This bite-sized story centers around a rather dim-witted man from the State of Zheng (郑国 – zhèng guó)，an ancient kingdom that no longer exists, who tries to buy a pair of shoes.
Some language stuff
There’s very little here to call out that’s particularly difficult, except maybe the way the word 散 sàn is used. 散 means to “scatter” or “dissipate”. In this case, it’s being used to describe a market (集市 – jí shì). How can a market dissipate? The word 集市 specifically refers to the kind of market where lots of different vendors come to sell their wares, not a market like a grocery store owned by one company. So, when the market “scatters”, it means that all vendors left. In the translation, I translate this as “the market was closed”.
One intermediate grammar word is 宁可 nìng kě – rather. As in, “I would rather do A than B.”
If you’re interested in examining the classical version at all, you’ll notice that ancient Chinese is extremely condensed. Words that are made up of two characters in modern Chinese are made up of only one in ancient Chinese. But this story is great for taking a quick look at classical vocabulary, because there are quite a few words you can simply substitute for the more modern version, including:
曰 yuē is the ancient 说 shuō, “said / say”. That characters looks like 日 rì, “sun”, but it’s wider and the line across it doesn’t touch the other side of the character.
履 lǚ is the ancient 鞋 xié (shoes).
吾 wú is one of the ways to say 我 wǒ (me, my, I, we, us) in ancient Chinese.
之 zhī has a lot of meanings in ancient Chinese, but here it is the ancient 它 or 它们 (it / them).
其 qí also has a several meanings in ancient Chinese, but here it is the ancient 他 tā or 他们 tā men (him / his / they / theirs).
乃 nǎi is the ancient 就 jiù (thus, and so).