Kun Chun-yu, a Humorist

Chinese History by Qian Si-Ma (145-86 BCE)

    Confucius said, "The Six Classics and management are one. The Book of Rites can be used for self-control. The Book of Classical Music can be used to balance one's emotion. The Book of Records can be used to record history. The Book of Poetry can be used to express one's thoughts and feelings. The Book of Changes can be used to predict the future. The Spring and Autumn Annals distinguishes right from wrong and promotes virtue." The Official Historian 1 said, "The rule of nature includes everything. Isn't that great? For example, humorists' conversations and laughter carry ironies and analogies whose subtle points can also solve problems."

    Kun Chun-yi was taken in by his bride's family in the State of Qi. He was less than five feet four inches tall. He was humorous and argumentative. He had been an ambassador to other countries many times and never once let the State of Qi get insulted. The King of Qi loved to party all night, and he hated it when someone would point out his drawbacks in an outspoken and straightforward manner. He much preferred to hear subtle advice. He indulged himself in wine and women and let his officials take care of his job. There was much corruption in his government. The neighboring countries all invaded the State of Qi. Qi's destruction was imminent. No officials in the king's court dared to give the king any advice. Kun Chun-yi advised the king with the following fable, "There is a big bird in Qi which is resting in the king's court. It has not flown or crowed for three years. Can Your Majesty identify the bird?" The king said, "This bird may not fly. But once it flies, it will shoot into the sky like a rocket. The bird may keep silent. But once it crows, it will surprise everyone." Consequently, he summoned seventy-two mayors immediately. After hearing their reports, he awarded one and punished another. All the neighboring countries were in shock and returned their occupied area to Qi. Thus the State of Qi has kept its strong image for thirty-six years.

    In 371 BCE, the State of Chu sent a large army to attack Qi. The King of Qi sent Kun Chun-yi to the State of Zhao to ask for military assistance. The king prepared fifty-five pounds of gold and ten carriages as a gift for Zhao. Having seen the gift, Kun Chun-yi doubled over and laughed. Even the strings of his hat were broken because of his heavy laughter. The king asked Kun if he thought the gift was too small. Kun replied, "I dare not make any comment." The king asked, "Why did you laugh then?" Kun explained, "When I came from the east, I saw a farmer on the roadside. He offered a pig's hoof and a bottle of wine to the Creator and prayed, 'In the narrow cropland on that hill, I want my crop to grow into many bushels. In the field of this lower region, I want my crop to fill wagon after wagon. I want a bumper crop and grain to fill my house.' I saw him offer so little and ask for so much. Therefore, I laughed." Consequently, the King of Qi increased the gift to 1,008 pounds of gold, ten pairs of matching jewels and 100 carriages. Then Kun left for Zhao. The King of Zhao gave him 100,000 soldiers and 100 armored chariots. After Chu's army commander heard this news, he withdrew his troops overnight.

    The King of Qi was very glad. He provided wine in the palace to celebrate the victory. The king summoned Kun to come and offered him wine. The king asked Kun how much he could drink. Kun replied, "I will get drunk by drinking either 0.75 liters or 7.5 liters of wine." The king asked him, "If you get drunk with 0.75 liters of wine, how can you drink 7.5 liters? Can you explain it to me in detail?" Kun explained, "If I were to accept your offer and drink in front of Your Majesty, I see law enforcement officers on the side and the attorney-general standing behind me. I would become nervous and can only lower my head to drink. In such a circumstance, 0.75 liters of wine would be enough to get me drunk. If important guests were to visit my parents, I would roll up my sleeves, bow, and kneel beside them to serve wine. They would offer me wine to drink and I would toast to their health and happiness. After a few such rounds, less than 1.5 liters of wine would be enough to get me inebriated. If I were to meet a friend whom I have not seen for a long time, we would recall the happy times that we had together and talk about what had happened since the last time we parted. In such a circumstance, I could drink 3.75 or 4.5 liters of wine. If we were to have a festival in our village, men and women would sit together. We would move around, toast each other, or stop somewhere to chat for a while. We would play chess, throw dice, or find a partner with whom to dance. We would not have to worry about holding hands or looking at each other. The dance would be full of energy. A girl in the front might drop her earring, and a woman in the back might lose her hairpin. On such an occasion, I would become so excited that even six liters of wine would only make me a little drunk. After the sun sets, half of the guests would leave the party. The rest of the guests might sit close together and toast each other. Men and women would chat happily. Their shoes would be scattered on the floor. The cups and plates would be in disarray on the table. The candlelight in the room would be extinguished. The host would bid all the guests good night except me. We would loosen our collar buttons and belts, and might sense a fragrance in the room. At this moment, I would be happiest and could drink up to 7.5 liters of wine. Therefore, there is a saying, 'Something will go wrong if one drinks too much. Misfortune often happens after pleasure reaches its climax.' Everything is like that." Kun meant that one should not indulge oneself in pursuing pleasure. Otherwise, misfortune will occur. Thus he used the above story to advise the king. The king of Qi said, "Great!" Then he stopped binging at night. Afterwards, whenever the king threw a party, he would let Kun manage it. If the king provided wine, Kun would be by his side to wait on him.


1 Qian Si-ma used his official title to refer to himself. The position as the official historian was handed down by his ancestors generation by generation. The name of his position gave the family pride and the authority in their area of expertise.