Did you know China has its own fables and fairytales, just like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”? For thousands of years, long before your grandparents were born, wise men and women in China have told tales – some long, some short, some funny, some sad — to entertain and teach people both young and old. Over time, the best of these stories were written down so they could be remembered forever. Now Dragonkids.com.cn brings them to you. Read them for fun, and you might just learn something along the way.
How Yu Gong Moved Away Two High Mountains
There were two high mountains between Jizhou in the south and Heyang in the north. One was called Taihang Mountain and the other Wangwu Mountain. Both of the mountains were more than three hundred kilometers around and rose as high as 3,000 meters.
Just to the north of the mountains lived an old man called Yu Gong who was nearly ninety years old. With the two high mountains just in front of his house, his family and he had to walk a long way around the mountains when they had something to do on the other side of the mountains.
One day, Yu Gong called all his family together to talk about how to move the two mountains to other places. His wife said, “An old man like you cannot even move a small hill, not to mention the two high mountains. Even if you can, where can you throw so much earth and stone?”
“The Bohai Sea is big enough to contain all the earth and stone.” Yu Gong said.
It was decided. His children started to dig the mountains, led by the old man Yu Gong.
A man named Zhi Sou saw them working and tried to stop them with a smile, “You are so silly! You’re so old and weak that you can’t even take away the grass and trees. How can you move the high mountains?”
“You’re wrong.” Yu Gong said with a sigh. “Look, my sons can continue my work after my death. When my sons die, my grandchildren will continue. So generation after generation, there’s no end. But the mountains can’t grow higher. Don’t you think I can move them away?”
Seeing the old man so confident, Zhi Sou was tongue-tied.
Later the Heaven God was reported the story of Yu Gong, and greatly moved by the old man’s determination. He then ordered another god to come down and take the two high mountains away.
The story tells us that so long as one is determined and sticks to it long enough, anything can be done, no matter how difficult it is.
The Fox and the Crow
A crow built a nest in a tree. Just under the tree, there was a hole in which lived a fox.
One day, the crow flew far away looking for food. He finally found a piece of meat and took it back to the tree. He stood on one branch near his nest and felt very happy.
At that time, the fox was also out for food. When he saw the crow standing on the branch with the meat in his mouth, he swallowed and felt eager to get the meat.
The fox blinked and said with a smile, “Hello, my dear neighbor.”
The crow kept silence.
“Hello,” the fox said again. “How are your children?”
The crow looked at the fox without saying anything.
“My dear crow,” the fox said. “Your feathers are so beautiful. Your voice is also very beautiful. Everyone loves to hear your songs. Please sing a song for me. Ok?”
The crow felt flattered. He opened his mouth and began to sing. “Wa-” The meat fell down to the ground as soon as it opened its mouth.
The fox took the meat and went into its hole.
The story tells us that bad people often use sweet words for a wicked purpose, so we should always keep sharp vigilance.
A Snipe and a Clam Locked in Fight
A clam swam to the bank and opened its shell in the sun. A snipe flew over and saw a piece of red meat on the ground, so it dived to the ground and pecked at the clam. Before the snipe drew back its beak, it was gripped tightly inside because the clam suddenly felt a sharp pain and closed its shell quickly. The snipe shook its head violently to cast off the clam, but it failed no matter how hard it tried.
The snipe said angrily, “Listen, you clam, it’s not going to rain today, neither will it tomorrow. Then you’ll die from thirst. So quick! Let me off!”
The clam was angry too. “You listen, I won’t let you off today, and I won’t let you off tomorrow, either. Then you’ll die of hunger. Do you still dare to eat me?”
The snipe and clam were locked in fight and quarreled, and neither of them liked to give in first. Just at that moment, an old fisherman came. He picked them up and took them home for dinner.
The story tells us that the third party will have an advantage fall into his lap when the other two parties are locked in combat for their own personal interests.
A Tiger in Tow
A tiger was looking for food in a large forest when a fox ran by. The tiger sprang forward and caught it.
The fox was frightened, but it had an idea in a blink. “You dare not eat me.” it said.
“Why?” the tiger asked.
“I was sent by God to rule all the animals. If you eat me, you’re disobeying the God’s order. Then you’re not a good animal.”
The tiger was silent, thinking whether it was true that the fox had been sent the god. Seeing the tiger still in doubt, the fox said seriously, ” If you don’t think what I said is not true, I can take you to see all the animals. I’ll walk in front and you follow me. Let’s see if all of them are afraid of me.”
