A timeless essay on the human condition by Hu Shi.
nǐ zhī dào zhōng guó zuì yǒu míng de rén shì shéi？tí qǐ cǐ rén，rén rén jiē xiǎo，chǔ chù wén míng。tā xìng chā，míng bù duō，shì gè shěng gè xiàn gè cūn rén shì。nǐ yī dìng jiàn guò tā，yī dìng tīng guò bié rén tán qǐ tā；chā bù duō xiān shēng de míng zì，tiān tiān guà zài dà jiā de kǒu tóu yīn wéi tā shì zhōng guó quán guó rén de dài biǎo。
chā bù duō xiān shēng de xiàng mào，hé nǐ hé wǒ dōu chā bù duō。tā yǒu yī shuāng yǎn，dàn kàn de bù hěn qīng chǔ；yǒu liǎng zhī ěr duǒ，dàn tīng de bù hěn fēn míng；yǒu bí zi hé zuǐ，dàn tā duì yú qì wèi hé kǒu wèi dōu bù hěn jiǎng jiù；tā de nǎo zi yě bù xiǎo，dàn tā de jì xìng què bù hěn jīng míng，tā de sī xiǎng yě bù xì mì。
tā xiǎo de shí hòu，tā mā mā jiào tā mǎi hóng táng，tā mǎi bái táng huí lái。 tā mā mā mà tā，tā yáo yáo tóu dào：「hóng táng tóng bái táng，bú shì chā bù duō ma？」
tā zài xué táng de shí hòu，xiān shēng wèn tā：「zhí lì shěng de xī biān shì nà yī shěng？」tā shuō shì shǎn xī。xiān shēng shuō：「cuò le。shì shān xī，bú shì shǎn xī。」tā shuō：「shǎn xī tóng shān xī，bú shì chā bù duō ma？」
lái tā zài yī gè qián pù lǐ zuò huǒ jì；tā yě huì xiě，yě huì suàn，zhī
shì zǒng bù huì jīng xì；shí zì cháng cháng xiě chéng qiān zì，qiān zì
cháng cháng xiě chéng shí zì。zhǎng guì de shēng qì le，cháng cháng mà
tā，tā zhī shì xiào xī xī de péi xiǎo xīn dào：「qiān zì bǐ shí zì zhī duō yī xiǎo piě，bú shì chā bù duō ma？」
yǒu yī tiān，tā wéi le yī jiàn yào jǐn de shì，yào dā huǒ chē dào shàng hǎi qù，tā cóng cóng róng róng de zǒu dào huǒ chē zhàn，chí le liǎng fēn zhōng，huǒ chē yǐ kāi zǒu le。tā bái dèng a yǎn，wàng a yuǎn yuǎn de huǒ chē shàng de méi yān，yáo yáo tóu dào：「zhī hǎo míng tiān zài zǒu le，jīn tiān zǒu tóng míng tiān zǒu，yě huán chā bù duō；kě shì huǒ chē gōng sī wèi miǎn tài rèn zhēn le。bā diǎn sān shí fēn kāi，tóng bā diǎn sān shí èr fēn kāi，bú shì chā bù duō ma？」tā yī miàn shuō，yī miàn màn màn de zǒu huí jiā，xīn lǐ zǒng bù hěn míng bái wéi shén me huǒ chē bù kěn děng tā liǎng fēn zhōng。
yī tiān，tā hū rán de le yī jí bìng，gǎn kuài jiào jiā rén qù qǐng dōng
jiē de wāng xiān shēng。nà jiā rén jí jí máng máng de pǎo guò qù，yī shí
xún bù a dōng jiē de wāng dài fū，què bǎ xī jiē de niú yī wáng dài fū
qǐng lái le。chā bù duō xiān shēng shēng bìng zài chuáng shàng，zhī dào
xún cuò le rén；dàn bìng jí le，shēn shàng de tòng kǔ，xīn lǐ jiāo jí，děng
bù de le，xīn lǐ xiǎng dào：「hǎo zài wáng dài fū tóng wāng dài fū yě chā
bù duō，ràng tā shì shì kàn bà。」yú shì zhè wèi niú yī wáng dài fū zǒu
jìn chuáng qián，yòng yī niú de fǎ zi gěi chā bù duō xiān shēng zhì
bìng。bù shàng yī diǎn zhōng，chā bù duō xiān shēng jiù yī mìng wū hū
le。chā bù duō xiān shēng chā bù duō yào sǐ de shí hòu，yī kǒu qì duàn
duàn xù xù de shuō dào：「huó rén tóng sǐ rén yě chā……chā……chā……bù
duō，……fán shì zhī yào……chā……chā……bùduō……jiù……hǎo le，……hé……bì……tài……tài
rèn zhēn ne？」tā shuō wán le zhè jù gé yán，jiù jué le qì。
tā sǐ hòu，dà jiā dōu hěn chēng zàn chā bù duō xiān shēng yàng yàng shì qíng kàn de pò，xiǎng de tōng；dà jiā dōu shuō tā yī shēng bù kěn rèn zhēn，bù kěn suàn zhàng，bù kěn jì jiào，zhēn shì yī wèi yǒu dé xíng de rén。yú shì dà jiā gěi tā qǔ gè sǐ hòu de fǎ hào，jiào tā zuò「yuán tōng dà shī」。 tā de míng yù yuè chuán yuè yuǎn，yuè jiǔ yuè dà，wú shù wú shù de rén，dōu xué tā de bǎng yàng。yú shì rén rén dōu chéng le yī gè chā bù duō xiān shēng。──rán ér zhōng guó cóng cǐ jiù chéng le yī gè lǎn rén guó le。
The Life of Mr. Chabuduo (Mr. "Close-Enough")
By Hu Shih
Do you know who the most famous person in China is? Just mention his name and everybody will
recognize it. His last name is “Cha” (差) and his first name is “Bu-Duo”
(不多). Every province, county, and village has
someone named after him. It is certain
that you have seen him - and you have undoubtedly heard others talk about him.
