3 Chinese Fables to Reflect On

June 30, 2020
The three Chinese fables teach important lessons on problem solving, going with the flow, and the danger of arrogant power.

Most traditional Chinese fables date back centuries. Nevertheless, people continue to share them because they’re an excellent and didactic way to communicate values across generations. 

Nearly all Chinese fables take place in rural settings. They tend to favor country life and values such as hard work, humility, and respect. Many of them talk about kings, wise people, and commoners. In spite of how old they are, the lessons they teach are still relevant todayIn this article, we’re going to share three of them.

1. A surprising finding, the first of the Chinese fables

Once upon a time, there was a very hardworking man who lived in a village of farmers. Although he had some plots of fertile land, he also had a serious problem: he didn’t have a well. This was very problematic for him.

Every night, he had to walk more than three miles to the nearest well. He returned home very late at night, with pots filled with water. This was enough water for his basic needs and to water his plots, but it was exhausting. None of his neighbors helped him.

One day, the man was absolutely fed up with the situation. Thus, he decided to dig a well. Although the job was too difficult for just one person, he didn’t have a choiceIt took him more than a month to finish, but he did it. Now he had a well that provided fresh, cold water. A curious neighbor asked him what he was doing and the farmer responded, “I dug a well and found a man at the bottom”.

The news spread quickly through the villages. It caused so much commotion that the king himself ordered the villager to appear in court and explain what had happened. “My king,” said the farmer, “before I had a well, my arms were always tired of carrying water. Now, my arms are free to work the land. I’ve found the man I once was”.

A plant growing in the dirt.

2. The sprouts that didn’t grow

Our second Chinese fable begins in a small village. A man who was somewhat greedy lived there with his family. Although his harvests were prosperous, he was never satisfied.

One day, he sowed his fields with particular care. He hoped to harvest a special wheat seed that someone had brought in from faraway lands, as he was told that it was wheat of the highest quality. The man decided to plant this seed in all of his fields and made big plans for the future. He knew he was going to earn a lot of money from this wheat.

However, the days passed and the wheat barely sprouted. There were a few sprouts here and there, but they grew very slowly. The farmer began to despair. He was very impatient. Thus, he decided to do something. He decided to pull on all of the small plants that were growing to help them grow faster.

The next morning, the man discovered that all the little sprouts had died. The man neglected the fact that these were special seeds and needed more time to grow. He didn’t understand that everything happens in its own time and that trying to change the processes of the natural world only leads to failure.

3. The prince and the doves

The last story starts in a peaceful, happy kingdom where a noble and wise prince lived. Everyone in the kingdom loved their ruler, as he was fair and helped everyone prosper. The kingdom had a peculiar tradition. On New Year’s Day, all the farmers gifted the prince with doves.

Doves flying in the sky.

One year, around that time of year, a foreigner passed through the kingdom. He was curious about their strange ritual. The stranger watched as people from all over the kingdom gifted the prince doves. He stayed there a while because he was curious about what the prince did with his gifts. After a while, he saw the prince gather all the doves in a cage and set them freeThose present clapped and shouted blessings.

On that particular occasion, however, an old man stepped out from the crowd and respectfully asked for permission to speak. The prince listened to him carefully. The old man asked how many doves the prince had set free. The prince responded that there had been about 200.

The old man then said, “To bring you these 200 doves, the men hunted and killed 600. Why did you free those that managed to survive?” The prince understood his mistake and outlawed the ritual. The stranger set off again on his journey, carrying with him an important lesson from that prosperous and peaceful kingdom.

We hope these Chinese fables help you reflect and perhaps even question your own worldview, the things you take for granted, and who you are in the world. What lessons did you take away from these ancient fables?

  • Birrell, A. (2005). Mitos chinos (Vol. 12). Ediciones AKAL.