A Collection of Wisdom: Folktales

Chinese Folktales

Cloth Dispute

Two men were arguing over a piece of cloth, each claiming they owned it. The Mayor noticed this and asked them about it. After hearing their sides of the story, he told his assistants to cut the cloth in half, and distribute it equally among the men. Then after each man left with his share, the Mayor ordered his assistants to follow them. The assistants later came back and told the Mayor that one man was joyous, while the other man was upset. This prompted the Mayor to arrest the joyous man and put him on trial. The man eventually admitted that the cloth was not his.

Chinese Folktale - Sisters Take Each Other to Court

The Axe Thief

A man couldn't find his axe, and suspected that his neighbor's son stole it. As the man inspected the boy--the way he moved, the look on his face, and the way he spoke--everything seemed to point to the boy's guilt. "He stole my axe!" the man thought to himself. However, not long afterwards, he came across his missing axe while digging in a dell. The next day, he looked at his neighbor's son again. This time, he couldn't spot all those cues that made the boy seem guilty the previous day.

The Measurements

A man from Cheng wanted to buy a new pair of shoes. He measured his feet first, and left the measurements in his chair. When he arrived at the marketplace, he noticed that he had forgotten the measurements. So he went home to get them. And when he got back, the marketplace was closed. He told someone about what had happened, and the person said, "Why didn't you just try the shoes with your own feet?" The man replied, "I have confidence in my measurements, but not in my own feet."


Duke Mu of Ch'in said to the horse expert Po Lo, "You're now advanced in years. Do you know someone I can hire as your eventual replacement?"

Po Lo replied, "A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. Then there's the truly great horse--the type that can raise no dust and leave no tracks. Spotting a horse like that is something else altogether--aomething evasive and fleeting, elusive as thin air. My sons can identify a good horse--but not a truly great one. I know of one person who can pick horses the way I do: my friend Chiu-fang Kao, who works as a fuel and vegetable merchant."

Duke Mu then hired Chiu-fang Kao to find a horse. Three months later, he told the Duke that he had found one, and that it was in Sha-ch'iu. When the Duke asked him what kind of horse it was, he responded, "Oh, it's a brown mare." But when someone was sent to go get it, the animal turned out to be a black stallion!

Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo, "Your friend can't even tell if a horse is male or female, or if it's dark or light. What can he possibly know about telling a great horse from a good one?" Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "Has he really advanced ot such a level? He must be my superior. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details. Intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees only what ought to be examined. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses."

The horse turned out to be a truly great one.

The Practical Joke

There was once a man who, though born in Yen, was brought up in Ch'u, and it was only in his old age that he went to return to his native country. On the way there, as he was passing through another region known as Chin, a fellow traveler played a practical joke on him. Pointing to the city he said, "Here is the capital of the Yen," whereupon the old man flushed with excitement. Then pointing out a certain shrine, he told him, "This is your own village altar," and the old man heaved a deep sigh. Then he showed him a house, and said, "This is where your ancestors lived," and tears welled up into the old man's eyes. Finally, a mound was pointed out to him as the tomb where his ancestors lay buried, whereupon the old man could control himself no longer, and wept aloud. But his fellow traveler burst into roars of laughter. I have been hoaxing you," he cried; "this is Chin." His victim was greatly mortified; and when he arrived at his journey's end and really did see before him the city and altars of Yen, with the actual abode and tombs of his ancestors, his emotion was much less acute.

The Boil

General Wu Ch'i was leading Wey's forces in an attack on the Central Hills. One of his soldiers was ill with boils, and Wu Ch'i himself bent down and sucked the pus out of the boil. The soldier's mother was observing this nearby, and was crying. The people who saw her said, "The general is being nice to your son. Why does this make you cry?" The mother replied, "Wu Ch'i also sucked the pus out of his father's wound, and his father was later killed in battle. So, my son will probably die in battle as well. That is why I am crying."

Lieh Tzu

Lieh Tzu was traveling to Ch'i State, but turned back part way into his journey. He then encountered Po Hun Wu Jen, who asked why he turned back. "Something scared me," was the reply. "I ate at ten inns, and they served me first at five of them. These inkeepers have nothing to gain from me, and are low ranking people who are just trying to get by financially. So if they treat me so well when I dine at their businesses, imagine what'll happen when I make an appearance in Ch'i. The Governor will be sure to make me work for him. My inner spirit is not solid--and this is making people perceive me a certain way, and give me a type of credit that can lead to problems." Po Hun Wu Jen replied, "Even if you avoid Ch'i State, there will be others who'll treat you the same way."

Months later, Po Hun Wu Jen went to visit Lieh Tzu, and noticed visitors' shoes near his home's entrance. He stood there, and then left without saying a word. When someone informed Lieh Tzu about what had happened, Lieh Tzu immediately ran barefoot after Po Hun Wu Jen and caught up to him. "Master," Lieh Tzu said. "After coming all the way down here, why did you leave without saying anything to me?" "Ah!" replied the other. "I told you earlier that people will treat you this way. They come because you can't stop them. If you continue with this, your inner self will be wobbled, your dealings with them will be useless, and niether you nor they will be aware that this is the case."

