An argosy of fables/Chinese fables

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An argosy of fables
Book 2—Oriental fables
Part 3—Chinese fables




NCE on the bank of the River Yi a Mussel was basking in the sunshine. All at once a Bittern, happening to pass by, discovered the Mussel and pecked at it. The Mussel snapped its shell together and nipped the bird's beak; but no matter how tightly the Mussel nipped, the bird would not withdraw his beak. Presently the Bittern said:

"If you don't open your shell to-day, if you don't open your shell to-morrow, there will be a dead Mussel."

The shell-fish said in reply:

"If you don't take your beak out to-day, if you don't take your beak out to-morrow, there will be a dead Bittern."

But as neither could make up its mind to loose its hold upon the other, a fisherman, who happened to come that way, seized the pair of them and carried them off for his dinner.

(Translated from the Chinese by C. Arendt. China Review Vol. 12, p. 62.)


ONCE upon a time the Tiger was in the habit of chasing all the beasts of the forests and devouring them. Among others he one day caught a fox, and prepared to dine on him. But the Fox said:

"You must not eat me. For the Lord of Heaven has appointed me King of the animals. Therefore if you eat me you are breaking the commands of the Lord of Heaven. And if you don't believe me I will prove the truth of what I say. Let me walk in front while you follow in my footsteps. You will soon see that all the other animals make haste to get out of my way the moment they catch sight of me."

The Tiger agreed to this plan; and as they went together through the forest, with the Fox leading the way and the Tiger following, all the other animals hurriedly slunk away at the sight of them. But the foolish Tiger, not knowing that it was fear of himself that made them flee, imagined that they fled through fear of the Fox.

(Translated from the Chinese of Chiang-Yi by C. Arendi. China Review. Vol. 12. p. 322.


ONCE upon a time a certain young Prince was walking in the garden behind the royal palace, when all at once he heard the song of a Locust from the bough of a tall tree. On drawing near to the tree he saw the Locust singing the prolonged notes of its little song, quite happy in having found a pleasant place to rest in the morning breeze. The Locust little knew that it was in danger from a Beetle which had crawled from bough to bough, and was just then raising its body and stretching out its front claws in order to seize and eat the Locust. But while the Beetle's attention was fixed upon the Locust it little knew that it was itself in danger from a Goldfinch which, fluttering back and forth in the shade of the green leaves, was preparing to make his dinner of it. And while the attention of the Goldfinch was fixed upon the Beetle, he little knew that the Prince was standing near with cross-bow in hand, preparing to shoot


him. And while the Prince's whole attention was fixed upon the Goldfinch, he little knew that close beside him was a deep ditch, nearly full of water. The Prince slipped and fell into the water. The noise of the splash startled the Goldfinch, which swiftly flew away; while the Beetle scurried back into his hole, leaving the Locust to finish his song in peace.

Moral. There is no greater folly than to be so intent upon the advantage before your eyes that you pay no heed to the danger behind your back.

(Translated from the Chinese by C. Arendt. China Review, Vol. 13. p. 23.)


ONCE on a time there was a certain King who was so miserly that for a long time his army had no cavalry, because of the high price of horses. But at last he was persuaded to buy five hundred horses as a protection against his enemies. When he had fed these horses for some time, and his kingdom was at peace with all the world, the King said to himself: "It is costing a great deal to feed these five hundred horses. They have to be cared for all the time, and are of no use in protecting my kingdom." So he ordered the master of the royal stables to blind the eyes of the horses, and set them turning the mills, so that they would at least earn their living, and not be an expense to the kingdom.

After the horses had been for a long time used to turning the mills, all of a sudden a neighbouring King raised troops, and invaded the country. The King at once gave orders to equip the horses, and provide them with harness of war in order to provide mounts for his brave soldiers. When the hour for battle came, the soldiers whipped and spurred their horses to drive them forward against the enemy and break his ranks. But when the horses felt the whip and spur they began turning round and round in a circle, and refused to go forward. The enemy's troops quickly saw that this cavalry was good for nothing. So they marched against it and quickly crushed the King's whole army.

