Stories from Ancient China: Leisure Is Worse Than Poisoned Wine

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Mr. Tao Kan was a famous courtier who lived in Poyang County during the Dongjin Dynasty of ancient China (317-420). He established merit during the wars, and was a high official in Jinzhou causing some people to grow jealous of him and slander him. As a result, he was demoted and transferred to a far-away place in the Guangzhou region.

Mr. Tao Kan had very little to do in Guangzhou, but he never lowered his standards or enjoyed the pursuit of leisure. Every morning, he would carry one hundred bricks from his study to the yard, and then carry the same bricks back to his study in the evening. People were curious about his behaviour, and asked him why he did this.

Tao Kan replied, "I aim to regain Central China during this lifetime. If I am too comfortable and become complacent, I am afraid that I will not be able to accomplish my goal."

Mr. Tao was transferred back to Jinzhou. Although he became much busier than in Guangzhou, he still carried the bricks every day to strengthen his will power. People later called him "The brick-carrying old man."

Tao Kan often told people, "Dayu, the first emperor in Xia Dynasty around 2100 B.C., was a sage, but he knew how to treasure every minute. We are ordinary people, therefore, we should treasure every second. How can we indulge in games and pleasure, and forget our duties?" Nowadays, there is a place called Xiyinli - Treasure Time Block in Kaifu District, Changsha City, Hunan Province, and it is said this name originated from Mr. Tao's famous statement of cherishing time.

Mr. Tao held a very responsible position and endured many hardships. He did not pursue leisure. He was so persistent that he was later promoted to Grand General of West Battle Field, plus the Highest Official in Jizhou. He was in charge of military affairs for eight states, was given the title Sir Changsha County, and became a very famous person in history.

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C. - 476 B.C.), Guan Zhong, the Prime Minister of Qi State, advised the ruler, Qi Huan Gong, "One should not pursue good food, comfort, and wine." Our ancestors saw leisure as something worse than poisoned wine, because leisure can erode 'man's willpower. There is an ancient saying, "One will live due to hardship, but die due to comfort." This is the same wisdom!

It is stated in Hanshu [Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Historical Records], "The ancients considered leisure as poisoned wine and trading virtue for wealth as misfortune. From the beginning of Han Dynasty to the last Emperor Xiaopingdi, among hundreds of kings and emperors, most of them were corrupt and morally degraded. Why is history like that? It was their living environment and their position that caused them to sink into a state lacking self discipline." This is truly a lesson we later generations should learn from.

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