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The Old Gardener

Tzu-Kung had been rambling in the south in Ku, and was returning to Zin. As he passed a place on the north of the Han, he saw an old man who was going to work on his vegetable garden. He had dug his channels, gone to the well, and was bringing from it in his arms a jar of water to pour into them. Toiling away, he expended a great deal of strength, but accomplished very little.

Tzu-kung said to him, "There is a contrivance here; if you learn to use it, you may irrigate a hundred plots of ground in one day. Using very little strength, the result is still formidable. Master, wouldn't you like to try it?"

The gardener looked up at him and asked, "How does it work?"

Tzu-kung said, "It is a lever made of wood, heavy behind, and light in front. It raises the water as quickly as you could do with your hand, or as it bubbles over from a boiler. It is called a shadoof."

The gardener put on an angry look, laughed derisively and said, "I have heard from my teacher that where there are ingenious contrivances, there are sure to be subtle doings; and there is sure to be a scheming mind. But when there is a scheming mind in the breast, its pure simplicity is impaired. When this pure simplicity is impaired, the spirit becomes unsettled, and the unsettled spirit is not the proper residence of the Way (Tao)."

Now Tzu-kung looked blank and ashamed.

The other continued, "Aren't you the scholar whose great learning makes you comparable to a sage? But what leisure do you have to be regulating the world?"

Tze-kung shrunk back abashed. His disciples then said, "Who was that man?"

He only said, "I perceive that they who hold fast and cleave to the Way are complete in the qualities belonging to it. Complete in those qualities, they are complete in their bodies. Complete in their bodies, they are complete in their spirits. These men will not go where their mind does not carry them, and will do nothing of which their mind does not approve. Such men may be described as possessing all the attributes of the Way."

When he returned to Lu, Confucius said, "The man makes a pretence of cultivating the arts of the "Embryonic Age"."

Excerpts from James Legge, tr.: The Complete Chuang Tzu, Ch. 12; section 11.

The Large Tree by the Roadside

Master Huei said to Master Chuang, "I have a large tree, called the ailanthus. Its trunk is so irregular and knotty that it cannot be measured out for planks; while its branches are so twisted that they cannot be cut out into discs or squares. It stands by the roadside, but no carpenter will look at it. Your words are like that tree - big and useless, of no concern to the world."

"Have you never seen a wild cat," rejoined Master Chuang, "crouching down in wait for its prey? . . . It's big enough in all conscience . . .

Now if you have a big tree and are at a loss what to do with it, why not plant it in the Village of Nowhere . . . There it would be safe from the axe and from all other injury. ... Being of no use to others, what could worry its mind?"

Yutang 1963: "A Happy Excursion"; Cf. Watson 1968:35.

The King of Apes and His Neighbour

There was a poor man who had had a scolding wife and little else. One day he thought he might be better off if he went into the wild woods. After some time alone there, he decided to walk home again, for he found little to feed on there, inexperienced as he was with hermit life.

His wife scolded him as soon as she saw him coming back, saying he had been away so long that she thought he might be dead.

"But that hope came to nothing when you arrived," she said.

The husband felt deeply wounded by what she said, and turned around and left her for the wild woods again. As he one day passed from tree to tree until he entered a strange gorge. There he sat down with his legs folded under him. He was exhausted, slid slowly sideways after a while, and felt asleep.

While he was sleeping, a wandering Gibbon ape caught sight of him, and then told her tribe that she had come across their ancestor. A council of ape elders was then called around the sleeping man, and after inspecting him, they too thought he was their ancestor and also that he should be their king. They carried him to their stronghold in a wooded glen, put him on a throne in an arbour, and surrounded him with offerings of fruits and nuts.

When he woke from his sleep he liked having ape servants that brought him food.

"I might enjoy living among the apes," he thought.

The apes kept on bringing him the best provisions they could, and even treasures they found or could lay hold on from other places they strayed to. The man noticed the apes had stowed still other and valuable articles gathered during past years at a certain place, and examined and sorted them as he pleased.

