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50 steps laughing at 100 steps

Feb 2, 2009

pot_calling_the_kettle_black

pot_calling_the_kettle_black

Storyteller: Today I will tell a story about a world-wide popular idiom. According to wikipedia, there are at least 29 different versions of this idiom in different languages. The English version is: “Pot calling the kettle black”.

50 steps laughing at 100 steps

During the Warring States Period of China, there was a king in the state of Liang. He liked to drive his people into war fighting with neighboring states. One day, he met Mencius, and asked: “As a king, I think I govern the state fairly well.  If there is a famine due to crop failure in the north of yellow river, I move some starving people to the south and transport food to the north. So the people won’t starve to death. Vice versa when there is famine in the south. I also know the practice of neighboring rulers, not a single like me is intended to do best for the sake of their own people. But I don’t understand, people in the neighboring states do not flee, and the population in my state has not increased at all.”

Mencius answered: “You like to fight. Let’s make an analogy with fighting.  In the battlefield, two armies confront each other. The fighting starts with steady drum sound. Soldiers from both sides now engage in combat, killing mercilessly. After a while, the winning side forges ahead and the losing side starts to collapse and flee.  Among the fleeing soldiers, some run fast, stop after 100 steps; some run slower, stop at 50 steps. Now the slow 50-step soldiers laugh at the fast 100-step soldiers that they are cowards. Do you think they deserve this kind of ridicule?”

50-steps-laughing-at-100-steps

50-steps-laughing-at-100-steps

The King replied: “No. The slow 50 step soldiers just have not reached 100 steps. But they are fleeing, too! “

Mencius said: “If you understand the truth in it, you should never expect the population in your state is larger than the neighboring states.”

This story tells, when looking at things, one should look at its nature and overall situation, not superficial and partial. Neighboring kings didn’t look after starving people in famine years, so they were bad kings who didn’t love their people; the King of Liang drove people into endless wars, made people suffer, he was also a bad king who didn’t love his people.

Storyteller: Do you know any other world-wide popular idioms? This one has 29 versions … humanity is fascinating, isn’t it?

[Related Reading on Amazon]
1. Mencius (Penguin Classics)
2. Dictionary of 1,000 Chinese Idioms

[Chinese Keywords]
五十步笑百步

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