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### Why a "rotten rope?"

Posted: Sat Nov 29, 2014 6:58 pm
Greetings,

Years ago for my own interest I translated Ch. 13, Section 12 from Zheng Manqing’s Thirteen Chapters. This is the section expanding on “using four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds.” I’ve since had discussions with other taijiquan enthusiasts about some of the words and phrases in that section. One friend asked about Zheng’s use of “an old rotten four-ounce rope” in the passage below about “leading.” He said it didn’t make much sense to him.

“As for the method of leading (qian 牽), supposing we pierce the nose of a thousand pound ox, [using] a cord of no more than 4 oz. [strength]. Using a cord of four ounces, [one can] lead a thousand pound ox to the left or right as one wishes. She may want to flee, but she cannot succeed. Now in leading, [one must] lead precisely [by] the nose. If one leads by her horn or her leg, it won’t do (or, ‘she won’t move’: bu xing ye 不行也). This leading is done in accordance with its method (以其道) and in accordance with its location (以其處). Hence, the ox can be lead with a four ounce cord. If it were a thousand pound stone horse, could one still lead it using an old rotten four ounce rope (si liang zhi siu suo 四兩之朽索)? Impossible! This is a difference in effect between the animate and the inanimate.”

My response follows:
Knowing Zheng Manqing's proclivities in writing, I think his use of the wording "old rotten rope" was well considered and deliberate. There is a chengyu, 朽索馭馬 xiǔ suǒ yù mǎ: drive a horse with rotten reins," that means to manage a situation that is severely perilous. See: http://www.zdic.net/c/d/172/386438.htm

It traces back to the Book of Documents 尚書, from a section called the Songs of the Five Sons. The first son speaks of the tremendous responsibility he feels for governing, and the respect and awe he feels for the people:

'In my dealing with the millions of the people,
I should feel as much anxiety as if I were driving six horses with rotten reins.
The ruler of men -
How should he be but reverent (of his duties)?'