inter was gone and spring was returning. Sitting by the southern window, Mencius was about to play the lute to amuse himself, when the scenery in the garden touched off his train of thought. The trunk and branches of the tall, dark pine tree in the northeast corner were handsomely erect, with the thick pine needles waving in the wind, gathering up the New Year spirit. The flowering plum tree in the northwest corner had also broken through the spring chill; soft yellow blossoms resembling puffs of whipped cream embellished the elegantly arranged branches, and its cold fragrance floated pleasantly in the air. Planted between these two trees alongside the wall, the tall and slender bamboo swayed back and forth in the wind, demonstrating a different sort of modesty and ease. The pine, bamboo, and plum—three companions in winter—are different in their similarity, and yet in their differences similarity could be detected.
“Sir, have you thought of something?” Wan Zhang, the student who was fond of asking questions, found a question to ask. Mencius sighed softly and said, “Look at these three companions in winter. It seems to me that the characteristics of each resemble one aspect of the sage: the pine is like a minister who takes the nation’s affairs as his responsibility; the plum is like a hermit who has left the world and lives in seclusion, and bamboo is like a humble and open-minded gentleman. However, none of them possesses the complete characteristics of a sage.” “Sir, may I ask what a sage should be like?” Mencius took a sip of the tea and then turned around to face the students, “All of you, please sit down! Let me tell you! A sage’s resolve and character must be as pure, honest, noble, and outstanding as the plum tree; in his principles and work, he must be able to bear responsibility and blame and remain firm and unswerving like the pine tree; in dealing with people, he must be gentle, smooth, modest, and replete with integrity like the bamboo. From ancient times to the present day, there are many who possess one characteristic of the sage, but few are replete with the complete characteristics! “Can you give some examples?” “For example, Bo Yi belongs to the pure and noble type, Yi Yin is the responsible type, and Liu Xiahui is of the humble and amiable type. As for the person who has the full characteristics of a sage, this would be Confucius. Among all sages, he could be considered the one who best knew when to advance and when to retreat and how to ride the tides of his time.” “Could the teacher tell us their stories?” Mencius nodded his head lightly and sank in deep contemplation for a while, and then began to tell the stories.