Then, one day when the apes were away, he took all the wealth he could carry and made his way out of the forest and back to his own home

His wife started to upbraid him sharply as soon as she saw him, he looked more shabby than ever. However, the husband who had lived among apes, hushed her by showing her some gold pieces, enough to live comfortably on for many years. At that very moment she became more pleasant in her ways.

However, she soon told her nearest friend that her husband had walked into the forest and came back rich, so her friend urged her husband to do likewise. He in turn begged his lucky neighbour to tell how he had become so wealthy.

"I won't tell anyone about it, and give you a fair share in the wealth I get," he also said.

"All right," said the lucky neigbour and told how the apes in the wild woods had made him their king, and brought riches to him. The neighbour was also told how to get to the stronghold of the apes, and set off and sat down under the same tree as his neighbour had done, and waited for the apes to find him and come to him and make him their new king.

However, the apes had meantime come to the conclusion that a being who had left the and taken with him many of their hoarded treasures, was not better than them. So when a young ape who was searching for food. saw this second man under the same tree as the other had been lying beneath, he returned home and told the tribe of the newcomer. The outraged apes were, surrounded him and tore more than his clothes to pieces.

[Retold from "The Mistake of the Apes" in Adele Fielde's Chinese Fairy Tales (1912)

The Two Handsome Scholars

Once there were two scholars, Liu Tschen and Yuan Dschau. Both were young and handsome. One spring day they went together into the hills of Tian Tai to gather healing herbs. There they came to a little valley where peach-trees blossomed lavishly on either side. In the middle of the valley was a cave where two maidens stood under the blossoming trees, one of them clad in red garments, the other in green. They were beautiful beyond all telling. They beckoned to the scholars with their hands.

"We have been waiting for you!" they said, led them into the cave and served them with tea and wine.

"I am meant for Liu," said the maiden in the red gown, "and my sister is for Yuan!"

Soon they were married. Every day the two scholars gazed at the flowers or played chess and forgot the mundane world completely. They only noticed that at times the peach-blossoms on the trees before the cave opened, and at others that they fell from the boughs. And, at times, unexpectedly, they felt cold or warm, and had to change the clothing they were wearing. And they marvelled that it should be so.

Then, one day, they were overcome by homesickness. Their wives were already aware of it. "When our men have been seized with home sickness, we may hold them no longer," said they.

Next day they prepared a farewell banquet, gave the scholars magic wine to take along with them and said:

"We will meet again. Now go your way!"

The scholars bade them farewell with tears.

When they reached home the gates and doors had long since vanished, and the people of the village were all strangers to them. They crowded about the scholars and asked who they might be.

"We are Liu Tschen and Yuan Dschau. A few days ago we went into the hills to pick herbs!"

With that a servant came hastening up and looked at them with great joy and cried to Liu Tschen: "Yes, you are really my master! Since you went away and we had no news of any kind about you, some seventy years or more have passed."

Then he drew the scholar Liu through a high gateway, ornamented with bosses and a ring in a lion's mouth, as is the custom in the dwellings of those of high estate. And when he entered the hall, an old lady with white hair and bent back, leaning on a cane, came forward and asked: " What man is this?"

"Our master has returned again," replied the servant. And then, turning to Liu he added: "That is the mistress. She is nearly a hundred years old, but fortunately is still strong and in good health."

Tears of joy and sadness filled the old lady's eyes.

"Since you went away among the immortals, I had thought that we should never see each other again in this life," said she. "What great good fortune that you should have returned after all!"

And before she had ended, the whole family, men and women, came streaming up and welcomed him in a great throng outside the hall. And his wife pointed out this one and that and said: "That is so and so, and this is so and so!"

