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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.
A man was nearly ninety years old. He lived in a place facing two big mountains, the Taihang and the Wangwu. Each mountain was thousands of meters, and covered hundreds of square miles.
To travel around the mountains was troublesome for the old man, so one day he summoned his whole family and said to them, "How about removing these two mountains so that we have a straight road to Yuzhou?"
"Good idea!" The family shouted and agreed. Already next day the project went on its way. The old man's neighbour was a widow who had a son of about seven. They both came to the old man's aid, of their own will, speeding up the task.
Near the Huanghe River there lived another old man. When he heard about this, he felt it very stupid, and decided to go and make the other old man wiser. He said to him,
"How long do you think you can live on, so that you can remove these big mountains? Rest your old bones, rather, and be ready to go peacefully to heaven!"
The other looked at him, shook his head sadly, and sighed, "They say you are wise, but in my view even a donkey is wiser. It is true that I am on the edge of the grave. But I have sons; and my sons have their sons, and grandsons again. And the mountains are eroding. So why cannot we remove them in the end?"
The mountain deity, hearing this, felt greatly worried and depressed. Moved by the old man's resolve he will, he then carried away the two big mountains and made the old man's dreams come true.
The last king of the Shang dynasty was a tyrant. Jiang Shang, one of his ministers, saw that the ruler stopped at no evil, and managed to escape from his office, and settled in a secluded place near the Wei River, in an area that was dominated by Duke Jichang, and the duke was eager to attract talented people in his service.
The escaped Jiang Shang used to sit at the Wei River, fishing with a straight hook, and with no bait on it. He stretched his pole, let his "hook" remain a meter away from the surface of the water, and sang, "Those that are tired of living on those that are seeking their death, come up".
Talks about his queer way of fishing soon reached the duke's ear, and he sent some soldiers for him. Jiang, seeing the soldiers approaching, turned his back on them and said, "What a bad luck, tiny shrimps jumping instead of a fish!"
The soldiers' report resulted in an official being sent, and again Jiang overlooked him, saying, "What a pity, only a small fish appears, and I fail to catch the big one!"
Next the Duke came. He brought with him some precious gifts, and this time Jiang agreed to assist him. Jiang was made the duke's adviser, and later promoted to be prime minister. Under his wise leadership, the state grew stronger and stronger.
Some years later, Jiang assisted the descendents of the duke in sending an expedition against the king of the Shang dynasty. They defeated him and thus founded the Zhou dynasty.
Right and wrong in the eyes of kings and great robbers hardly differs at times.
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. [Co 323-31, extracts]
❖ The clever man is well on guard against all sorts of disintegrating forces. He senses danger before it's too late.
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. [Co 139-40, extracts]
Co: Watson, Burton, tr. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.
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