. Now the family became rich; for they could take as much money out of the cask as ever they wished.
The man had an old grandfather at home, weak and shaky. Since there was nothing else he could do, his grandson set him to work shovelling money out of the cask. When the old grandfather grew weary and could not keep on, he would fall into a rage, and shout at him angrily, telling him he was lazy and did not want to work. One day, however, the old man’s strength gave out, and he fell into the cask and died. At once the money disappeared, and the whole cask began to fill itself with dead grandfathers.
Then the man had to pull them all out and have them buried, and to do it in style he had to use up again all the money he had received. When he was through, the cask broke, and he was as poor as before.
A certain man had a mother who lost her sight, and he spent all his money on doctors, but in vain. For thirty long years he cared for his mother, and would scarcely take off his clothes; and in the pleasant spring weather he would lead his mother into the garden, and laugh and sing, so that his mother forgot her sadness.
When she died her son too had wasted away after long years where he had been withough almost all former freedom. When at last he recovered somewhat, he said to his sister: “Through thirty years’ of care through which I have worked away my prosperity, I have become interested in disorder; it seems to me to be the only way in which I can get some ridiculous comfort in the years ahead.”
His sister admonished him, “Kindness always pays.”
He said, innocently, “How can I recognise it if it happens?”
She sighed, “Innocence means no harm. The pay? Wherever you may be, when favours come for free.”
(Reworked. Moule 1880)
Djang Liang was a student. He was walking along one day when he came to a bridge and saw an old man sitting there with one of his shoes on the ground in front of him. Courteously Djang Liang stooped and put the shoe on the foot of the old man.
The man was so pleased that he told the boy to come to the bridge very early next morning. Then he would tell Djang something that would affect his whole life.
The boy went to the bridge very early, but the old was there ahead of him, and all that he received that morning was a lecture on his lazy habits.
He was told to come again, and the next morning he went at dawn. But still the old man was ahead of him and Djang was reprimanded severely this time and told to come again on the third morning.
This time the boy went to the bridge right after his supper, and spent the night there. When the old man came at dawn, he was delighted to find Djang Liang there ahead of him, and gave him instruction of such value that when Djang grew up he became a general.
(S. N. Legends of Ancient China. Unpaginated, undated)
There were three strong and brave generals in Qi. They were skilful at fighting, but also proud and a bit unruly at times. Once they came across the prime minister. Thinking him but a swaggering tongue, they showed him no respect.
This annoyed the minister greatly. He went to the king of Qi and said, “In my opinion, generals and officers under a wise king should observe rules and ceremony. But your generals do not. Today they insult me, tomorrow they can disobey you. We would be wise to do away wish them.”
The king was upset. He hesitated for a while and said, “But it is not so easy to deal with them, especially when they three are together.”
The minister racked his brains and then said, “Well, send two peaches to them with the instructions that the two who have made greater contributions may take the peaches.”
The plan was carried out accordingly.
No sooner had the peaches reached the three generals than they had words with each other. Each insisted that he had the right to get one, and the two who were nearer to the peaches, got one each. The third general at once flew into fury. He raised his voice, saying, “Who of you can match me? Now give back my peach!” With these words he drew out his sword and killed them.
Then he came to his senses. “What a shame, to kill two friend for two peaches!” he said, and the next moment he lay on the ground beside his two friends with his sword in his chest.
Confucius had a son-in-law, Kung Yeh Chang, who understood birds. He built a pavilion in his garden, which was rich in flowers, trees, shrubs, and ponds, so that the birds loved to gather there. Thus he was able to spend many delightful hours near them, watching.
One day while Kung Yeh Chang was resting in his pavilion, a small housesparrow lit in a tree near-by and started to sing and chatter. A little later a wild goose dropped down by the pond for a drink. Hardly had he taken a sip when the little sparrow called out, “Who are you? Where are you going?”
To this the goose did not reply and the sparrow became angry and asked again, “Why do you consider me beneath your notice?” and still the goose did not answer. Then the little sparrow became furious and said in a loud, shrill voice, “Again I ask, who are you? Tell me or I will fly at you,” and he put his head up, and spread his wings, and tried to look very large and fierce.
