The Seven Sisters and Other Folktales from China - Various - ebook

This book contains twelve folk stories from eleven of the Chinese nationalities--Han, Hui, Mongolian, Miao, Zhuang, Hani, Dongxiang, Tu, Oroqen, Blang and Li. Written in a lively, interesting and humorous style, these stories express the Chinese people's longing for a free and happy life and their pursuit of noble ideals to bring about that better life.

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Table of Contents
Something for Nothing
The Story of a Serf
The Seven Sisters
How Panpipes Came to Be Played
How Aisu Found the Happy Land
The Suit of White Feathers
“Black Horse” — The Third Brother Zhang
The Wooing of Pumei
The Heavenly Flute Player



(A Han Story)

Once upon a time, in a village at the foot of a mountain there lived a man and his wife. They longed for a child, and used to say: “How happy we should be if we only had a child, even if he were as tiny as a date-stone.” Not long afterwards, so the story says, the wife gave birth to a son, who was really no bigger than a date-stone. Otherwise, there would be no story. The couple were very happy and named him Date-Stone.

One year, two years, and a few more years passed but the child had not grown a bit. One day the father said: “Date-Stone! I’ve been happy without reason. What is the good of trying to raise a child like you?” His mother also said: “My dear, you haven’t grown, not even a little bit. I’m worried about you too!” Date-Stone answered: “There’s no need to worry, Father and Mother. Don’t judge me by my size. I’ll do as much as anyone else.”

Date-Stone was very painstaking and worked every day. His small body was very strong and healthy and he learned to do many kinds of jobs. He knew how to drive a donkey and to plough. He would collect more firewood than anyone else, because he was able to leap as high as the roof and climb to heights which frightened others. The neighbours all praised him and often scolded their own children, saying: “Small as Date-Stone is, he works well and none of you are a match for him. Aren’t you ashamed?” And so Date-Stone’s mother and father began to feel happier.

Date-Stone was not only hard working but also clever. One year there was a severe drought and not a single grain of rice was harvested throughout the whole village. Although there was no food for the villagers the officials from the city came as usual to collect the tax, which was supposed to be paid in kind.

But because the villagers were unable to pay the magistrate gave orders that their oxen and donkeys be confiscated.

Without draught animals it would be impossible for the peasants to till their land the following spring. They were all very worried. But Date-Stone said to them “Don’t worry. I have a plan!” Some villagers, who had no faith in him, muttered, “Little people shouldn’t talk so big!” But Date-Stone didn’t argue with them. He merely replied, “All right. You just wait and see.”

That evening Date-Stone ran to the stable kept by the magistrate. With one jump he was over the fence. He then hid himself and waited for the guards to fall asleep. When they were asleep he untied one of the donkeys, and leaping into its ear, he shouted.

The noise awoke the guards and they yelled with fright: “Donkey thief! Donkey thief!” They quickly took up their swords and spears and began to search everywhere. They searched and searched but they couldn’t find any thief. But no sooner had they gone back to bed than the shouting was repeated. Again they jumped up, searched around and failed to find the thief. This went on and on until after midnight and the guards were quite exhausted. The captain of the guards said, “Something strange is going on. Don’t let’s pay any attention to it. Let’s go to sleep.” They lay down again and being very tired, soon fell into a sound sleep. Then, Date-Stone leaped down from the donkey’s ear, opened the door and led every one of the animals back to the village.

The animals had been taken away, but the magistrate wasn’t going to give them up that readily. So at daybreak he went with the guards to the village to arrest the peasants. When the villagers were assembled Date-Stone sprang in front of them and said, “I led the animals back. What are you going to do about it?”

The magistrate yelled, “Tie him up! Tie him up!”

The guards then got out some chains and tried to tie Date-Stone up. But he was so small he was able to jump right through the links of the chain and there he stood, laughing at them.

The guards ran round and round in circles, not knowing what to do. But the magistrate was a man of ideas. He said, “Put Date-Stone in a money bag and carry him back to headquarters.”

When the magistrate had seated himself comfortably in the hall, he pounded the desk with his fist and shouted: “Thrash him hard!”

Date-Stone leaped here and leaped there, and although the guards tried to thrash him, they couldn’t, for he was far too nimble. Burning with rage the magistrate yelled, “Get more guards and more sticks!”