Each day, Mr. Chabuduo's name is uttered by countless people to the extent that he has
come to represent the entire population of China.
Mr. Chabuduo’s appearance resembles yours and mine. He has two eyes - but does not see things very clearly. He has two ears - but they don't listen very well. He has a nose and a mouth, but does not distinguish much between different smells and tastes. His head isn't particularly small - however - his memory isn't very good.
He would often say, "Things only have to be done ‘chabuduo’ (meaning ‘more-or-less' or ‘close enough’) to be good. After all, what sense does it make to be a perfectionist and waste the time and effort necessary to have things absolutely correct all the time?”
When he was a small child, his mother sent him out to buy some brown
sugar. He came back with white
sugar. His mother scolded him – but the
young Mr. Chabuduo simply shook his head and said, “Brown sugar – white sugar!
Are they not both just about the same?”
Once, while attending school, a teacher asked him which province was located on the western border of Hebei. He answered by saying it was Shaanxi (陕西.) “Wrong!” the teacher corrected him. “It is Shanxi (山西) not Shaanxi (陕西).” At this, Mr. Chabuduo remarked, “Well aren't Shanxi and Shaanxi just about the same?"
Afterwards, he worked in a bank. While capable of both writing and doing math – he was never very careful. Often, he turned the character "十" (10) into "千" (1000), and would write the character for 1000 (千) as the character for 10 (十). This infuriated the bank manager who would routinely reprimand him. Mr. Chabuduo's response to these incidents was always to reply with a smirking sort of countenance that the number for 1,000 “千” differed from the number for 10 “十” by only one simple stroke of the pen - wasn’t that close enough?
One day, in order to take care of an urgent affair he wanted to go by train to Shanghai. He casually strolled to the station arriving 2 minutes late. The train, being on schedule, had already left. He stared blankly at the distant trail of smoke left by the departing train and shook his head. "I guess I’ll just go tomorrow,” he said. “After all, going tomorrow is just about the same as going today. But these people who run the trains are entirely too serious about keeping to their schedule. After all, isn't 8:32 just about the same as 8:30?" As he spoke he slowly began to return home. He truly could not understand why the train couldn’t wait just two minutes for him.
Finally, the time came when Mr. Chabuduo suddenly became very sick. He hurriedly asked his family to go get Dr. Wong (汪) who lived on East Street. A family member ran off for a short while looking for this Dr. Wong, but got confused in the excitement and ended up on West Street where he happened to find Dr. Wong (王) the veterinarian. Since, after all, the doctor's name was "Wong" and it was necessary to find somebody with a medical background back to deal with this emergency, Dr. Wong the veterinarian was persuaded to make a house call at the Chabuduo residence. Mr. Chabuduo – who was now so ill that he could not get out of bed – knew that his family had fetched the wrong Dr. Wong. Nevertheless, since his condition had become so desperate, his pain so great, and his heart so anxious for relief, Chabuduo said to himself, "Luckily this Dr. Wong (王) the veterinarian is "chabuduo" the same as Dr. Wong (汪) the M.D. – I might as well let him take a look at me." At this point, Dr. Wong the veterinarian, knowing that there was little time left to try anything else, approached the bed and attempted to cure his patient with the same methods used to treat sick cattle. In less than an hour, Mr. Chabuduo was dead.
As Mr. Chabuduo was dying, he uttered in an uneven breath, "The living and the dead are cha.........cha........buduo – just about the same – and as long as everything is cha.........cha........buduo, then things will be fine. Why...........be............too serious?" After these final words, he took his last gasp of air.
After his death, people began to praise Mr. Chabuduo for his outlook on life and his capability of reasoning with himself despite the circumstances. It was declared that the equanimity that he displayed in the face of death was due to his not being overly conscientious nor hung up on details such as balancing books and settling accounts. Because he never made a fuss about things being exactly right, he was considered a model of morality and virtue. Upon his death, Mr. Chabuduo was regarded as a saint and became known to all by a Buddhist title naming him the “Great Master of Flexibility” (圆通大师).
With each passing day, Mr. Chabuduo’s reputation continues to spread far and wide. Countless people study his example with the result that everyone is now becoming a “Mr. Chabuduo.” This is the reason why China is quickly being transformed into a country that the rest of the world will soon call “the Nation of Laziness.”
(Tr. RS Bond)
1. Depending on its context, 差不多 “Chabuduo” can be translated as “close-enough, almost, just about, approximately, etc.” Literally, it means, “Difference not much.”
2. Dr. Hu Shih was a philosopher and eminent man of letters who served as the Chinese ambassador to the United States from 1938 to 1942 and later became the chancellor of Peking University. Upset with the “close-enough-for-government-work” mentality of many civil servants and students whose poor performance was becoming an embarrassment to a modernizing China, Hu Shih penned this essay in 1924 as a protest to their attitude and a warning of the consequences of adopting mediocrity as an institutional ideal. During the communist takeover of Mainland China, Hu Shih moved to Taiwan where he continued his literary and academic career. He died on February 24, 1962 at the age of 71 and is recognized as one of the most influential contributors to modern Chinese literature.