So the fox led the tiger into the forest. It was true that all the animals, such as deer, sheep, rabbits and so on, ran away as soon as they saw them.
Thus the fox borrowed the tiger’s terror and showed its authority before the animals. But tiger did not know that all the animals ran away only because they were afraid of itself.
The story tells us that there is always someone who tries to swagger about in borrowed plumes.
Where is the Rice from?
A rich man in the Qi Kingdom had two silly sons, but the rich man loved his sons very much and thought them as the apples of his eyes.
One day, a man named Ai Zi said to the rich man, “Your sons are so stupid and know nothing about the world. How can they take your property over after your death?”
Hearing these words, the rich man became a little bit angry. The father said, “Everyone says my sons are very smart and praise them for their good virtue. What you say is sheer nonsense!”
“Then let’s test them. Ok?” Ai Zi suggested. The rich man agreed.
The father called his two sons before Ai Zi, who asked the question, “Do you know where rice comes from?”
The elder son smiled and answered, “Any one with sense knows the answer, that rice comes from the kitchen.”
The younger son blinked and said, “You’re wrong! How can you say rice comes from the kitchen! It indeed comes from the bag.”
The rich man looked at his sons and turned red with anger. “You both are so silly! Why don’t you ask me when you don’t the right answer? You are both wrong! Rice comes neither from the kitchen nor from the bag, it comes from the barn!”
The story means that one may do foolish things when he pretends to know the things he is actually ignorant of.
The Taoist in Mount Lao
A long time ago, there was a young man called Wang Qi. When he heard that there were many immortals in Mount Lao, he went there at once.
There was a Daoist who still looked young although he was very old. Wang Qi became one his pupils. During the first month, Wang Qi went to the hills for woods with others every day and listened to the instructions of his teacher patiently. In the second month, he felt that he could not stand the hard and tiring life, but he still waited for the teacher to teach him the magical skills. In the third month, he could not bear the suffering any longer. He went to see his teacher and said, ” I’ve been working hard for so many days. Now would you please teach me some skills, or it’ll be a waste of time for me to be here.”
“What do you want to learn?”
“Then I’ll teach you how to go through a wall.” Then the Daoist told Wang Qi the incantations. After reciting the incantations of the magic, Wang Qi made it. With great pleasure, Wang Qi said goodbye to his teacher and went back home.
Back at home, he told his family and neighbors that he had met with an immortal and learned how to go through a wall magically, but no one believed in him. So Wang Qi recited the incantations and ran towards a wall to prove his point. However, his head hit wall with a “Bang”, and he was knocked heavily. His wife helped him to his feet and found that there was a large bump on his forehead.
The story means that, speculation and claptrap will only lead to failure.
How a Colt Crossed the River
One day, a colt carried a bag of wheat to the mill.
As he was running with the bag on his back, he came to a small river. Water went gurgling on. The colt could not decide whether he could cross it. Looking around, he saw a cow grazing nearby. He asked, “Uncle Cow, could you tell me if I can cross the river?” the cow told him that he could and that the river was not very deep, just to his knees.
The colt was crossing the river when a squirrel jumped down a tree and stopped him. The squirrel shouted, “Colt, stop! You’ll be drowned! One of my friends was drowned yesterday just in the river.” Not knowing what to do, the colt went home to consult his mom.
He told his mom his experience on the way. His mother said, “My child, don’t always listen to others. You’d better go and try yourself. Then you’ll know what to do.”
Just at the river, the squirrel stopped the colt again. “Little horse, it’s too dangerous!” “No, I want to have a try by myself”, answered the colt. Then he crossed the river carefully. On the other side of the river, the colt realized that the river was neither as shallow as the cow said nor as as deep as the squirrel told him.
The fable tells us a truth: real knowledge comes from practices.
How a Farmer Saved the Snake
One day, it was snowing heavily. It was white everywhere. A farmer had cut some wood and was coming home when he saw a rattlesnake on the road, numb with cold.
“Oh, little snake. Why don’t you stay at home in such cold weather? Look, you’re freezing. How poor you are!” The farmer said to himself. “What can I do for you? Make a fire to warm you? No, it’s snowing so hard, and I have only so small a bundle of wood. My family are waiting for the wood to cook”
The farmer turned round and round anxiously and then said, “Ok. I’ll put you under my clothes. It’s warm there.” He unbuttoned his clothes and put the snake inside just near his chest.