Hearing this order Date-Stone stopped jumping about. With one leap he landed on the magistrate’s beard. Then grasping it firmly, he swung to and fro, holding on tightly all the while. Yelling with pain, the magistrate shouted “Knock him off! Knock him off!” The guards rushed in and struck blows that missed Date-Stone but landed on the magistrate, knocking out all his teeth. Everyone in the hall was frightened and rushed to the aid of the magistrate. Date-Stone strolled merrily away.

Something for Nothing


(A Hui Story)

Twenty years ago, in our village, which was a Moslem one, there lived a wealthy merchant family. They owned many mu* of land and a large number of pack horses. The head of the family, who was generally known as Old Money Bag, had several wives, but only one of them had borne him a son. Now, as you know, the only son in a rich family is as precious as a gem.

*A mu is equivalent to 0.0666 hectare or 0.1647 acre.

The saying, “like father, like son!” was true in this case. And as the boy grew up, he proved to have the same ways as his father. He spent his days smoking, gambling, feasting and drinking.

Old Money Bag had a caravan of more than a hundred pack animals and he hired more than thirty drivers to take charge of them. After each journey the courtyard was filled with silver, foodstuffs and all kinds of goods that they had brought back. The caravan men talked gleefully about the good times they had had in this town or that county. Their descriptions of the delicious fruits alone caused the young son’s mouth to water. The caravan always returned with a variety of fruits, but they had lost their freshness on the long journey.

One day Young Money Bag again lost while gambling and when he returned home he had a talk with his father saying, “Father, I want to go out into the world to seek my fortune and enjoy life.”

Old Money Bag was very pleased with the boy’s decision. “Very well,” he said. “If you go on these trips, these filthy drivers will have less chance to swindle us behind our backs. With you with them, they won’t dare to cheat me any more.” Thoughts about the drivers made him very angry and he cursed them saying, “I’ve taken care of them all their lives, but they tell people everywhere that I’ve become wealthy at their expense. Phew! They are all ungrateful dogs!” Regaining his breath he said: “Afu, you must learn wisdom, for when I’m gone the family fortune will be in your hands.”

When the caravan next returned, Old Money Bag called all his drivers before him and after greeting them he announced: “From now on Afu will go with the caravan and all business will be handled by him. Your work will be just to attend to the horses. Afu’s wishes must be obeyed without question.” The drivers uttered not a word.

The next day many horses were loaded with bolts of cloth, women’s ornaments, salt and other things for barter and sale. An Iman was asked to come in and read a passage from the scriptures, and the neighbours and relatives were invited to a feast. Then the caravan started out.

For the poor a journey is a miserable experience, but it brings pleasure to the rich. Afu was helped on and off his horse and received the best of care wherever he rested for a while or stopped for the night. For him, the trip was complete enjoyment.

Although it was Afu’s first time away from home, he thought he knew everything there was to know about trading. To him it was just the same as gambling where it was only necessary to be cunning. If he was clever enough to pick up the right things, he’d certainly get a lot of things for almost nothing and make a big fortune. He believed that any transaction which he handled himself was sure to be conducted with much more skill than by any driver, however experienced.

The caravan proceeded on its way, until one afternoon it arrived at a town. It was small but bustling with activity. After he had settled himself into an inn, Afu ordered two of the drivers to accompany him on a tour of the town. They found a Moslem eating-house and had a good meal. Then they went for a stroll to see the sights. They followed a crowd until they came to a street where many people were gathered in front of a small shop. Afu, anxious to find out what attracted them, elbowed his way through the crowd and saw a man making delicate marks on paper with a small brush. The man first dabbed the brush in some black ink and then made many small strokes on the paper. Someone in the crowd gave the man a handful of silver coins in exchange for this piece of paper with the delicate markings.

“What is he doing?” Afu asked the drivers.

“He is writing! His brush has brought him much fame.”

“Can he make a lot of money by doing this?” he inquired.

“Of course he can. With that brush of his, in one day alone he makes a pile of silver.”

“Wonderful! What a marvellous way to make so much money. I’ll take several dozen of those brushes back with me.” After considering the matter carefully Afu called one of his drivers and said, “Go and ask him how many brushes he has. I’ll buy them all.”

The driver did not dare to question his young master’s wisdom so he went over to ask about the brushes. At first the calligrapher wasn’t willing to sell. But after much persuasion he agreed to part with two of his brushes in exchange for the goods in twenty horse-packs.

