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Satisfying Hunger with Picture Cakes

Jan 28, 2009

pie-picture by Christine

pie-picture by Christine

Storyteller: Look at the pie picture on the right. Isn’t it delicious? At the moment of looking at it, probably you start to secret saliva and your stomach starts to rumble. But stop! You remind yourself: “It’s just a picture. Don’t feed on illusions”. In english, we use this phrase “to feed on illusions” to describe unrealistic fantasy. In Chinese, there is a idiom and a story for the same idea.

Satisfying Hunger with Picture Cakes

During the period of Three Kingdoms (208-280 A.D.), there was a man named Lu, Yu in the kingdom of Wei.  He had become a orphan since 10 years old, and his two brothers both died early. In the turmoil and chaos of war, he worked hard to feed his sisters-in-law and nephews. The days were very difficult. His characteristics and knowledge had been praised.

Later, Yu became an official.  Serving more than three years, the integrated official had made lots of good proposals and suggestions. The Emperor of Wei trusted him a lot.

At that time, the selection of officials was generally based on recommendation and people usually recommended well-known figures.  But most of these celebrities only talked, flattered each other, and never took actions. The Emperor was not satisfied by this kind of situation.

Once, in a selection for new ministers, the Emperor told the cabinet: “This selection should be recommended by Lu, Yu. Please don’t just look at reputation. Reputation is like a picture of cake drawn on the floor — You cannot eat it!“.

Satisfying Hunger with Picture Cakes

Satisfying Hunger with Picture Cakes

Yu answered: ” Purely relying on reputation is impossible to measure talent. It’s a good way to find talented people. Their high standards of self-cultivation and behavior bring them good reputation. I thought the main thing is to assess their real ability. The prior emperor ceased regular exams and now promotion/demotion is based on recommendation/reputation. So it’s hard to reveal their true capacity.”

The emperor agreed on Yu, adopted his suggestion and ordered to start an efficient exam system.

Initially, this idiom is used to describe that good reputation does not equal excellent ability. Later, people use it to describe the unrealistic fantasy to meet the needs of one’s own.

Storyteller: There is another Chengyu (Chinese idiom) story about a similar idea: Watching the plums to quench thirsty.  It’s slightly different. It will be covered in the future. Stay tuned.

[Related Reading on Amazon]
1. Three Kingdoms: Chinese Classics
2. The Stories Behind Common Chinese Idioms

[Chinese Keywords]
画饼充饥

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