Zhang Liang and the Yellow Stone Old Man

Chang Liang (张良,运筹帷幄之中,决胜千里之外) was the friend and adviser whose counsels contributed so much to the success of Liu Pang, founder of the Han Dynasty. Having had occasion, in his youth, to oblige an old man by picking up his sandal for him, the latter then presented him with a book from which he drew the wisdom that distinguished him so much in after life. Liu Pang said, ” In concocting stratagems in the tent for winning battles a thousand miles away, I cannot compare with Chang Liang.”

Here is the story from Szuma Chien, Records of the Historian, translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1979)

One day, Chang Liang was stolling idly across the bridge at Hsiapi when an old man in rough homespun approached, dropped a shoe under the bride and turning into Chang Liang, said, “Boy! Go down, and fetch my slipper!” Chang Liang was astounded and wanted to hit the fellow. But controlling himself on account of the other’s age, he went down to fetch the shoe.

“Put it on for me,” ordered the old man. And since Chang Liang had already fetched the shoe, he knelt down to put it on. The old man stretched out his foot for it, then left with a smile while Chang Liang watched in amazement. After going some distance the old man came back. “You can be taught, boy,” he said. “Meet me here five days from now at dawn.”

Chang Liang, his curiosity aroused, knelt down to answer, “I will.”

At dawn five days later he went back to the place. The old man, there before him, said angrily. “What do you mean by keeping and old man waiting? Come earlier five days from now.” With that he left.

Five days later Chang Liang went earlier, only to find the old man already there. He was told to come back after another five days.

This time Chang Liang went before midnight. Presently the old man arrived. “That’s right!” he said approvingly and handed him a book with the injunction, “Read this and you will be become the teacher of kings. Ten years from now you will prosper. Thirteen years from now you will once more encounter me, as the yellow rock at the foot of Mount Kucheng north of the River Chi.” Without another word he left and did not appear again.

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