Episode 195: Eggxtrapolation

Click here to listen

Today we will talk about a story of where a family’s fortune is from. The story is from the book XueTaoXiaoShuo 雪涛小说 from the Ming dynasty around the 16th century.

In the book, it says a tradesman was so poor that he barely scraped a living. One day he picked up an egg and excitedly told his wife, “here is the family’s fortune!”

“Where?” asked the wife.

“Right here,” said the man, showing her the egg, “but it will be ten years before we become rich. I’ll take this egg and have the neighbor’s setting hen hatch it. Out of that brood I will bring a female chick home to lay eggs. In one month we can have 15 chickens. In two years as the chickens give birth to chickens, we can have 300. They should fetch ten pieces of silver in the market and with the money I’ll get five calves. In three years when the calves reproduce, I’ll have 25. When the calves’ offspring give birth in another three years, I’ll have 150. This should bring in 300 pieces of silver. If I use the money to make loans, in three years more I’ll have 500 pieces of silver. Two thirds of this to buy a house, one third to buy servants and another wife- and you and I can enjoy our remaining years to the end. Won’t that be wonderful?”




All the wife heard was that her husband was thinking of buying another wife. Angrily she flung the egg away, smashing it and crying, “let’s not harbor the seed of disaster!” Enraged, the husband took her before the magistrate. “This wretched women has ruined the family’s fortune at a single stroke. She should be executed.” The magistrate asked the location of the fortune and the circumstances of the loss. The husband began with the egg and described all that had happened.

The magistrate said, “an evil woman has destroyed a great family fortune in one blow. She deserves to be executed.”

The wife protested loudly, “everything my husband has told you concerns things yet to come. Why should I suffer for that?”

“The concubine that your husband spoke of buying was also something yet to come. Why should you have became so jealous?” said the magistrate.

“True enough”, said the wife, “but one cannot move too soon in taking precautions against disaster.” The magistrate smiled and released her.

Alas! The man schemed from greed, and his wife smashed the egg from jealousy. Both were minds under delusion. The wise man, free of desire, recognized that even what exists is delusion; how much more so is that which has yet to come!



雪涛小说 XueTaoXiaoShuo

Episode 194: Monkey Keeper

Click here to listen

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

Episode 191: Vet In Court

Click here to listen

Today we will tell a story of a vet from the book Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异 published in 1740 during the Qing dynasty 清朝.

In the book, it says, there was a vet named Mr. Hou 侯. One day he was carrying food to his field laborers, when suddenly a whirlwind arose in his path. Mr.Hou seized a spoon and poured out a libation of gruel, whereupon the wind immediately dropped.

On another occasion, he was wandering about the municipal temple when he noticed a statue of Liu Quan 刘全 presenting the melon.




When the soul of the Emperor TaiZong of Tang 唐太宗 was in the infernal regions, it promised to sent Yanluo 阎罗, King of Hell a melon. When his Majesty recovered from the trance into which he had been plunged, he gave orders that his promise was to be fulfilled. Just then a man named Liu Quan observed a priest with a hairpin belonging to his wife and misconstruing the manner in which possession of it hand been obtained, abused his wife so severely that she committed suicide. Liu Quan himself then determined to follow her example, and convey the melon to YanLuo, King of the Hell, for which act he was subsequently deified.




Back to our story, the vet Mr. Hou saw the statue of Liu Quan in the temple in whose eye was a great splotch of dirt. “Dear me, Sir Liu!” cried Mr.Hou, “who has been ill-using you like this?” He then scraped away the dirt with his finger and passed on.

Some years afterwards, as he was lying down very ill, two guards walked in and carried him off to a court where they insisted on his bribing them heavily. Mr. Hou didn’t know what happened. At the moment, a person dressed in green robes came forth, who was greatly astonished at seeing him there and he turned to the guards to show proper respect to Mr. Hou. Leading Mr. Hou within, the person in green robe put him in his proper place and promising to inquire into the charge against him, went forward and whispered a few words to one of the clerks. “Oh”, said one of the clerks, “your case is a trifling matter. We shall merely have to confront you with a horse and then you can go home again.” Shortly afterwards, Mr. Hou’s case was called. It turned out Mr. Hou was accused by the horse of having caused its death by medicines. “My Lord,” replied Mr. Hou, “the prosecutor was attacked by the cattle-plague, for which I treated him accordingly and he actually recovered from the disease though he died on the following day. Am I to be held responsible for that?” The judge gave orders to look up the horses’s term of life in the Book of Fate. It appeared that the animal’s destiny had doomed it to death on the very day on which it had died. The judge cried out to the horse, “your term of years had already expired. Why bring this false charge? Away with you!” and turned to Mr. Hou, “you are a worthy man and may be permitted to live.”




The guards were instructed to escort him back and with them also went out the man in green robe and the clerk. “You are very kind to me but I haven’t the honor of your acquaintance.” “Three years ago I was traveling in your neighborhood and suffering very much from thirst, which you relived for me by a few spoonfuls of gruel. “And my name is Liu Quan” said the clerk, “you once took a splotch of dirt out of my eye that was troubling me very much.”