Another time, Lieh Tzu was living in extreme poverty in Cheng. This prompted a stranger to tell Governor, "This man lives in your state, and he is a scholar who possesses the Way--and yet, he is dirt poor. When people see that, they might think you have no liking for scholars." Upon hearing this, the Governor sent Lieh Tzu an official allowance of grain. Lieh Tzu, however, bowed to the messengers and declined the gift. This prompted his wife to complain. "I thought the wife and family of a man of the Way are supposed to live a life of ease and pleasure. And here you are, hungry, and declining grain sent by the Governor. I suppose that is what you consider to be 'Destiny!'" Lieh Tzu smiled and replied, "The Minister know nothing about me. He sent me the rain simply because someone else suggested he should. He could've just as easily punished me becasue of someone else's suggestion." Later, the people of Cheng rebelled against Governor Yang, killing him and most of his allies in the state. Lieh Tzu was not attacked, being that he was a poor scholar who had no alliance with the Governor.

You're Fired. You're Hired

Governor Meng Sun went for a hunt and caught a fawn. He ordered his assistant Ch'in Hsi Pa to bring it back to his palace. But as the latter took it back, the mother deer continuously followed along and wept. Ch'in Hsi Pa found this so unbearable, that he returned the fawn to its mother. When the Governor found out about this, he fired Ch'in Hsi Pa. A few months later, however, he rehired him and made him tutor to his son. This prompted someone say, "Your Highness blamed him earlier, and now you have called him back to tutor your own son." The Governor replied, "This man could not bear the ruin of a fawn. So how could he possibly bear the ruin of my son?"

The Shouter

Kung Sung Lung held to the philosophy of utilizing people's talents. One time, a poor man approached him. As Kung Sung Lung interviewed him, the man said, "I have the talent of being able to shout." Kung Sung asked his disciples if there were any shouters in the group. the men said no. And so, Kung Sung Lung hired the stranger. A few days later, the disciples went to call on Yen Wang for consultation. On coming to a river, the ferryboat was on the opposite bank. The newly hired man was told to shout the intructions across the bank--and upon him doing so, the boat came. Thus it is written: "The Sage does not readily overlook the service of any man with ability."

The Cook

A wealthy man had a cook whose food he loved. One day, she announced that she was leaving. Alarmed at the prospect of going without her food, the man began to plead with her to stay. "How about I double your salary?" the man said. "No." "I'll give you your own servant." "No." "I'll let you bring your friends over here." "No," the woman replied. "I'm leaving. Nothing's going to change my mind. I'll head out tomorrow morning."

The next day, just as she was about to leave, the man, now in great desperation, asked her to marry him. She said yes, and the man was greatly relieved. But a week after the wedding, when he asked her to make his favorite dish, she responded, "What? A lady in my position doesn't cook. If you want food, hire a chef."

Upon hearing this, the man had a breakdown and left his home, never to be seen again by anyone in his village.


A young man in Ch'i State had a burning lust for gold. One morning, he got up early and went to the marketplace--and as soon as he saw some gold at a moneychanger's stand, he grabbed it and ran. The police caught him, and, quite puzzled, they asked why he committed the theft in plain view of so many people. "When I was taking the gold," the young man explained, "I didn't see anybody at all. I only saw the gold, and nothing but the gold."


The Duke of Pai was obsessed with getting revenge on the men of Cheng who killed his father. One day, he leaned on his horse-prodding stick without realizing that it was upside down. It punctured his cheek and caused a lot of bleeding--and yet, he didn't even notice. The men of Cheng heard about the incident and remarked, "He's unaware of his own face. Who knows what else he's unaware of?"

The Switch

Kung Hu of Lu and Ch'i Ying of Chao were both ill, and got examined by Doctor Pien Ch'iao. The doctor cured them, explaining that he used herbal medicine to cure maladies that came in from external sources and attacked their organs. "But," he added, "each of you is also the victim of an inner disease that has grown along with the body itself. Would you like me now to grapple with this?" They said yes, but wanted to hear more details about the diseases. Doctor Pien Ch'iao told Kung Hu, "Your mental powers are strong, but your willpower is weak. Thus, though fruitful in plans, you lack resolve." He then told Ch'i Ying, "Your mental powers are weak, while your willpower is strong. Thus, there is a narrow-mindedness and a lack of forethought. Now then, if I can switch your hearts, the good will be equally balanced in both of you." After saying this, he used a strong potion to make them go unconscious for three days, and he performed the operation by making an an incision in their chests, taking out each man's heart, and placing it in the other's body. He used herbs to apply the wounds--and when the two men regained consciousness, they looked exactly the same as before. They both returned home--only Kung Hu went to Ch'i Ying's house, and vice versa, prompting their wives to end up in court in order to resolve the issue. Doctor Pien Ch'iao was brought in--and upon his explaining the matter, peace was once more restored.