Some time later, the snake came to life gradually.
The warmth of the old farmer had not changed its cruel nature. It opened its mouth and bit at the farmer right at the chest.
“Oh, my god! How cruel you are! I saved you, but you bit me. Why?” As he was saying, he took out the snake and threw it on the ground.
But the farmer was already poisoned and was dying. Only at this time did he realized that he had done something wrong. “I took pity on him, but he bit me in return.”
The story means that evil men cannot change their nature even if we are kind enough to them.
His spear against his shield
A man of the state of Chu had a spear and a shield for sale. He was praising his shield.
“My shield is so strong that nothing can pierce it through.”
He also sang praises of his spear.
“My spear is so strong that it can pierce through anything.”
What would happen, he was asked, if your spear is used to pierce your shield?
He was unable to give an answer.
It is impossible for the strongest shield to coexist with a spear that finds nothing impenetrable.
从前，有一个卖矛和盾的楚国人。他大声的夸奖他的盾：”我的盾是最坚固的，没有东西能刺透它。” 接着，他又赞美他的矛， 说：”我的矛是最锐利的，它能刺透任何东西。”有人问他：”那如果用你的矛去刺你的盾，会怎么样呢？”卖矛和盾的人回答不出来了。
Draw a Snake and Add Feet to It
An official of the ancient State of Chu awarded a pot of wine to his men after the ceremony of Spring Sacrifice. One man said, “We have only one pot of wine. It’s not enough for all of us but sufficient for one. Let’s determine who’ll have the wine by drawing a snake on the ground. He who finishes first will have the wine.”
The others agreed. Very soon, one man finished his snake. He was about to drink the wine when he saw the others were still busy drawing. He said complacently ,”How slowly you are !I still have enough time to add feet to my snake.” But before he finished the feet, another man finished his snake and grabbed the pot from him, saying, “Whoever has seen a snake with feet? Yours is not a snake. So the wine should be mine!” He drank the wine. The man adding the feet to the snake had to give in and could only regret his foolishness.
From that story comes the idiom “Draw a snake and add feet to it”. Now people use this idiom to illustrate the truth that going too far is as bad as not going far enough.
楚国有一个官员，在春天祭过了祖宗之后，便将一壶酒赏给他的办事人员喝。有人提议：”我们只有一壶酒，肯定不够我们大家喝的，一个人喝倒是绰绰有余。我们每人在地上画一条蛇，谁画得最快，就把这壶酒给他。” 大家都同意了。有一个人很快就把蛇画好了。他正打算喝这壶酒时，看见别人都还忙着画呢。他就得意扬扬地说：”你们画得好慢呀，等我再画上几只脚吧！” 他的蛇脚还没画完，另一个人已经把蛇画好了。那人把酒壶夺了过去说：”有谁见过长脚的蛇？你画的不是蛇，这壶酒应该是我的了。”说罢，就喝起酒来。那个给蛇画脚的人没办法，只能懊悔自己的愚蠢。
Making His Mark
A man from the state of Chu was crossing a river. In the boat, his sword fell into the water by his carelessness. Immediately he made a mark on the boat.”This is where my sword fell off”, he said.
When the boat stopped, he jumped into the water to look for his sword at the place where he had marked the boat.
The boat had moved but the sword had not. Is this not a very foolish way to look for a sword?
The Vigil by the Tree Stump
In the state of Song, there was a farmer in whose fields stood a tree stump. One day, a hare ran to his field. Running too fast,it dashed against the stump and broke its neck, died. So the farmer abandoned his plough and waited by the tree stump, hoping to get another hare. He did not get his hare but became a laughing stock in the state.
Quench One’s Thirst by Looking at Plums
Among the outstanding figures of Chinese history, famous either for their intelligence or treachery, Cao Cao is one of the foremost.
One hot day, he marched out his troops under a burning sun in a mountainous area. Bewilderingly he lost the way. The journey was long and the sun was scorching. After their fruitless and tiresome march, all voiced their great dissatisfaction with the leadership of CAO Cao. They bitterly complained of their great thirst. The antagonism of the soldiers was growing fast and they were on the verge of staging a mutiny. The subordinate officers were helpless to cope with the situation.
Cao Cao, however, in the nick of time cleverly and treacherously gave orders to his troops to march to the nearby plum trees for a rest and announced that soldiers would be allowed to eat the juicy sour fruit as much as they desired.
