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《Chinese Tales for Everyone: Real and Imaginary_(1) Questions Confucius Failed to Answer》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Tales Real and Imaginary

(1)  Questions Confucius Failed to Answer

Confucius was a great man whose ideas and thoughts have influenced people around the word for centuries. He was also an excellent teacher for good government and human relations.

He said about 3000 years ago: “Do not unto others what you wish them not do unto you” (己所不欲,勿施於人), a way to treat people equally and with respect.

He spent many years travelling from one state to another, trying to advise kings to be kind to their people. But he had little success.

One fine summer day, he and ten students were going to visit the State of Lu. The countryside was so beautiful that they decided to leave the main road to visit a nearby village.

At the entrance to a narrow path, they saw some children blocking the way. They were using small stones to build a toy castle to play with.

One of the students went ahead to ask the children to take down the stone wall to let Confucius’s carriage go through. All the boys fled except Hang Tuo. He was six years old. He stood his ground and said: “Who says a castle must make way for a carriage? You should turn back to the main road and leave us alone.”

The student was about to frighten the little boy away when Confucius stepped down from his carriage to reason with him. He said: “My little friend, may be we can agree on a good solution?”

Hang Tuo nodded to agree.

Confucius then said: “May be if I ask you five questions. If you can answer them right, we will do as you had suggested. But, if you cannot answer them, you will make way for us to go through visiting your village?”

“Just ask, Sir.” Hang Tuo replied confidently.

Confucius smiled and asked: “What fire has no smoke?”

“Fire in a firefly has no smoke, Sir.”

“What water do fish not thrive?”

“Fishes do not thrive in well water, Sir.”

Confucius was satisfied and surprised. He asked three more questions. The boy answered all of them perfectly.

It was Hang Tuo’s turn to question Confucius. He asked: “How many stars are there in the sky?” Confucius had no answer.

“How many houses are there in the State of Lu?” Confucius paused to find an answer. But he could not find one. He was embarrassed. He requested for questions closer to life.

“As you wish, Sir.” said a smiling Hang Tuo. He was obviously enjoying the game. He asked: “Tell me Sir, how many strands of hair are there in your eyebrows?”

Confucius froze. He realized in silence that he was no match to this intelligent little boy. He also knew that the longer they stayed the more awkward they would become.

He gathered his students around Hang Tuo and said: “Listen all of you. Here is a little boy of exceptional intelligence. We should be humble enough to learn from him. There is no limit to knowledge. Nor is knowledge related to age. Hang Tuo can be a teacher for us all. Let us remember his questions and wit. We must now turn back to the main road to continue our journey.”

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Note: This is a retelling of a story contained in the book說苑.The story is a construct though Hang Tuo did become a scholar later in life. It tells us to keep an open mind on scholarship and common wit, book knowledge and common sense, as well as to accept the fact that there are many questions that have no precise answers.

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