Rodney Ohebsion

Chinese Folktales

Chinese Folktale - Sisters Take Each Other to Court


Ch'i Yung could spot a robber just by looking at his eyes. The Marquis of Chin hired him to find robbers--after inspecting thousands of them, he never missed a single one.

The Marquis told Wen Tzu of Chao about him, saying, "My state used to be infested with robbers. I have a man who is singlehandedly eliminating them. Because of him, I don't need police."

The other replied, "If you rely on a detective to catch robbers, you'll never get rid of them altogether. But someone will get rid of the detective."

Later, a band of robbers got together and did in fact kill Ch'i Yung. The Marquis of Chin was greatly alarmed, and immediately sent for Wen Tzu. "You were right. Ch'i Yung is dead. What should I do now to catch robbers?" "In Chou," replied Wen Tzu, "we have a proverb: 'Search not the ocean-depths for fish: calamity comes upon those who pry into hidden mysteries.' If you want to eliminate robbers, focus on promoting the worthy to office. They will inform their superiors, and also reform the masses below them. The people will develop a sense of shame, and not turn into robbers."

The Marquis then appointed Sui Hui to be Prime Minister, and all the robbers fled to Ch'in State.


During Yuan Ching Mu's travels, he ran out of food and was on the verge of starving. A man saw him and brought over a bowl of rice-gruel. Yuan Ching Mu ate a little of it. He then looked at the man and asked, "Who are you?" "Ch'iu of Hu-Fu." "Ah!" said Yuan Ching Mu. "You're the infamous robber Ch'iu! I'm a man of integrity, and I can't eat your food!" He attempted to vomit up the food--and in trying to do so, he ended up dying.

The Way of Immortality

A man claimed to know the Way of immortality, and the Lord of Yen sent a messenger to interview him. However, the messenger wasted time, and the man died before his arrival.

When the messenger returned, the Lord of Yen was furious, and sentenced him to death. But his favorite assistant remarked, "People are most concerned with preserving life. So if a man lost his own life, how could he have really shared the secret of immortality with you?

Accordingly, the Lord did not execute the messenger.

Another man named Ch'i Tzu had also hoped to learn the Way of immortality, and was upset when he learned that the man who claimed to possess the secret had died.

Fu Tzu heard this and said, "He wants to learn how to be immortal, and now he's upset that the teacher of that secret has died! He's obviously confused about what he needs to learn."

Hu Tzu heard this and said, "Fu Tzu is mistaken. There are cases of someone knowing the principles of a skill without being able to apply those principles, and likewise, there are cases of someone being able to apply principles without knowing them."

"Once, a great mathematician from Wei transmitted his secrets to his sons shortly before his death. The sons memorized what he said, but they couldn't apply the information. However, another person obtained the information from the sons, and was able to effectively apply it like the father had done.

"And thus, it is indeed is possible for a mortal man to have known the secret of immortality."

New Year's Pigeons

Every New Year's Day, the good people of Han-Tan would give pigeons to their Governor Chien Tzu, and then get rewarded for doing so. A stranger asked Chien Tzu about the the meaning of the custom, and the latter explained: "We release living creatures on New Year's Day as a sign of our benevolence." The stranger replied, "But the people try to catch as many pigeons as possible, and end up killing quite a few of them. If you really want to let the birds live, it would be best to stop people from catching them."

A Good Thief

Mr. Kuo of Ch'i State was very rich, while Mr. Hsiang of Sung State was very poor. Mr. Hsiang traveled from Sung to Ch'i and asked the Mr. Kuo for the secret of his prosperity.

Mr. Kuo told him, "I'm a good thief. During my first year of thievery, I had just enough; during the second year, I had ample; during the third year, I reaped a great harvest; and over time, I found myself the owner of entire villages and districts."

Mr. Hsiang was overjoyed; he understood the word "thief" in its literal sense, but he did not understand the true Way of becoming a thief. Accordingly, he climbed over walls and broke into houses, grabbing everything he could see or lay hands upon. But before very long his thefts brought him into trouble, and he was stripped even of what he had previously possessed.

Thinking that Mr. Kuo had basely deceived him, Mr. Hsiang went to him with a bitter complaint.

Mr. Kuo said, "Tell me, how did you set about being a thief?"

