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Chinese philosophy: Hard to Play the Fool

Lao Zi, a thinker during the late Spring and Autumn Period, had a famous saying: “Pretending not to know when you know, how superb.” He meant that it was superb tactics to pretend not to know when one in fact knows. Chinese people follow an important rule in handling complex personal relations: be intelligent about major issues, and play the fool over trivial matters. Playing the fool here is actually a kind of “intelligence” that takes the interests of the overall situation into consideration. Di Renjie(630-700) was a famous Chinese statement. One day Wu Zetian said to him: “when you were a local administrator at Runan, somebody accused you in a report to me. I knew the accusations were not true. Do you want to know who informed against you?” Di replied: “I am already fortunate enough that Your Majesty did not probe into my faults. I do not want to know the name of the slanderer.” Wu nodded her approval. Since the incident was false and the empress trusted him, it was unnecessary for him to be serious about it. On the contrary, it would have made him look like a narrow-minded person. By letting it die out, in a move which some people would consider “foolish”, he earned the empress’ praise that he knew what he was doing.

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