By this time the goose had finished drinking, and looking up he said, “Don’t you know that in a big tree with many branches and large leaves the cicadas love to gather and make a noise? I could not hear you distinctly. You also know the saying of the ancients, ‘If you stand on a mountain and talk to the people in the valley they cannot hear you,’ “and the wild goose took another drink.
The little sparrow chattered and sputtered, shook his wings, and said, “What, for example, do you know of the great world? I for my part can go into people’s houses, hide in the rafters under their windows, see their books and pictures, what they have to eat and what they do. I can hear all the family secrets. I know all that goes on in the family and state. I know who are happy and who are sad. I know all the quarrels and all the gossip, and I know just how to tell it to produce the best effect. So you see that I know much that you can never hope to know.”
“It may be good to give others an equal chance with ourselves, or even to give them the first choice,” said the goose. “We geese therefore fly in a flock in the shape of the letter V and take turns in flying first. No one takes advantage of the other. We have our unchanging customs of going north in the spring and south in the winter. People come to depend on us, and make ready for either their spring work or the cold of winter. Thus, we stay away from gossip and are a help to man.
“You sparrows, however, gossip and only thinking of your own good. Now, we are respected. Is there not a proverb that ‘There are many people without the wisdom and virtues of the wild goose’? You sparrows, however, chatter about small affairs beneath my notice and I bid you good-day.”
The sparrow now trembled with so much rage that she could not fly away nor keep her hold on the branch. She fell to the ground and soon died from the fall.
Kung Yeh Chang exclaimed after he had looked on it all, “Sad, sad, most of mankind are like the sparrow, but the truly superior man is somehow like the wild goose, and wiser still.”
(Russell 1915, 56-60)
Long ago there was a strong man named Kuafu who wanted to race against the sun. Every day the sun rises in the east, travels across the sky and then goes down below the western horizon. Where does it come from and where does it hide itself? Kuafu resolved to find an answer to this himself.
He started to run, and so fast did he dash towards it sun that he approached it too. But the closer he got to the sun, the more thirsty he became.
He looked round, and to his delight saw the rivers Huanghe and Weihe with their jolly waves. He plunged into the rivers and drained them, gulping them down. But even this was not enough, so he turned to run north to the Great Lake for more water. But before he got there, he died of thirst. Falling down, he threw away his walking stick. It became a grove of green peach-trees for the good of later generations.
To the west of the gulf of Kisutschou is the Wu-Lian Mountain. Once a scholar who lived there was sitting up late at night, reading. And, as he stepped out before the house, a storm rose up suddenly, and a monster stretched out his claws and seized him by the hair.
The monster lifted him up in the air and carried him away. When they passed by a Buddhist temple in the hills, the scholar saw the figure of a god in golden armour at a distance in the clouds. The figure looked exactly like the image of Weto which was in the tower of the Buddhist temple. In its right hand the figure in the clouds held an iron mace, while its left pointed toward the monster, and it looked at it with anger.
Then the monster let the scholar fall, right on top of the tower, and disappeared. It seemed that Weto had come to the scholar’s aid, for his whole family used to celebrate Buddha and meditate at that temple.
When the sun rose the priest came and saw the scholar on his tower. He piled up hay and straw on the ground so that he could jump down without hurting himself. Then he took the scholar home. Yet where the monster had seized his hair, the hair remained stiff and unyielding. It did not improve till half a year had gone by.
In Wilhelm 1921, 124-25. This legend comes from Dschungschong, west of the gulf of Kiautschou. The tower is named Weto (Sanskrit, Veda), for a legendary Boddhisatva of heaven. His picture, with drawn sword, may be found at the entrance of Buddhist temples.
King Liu of Huai Nan was a learned man of the Han dynasty. Because they were related, the emperor had given him a kingdom in fee. The king cultivated the society of scholars, could interpret signs and foretell the future. Together with his scholars he had compiled a book which bears his name.
One day eight aged men came to see him. They all had white beards and white hair. The gate-keeper announced them to the king. The king wished to try them, so he sent back the gate-keeper to put difficulties in the way of their entrance.
