Fable | The Cat And The Pepper

by Rod Dunne on January 26, 2011

in Blog, Writing

Chinese fable commonly attributed (wrongly?) to Chairman Mao

The Grandmaster summoned two of his advisers to help with an important issue. Two gentlemen arrived in his quarters and asked how they could help.

The Grandmaster looked around and made eye contact sternly to evaluate the mood of the room. His reputation for being surly and inpatient with subordinates was widely known so all those in his presence walked on egg shells throughout their days.

“How would you get a cat to eat pepper?”, he bluntly blurted. The two advisers looked bemused but cautious as to what the Grandmaster meant. Perhaps it was a ploy. He was prone to asking such questions to evaluate appointees.

The first advisor stepped forward and looked to the Grandmaster. “Simply, by holding down the cat by one person and forcing pepper into its mouth by another”, he proudly declared. The Grandmaster’s frown grew deeper.

“Brute force will get the job done but create an enemy which will someday come back to challenge you”, the Grandmaster said.

The second advisor stepped forward, thinking he now understood what the meaning of the question was and how to provide an answer the Grandmaster wanted.

“Grandmaster, I would starve the cat for several days then place the pepper inside a juicy piece of meat. The cat would be so famished it would eat the morsel without chewing and swallow it whole”, the second advisor confidently declared.

“No. No. No! Such deception would still court anger and feelings of revenge for the cat”, the Grandmaster shouted.

“So how would you proceed, Grandmaster”, the advisor asked.

“Simple. By rubbing the pepper on the cat’s behind. It’s natural instinct once the pepper started burning would be to lick the pepper off. And it would be happy for the opportunity of doing so”.


Manipulation of persons and people can be done in many ways. Using direct brute force or deceit will only foster hatred by your adversary and the risk of revenge.

The key to manipulation is making the target think they have control over their actions, and are in a better situation for enacting the choices they make.


  • Politics: How many times have governments feinted with some large scale policy/war that adversely affects citizens in order to sneak in stealth taxes or other lesser demands. The larger policy is never intended to succeed (if it does, all the better). The public get to feel good that they have manipulated the government while not realizing the smaller policy/tax was the politicians main goal.
  • Society: Whether in the workplace or in relationships, applying brute force to coerce others rarely works. It simply feeds feelings of rebellion. Planning circumstances which leads others to make decisions that are aligned to your own goals can better achieve this and the target the feeling empowered.

Yours, Rod

P.S. No cats were harmed during the making of this fable.

P.P.S. Nor is this tale intended to incite cat-related manipulation or coercion. Be good to your cat.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and writer Rod DunneI am the founder & sole writer on Squidinky.com. This is my personal blog detailing my creative writing. This includes novel writing (check out Terra Swarm, Erebus, and Soundings) and song writing.

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