Visiting the Thatched Hut of Zhuge Liang

by Ben Schutz 21. November 2012 21:19

The Chinese idiom 三顾茅庐 (san1 gu4 mao2 lu2) literally means Liu Bei makes three calls at the thatched cottage to request Zhuge Liang to take up a responsible post. The idiom comes from 《出师表》 created by Zhuge Liang in the Three-Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280).

Before becoming ruler of the Kingdom of Shu, Liu Bei pulled out all the stops trying to find the most talented people to help him in his cause of unifying China. While conducting this search, Liu heard on the grapevine of a highly-gifted strategist and scholar by the name of Zhuge Liang living in seclusion in a thatched hut in Longzhong. He decided to pay this scholar a visit.

When Liu and his two closest friends arrived at the thatched hut, they were told by Zhuge's houseboy that the master of the house was away for several weeks. Very disappointed, they left the hut empty-handed. A few months later, Liu and his friends returned to the hut again - this time during a heavy snowstorm. But, once again they were told that Zhuge was not home.

Because neither of these two visits had borne fruit, Liu's friends tried to persuade him that to continue calling would be a fruitless exercise, akin to ploughing the sand. One of them even suggested that Zhuge's failure to make a return call was a sign of his impoliteness. However, Liu could not be dissuaded from continuing to seek out the scholar. He went to the thatched cottage in Longzhong a third time - this time alone.

Zhuge Liang, moved by Liu's sincerity and never say die attitude, personally met him at the entrance of the village. The two men had a long discussion regarding the military turmoil in China and together they devised a long-term plan to unify the country. Zhuge became Liu's top military adviser and later the prime minister of Liu's regime.

Today, 三顾茅庐 (san1 gu4 mao2 lu2) is a very popular Chinese idiom used to refer to someone who repeatedly requests another to take up a position of responsibility. I have been unable to think of an equivalent English idiom - if you can think of one, please let me know.

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A Sunday School Truth

by Ben Schutz 7. February 2012 21:51

The Chinese idiom 老生常谈 (lao3 sheng1 chang2 tan2) literally means the mere platitudes or commonplace talk of an old scholar. The idiom comes from a story about an "old scholar" called Guan Lu who lived in the State of Wei during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280).

Guan was a child prodigy and by the tender age of 15 he was renown for his scholarly abilities. He was so well versed in classical literature and astronomy that he was invited to a local magistrate's home to discuss these matters with more than 100 philosophers. These philosophers tried to completely stump the young prodigy with curly questions, but it was to no avail.

Guan's prestige continued to grow and officials sought him out for advice. One day, two ministers of the imperial court asked Guan to fortell their fortunes and career paths because they had both had bad dreams the previous night. Guan learned that the two officials were nasty pieces of work. They were vindictive and greedy and despised by their colleagues and subordinates. So Guan told the officials that their dreams indicated a gloomy future beset with many problems and difficulties.

One minister was like a cat on a hot tin roof - he became very anxious and worried about what Guan had told him. The other minister tried to console him by telling him that Guan's words were the commonplace talk of a scholar and that he should not work himself into a lather over nothing.

However, several months later both ministers were executed for their involvement in a bungled coup. Guan subsequently told his friends that this was a typical example of what can happen if people ignore the truth expressed by a commonplace notion. English speakers call these commonplace notions Sunday school truths.

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