And on learning from Mr. Hsiang what had happened, Mr. Kao cried out, "Alas and alack! You have been brought to this pass because you went the wrong Way to work. Now let me put you on the right track. We all know that Heaven has its seasons, and that earth has its riches. Well, the things that I steal are the riches of Heaven and Earth, each in their season--the fertilizing rainwater from the clouds, and the natural products of mountain and meadow-land. Thus I grow my grain and ripen my crops, build my walls and construct my tenements. From the dry land I steal winged and four-footed game, from the rivers I steal fish and turtles. There is nothing [I get] that I do not steal. For corn and grain, clay and wood, birds and beasts, fishes and turtles are all products of Nature. How can I claim them as mine? Yet, stealing in this way from Nature, I bring on myself no retribution. But gold, jade, and precious stones, stores of grain, silk stuffs, and other kinds of property, are things accumulated by men, not bestowed upon us by Nature. So who can complain if he gets into trouble by stealing them?"

Mr. Hsiang, in a state of great perplexity, and in fear of being led astray a second time by Mr. Kuo, went off to consult Tung Kuo, a man of learning.

Tung Kuo said to him, "Are you not already a thief in respect of your own body? You are stealing the harmony of the Yin and the Yang in order to keep alive and to maintain your bodily form. How much more, then, are you a thief with regard to external possessions! Assuredly, Heaven and Earth cannot be dissociated from the myriad objects of Nature. To claim any one of these as your own betokens confusion of thought. Mr. Kuo's thefts are carried out in a spirit of justice, and therefore bring no retribution. But your thefts were carried out in a spirit of self-seeking and therefore landed you in trouble. Those who take possession of property, whether public or private, are thieves. Those who abstain from taking property, public or private, are also thieves. For no one can help possessing a body, and no one can help acquiring some property or other which cannot be got rid of with the best will in the world. Such thefts are unconscious thefts. The great principle of Heaven and earth is to treat public property as such and private property as such. Knowing this principle, which of us is a thief, and at the same time which of us is not a thief?"

The Salesman

A salesman from Ch'u was selling shields and halberds. In praising the shields, he said, "My shields are so solid that nothing can penetrate them." Then, when presenting his halberds, he said, "My halberds are so sharp that they can penetrate anything." In response to this, someone asked, "What would happen if you used your halberds to pierce through your shields?" The man had no reply.

Lao Tzu and the Horse

There was a horse tied up in a narrow street--and it kicked every person that walked near it. Nobody knew what to do, and when they saw Lao Tzu approaching, they watched with curiosity to see how he would handle the situation. Lao Tzu spotted the horse, paused for a second to deliberate, and then turned around and walked down another street.

The Governor's Bodyguard

Long ago, a governor was travelling, and his drunk servant accidentally vomited in his carriage. A nearby official immediately shouted at him and asked the ruler, "Should I fire this man?" "No," the ruler responded. "I know him very well, and he's a very honorable and competent man. Firing him would not only put him out of work, it would damage his reputation. His offense was pretty harmless. The official, surprised at the ruler's lenience, nevertheless complied with his demand. The servant, meanwhile, was incredibly relieved, and from then on, was intensely loyal to the ruler. Months later, while he visited his native village, he discovered that a group of savages planned an attack on the city he served. Upon hearing this, he immediately rushed back and told the ruler. And when the barbarians invaded several days later, they were easily defeated. This not only saved the city, it also earned the ruler a reputation for having wide-ranging knowledge.

Eliminating the Adversary's Strength

A general attacked the Emperor, and was about to kill him. The Emperor's prime minister and other officials wanted to stop him as soon as possible, knowing that if they didn't, he would start a military campaign to seize power.

The general was a great military strategist and a powerful man, and also had one thousand devoted and mighty bodyguards surrounding him at all times.

So a clever commissioner announced a reward to be given to the bodyguards for their past service to the Emperor. However, he placed the reward miles away from the bodyguards' current position. Once the reward was announced, almost all the bodyguards left the city to collect it. The Prime Minster then got whatever men he could find, and attacked and captured the general, easily overcoming whatever bodyguards remained there.

The Improved Signposts

During the sixth century, roads had dirt signposts that marked distances. Realizing that the markers were expensive to maintain and build, a governor decided to replace them with durable and easy-to-plant trees that not only could take the place of the markers, but also would provide shade for travelers to rest under, and would create an opportunity for merchants to sell refreshments and goods near them.

Bloody Murder

One night, two drunk men got into a fistfight in front of many bystanders. Afterwards, each man went to his home.

As one of them slept, an intruder broke into his house and chopped off his feet with an axe! As the man cried out in pain, he accused the man he had fought with earlier that night as being the culprit. The man's wife yelled for help, and though assistance soon came, the man bled to death shortly later.

His wife, in tears, reported the murder to the police. They immediately apprehended the man the victim had fought earlier that night, and put him in prison, where he was questioned by the city's very intelligent mayor.

Later, the mayor told the murdered man's wife that the suspect they had was surely guilty. Afterwards, however, the mayor sent some of his people to stakeout the wife. Days later, they arrested her and a monk. And after hours of questioning, the wife and monk eventually confessed that they were having an affair, and that they were the ones who planned and committed the murder.