When the scholar had disappeared there had been only a tiny boy in his home, but a few years old. And he was now an old man of eighty. He had served the empire in a high office, and had already retired to enjoy his old age in the ancestral gardens. There were three grand-children, all celebrated ministers. There were more than ten great-grand-children, and five of them had already passed their examinations for the doctorate. There were some twenty great-great-grandchildren, and the oldest of them had just returned home after having passed his induction examinations for the magistracy with honour. And the little ones, who were carried in their parents' arms, were not to be counted. The grand-children, who were away, busy with their duties, all asked for leave and returned home when they heard that their ancestor had returned. And the girl grand-children, who had married into other families, also came.

This filled Liu with joy, and he had a family banquet prepared in the hall, and all his descendants, with their wives and husbands sat about him in a circle. He himself and his wife, a whitehaired, wrinkled old lady, sat in their midst at the upper end. The scholar himself still looked like a youth of twenty years, so that all the young people in the circle looked around and laughed.

Then the scholar said: "I have a means of driving away old age!"

And he drew out his magic wine and gave his wife some of it to drink. And when she had taken three glasses, her white hair gradually turned black again, her wrinkles disappeared, and she sat beside her husband, a handsome young woman. Then his son and the older grand-children came up and all asked for a drink of the wine. And whichever of them drank only so much as a drop of it was turned from an old man into a youth. The news was spread and came to the emperor's ears. The emperor wanted to call Liu to his court, but he declined with many thanks. Yet he sent the emperor some of his magic wine as a gift. This pleased the emperor greatly, and he gave Liu a tablet of honour, with the inscription:

"The Common Home of Five Generations."

Besides this he sent him three signs which he had written with his own imperial brush, signifying, "Joy in longevity."

As to the other of the two scholars, Yuan Dschau, he was not so fortunate. When he came home he found that his wife and child had long since died, and his grand-children and great-grand-children were mostly useless people. So he did not remain long, but returned to the hills. Yet Liu Tschen remained for some years with his family, then taking his wife with him, went again to the Tai Hills and was seen no more.

This tale is placed in the reign of the Emperor Ming Di (58-75 CE). Its motive is that of the legend of the Seven Sleepers, and is often found in Chinese fairy tales.

The Jewel in the Rock

Once, far away in the Ku Mountains, a man called Pien Ho found a piece of rock that he saw contained jade inside itself. He took the rock to court and presented it to King Li. The king ordered the jewelled to examine it, and got the report back: "It is merely a stone."

The king now thought Pien Ho tried to deceive him, and as a punishment he let his left foot be cut off.

In time King Li passed away and King Wu came to the throne. Now Pien Ho once more took his rock to court and presented it to King Wu. King Wu asked his jeweller to inspect it. Again it was said, "It is merely a stone."

Now the king thought Pien Ho had tried to trick him, and saw to it that his right foot was cut off.

Pien Ho could do nothing but clasp his rock to his breast, and went to the foot of the Ku Mountains. There he wept for three days and nights. When all his bitter tears were cried out, he wept blood in their place. The king heard of that, and send somebody to ask him about it.

"Many people have had their feet amputated - so why do you weep so grievously over it?" the man asked.

Pien Ho said, "I grieve mostly because a precious jewel is said to be a mere stone, a honest man is called a deceiver - not just because my feet are cut off. That is why I weep so terribly."

The king next ordered the jeweller to cut and polish the rock. He found a precious jewel inside it. They named it after Pien Ho.

Watson 1964: "Han Fei" p. 80

A Thinker, Han Fei Tzu

Most rulers are keen on having precious stones. Pien Ho presented a jewel whose real worth wasn't apparent on the surface. But he didn't harm any ruler by it.

Han Fei: "Under these circumstances, if a man who truly understands the Way [Tao] hopes to avoid punishment, his only resort is simply not to present . . . any uncut jewels." [Ibid. p. 81]

Contents


Chinese tales, folk tales and fairy tales of China, Literature  

Watson, Burton, tr. Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu. New York: Columbia University, 1964.

Watson, Burton, tr. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.

Yutang, Lin. The Wisdom of China. London: New English Library, 1963.

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