Custom Search

Mason Cheng-fu Wang

(Han, Yu 768-824 CE)

   Though the life of a mason is humble and hard, there is someone who enjoys this profession. His words are concise, but their meanings are clear. His name is Cheng-fu Wang. His family had been farmers in the capital, Chang-an City, for generations. He was recruited as an archer for after the outbreak of civil war. During his thirteen years in the service, he won many awards. Later he gave up the chance to advance his military career and went home. He discovered that all his farms were gone. He had made a living as a mason for 30 years. He stayed in a rooming house. He charged his customers for his work according to the price of his food and rent. If he still had something left over, he would give the money to the handicapped and homeless.

   He said, "You have to cultivate to produce rice. You have to raise silkworms to produce silk. You have to separate the fibers from sesame stems and twist them into ropes to spin cloth. Other daily necessities require people's work to complete the products. However, a single person cannot produce all the necessities. Therefore, we should devote\ our expertise to help others survive. The king is the one who coordinates us and helps us live in peace. Various officials obey his policies and promote his teachings. The duty for each position can be big or small. What kind of job one gets depends on one's capability just like each tool or container has its own use. If one simply eats and does not work, then God will punish him. Therefore, I dare not abandon my mason work and play for a single day. The profession of masonry is simple¢. It only requires manual labor, but the result is definitely useful. Because I do honest work, I do not feel guilty when charging my customers. Although masonry is laborious, I live in peace. With manual labor, you can force yourself to do it and there is a huge demand for it. However, thought requires wisdom. It is difficult to obtain a great idea by force. Thus it is appropriate that manual laborers work for others and the ones who think and manage ask people to work for them. I simply choose an easy job that I am confident I can do well.

   "I have done masonry work for the rich and famous for many years. Some of the houses that I have worked on were ruined by the second time I visited them. Some of them were ruined by the third or forth visit. I asked the neighbors what happened. They say that the owner was executed because of crime, that his children could not manage the estate after the person died, or  that the government confiscated it. This shows that one who eats and avoids work will suffer God's wrath. The one who assumes a position beyond his ability must fail. The one who has done illegal things many times will surely get caught. People who waste too much cannot manage the estate of their parents. One who does little work should not be greedy for excess reward. Fortune has its time. It comes and goes by chance. I, like everyone else, would love to be rich and famous. However, I choose the job that I can do well because I do not want to repeat other people's mistakes."

   He also said, "The one who is a great benefit to society deserves a comfortable life. One's wife and children rely on one's income to survive. My ability is limited and I contribute to society very little, so it is appropriate that I do not have a family. I am just a manual laborer. If I had a family, I would not be able to afford it. Furthermore, I would have to worry about it all the time. It is difficult for one person to juggle two big duties, even if this person is very talented."

   After listening to his words, at first I was puzzled. On second thought, I discovered that he was a wise man who was concerned only with his own virtue. Even though he is good, I still have to criticize him: He cares about himself too much and cares about others too little. Does he follow Zhu Yang’s philosophy. His philosophy does not benefit the world even if the benefit requires only a small sacrifice. If one thinks that his family would cause him too much trouble and does not want to burden himself by taking care of his family, then is it possible for that person to endure the difficulty of serving others? Nevertheless, Mason Wang is much better than the one who worries about his success, fears failure, becomes corrupt and commits crimes to satisfy his desires. Fortunately, his words might serve to remind me what not to do. Therefore, I wrote his story as a reminder for my personal self-examination.