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A Cat with Five Virtues

萬壽僧彬師嘗對客,貓踞其旁。謂客曰:“人言雞有五德,此貓亦有之。見鼠不捕,仁也;鼠奪其食而讓之,義也;客至設饌則出,禮也;藏物甚密而能竊食,智也;每冬月輒入灶,信也。”

Master monk Bing of Wanshou [1] once sat with a guest, and his [=the master’s] cat crouched nearby. [He] said to the guest, “They say a chicken has five virtues, [2] so does this cat. Seeing a mouse, [it] doesn’t hunt: this is ‘kindness’. [When] its food is snatched by a mouse, [it] tolerates it: this is ‘rightness’. When the table is ready for the guest, [it] shows up: this is ‘propriety’. No matter how well things are hidden, [it] can steal food: this is ‘wisdom’. [It] goes to the stove once the winter begins: this is ‘trustworthiness’.”[3]


* From Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574-1646) ed. Gujin tangai 古今譚槩: https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=en&file=33840&page=82.


[1] Wanshou 萬壽 (literally “ten-thousand-longevity”) is not uncommon for place names (especially temples, mountains, etc.), but the most notable and relevant place with this name in Feng Menglong’s days was perhaps Wanshou Temple in Beijing.

[2] The five virtues of chicken refer to wen文 (cultured qualities), wu 武 (martial attainments), ren 仁 (kindness), yong 勇 (courage), and xin 信 (trustworthiness). The theory is recorded in the Hanshi waizhuan 韓詩外傳: https://ctext.org/han-shi-wai-zhuan/juan-er#n39695.

[3] Although the traditional theory of a chicken’s five virtues is embedded in a more serious political discourse, the monk here apparently alludes to it in jest. He also aligns the cat’s virtues with the key concept of wuchang 五常 (Five Constants) in Confucianism.


Detail of "Tongbao yiqi" 同胞一氣, an anonymous Yuan artist

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

 

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