Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Man from Song

A Man from Song
by Scott Bradley

“There was a man from Song...” is a phrase frequently found in the Zhuangzi and always introduces a story illustrating wrong-headedness. Apparently, Song folk were, in fourth century BC China, considered simple. Ethnic jokes have a long history.

There is one story (not in the Zhuangzi) about a man from Song who saw a rabbit, running in his field, accidently hit a tree and kill itself. When asked why he was camped day and night under the tree, he replied that he was waiting for another rabbit.

Zhuangzi tells us about a man from Song, a ceremonial hat salesman, who travelled all the way to Yue to sell his hats. But the people of Yue where ‘barbarians’ who shaved their heads and tattooed their bodies and cared nothing for ceremonial hats. I guess Zhuangzi’s contemporaries got a chuckle from this.

Zhuangzi’s point, however, was a serious one, namely, that we should not impose our values on other people. If we wish to be free to find our own way, we must likewise allow others to freely find theirs. “But one who does not allow others to wander free and unfettered,” comments Wang Fuzhi, “can never do so himself.”

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.


  1. It appears to me that this author wants to be left alone without any serious rebuttal. This thinking can be summed as "To each his own". Out of respect to the author I will not express another view on his postings again but I can't help but wonder what would Socrates think of this, to each their own teaching?

  2. I don't think this was either Chuang Tzu's intention or this author's. On the contrary, it invites many points of view, though not necessarily 'rebuttal'.

  3. Like in Thoreau's Walden where he mentions an Indian who made baskets, and went to someone's door to sell them, and the person didn't want or need one. The Indian got mad at the person for not seeing fit to buy his baskets! Thoreau mentions that it's important for us to ensure that we bring out talents to where they're wanted (or something like that).

    Basically the same point as the Song ceremonial hat salesman.

  4. Not completely to the point, in the wuxia drama I'm watching now (Eagle Shooting Heroes, set a few hundred years later in the Song/Jin/Mongol chaos) the main character is a Song guy (basically a Southerner), painted as a bit of blockhead, but compassionate, moral (doesn't give in to "evil" powers), not too clever. His sworn brother, a Song heir but he didn't know this until he was 18, raised by Jin people (Northerners) is quite conflicted. (Does he side with his people or his "father?" )

    Wang Fuzhi's comment is actually quite relevant. (In the end, though, the Jin win.)


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