WANG TAO-K’UN (汪道昆, 明代, 16th century), graduated as 进士 Chin shih in 1547, and distinguished himself as a military commander and as a writer. The following is a cynical skit upon the corruption of his day.

A RETAINER was complaining to Po Tzu (伯子 means the author himself) that no one in the district knew how to get on.

” You gentlemen,” said he, “are like square handles which you would thrust into the round sockets of your generation. Consequently, there is not one of you which fits.”

” You speak truth,” replied Po Tzu ; ” kindly explain how this is so.”

” There are five reasons,” said the retainer, ” why you are at loggerheads with the age, as follows: —

“(1) The path to popularity lies straight before you, but you will not follow it.

“(2) Other men’s tongues reach the soft places in the hearts of their superiors, but your tongues are too short.

“(3) Others eschew fur robes, and approach with bent backs as if their very clothes were too heavy for them; but you remain as stiff-necked as planks.

“(4) Others respond even before they are called, and seek to anticipate the wishes of their superiors; whose enemies, were they the saints above, would not escape abuse; whose friends, were they highwaymen and thieves, would be larded over with praise. But you — you stick at facts, and express opinions adverse to those of your superiors whom it is your special interest to conciliate.

“(5) Others make for gain as though bent upon shooting a pheasant; watching in secret and letting fly with care, so that nothing escapes their aim. But you — you hardly bend your bow, or bend it only to miss the quarry that lies within your reach.

“One of these five failings is like a tumour hanging to you and impeding your progress in life. How much more all of them !”

” It is indeed as you state,” answered Po Tzu. ” But would you bid me cut these tumours away? A man may have a tumour and live. To cut it off is to die. And life with a tumour is better than death without. Besides, beauty is a natural gift; and the woman who tried to look like Hsi Shih (西施) only succeeded in frightening people out of their wits by her ugliness.[1] Now it is my misfortune to have these tumours, which make me more loathsome even than that woman. Still, I can always, so to speak, stick to my needle and my cooking-pots and strive to make my good man happy, [2] There is no occasion for me to proclaim my ugliness in the market-place.”

“Ah, sir,” said the retainer, ” now I know why there are so many ugly people about, and so little beauty in the land.”[3]


  • Hsl Shih was a famous beauty who made herself even more lovely by contracting her brows.
  • i.e. do my duty
  • H. A. Giles, Gems of Chinese Literature