The Artificial Man

As King Mu of Chou travelled widely and inspected the west, he came across the craftsman Yen Shih, who mentioned a project of his. "Bring it with you tomorrow," said the King. The next day, Yen Shih was admitted to the ing. "Who is that man accompanying you?" asked the King. "He is my own creation. He can sing and act." The King stared at the figure in astonishment. It walked with rapid strides, moving its head up and down, so that any one would have taken it for a live human being. Yen Shih touched its chin, and it began singing, perfectly in tune. He touched its hand, and it started posturing, keeping perfect time. It went through any number of movements that fancy might happen to dictate. The King, looking on with his favorite concubine and the other inmates of his harem, could hardly persuade himself that it was not real.

At one point, the cyborg began flirting with the ladies--which angered the King to such an extent, that he was ready to execute Yen Shih. The latter, in mortal terror, instantly pulled the cyborg to pieces, revelaing that it was made of leather, wood, glue and paint. The King examined it, and found all the internal organs complete--liver, gall, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines--along with muscles and bones and limbs with their joints, skin and teeth and hair. Not a part but was fashioned with the utmost nicety and skill; and when it was put together again, the figure presented the same appearance as when first brought in. The King tried the effect of taking away the heart, and found that the mouth would no longer utter a sound; he took away the liver, and the eyes could no longer see; he took away the kidneys, and the legs lost their power of locomotion. Now the King was delighted. Drawing a deep breath, he exclaimed, "Can it be that human skill is really on a par with that of the Creator?" And forthwith he gave an order for two extra chariots, in which he took home with him the artificer and his handiwork.

Prior to this, the craftsman Pan Shu had created a cloud-scaling ladder he could mount to the sky and assail the heights of heaven, and Mo Ti assembled a wooden kite that would fly for three days without coming down. The two of them thought that they had reached the limits of human achievement. But open learning of Yen Shih's cyborg, the two men refrained from boasting of their mechanical skill, and in fact, they went so far as to quit making any more creations.

Two Sons

Mr. Shih of Lu had two sons: a scholar and a soldier. Both occupied prestigious positions. The scholar tutored princes in Ch'i, while the soldier headed the military in Ch'u. Mr. Meng also also had one son who was a scholar, and another who was a soldier. They, however, were poor. Mr. Meng asked Mr. Chih's sons how they attained their success, and they readily gave him the desired information. Then Mr. Meng's son the scholar attempted to find employment with the governor of another state. The governor was offended, saying, "We constantly face the threat of war in my state--and now you want me to focus on promoting benevolence and righteousness, instead of maintaining a strong military!" He punished the man for his suggestion. Meanwhile, Mr. Meng's son the soldier offered his services in another state. the leader there told him, "I run a small state surrounded by powerful ones. We can only survive by serving the larger states. If I build up an army here, we will surely be destroyed by a more powerful army. And when you leave here, you might join their military and attack me." He was also punished for the suggestion.

Yang Chu and Lao Tzu

As Yang Chu traveled south to P'ei, he heard that Lao Tzu was traveling west towards Ch'in, and caught up with him near the town of Liang.

Lao Tzu, however, simply stood in the middle of the road, looked up at the sky, and with a sigh, remarked, "I used to think you were teachable, but now I'm sensing you aren't."

Yang Chu didn't respond. He followed Lao Tzu to an inn, and humbly approached him, saying, "Master. Earlier, I wanted to ask you what you meant--but you walked on without providing me an opportunity. I waited out of respect. Now that you are available, I venture to ask what I've been doing wrong."

Lao Tzu said, "You're arrogant and unapproachable. ‘The purest white is thought smirched, the fullest virtue seems less than enough.'"

Yang Chu then asked for Lao Tzu's instruction, and put it into practice.

Formerly, whenever Yang Chu arrived somewhere, an innkeeper would welcome him upon arrival and be there at his departure, the owner would present him a mat while the owner's wife would give him a towel and comb, and the other lodgers would give him their spot.

But afterwards, other people at the inn would struggle just so they could sit by him.

Duke Wen

Duke Wen of Chin put an army into the field with the intention of attacking the Duke of Wei. Observing this, Tzu Ch'u threw his head back and laughed aloud. When he was asked why he was laughing, Tzu Ch'u replied, "I was thinking of the experience of a neighbor of mine, who was escorting his wife on a visit to her own family. On the way, he started talking to an extremely attractive woman tending silkworms. Happening to look up, what should he see but his own wife also receiving the attentions of an admirer! It was the recollection of this incident that made me laugh."

The Duke saw the point, and without delay turned home with his army. Before he got back, an invading force had already crossed his northern frontier!

When we focus on our own desires and don't see the desires of others, we might find ourselves in a similar situation.


