Of all questions in the world, those debated on night boats are the hardest to handle. Any village scholar will prepare his questions in advance, like the eighteen scholars of Yingzhou, or the twenty eight generals of Yuntai, for missing but one name or surname will cause him to be grinned and laughed at. For that person who did not know the eighteen scholars or the twenty eight generals, having forgotten a name or a surname does not harm his knowledge or culture, yet he will be called dissipated, to his very shame. Therefore, to make speeches along the roads, one just has to keep in mind and in mouth a score of names, and he will be held for a scholar and a talent.
This reminds me of my Eight Yue, and the traditions in Yutao. Since their youngest age, all little children would learn the classics. Should they not succeed by twenty, they would then be taught a craft. And so, any worker or merchant would know its Treatise of Emotions or its Mirror of Na by heart, and if asked about them, on some occasion, they would list names of people and positions and ranks and dates and places without any mistake. But their culture is that of a bookcase on legs, it was not enriched by studying the classics, and they are not really different from those who cannot even spell.
Now some will say: "If we go by your words, the names of ancient people should not be remembered." I would reply : "Not so. Some names have no relation to culture, and not remembering them does no harm, like the Eight Great Scholars, the Eight Triumphant, the Cases, the Talents, the Watchers, and the Accomplished. Other are related to culture, like the Four Peaks, the Three Ancients, the Hidden Valley, or Dame Xu.
There once was a monk, who shared with a scholar a bunk on a night boat. The scholar talked big and spoke wide, the monk was intimidated, and slept with his feet curled up. But the monk noticed a few mistakes in his speech, and asked : "may I ask your highness, is Tantai Mieming one, or two persons?" The scholar said : "They are two persons". "And this Yaoshun, one or two person?" "One person, of course!" The monk laughed and said : "Having said that, please let this novice extend his feet." I have recorded those things, all very obvious and superficial. Had my colleague known some of them, the little monk never could have extended his feet. So I have called this book "Night Boat"
Edited by fcharton, 18 May 2008 - 06:45 AM.