Chinese Folktales

13. Confucius

WHEN Confucius was born a unicorn appeared and spat out a piece of jade on which was written: ‘Son of the water crystal, one day you shall be uncrowned king! ‘ He grew up and was nine feet tall. He had black hair and an ugly face. His eyes protrude and his nose was turned up. His lips did not cover his teeth and his ears had large holes. He studied with great application and was well versed in all things. Thus he became a saint.

One day, with his favourite disciple Yen Hui, he climbed to the highest summit of the Great Mountain (Tai Shan). He could see as far as the Yangtse River in the south.

‘Can you see,’ he asked Yen Hui, ‘What it is that is glistening outside the city gate of Wu?’

Yin Hui looked closely, strained his eyes, and said: is a piece of white cloth.’

‘No,’ said Confucius. ‘It is a white horse.’

And when they sent someone to find out it really was so. The Great Mountain is a good thousand miles distant from the capital city of Wu and the fact that Confucius was able to make out a white horse at that distance shows his keen-sightedness. Yen Hui could not quite equal him, but at least he saw that there was a white object. That is why he is called the second saint.

Another time a well was being dug in Confucius’s native land. In the course of it an animal was discovered which looked like a sheep but only had one leg. No one knew what it was. When they asked Confucius, he said: ‘That is a leaping sheep; whenever it appears a great rain will follow.’ And sure enough a heavy rain fell soon afterwards.

Another time an object was washed ashore by the Yangtse River, and this was green and round and the size of a melon. The King of Chou sent a messenger to ask Confucius what it was. He said: ‘The green duck-groat of the Yangtse River bears fruit only once every thousand years. Whoever holds this fruit shall have dominion of the world.’

Yet another time a huge bone was dug up in Confucius’s native land. The men loaded it on a cart and took it to Confucius to ask him what it Was. He said: ‘In ancient times the great Yü had summoned the princes of the empire to him. Wind-Keeper (the tribe Leader of Fang Feng) alone did not arrive. Yü had him killed and buried at this spot. Wind-Keeper, it is said, was a giant. This is one of his bones.’

When Confucius’s death was approaching the Prince of Lu caught a unicorn while out hunting and had it killed. The unicorn which appeared at the time of Confucius’s birth had had a red thread tied round its horn by its mother. The dead unicorn now still wore that thread on its horn.

When Confucius heard about this he burst into tears: ‘My teaching has been in vain! What is there to be done? I must die.’

The unicorn appears only when a great man lives on earth. At that time Confucius was just writing his book of the Rise and Fall of Empires (Ch’un Ch’iu, the Spring and Autumn). When he heard of this occurrence he put down his pen and wrote no more.

He also dreamt he was sitting in a temple between the two central pillars. He said to his disciples: ‘Soon I Will die.’ Then he wrote a song:

The Great Mountain falls,
The roof beam snaps,
The sage departs.

Thereupon he lay down on his bed, fell ill and died. He therefore not only knew what was happening during his lifetime but also what would befall after his death. The dream of himself in the temple between the two main pillars was a prophecy of the veneration which was to be his due in centuries to come.

But even after his death he gave repeated proof of his omniscience. When the wicked emperor Shill-huang Ti had subjugated all other states and was travelling throughout his empire he came one day to the birthplace of Confucius. There he also saw his tomb. He wanted to have it opened to see what was inside. All his officials advised against it but he would not listen to them. so a passage was dug into it and in the principal chamber a coffin was found. The timber appeared to be entirely fresh. When tapped, it rang like brass. To the left of the coffin was a door which led to an inner chamber. In that chamber, just as if it were inhabited, was a bed, a table with books and clothes. Shih-huang Ti sat down on the bed and looked at the floor. There was a pair of shoes made of crimson silk with a cloud pattern embroidered on their toes. They were new and clean and with no dust on them. Leaning against the wall was a bamboo cane. As a joke the emperor slipped on the shoes, picked up the cane and walked cut of the tomb. Suddenly a tablet appeared before him, with the following verse engraved on it:

Shih-huang Ti overran six lands,
Opened my tomb and found my bed,
Stole my shoes, took my staff in his hand,
Moved on to Sha Chiu—and there dropped dead.

Ts’in Shih-huang was terrified and ordered the tomb to be closed up again. But when he reached Sha Chiu he was struck down by a fever and died of it.

Later, during the Han period, when Chung Li-yi was appointed governor of Lu he took ten thousand plummet-weights of his own money and gave it to the guardian of the temple to repair the temple of Confucius. In the course of this work Confucius’s cart was discovered, as well as his table, his mat, his sword and his shoes. A temple workman, by name of Chang Bei, who was weeding the grass in front of the great hall, found seven jade sceptres in the ground. He slipped one of them into his pocket and took the others to Chung Li-yi who Ordered them to be placed upon Confucius’s table. This table used to stand in Confucius’s study. Along the wall of the room stood a bed and above the bed there hung a large tun. Chang Li yi asked the guardian of the temple what it was. He replied: ‘It is something left by Confucius. here is an inscription on it; that is why I dared not open.’

 Chung Li-yi said: ‘The Master was a saint; perhaps the tun contains the teachings he intended for posterity.’ So the tun was opened. But all it contained was a scrap of paper upon which was written: ‘In times to came a sage will arrive and he put my books in order. He will find my cart and my shoes and my bookcase. Chung Li-yi will receive seven sceptres but Chang Bei Will hide one of them.’

When Chung Li-yi had read this inscription he summoned Chang Bei and said to him: ‘There were seven sceptres here; why did you hide one of them?’ The other man fell on his knees and returned the stolen sceptre to him. Confucius once said to a disciple: ‘The events of a hundred generations can be foretold,’ and this story goes to prove it.