At the thought of the sour fruit the soldiers’ complaint of great thirst as well as the antagonistic feeling were quickly forgotten.
Based on the story the later generation formed the proverb “to quench one’s thirst by looking up at plums”, to illustrate a case where one takes comfort in believing that they have already attained that which was expected or desired.
Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall
During the Spring and Autumn period （770－476BC）, the State of Wu launched an attack against the State of Yue. The King of Wu was seriously wounded and soon died. His son Fu Chai became the new King. Fu was determined to revenge. He drilled his army rigidly until it was a perfect fighting force. Three years later, he led his army against the State of Yue and caught its king Gou Jian. Fu took him to the State of Wu.
In order to avenge his father’s death, Fu let him live in a shabby stone house by his father’s tomb and ordered him to raise horses for him. Gou pretended to be loyal to Fu but he never forgot his humiliation. Many years later, he was set free. Gou secretly accumulated a military force after he went back to his own state. In order to make himself tougher he slept on firewood and ate a gall-bladder before having dinner and going to bed every night. At the same time he administered his state carefully, developing agriculture and educating the people. After a few years, his country became strong. Then Gou seized a favorable opportunity to wipe off the State of Wu.
Later, people use it to describe one who endures self-imposed hardships to strengthen one’s resolve to realize one’s ambition.
Professed love of what one really fears
In the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), there lived in Chu a person named Chu Zhuliang, who addressed himself as “Lord Ye”. It’s said that this Lord Ye was very fond of dragons. The walls had dragons painted on them. The beams, pillars, doors and the windows were all carved with them. As a result, his love for dragons was spread out. When the real dragon in heaven heard of this Lord Ye, he was deeply moved. He decided to visit Lord Ye to thank him.
You might think Lord Ye was very happy to see a real dragon. But, actually, at very the sight of the creature, he was scared out of his wits and ran away as fast as he could.
From then on, people knew that Lord Ye only loved pictures or carvings which look like dragons, not the real thing.
春秋楚国沈诸梁，自称”叶公”。 据说，这位叶公爱龙成癖，家里的梁、柱、门、窗上都雕着龙，墙上也画着龙。 就这样，叶公爱好龙的名声，被人们传扬开了。天上的真龙，听说人间有这么一位叶公，对它如此喜爱，很受感动，决定去叶公家对他表示谢意。
Three at Dawn and Four at Dusk
Once upon a time, In the state of Song, there lived a man who kept monkeys. He was very fond of monkeys and kept a large number of them. He could understand the monkeys and they could also understand him. He reduced the amount of food for his own family in order to satisfy the monkey’s demands. After a while his family did not have enough to eat, so he wanted to limit he food for the monkeys. But he was afraid that the monkeys would not submit to him. Before doing that he played a trick on them: “If I give you three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening, would that be enough?” he asked the monkeys. All the monkeys rose up in a fury. After a while, he said, “If I give you four chestnuts in the morning and three in the evening, would that be enough?” All the monkeys lay on the floor, very happy with this proposal.
从前,在宋国有一个养猴子的人。他非常喜欢猴子，所以养了许多。他很了解猴子， 猴子们也能够懂得他的意思。为了让猴子们吃饱，他减少了家里的粮食。不久，他家的粮食不够吃的了，他就想减少给猴子们的食物。但他怕猴子们不会听他的。于是，他先哄骗它们：”如果早上我给你们三个栗子，晚上给你们四个栗子，够吗？” 猴子们都愤怒的表示不同意。过了会儿，他问：”那如果早上我给你们四个栗子，晚上给你们三个栗子，这样够了吗？”于是猴子都乐得躺到地上，很高兴地同意了。
Chang’er Flies to the Moon
The Earth once had 10 suns circling it. One day all 10 suns appeared at once, scorching the planet with their heat. A skillful archer named Hou Yi saved the Earth. He shot down all but one of the suns.As his reward, the Heavenly Queen Mother gave Hou Yi the Elixir of Immortality, but she warned him that he must use it wisely. Hou Yi ignored her advice. Corrupted by fame and fortune, he became a tyrannical leader. Chang-Er, his beautiful wife, could no longer stand by and watch him abuse his power so she stole his Elixir and fled to the moon to escape his angry wrath. Thus began the legend of the beautiful woman in the moon, the Moon Fairy.
Jingwei Determines to Fill up the Sea
On Fajiu Hill grew a lot of mulberry trees. Among them lived a bird which looked like a crow, but had a colourful head, a white bill and two red claws. Its call sounded like its name: Jingwei.
