The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 30: Delight in the Sword-fight

Chuang Tzu

Yüeh Kien, or 'Delight in the Sword-fight.'

Formerly, king Wan of Kâo delighted in the sword-fight. More than three thousand men, masters of the weapon, appeared as his guests, lining the way on either side of his gate, and fighting together before him day and night. Over a hundred of them would die or be (severely) wounded in the course of a year, but he was never weary of looking on (at their engagements), so fond was he of them. The thing continued for three years, when the kingdom began to decay, and other states to plan measures against it.

The crown-prince Khwei was distressed, and laid the case before his attendants, saying, 'If any one can persuade the king, and put an end to these swordsmen, I will give him a thousand ounces of silver.' His attendants said, '(Only) Kwang-tsze is able to do this.' Thereupon the prince sent men with a thousand ounces of silver to offer to Kwang-tsze, who, however, would not accept them, but went with the messengers. When he saw the prince, he said, '0 prince, what have you to say to Kâu, and why would you give me the silver?' The prince replied, 'I have heard that you, master, are sagacious and sage. I sent you respectfully the thousand ounces of silver, as a prelude to the silks and other gifts. But as you decline to receive them, how dare I now tell you (what I wished from you)?' Kwang-tsze rejoined, 'I have heard, 0 prince, that what you wanted me for was to wean the king from what is his delight. Suppose that in trying to persuade his Majesty I should offend him, and not fulfil your expectation, I shall be punished with death; and could I then enjoy this silver? Or suppose that I shall succeed in persuading his Majesty, and accomplish what you desire, what is there in the kingdom of Kâo that I might ask for which I would not get?'

The crown-prince said, 'Yes; but my (father), the king, will see none but swordsmen.' Kwang-tsze replied, 'I know; but I am expert in the use of the sword.' 'That is well,' observed the prince; 'but the swordsmen whom his Majesty sees all have their hair in a tangle, with whiskers projecting out. They wear slouching caps with coarse and unornamented tassels, and their coats are cut short behind. They have staring eyes, and talk about the hazards of their game. The king is delighted with all this; but now you are sure to present yourself to him in your scholar's dress, and this will stand greatly in the way of your success.'

Kwang-tsze said, 'I will then, with your leave, get me a swordsman's dress.' This was ready in three days, and when he appeared in it before the prince, the latter went with him to introduce him to the king, who then drew his sword from its scabbard and waited for him. When Kwang-tsze entered the door of the hall, he did not hurry forward, nor, when he saw the king, did he bow. The king asked him, 'What do you want to teach me, Sir, that you have got the prince to mention you beforehand?' The reply was, 'I have heard that your Majesty is fond of the sword-fight, and therefore I have sought an interview with you on the ground of (my skill in the use of) the sword.' 'What can you do with your sword against an opponent?' 'Let me meet with an opponent every ten paces, my sword would deal with him, so that I should not be stopped in a march of a thousand lî.' The king was delighted with him, and said, 'You have not your match in the kingdom.' Kwang-tsze replied, 'A good swordsman first makes a feint (against his opponent), then seems to give him an advantage, and finally gives his thrust, reaching him before he can return the blow. I should like to have an opportunity to show you my skill.' The king said, 'Stop (for a little), Master. Go to your lodging, and wait for my orders. I will make arrangements for the play, and then call you.'

[Editor's Note: This chapter continues next page.]