Ch'i Yung could spot a robber just by looking at his eyes. The Marquis of Chin hired him to find robbers--after inspecting thousands of them, he never missed a single one.

The Marquis told Wen Tzu of Chao about him, saying, "My state used to be infested with robbers. I have a man who's singlehandedly eliminating them. Because of him, I don't need police."

The other replied, "If you rely on a detective to catch robbers, you'll never get rid of them altogether. But someone will get rid of Ch'i Yung."

Later, a band of robbers got together and did in fact kill Ch'i Yung. The Marquis of Chin was greatly alarmed, and immediately sent for Wen Tzu. "You were right. Ch'i Yung is dead. What should I do now to catch robbers?" "In Chou," replied Wen Tzu, "we have a proverb: 'Search not the ocean-depths for fish: calamity comes upon those who pry into hidden mysteries.' If you want to be quit of robbers, the best thing your Highness can do is to promote the worthy to office. Let them instruct and enlighten their sovereign on the one hand, and reform the masses below them on the other. If once the people acquire a sense of shame, you will not find them turning into robbers."

The Marquis then appointed Sui Hui to be Prime Minister, and all the robbers fled to the Ch'in State.


During Yuan Ching Mu's travels, he ran out of food, and was on the verge of starving. A man saw him, and brought over a bowl of rice-gruel. After eating a little of it, Yuan Ching Mu looked at the man and asked, "Who are you?" "Ch'iu of Hu-Fu." "Ah!" said Yuan Ching Mu. "You're the infamous robber Ch'iu? I can't eat your food! I'm an honest man." He then attmpeted to vomit up the food--and in trying to do so, he ended up dying.

The Way of Immortality

A man claimed to know the Way of immortality, and the Lord of Yen sent a messenger to interview him. However, the messenger wasted time, and the man died before his arrival.

When the messenger returned, the Lord of Yen was furious, and sentenced him to death. But his favorite remarked, "People are most concerned with preserving life. So if a man lost his own life, how could he have really shared the secret of immortality with you?

Accordingly, the Lord did not execute the messenger.

Another man, one Ch'i Tzu, had also hoped to learn the Way of immortality, and was upset when he learned that the man who claimed to possess the secret had died.

Fu Tzu heard this and said, "He wants to learn how to be immortal, and now he's upset that the teacher of that secret has died! He's obviously confused about what he needs to learn."

Hu Tzu heard this and said, "Fu Tzu is mistaken. Someone might know the principles of a skill without being able to apply them, or apply them without knowing them.

"Once, a great mathematician from Wei transmitted his secrets to his sons shortly before his death. Though the sons memorized what he said, they couldn't apply the information. Another person got the information from them, and was able to effectively apply it like the father had done.

"And thus, it is indeed is possible for a mortal man to have known the secret of immortality."

New Year's Pigeons

Every New Year's Day, the good people of Han-Tan gave their Governor Chien Tzu pigoens. And he, pleased by that, rewarded the donors. A stranger asked Chien Tzu about the the meaning of the custom, and the latter explained: "We release living creatures on New Year's Day as a sign of our benevolence." The stranger replied, "But the people try to catch as many pigeons as possible, and end up killing quite a few of them. If you really want to let the birds live, it would be best to stop people from catching them."

Li K'uei

Li K'uei warned his guards to the right and left gates of his camp, "Be prudent and alert. Our enemies might come at anytime to attack." He continuously repeated this, but the enemies did not come, and both groups of guards became tired, neglected their duties, and lost faith in Li K'uei.

After several months, the Ch'ins invaded them and almost obliterated the entire army. This is the calamity of being faithless.

A Good Thief

Mr. Kuo of Ch'i State was very rich, while Mr. Hsiang of Sung State was very poor. Mr. Hsiang traveled from Sung to Ch'i and asked the Mr. Kuo for the secret of his prosperity.

Mr. Kuo told him, "'Tis by my being a good thief. During my firt year of thievery, I had just enough; during the second year, I had ample; during the third year, I reaped a great harvest; and over time, I found myself the owner of entire villages and districts."

Mr. Hsiang was overjoyed; he understood the word "thief" in its literal sense, but he did not understand the true tao.htm of becoming a thief. Accordingly, he climbed over walls and broke into houses, grabbing everything he could see or lay hands upon. But before very long his thefts brought him into trouble, and he was stripped even of what he had previously possessed.

Thinking that Mr. Kuo had basely deceived him, Mr. Hsiang went to him with a bitter complaint.

Mr. Kuo said, "Tell me, how did you set about being a thief?"

