Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes

I was talking about the role of Confucianism in contemporary Chinese society with a colleague of mine today. This, honestly, isn't something I can say much about. I haven't read much of Confucius' works and am only vaguely aware of Confucianism's principles.

But in thinking about Confucianism, a story I read the other day popped into my mind. Recently, I've been studying Chinese a lot better than before. I'm not sure why I'm more motivated now (on the cusp of leaving China in a few months), but I am and am trying to ride it for whatever it is worth.

In particular, I'm reviewing a lot of chapters and passages I studied a long time ago. I can't emphasize how important this is when it comes to studying Chinese.

A couple days ago, I reread the story of Zhang Liang. It is in chapter two of my second book. I just finished chapter twenty-seven of that second book last month. So the story is something I read for the first time a long time ago. In fact, it's been at least a year since I'd looked at it.

The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes is probably my favorite passage of anything I've ever read in Chinese. I remember after I finished it the first time, I just thought to myself: "Whoa..."

I just typed up the story and am going to quickly translate it as well:



张良家附近有一座桥,有一天,张良刚走上那座桥就看见一位白胡子老人从对面走来。那位老人看见张良就脱下自己的鞋仍到桥下,然后对张良说:“孩子,下去替我捡回来!” 张良看了看桥下的鞋,又看了看老人,马上跑到桥下去帮助他捡鞋。可是,张良刚把鞋交给老人,老人又把鞋仍到桥下去了,“孩子,再下去替我捡回来!” 张良又吃惊又生气,但是因为对方是位老人,没办法,就又到桥下去捡那只鞋。张良刚要把鞋交给那位老人,老人却抬起脚说:“孩子,给我穿上!” 张良虽然很生气,但还是蹲下来,给老人穿上了鞋。鞋穿好了,老人谢也不谢,站起来就走。张良说:“真是一位奇怪的老人。“



两天以后,张良很早就来到那座桥上,他想:”今天肯定不会迟到了。“ 可是,当他到那儿的时候,老人又在桥上等着他了。老人生气的说:你怎么又迟到了?回去吧,后天早一点到这里来!“ 说完又生气的走了。

又过了两天,天还没亮,张良就到桥上去了。他在桥上等着老人。天渐渐亮了,老人还没来,他又等了很长时间,才看见那位老人从远处慢慢地走来。老人满意地对张良说:”孩子,你就是我要找到的人。“ 他拿出一本书交给了张良,”这是一本兵法书,你要刻苦学习,以后肯定有用。“

And here is my quick translation of the story:
The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes

Ancient China has a famous person named Zhang Liang. There are many stories about him. The following is a story from his childhood.

There was a bridge near Zhang Liang's house. One day, after Zhang Liang went to the bridge he saw an old man with a white beard walk towards him. When this old man saw Zhang Liang, he threw his shoe under the bridge. The old man then said to Zhang Liang: "Young child, go pick up my shoe from under the bridge for me!" Zhang Liang looked under the bridge, looked at the old man, and then quickly ran down to help the old man pick up the shoe. But right after Zhang Liang had given the shoe to the old man on top of the bridge, he again threw the shoe under the bridge. "Young child, go pick up my shoe from under the bridge for me again!"

Zhang Liang was both surprised and angry. But because the other person was an old person there was nothing he could do. He went under the bridge to go pick up the shoe. Right after Zhang Liang gave the old man his shoe, the old man lifted up his foot and said: "Young child, put it on my foot!" Although Zhang Liang was very angry, he stooped down and put the shoe on the man. After the shoe was on the old man's foot, the old man stood up without saying "thank you" and began walking away. Zhang Liang thought: "This is some weird old man."

After the old man had walked a few steps, he suddenly walked back towards Zhang Liang and said to him: "You are a really good kid. In the early morning of the day after tomorrow, come back to this bridge. I want to give you an important thing."

The third day early in the morning, Zhang Liang came back to atop the bridge. The old man was already there waiting for him. The old man angrily said to Zhang Liang: "How can you be late to a meeting with an old person? Go away. Come back earlier in the morning the day after tomorrow!"

Two days later, Zhang Liang went back to the bridge really early in the morning. He thought: "Today, I definitely won't be late." But when he got to the bridge, the old man was there waiting for him. The old man angrily said to Zhang Liang: "How are you late again? Go away. Come back earlier in the morning the day after tomorrow." The old man then angrily walked away.

Two more days passed. On this morning Zhang Liang went to the bridge before there was morning light. He waited for the old man on the bridge. The day slowly came. The old man didn't come. Zhang Liang waited a long time. But then he finally saw the old man slowly walking towards the bridge from far away. The old man happily said to the boy on the bridge: "Young child, you are the kind of person I want to find."

The old man then took out a book and gave it to Zhang Liang. "This book is The Art of War. If you study it very carefully, you will one day be a very useful person."

Zhang Liang studied The Art of War very hard. He later in life became a very famous politician and war strategist.
I'm exhausted from typing and translating this. I can't really write my thoughts on it right now. I'll just leave this post with this: To me, this story does a wonderful job of highlighting the mystery and mystique that is China and has so much stereotypical "Chinese thought" in it.

Do you have any opinions on the story?


Ramesh said...

Nice post Mark. It captures some of the mystique of China. Despite coming from an Asian culture myself, I can't relate to this story. I'm not so sure whether the youth of China today will either. It would be interesting to hear what Qian says.

Reminds me to read Confucius in some detail.

Mark said...

Qian confirms that you're right, Ramesh. This story doesn't resonate too much with young Chinese people. They're completely disconnected with this kind of stuff.

The only thing from this story that I see any remnant of in Chinese society is the unquestioned obedience to older people. There is more of this than in, say, America.

But also having worked in schools in China, it'd be a lie to say all Chinese kids are little Zhang Liangs.

Unknown said...

That's an interesting story...very impressed you could type the original as well as translate it! As a librarian at heart, I am wondering which single book would make someone a useful person nowadays?

Anonymous said...

there's a commenly used Chinese idiom came out from this story, the idiom is 孺子可教 in Chinese, pronouced as Ru2 Zi3 Ke3 Jiao4. the story you posted is the morden Chinese Translation from an ancient classical chinese written by·司马迁's(Sima Qian)《史记·留侯世家》.

For more information here:


Sally Wu said...

I still remember this story! I read this in an children's historical book when I was an second grade elementary school's student. I really like this story. I think many students in Taiwan also have read this story. Confucius principles have its deep rooted in Chinese culture even though we sometimes don't aware why do we behave like this, and why western people behave like that~ I really appreciate you did a lot of efforts and try to understand Chinese culture. I have been following many American's news and articles, and after reading that, I feel like they don't try to think in Chinese's way, and always think and judge from their perspective...

Victorian Quilted Hearts said...

"Qian confirms that you're right, Ramesh. This story doesn't resonate too much with young Chinese people. They're completely disconnected with this kind of stuff."

I agree!

Serving Trays said...

Nice reads.

Thong Seng (Singapore) said...

Thanks for putting the story here. I personally love the story cuz it reminds us that sometimes even when the elderly may make strange demands and requests, we will still like to listen to them and fulfill their requests. With great wisdom, this is an act of testing the younger ones how much are they willing to go to act out of filial piety and obedience to the elderly. I disagree that the chinese now aday has lost touch of filial piety even though stories like these may not stir them as before.
The story also tells that Zhang Liang still respect the elder even though he is a stranger. Respect out of the man cuz of his age. Act of "Shan" affecting the society influencing even todays mind and people.