Heaven’s surname

There are several stories of Chinese jesters running punning rings around this or that sage scholar or religious master.   When Emperor Gaozu of the Northern Qi 北齊高祖 (r. 550-59) held an erudite gathering, his jester Shi Dongtong 石動筩 (Moving Bucket) mocked one of the scholars into a tight corner by using the homophone xing which means both `nature’ and `surname’:

Quotation: Qiyan lu 啓顏錄, by Hou Bai (侯白)

`Master!  What is the surname of heaven?’  The erudite said, `Heaven’s surname is Gao’.  Moving Bucket said, `Since the Son of Heaven’s surname is Gao, heaven’s surname must also be Gao, you learnt it from the Shu minister Qin Mi, it’s not a new argument.  On all Thirteen Classics there is the surname for heaven; the master can quote from classical texts and shouldn’t just borrow old statements’. The scholar admitted, `I don’t know which classic has heaven’s surname’. 

 

The jester mockingly chided, `The master really hasn’t read his classics, has he?  It seems he hasn’t even read the Classic of Filial Piety.  The surname of heaven is Ye.  Hasn’t the master read “The principles governing the relationship of father and son are in the nature of heaven [tian xing ye, also puns as `heaven’s surname is Ye],” so how can this not be heaven’s surname?’  The emperor burst out laughing.  

 

高祖又嘗集儒生會講,酬難非一。動莆後來,問博士曰:「先生,天有何姓?」博士曰:「天姓高。」動莆曰:「天子姓高,天必姓高,此乃學他蜀臣秦宓,本非新義。正經之上,自有天姓,先生可引正文,不須假托舊事。」博士云:「不知何經之上,得有天姓?」動莆云:「先生全不讀書,《孝經》亦似不見。天本姓也,先生可不見《孝經》云:『父子之道,天性也。』此豈不是天姓?」高祖大笑。

Source:  Qiyan lu 啓顏錄, by Hou Bai 侯白 (fl. ca. 581), in Taiping Guangji 太平廣記, comp. Li Fang 李昉 (925-96), fol. 247, in Lidai xiaohua ji 歷代笑話集, Wang Liqi 王利器, ed. (Hong Kong: Xinyue Chubanshe, c. 1958), p. 11. The text is also available online at the Chinese Text Project, here.

Image credit: Cloud Vectors by Vecteezy

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