And on learning from Mr. Hsiang what had happened, Mr. Kao cried out, "Alas and alack! You have been brought to this pass because you went the wrong tao.htm to work. Now let me put you on the right track. We all know that Heaven has its seasons, and that earth has its riches. Well, the things that I steal are the riches of Heaven and Earth, each in their season--the fertilizing rainwater from the clouds, and the natural products of mountain and meadow-land. Thus I grow my grain and ripen my crops, build my walls and construct my tenements. From the dry land I steal winged and four-footed game, from the rivers I steal fish and turtles. There is nothing [I get] that I do not steal. For corn and grain, clay and wood, birds and beasts, fishes and turtles are all products of Nature. How can I claim them as mine? Yet, stealing in this way from Nature, I bring on myself no retribution. But gold, jade, and precious stones, stores of grain, silk stuffs, and other kinds of property, are things accumulated by men, not bestowed upon us by Nature. So who can complain if he gets into trouble by stealing them?"

Mr. Hsiang, in a state of great perplexity, and in fear of being led astray a second time by Mr. Kuo, went off to consult Tung Kuo, a man of learning.

Tung Kuo said to him, "Are you not already a thief in respect of your own body? You are stealing the harmony of the Yin and the Yang in order to keep alive and to maintain your bodily form. How much more, then, are you a thief with regard to external possessions! Assuredly, Heaven and Earth cannot be dissociated from the myriad objects of Nature. To claim any one of these as your own betokens confusion of thought. Mr. Kuo's thefts are carried out in a spirit of justice, and therefore bring no retribution. But your thefts were carried out in a spirit of self-seeking and therefore landed you in trouble. Those who take possession of property, whether public or private, are thieves. Those who abstain from taking property, public or private, are also thieves. For no one can help possessing a body, and no one can help acquiring some property or other which cannot be got rid of with the best will in the world. Such thefts are unconscious thefts. The great principle of Heaven and earth is to treat public property as such and private property as such. Knowing this principle, which of us is a thief, and at the same time which of us is not a thief?"

The Salesman

A salesman from Ch'u was selling shields and halberds. In praising the shields, he said, "My shields are so solid that nothing can penetrate them." Then, when presenting his halberds, he said, "My halberds are so sharp that they can penetrate anything." In response to this, someone asked, "What would happen if you used your halberds to pierce through your shields?" The man had no reply. Indeed, impenetrable shields and absolutely penetrative halberds cannot both exist at the same time.

Lao Tzu and the Horse

There was a horse tied up in a narrow street--and it kicked every person that walked near it. Nobody knew what to do, and when they saw Lao Tzu approaching, they watched with curiosity to see how he would handle the situation. Lao Tzu spotted the horse, paused for a second to deliberate, and then turned around and walked down another street.

Which is Closer?

In a small village in China, an old man asked a young boy, "What's closer: Capital City, or the Sun?" The reply was, "The Sun." "Why do you say that?" the man inquired. "Because," explained the boy, "I can see the Sun from here, but I can't see Capital City."

Amused by the boy's response, the man took the boy to Capital City bazaar the next day to share his response with a group of others. He gathered a small crowd, and then said to the boy, "Tell us, which is closer: Capital City, or the Sun?" The boy immediately answered, "Capital City." Bewildered, the man asked, "Didn't you say yesterday that the Sun was closer?" "I did," the boy replied. "So why did you change your answer?" "Well," explained the boy, "today I've seen a lot of people from Capital City. And yet, in my entire life, I've never once seen anyone from the sun!"


A local man ran a clock store, and every day, a certain young fellow came into the store briefly, looked inside, and left. One day, the clock store owner asked the young man about his daily routine. "Well," replied the latter, "I'm the town timekeeper, and it's my job to ring the town square bell at noon. I gauge it by the position of the sun, but to be more accurate, I come in here and check your clock." "What!" the clock merchant replied. "I set my clocks based on when I hear the town square bell ring!"

The Tree's Shade

One day, a wealthy man noticed a young merchant resting outside, and immediately demanded that he move. "But I'm just sitting outside on public ground," replied the other. "Why should I move?"

"You're sitting in my tree's shade," was the response. "I cared after my tree for many years. You don;t have the right to use its shade."

"Fine," said the merchant, "I'll buy the rights from you. How much do you want?"

Eager to make money on such a unique type of transaction, the man said, "A hundred dollars."

The merchant agreed and paid the man, and they signed a contract that transferred possession of the tree's shade.

The merchant, however, soon began taking full advantage of his new asset--and since the tree's shade moved during the day, he followed it as it went to the wealthy man's yard, and even brought his friend's with him.

The wealthy man was greatly annoyed, but didn't speak up. Then one day, the merchant and his friends followed the shade right into the wealthy man's home! Infuriated, the man tried to kick them out. The merchant immediately presented his ownership papers and responded, "This is my shade. I'm on my property."

Enraged even further, the wealthy man took the merchant to court. However, the court honored the contract, and ruled that the merchant wasn't in the wrong.

The merchant continued using the shade as before, and after a few more days, the offered to buy it back. "I'll pay you two hundred dollars," he said. "Double the price you paid for it. How does that sound?"

The merchant refused. And the next day, he again brought his friends into a part of the man's house under the tree's shade. Greatly frustrated, the wealthy man said, "OK. I'll give you three hundred dollars."

"No," was the response.

"Name your price."

The merchant demanded five thousand dollars, and the wealthy man had no choice but to pay him.

Heaven and Hell

One day, an angel came up to a man and said, "Good man, today I will grant you a wish. I know that you love traveling--and so, I will take you to any two places you want."

The man, eager to see somewhere truly unique, said, "I want to see Heaven and Hell."

The angel then showed the man Hell. The man looked, and saw rows of people seated near a large table of food. But everyone had meter long chopsticks, and the people, unable to feed themselves, looked emaciated and starving.

Then the angel took the man to heaven. The man was surprised to see a very similar scene, with people seated near a table packed with food, and holding meter long chopsticks. This time, however, the people looked healthy and robust, and used their own chopsticks to feed their neighbors on the other side of the table.

The Governor's Bodyguard

Long ago, a governor was travelling, and his drunk servant accidentally vomited in his carriage. A nearby official immediately shouted at him and asked the ruler, "Should I fire this man?" "No," the ruler responded. "I know him very well, and he's a very honorable and competent man. Firing him would not only put him out of work, it would damage his reputation. His offense was pretty harmless. The official, surprised at the ruler's lenience, nevertheless complied with his demand. The servant, meanwhile, was incredibly relieved, and from then on, was intensely loyal to the ruler. Months later, while he visited his native village, he discovered that a group of savages planned an attack on the city he served. Upon hearing this, he immediately rushed back and told the ruler. And when the barbarians invaded several days later, they were easily defeated. This not only saved the city, it also earned the ruler a reputation for having wide-ranging knowledge.

Critiquing the Writing

A well-known government official and scholar was assigned to govern a very primitive area, where the region's natives lived side-by-side with new immigrants.

Shortly after the official arrived there, a young native man from the area approached him and asked him to look at some of his writings. The official looked them over and expressed his approval, even though the work was not particularly great, and then offered some advice.

Greatly elated and appreciative, the young man thanked him and left.

An assistant to the official had also read the work, and when the young man left, he remarked to the official, "That work was nothing special, so why did you praise it?"

The official replied, "We must take into account the fact that the young man is a native of this very primitive region--his family is probably all illiterate, and he surely had to go to great lengths to even learn to read and write. And he showed a lot of poise by presenting his work to me. It wouldn't be suitable for me to judge so harshly, and start off with all criticism. With my encouragement and suggestions, he will no doubt continue his studies with a pure heart, and his example will also influence the other natives of this village to learn. And this can only strengthen the community.

"So why I should severely criticize, when just being appreciative of the good points can benefit so much, and can also make my suggestions be accepted?"

What's Valuable Now?

At one point during the third century BC, China was in chaos after the government was overthrown. Armies plundered and looted, and soldiers took and hoarded precious metals, jewels, and other items of value.

In the midst of all of this, a commissioner gathered information like maps and census data, and a clerk gathered grains and non-perishable food. Not long afterwards, the region went into civil war. The commissioner used his information to gain victories and win a high promotion. And the clerk had plenty of food during a time when there was hardly any, and was able to sell everythign little by little for very high prices.

A Unique Punishment

In the eighth century, a city's new governor changed the punishment for crimes committed by government officials: instead of having them caned, he made them wear a green turban--a symbol that a man's wife is an adulterer. Not long afterwards, the number of legal proceedings on government officials plummeted to almost zero.

Eliminating the Adversary's Strength

A general attacked the Emperor, and was about to kill him. The Emperor's prime minister and other officials wanted to stop him as soon as possible, knowing that if they didn't, he would start a military campaign to seize power.

The general was a great military strategist and a powerful man, and also had one thousand devoted and mighty bodyguards surrounding him at all times.

So a clever commissioner announced a reward to be given to the bodyguards for their past service to the Emperor. However, he placed the reward miles away from the bodyguards' current position. Once the reward was announced, almost all the bodyguards left the city to collect it. The Prime Minster then got whatever men he could find, and attacked and captured teh general, easily overcoming whatever bodygaurds remaained there.

Escape Plan

A ruler's servant broke the law, and planned to escape to a nearby state.

His friend asked him, "What makes you think you will be safe in that other state?"

The servant explained, "Once I went along with our ruler to that state. When they received us, the ruler of that state treated me very well, and even remarked that we were like brothers. He seemed like an honorable man, so I am going there to seek safety."

The friend remarked, "Ah!--you are surely making a mistake! Think about it. We are in a strong state, and when you visited, their ruler noticed you were influential to our ruler. He treated you well merely in order to in order to be on friendly terms with our king, due to his fear of our state's power.

"In other words, his motivation was his state's interest, and not some special kinship he had with you. So if you go to him to seek safety, odds are he will have you arrested and taken back to our ruler."

The Improved Signposts

During the sixth century, roads had dirt signposts that marked distances. Realizing that the markers were expensive to maintain and build, a governor decided to replace them with durable and easy-to-plant trees. which not only could take the place of the markers, but also would provide shade for travelers to rest under, and would create an opportunity for merchants to sell refreshments and goods near them.

