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On calling a cat "cat"


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


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’.”


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.”


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’.”


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’.”


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’.”


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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