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
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. "