"Heaven won’t fail the dedicated heart. Sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall, 3,000 Yue soldiers at long last can defeat the Wu."
Every Chinese schoolchild knows the idiom "sleeping on brushwood, tasting gall." It means — roughly — that grueling hard work will always pay off in the long run.
The quote is a couplet by writer Pu Songling in the 1600s, who wrote it after repeatedly failing the notoriously difficult Qing Dynasty-era civil service exam. But the idiom predates Pu.
You have to back pretty far in Chinese history to find the source of the saying, to the war-filled Spring and Autumn period. In the early 400s BCE, King Goujian of the Yue state was defeated by the Wu state ruler and forced to be his servant for a time, before being allowed to return home. Goujian kept his resolve strong with hard living, eating peasant food and literally tasting bile to remind him of the bitterness of servitude. He eventually triumphs over his nemesis — who leads a more luxurious, lazy life — and annexes his rival’s kingdom.
Today, people are urged to become a “21st-century Goujian” through hard work. But they might want to consider Pu Songling’s case, too. Sometimes hard work takes too long to pay off. Pu, a schoolteacher, lived and died in relative obscurity, despite having written numerous short stories about the supernatural. It was not until some 50 years after his death that he gained a following as a writer. Too late for Pu to enjoy it.
"Carter’s decision to run for president occurred during his gubernatorial term. One clear September morning in 1973 Governor Carter stopped by to visit his mother, who was resting in her bedroom. Carter pulled up a chair and propped up his feet on the foot of her bed. When his mother inquired as to his plans after leaving the governor’s office, he replied: ‘I’m going to run for president.’ ‘President of what?’ his mother asked, and Carter replied: ‘Mama, I’m going to run for president of the United States, and I’m going to win.’ Mrs. Carter then told him to get his feet off the bed."
from Larry F. Vrzalik and Michael Minor, "From the President’s Pen", 1991.
"I feel wonderful drinking beer, in a blissful mood, with joy in my heart and a happy liver."
ancient Sumerian poet, circa 3000 BCE
"A half history or a sanitised history serves no one – it’s a corruption. History shouldn’t be comfortable and it shouldn’t be safe. It should always challenge you and should always be challenged."
Fern Riddell, a historian, author, and broadcaster.
"Our goal is to guard the world against bland food."
Tabasco Sauce, which has been produced since 1868! That's right, if you picture the Wild West cowboys and Gilded-Age industrial barons, you should also be picturing hot sauce slathered on their food.
"Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that he [King Richard the Lionheart] retained the same cynicism about churchmen displayed by his mother in her prime. When the preacher Fulk of Neuilly accused him of begetting three shameless daughters, Pride, Avarice and Sensuality, Richard was ready with a retort worthy of William IX: ‘I give my daughter Pride to the Knights Templars, my daughter Avarice to the Cistercians, and my daughter Sensuality to the princes of the Church.’ No story illustrates more vividly how much he was a son after Eleanor’s heart, but, like her, he was no persecutor of clerics."
from Desmond Seward's Eleanor of Aquitaine (1979).