Chinese Idiom Stories
To Make Up the Number in the Yu Ensemble
A 'yu' is a traditional Chinese musical instrument which one plays by blowing. King Shiuan, ruler of the kingdom of Ch'i during the Warring States Period, loved to listen to this kind of music, and so he hired an ensemble of 300 yu players to go live in his palace.
One day, a poor man named Mr. Nau-guo, who was desperately in need of something to eat, sneaked into the palace and joined the yu ensemble. Unfortunately, Mr. Nau-guo could not play the yu at all, and so whenever the ensemble performed, he would have to pretend.
After King Shiuan died, King Min took over the throne. King Min also loved yu music, but he preferred to listen to solo performances, rather than to the whole ensemble playing together. So one day, he called each player in separately, and asked him to play a song. Mr. Nan-guo was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof, sure that if he were discovered, he would be found guilty of tricking the king. And so as quickly as possible, Mr. Nan-guo sneaked quietly away.
Today, we can use this idiom to refer to a person who has no real talent, but is part of a group only so that the group will have enough members.