China the Beautiful

How Can I Use Big Gourds?

Chinese text [big5] | [utf] | Story | Classics

HuiZi said to ZhuangZi, "The Prince of Wei gave me a seed of a large-sized kind of gourd. I planted it, and it bore a fruit as big as a five bushel measure. Now had I used this for holding liquids, it would have been too heavy to lift; and had I cut it in half for ladles, the ladles would have been too flat for such purpose. Certainly it was a huge thing, but I had no use for it and so I broke it up."

"It was rather you did not know how to use large things," replied ZhuangZi. "There was a man in the Song Dynasty who had a recipe for salve for chapped hands, his family having been silk-washers for generations. A stranger who had heard of it came and offered him a hundred ounces of silver for this recipe; whereupon he called together his clansmen and said, 'We have never made much money by silk-washing. Now, we can sell the recipe for a hundred ounces in a single day. Let the stranger have it.'

"The stranger got the recipe, and went and had an interview with the Prince of Wu. The Yueh State was in trouble, and the Prince of Wu sent a general to fight a naval battle with Yueh at the beginning of winter. The latter was totally defeated, and the stranger was rewarded with a piece of the King's territory. Thus, while the efficacy of the salve* to cure chapped hands was in both cases the same, its applications were different. Here, it secured a title; there, the people remained silk-washers.

"Now as to your five-bushel gourd, why did you not make a float of it, and float about over river and lake? And you complain of its being too flat for holding things! I fear your mind is stuffy inside."

Chap. 1 - Free and Wandering
Tr. Lin Yutang

* Because the salve, by preventing the soldiers' hands from chapping, made it easier for them to handle their weapons.
** Chuang Tzu is the old spelling of Zhuangzi
   Hui Tzu is the old spelling of Huizi

What is the moral of this story?    How do you make use of big gourds? Zhuangzi says to use your imaginations and inventiveness.

  Have you heard a similar story in Western literature?

Chinese text [big5] | [utf] | Story | Classics