Climbing a Tree to Seek for Fish: A Fruitless Approach
Cats are our friends. In China, we think cat is the teacher of other cats such as tiger. Why? Because cat can do what tiger cannot do: climbing a tree.
The other thing that always puzzles me about domestic cats is that they like eating fish. How could they have evolved to like eating fish while they cannot catch it? I know there are special specie called “fishing cat”, but I think most domestic cats don’t know how to catch fish. Maybe you readers can help me out.
Climbing a tree, catching fish, oh, yes, now we have a solution for cats: climbing a tree to catch fish. Is this a good solution? Maybe you already have a answer, I think you will better judge it after reading the following dialogue between Mencius and King Xuan of Qi. This dialogue happened 2300+ years ago.
Climbing a Tree to Seek for Fish: The dialogue between Mencius and King Xuan of Qi
” … doing what you do to seek for what you desire is like climbing a tree to seek for fish…” — Mencius
Mencius said, ‘May I hear from you what it is that you greatly desire?’
The king laughed and did not speak.
Mencius resumed, ‘Are you led to desire it, because you have not enough of rich and sweet food for your mouth? Or because you have not enough of light and warm clothing for your body? Or because you have not enough of beautifully coloured objects to delight your eyes? Or because you have not melodies and tones enough to please your ears? Or because you have not enough of attendants and favourites to stand before you and receive your orders? Your Majesty’s various officers are sufficient to supply you with those things. How can your Majesty be led to entertain such a desire on account of them?’
‘No,’ said the king; ‘my desire is not on account of them.’
Mencius added, ‘Then, what your Majesty greatly desires may be known. You wish to enlarge your territories, to have State of Qin and Chu wait at your court, to rule the Middle Kingdom, and to attract the surrounding barbarous tribes to you. But doing what you do to seek for what you desire is like climbing a tree to seek for fish.’
The king said, ‘Is it so bad as that?’
‘It is even worse,’ was the reply. ‘If you climb a tree to seek for fish, although you do not get the fish, you will not suffer any subsequent calamity. But doing what you do to seek for what you desire, doing it moreover with all your heart, you will assuredly afterwards meet with calamities.’
The king asked, ‘May I hear from you the proof of that?’
Mencius said, ‘If the State of Zhou should fight with the people of Chu, which of them does your Majesty think would conquer?’
‘The State of Chu would conquer.’
‘Yes; and so it is certain that a small country cannot contend with a great, that few cannot contend with many, that the weak cannot contend with the strong. The territory within the four seas (China) can be divided into nine parts, each of which is about a thousand mile square. All Qi territory together is but one of them. If with one part you try to subdue the other eight, what is the difference between that and Zhou’s contending with Chu? For, with such a desire, you must turn back to the proper course for its attainment.
‘Now if your Majesty will institute a government whose action shall be benevolent, this will cause all the officers in the Middle Kingdom to wish to stand in your Majesty’s court, and all the farmers to wish to plough in your Majesty’s fields, and all the merchants, both travelling and stationary, to wish to store their goods in your Majesty’s market-places, and all travelers to wish to make their tours on your Majesty’s roads, and all throughout the kingdom who feel aggrieved by their rulers to wish to come and complain to your Majesty. And when they are so bent, who will be able to keep them back?’
Storyteller: In this dialogue, Mencius was trying to persuade King Xuan of Qi that conquering other states with wars to enlarge his territory wouldn’t work, just as fruitless as “to climb a tree to seek for fish”. Having a benevolent government would automatically attract people and enlarge his territory.
Other English equivalents:
to fish in the air; to milk the bull; to wring water from a flint; a fruitless approach …