Stories From Ancient China: Food is to Assuage Hunger

June 15, 2009 11:14 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 9:43 pm
When one is hungry and the stomach needs to be filled, it does not matter how dry the rice might be. (Willfahrt/pixelio)
When one is hungry and the stomach needs to be filled, it does not matter how dry the rice might be. (Willfahrt/pixelio)

As the old saying goes, "When hunger strikes, anything will do to fill the stomach." The following gives credence to this statement, to wit.

Liu Nanyuan was minister for public works during the Jiajing Era (1522-1566) at the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He returned to his hometown following retirement. A provincial official who had jurisdiction over this retired minister's hometown was picky and choosy when it came to food.  Minor officials in the area felt intimidated when they expected one of this man's visits. Retired Mr. Liu Nanyuan told them, "He was once my pupil. I will offer him my counsel."

Liu visited this choosy provincial official at his home and commented, "I would have liked to organize a banquet for you, but this might in all likelihood take too much of your valuable time and interfere with your business affairs. To make things easy, why not come to my house for dinner? My wife is out of town and we have no one who could prepare anything special for you. What do you think of a simple meal?"  Protocol prevented the provincial official from declining the invitation, because Liu had, after all, been his teacher.

Visiting Liu in his home, noon had come and gone, and still no food. The official was by now quite hungry. When a dish finally arrived, he beheld only rice and a few pieces of bean curd. Liu and his guest each ate three bowls of rice, and then the official was really full, to the point that he could eat no more. But then a delicacy was served, accompanied by an excellent wine. Shortly the whole table was covered with delectable food.

But alas, the official was too satiated to eat anything else. Liu Nanyuan insisted the guest eat more, but the official declined saying, "I am really full. I cannot eat another bite." Liu smiled and commented, "You see, it does not matter if the food is tasty and elaborate and rich, or merely nourishing. Once we are full, even the most elegant food holds no temptation. The difference lies in the timing. Food serves one purpose – to fill the stomach and assuage hunger. Only people lacking virtue demand special foods and don't realize they are burdening others with their demands and create problems for them."

The provincial official took his former teacher's advice and never again made unreasonable food demands.

Read the original German article.