Bloody Murder

One night, two drunk men got into a fistfight in front of many bystanders. Afterwards, each man went to his home.

As one of them slept, an intruder broke into his house and chopped off his feet with an axe! As the man cried out in pain, he accused the man he had fought with earlier that night as being the culprit. The man's wife yelled for help, and though assistance soon came, the man bled to death shortly later.

His wife, in tears, reported the murder to the police. They immediately apprehended the man the victim had fought earlier that night, and put him in prison, where he was questioned by the city's very intelligent mayor.

Later, the mayor told the murdered man's wife that the suspect they had was surely guilty. Afterwards, however, the mayor sent some of his people to stakeout the wife. Days later, they arrested her and a monk. And after hours of questioning, the wife and monk eventually confessed that they were having an affair, and that they were the ones who planned and committed the murder.

One of the mayor's assistants curiously asked him, "How did you know to suspect the man's wife?"

The mayor explained, "Three reasons. First, a drunken fistfight is rarely ever enough to motivate a man to commit murder. But for someone who was already planning murder, an incident like that seems like a good cover up. Secondly, the wife's crying over the murder seemed fake. Her expression looked mixed. And finally, her husband was drenched in blood, but she hardly had any on her."

Shoes and Silk

A man from Lu was a skilled shoe maker, and his wife was a skilled gloss-silk weaver. They were about to move to Yueh, when someone said to them, "If you go, you'll become poor."

"Why?" asked the man.

The reply was, "The people of Yueh walk barefooted, and they don't wear gloss-silk crowns. Your skills will be useless over there."

Tzu Chan's Brothers

For three years, Governor Tzu Chan did such a good job running the state of Cheng, that other states feared the region. Everyone within Cheng seemed completely under the Governor's control. Except, however, for two people: his older brother Kung Sun Chow, who was an alchoholic and drug addict; and his younger brother Kung Sun Mu, who was a sex addict. The former had a home filled with liquor and drugs that people could smell a hundred yards away. He was always drunk and high, and oblivious to most things. As for Kung Sun Mu, his home was filled with attractive women, and he was 100% consumed with them, to the point that he often stayed with them day and night for months on ends. And any time an attractive woman moved into the neighborhood, he would make an all out effort to win her over.

One day the Governor consulted with his advisor Teng Hsi. "I have heard that the the self influences the family, which in turn influences the state. And yet, in my own case, I have regulated the state, while my own family is in disorder. Perhaps this Way is not the right one. How shall I bring order about in the lives of my brothers?"

Teng Hsi replied, "I have often wondered about this, but never dared bring it up to you. Perhaps you should maintain a tight reign on your brothers. Tell them about how sumblime it is to live a life of righteousness, and encourage them to manage their lives properly."

Tzu Chan did as Teng Hsi had advised, and told his brothers, "What makes man better than animals is how he can use his mind/heart to aquire righteousness and worldy honors. As for you two, you simply give in to passions all the time. If you turn away from your lifestyle, I will give you positions and a salary with the government."

The brothers replied, "We've understood our path for a long time, and we didn't need you to enlighten us and offer your advice. Your path involves striving for glory, and doing violence to your feelings and nature. It's effective for the time being as you rule the state, but it's not in harmony with the human heart. You think that just because you know how to govern a state, you also know how to live as an individual. When people know how to live as individuals, there's no need for authoritarian governors like you. Right now, you want to teach us your Way, and lure us in with official positions and worldly honors. But maybe you should be the one learning our Way."

Tzu Chan was at a loss for words. Later, he saw Teng Hsi and told him about what happened. Teng Hsi said, "You have been living with enlightened men, and did not even know it! Who says you are wise?"

The Jade Leaf

A man from Sung spent three years carving a mulberry leaf out of jade for the prince. It looked identical to a real mulberry leaf, down to its glossiness, shape, color, proportion, and symmetry. The government rewarded his skill with great sums of money.

Lieh Tzu heard about this and remarked, "If it took Nature three years at a time to make a single leaf, then there would be very few trees with leaves on them. The sage should not rely on human science and skill as much as he does on the carrying on of the Way."

The Disease

Lung Shu said to Wen Chih, "You are the master of cunning arts. I have a disease. Can you cure it, Sir?"

"I am at your service," replied Wen Chih. "But please let me know first the symptoms of your disease."

"I hold it no honor," said Lung Shu, "to be praised in my native village, nor do I consider it a disgrace to he decried in my native State. Gain does not cause me joy, loss does not cause me sorrow. I look upon life in the same light as death, upon riches in the same light as poverty, upon my fellow men as so many swine, and upon myself as my fellow men. I dwell in my home as though it were a mere caravanserai, and regard my native district with no more feeling than I would a barbarian State. As I am afflicted in in these various ways, honors and rewards do not rouse me, pains and penalties do not overawe me, good or bad fortune do not influence me, and joy or grief do not move me. Thus I am incapable of serving my sovereign, associating with my friends and kinsmen, directing my wife and children, or controlling my servants and retainers.

