Monday, 12 September 2016

A Huge calabash--Wu Shi Zhi Hu

The Chinese Name of this story is 五石之瓠.
Hui Shi (惠施) was a Chinese philosopher--the representative of the School of Names (Sophists or Dialecticians) during the Warring States Period. He was an important minister of state Wei and a good friend of Zhuang Zi's."

One year, the king of Wei gave him some seeds of a kind of huge-sized calabash. He sowed it, and it bore a calabash which could contain five piculs of water. So Hui Zi was going to use it as a water container, but he found the calabash was not strong enough to hold so much water; then he tried to cut it in half for ladles, but he quickly noticed that if he did so, the ladles would be too flat to hold any anything. Failing to find a proper use for this huge calabash, Hui Zi got angry and thus knocked it to pieces.
Zhuang Zi, hearing about this, said to Hui Zi with a laugh:" My friend, you are really ignorant of how to use large things. Let me tell a story." He said,
There was a man in state song whose family having been silk-washers for generations. For he had a secret recipe of salve for chapped hands handed down in his family, his hands never got chapped in winter. A stranger who heard of it came and proposed to buy the art of the preparation for a hundred ounces of silver. The silk-washer called together his families and said, "We have never made much money by silk-washing. Now, we can sell the recipe for a hundred ounces in one morning. Let the stranger have it."
After purchasing the recipe, the stranger left for state Wu in which he gave counsel to the king, who was then resisting the invasion of state Yue. The king assigned him the commander of his fleet, and he had a naval battle with Yue at the beginning of winter. Since his soldiers had the salve to protect their hands from getting chapped, they fought more bravely and thus launched an offensive to crush their enemy. The stranger was rewarded with a piece of the King's territory.
At the end of the story, Zhuang Zi commented: " The keeping the hands from getting chapped was the same in both cases; but in the one case it helped the stranger secure a title, and in the other it had only enabled its owners to continue their bleaching. The difference of result was owing to the different use made of the art. Now you, my friend, had calabashes large enough to hold five piculs; why did you not think of making large bottle-gourds of them, by means of which you could have floated over rivers and lakes, instead of giving yourself the sorrow of finding that they were useless for holding anything. My friend, I fear your mind is stuffy inside. "

Background and Writer Comment:

This story is from "Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease" (Xiao Yao You, 逍遥游), an article of Zhuang Zi. This story typically shows Zhuang Zi's relativistic thought in systems of value.

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