The “Monkey Master” fable – Why the Arab Revolution caught on


In his book “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, Gene Sharp uses a famous Chinese fable to explain why people tolerate oppressive dictatorships for so long.

A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines the neglected understanding of political power quite well:

In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service.  The people of Chu called him “jugong” (monkey master). Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man.  Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged.  All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?”  The others said:  “No, they grew naturally.”  The small monkey further asked:  “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?”  The others replied:  “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued:  “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely.  They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned.  The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles.  Aren’t they just like the monkey master?  They are not aware of their muddle-headedness.  As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”

This fable explains in some way how the Arab street woke up from its slumber. The small monkey, whose voice was that of freedom in the fable, is reflected in the young Tunisian man who burnt himself to get the others to realize they needed to do something.


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2 Responses to The “Monkey Master” fable – Why the Arab Revolution caught on

  1. Mehdi says:

    Perhaps it would be wise to have Bouazizi’s picture on the new currency of every country that overthrows its dictatorial regime. Tunisia, Egypt and every other nation that reaps the fruit of his courage.

  2. Pingback: The Monkey Master | Liberty Teeth

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