"What disease is this, and what remedy is there that will cure it?"

Wen Chih replied by asking Lung Shu to stand with his back to the light, while he himself faced the light and looked at him intently.

"Ah!" said he after a while, "I see that a good square inch of your heart is hollow. You are within an ace of being a true Sage. Six of the orifices in your heart are open and clear, and only the seventh is blocked up. [The Sage has seven orifices in his heart]

"This, however, is doubtless due to the fact that you are mistaking divine enlightenment for a disease--and in such a case, my shallow art is of no avail."

Niu Ch'ueh was traveling from the Highlands to Han-Tan, and while passing through a quiet and vacant area in Ou-Sha, encountered some criminals who robbed him of all he had--his clothes, equipment, carriage, and horses. But he kept on walking with a calm and unworried look on his face, as if nothing had happened.

The criminals, bewildered by his behavior, caught up to him and asked about it. Niu Ch'ueh said, "The superior person won't risk his life for mere possessions. After all, possessions are simply meant to preserve life."

The criminals discussed the matter. Recognizing the man's wisdom, they figured that he'd end up becoming inflential, and have the Lord of Chao send the police after them. So they chased after him and killed him.

A man from Yen heard about this and told his clan, "If you run into criminals, don't do what Niu Ch'ueh of the Highlands did."

Days later, his brother was going to Ch'in, and as he arrived below the passes, he also encountered criminals. Thinking about what his brother told him, he tried to defend his possessions--and in doing so, he took a beating at the hands of the criminals. As they left with his possessions, he humbly pleaded to have them back.

The criminals angrily told him, "We let you live--and now you have the nerve to come after us like this? Your tracks will probably lead the authorities to us."

So they killed the man, and injured some of his companions to boot.

An official from Ch'en went to Lu for official business. While there, he made a social visit to Shu Sun.

Shu Sun said, "We have a Sage in our state."

The Ch'en man replied, "You must be talking about Confucius."


"How can you be so sure he's a Sage?"

"Well," Shu Sun replied, "His disciple Yen Hui said that Confucius can release his heart/mind, and use his body [like his heart/mind]."

The Ch'en man then said, "We also have a Sage in our state. Have you heard of him?"


"Keng Sang Tzu. He has mastered Lao Tzu's Way, and he can see with his ears and listen with his eyes."

The Marquis of Lu soon came to hear about this Sage, and became so curious that he sent him a royal invitation and brought him to Lu. When Keng Sang Tzu arrived, the Marquis respectfully asked about the skill.

"It's a rumor," Keng Sang Tzu replied. "I can;t make my ears see and my eyes hear. However, I can see and hear without my eyes or ears.

"That's even greater," said the Marquis. "What kind of Way is that? You must tell me about it."

"My body," explained Keng Sang Tzu, "is in harmony with my heart. My heart is in harmony with my energies. My energies are in harmony with my spirit. My spirit is in harmony with all and none. I can experience the smallest thing or the slightest sound, what is very distant, or what is right on my eyebrows or eyelashes. Nothing is outside my awareness. I'm not sure whether I perceive it with my senses, body, heart/mind, or organs/gut. I suppose it's just a pure experience of things."

The Marquis of Lu was pleased. He later told Confucius about it, and Confucius just smiled without saying a word.

The Banquet

During a banquet held by Tien of the Ch'i State, many of the guest presented their host with various gifts of fish and game. He looked at them approvingly, and remarked, "Nature is indeed generous to man. It makes the five kinds of grain for us to grow, and creates the fish and fowl for our benefit." All of the guests applauded, except for one young man of the Pao family, who came forward and said, "I respectfully disagree with you, Mr. Tien. None of the world's living creatures--including our own species--is necessarily favored over the others. Though one might master or pray on another, it is only through cunning and strength. None are produced solely for the benefit of the others. Though man catches and eats certain creatures for food, how can it be concluded that Nature creates them solely for man's use? After all, certain insects suck man's blood, and certain predoators eat man's flesh. Should we also conclude that Nature created man merely for the sake of mosquitoes and gnats, or tigers and wolves?"


If streams dry up, the fish come together in an effort to try to keep themselves wet. When people see this, they have admiration for the cooperation and compassion. However, wouldn't it have been far better for the fish to have sought safety earlier in deep waters?

Dogs and Horses, Devils and Demons

A traveler was drawing for the King of Ch'i, and the King asked him, "What is the most difficult thing to draw?"

"Dogs and horses are the most difficult," was the reply.

"Then what is the easiest?" the King asked.

"Devils and demons are the easiest," replied the traveler. "People know dogs and horses. They see them night and day right in front of them. There is no room for any distortions when drawing them. Thus, they are the most difficult to draw.

"As for devils and demons, they have no shape, and nobody sees them. Thus, they are very easy to draw."