Duke Ching of Ch’i was travelling across the northern flank of the Ox-mountain in the direction of the capital. Gazing at the view before him, he burst into a flood of tears, exclaiming: ‘What a lovely scene! How verdant and luxuriantly wooded! To think that some day I must die and leave my kingdom, passing away like running water! If only there were no such things as death, nothing should induce me to stir from this spot.’ Two of the Ministers in attendance on the Duke, taking their cue from him, also began to weep, saying: ‘We, who are dependent on your Highness’s bounty, whose food is of an inferior sort, who have to ride on broken-down hacks or in creaking carts–even we do not want to die. How much less our sovereign liege!’
Yen Tzu, meanwhile, was standing by, with a broad smile on his face. The Duke wiped away his tears and, looking at him, said: ‘To-day I am stricken with grief on my journey, and both K’ung and Chü mingle their tears with mine. How is it that you alone can smile? Yen Tzu replied: ‘If the worthy ruler were to remain in perpetual possession of his realm, Duke T’ai and Duke Huan would still be exercising their sway. If the bold ruler were to remain in perpetual possession, Duke Chuang and Duke Ling would still be ruling the land. But if all these rulers were now in possession, where would your Highness be? Why, standing in the furrowed fields, clad in coir cape and hat!
Condemned to a hard life on earth, you would have had no time, I warrant, for brooding over death. Again, how did you yourself come to occupy this throne? By a series of successive reigns and removals, until at last your turn came. And are you alone going to weep and lament over this order of things? That is pure selfishness. it was the sight of these two objects–a self-centred prince and his fawning attendants–that set me quietly laughing to myself just now.’
Duke Ching felt much ashamed. Raising his goblet, he fined himself one cup, and his obsequious courtiers two cups of wine apiece.