Selected Modern Chinese Essays: The Wise Man, the Fool and the Slave

By Lu Xun

What a slave did was just to look for someone to listen to his own grievances. That was the only thing he wanted to do and also the only thing he could do. One day he came across a wise man.

“Sir!” said he sadly, tears trickling down from the corners of his eyes. “As you can see, I lead a subhuman life. I’m not even assured of a single meal a day. If I have one, it’s only a small bowl of kaoliang husks, which even a pig or dog would disdain to eat …”

“What a wretched life you lead!” the wise man replied with pity.

“Isn’t it?” the slave followed up with exaltation. “And I toil day and night without rest. I carry water at dawn and cook dinner at dusk. I run errands all morning and grind wheat at night. I wash the clothes when it’s fine and hold an umbrella for my master when it’s rainy. I take care of the heating stove in winter and keep cooling my master with a fan in summer. I boil white fungus for him late at night. I wait on him at his gambling table without ever getting a tip. Instead I sometimes get a good thrashing …”

“Oh, dear!” the wise man said with a sigh, the rims of his eyes looking somewhat red as if he were about to shed tears.

“Sir! I can’t put up with it any more. I’ve got to find a way out. But what can I do?…”

“I’m sure you’ll pull through sooner or later …”

“Really? I hope so. But, sir, I already feel much better now as you’ve given me sympathy and encouragement after listening to my grievances. It’s thus clear that Heaven always upholds justice …”

A few days later, however, he again began to grumble and look for somebody to listen to his complaints.

“Sir!” he cried out tearfully. “You know, I live in a place even lousier than a pigsty. My master treats me like dirt. He treats his Pekinese ten thousand times better …”

“Damn it!” the listener swore in such a loud voice as to make the slave start. This man was a fool.

“Sir, I live in a run-down small hut which is wet, dingy, stinking and full of bedbugs. They bite me all over when I lie down to sleep. And the place doesn’t even have a single window …”

“Why not ask your master to have a window made?”

“How can I do that? …”

“OK, you show me around!”

As soon as they came to the slave’s dwelling, the fool started to pound its mud wall.

“What the hell are you doing, sir?” the slave yelled with alarm.

“I’m trying to knock a hole to make a window for you.”

“No, you can’t do that! The master will be mad at me!”

“To hell with your master!” The fool continued pounding away.

“Help! A robber is breaking down our house! Hurry up, or he’ll knock a big hole in the wall! …” Sobbing and shouting at the top of his voice, the slave rolled round and round on the ground.

Thereupon, a whole troop of slaves arrived on the scene and drove away the fool.

The last one that came out unhurriedly on hearing the commotion was the master.

“A robber came to smash up our house,” the slave spoke respectfully and smugly. “I was the first to shout the alarm. We together drove him away.”

“You did well,” the master praised him.

A great many people came that day to express their solicitude, among them the wise man.

“Sir, I’ve just been praised by my master for my meritorious service,” the slave said to the wise man very happily and hopefully. “I remember you said the other day that I would pull through sooner or later. So you’re really a man of foresight …”

“Oh, yeah …” replied the wise man as if he, too, were happy for the sake of the slave.