An ancient Chinese parable

May 2024 Forums General discussion An ancient Chinese parable

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    We’ve been sent a review copy of a re-edition of From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp which contains the 14th century Chinese fable of the Monkey Master which is currently doing the rounds on the internet.  Besides showing that historically some have realised how to end exploitation, it is something we could use today to argue the case against capitalism. In fact it has certain parallels with Tolstoy’s parable about cattle which have used in the past.


    Doesn’t seem like this story was well know in English (at least I can’t find any references to it) until FDTD picked it up. It was originally titled “Rule by Tricks” is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji (1311-1375) and is worth reproducing below:

    Liu Ji wrote:
    In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”
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