Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Egglaying, Cackling, Etc.

◎ Xie Yi

There were two hens in a coop. One was fond of cackling while the other liked to keep quiet. As it is customary for a hen to cackle after laying an egg, the chicken raiser accordingly credited the cackler with all the eggs that had been laid. As a result, he became so partial to his favourite bird that he fed her with every cockroach he caught. With the passing of time, however, it became known that the cackler had in fact laid very few eggs while the non-cackler kept laying one egg a day. Every time, as soon as the latter laid an egg, she quit the coop quietly, leaving the former standing by the newly-laid egg shouting and yelling her head off.

Once, when I chatted with a friend about this, he thought what I had in mind was not the hen, but men in general. As a matter of fact, our forefathers long ago already drew an analogy between the hen and man, as witness the Chinese idiom “No hen crows at dawn” (meaning “No woman is to usurp man’s power”) in The Book of History: Mu Shi. It is true that there are among us many who stick to their posts and quietly immerse themselves in hard work day and night, creating enormous material wealth for the state and achieving one success after another for the people. Like the above-mentioned good layer, they eat simple food, but lay eggs, often without making a fanfare. There are among us, however, another kind of people who, armed with a glib tongue, indulge in incessant self-glorification and, like the above-mentioned cackler, hold on to the coop without laying any egg. Some few even go so far as to brazenly claim credit for work that was done by others.

The proper way to evaluate a person is of course by watching whether or not he “lays eggs”, not by listening to him singing his own praises. When a braggart lays one egg, he will talk in such a way as if he had laid ten eggs. When he puts in a tiny bit of work, he will talk as if he had done ten times as much. He will naturally find favour with a muddle-headed boss who trusts his ears more than his eyes. The braggart will thus find himself quickly climbing up the social ladder. As to those engrossed in “laying eggs”, because they are reserved and content to live in obscurity they gain little public attention, let alone recognition. They are given no “cockroaches” to eat. They do not even have a “shelter for egglaying”.

It is in one’s nature to be either noisy or quiet. As something ingrained, it cannot be completely changed overnight. But life is short while the probe into the mysteries of the universe is long and unlimited. If we indulge in empty talk and trickery day and night, how can we have time and energy for serious study and tackling key problems confronting the country on its new Long March towards modernization? The most important thing is to stand fast to the “coop” and “lay” more “eggs” for this nation of 900,000,000 people.