Fiercer than a Tiger

Surprising as it may seem, poetic political protest is a longstanding tradition in China, going back to the classic Book of Poetry (or Book of Odes) and other ancient texts. (See, e.g., Odes 191, 193, 195, 197.) Below is a famous fragment from the classic Book of Rites.

In passing by the side of mount Tai, Confucius came on a woman who was wailing bitterly by a grave. The Master bowed forward to the cross-bar, and hastened to her; and then sent Zi-lu to question her. “Your wailing,” said he, “is altogether like that of one who has suffered sorrow upon sorrow.” She replied, “It is so. Formerly, my husband’s father was killed here by a tiger. My husband was also killed (by another), and now my son has died in the same way.” The Master said, “Why do you not leave the place?” The answer was, “There is no oppressive government here.” The Master then said (to the disciples), “Remember this, my little children. Oppressive government is more terrible than tigers.”

From The Book of Rites, translated by James Legge.

The featured image above, detail of “Tiger,” is by Kishi Ganku, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.