Skip to main content

Ta-nan in search of his father

HSI CH'ENG-LIEH was a Ch'eng-tu man. He had a wife and a concubine, the latter named Ho Chao-jung. His wife dying, he took a second by name Shen, who bullied the concubine dreadfully, and by her constant wrangling made his life perfectly unbearable, so that one day in a fit of anger he ran away and left them. Shortly afterwards Ho gave birth to a son, and called him Ta-nan; but as Hsi did not return, the wife Shen turned them out of the house, making them a daily allowance of food. By degrees Ta-nan became a big boy; and his mother, not daring to ask for an increase of victuals, was obliged to earn a little money by spinning. Meanwhile, Ta-nan, seeing all his companions go to school and learn to read, told his mother he should like to go too; and accordingly, as he was still very young, she sent him for a few days' probation. He turned out to be so clever that he soon beat the other boys; at which the master of the school was much pleased, and offered to teach him for nothing. His mother, therefore, sent him regularly, making what trifling presents she could to the master; and by the end of two or three years he had a first-rate knowledge of the Sacred Books. 2 One day he came home and asked his mother, saying, "All the fellows at our school get money from their fathers to buy cakes. Why don't I?" "Wait till you are grown up," replied his mother, "and I will explain it to you." "Why, mother," cried he, "I'm only seven or eight years old. What a time it will be before I'm grown up." "Whenever you pass the temple of the God of War on your way to school," said his mother, "you should go in and pray awhile; that would make you grow faster." Ta-nan believed she was serious; and every day, going and coming, he went in and worshipped at that temple. When his mother found this out, she asked him how soon he was praying to be grown up; to which he replied that he only prayed that by the following year he might be as big as if he were fifteen or sixteen years old. His mother laughed; but Ta-nan went on, increasing in wisdom and stature alike, until by the time he was ten, he looked quite thirteen or fourteen, and his master was no longer able to correct his essays. Then he said to his mother, "You promised me that when I grew up you would tell me where my father is. Tell me now." "By-and-by, by-and-by," replied his mother; so he waited another year, and then pressed her so eagerly to tell him that she could no longer refuse, and related to him the whole story. He heard her recital with tears and lamentations, and expressed a wish to go in search of his father; but his mother objected that he was too young, and also that no one knew where his father was. Ta-nan said nothing; however, in the middle of the day he did not come home as usual, and his mother at once sent off to the school, where she found he had not shewn himself since breakfast. In great alarm, and thinking that he had been playing truant, she paid some people to go and hunt for him everywhere, but was unable to obtain the slightest clue to his whereabouts. As to Ta-nan himself, when he left the house he followed the road without knowing whither he was going, until at length he met a man who was on his way to K'uei-chou, and said his name was Ch'ien. Ta-nan begged of him something to eat, and went along with him; Mr. Ch'ien even procuring an animal for him to ride because he walked too slowly. The expenses of the journey were all defrayed by Ch'ien; and when they arrived at K'uei-chou they dined together, Ch'ien secretly putting some drug in Ta-nan's food which soon reduced him to a state of unconsciousness. Ch'ien then carried him off to a temple, and, pretending that Ta-nan was his son, offered him to the priests on the plea that he had no money to continue his journey. The priests, seeing what a nice-looking boy he was, were only too ready to buy him; and when Ch'ien had got his money he went away. They then gave Ta-nan a draught which brought him round; but as soon as the abbot heard of the affair and saw Ta-nan himself, he would not allow them to keep him, sending him away with a purse of money in his pocket. Ta-nan next met a gentleman named Chiang, from Lu-chou, who was returning home after having failed at the examination; and this Mr. Chiang was so pleased with the story of his filial piety that he took him to his own home at Lu-chou. There he remained for a month and more, asking everybody he saw for news of his father, until one day he was told that there was a man named Hsi among the Fokien traders. So he bade good-by to Mr. Chiang, and set off for Fokien, his patron providing him with clothes and shoes, and the people of the place making up a subscription for him. On the road he met two traders in cotton cloth who were going to Fu-ch'ing, and he joined their party; but they had not travelled many stages before these men found out that he had money, and taking him to a lonely spot, bound him hand and foot and made off with all he had. Before long a Mr. Ch'en, of Yung-fu, happened to pass by, and at once unbound him, and giving him a seat in one of his own vehicles, carried him off home. This Mr. Ch'en was a wealthy man, and in his house Ta-nan had opportunities of meeting with traders from all quarters. He therefore begged them to aid him by making inquiries about his father, himself remaining as a fellow student with Mr. Ch'en's sons, and roaming the country no more, neither hearing any news of his former and now distant home.

