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Du Guimeng's 陸龜蒙 duck


Lu Guimeng (d. 881) [1] of the Tang dynasty was quick-witted. When [he] lived at Lize,[2] there was a eunuch from Chang’an on a mission to Hangzhou. As his boat passed by [Lu Guimeng’s] place, [he] snapped with a slingshot the neck of a green-headed male duck. [Lu] Guimeng cried out: “That duck could talk like a human, [and I] was going to offer it to the Son of Heaven. Now take the dead body and explain yourself to the authorities!” The eunuch, totally shocked, offered plenty of gold and silk until [Lu Guimeng] relented. [The eunuch] asked: “What exactly did it say?” [Lu] Guimeng replied: “[It] often called out the name of its own [species].” [3]

* From Zeng Zao 曾慥 (fl. 12th century), Leishuo 類說 (Wenyuange yingyin Siku quanshu 文淵閣景印四庫全書, vol. 873, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987), 53.12b:

[1] Lu Guimeng was a renowned poet of the late Tang.

[2] Modern Taihu, or Lake Tai, in Jiangsu.

[3] Traditional Chinese literature about animals often considers ducks (ya 鴨) as one of the animals that are named after the sound of their cry. The middle Chinese onomatopoetic word 呷 (Middle Chinese: xæp) for a duck’s cry shares the vowel and final of 鴨 (Middle Chinese: ʔæp). Lu Guimeng’s answer also employs one of the standard phrases through which the onomatopoetic nature of certain animal terms is traditionally described.

This anecdote is sometimes used to portray a literatus’ triumph over a man in power; see, for example, Su Shi’s 蘇軾 (1037-1101) poem dedicated to Lu Guimeng: In a later version of the anecdote, Lu Guimeng kindly returns the gold and says it was all a joke; see Zhang Dai 張岱 (1597-c.1684), Yehangchuan 夜航船:

"Qiuzhu wenqin" 秋渚文禽, album leaf by Hui Chong 惠崇 (fl. 11th century)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei



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