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Pat the Back of the Horse

Eunuch Wei Zhongxian, who lived in the reign of Emperor Tianqi of the Ming Dynasty, had a special skill in taming horses. He had not found favor with the emperor and was looking for an opportunity. He requested the monarch hold a horse race in the western drill ground in the capital, hoping to find favor with the Emperor by display his find horsemanship. One day the Emperor wanted to while away his time so he finally gave the order to hold a horse racing event.

On the double 9th festival - 9th day of the 9th lunar month - the event was held. It was relaxed occasion on account of the fine autumn weather. People turned out in the thousands to watch this exciting event. Emperor Tianqui arrived in a chariot, wearing a dragon robe, accompanied by hundreds of his officials.At the sound of three cannon shots hundreds of horses galloped forward. The officers put on a militant display by lashing the horses with whips to urge them to go faster and faster. The sound of whipping pierced the air.

Wei Zhongxian also galloped out at the sound of the cannon but did not use his whip.Instead he used a different technique of patting his horse on the back three times. Wei Zhongxian and his horse galloped ahead leaving all of the other horses behind. When he reached the finish line, the sound of hooray thundered from the crowd, who all marveled at his brilliance.

Emperor Xizong asked Wei Zhongxian why he did not use the whip and where he acquired such a find horse. Wei replied that his horse was just an ordinary one but that he knew the nature of horses and could easily ensure the horses' victory. He firmly believed that a good jockey should not whip the horse; the best way to ride a horse was to pat the back of the horse.

The emperor smiled at Wei's ingenuity and said, "Indeed, you do know the nature of horses and you know how to ride the horse in accordance with its nature. You are a wonderful man. You have done everything to my satisfaction since you entered the palace and from now on I shall entrust you with all major tasks in the court." Wei exclaimed "Long live the emperor." three times  in exaltation and gratitude.

Wei certainly did know the nature of horses. He also knew what kind of man the emperor was. He flattered the emperor a great deal and the emperor began to favor Wei more and more. After Wei took over the control of court duties he sauntered around brimming over with self-satisfaction. People knew that Wei had found great favor with the emperor by patting the back of the horse. Later "Pat the back of the horse" became a colloquialism meaning to flatter somebody.

(Compiled by Shen Jun and Ma Hanmin)


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