One of the mayor's assistants curiously asked him, "How did you know to suspect the man's wife?"

The mayor explained, "Three reasons. First, a drunken fistfight is rarely ever enough to motivate a man to commit murder. But for someone who was already planning murder, an incident like that seems like a good cover up. Secondly, the wife's crying over the murder seemed fake. Her expression looked mixed. And finally, her husband was drenched in blood, but she hardly had any on her."

Shoes and Silk

A man from Lu was a skilled shoe maker, and his wife was a skilled gloss-silk weaver. They were about to move to Yueh, when someone said to them, "If you go, you'll become poor."

"Why?" asked the man.

The reply was, "The people of Yueh walk barefooted, and they don't wear gloss-silk crowns. Your skills will be useless over there."

Tzu Chan's Brothers

For three years, Governor Tzu Chan did such a good job running the state of Cheng, that other states feared the region. Everyone within Cheng seemed completely under the Governor's control. Except, however, for two people: his older brother Kung Sun Chow, who was an alcoholic and drug addict; and his younger brother Kung Sun Mu, who was a sex addict. The former had a home filled with liquor and drugs that people could smell a hundred yards away. He was always drunk and high, and oblivious to most things. As for Kung Sun Mu, his home was filled with attractive women, and he was 100% consumed with them, to the point that he often stayed with them day and night for months on ends. And any time an attractive woman moved into the neighborhood, he would make an all out effort to win her over.

One day the Governor consulted with his advisor Teng Hsi. "I have heard that the the self influences the family, which in turn influences the state. And yet, in my own case, I have regulated the state, while my own family is in disorder. Perhaps this Way is not the right one. How shall I bring order about in the lives of my brothers?"

Teng Hsi replied, "I have often wondered about this, but never dared bring it up to you. Perhaps you should maintain a tight reign on your brothers. Tell them about how sublime it is to live a life of righteousness, and encourage them to manage their lives properly."

Tzu Chan did as Teng Hsi had advised, and told his brothers, "What makes man better than animals is how he can use his mind/heart to aquire righteousness and worldy honors. As for you two, you simply give in to passions all the time. If you turn away from your lifestyle, I will give you positions and a salary with the government."

The brothers replied, "We've understood our path for a long time, and we didn't need you to enlighten us and offer your advice. Your path involves striving for glory, and doing violence to your feelings and nature. It's effective for the time being as you rule the state, but it's not in harmony with the human heart. You think that just because you know how to govern a state, you also know how to live as an individual. When people know how to live as individuals, there's no need for authoritarian governors like you. Right now, you want to teach us your Way, and lure us in with official positions and worldly honors. But maybe you should be the one learning our Way."

Tzu Chan was at a loss for words. Later, he saw Teng Hsi and told him about what happened. Teng Hsi said, "You have been living with enlightened men, and did not even know it! Who says you are wise?"

The Jade Leaf

A man from Sung spent three years carving a mulberry leaf out of jade for the prince. It looked identical to a real mulberry leaf, down to its glossiness, shape, color, proportion, and symmetry. The government rewarded his skill with great sums of money.

Lieh Tzu heard about this and remarked, "If it took Nature three years at a time to make a single leaf, then there would be very few trees with leaves on them. The sage should not rely on human science and skill as much as he does on the carrying on of the Way."

The Disease

Lung Shu said to Wen Chih, "You are the master of cunning arts. I have a disease. Can you cure it, Sir?"

"I am at your service," replied Wen Chih. "But please let me know first the symptoms of your disease."

"I hold it no honor," said Lung Shu, "to be praised in my native village, nor do I consider it a disgrace to he decried in my native State. Gain does not cause me joy, loss does not cause me sorrow. I look upon life in the same light as death, upon riches in the same light as poverty, upon my fellow men as so many swine, and upon myself as my fellow men. I dwell in my home as though it were a mere caravanserai, and regard my native district with no more feeling than I would a barbarian State. As I am afflicted in in these various ways, honors and rewards do not rouse me, pains and penalties do not overawe me, good or bad fortune do not influence me, and joy or grief do not move me. Thus I am incapable of serving my sovereign, associating with my friends and kinsmen, directing my wife and children, or controlling my servants and retainers.

"What disease is this, and what remedy is there that will cure it?"

Wen Chih replied by asking Lung Shu to stand with his back to the light, while he himself faced the light and looked at him intently.

"Ah!" said he after a while, "I see that a good square inch of your heart is hollow. You are within an ace of being a true Sage. Six of the orifices in your heart are open and clear, and only the seventh is blocked up. [The Sage has seven orifices in his heart]

"This, however, is doubtless due to the fact that you are mistaking divine enlightenment for a disease--and in such a case, my shallow art is of no avail."

