Strange stories from a Chinese studio/Planting a Pear-tree

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Strange stories from a Chinese studio
by Pu Songling, translated by Herbert Allen Giles
Planting a Pear-tree
3316190Strange stories from a Chinese studio — Planting a Pear-treeHerbert Allen GilesPu Songling


A COUNTRYMAN was one day selling his pears in the market. They were unusually sweet and fine flavoured, and the price he asked was high. A Taoist[1] priest in rags and tatters stopped at the barrow and begged one of them. The countryman told him to go away, but as he did not do so he began to curse and swear at him. The priest said, "You have several hundred pears on your barrow; I ask for a single one, the loss of which, Sir, you would not feel. Why then get angry?" The lookers-on told the countryman to give him an inferior one and let him go, but this he obstinately refused to do. Thereupon the beadle of the place, finding the commotion too great, purchased a pear and handed it to the priest. The latter received it with a bow and turning to the crowd said, "We who have left our homes and given up all that is dear to us[2] are at a loss to understand selfish niggardly conduct in others. Now I have some exquisite pears which I shall do myself the honour to put before you." Here somebody asked, "Since you have pears yourself, why don't you eat those?" "Because," replied the priest, "I wanted one of these pips to grow them from." So saying he munched up the pear; and when he had finished took a pip in his hand, unstrapped a pick from his back, and proceeded to make a hole in the ground, several inches deep, wherein he deposited the pip, filling in the earth as before. He then asked the bystanders for a little hot water to water it with, and one among them who loved a joke fetched him some boiling water from a neighbouring shop. The priest poured this over the place where he had made the hole, and every eye was fixed upon him when sprouts were seen shooting up, and gradually growing larger and larger. By-and-by, there was a tree with branches sparsely covered with leaves; then flowers, and last of all fine, large, sweet-smelling pears hanging in great profusion. These the priest picked and handed round to the assembled crowd until all were gone, when he took his pick and hacked away for a long time at the tree, finally cutting it down. This he shouldered, leaves and all, and sauntered quietly away. Now, from the very beginning, our friend the countryman had been amongst the crowd, straining his neck to see what was going on, and forgetting all about his business. At the departure of the priest he turned round and discovered that every one of his pears was gone. He then knew that those the old fellow had been giving away so freely were really his own pears. Looking more closely at the barrow, he also found that one of the handles was missing, evidently having been newly cut off. Boiling with rage, he set out in pursuit of the priest, and just as he turned the comer he saw the lost barrow-handle lying under the wall, being in fact the very pear-tree the priest had cut down. But there were no traces of the priest — much to the amusement of the crowd in the market-place.

  1. That is, of the religion of Tao, a system of philosophy founded some six centuries before the Christian era by a man named Lao-tzŭ, "Old boy," who was said to have been born with white hair and a beard. It is now but a shadow of its former self, and is corrupted by the grossest forms of superstition borrowed from Buddhism, which has in its turn adopted many of the forms and beliefs of Taoism, so that the two religions are hardly distinguishable one from the other.

    "What seemed to me the most singular circumstance connected with the matter, was the presence of half a dozen Taoist priests, who joined in all the ceremonies, doing everything that the Buddhist priests did, and presenting a very odd appearance, with their top-knots and cues, among their closely shaven Buddhist brethren. It seemed strange that the worship of Sakyamuni by celibate Buddhist priests, with shaved heads, into which holes were duly burned at their initiation, should be participated in by married Taoist priests, whose heads are not wholly shaven, and have never been burned." — Initiation of Buddhist Priests at Kooshan, by S. L. B.

    Taoist priests are credited with a knowledge of alchemy and the black art in general.
  2. A celibate priesthood belongs properly to Buddhism, and is not a doctrine of the Taoist church.