The equal of all

The irrepressibly bumptious Dongfang Shuo told the emperor what he thought of scholars, in terms of brazen self-praise.  Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) gave him a long list of some of the most renowned literary names in Chinese history and asked him how he thought he compared with these men:

Quotation: `Dongfang Shuo zhuan' 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固

`… all of great wisdom and understanding, with superlative talent in letters and learning.  Looking at yourself, how do you think you compare?’  Shuo replied, `When I see them clacking teeth and fangs, puffing out jowls, spluttering from the mouth, craning necks and chins, lining up flank by thigh, pairing off buttock bones, snaking their way along, mincing side by side in crook-backed ranks, then I say to myself, Shuo, you may not be much, but you’re still equal to all these gentlemen put together!’ 



Source: `Dongfang Shuo zhuan’ 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固 (32-92), fol. 65, Ershisi Shiji 二十四史記, Zhang Shenshi 張沈石and Wu Shuping 吾樹平 (eds) (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1980), vol. 6, fol. 65, p. 2863; Ban Gu (32-92), Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China: Selections from the `History of the Former Han’ by Pan Ku, trans. by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 96.

Image credit: Portrait of Dongfang Shuo by the 18th-19th century Japanese artist Torei Hijikata


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