My dear Kacvey,
Here is a very ancient Chinese tale that Chinese of every generation, educated or otherwise, since that time knows by heart. You may wish to share it with your students as a lesson of righteousness, integrity and rectitude. It is out of this tale that were borne the origins of both, the sticky rice dumplings 粽子 (glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves) and the Duanwu Festival 端午节 (Double Fifth Festival), also known as the “Dragon Boat Festival” celebrated on every 5 May.
In the “Songs of the South 楚辭”, the tale was titled “The Old Fisherman 渔父” and goes as follows:
“After Qu Yuan was banished, he wandered, sometimes along the river’s banks, sometimes along the marsh’s edge, singing as he went. His expression was dejected and his features emaciated.
“An old fisherman caught sight of him. “Are not you the Lord of the Three Wards?” said the fisherman. “What has brought you to this pass?”
“Because all the world is muddy and I alone am clear,” said Qu Yuan, “and because all men are drunk and I alone am sober, I have been sent into exile.”
“The Wise Man is not chained to material circumstances,” said the old fisherman, “but can move as the world moves. If all the world is muddy, why not help them to stir up the mud and beat up the waves? And if all men are drunk, why not sup their dregs and swill their lees? Why get yourself exiled because of your deep thoughts and your fine aspirations?”
“Qu Yuan replied, “I have heard it said: “He who has just washed his hair should brush his hat; and he who has just bathed should shake his clothes.” How can I submit my spotless purity to the dirt of others? I would rather cast myself into the waters of the river and be buried in the bowels of fishes, than hide my shining light in the dark and dust of the world.”
“The old fisherman, with a faint smile, struck his paddle in the water and made off. And as he went he sang:
“When the Cang Lang’s waters are clear,
I can wash my hat-strings in them;
When the Cang Lang’s waters are muddy,
I can wash my feet in them.”
“With that he was gone, and did not speak again.”
Here is the Chinese text: