An emperor in the time of Warring states loved listening to panpipes. The emperor loved panpipes best of all intensely loud. And so he rustled up three-hundred pipers, a band he ordered, Pipe! But in this band there was a certain Mr. Bo—a Mr. Bo who could not pipe. However, in a crowd so large, who notices the one bad piper in a chorus of three-hundred?
But as is the way with generations, out with the old emperor, in with the new. This new emperor however did not at all like loudness and ordered the band disband. Instead he lined the pipers up and each one ordered, Pipe! But there was a certain Mr. Bo—a Mr. Bo who could not pipe. However, when it came his turn to solo, he ran from the castle and fled for his life.
note: This story is based on the four-character phrase, 滥竽充数 (làn yú chōng shù). Four-character phrases, like English idioms, are used in everyday speech. 滥竽充数 is used to mean that it’s easy to get by pretending in a chorus, but if you’re asked to solo you better run.
Sue Su is a Cambridge CELTA-qualified teacher with fluent English and Mandarin currently teaching Mandarin as a modern foreign language in the British School of Nanjing whilst tutoring English and Chinese privately.
Robert Eversmann works for Deep Overstock. His website is roberteversmann.com.