Duke Chen Yaozi, known as Chen Kangsu, was good at archery. In his day he was without equal, and the Duke was rather full of himself on account of this. He was practicing archery in his garden when an old oil seller put down his shoulder pole and stood there, looking sidelong at him for a long time without leaving. He saw that the Duke was hitting the target with eight or nine of every ten arrows he loosed, but he only nodded slightly.

Duke Kangsu asked: "So you know archery do you? Is my archery not of the very best?"

The old man said "It's nothing else but just a familiarity of your hands."

Kangsu declared furiously "And based on what do you have the gall to belittle my archery?"

The old man replied "I know this from my ladling of oil."

Whereupon he placed a gourd upon the ground, and covered its mouth with a coin, then used a ladle to pour a trickle of oil into it slowly, through the hole in the middle of the coin1 yet without the coin getting wet.

Then he said "Mine is also nothing else but a familiarity of my hand."

Kangsu laughed and sent him on his way.

1 Right up to the early years of the 20th century Chinese coins had a hole in the middle, which could be used to string them together.

This is a Song dynasty fable by essayist and historian Ouyang Xiu originally one of the four pieces that make up the larger Gui Tian Lu. I left out the final line as it is a reference to the works of Zhuangzi which is a whole other story. I've also translated his The Drunken Old Man's Pavilion

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.