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Flattery for Fools

Zou Ji was an official in Qi, and a handsome man. One morning he looked at himself in the mirror and asked his wife "Who is more handsome, I or Xu in the North City?"

His wife replied without hesitation, "Of course you, my dear. No man can compare with you!"

Hearing this, Zou could not help feeling a little complacent. Yet to prove what his wife had said, he asked his concubine the same question. "Oh," answered the woman, "Beyond any doubt you are the number one in our country!" This sounded pleasant.

Next day a friend called on him in the hope of begging a favour of him. Business finished, Zou once more raised the same question. "Certainly Xu cannot compare with you in that," his friend answered. Now Zou really believed this was so, till Xu himself dropped in on him by chance. Looking Xu up and down, and then measuring himself carefully in the glass, Zou had to conclude that Xu was much more handsome than himself.

"Why, they all cheated me then!" he thought. All night he wrangled with the matter. At last it dawned on him. "I see now," he said to himself, "A man is liable to be flattered: my wife favoured me because of her love; my concubine, of fear; my friend, to gain his own ends. How foolish I have been taken in by festering lies!"

As soon as the sun appeared in the east next day, he went to the king directly and told him the whole story and added, "For love, for fear, for benefit, truth can be twisted."

The king was impressed by Zou's story and at once gave orders: "Those who dare to point out my faults in my presence can be given the best rewards. And the timid ones who only talk about my errors in public and the talks reach my ear, rewards will also be given, though it may not be of great value."

This command issued, the palace became crowded with officials and common people coming to advise or criticize the king. As a result the king ruled the country very, very well.

The Fool of the Family

A rich Chinese lady had a foolish son, and had chosen a wife for him from a cultured family. When he was about to pay the first visit to his future bride's parents, his mother told him how to behave and what to say, for she did not want the other family to find out how stupid he was. She tried to anticipate which questions he would get there, and told him what to answer well enough, and at the same time ward off further questioning.

He was to carry a costly fan with a landscape painted on it. Therefore she thought that guests at the other place, disposed to be polite and friendly, would ask him about the landscape painting, especially where the scene was from. She taught him to respond to such questions by saying, "Oh, that's just a fancy sketch."

And as he was to ride a fine mule, she thought the gentlemen would comment on what a fine animal it was and to ask what it cost, so she drilled her son to reply with courteous humility: ''The animal is a good beast of burden, reared on our farm - not worthy of your attention."

When the young man arrived at the door of his host, the first to greet him was his forthcoming mother-in-law. She politely asked about the health of his mother.

He promptly answered: "The animal is a good beast of burden, reared on our farm - not worthy of your attention."

The horrified mother-in-law drew back, while exclaiming half unconsciously: "I was told that you come from a very well ordered family!"

The fool had come to think he first should have used the first answer that his mother had taught him, and hastened to say: "Oh, that's just a fancy sketch."

The Two Melons

An honest and poor old woman was washing clothes at a pool when a bird that a hunter had shot in the wing, fell down into the water before her. She gently took up the bird, carried it home with her, dressed its wound, and fed it until it was well, Then it soared away. Some days later it came back, put an oval seed before her, and left again.

The woman planted the seed in her yard. When it came up she saw from the leaf it was a a melon plant. She made a trellis for it, and soon a fruit formed on it and grew to great size.

Toward the end of the year, the old dame was unable to pay her debts, and she was so poor that she became ill. Sitting one day at her door, feverish and tired, she saw that the melon was ripe and looked luscious, and thought it was time to try how it. Taking a knife, she severed the melon from its stalk and was surprised to hear it chink in her hands. On cutting it in two, she found it full of silver and gold pieces. With them she paid her debts and bought supplies for many days.

Among her neighbours was a busybody who craftily found out how the old woman so suddenly had become rich. She thought she could do as her and get fortunate too, and therefore she spent much time on washing clothes at the pool. At the same time she kept a sharp lookout for birds until she managed to hit and maim one of a flock that was flitting over the water. She then took the disabled bird home, and treated it with care until its wing healed, and it flew away.

