USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fable’

Governor of the Southern Tributary State – Chinese Fable

“So this ancient Chinese fable is based around Bhuddist and Daoist morals. It’s called the Governor of the Southern Tributary State. So this man Chunyu Fen was an officer in the army that was dismissed for poor conduct and over-drinking. Disgruntled by this, he basically drinks himself into oblivion and falls asleep one day under a tree where  he dreams messenger come and take him to the kingdom of Ashendon.  The king offers his daughter hand in marriage and they get married and he’s really enjoying his new life of splendor and luxury. He eventually moves to this Southern Tributary State which is really prosperous and when he got there all the people were building monuments for him and singing praises. Until one day, the kingdom was invaded and he lost his land and his wife died shortly after. So he returned to the palace and his morale is very low. There was a prophecy that the kingdom of Ashendon would end by cause of some outside person. Chenyun was getting a lot of attention when he was in the palace, so the king grew suspicious of the prophecy and told him to leave. But when Chenyun was first told to go back to his normal world, he didn’t understand that this wasn’t the normal world and had to be reminded that he came from the world of men. And on his way out he’s super disappointed and all the grim surroundings picks up from underneath the tree and he realizes only a few hours had passed. He goes to try and find the kingdom under the tree and when he looks it’s just this mound of earth with ants. When he looks at the mound of earth, everything really resembles the kingdom and the palace itself and the southern state that he governed. When he wakes up in the morning, the whole thing is washed away.”

My informant is from Beijing. She lived there all her life before moving to America for USC. She told me that in China she learned a lot of different fables in school. Fables were popular because it taught students how to read while also teaching them valuable life lessons. I think that the moral of this particular story is that power is just an illusion. It’s about living a life of balance, simplicity, and no attachments–specifically to the physical world. These lessons are taught in the form of a cautionary dream, warning the protagonist of what could be his future if he doesn’t change his perspective and attitude.

Tales /märchen

The Ungrateful Tiger

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because they are commonly told in Korean culture.

“So basically this tiger falls into this deep, deep pit. And he calls out for help and this rabbit comes, and the tiger’s like ‘Please help me! Please help me out of here!’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘No if I do, you’ll eat me.’ And the tiger’s like, ‘No no, I promise I won’t eat you!’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Are you sure? Do you promise?” and the tiger’s like, ‘Yes, I promise,’ so the rabbit agrees to help him. So he throws down this long vine and he the tiger uses it to climb back up. And when he gets back up, he’s like, ‘Ok now I’m going to eat you,’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Hey that’s not cool! You can’t do that. Let’s ask someone else their opinion,’ and the tiger’s like, ‘Fine, let’s ask someone else what they think.’ So this other animal–I forget what kind of animal it is–but some other animal comes along and is like, ‘Woah what’s going on here?’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘This tiger’s trying to eat me!’ and tries to explain what happened. And then, the rabbit’s like, ‘I know, I’ll just show you what happened. Tiger, can you show us what happened?’ And the tiger’s like ‘Yeah sure.’ and he jumps in the pit, and then they leave.”

I find this piece to be quite funny, but what I find interesting about it is the lesson to not be cruel or too foolish, as it will cause problems in one’s life, just like what happened to the tiger.


Panchatantra = Indian comic book

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

Tales /märchen

The Man and the Snake

I had asked my friend if he had any stories or tales from his childhood that his family would tell. He comes from an area of Kansas City, Missouri that is traditionally an African-American community, and he told me a tale, a fable, that his mother used to tell him when he was growing up.

This is a story that my mother reiterated to me many times during her lifetime and when I was a child. There was a man in Africa, walking up a mountain. Halfway up the mountain, it starts to get cold, even though it is hot at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway up the mountain it is kind of frigid. Halfway up the mountain, this man happens upon…a very sickly snake. And the snake is sitting there in this cold climate and its basically freezing and it looks up to the man and says, “Please, sir, please, will you carry me down the mountain?”
And the man is going down the mountain, and he looks at the snake and he says, “But you’re a snake. Not only are you a snake, but you are a very poisonous snake. If I pick you up you will surely bite me!”
And the snake says, “Silly man, now why would I do that? I – I need your help. If – if I stay here I will surely die. If you carry me past the peak of the mountain, and down to the warm foothills, I will not bite you. I will be forever grateful.”
So the man thinks about it. And being a good man, an honest man, decides to help the snake. So he picks the snake up and he walks toward the peak. And he starts to walk on toward the peak and as it gets colder, the snake gets very, very still. But finally they pass the peak and they slowly get down and the weather starts to get warmer and the snake starts to move around. And as they go down the mountain, all of a sudden the frost clears, there’s green foliage and the snake is slithering happily as the man is carrying it in his arms. And finally, they are almost to the foothills and the man feels a sharp pain. Bam! The snake has bitten him. And he falls to his knees as the poison takes hold and he looks at the snake and he goes, “Snake, I’ve helped you, I’ve saved your life, and you promised me that you wouldn’t bite me.” And he goes, “Why!? Why!?”
The snake slithers off, takes a moment to pause as he decides to answer. And he looks back at the man taking his last breaths, and he says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” And he slithers off.

