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Editorial : A story for Carrie Lam to learn from

【明報專訊】TODAY we begin with a story about Confucius reading "zhen", a Chinese character, as "zhi ba", two Chinese characters that could be mistaken for "zhen" when written vertically next to each other.

Legend has it that Confucius was then travelling through all the kingdoms. Trying to reach their destination in time, he and his disciples remained on the road at dusk. They were so hungry that their stomachs were all rumbling. Confucius ordered Yan Yuan to ask for some food from a shop that sold meals. Yan went there on his orders, stating their identities and intentions in front of the owner of the shop. The owner said, "I can give you all meals, but on one condition. I will write a Chinese character. If you can read it, I will give your teacher and all his disciples meals for free. Otherwise you will get a rain of baton blows and be kicked out of my shop." 

How difficult would it be for Yan, a follower of Confucius for years, to read a Chinese character? He took up the challenge readily. The owner produced a bamboo slip with the character "zhen" written on it. Yan laughed, "You underestimate me. I thought it would be a difficult character. I knew this character at the age of five." The owner asked with a smile, "What is this character?" "'Zhen' as in 'ren zhen' (being serious)," Yan answered. The owner sneered, "An unlearned man passing himself off as a disciple of Confucius. Come here, my people. Rain baton blows on him and kick him out of my shop."

Stupefied, Yan returned to where Confucius had been resting and told him what had happened. Confucius smiled, "Looks like he wants me to go there myself". He showed up at the shop and told the owner his intentions. The owner, as before, showed him the slip of bamboo with "zhen" written on it. Confucius answered, "This character is pronounced as 'zhi ba'." On hearing this, the owner said, "The real Confucius has indeed graced us with his presence." He wined and dined Confucius and his disciples with great kindness, seeing them off merrily without charging them a penny for the meals.

Puzzled, Yan asked his teacher, "Teacher, was it not the character 'zhen'? How come it is pronounced as 'zhi ba'?" Confucius answered with a smile, "Sometimes you cannot be too 'ren zhen' (too serious)!"

This story is said to be an anecdote and has many different versions. But it is nowhere to be found in the Four Books and Five Classics, the writings of the "Hundred Schools of Thought" or history books written in a biographical style. It is believed that the story was fabricated by people who lived after Confucius, who used the story to talk about a lesson in life. Today, people interpreting this story tend to think that Confucius is wise in the story. He makes a decision decisively and achieves his aims with cleverness. Some storytellers even say that, although Confucius believed that being serious when dealing with every matter is a basic principle when one conducts oneself in society, if one sees the word "zhen" in every matter, one could lose the room for manoeuvre. In the story, Yan, sticking to reason, says the character is "zhen" as in "ren zhen". He is expelled by the owner, leaving Confucius with no choice but to demean himself and ask for a meal on the doorstep of the shop. If Confucius inflexibly and obstinately said that the character was "zhen" as in "ren zhen", he and his disciples would not get the meals and would continue to be tortured by hunger and cold.

Some people believe that, by reading "zhen" as "zhi ba" in order to get a meal, Confucius violates his principles, and this is not very edifying. However, even more people believe that Confucius is being flexible and seizes the opportunity to get himself and his disciples out of the predicament. That shows great wisdom. The most important thing is that Confucius is reacting to a situation flexibly. It is not a conspiracy to defraud.

Carrie Lam should try to learn from the wisdom of Confucius as depicted in the anecdote.

明報社評2019.07.10:一則孔子軼事 或有助林鄭思考脫困

今日先講有關孔子認「真」為「直八」的軼事。

話說孔子周遊列國,一次與弟子趕路至向晚,衆人飢腸轆轆,孔子着顏淵到一家飯館討點飯菜果腹。顏淵啣命前往,向主人表明身分來意,老闆聞言說:「要飯可以,不過我有一個要求,我寫一字,你若認識,我就請你們師徒吃飯,若不認識就亂棍打出。」

顏淵以跟隨孔子多年,區區認字,有何難哉,隨口應允。主人於是出示竹簡,上面寫了一個「真」字。顏淵哈哈笑道:「老闆也太小看顏回了,估道是什麼難認的字,此字我5歲兒時就識得了。」老闆微笑問道:「這是什麼字?」顏淵說:「是認真的『真』。」老闆冷笑一聲,「無知之徒竟敢冒充孔老夫子門生,來人,亂棍打出。」

顏淵帶着狐疑返回孔子歇腳處,說了經過。孔夫子笑道:「看來他要為師前去不可。」動身來到飯館,道明來意,主人照樣出示「真」字竹簡,孔夫子答曰:「此字念『直八』。」主人聞言笑道:「果然是夫子駕臨。」盛情接待孔子一行吃喝之後,不收分文歡送離去。

其後,顏淵不解地問:「老師,這個不是『真』字嗎?怎麼變成『直八』了?」孔子微笑說:「有時候的事,認不得『真』啊!」

這個「故事」,名為軼事,有衆多版本,在四書五經、諸子百家或正史等,都沒有記載,相信此乃後人杜撰,借孔子編故事,講道理。現在,人們對孔子這個認「真」為「直八」的解讀,多傾向為孔子睿智,在關鍵時刻當機立斷,以機智達至目的。有編故事的人甚至說,孔子認為凡事認真,是為人處事基本要求,惟若事事皆認「真」,或許會失去轉圜機會。從故事情節而言,顏淵循事理直說竹簡的字是認真的「真」,被飯館主人驅走,勞駕孔子登門求飯,設若孔子也拘泥剛愎,說是認真的「真」,則弟子一行大概無飯吃,繼續飢寒交迫了。

有人認為孔子為飽餐而認「真」為「直八」,偏離了理念原則,不足為法。不過,更多人認為孔子圓融,抓住機會與弟子一起脫困,體現了大智慧,最重要是此乃彈性運用,有別於事先預謀欺騙。

林太,試試汲取軼事中孔夫子的睿智。

■Glossary

pass sth off : If you pass something off as another thing, you convince people that it is that other thing

stupefied : so surprised, tired, or bored that you cannot think clearly

edifying : likely to improve your mind or your character

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