Niu Ch'ueh was traveling from the Highlands to Han-Tan, and while passing through a quiet and vacant area in Ou-Sha, encountered some criminals who robbed him of all he had--his clothes, equipment, carriage, and horses. But he kept on walking with a calm and unworried look on his face, as if nothing had happened.

The criminals, bewildered by his behavior, caught up to him and asked about it. Niu Ch'ueh said, "The superior person won't risk his life for mere possessions. After all, possessions are simply meant to preserve life."

The criminals discussed the matter. Recognizing the man's wisdom, they figured that he'd end up becoming inflential, and have the Lord of Chao send the police after them. So they chased after him and killed him.

A man from Yen heard about this and told his clan, "If you run into criminals, don't do what Niu Ch'ueh of the Highlands did."

Days later, his brother was going to Ch'in, and as he arrived below the passes, he also encountered criminals. Thinking about what his brother told him, he tried to defend his possessions--and in doing so, he took a beating at the hands of the criminals. As they left with his possessions, he humbly pleaded to have them back.

The criminals angrily told him, "We let you live--and now you have the nerve to come after us like this? Your tracks will probably lead the authorities to us."

So they killed the man, and injured some of his companions to boot.

An official from Ch'en went to Lu for official business. While there, he made a social visit to Shu Sun.

Shu Sun said, "We have a Sage in our state."

The Ch'en man replied, "You must be talking about Confucius."


"How can you be so sure he's a Sage?"

"Well," Shu Sun replied, "His disciple Yen Hui said that Confucius can release his heart/mind, and use his body [like his heart/mind]."

The Ch'en man then said, "We also have a Sage in our state. Have you heard of him?"


"Keng Sang Tzu. He has mastered Lao Tzu's Way, and he can see with his ears and listen with his eyes."

The Marquis of Lu soon came to hear about this Sage, and became so curious that he sent him a royal invitation and brought him to Lu. When Keng Sang Tzu arrived, the Marquis respectfully asked about the skill.

"It's a rumor," Keng Sang Tzu replied. "I can't make my ears see and my eyes hear. However, I can see and hear without my eyes or ears.

"That's even greater," said the Marquis. "What kind of Way is that? You must tell me about it."

"My body," explained Keng Sang Tzu, "is in harmony with my heart. My heart is in harmony with my energies. My energies are in harmony with my spirit. My spirit is in harmony with all and none. I can experience the smallest thing or the slightest sound, what is very distant, or what is right on my eyebrows or eyelashes. Nothing is outside my awareness. I'm not sure whether I perceive it with my senses, body, heart/mind, or organs/gut. I suppose it's just a pure experience of things."

The Marquis of Lu was pleased. He later told Confucius about it, and Confucius just smiled without saying a word.

The Banquet

During a banquet held by Tien of Ch'i State, many of the guest presented their host with various gifts of fish and game. He looked at them approvingly, and remarked, "Nature is indeed generous to man. It makes the five kinds of grain for us to grow, and creates the fish and fowl for our benefit." All of the guests applauded, except for one young man of the Pao family, who came forward and said, "I respectfully disagree with you, Mr. Tien. None of the world's living creatures--including our own species--is necessarily favored over the others. Though one might master or pray on another, it is only through cunning and strength. None are produced solely for the benefit of the others. Though man catches and eats certain creatures for food, how can it be concluded that Nature creates them solely for man's use? After all, certain insects suck man's blood, and certain predators eat man's flesh. Should we also conclude that Nature created man merely for the sake of mosquitoes and gnats, or tigers and wolves?"


If streams dry up, the fish come together in an effort to try to keep themselves wet. When people see this, they have admiration for the cooperation and compassion. However, wouldn't it have been far better for the fish to have sought safety earlier in deep waters?

Dogs and Horses, Devils and Demons

A traveler was drawing for the King of Ch'i, and the King asked him, "What is the most difficult thing to draw?"

"Dogs and horses are the most difficult," was the reply.

"Then what is the easiest?" the King asked.

"Devils and demons are the easiest," replied the traveler. "People know dogs and horses. They see them night and day right in front of them. There is no room for any distortions when drawing them. Thus, they are the most difficult to draw.

"As for devils and demons, they have no shape, and nobody sees them. Thus, they are very easy to draw."

The Measurements

A man from Cheng wanted to buy a new pair of shoes. He measured his feet first, and left the measurements in his chair. When he arrived at the marketplace, he noticed that he had forgotten the measurements. So he went home to get them. And when he got back, the marketplace was closed. He told someone about what had happened, and the person said, "Why didn't you just try the shoes with your own feet?" The man replied, "I have confidence in my measurements, but not in my own feet."