Gems of Chinese Literature/Lieh Tzŭ-Dream and Reality

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LIEH TZŬ.

[An imaginary philosopher, said by Chuang Tzŭ (q.v.) to have been able to “ride upon the wind and dispense with walking,” and generally regarded as a creature of Chuang Tzŭ's own brain. The small work from which the following extracts are taken, was written up some centuries later. It is in a pseudoarchaic style, and is not wanting in interest.]

Meanwhile, a man who had overheard his words, acted upon them, and went and got the deer. The latter, when he reached his house, told his wife, saying, “A woodman dreamt he had got a deer, but he did not know where it was. Now I have got the deer; so his dream was a reality.” “It is you,” replied his wife, “who have been dreaming you saw a woodman. Did he get the deer? and is there really such a person? It is you who have got the deer: how, then, can his dream be a reality?” “It is true,” assented the husband, “that I have got the deer. It is therefore of little importance whether the woodman dreamt the deer or I dreamt the woodman.”

Now when the woodman reached his home, he became much annoyed at the loss of the deer; and in the night he actually dreamt where the deer then was, and who had got it. So next morning he proceeded to the place indicated in his dream, and there it was. He then took legal steps to recover possession; and when the case came on, the magistrate delivered the following judgment:―“The plaintiff began with a real deer and an alleged dream. He now comes forward with a real dream and an alleged deer. The defendant really got the deer which plaintiff said he dreamt, and is now trying to keep it; while, according to his wife, both the woodman and the deer are but the figments of a dream, so that no one got the deer at all. However, here is a deer, which you had better divide between you.”

When the Prince of Cheng heard this story, he cried out, “The magistrate himself must have dreamt the case!” So he enquired of his prime minister, who replied, “Only the Yellow Emperor and Confucius could distinguish dream from reality, and they are unfortunately dead. I advise, therefore, that the magistrate's decision be confirmed.”