Ji Yun: Stone Animals in the River ~ 《河中石兽》 纪昀 with English Translations



《河中石兽》 纪昀

沧州南一寺临河干,山门圮于河,二石兽并沉焉。阅十余岁,僧募金重修,求二石兽于水中,竟不可得。以为顺流下矣,棹数小舟,曳铁钯,寻十余里,无迹。 一讲学家设账寺中,闻之笑曰:“尔辈不能究物理,是非森柿,岂能为暴涨携之去?乃石性坚重,沙性松浮,湮于沙上,渐沉渐深耳。沿河求之,不亦傎乎?”众服为确论。


Stone Animals in the River
Ji Yun

There was a temple in the south of Cangzhou Prefecture, located on the bank of a river. The gate of the temple collapsed and tumbled into the river, with the two stone animals sunken in the water. Some ten years afterwards, the monks solicited a sum of money, planning to restore the gate. They searched the river for the two stone animals, but to no avail, thinking that they must have flowed down the river. So they rowed a small boat, raking the river bed for them over a distance of ten-odd li, without finding a trace of them. A Confucian scholar teaching in the temple learned about it and said with a sneer, “You are not learned in physics They are not wood, how can they be washed away be floods? Stone is solid and heavy while sand is loose and soft. They are buried in the sand and sink deeper and deeper. Is it not ludicrous to search for them downstream?” Everybody was convinced and thought it a conclusive argument.

A veteran dyke-protection soldier heard this talk and also said with a sneer, “All stones fallen into the river must be looked for upstream. Because stone is solid and heavy while sand is loose and soft. Water cannot wash a stone away, but the force of its dashing against it can erode the sand and scoop a pit beneath it where it is exposed to the water, whose constant dashing and pounding keep it sinking deeper and deeper. When half of the stone is thus affected, it overturns into the sand pit. The water’s continuous scooping of the sand gives the stone one turn after another. Given the incessant overturning process, it is moved against the currents and travels up the river. To be sure, it is ludicrous to search for it downstream. But, is it not more so to look for it right on the river bed?” Acting upon his views, the stone animals were really found several li upstream. Similar cases in which one sees only one aspect and ignores other aspects of a phenomenon are too many to enumerate. Will it do to draw a conclusion from mere speculations?

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