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Doctor buying a donkey

Jan 14, 2009

Storyteller: As a Ph. D. student myself, I certainly respect well-educated people. “Knowledge is power”. No matter you are a college computer science professor or a farmer who owns 100 acres of crop field, knowledge is critically important to your work and everyday life.  However, having a high degree does not equally mean one is good at everything, and sometimes, knowing too much can make a simple thing unnecessarily complicated, especially when one wants to show off his knowledge in a wrong scenario.  Here is a good story told by Yan Zi-Tui (A.D. 531-595) in his <Family Instructions of Yan Clan>.

Doctor buying a donkey

aka.  Three-page-contract with no donkey mentioned



There was once a pedantic scholar who thinks himself as highly educated number one knowledge person in the whole world.  Some people believed him, they called him “Doctor.”

One day, Dr. went to the bazaar to buy a donkey. After payment, Dr. asked the donkey seller for a contract.  But the seller was illiterate, he asked Dr. to write one instead. Dr. thought that’s a good chance to show off his knowledge, and agreed.

In a while, Dr. finished one whole page, the seller thought the contract were done, thanked: “Good, thank you so much, just give me the contract, the donkey is yours!”

However, Dr. tightly hold the paper and came up with two more pages, still busy writing: “Take it easy, I just finished one page, haven’t come to the part about your donkey yet! ” The seller had to wait aside patiently. After a long time, Dr. finally finished three pages, all full of words. He put the pen down and read his own written contract loudly and enjoyed himself.  As reading finished, Dr. asked the seller proudly: “How do you think? What a great essay you never heard before!”

The seller did not agree, replied contemptuously: “How could you write a three-page-contract, without even mentioning one ‘donkey’ word at all? In fact, what you need to do is to record  the date, I sold a donkey to you, and how much money you paid.  Don’t you think so?”

People laughed at Dr.. Dr. felt disappointed and embarrassed.  He walked away crestfallen with his donkey.


Storyteller: You ask him a word, he answers hundreds of sentence; You ask him for a summary, but he can not tell.  This story tells us: Use your knowledge in the right place.

1. 《颜氏家训》- <Family Instructions of Yan Clan> – full book (in Chinese)

[Recommended Reading]
1. Chinese folktales: Chinese Folktales
2. Amazon Book: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories

[Chinese Keyword]
博士买驴 三纸无驴

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  1. phil
    November 27th, 2009 at 17:21 | #1

    thanks a lot for this explanation!
    i’d already looked up this chengyu and learned what it meant,
    but felt unsatisfied without knowing the entire story behind it;
    fortunately your post was here to help!
    in fact, googling “博士買驢 chengyu stories”
    produced only six hits!
    and most of those were in chinese
    that still left me confused
    or didn’t really seem to have the story
    or anything.

    so thanks again,


  2. November 27th, 2009 at 17:30 | #2

    You are welcome, Phil. Glad you like this post. I am amazed that you are typing traditional Chinese characters “博士買驢”, which I thought would be difficult for non-native Chinese speakers. Fortunately, Google is smart enough to know both simplified and traditional Chinese.

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