Folk Tales/Literature



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We Are All One

A Chinese Tale


Long ago, there was a rich man with a disease in his eyes. For many years, the pain was so great that he could not sleep at night. He saw every doctor he could, but none of them could help him.

"What good is all my money?" he groaned.

Finally, he became so desperate that he sent criers through the city offering a reward to anyone who could cure him.

Now, in that city, lived an old candy peddler. He would walk around selling his baskets of candy, but he was so kindhearted he gave away as much as he sold, so he was always poor.

When the old candy peddler heard the announcement about the reward, he remembered something his mother had said. She had once told him about a magical herb that was good for the eyes. So he packed up his baskets and went back to the single tiny room in which his family lived. When he told his plan to his wife, she scolded him saying, "If you go off on this crazy hunt for a cure, how are we supposed to eat?"

Usually the peddler gave in to his wife, but this time he was stubborn and said, "Here are two baskets of candy, "I'll be back before they're gone."

The next morning, as soon as the soldiers opened the gates, he was the first one to leave the city. He did not stop until he was deep inside the woods. As a boy, he had often wandered there. He had liked to pretend that the shadowy forest was a green sea and he was a fish slipping through the cool waters. As he examined the ground, he noticed ants scurrying about. On their backs were larvae like white grains of rice. A rock had fallen into a stream, so the water now spilled into the ant's nest. The kind hearted peddler felt bad for the ants and said, "We're all one."

So he waded into the shallow stream and put the rock on the bank. Then with a sharp stick, he dug a shallow ditch that sent the rest of the water back into the stream. Without another thought about his good deed for the ants, he began to search through the forest. He looked everywhere; but as the day went on, he grew sleepy.

"Ho-hum. I got up too early. I'll take just a short nap," he said, and lay down in the shade of an old tree, where he fell right asleep.

In his dreams, the old peddler found himself standing in the middle of a great city. Tall buildings rose high overhead. He couldn't see the sky even when he tilted back his head. An escort of soldiers marched up to him with a loud clatter of their black lacquer armor.

"Our queen wishes to see you," the captain of the soldiers said.

The frightened peddler could only obey and let the fierce soldiers lead him into a shining palace. There, a woman with a high crown sat upon a tall throne. Trembling, the old peddler fell to his knees and touched his forehead against the floor. But the queen ordered him to stand and said, "Like the great Emperor Yu of long ago, you tamed the great flood. We are all one now. You have only to ask, and I or any of my people will come to your aid".

The old peddler cleared his throat and said, "I am looking for a certain herb. It will cure any disease of the eyes."

The queen shook her head regretfully and replied, "I have never heard of that herb. But you will surely find it if you keep looking for it."

And then the old peddler woke up. Sitting up, he saw that in his wanderings he had come back to the ants' nest. It was there he had taken his nap. His dream city had been the ant's nest itself.

"This is a good omen," he said to himself, and he began searching even harder.

He was so determined to find the herb that he did not notice how time had passed. He was surprised when he saw how the light was fading. He looked all around then. There was no sight of his city, only strange hills. He realized then that he had searched so far he had gotten lost. Night was coming fast and with it the cold. He rubbed his arms and hunted for shelter. In the twilight, he thought he could see the green tiles of a roof. He stumbled through the growing darkness until he reached a ruined temple. Weeds grew through cracks in the stones and most of the roof itself had fallen in. Still, the ruins would provide some protection. As he started inside, he saw a centipede with bright orange skin and red tufts of fur along its back. Yellow dots covered its sides like a dozen tiny eyes. It was also rushing into the temple as fast as it could, but there was a bird swooping down toward it. The old peddler waved his arms and shouted, scaring the bird away. Then he put down his palm in front of the insect and said, "We are all one, you and I." The many feet of the centipede tickled the peddler's skin as the centipede climbed onto his hand.

Inside the temple, he gathered dried leaves and found old sticks of wood and soon he had a fire going. The peddler even picked some fresh leaves for the centipede from a bush near the temple doorway and then said to the centipede, "I may have to go hungry, but you don't have to my friend.".

Stretching out beside the fire, the old peddler pillowed his head on his arms. He was so tired that he soon fell asleep, but even in his sleep he dreamed he was still searching in the woods. Suddenly he thought he heard footsteps near his head. He woke instantly and looked about, but he only saw the brightly colored centipede.

"I must be getting nervous." "Was it you, friend? " the old peddler asked before lying down again and closing his eyes.

"We are one, you and I," a voice said faintly, as if from a long distance. "If you go south, you will find a pine tree with two trunks. By its roots, you will find a magic bead. A cousin of mine spat on it years ago. Dissolve that bead in wine and tell the rich man to drink it if he wants to heal his eyes."

The old peddler trembled when he heard the voice, because he realized that the centipede was magical. He wanted to run from the temple, but he couldn't even get up. It was as if he were glued to the floor. But then the old peddler reasoned with himself, if the centipede had wanted to hurt me, it could have long ago. Instead, it seems to want to help me.

So the old peddler stayed where he was, but he did not dare open his eyes. When the first sunlight fell through the roof, he raised one eyelid cautiously. There was no sign of the centipede. He sat up and looked around, but the magical centipede was gone.

He followed the centipede's instructions when he left the temple. Traveling south, he kept a sharp eye out for the pine tree with two trunks. He walked until late in the afternoon, but all he saw were normal pine trees. Wearily he sat down and sighed. Even if he found the pine tree, he couldn't be sure that he would find the bead. Someone else might even have discovered it a long time ago. But something made him look a little longer. Just when he was thinking about turning back, he saw the odd tree. Somehow his tired legs managed to carry him over to the tree, and he got down on his knees. But the ground was covered with pine needles and his old eyes were too weak. The old peddler could have wept with frustration, and then he remembered the promise of the queen ant.