Meanwhile, his mother, Ho, had lived alone for three or four years, until the wife, Shen, wishing to reduce the expenses, tried to persuade her to find another husband. As Ho was now supporting herself, she steadfastly refused to do this; and then Shen sold her to a Chung-ch'ing trader, who took her away with him. However, she so frightened this man by hacking herself about with a knife, that when the wounds were healed he was only too happy to get rid of her to a trader from Yen-t'ing, who in his turn, after Ho had nearly disembowelled herself, readily listened to her repeated cries that she wished to become a nun. However, he persuaded her to hire herself out as housekeeper to a friend of his, as a means of reimbursing himself for his outlay in purchasing her; but no sooner had she set eyes on the gentleman in question than she found it was her own husband. For Hsi had given up the career of a scholar, and gone into business; and as he had no wife, he was consequently in want of a housekeeper. They were very glad to see each other again; and on relating their several adventures, Hsi knew for the first time that he had a son who had gone forth in search of his father. Hsi then asked all the traders and commercial travellers to keep a look out for Ta-nan, at the same time raising Ho from the status of concubine to that of wife. In consequence, however, of the many hardships Ho had gone through, her health was anything but good, and she was unable to do the work of the house; so she advised her husband to buy a concubine. This he was most unwilling to do, remembering too well the former squabbling he had to endure; but ultimately he yielded, asked a friend to buy for him an oldish woman at any rate more than thirty years of age. A few months afterwards his friend arrived, bringing with him a person of about that age; and on looking closely at her, Hsi saw that she was no other than his own wife Shen!

Now this lady had lived by herself for a year and more when her brother Pao advised her to marry again, which she accordingly agreed to do. She was prevented, how-ever, by the younger branches of the family from selling the landed property; but she disposed of everything else, and the proceeds passed into her brother's hands. About that time a Pao-ning trader, hearing that she had plenty of money, bribed her brother to marry her to himself; and afterwards, finding that she was a disagree-able woman, took possession of everything she had, and advertised her for sale. No one caring to buy a woman of her age, and her master being on the eve of starting for K'uei-chou, took her with him, finally getting rid of her to Hsi, who was in the same line of business as himself. When she stood before her former husband, she was overwhelmed with shame and fear, and had not a word to say; but Hsi gathered an outline of what had happened from the trader, and then said to her, "Your second marriage with this Pao-ning gentleman was doubtless contracted after you had given up all hope of seeing me again. It doesn't matter in the least, as now I am not in search of a wife but only of a concubine. So you had better begin by paying your respects to your mistress here, my wife Ho Chao-jung." Shen was ashamed to do this: but Hsi reminded her of the time when she had been in the wife's place, and in spite of all Ho's intercession insisted that she should do so, stimulating her to obedience by the smart application of a stick. Shen was therefore compelled to yield, but at the same time she never tried to gain Ho's favour, and kept away from her as much as possible. Ho, on the other hand, treated her with great consideration, and never took her to task on the performance of her duties; whilst Hsi himself, whenever he had a dinner-party, made her wait at table, though Ho often entreated him to hire a maid.

