Gems of Chinese Literature/Wang An-shih-A False Estimate

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WANG AN-SHIH.

a.d. 1021-1086

[A scholar, poet, and statesman, popularly known as “the Reformer,” in consequence of certain momentous political reforms he was enabled temporarily to introduce; the most remarkable being a system of compulsory military training for all classes of the people. He denounced the Tao Tê Ching, attributed to Lao Tzŭ (q.v.), as “akin to nonsense.” In 1104, his tablet was placed in the Confucian temple, only, however, to remain there about a hundred and forty years, when it was removed.]

[The prince of Ch‘in held Mêng Ch‘ang-chün a prisoner, and intended to slay him. Meanwhile, Mêng Ch‘ang-chün sent word to the prince’s favourite lady, asking her to intercede for him; to which the latter replied that if he would give her a certain robe of white fox-skin, she would speak on his behalf. Now, it chanced that this very robe had already been presented to the prince; but among Mêng Ch‘ang-chün’s followers was one who could steal like a dog, and this man introduced himself by night into the palace and transferred the robe from the prince to the lady. The consequence was that Mêng Ch‘ang-chün was released and fled at once to the frontier; while the prince soon repented of his clemency, and sent off to recapture his prisoner. When Mêng Ch‘ang-chün reached the pass, the great gate was closed, not to be opened until cock-crow; at which he was much alarmed, fearing pursuit, until another of his followers, who possessed the art, began to crow like a cock, and set off all the cocks of the place crowing too. Thereupon, the gate was opened, and they escaped.]

All ages have extolled Mêng Ch‘ang-chün as one who possessed the power of attracting men of genius to his side, in consequence of which he was surrounded by such, and availed himself of their skill to escape from the tiger-clutch of the prince of Ch‘in.

Dear me! he was but the leader of cock-crowing, cur-stealing swashbucklers―men of genius in no sense were they.

Indeed, had his own powerful State included but one single man of genius, it would have wrested supremacy from the House of Ch‘in, and the opportunity for this cock-crowing, cur-stealing skill would never have occurred.

Besides, no true man of genius would condescend to associate with imitators of cocks and dogs.[1]


  1. This brief note is considered to be a veritable gem. One commentator says, “Within the space of a hundred words all the conditions of a perfect essay are fulfilled.”