(Translated from the Chinese by M. S. Julien. Paris, 1859.)


ONE day the Peacock said to the Crow :

"This is Lord Tiger's wedding-day. How shall we adorn ourselves for the wedding?"

At that time the Crow was white and the Peacock yellow like a hen.

"I have an idea!" the Crow replied. "The king of Annam is having a house built. It is a wonderful house! The walls are being decorated with all the colours of the rainbow. There are dragons that are green and red, yellow and blue. The workmen have gone to eat their luncheon. We will run and get their pots of paint."

The Crow immediately put his idea into execution.

The Peacock insisted upon being painted first.

The Crow, wishing to show his ability, painted upon the Peacock's feathers moons of yellow and green, arabesques of blue and black.

The Peacock was magnificent. He went to look at himself in the water of the river, spreading out his tail to dry his feathers. But when he saw that he was so handsome he continued to spread his tail, even after his feathers were dry.

"Kwong-toh! Kwong-toh! How beautiful I am! How beautiful I am!"

Just then the Crow called to him:

"Friend, it is your turn to show your cleverness!"

But the Peacock was proud and jealous. He had no intention of decorating the crow for Lord Tiger's wedding. So he said:

"Didn't you hear the cry of that eagle? We must fly! We must hide ourselves!"

And, pretending a great haste, he ran against the pots of paint and knocked them into the river.

"I did not hear an eagle cry," said the Crow.

"Then, I must have been mistaken. Come, I will paint you."

"The paint is at the bottom of the river," the Crow said.

"But here is one pot."

"Then hurry!"

"There! You're lovely!"

The Crow went to look at himself in the water of the river—and found that he had been cruelly deceived. He wished to complain; but his voice choked in his throat, and he could only scream harshly:

"Caw! Caw!"

Ever since then crows have been black and have had a harsh voice; while Peacocks are made gorgeous with a thousand colours.

But their voice is no better for that!

Beware of false friends.

(From Contes et Légendes de l'Annam.)


TWO colonies, consisting of Crows and of Owls, lived in close proximity, and hated each other in a most neighbourly manner. As the Crows slept at night, and Owls by day, each in turn attacked the others when most defenceless, and the slaughter on both sides was great. At length a certain intelligent Crow remarked that this would never do. Some plan of exterminating their enemies must be found, if they were ever to dwell in peace. Upon being asked what plan he proposed, he told his fellow Crows to fall upon him and peck him severely, and pull out a number of his feathers, promising that if they would do this he had a plan by which to destroy the Owls.

The other Crows did as their brother asked; and in a sorry plight with torn and bedraggled plumage, he presented himself at the domicile of the Owls, complained bitterly of the treatment he had suffered from his own people. When the Owls had all flocked out to learn what was the matter, the Crow explained that he had fled to them for shelter and protection. The Owls took pity on him, and one of them made room for him in his own nest. For a while all went well, until at length the Crow's feathers had grown again. Being quite recovered, he set to work and piled large quantities of brushwood around the Owls' hole, explaining, when they asked the reason, that he was trying to repay their kindness by heaping up a barrier against the cold winds. Shortly afterwards a snow storm came on and all the Owls crowded into the nest to escape the cold. Watching


his opportunity, the Crow stole a firebrand from the fire of some neighbouring peasants, and setting fire to the brushwood, smothered all the Owls to death.

Never trust a renegade.

(Folk-lore of China. By N. B. Dennys. London, 1876.)


A WEALTHY Priest had hoarded a fine collection of Jewels, to which he was constantly adding, and of which he was inordinately proud. One day when he was showing them to a friend, the latter feasted his eyes upon them for some time, and presently, upon taking leave, gratefully thanked his host for the Jewels. "How is that," cried the Priest, "you must have misunderstood! I have not given the Jewels to you, why do you thank me?" "Well," rejoined his friend, "I have at least had as much pleasure from looking at the Jewels, as you can possibly have. The only difference between us that I can see is that I am free from all care, while you have the trouble of guarding them."

(Folk-lore of China. By N. D. Dennys, London, 1876.)