My dream has come true

We know that some jesters were dwarfs, in China as elsewhere.  Here, Han Fei 韓非 (c. 280-234 BCE) describes a dwarf using a roundabout story to alert the ruler, Duke Ling of Wei (r. c. 534-492 BCE), to the folly of favouritism.  Han Fei even praises the dwarf for his skill in changing the duke’s behaviour, leading to the appointment of more worthy advisers.  Given that Han Fei was a renowned Legalist philosopher and statesman with a strong interest in encouraging successful statecraft, it is significant that he shares and admires a dwarf’s indirect way of correcting the ruler.

Quote - Han Feizi

In the time of Duke Ling of Wei, Mi Zixia was the favourite.  A dwarf had an audience with the duke and said, ‘My dream has come true’.  The duke asked him about it.  ‘I dreamt I saw a stove, which is why I sought an audience with Your Highness.’  The duke said angrily, ‘I heard that before someone has an audience with their ruler, they dream of the sun, so how can you be coming to see me because you dreamt of a stove?’  The dwarf said, `The sun shines over everything under heaven, and there is nothing which can block its light; a ruler shines over the whole country, and no one person can block him.  That is why people who have an audience with their ruler dream of the sun.  As for the stove, if one man cooks in front of it, the people behind cannot see its light. Perhaps someone is cooking in front of Your Highness?  Could that be why I dreamt of a stove, perhaps?’  The duke said ‘Spot on!’ and sent away [his favourite] Yong Chu, dismissed Mi Zixia, and employed [the virtuous and able] Sikong Gou.


Han Fei commented that ‘if the dwarf had not made him see, the ruler would have been blocked without knowing it; whereas no sooner had he opened his eyes than he realized he had been blocked and so dismissed the ministers who had stood between him and the rest of the country’.


衛靈公之時,彌子瑕有寵,於衛國。侏儒有見公者曰:「臣之夢淺矣。」公曰:「奚夢?」「夢見灶者,為見公也。」公怒曰:「吾聞見人主者夢見日,奚為見寡人而夢見灶乎?」侏儒曰:「夫日兼照天下,一物不能當也。人君兼照一國,一人不能壅也,故將見人主而夢日也。夫灶,一人煬焉,則後人無從見矣。或者一人煬君邪?則臣雖夢灶,不亦可乎!」公曰:「善。」遂去雍鉏,退彌子瑕,而用司空狗 。。。



Source: `Nan si’ 難四, in Han Feizi 韓非子, by Han Fei 韓非 (c. 280-234 BC), fol. 37, ed. Teruo Takeuchi 竹內照夫, 5th edn, 2 vols (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1964), vol. 2, pp. 702-04

Image credit: Earthenware figure of a dwarf (7th century), China; Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, The Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; a joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the Children of Arthur M. Sackler


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