There is an old Chinese story concerning three young men who are too lazy to study. Their father builds them a hut on a mountain figuring that isolation will help them concentrate. It does not work. They meet a divine lady, who wants, of course, to marry them to her three beautiful daughters. She is also willing to give them study help.
The Lady said to the three youths: “What men treat seriously is life; what they desire is honor. Now before a hundred days have been lost to mankind, I shall bring life to you, lords, enduring beyond this world, and position far beyond that of any mortal magnate.” The three youths saluted once more and gave thanks, but were anxious lest their ignorance be a hindrance and their dull wits an obstacle. The Lady said, “Do not be anxious, milords, for this is a simple thing!” Then she enjoined her manager on earth, commanding him to summon K’ung Hsuan-fu (Confucius). In a moment Master K’ung came, equipped with hat and sword. The Lady approached the staircase, and Hsuan-fu presented himself with a respectful salutation. Standing erect, the Lady asked if she might impose a slight task on him, addressing him thus: “My three sons-in-law desire to study. Will you guide them, milord?” Then Hsuan-fu gave commands to the three youths. He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail, thoroughly conversant with all as if they had always been rehearsing them. Then Hsuan-fu gave thanks, and departed. Now the Lady commanded Chou Shang-fu to show them “The Mystic Woman’s Talisman and Secret Esoterica of the Yellow Pendants.” The three youths acquired these too without missing anything. She sat and spoke with them again, and found that their studious penetration of all the civil and military arts was now as far-reaching as that of a Heavenly Person. Inspecting each other, the three youths were aware that now their air and poise were balanced and expansive, while their spiritual illumination was uninhibited and buoyant-they were in all respects equipped to become Commanders or Ministers.
There are a couple of things that struck me here. One is Confucius’ mad Powerpoint skills.
He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail.
Apparently Confucius can teach someone the Rites Classic just by pointing his finger at the chapter titles. Suck on that Edward Tufte. Also, of course, we have magical learning. Students who have been goofing off all semester are magically transformed into people who know it all, or can at least pass the final. They (or their father) try isolating themselves from distraction (get away from your phone. Go to the library) but it does not work. But then a miracle occurs. My students are of course quite familiar with this idea, since they know that you can learn a lot in just one night of frantic studying. They are also not at all surprised that I, their teacher, once learned a whole semester of geography in one night. They always seem to understand the logic behind the Great Leap Forward, the idea that a red heart can achieve miracles, if you compare it to cramming for an exam.
Sadly, unlink most things on this blog this is not something I will probably ever use to teach with. It comes from Edward H Schafer’s Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. ((The lady is in fact a star-lady. Of course the boys end up telling their father about her, as she had told them not to, and she makes them drink something that makes them stupid again.)) As always with his many1 works I feel entirely inadequate to do anything with them in class other than say “cut class next time and go read all his books.”
On Amazon I see
Schafer, Edward H. Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2005.
———. Shore of Pearls. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2010.
———. The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in Tʻang Literature. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980.
———. The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Warren, Conn.; Abingdon: Floating World ; Marston [distributor], 2006.
Schafer, Edward Hetzel. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics. Berkeley Calif.; London [etc.]: Univ. of California Press, 1985.
- often reprinted [↩]