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On calling a cat "cat"

齊奄家畜一貓,自奇之,號于人曰虎貓。

Qi Yan kept a cat at home and thought it extraordinary; [he] addressed it as “Tiger-cat” to others.

客說之曰:“虎誠猛,不如龍之神也。請更名曰龍貓。”

A guest advised him, “A tiger is fierce indeed, but not as fabulous as a dragon. If I may make a suggestion, you should change its name to ‘Dragon-cat’.”

又客說之曰:“龍,固神於虎也。龍升天,須浮雲。雲其尚於龍乎。不如名曰雲。”

Another guest advised him, “A dragon is more fabulous than a tiger indeed. Yet a dragon soaring up to the sky will need drifting clouds. Perhaps clouds are superior to a dragon. It’s better to add ‘cloud’ to its name.”

又客說之曰:“雲靄蔽天,風倏散之,雲故不敵風也。請更名曰風。”

Still another guest advised him, “A wind disperses the clouds covering the sky in no time, so the clouds cannot rival the wind. If I may make a suggestion, you should change the name to ‘Wind’.”

又客說之曰:“大風飆起,維屏以牆,斯足蔽矣。風其如牆,何名之曰牆貓。”

Still another guest advised him, “[When] great winds gust over, [one] screens them off with a wall: this is good enough to block [them]. How can winds compare to a wall! Why not name it ‘Wall-cat’.”

可又客說之曰:“維牆雖固,維鼠穴之,牆斯圮矣。牆又如鼠何?即名曰鼠貓可也。”

Yet another guest advised him, “A wall is solid indeed, yet it collapses once mice make a hole in it. What can a wall do about mice? [You] can just name it ‘Mouse-cat’.”

東里丈人嗤之曰:“噫嘻!捕鼠者,故貓也。貓即貓耳,胡為自失本真哉!”

An elder from Dongli [1] scoffed at this, “Alas! What catches mice is a cat. A cat is simply a cat. Why does one ignore its true nature?”

* From Liu Yuanqin 劉元卿 (1544-1609), Xianyi bian 賢弈編 (Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 edition, vol. 2940, Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1936), 3.76.

[1] Dongli 東里 is a placename (in present-day Xinzheng, Henan) that gained its symbolic meaning as the residence of wise men because Zichan 子產 (d. 522 BCE), a renowned minister and a model of virtue in the state of Zheng, used to live there.


Detail of the hanging scroll "Mao shu moxi" 貓鼠墨戲 by Puru 溥濡 (1896-1963)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


 

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