Stories from Ancient China: Being Arrogant and Having No Fear Provokes Disaster, Step on Rugged Terrain with Modest Discretion

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Ji Xiaolan (紀曉嵐) was a renowned scholar in the Qing Dynasty. He was a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Rites as well as a scholar. He once served as the chief curator of the country’s library. In his biography, Yueweicaotang manuscripts (閱微草堂筆記), he recorded the following:

When Ji was young, there was someone in his village named Ding Yishi. Ding was sturdy and nimble, and had tremendous strength. He was a martial arts expert and could jump over objects that were 20 or 30 feet tall with ease, as if he was flying. Ji Xiaolan talked about how he had personally witnessed Ding’s excellent martial arts skill when Ji was a child. Once Ji stood in the hall facing the front door and Ding Yishi stood next to the front door facing Ji. By the time Ji Xiaolan turned around to face the rear door, Ding Yishi had already moved to stand in front of the rear door. They played the game seven or eight times, and Ji could never turn his body around fast enough to see Ding making the move. Ding Yishi could jump over the roof of a house easily. From Ji’s description, it is clear that Ding was indeed a martial arts expert.

One day Ding Yishi went to the township of Dulin. His friend invited him to drink at a restaurant near a bridge over a river. The two of them stood on the shore happily drinking. The friend said to Ding Yishi, “Can you jump across the bridge?” Before the friend even finished speaking, Ding had already jumped across the bridge. His friend told him to come back. Just as he finished saying it, Ding had jumped back. Unfortunately a section of the river shore had given away, and a crack had opened up on the ground. Ding Yishi didn’t see it, and just happened to land on the crack. As a result, the river shore collapsed over a length of about 2 feet. Ding Yishi fell into the water and tried to jump out of the water as he didn’t know how to swim. But he could only make vertical leaps and couldn’t jump to the shore. He jumped four or five times, until finally he had no more strength and drowned.

Ji Xiaolan remarked, “Out of all the major character flaws, there is almost nothing worse than being arrogant and fearless, thinking one has things that he can rely on. People who rely on their wealth are often defeated because of their wealth. People who rely on their power are often defeated because of their power. People who rely on wisdom are often defeated because of their wisdom. People who rely on their strength are often defeated because of their strength. It is because people who have these things that they think they can rely on often take unnecessary risks.

Ji Xiaolan talked about how Tianhou Songyan had bought a staff in Lou mountain and wrote a poem about it. The poem says, “It accompanies me at night when the moon is bright and during the day when the flowers blossom everywhere, protecting me from falling while walking on flat land. I dare not let go of it while walking on rugged road.” It means that one should be modest, respectful, and cautious all the time no matter what the circumstance is. While facing life’s difficulties and dangers, one must not think that he is strong and thus can’t be defeated. Ji Xiaolan commented that Tianhou was indeed a person who had gained a lot of insight into life, and it is something very precious and admirable.

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