Accordingly the gate-keeper said to them: “Our king is striving to learn the art of immortal life. You gentlemen are old and feeble. How can you be of aid to him? It is unnecessary for you to pay him a visit.”
The eight old men smiled and said: “Oh, and are we too old to suit you? Well, then we will make ourselves young!” And before they had finished speaking they had turned themselves into boys of fourteen and fifteen, with silk black hair and faces like peach-blossoms.
The gate-keeper was frightened, and at once informed the king of what had happened. When the king heard it, he did not even take time to slip into his shoes, but hurried out barefoot to receive them. He led them into his palace, had rugs of brocade spread for them and beds of ivory set up, fragrant herbs burned and tables of gold and precious stones set in front of them. Then he bowed before and told them how glad he was that they had come.
The eight boys changed into old men again and said:
“Do you wish us to teach you, king? Each one of us is master of a particular art:
One of us can call up wind and rain, cause clouds and mists to gather, rivers to flow and mountains to heave themselves up, if he wills it so.
The second can cause high mountains to split asunder and check great streams in their course. He can tame tigers and panthers and soothe serpents and dragons. Spirits and gods do his bidding.
The third can send out doubles, transform himself into other shapes, make himself invisible, cause whole armies to disappear, and turn day into night.
The fourth can walk through the air and clouds, can stroll on the surface of the waves, pass through walls and rocks and cover a thousand miles in a single breath.
The fifth can enter fire without burning, and into water without drowning. The winter frost cannot chill him, and the summer heat cannot burn him.
The sixth can create and transform living creatures, if he feels inclined. He can form birds and beasts, grasses and trees. He can transplace houses and castles.
The seventh can bake lime so that it turns to gold, and cook lead so that it turns to silver; he can mingle water and stone so that the bubbles effervesce and turn into pearls.
The eighth can ride on dragons and cranes to the eight poles of the world, converse with the immortals, and stand in the presence of the Great Pure One.”
The king kept them beside him from morning to night, entertained them and had them show him what they could do. And, true enough, they could do everything just as they had said. And now the king began to distil the elixir of life with their aid. He had finished, but not yet imbibed it when a misfortune overtook his family. His son had been playing with a courtier and the latter had heedlessly wounded him. Fearing that the prince might punish him, he joined other discontented persons and excited a revolt. And the emperor, when he heard of it, sent one of his captains to judge between the king and the rebels.
The eight aged men spoke: “It is now time to go. This misfortune has been sent you from heaven, king! Had it not befallen you, you would not have been able to resolve to leave the splendours and glories of this world”
They led him on to a mountain. There they ascended into the skies in bright daylight. The footprints of the eight aged men and of the king were imprinted in the rock of the mountain, and may be seen there still. Before they had left the castle, however, they had set what was left of the elixir of life out in the courtyard. Hens and hounds picked and licked it up, and all flew up into the skies. In Huai Nan to this very day the crowing of cocks and the barking of hounds may be heard up in the skies, and it is said that these are the creatures who followed the king at the time.
One of the king’s servants, however, followed him to an island in the sea. From there he was sent back, and he told that the king himself had not yet ascended to the skies, but had only become immortal and was wandering about the world.
When the emperor heard of the matter, he regretted greatly that he had sent soldiers into the king’s land and thus driven him out. He called in magicians to aid him, in the hope of meeting the eight old men himself. Yet, even though he spent great sums he was unsuccessful.
Long ago, Emperor Yan had a daughter called Nyuwa. She was beautiful, lovely and had a strong will. She was fond of swimming and often went to the East Sea, playing with the blue waves, enjoying the pleasure of being close to Nature.
But one day while swimming, she was drowned. Her soul would not give in, though, and broke through the water and became a Jinwei bird, with white-black spots on her head, a grey beak and red claws. She lost no time in seeking vengeance. Every day she picked up pebbles and sticks from the Western Mountains and dropped them into the East Sea. She was determined to fill up the sea to revenge herself, to make it no longer capable of drowning others.
Rain or shine, she never rested; summer or winter, she kept on working. Even now, she is still busying herself with her task.
From The Classic of Mountains and Seas, an ancient Chinese text about mythic geography and myth. Versions of the text may have existed since the 4th century BCE. – T. K.