That same evening Afu gave the writer the goods carried by twenty pack-horses and took the two brushes, putting them into his pocket.

“Ha, ha,” laughed Afu. “Now money will flow in whenever I wish. And all I gave was twenty horse-packs of goods for these magic brushes.” He felt extremely happy.

The caravan proceeded on its way uneventfully until at noon one day it stopped for the midday meal and rest. Not far from the road a peasant was working diligently in his field, undeterred by the weather, regardless of wind or sun.

“What have you got there?” asked Afu curiously.

“You mean this thing in my hand? It’s a hoe. I depend entirely on this wonderful tool to dig gold and silver, and to feed and clothe myself,” replied the peasant.

“Oh, how wonderful. Gold, silver, clothes... anything you want. How many of those tools have you got?”

“How many? One is enough to provide for a man for life. Why should I have more than one?”

“This will certainly make me very rich,” thought Afu. “Sell it to me,” he said to the peasant. Then, pointing to the pack-horses beside the road, Afu tried to persuade him, “See how many pack-horses I have. Take the goods from as many of them as you like.”

Then the peasant, who only asked for thirty packs, gave Afu the hoe in exchange.

“Ha, ha, I can have anything I dream about, and I only traded thirty packs for it!” gloated Afu to himself.

He and his men rode on until they came to a big county town. Seeing how busy it was, Afu told his drivers that they would stay there for a whole day.

On this occasion, as before, Afu took two of the drivers with him to look around. When they arrived at some crossroads they saw a crowd. Afu squeezed his way to the centre, where he saw a man showing everyone a small wooden box which he held up so that everyone could see it. “What is he doing?” Afu asked the drivers. “He’s a conjurer,” they replied.

Afu watched attentively, as with a few quick movements, the man turned the box around to show his audience that it was empty. Then he covered it with his handkerchief, chanted some strange words and called out: “Come, come, come!” Slowly he removed the handkerchief, and from the same box he took rice, dishes, money, sweets... and Goodness knows what else!

Afu thought, without doubt this is better than all the other things I’ve bought. “Hey,” he called to the drivers. “Offer him all the rest of our goods for the box.”

“Young Master, can’t you see it’s only a trick?” they asked in amazement.

“Don’t dare to question what I do. Just do as I say,” scolded Afu.

“Ha, ha,” he laughed. “Food, wine... whenever I want it. And all for only forty packs. I’ll make a bigger fortune than my father!”

Now Afu had only his horses left. On his return to the inn he thought of a cunning thing to do. So many drivers and horses with nothing for them to carry; to put them up at the inn would cost a great deal of money. The thing to do was to send them home! He distributed the horses among the drivers and told them to return home. Not “daring” to “disobey him”, they smiled at each other and departed.

Afu thought: “Stupid fools! They’ll have to pay out of their own pockets for their horses’ keep and their own. Yet they went off so cheerfully! Ha, ha!”

Afu laughed happily and thought: “How smoothly the trading went this time! With all these treasures I’ll make my fortune.”

Afu had kept only one horse for himself. After enjoying himself for two more days in the town, on the third morning, he started the return journey happy in the possession of two magic brushes, a magic hoe and a magic box.

Afu was a good rider, but he did not like to attend to a horse’s needs. He rode hard and unsparingly, until one day the horse dropped dead. Afu scrambled to his feet and whipped the poor animal viciously, but it did not move. “If you don’t get up I’ll leave you!” he threatened. Finally he was forced to continue on foot, carrying the magic things.

Walking was not easy, and the end of the first day he had only covered a short distance. His feet were blistered and his legs ached. He walked all the next day and spent the last of his money on food and water. The following day, about noon, his feet and legs were hurting him so much that he could go no further. He sat at the side of the road to rest. Then he suddenly thought, the time has come to use my magic things!

First he took out the magic box, turned it around a few times, covered it with his handkerchief and then chanted:


Magic box, magic box, listen to me,

Fish and meat, I wish to eat.

One, two, three!

He slowly removed the handkerchief. Bah! The box was empty! He examined it carefully but it really was empty. Afu was now very angry. He raised his whip and slashed at the box until it was smashed to pieces. “Never mind,” he comforted himself. “If one thing fails I still have others. The magic box was a fraud but the hoe is genuine.” He picked up the hoe and scratching the ground three times he chanted:


Magic hoe, magic hoe, listen to me,