Thursday, May 26, 2011

孔乙己 Kong Yiji by 鲁迅 LuXun

This story is called 孔乙己 Kong Yiji and was written by the famous 20th century Chinese author 鲁迅 LuXun. This story is about a man named Kong Yiji and is told through the eyes of a younger man who works at the bar that Kong Yiji frequents.

I originally found this story on the website: (all rights reserved)

孔乙己 by 鲁迅
Kong Yiji by LuXun

The layout of Shandong province’s bar is different from anywhere else: everything is in the middle of the street, big counter, the insides of the cabinets prepared with hot water, and you can get warm liquor at any time.

The workers when they get off their shift and leave work often come and eat, spending four copper coins to buy a bowl of wine, (This is a habit of over 20 years ago. Now, every bowl is 10 coins more expensive) and a copper coin to lean against the outside of the counter to rest while drinking. If you are willing to spend ten more coins you can buy a plate of salt cooked bamboo shoots, fennel, or something to eat with your drink. If you give more then a dozen coins, well then you can buy a meat dish. But all of these customers are working people, and they don't have this ability for liberalness with their money.

Only people wearing the long gowns can go in the inside of the sit down area of the building. They can sit and order liquor and a side dish, sitting and drinking it slowly.

Since I was 12 years old, I was a waiter and stood guard outside the Xianheng bar. The shopkeeper said my image was too foolish looking, and I was scare to serve the customers that wore the long gowns. I only took care of small matters outside the shop. 

The short jacket-ed patrons outside, although easy to talk to, were numerous so the mindless chatter was unavoidable.


They often wanted to see for themselves the yellow wine that was scooped up from the jugs, that the bottled liquid wasn't watered down, and once again watch first hand that they put the liquor jug in hot water to feel relieved. Under this serious supervision, it was very difficult to mix water with the liquor.

So after a few days, the boss said once again that I couldn’t do this.

Fortunately, his feelings of being like a job broker were strong, so he couldn't dismiss me, and instead changed me to being in charge of a boring position with lukewarm liquor.   

From then on, I stood behind the counter all day long to do my job.

Although there’s nothing that would make me lose my job, I always felt that it was monotonous and useless.

The shopkeeper has a fierce face, and the customers aren’t fond of his voice. He taught them that they cannot be lively, and that only Kong Yiji can make a sound like a laugh. So far, until this day I have remembered this.

Kong Yiji was the only man standing and drinking, and furthermore the only man wearing a long gown.

He had a tall stature, pale complexion, wrinkles that held scars between them, and a disheveled grizzly beard.

Although he was wearing a long gown, it was worn and dirty, looking as if it hadn’t been washed or repaired for more then ten years

Whenever he was speaking to people, he was always spouting the classics, people understanding only half of what he was saying.  

Because his last name was Kong, people gave him the nickname Kong Yiji.They based it off of the first six characters that are written in the calligraphy books which people don’t understand the meaning of, much like Kong’s nonsensical babble.

At one bar, all of the people looked at him and laughed, all called, “Kong Yiji, your face has added some new scars on!”

He didn't reply, and said to the bartender, “Two bowls of wine, and one dish of beans.”

Then he took out 9 big coins.

They also loudly shouted out on purpose, “You must have stolen another person’s things again!”

Kong Yiji opened his eyes wide and said, “How can you say such dirty and baseless things to someone innocent...?”

“What innocence? Yesterday I personally saw you steal books from the He family, they even beat you.”

Kong Yiji turned red then, the veins on his forehead bursting as he debated,

“Stealing books cannot be regarded as stealing...can you regard scholars as thieves?”


What followed was a slew of unintelligible words, which caused the crowd to burst out in laughter. The atmosphere outside the shop was happy.

Listening to those speaking behind his back, Kong Yiji originally also read the books, but in the end he didn't advance his learning, and also was not able to earn a living. Therefore the more time went on the poorer he got. He eventually began begging for food.

Fortunately, his calligraphy was really good so he was able to copy books for people.

Unfortunately, once again he has that same bad temper and eats a lot but never works.

He only had worked for a couple of days before the people’s books, papers, and ink stones went missing. Thus, after several times, people didn't want him to copy books for them any longer

Kong Yiji didn't know what to do; he couldn't avoid the stealing issue.

But he was in our shop, his behavior was better then others and he never defaulted on debts. Although he occasionally didn't have cash, he would write a note up on the blackboard. He wound never go longer than a month without paying, and they would wipe his name from off the board after he did. 

Kong Yiji drank half his cup of wine, and his red complexion gradually returned. The people beside him asked, “Kong Yiji, Do you really recognize that character?”. Kong Yiji looked at the people who questioned him, and returned them with a expression that it was beneath his dignity to answer them.

They then said, “Are you really someone who only did half of the country level imperial exam and still haven’t finished it?”

Kong Yiji at once expressed a look of dispirit and unease.  On his face was a layer of grayish color. This time when he spoke it was complete nonsense, people weren’t able to understand even a word.

At this time, everyone stood up and roared with laughter: the inside and outside of the shop brimmed with the air of happiness.

At times like these, I can laugh along with everyone, and the barkeeper cannot blame me. Furthermore, the barkeeper would ask Kong Yiji in this way to make people laugh. 

Kong Yiji knew himself that he couldn't talk to them, and was forced to speak to children as a result.

He once asked me, “Have you read anything?” I briefly nodded.

He said to me, “Read a book, ...I will test you. How do you write the characters for fennel beans?”

I thought, a person who begs for food, can test me like this? I turned my face and didn't pay attention to him anymore.