He began to call, "Ants, ants, we are all one."

Almost immediately, thousands of ants came boiling out of nowhere. Delighted, the old man held up his fingers and said to them, "I'm looking for a bead. It might be very tiny."

Then, careful not to crush any of his little helpers, the old man sat down to wait. In no time, the ants reappeared with a tiny bead. With trembling fingers, the old man took the bead from them and examined it. It was colored orange and looked as if it had yellow eyes on the sides. There was nothing very special about the bead, but the old peddler treated it like a fine jewel. Putting the bead into his pouch, the old peddler bowed his head and said, "I thank you and I thank your queen." After the ants disappeared among the pine needles, the old peddler made his way out of the woods.

The next day, he reached the house of the rich man. However, he was so poor and ragged that the gatekeeper only laughed at him and said, "How could an old beggar like you help my master?"

The old peddler tried to argue by saying, "Beggar or rich man, we are all one."

But it so happened that the rich man was passing by the gates. He went over to the old peddler and said, "I said anyone could see me. But it will mean a stick across your back if you're wasting my time."

The old peddler took out the pouch and said, "Dissolve this bead in some wine and drink it down."

Then, turning the pouch upside down, the peddler shook the tiny bead onto his palm and handed it to the rich man. The rich man immediately called for a cup of wine. Dropping the bead into the wine, he waited a moment and then drank it down. Instantly the pain vanished. Shortly after that, his eyes healed. The rich man was so happy and grateful that he doubled the reward. And the kindly old peddler and his family lived comfortably for the rest of their lives.


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The Four Dragons

A Chinese Tale

Once upon a time, there were no rivers and lakes on earth, but only the Eastern Sea, in which lived four dragons: the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon. One day the four dragons flew from the sea into the sky. They soared and dived, playing at hide-and-seek in the clouds.

"Come over here quickly!" the Pearl Dragon cried out suddenly.

"What's up?" asked the other three, looking down in the direction where the Pearl Dragon pointed.

On the earth they saw many people putting out fruits and cakes, and burning incense sticks. They were praying! A white-haired woman, kneeling on the ground with a thin boy on her back, murmured,

"Please send rain quickly, God of Heaven, to give our children rice to eat."

For there had been no rain for a long time. The crops withered, the grass turned yellow and fields cracked under the scorching sun.

"How poor the people are!" said the Yellow Dragon. "And they will die if it doesn't rain soon."

The Long Dragon nodded. Then he suggested, "Let's go and beg the Jade Emperor for rain."

So saying, he leapt into the clouds. The others followed closely and flew towards the Heavenly Palace. Being in charge of all the affairs in heaven on earth and in the sea, the Jade Emperor was very powerful. He was not pleased to see the dragons rushing in.

"Why do you come here instead of staying in the sea and behaving yourselves?"

The Long Dragon stepped forward and said, "The crops on earth are withering and dying, Your Majesty. I beg you to send rain down quickly!"

"All right. You go back first, I'll send some rain down tomorrow." The Jade Emperor pretended to agree while listening to the songs of the fairies.

The four dragons responded, "Thanks, Your Majesty!"

The four dragons went happily back. But ten days passed, and not a drop of rain came down. The people suffered more, some eating bark, some grass roots, some forced to eat white clay when they ran out of bark and grass roots. Seeing all this, the four dragons felt very sorry, for they knew the Jade Emperor only cared about pleasure, and never took the people to heart. They could only rely on themselves to relieve the people of their miseries. But how to do it? Seeing the vast sea, the Long Dragon said that he had an idea.

"What is it? Out with it, quickly!" the other three demanded.

"Look, is there not plenty of water in the sea where we live? We should scoop it up and spray it towards the sky. The water will be like rain drops and come down to save the people and their crops," said Long Dragon.

"Good idea!" said the others as they clapped their hands.

"But," said the Long Dragon after thinking a bit, "we will be blamed if the Jade Emperor learns of this."

"I will do anything to save the people," the Yellow Dragon said resolutely.

"Then let's begin. We will never regret it," said Long Dragon.

The Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon were not to be outdone. They flew to the sea, scooped up water in their mouths, and then flew back into the sky, where they sprayed the water out over the earth. The four dragons flew back and forth, making the sky dark all around. Before long the sea water became rain pouring down from the sky.

"It's raining! It's raining! The crops will be saved!" the people cried and leaped with joy.

On the ground the wheat stalks raised their heads and the sorghum stalks straightened up. The god of the sea discovered these events and reported to the Jade Emperor.

"How dare the four dragons bring rain without my permission!" said the Jade Emperor.

The Jade Emperor was enraged, and ordered the heavenly generals and their troops to arrest the four dragons. Being far outnumbered, the four dragons could not defend themselves, and they were soon arrested and brought back to the heavenly palace.

"Go and get four mountains to lay upon them so that they can never escape!" The Jade Emperor ordered the Mountain God.

The Mountain God used his magic power to make four mountains fly there, whistling in the wind from afar, and pressed them down upon the four dragons. Imprisoned as they were, they never regretted their actions. Determined to do good for the people forever, they turned themselves into four rivers, which flowed past high mountains and deep valleys, crossing the land from the west to the east and finally emptying into the sea. And so China's four great rivers were formed -- the Heilongjian (Black Dragon) in the far north, the Huanghe (Yellow River) in central China, the Changjiang (Yangtze, or Long River) farther south, and the Zhujiang (Pearl) in the very far south.


These stories were courtesy of:  Dim Sum

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