Now the magistrate at Yen-t'ing was named Ch'en Tsung-ssu, and once when Hsi had some trifling difficulty with one of the neighbours he was further accused to this official of having forced his wife to assume the position of concubine. The magistrate, however, refused to take up the case, to the great satisfaction of Hsi and his wife, who lauded him to the skies as a virtuous mandarin. A few nights after, at rather a late hour, the servant knocked at the door, and called out, "The magistrate has come!" Hsi jumped up in a hurry, and began looking for his clothes and shoes; but the magistrate was already in the bedroom without either of them understanding what it all meant: when suddenly Ho, examining him closely, cried out, "It is my son!" She then burst into tears, and the magistrate, throwing himself on the ground, wept with his mother. It seemed he had taken the name of the gentleman with whom he had lived, and had since entered upon an official career. That on his way to the capital he had made a detour and visited his old home, where he heard to his infinite sorrow that both his mothers had married again; and that his relatives, finding him already a man of position, had restored to him the family property, of which he had left some one in charge in the hope that his father might return. That then he had been appointed to Yen-t'ing, but had wished to throw up the post and travel in search of his father, from which design he had been dissuaded by Mr. Ch'en. Also that he had met a fortune-teller from whom he had obtained the following response to his inquiries: "The lesser is the greater; the younger is the elder. Seeking the cock, you find the hen; seeking one, you get two. Your official life will be successful." Ch'en then took up his appointment, but not finding his father he confined himself entirely to a vegetable diet, and gave up the use of wine. The above-mentioned case had subsequently come under his notice, and seeing the name Hsi, he quietly sent his private servant to find out, and thus discovered that this Hsi was his father. At night-fall he set off himself, and when he saw his mother he knew that the fortune-teller had told him true. Bidding them all say nothing to anybody about what had occured, he provided money for the journey, and sent them back home. On arriving there, they found the place newly painted, and with their increased retinue of servants and horses, they were quite a wealthy family. As to Shen when she found what a great man Ta-nan had become, she put still more restraint upon herself; but her brother Pao brought an action for the purpose of reinstating her as wife. The presiding official happened to be a man of probity, and delivered the following judgment: "Greedy of gain you urged your sister to re-marry. After she had driven Hsi away, she took two fresh husbands. How have you the face to talk about reinstating her as wife?" He thereupon ordered Pao to be severely bambooed, and from this time there was no longer any doubt about Shen's status. She was the lesser and Ho the greater; and yet in the matter of clothes and food Ho shewed herself by no means grasping. Shen was at first afraid that Ho would pay her out, and was consequently more than ever repentant; and Hsi himself, letting by-gones be by-gones, gave orders that Shen should be called madam by all alike, though of course she was excluded from any titles that might be gained for them by Ta-nan.




Popular posts from this blog

The wonderful pear-tree

Once upon a time a countryman came into the town on market-day, and brought a load of very special pears with him to sell. He set up his barrow in a good corner, and soon had a great crowd round him ; for everyone knew he always sold extra fine pears, though he did also ask an extra high price. Now, while he was crying up his fruit, a poor, old, ragged, hungry-looking priest stopped just in front of the barrow, and very humbly begged him to give him one of the pears. But the countryman, who was very mean and very nasty-tempered, wouldn't hear of giving him any, and as the priest didn't seem inclined to move on, he began calling him all the bad names he could think of. " Good sir," said the priest, " you have got hundreds of pears on your barrow. I only ask you for one. You would never even know you had lost one. Really, you needn't get angry." "Give him a pear that is going bad ; that will make him happy," said one of the crowd. "The o

The Legend of The Three-Life Stone

The Buddhist believe metempsychosis, or the migration of the souls of animated beings, people's relationships are predestined through three states of life: the past, present, and future life. Legend has it that there's a road called Yellow Spring Road, which leads to Fogotten River. Over the river there's a bridge called Helpless Bridge (Naihe Bridge), at one end of the bridge sits a crimson stone called Three-life Stone. When two people die, they take this route to reincarnation. if they carve their name on the Three-life Stone together while they pass the stone, they are to be predestined to be together in their future life. Although before their rebirth they will be given a MengPo Soup to drink and thereby their memory of past life are obliterated. In reality, San-Sheng Shi (三生石), or Three-Life Stone is located beside Flying Mountain near the West Lake, Hangzhou. On the stone, there is seal with three Chinese characters that say "The Three-life Stone," and a de

The Fox and The Tiger

ONE day a fox encountered a tiger. The tiger showed his fangs and waved his claws and wanted to eat him up. But the fox said: 'Good sir, you must not think that you alone are the king of beasts. Your courage is no match for mine. Let us go together and you keep behind me. If the humans are not afraid of me when they see me, then you may eat me up.' The tiger agreed and so the fox led him to a big high-way. As soon as the travellers saw the tiger in the distance they were seized with fear and ran away. Then the said: 'You see? I was walking in front; they saw me before they could See you.' Then the tiger put his tail between his legs and ran away. The tiger had seen that the humans were afraid of the fox but he had not realized that the fox had merely borrowed his own terrible appearance. [This story was translated by Ewald Osers from German, published by George Bell & Sons, in the book 'Chinese Folktales'.  Osers noted that this story was