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!’ 

 

是時朝廷多賢材,上復問朔:「方今公孫丞相、兒大夫、董仲舒、夏侯始昌、司馬相如、吾丘壽王、主父偃、朱買臣、嚴助、汲黯、膠倉、終軍、嚴安、徐樂、司馬遷之倫,皆辯知閎達,溢于文辭,先生自視,何與比哉?」朔對曰:「臣觀其臿齒牙,樹頰胲,吐脣吻,擢項頤,結股腳,連脽尻,遺蛇其跡,行步偊旅,臣朔雖不肖,尚兼此數子者。」朔之進對澹辭,皆此類也。

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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