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Stopping Mother's Chanting

The following little story is a joke, in which the astute manipulation of cultural values allows one person to out-manipulate another. Understanding the joke depends upon three principles:

  1. Confucianism provides that throughout their lives children must be attentive to their parents. The misbehaving parent of an adult child may be urged to reform (a phenomenon traditionally called jiàn or guījiàn 规谏 in Chinese, translated "remonstrance" in English). But in the end the parent must be obeyed.
  2. China has also always exhibited a great deal of variation in the credence given to religious doctrine and the attention given to religious practice.
  3. Chinese popular stories often center on someone's clever sentence that leaves a foolish person with no retort, or causes a foolish person suddenly to experience a moment of self-insight.

The following extremely brief text illustrates all of these points, as a son cleverly silences his mother's annoying chanting.

As elsewhere on this site, the simplified Chinese text is red and the traditional characters are blue.

Stopping Mother’s Chanting 止母念佛
Zhǐ Mǔ Niàn Fó
1. Zhái Yǒnglíng’s mother became a fervent Buddhist. 霍母皈心释氏。
Zhái mǔ guī xīn Shì shì.
2. She chanted sutras all day without stopping. 日诵佛不辍声。
Rì sòng fó, bùchuò shēng.
“She chanted sutras all day without stopping.”
(Drawing by Yiyi Chen, Eleanor Roosevelt College,
UCSD, Class of 2019, by permission.)
3. Zhái Yǒnglíng pretended to call her. 永龄佯呼之。
Yǒnglíng yáng hū zhī.
4. His mother would answer. 母应诺。
Mǔ yìng nuò.
5. Then he would call again, without stopping. 又呼不已。
Yòu hū bùyǐ.
6. His mother became angry and said: 母愠曰:
Mǔ yùn yuē:
7. “You have nothing to say; why do you keep calling?” 「无有, 何频呼也?」
“Wúyǒu, hé pín hū yě?”
「無有, 何頻呼也?」
8. Zhái Yǒnglíng replied: “I have called you three or four times and you’re unhappy. 永龄曰: 「吾呼母三四,母便不悦。
Yǒnglíng yuē: “Wú hū mǔ sān-sì, mǔ biàn bùyuè.
永齡曰: 「吾呼母三四,母便不悅。
9. But the Buddha gets called by you thousands of times a day. 彼佛者日为母呼千万声。
Bǐ Fózhě rì wéi mǔ hū qiān-wàn shēng.
“The Buddha gets called by you thousands of times a day. What must his annoyance be like?”
(Drawing by Kimberly N. Chau, Earl Warren College,
UCSD, Class of 2018, by permission.)
10. What must his annoyance be like?” 其怒当何如?」
Qí nù dāng hérú?”
11. And this way his mother realized her mistake. 母为少悟。
Mǔ wéi shào wù.

Míng Dynasty Source:
—Proprietor of the Studio of Fine Cups
"Elegant Mockeries"
— 浮白斋主人《雅谑》
— Fúbái Zhāi Zhǔrén "Yǎ Nuè"
— 浮白齋主人《雅謔》


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