It occurs to me that probably many of you have never read the classic Story of Mr. Cha Buduo 差不多先生傳 by Hu Shi 胡適. So here is my translation. Read the original (in awful awful simplified characters) here. It dates back to the 1910’s and still rings true today.
The Story of Mr. Cha Buduo
Do you know who the most famous person in China is?
When you mention him, everybody knows instantly who you’re talking about because of his fame. His family name is Cha, and his given name is Buduo, and he lives in every village of every county of every province. You have certainly seen him at some point and heard others discussing him. Mr. Cha Buduo is on everyone’s lips all the time because he represents each and every individual in China.
Mr. Cha Buduo looks, well, more or less like you or I do. He has two eyes, though he doesn’t see particularly well; two ears, though he doesn’t hear very clearly; and a nose and a mouth, though he isn’t vary discerning about scents and tastes. He has quite a brain on him, too, though his memory isn’t very attentive and his thoughts aren’t well organized.
“‘Close enough’ is quite enough in all matters,” he often says. “What need is there for attentiveness?”
When Mr. Cha was a boy, his mother once sent him out to buy some brown sugar. She scolded him when he came home with white sugar instead, but he just dismissed it with a shake of the head, saying: “Brown sugar and white sugar are basically the same thing.”
When he was in school, a teacher once asked: “Which province is located west of Zhili?”
“Shaanxi,” Mr. Cha answered, to which his teacher said: “Incorrect. It’s Shanxi, not Shaanxi.” Mr. Cha responded: “Shanxi, Shaanxi; they’re basically the same thing.”
Mr. Cha Buduo later made his living working at a bank. He was capable both with a pen and calculator, but he was never precise. He often miswrote 10s as 100s and viceversa, and every time he faced the wrath of his employer, he would laugh it off and say to himself: “It’s just a difference of a zero; close enough!”
One day, he had to catch a train to Shanghai for an urgent matter of business. After casually making his way to the train station, he found himself two minutes late and missed his train. Staring vacantly at the smoke bellowing from the now distant locomotive, he shrugged it off: “Well I guess I’ve got to go tomorrow. Today, tomorrow, it’s all the same, more or less. But boy that train operator takes time way too seriously. 8:30, 8:32, it’s all the same! More or less.”
He blabbered to himself as he slowly made his way home, wondering out loud why the train did not wait those two extra minutes for him.
Later in his life, he came down with a sudden illness. He instructed his family to call over Dr. Wāng from East Street. They ran with haste but couldn’t immediately find any Dr. Wāng on East Street, so they instead found Dr. Wáng, a veterinarian specializing in cattle, from West Street. From his sickbed, Mr. Cha Buduo knew they had brought back the wrong doctor, but he was gravely ill and in great pain and could not wait any longer. “It’s a good thing that Dr. Wáng and Dr. Wāng are basically no different from each other,” he mused to himself. “Let’s let him have a look.” And so the vet approached the bed and used his knowledge of treating cattle to heal Mr. Cha. The sick man was on the verge of death within the hour.
As Mr. Cha was more-or-less dying, he heaved difficultly as he spit out his final words: “Life and death… they’re… practically the same… Close enough… is quite… enough… What need… for being… so… serious…?” And thus was his last breath.
After he had passed, Mr. Cha Buduo was remembered fondly for his insight and ability to think through problems. He was called a man of great virtue for never taking things seriously, never “settling the score,” and never being petty, and he earned the posthumous Buddhist title “Master of Flexibility.”
His fame spread further and wider as more and more people learned from his example. And that is how everyone in China became a Mr. Cha Buduo – and how China became known worldwide as a country of lazy people.