Episode 194: Monkey Keeper

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Today we will talk about a story from the book LieZi 列子, a Taoist text attributed to Lie Yukou 列御寇, an ancient Chinese philosopher between the year 450 BC ~ 375 BC.

In the book, it says in the land of Song 宋 there was a monkey keeper who loved monkeys. He raised a whole swarm of them and could understand their thoughts. They were so dear to him that he would take food from the mouths of his own family to satisfy them. But still the time came when he had to reduce their provisions. Fearing that they would stop obeying him, he decided to trick them into accepting short rations. “Here are chestnuts for you,” he told them. “You’ll get three each morning and four each evening. Is that enough?” The monkeys rose up in anger. Then the trainer said, “very well; four each morning and three each evening. Is that enough?” Delighted, the monkeys agreed.




In the book ZhuangZi 庄子, an ancient philosophy Chinese text from 3rd century BC, it commented on this story, “there is nothing change in the facts or the words but the monkey’s mood changed. They were just tricked no matter what.” By saying so, the philosopher ZhuangZi 庄子 conveyed his wish to end prejudice and conflicts of right or wrong. He thought nothing is the absolute right or wrong and keep oneself distant from politics and social obligations.




Maybe you thought the story is about the monkey is being irrational and they should think more. But ZhuangZi is an anti-rationalist. Reason and logic is the corn of Greek philosophy and then the entire Western philosophical traditional, most Chinese philosophers especially ZhuangZi was skeptical towards rationalism and pointed out overdependent on them could limit the flexibility of thought.





列子 LieZi

庄子 ZhuangZi

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