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The Melon and the Professor

Wu-Kiao was a professor in a large Chinese university, and a learned man. He had hundreds of students, and many thousands honoured him, for out of his deep knowledge he explained a lot of questions to the people. So when he went out of his house, five people followed, singing and playing the drum all the way down the street, and eight men carried his chair. At home he had six servants about him. During each meal, thirty dishes were served at his table.

One day Wu-Kiao sat in the shade of a tree in his garden. He turned his head and saw a watermelon lying on the ground, nearly covered with its green leaves. Then, seeing the fig tree with many figs on it, he said: "I think the Creator should have made the big melon grow on this big tree."

He touched the tree and said: ''How strong you are; you could bear larger fruit like the watermelon." And he said to the vine: "You, so thin and small, should bear small fruit like the fig. Things are not well ordered. Mistakes are made in creation."

Just then a fig dropped from the tree on his nose, and he was a little bruised. He shook his head and said: "I was wrong. If the fig tree bore fruit as large as the watermelon and dropped it on my nose, I think I could be killed. It would be a dangerous tree to many people."

(Davis 1908, 203-4)

Buying Shoes

A man who wanted to buy a pair of shoes, measured his feet with a piece of straw and made marks on it. Then, he headed straight for the market. Unfortunately he was forgetful and left his marked straw at home. So when he got to the shoe shop without the measurements of his feet, he was at a loss.

Finally he decided what to do and said to the shop assistant: "I am afraid you'll have to wait until I fetch my straw."

He rushed home in a great hurry, snatched the straw and sped up to town. But when he reached the shop, night had already fallen and the shop was closed.

Others heard about this, and went to ask him: "Didn't you have your feet with you when you were in the shop?"

"Yes, of course," the man answered, "but the straw is very carefully measured, and I am afraid my feet are less trustworthy."

(Private collection)

Two Mountains

A man was nearly ninety years old. He lived in a place facing two big mountains, the Taihang and the Wangwu. Each mountain was thousands of meters, and covered hundreds of square miles.

To travel around the mountains was troublesome for the old man, so one day he summoned his whole family and said to them: "How about removing these two mountains so that we have a straight road to Yuzhou?"

"Good idea!" The family shouted and agreed. Already next day the project went on its way. The old man's neighbour was a widow who had a son of about seven. They both came to the old man's aid, of their own will, speeding up the task.

Near the Huanghe River there lived another old man. When he heard about this, he felt it very stupid, and decided to go and make the other old man wiser. He said to him: "How long do you think you can live on, so that you can remove these big mountains? Rest your old bones, rather, and be ready to go peacefully to heaven!"

The other looked at him, shook his head sadly, and sighed: "They say you are wise, but in my view even a donkey is wiser. It is true that I am on the edge of the grave. But I have sons; and my sons have their sons, and grandsons again. And the mountains are eroding. So why cannot we remove them in the end?"

The mountain deity, hearing this, felt greatly worried and depressed. Moved by the old man's resolve he will, he then carried away the two big mountains and made the old man's dreams come true.

(Private collection)

The Suspected Thief

A man lost his axe and suspected that it had been stolen by his neighbour's son. He watched the youth closely and his suspicion brewed increasingly. "Doesn't he walk the way a thief does? And his appearance, manner, the language he uses, all are a robber's."

But a few days later the axe was found in the valley where he had worked with it. Obviously it was his carelessness that had made him lose the axe. "So I have blamed the young man wrongly, " he thought.

Now when he met his neighbour's son, things seemed different. The youth did not look like a thief at all any more: his walk, his looks, his behaviour and talk were all innocent.

The man sighed.

(Private collection)


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