Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Frog in a Well

On the left, I am adding a link to a blog by graduate students of Chinese history, which I discovered while conducting a google search for jobs in Chinese history. I just love the title: Frog in a Well--a phrase which derives from my favorite chapter of my favorite ancient Chinese book: Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu). The passage from Autumn floods relates a conversation between the Earl of the River and the spirit of the Great Ocean, who teaches the river god how small it is in the presence of the ocean, which is itself small when compared to the vastness of Heaven and Earth. The spirit of the ocean says:

A frog in a well cannot be talked with about the sea;-- he is confined to the limits of his hole. An insect of the summer cannot be talked with about ice;-- it knows nothing beyond its own season. A scholar of limited views cannot be talked with about the Tâo;-- he is bound by the teaching (which he has received). Now you have come forth from between your banks, and beheld the great sea. You have come to know your own ignorance and inferiority, and are in the way of being fitted to be talked with about great principles. Of all the waters under heaven there are none so great as the sea. A myriad streams flow into it without ceasing, and yet it is not filled; and afterwards it discharges them (also) without ceasing, and yet it is not emptied. In spring and in autumn it undergoes no change; it takes no notice of floods or of drought. Its superiority over such streams even as the Kiang and the Ho cannot be told by measures or numbers; and that I have never, notwithstanding this, made much of myself, is because I compare my own bodily form with (the greatness of) heaven and earth, and (remember that) I have received my breath from the Yin and Yang. Between heaven and earth I am but as a small stone or a small tree on a great hill. So long as I see myself to be thus small, how should I make much of myself? I estimate all within the four seas, compared with the space between heaven and earth, to be not so large as that occupied by a pile of stones in a large marsh! I estimate our Middle States, compared with the space between the four seas, to be smaller than a single little grain of rice in a great granary! When we would set forth the number of things (in existence), we speak of them as myriads; and man is only one of them. Men occupy all the nine provinces; but of all whose life is maintained by grain-food, wherever boats and carriages reach, men form only one portion. Thus compared with the myriads of things, they are not equal to a single fine hair on the body of a horse. Within this range are comprehended all (the territories) which the five Tîs received in succession from one another; all which the royal founders of the three dynasties contended for; all which excited the anxiety of Benevolent men; and all which men in office have toiled for. Po-î was accounted famous for declining (to share in its government), and Kung-nî was accounted great because of the lessons which he addressed to it. They acted as they did, making much of themselves;-- therein like you who a little time ago did so of yourself because of your (volume of) water!' (Legge)

Alan Baumler points to a different Zhuangzi passage. See also here for more about the site and its relation to Zhuangzi. Finally, this post by Alan on whether or not graduate students should blog is worth a read. I know for me, blogging has brought me out of my own little well that was my dissertation topic and my own particular training.


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