I was reading a book “Wit and Humour from Ancient China” 古趣集 gǔqù jí depicting 100 cartons of the famous Chinese artist Ding Cong 丁聪 Dīng Cōng who signed his works as 小丁 Xiǎo Dīng. In fifty years of his career, Mr. Ding had drawn and illustrated a very wide range of subjects including illustrating for many famous writers such as Lu Xun (especially for his brilliant illustrations of Lu Xun’s masterpiece “The True Story of Ah Q”) and many other modern Chinese writers.
Story 42 is titled “A Difference of Words” and we will see what a small difference can make. On assuming a new office, a self-proclaimed honest official put up a notice in his hall. It consisted of three “don’t wants”- 三不要 sānbùyào. It said he –
不要钱 bùyào qián – Don’t want money.
不要官 bùyào guān – Don’t want post.
不要命 bùyào mìng – Don’t want Life (meaning not afraid to die).
A few days later, someone made a few small additions at the bottom of the words.
不要钱 嫌少 bùyào qián xiánshǎo – Don’t want money, if it is too little.
不要官 嫌小 bùyào guān xiánxiǎo – Don’t want post, if it is lower.
不要命 嫌老 bùyào mìng xiánlǎo – Don’t want Life, if it is too short.
So beware of the person who said he “don’t want” when he means “too little”. A common trait of the corrupt, something 丁聪 understood.