If the water is clear, I will wash my hat-lace.

If it is not, I can still wash my feet in it.

滄浪之水淸兮 可以濯吾纓 滄浪之水濁兮 可以濯吾足

 

I read in this poem the conflict between ideas and reality. This conflict, maybe, is an eternal question in our lives. To this ancient question Qu Yuan answers that, when he encounters clean water, he would wash his hat-lace, which needs to be kept tidy before anything else about him. And if the water is not so clean, he would wash his feet. In this way he rejects both uncompromising aloofness and undiscriminating compromise.

 

Qu thus proposed to avoid reflexive responses and to respond to given situations in flexible ways. Perhaps he was in support of the popular line of politics. I remember those elderly activists in the prison who said that you must think in the leftist way and act in the rightist way.

 

The leftist is like a man who wants to brush the dust off his hat and clothes before taking them on after a bath.(新沐者必彈冠 新浴者必振衣) He keeps to principles in an uncompromising way. On the other hand the rightist would wash his hat-lace in clean water and wash his feet in dirty water. He adapts himself to given conditions. How shall we deal with the conflict between our ideas and the given reality, it truly is an eternal question.

 

(Shenzi)

 

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