Kong Yiji waited for a long time, and earnestly stated, “You can’t write it can you?......I will teach you, remember this! You should remember these characters. When you are a barkeeper in the future you need to write these characters for your account.”

I thought to myself, comparing my level to the barkeeper, which were very far apart. Furthermore, our barkeeper never wrote down fennel beans on the account. Once again his words were laughable and I was impatient, lazily answering him back,

“Who wants you to teach me, it's a grass top radical and under it you put the ‘hui’ from ‘huilai’, is it not?”

Kong Yiji showed a extremely happy expression, two of his fingernails tapped the bar counter as he said,

“Right right!.....the ___character has four ways of writing it, did you know that?” The more that I become impatient, the more he runs at the mouth.

Kong Yiji dipped his fingernail in the wine, and wrote the characters on the bar countertop. He looked at me with hardly any enthusiasm, sighing and in one breath as he showed an extremely pitying expression to me.

Several times, the laughter of neighboring children and the bustling surroundings were heard around Kong Yiji.

He gave them some fennel beans to eat, one bean for one person. The children at them, still not leaving, their eyes looking expectantly at the small dish.

Kong Yiji started to panic, stretching out five fingers to cover the dish. He stooped down while saying, “Not much, I already don't have a lot.”


He straightened his body out, having a look at the beans, shaking his head to himself as he said, “Not much, not much! More? No more.”

Thus this group of children all laughing wandered off. 

Kong Yiji is this type of person who makes others happy, if we       didn't have him, how could we be this happy?

  有一天,大约是中秋前的两三天,掌柜正在慢慢的结账,取下粉板,忽然说,“孔乙己长久没有来了。 还欠十九个钱呢!”我才也觉得他的确长久没有来了。

One day, about two or three days before the Mid-autumn festival, the barkeeper was in the middle of settling the accounts and getting the black board when he suddenly said,  “Kong Yiji hasn’t come by for a long time. He still owes me 19 coins!”I also felt that he indeed hadn’t come by for a while.

A man drinking said, “How could he come?...He broke his legs.”

掌柜说,“哦!”“他总仍旧是偷。 这一回,是自己发昏,竟偷到丁举人家里去了。他家的东西,偷得的么?”“ 后来怎么样?”

The barkeeper said, “oh!” “He is still stealing. This time, he lost his judgment, he went to steal from a successful provincial candidate’s home. How can he successfully steal from him? And then what happened?”

“Then what? First they made him write a repentance letter, then they beat him, beat him in the middle of the night, then beat him again until his legs broke.”

“Then what?” “After beating him until his legs broke.”

“What happened to him after his legs were broken?” “What?...Who knows? He’s probably dead.”

The barkeeper no longer asked any questions, still slowly going over his accounting.

After the Mid-Autumn festival, the wind is colder then the day before, almost like winter. All day I am and have to lean by the fire, and put on a padded cotton jacket.

One afternoon, there was not even one customer, and I was sitting and just about to close my eyes.

Suddenly, he heard a voice say, “A warm bowl of wine please.”

This voice was very low, and very familiar. When I looked, there was no person anywhere.

I stood up and looked out into the distance, and there was Kong Yiji sitting below the bar counter by the doorway.

His face was black, moreover it was already ruined. He was wearing a tattered lined jacket, his two legs coiled atop a cushion with a grass bag underneath it. A rope was hanging from his shoulder. He saw me and said again, “A warm bowl of wine.”

The barkeeper extended his head, simultaneously saying, “Kong Yiji? You still own 19 coins!”

Kong Yiji’s face was very dispirited as he answered, “This...I will pay you back next time, I have cash for this time.”

The barkeeper was the same as ever, smiling as he said,

Kong Yiji, you’ve stolen again!”

But this time he didn't explain the facts 100%, he only spoke one sentence, “Don’t tease me!”

“Tease? If you didn't steal, then how would your legs have been broken?” Kong Yiji’s low voice said, “ I fell and fractured them, fell, fell...” His glance seeming to beg for the barkeeper to not ask him again.

At this moment, several people had gathered and they along with the barkeeper were laughing.

I warmed up the wine, and carried it out, and placed it atop the doorway.

He took out four coins from the wrecked bag’s pocket and placed them in my hand. I saw that his hands were all muddy, he had used his hands to drag himself here.

Soon, he drank the wine, and once again was next to the people who were laughing. He sat at used his hand to slowly walk away.

Since then, I haven’t seen Kong Yiji for a long time.

The end of the year, the barkeeper took down the blackboard and said, “Kong Yiji still owes 19 coins!”

The second year of the boat festival arrived, and he said again, “Kong Yiji still owes 19 coppers!” The Mid-autumn festival came, but no one had seen him. The end of the year came again but still no one had seen him.

Up until now I haven’t seen him – Kong Yiji must have really died.

  □注释  (Marginal notes)


* I have read the story Ah Q by 鲁迅 LuXun too, and though I liked Ah Q better this story was a very good one. Ah Q is someone who constantly changes his ideas and feelings with the times and that of those around him, but Kong Yiji stands firm to what he thinks and feels. After reading both,I can now get a clearer image of what 鲁迅 LuXun's idea of what chinese people should strive to be like: someone who is able to change with the times to a certain extent but who does not forget the past completely. Kong Yiji is someone who is completely stuck in the old days, wearing his tattered long robe that shows his prior status and speaking the nonsensical language of old officials. 鲁迅 LuXun shows through this story that this is not the way to be in order to survive in China's now changing times, and that one needs to be open to new things. 

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