The bird was said to be Emperor Yandi’s youngest daughter, who, while playing on the East Sea, had been drowned and never returned. She had turned into Jingwei, and the bird would often carry bits of twigs and stones all the way from the west mountains to the East Sea to fill it up.
It is so hard for a little bird to fill the sea up in such a way! But it is still commendable for its determination and tenacity.
Cowherd and Weaving Girl
Long ago, there was a boy, clever, diligent and honest. Orphaned at an early age, he was very poor. However, he adopted an abandoned old buffalo, which proved to be very loyal and relieved him a lot from the hard labor in the fields. The two enjoyed a very good relationship, being seen together all the time. Villagers from far and near came to know him by the name of the Cowherd.
At the same time, the youngest of the seven celestial princesses had grown tired of the privileged but secluded life in the heavenly palace. She longed for a mundane life she often saw down beneath her. That was a very pervert idea to cherish in heaven. Yet, determined to pursue what she deemed to be her own happiness, she sneaked out and descended onto the earth and to the sudden happiness of the Cowherd with whom she had secretly fallen in love all along in heaven.
They married and had a lovely boy and a girl. While the Cowherd worked in the fields with his old pal the buffalo, the heavenly princess weaved at home to help support the family. Villagers all admired her excellent weaving skill and started learning from her. She was now well-known as the Weaving Girl.
The family lived moderately but peacefully and happily until the girl’s celestial royal family found her missing and traced her to the village. By the way, it is popularly believed that a day in heaven accounts for years on the earth. The years she had spent with the Cowherd was but a day or so by the celestial calendar.
The Celestial Empress was in such a wrath that she gave her daughter only two choices: to go back home or see her husband and children destroyed. She had but to leave.
The old buffalo suddenly began to speak to the bereaved and now astonished young man, saying that he was dying in no time and asking him to use his hide as a vehicle to catch up with his wife. And off he sailed to heaven taking his young son and daughter in two baskets carried by a shoulder pole.
Fearing that the young man would catch up, the empress took out her hair spin and drew a big river across the sky, known to the Chinese as the Silvery River (the Milky Way in the West). She wanted to separate the family forever.
However, all the magpies in the world, deeply touched by the story, came to their rescue. Each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, they would flock together to form a bridge so that the family may enjoy a brief reunion.
Pangu Separates the Sky from the Earth
The sky and the earth were at first one blurred entity like an egg. Pangu was born into it. The separation of the sky and the earth took eighteen thousand years-the yang which was light and pure rose to become the sky, and the yin which was heavy and murky sank to form the earth. Between them was Pangu, who went through nine changes every day, his wisdom greater than that of the sky and his ability greater than that of the earth. Every day the sky rose ten feet higher, the earth became ten feet thicker, and Pangu grew ten feet taller. Another eighteen thousand years passed, and there was an extremely high sky, an extremely thick earth, and an extremely tall Pangu. After Pangu died, his head turned into the Five Sacred Mountains (Mount Tai, Mount Heng, Mount Hua, Mount Heng, Mount Song), his eyes turned into the moon and the sun, his blood changed into water in river and sea, his hair into grass. In all, the universe and Pangu combine in one.
Dong Yong’s Wife
In the Han Dynasty in Qiancheng lived a man by the name of Dong Yong. His mother died when he was a child. While living with his father, he worked hard in the fields. Each time they went out, he would put his old father on a small cart and follow it on foot. When his father died, he was willing to sell himself into slavery for a little money for the funeral. Knowing that he was a virtuous man, his master gave him ten thousand coins and allowed him to go home.
Dong was in mourning for three years. When it was over, he decided to return to his master to work as a slave. On his way he met a woman who said to him, “I am willing to marry you.” So they went together to his master. “I have given you money,” the master said to him. “Thanks to your generous help,” Dong said, “I was able to bury my father.
Although I am a man of low birth, I know I ought to work for you to repay your kindness.” Then the master asked, “What is your wife good at?” “She can weave,” Dong answered. “If you insist on doing something for me,” said the master. “please ask your wife to weave a hundred bolts of fine silk for me.” Dong’s wife set to work in the master’s house. Ten days later the hundred bolts were ready.
When she came out, she said to Dong, “I am a weaver in Heaven. The Emperor of Heaven ordered me to help you pay your debt because he was moved by your filial piety.” After saying these words she flew into the sky and vanished.