Shortly afterwards it came back with a seed in its beak, laid it before her, and again took flight. The woman quickly planted the seed, saw it come up and spread its leaves, made a trellis for it, and was pleased to see how a melon formed on its stalk.

She expected to get wealthy when the melon was ripe, and therefore ate rich food, bought fine garments, and got so deeply into debt that debt collectors harried her before the end of the year. But the melon grew fast. She was delighted to find that it became taller than people as it ripened, and that when she shook it there was rattling inside.

At the end of the year she cut it down and divided it, expecting it to be a casket of coins, but only two old, lame, hungry beggars were in it. They crawled out and told her they would stay and eat at her table as long as they lived.

Out Fishing

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.

The Golden Nugget

Once on a time many, many years ago, there lived in China two friends named Kim and Pao. These two young men were of one heart. No cross words passed between them; no unkind thoughts marred their friendship.

On a bright, beautiful day in early spring Kim and Pao set out for a stroll together, for they were tired of the city and its noises.

"Let us go into the pine forest," said Kim lightly. "There we can forget the cares that worry us; there we can breathe the sweetness of the flowers and lie on the moss-covered ground."

"Good!" said Pao, "I, too, am tired. The forest is the place for rest."

Happily the two friends passed along the winding road, their eyes turned in longing toward the tree-tops as they drew nearer and nearer to the woods.

"For thirty days I have worked over my books," sighed Kim. "For thirty days I have not had a rest. Oh, for a breath of the pure air blowing through the greenwood."

"And I," added Pao sadly, "have worked like a slave at my counter and found it dull. It is good, indeed, to get away for some time."

Now they came to the border of the grove, crossed a little stream, and plunged headlong among the trees and shrubs. For many an hour they rambled on, talking and laughing merrily; when suddenly on passing round a clump of flower-covered bushes, they saw a lump of gold shining in the pathway directly in front of them.

"See!" said both, speaking at the same time, and pointing toward the treasure.

Kim, stooping, picked up the nugget. It was nearly as large as a lemon, and was rather heavy. "It is yours, my dear friend," said he, at the same time handing it to Pao; "yours because you saw it first."

"No, no," answered Pao, "you are wrong, friend, for you were first to speak. Now you have been rewarded you for all your faithful hours of study."

"Repaid me? Are not the wise men always saying that study brings its own reward? No, the gold is yours: I insist on it. Take it," said Kim laughingly. "May it be the nest egg you may hatch out a great fortune from."

Thus they joked for some minutes, each insisting that it belonged to the other. At last, the chunk of gold was dropped in the very spot where they had first found it, and the two comrades went away, each happy because he loved his friend better than anything else in the world. Thus they turned their backs on any chance of quarrelling, and it never occurred to them that they could easily split the nugget in half to have equal shares.

"It was not for gold that we left the city," exclaimed Kim warmly.

"No," replied his friend. "One day in this forest is worth a thousand nuggets."

"Let us go to the spring and sit down on the rocks," suggested Kim. "It is the coolest spot in the whole grove."

When they reached the spring they were sorry to find the place already occupied. A countryman was stretched at full length on the ground.

"Wake up, fellow!" cried Pao, "there is money for you near by. Up the path over there a golden apple is waiting for some man to go and pick it up."

Then they described to the unwelcome stranger the exact spot where the treasure was, and were delighted to see him set out in eager search.

For an hour they enjoyed each other's company, talking of all the hopes and ambitions of their future, and listening to the music of the birds that hopped about on the branches overhead.

At last they were startled by the angry voice of the man who had gone after the nugget. "What trick is this you have played on me, you two? Why do you make a poor man like me run his legs off for nothing on a hot day?"

"What do you mean, fellow?" asked Kim, astonished. "Did you not find the gold we told you about?"

"No," he answered in a tone of half-hidden rage, "but in its place was a monster snake which I cut in two with my blade. Now, I was first on this spot and you have no right to give me orders."

Kim said to him, "We thought we were doing you a favour. If you are blind, there's no one but yourself to blame. Come, Pao, let us go back and have a look at this wonderful snake that has been hiding in a chunk of gold."

Laughing merrily, the two companions left the countryman and turned back in search of the nugget.

