Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 14, Part 6

Trey Smith

When Confucius was away in the west visiting the state of Wei, Yen Yuan said to the Music Master Chin, "What do you think of my master's trip?"

Music Master Chin said, "A pity! - your master will most likely end up in trouble."

"How so?" asked Yen Yuan.

Music Master Chin said, "Before the straw dogs are presented at the sacrifice, they are stored in bamboo boxes and covered over with patterned embroidery, while the impersonator of the dead and the priest fast and practice austerities in preparation for fetching them. But after they have once been presented, then all that remains for them is to be trampled on, head and back, by passers-by; to be swept up by the grasscutters and burned. And if anyone should come along and put them back in their bamboo boxes, cover them over with patterned embroidery, and linger or lie down to sleep beneath them, he would dream no proper dreams; on the contrary, he would most certainly be visited again and again by nightmares.

"Now your master has picked up some old straw dogs that had been presented by the former kings, and has called together his disciples to linger and lie down in sleep beneath them. Therefore the people chopped down the tree on him in Sung, wiped away his footprints in Wei, and made trouble for him in Shang and Chou - such were the dreams he had. They besieged him between Ch'en and Ts'ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food, till he hovered on the border between life and death - such were the nightmares he had.

~ Burton Watson translation ~
In both the Tao Te Ching and the Zhuangzi, we find mention of the the term, "straw dogs." Here is a little bit of history and discussion of this term from The Canine in Conversation: Dogs in Metaphor and Idiom Illustrated.
These straw dogs are not the same as straw men, though there are some similarities. Straw men — sometimes called straw dogs as well — are rhetorical devices, weak stand-ins for disliked ideas which are then easily knocked down. These straw dogs were ceremonial props in an ancient Chinese ritual. As R.B. Blakney says in his translation of the Tao Tê Ching, the phrase “straw dogs” is “an easily recognizable metaphor for something worthless.” You may or may not agree with the “easily” part of this statement. Some translators have elected to render this concept in more abstract terms. Because these “dogs” were treated with great reverence until the ritual was over and then discarded with indifference, Chang Chung-yuan simply uses that very word, “indifference,” in his translation. However, Blakney thinks that the Chinese sacrificed real dogs at one time. “The straw dog was an economy,” he states unequivocally.
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