Mr. Hou wake up at home and was told by this family that he had been dead for two days. From then on he led a more virtuous life than ever and always went to the temple pouring out libations to Liu Quan.

Living healthy until the age of 80, one day he met Liu Quan riding on horseback as if about to make a long journey. Liu Quan told him, “your time is up and the warrant for your arrest is already issued. But I have ordered the constables to delay awhile, and you can now spend three days in preparing for death and at the expiration of which I will come and fetch you. I have purchased a small title for you in the realms below and you don’t have to worry.” So Mr. Hou went home and told his wife and children of his last day and made all necessary preparations. After three days, on the evening, he cried out “Liu Quan has come!” then he got into his coffin, lay down and died.



聊斋志异 Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio


Episode 190: Firefly

Click here to listen

It is the end of summer and start of fall. Today I want to share a romantic belief in ancient China. It is called FuCaoWeiYing 腐草为萤, meaning decaying grass become fireflies.

In the book Book of Rites 礼记from the Warring States period 战国时期, a collection of texts describing the social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou dynasty 周朝 around 2000 years ago, it says decaying grass become fireflies.




In the book YiZhouShu 逸周书, a compendium of Chinese historical documents about the Western Zhou period 西周 between the 1045 BC to 771 BC, it says, on the day of DaShu 大暑,decaying grass become fireflies. The traditional Chinese calendar divide a year into 24 solar terms. DaShu is the 12th solar term and usually begins around July 23rd and ends around August 7th. If the decaying grass doesn’t become fireflies, there wouldn’t be a harvest that year.




It is not hard to think why ancient Chinese though fireflies are the reincarnation of grass since fireflies are found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. But I am amazed by the idea that grass decays during the long humid and hot summer while fireflies emerged from the death as a continuation of life lightening up the nights. After 20 days of life span, the fireflies will be burred and wait for the reborn in the coming year.


Enter a caption



礼记Book of Rites

逸周书 YiZhouShu

Episode 188: Nested Relationships

Click here to listen

The philosopher Kant writes, “Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind’s nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it were, for coordinating everything sensed externally.”

Today we will talk about an interesting story and think about space. This story is from the book XuQiXieJi 续齐谐记 from the Southern dynasty 南朝 by the author Wu Jun 吴均 between the year 469~520. The story line is based on a Buddhism story from the Buddhism script JiuZaPiYuJing 旧杂 譬喻经from India.

In the book, it says there was once a man named Xu Yan 许彦 from the place called Yang Xian 阳羡. One day when traveling on his way in the Mountain SuiAn 绥安, he ran into a young scholar around the age of 17 or 18. The young scholar lied near the road and told him that his feet hurt very much. He asked Xu Yan if he could be carried in his goose cage. Thinking it was a joke, Xu Yan let the young scholar enter the goose cage he brought as he wished. Surprisingly, the young scholar went into the cage and fit in the cage without a problem. He sit together with two geese that didn’t get bothered by this intruder. In addition, the cage did not change the shape and the Xu Yan did not feel any change of the weight of the cage.




After a while, they stopped at a tree to take a break. The young scholar came out of the cage and said to Xu Yan, “I will prepare a meal to pay back the favor of your kindness”. Xu Yan said, “that would be great.” Then the scholar brought out a bronze container from his mouth. The copper container has many delicious dishes. It was an amazing feast indeed.

After several drinks, the young scholar said to Xu Yan, “there is a lady who is with me. Can I invite her to join us now?” Xu Yan replied, “sure!” Then the young scholar brought out a beautiful girl from his mouth. The pretty girl was around 15~16 years old, well-dressed. She joined them at the table.

Soon the young scholar got drunk and fell asleep. This girl said Xu Yan, “although he is my husband, I am not happy with him. I have a lover. Since my husband is asleep, can I let my lover to join us. Would you please keep it secret?” Xu Yan replied, “OK!”

Then the girl brought out a man from her mouth. The man was around 23~24 years old and was smart and handsome, with whom Xu Yan had nice conversations.

After a while, the young scholar was about to awake, the girl brought out an embroidered screen from her mouth to hide the young man from her husband’s view. Then the young scholar and the girl went to rest together.

On the other side of the screen, the young man who was from the girl’s mouth said to Xu Yan, “it is true that the girl and I both have feelings for each other. But we are not excursive. I have another girlfriend. Can I ask her to join us now? Please keep the secret.” Xu Yan replied, “OK.” So the young man brought out a lady from his mouth, who was about 20 years old. The three of them drank together and had a wonderful time.

When hearing the sound from the other side of the screen that the couple were getting up, the young man swallowed back the woman he brought out from mouth. At this time the young scholar’s wife came out of the curtain and swallowed back the young man she brought out from her mouth.

The young scholar was now up. He said, “I am sorry that I took a long nap. You must feel bored this whole time. It’s getting late. We need to say good-bye. ” He swallowed back the lady he brought out of his mouth along with all the dishes and food wares. He left a bronze plate as a gift to Xu Yan and said, “this is for our great memories.”

After many years, Xu Yan gave the bronze plate to his friend as a gift who later found out it was made 400 hundreds years ago.


续齐谐记 XuQiXieJi

旧杂譬喻经 JiuZaPiYuJing