"If I am not mistaken," said the student, "the gold lies beyond that fallen tree."

"Quite true; we shall soon see the dead snake."

Quickly they crossed the remaining stretch of pathway, with their eyes fixed intently on the ground. Arriving at the spot where they had left the shining treasure, what was their surprise to see, not the lump of gold, not the dead snake described by the idler, but, instead, two beautiful golden nuggets, each larger than the one they had seen at first.

Each friend picked up one of these treasures and handed it joyfully to his companion.

"At last the fairies have rewarded you for your unselfishness!" said Kim.

"Yes," answered Pao, "by granting me a chance to give you something you deserve."


In the time of King Mu of Chou, there was a magician who came from a kingdom in the far west. He could pass through fire and water, penetrate metal and stone, overturn mountains and make rivers flow backwards, transplant whole towns and cities, ride on thin air without falling, encounter solid bodies without being obstructed. There was no end to the countless variety of changes and transformations which he could effect; and besides changing the external form, he could also spirit away men's internal cares.

King Mu revered him as a god and served him like a prince. He set aside for his use a spacious suite of apartments, regaled him with the daintiest of food, and selected a number of singing-girls for his express gratification. The magician, however, condemned the king's palace as mean, the cooking as rancid, and the concubines as too ugly to live with.

So king Mu had a new building errected to please him. It was built entirely of bricks and wood, and gorgeously decorated in red and white, no skill being spared in its construction. The five royal treasuries were empty by the time that the new pavilion was complete. It stood six thousand feet high, overtopping Mount Chung-nan, and it was called Touch-the-sky Pavilion. Then the king proceeded to fill it with maidens, selected from Cheng and Wie, of the most exquisite and delicate beauty. They were anointed with fragrant perfumes, provided with jewelled hairpins and earrings, and arrayed in the finest silks, with costly satin trains. Their faces were powdered, and their eyebrows pencilled, their girdles were studded with precious stones, and sweet scents were wafted abroad wherever they went. Ravishing music was played to the honoured guest by the Imperial bands; several times a month he was presented with fresh jewelled raiment; every day he had set before him some new and delicious food.

The magician could not well refuse to take up his abode in this palace of delight. But he had not dwelt there very long when he invited the king to accompany him on a jaunt. So the king clutched the magician's sleeve, and soared up with him higher and higher into the sky, until at last they stopped, and lo! they had reached the magician's own palace. This palace was built with beams of gold and silver, and incrusted with pearls and jade. It towered high above the region of clouds and rain, and the foundations whereon it rested were unknown. It appeared like a stupendous cloud-mass to the view. The sights and sounds it offered to eye and ear, the scents and flavours which abounded there, were such as exist not within mortal ken. The king verily believed that he was in the Halls of Paradise, tenanted by God himself, and that he was listening to the mighty music of the spheres. He gazed at his own palace on the earth below, and it seemed to him no better than a rude pile of clods and brushwood.

The king would gladly have stayed in this palace for decade after decade, without a thought for his own country. But the magician invited him to make another journey, and in the new region they came to, neither sun nor moon could be seen in the heavens above, nor any rivers or seas below. The king's eyes were dazed by the quality of the light, and he lost the power of vision; his ears were stunned by the sounds that assailed them, and he lost the faculty of hearing. The framework of his bones and his internal organs were thrown out of gear and refused to function. His thoughts were in a whirl, his intellect became clouded, and he begged the magician to take him back again. Thereupon, the magician gave him a shove, and the king experienced a sensation of falling through space. . . .

When he awoke to consciousness, he found himself sitting on his throne just as before, with the selfsame attendants round him. He looked at the wine in front of him, and saw that it was still full of sediment; he looked at the viands, and found that they had not yet lost their freshness. He asked where he had come from, and his attendants told him that he had only been sitting quietly there.

This threw King Mu into a reverie, and it was three months before he was himself again. Then he made further inquiry, and asked the magician to explain what had happened.

"Your Majesty and I," answered the magician, "were only wandering about in the spirit, and our bodies never moved at all."

[From a story by Yu Hsiung, a Taoist Sage]


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