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Notes on Literary Chinese

Selections from Stories by Liu Xiang

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Literary Chinese Prose

Collection of Literary Chinese Prose

Selections from Stories by Liu Xiang

Liu Xiang 劉向 (79—8 BCE) also known as Liu Gengsheng 劉更生 and Zi Zheng 子政 was born in the city of Peng Cheng 彭城, now known as Xuzhou 徐州, located in present day Jiangsu province. He was a well know Confucian scholarand compiled New Prefaces 新序, Garden of Stories 說苑, and Stratagems of the Warring States 戰國策. The original texts for all these passages can be found at the Chinese Text Project. See entries for Liu Xiang in the References.

Garden of Stories Duke Ping of Jin asks Shi Kuang



From Scroll 3 Jianben

Duke Ping of Jin said to Teacher Kuang, 'I am already seventy, I am afraid that my desire to study is already gone.'

Teacher Kuang said, 'Why not light up the candle?'

Duke Ping said, 'Why does the behavior of a servant mock his master?'

The servant heard this:
Study is good when young, like the sun at sunrise.
Study is good in one's prime, like the light at noon.
Study is good in one's old age, like the light from a candle.

How would you not choose lighting a candle instead of walking in the darkness?

Duke Ping said, 'Very virtuous.'


This style of story is a persuasion. A persuasion is a story where the ruler asks a question and the advisor replies with a surprising answer. The explanation of the surprising answer delivers a message. 师旷 was a well know musician from the time in Shanxi in present day Hongdong 洪洞. Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 103-106) Original translation.

New Prefaces: A Two Headed Snake



From Miscellaneous 1

When Sun Shu Ao was a young child he went out to play one time and saw a snake with two heads. He killed and buried it then returned home and cried.

His mother asked him what the reason was. Shu ao faced her and said, 'I saw a dead snake with two heads. I saw it facing me and was scared of dying so ran to mother.'

His mother asked, 'Where is the snake now?'

He said, 'I was afraid of other people seeing it, so I killed and buried it.'

I sense a hidden good deed that heaven will repay with good luck. You will not die. You will grow up to reach the level of chief minister of the State of Chu. You will rule the people of the country with a belief in their humanity.


Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 107-110) Original translation.

Garden of Stories: Zhao Jianzi Asks Zi Gong



From Kind Words (Shanshuo)

Zhao Jianzi asked Zi Gong, “How did Confucius conduct himself?” Zi Gong said, “I, Ci, cannot know.” Vexed, Jian Zi said, “I took you ten years to complete your training in the teachings of Confucius. The ruler asks and you reply that you cannot know. Why?” Zi Gong said, “Let me use a metaphor. It would be like drinking all the rivers and seas to quench one's thirst. It is only necessary to be content. Confucius is like all the rivers and seas. As for me, how could I be adequate to understand him?” Jian Zi said, “Your words are very virtuous.”


This section is from Scroll 11 Kind Words 十一 . Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 114-116) See References.

Zhao Jianzi Raises an Army to Attack Qi (Garden of Stories)



From Handling Complaints

Zhao Jianzi raised an army to attack the State of Qi. He ordered complaining amongst the soldiers to be punished as a crime by execution. An officer wearing armour, named Gong Lu, looked at Jian Zi and laughed wildly. Jianzi asked, “Sir, why do you laugh?” Facing towards him he said, “You servant spent the whole night laughing.” Jian Zi said, “So there is an explanation for it. There is no other explanation but for you to die.” Facing towards him he said, “I was amongst the mulberry trees in the field near the house where my wife and I live. Amongst the mulberry trees I saw a woman but, because I was chasing her, I could not catch her. Going back, my wife was in a rage and left.” Jian Zi said, “Today I attack one state and loose another. It is pointless. Therefore, we will stop the campaign and return.”


Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 117-121) This section of text is from Scroll 9 Handling Complaints . See References.

Garden of Stories: The King of Wu Desired to Attack Chu



From Handling Complaints

The King of Wu desired to attack Chu and told his retainers and officials that anyone complaining would be executed. A palace attendant with a small child wanted to object but did not dare. Rather he held a slingshot with a pellet in on his body and walked to the back garden where his clothes got wet with due. So he spent three dawns. The King of Wu said, “Sir, please come here. What greivance wet your clothes in this way?” He said, “In there garden there are some trees with cicadas on them. The cicadas live up high and sadly weep, drinking due. There is a praying mantis back here as well. The praying mantis bends its body hoping to catch a cicada in spite of the small bird at its side. The small bird stretches its neck wanting to catch the praying mantis not knowing that there is a slingshot pellet below it. These three times I have been laboring to take the advantage but each time has ended in failure.” The King of Wu said, “Excellent!” He thus dismissed his troups.


Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 138-139) This section of text is also from Scroll 9 Handling Complaints . See References.

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