Resentment is common in Chinese literature, but it is expressed mainly as an internal phenomenon. That is, Chinese poets frequently express grief, frustration, anguish, melancholy, and other emotions unpleasant in varying degrees, but they are almost never addressed explicitly at a third party. The significant point is that anger at another person is not usually expressed in direct words. There are countless examples in early Chinese writings of the care taken to speak diplomatically. Immoderate language and harsh emotional reactions, two characteristics of anger, are generally quite rare in refined literature. Angry words are often more expressive by their tone than by their content, and usually less articulate than other forms of speech.
Much of traditional Chinese literature takes for granted that reserve is the most appropriate way to carry oneself in public. That is evident in writing from all schools. Perhaps there is no more succinct expression of this sensibility than Laozi’s line:
The good warrior does not rage.
(Tao Te Ching (Dao de jing) #68)
That is, subordinating one’s amour propre is the token of true mastery. Thus the persona of Zhuangzi, as well as the other sages of the wilderness in the book Zhuangzi, inevitably rebuff their wordly visitors with brusque humor, and do not resort to genuine abuse or ire.
Confucius, of whom it was said that he “had no self-importance”, addresses the problem of anger more concretely: “toward yourself be harsh, but make your censure light toward others; then you will keep resentment far off." (Analects 9:4, 15:15)
There are many examples of the same sensibility in Warring States suasory literature, which typically places dispassion and humility high among a ruler’s desirable qualities. In the example below from the Zhanguo ce, Master Guo Wei is addressing King Zhao of Yan and describes a ruler’s five possible behaviors in dealing with prospective advisors:
If you serve them, with bent fingers,
if you accept instruction, facing north,
then people a hundred times better than you will come.
If you run ahead at first and only rest afterwards,
ask questions first and are silent afterwards,
then people ten times better than you will come.
If you run when others run,
then people who are your equal will come.
If you lie on a couch and lean on a staff,
gesture with your eyes and point with your fingers,
then servants and orderlies will come.
you act wildly and beat your fists angrily,
shouting and blustering,
then only people who are no better than slaves will come.
In other words, a ruler who displays anger is fit only to command slaves.
Here is a much later example from the Shishuo xinyu, from the exceedingly spare “Fenjuan (anger and irascibility)” chapter:
Wang Shu, Marquis of Lantian, was of an excitable nature.
He was once trying to eat a chicken’s egg,
and stabbed at it with a chopstick.
He failed to get it, and became infuriated;
he picked it up and threw it to the ground.
The egg rolled in a circle on the ground, without stopping.
Wáng also got down on the ground and stomped on it
with the sole-peg of his wooden shoe.
Again he failed to get it.
His rage was extreme.
He got back down on the ground and took it into his mouth,
bit through it,
and then spat it out.
Wang Xizhi, General of the Right,
heard the story and had a good laugh:
“If Wang’s father had had this kind of temper,
even in his case there wouldn’t be a single redeeming thing
you could have said about him.
In Lantian’s case, the less said, the better.”
As in the ancient West and Middle East, the ancient Chinese man who displays anger in public is considered to demean himself. Examples of this kind from Chinese literature could be multiplied endlessly; it is a cultural constant.