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Master Tēng-t’u

 Artwork comes to us through and is in the public domain. Click for a larger image; I couldn’t bring myself to crop the original.
Artwork comes to us through Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. Click for a larger image; I couldn’t bring myself to crop the original.

One day when the chamberlain, Master Tēng-t’u, was in attendance at the palace he warned the king against Sung Yü, saying: “Yü is a man of handsome features and calm bearing and his tongue is prompt with subtle sentences. Moreover, his character is licentious. I would submit that your Majesty is ill-advised in allowing him to follow you into the Queen’s apartments.”

The king repeated Tēng-t’u’s words to Sung Yü.

Yü replied: “My beauty of face and calmness of bearing were given me by Heaven. Subtlety of speech I learned from my teachers. As for my character, I deny that it is licentious.”

The king said: “Can you substantiate your statement that you are not licentious? If you cannot, you must leave the court.”

Sung Yü said: “Of all the women in the world, the most beautiful are the women of the land of Ch’u. And in all the land of Ch’u there are none like the women of my own village. And in my village there are none that can be compared with the girl next door.

“The girl next door would be too tall if an inch were added to her height, and too short if an inch were taken away. Another grain of powder would make her face too pale; another touch of rouge would make her too red. Her eyebrows are like the plumage of the kingfisher, her flesh is like snow. Her waist is like a roll of new silk, her teeth are like little shells. A single one of her smiles would perturb the whole city of Yang and derange the suburb of Hsia-ts’ai. For three years this lady has been climbing the garden wall and peeping at me, yet I have never succumbed.

“How different is the behavior of master Tēng-t’u! His wife has a woolly head and misshapen ears; projecting teeth irregularly set; a crook in her back and a halt in her gait. Moreover, she has running sores in front and behind.

“Yet Tēng-t’u fell in love with her and caused her to bear him five children.

“I would have your Majesty consider which of us is the debauchee.”

Sung Yü was not dismissed from court.

Sung Yü wrote in the third century B.C.


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