This tale is a fable that has a clear moral, like most fables, which is that you should not offer your help, your aid, to someone or something that you know to be dangerous. This tale is also serving as a warning to not trust the promises of a desperate man, and to be wary of those who might stab you in the back. This is the kind of tale that would be told, and is told, to children. After all, the informant’s mother would often tell this story to him when he was growing up. The fact that the informant grew up in a traditionally African-American part of the city he lived in, would suggest that this tale is African in origin.

Tales /märchen

The Frog and the Scorpion

Context: I asked my friend if he had any tales he remembered his family telling him when he was a child.


Here’s a tale that my mother used to tell me. It involves a frog and a scorpion. And one day, the frog was on his way home, and he happens upon a scorpion at the shore of a pond, well, the bank of a pond. And the scorpion says to the frog, “Mr. Frog, I’m very very tired today. I’m very tired. Perhaps, if it’s not too much trouble, you could ferry me across the lake.”

And the frog looks at him, and goes, “Mr. Scorpion, I would love to help you out, but you’re a scorpion, and I’m a frog, and surely, by the time I get to the middle of the lake, you will sting me, and I will die.”

And the scorpion looks at him and goes, “No! Mr. Frog, why would I do that? If I were to sting you in the middle of the lake, we would both surely drown! I cannot swim ,you are my boat, why would I do that?”

And the frog thinks about it, and the frog is a bit nervous, but is of a good nature, and decides to help the scorpion. So he scoots along the shore, the scorpion crawls on his back and the frog starts swimming. and then they get to the middle of the pond, and the frog begins to think, “I guess that the scorpion won’t sting me. It makes perfect sense.” And all of a sudden, when he gets to the middle, he feels a sharp pain in his back. Wham! The scorpion has stung the frog. And the frog, as he struggles, his limbs, his legs are getting heavy, and he starts to go under, and he goes, “Why Mr. Scorpion, Why did you sting me? Now we will both surely drown.”

And the scorpion goes, “I don’t know, I guess it’s just my nature.”


This tale has a couple of morals. The first of which is to always trust your instincts. If it sounds like a bad idea, then it probably is a bad idea. The second is to beware of the consequences of your promises, and of the always-present potential that the other person can back-stab you. This tale was told to the informant growing up in an African-American community, and was told to him, many times, when he was a child. This is a tale that would be used to teach young children of the dangers in promises, and in providing aid to strangers.


For another version of the tale, see The Lady Frog and the Scorpion. Phantom House. The Phantom Publisher, 2010. Print.

Tales /märchen

How The Bulbul Became King Of The Birds


“Once, there was a hornbill. He was the king of the birds, but he was mean and horrible, so they all hated him. But because he was really strong, no one could say anything to him, much less do anything about his tyranny. One day, however, the wise old owl had had enough of the hornbill’s bad attitude and cruelty, so he devised a plan to dethrone him and make the kind, gentle bulbul the queen of the birds instead. He called a meeting of all the birds except the tyrant King Hornbill, and shared his scheme – They would host a contest of strength, in which the bulbul and the hornbill would each have to stand on a branch forcefully, or peck it in some other versions, until it came crashing down. But what the hornbill wouldn’t know was that the, um, the woodpecker would have pecked away at the bulbul’s branch beforehand, weakening it already. Whoever succeeded in breaking their branch was the winner and the ruler of the the birds. And so, they carried it out, and took the proposition to the hornbill, who, being proud of his strength, arrogantly accepted the challenge without a second thought. He was unaware of the scheming that had already happened, obviously. So then the, uh, right, the bulbul and the hornbill stood on their respective branches. Before the hornbill’s horrified eyes, the bulbul’s branch came apart from the tree in less than ten seconds with a loud crack. Because he had accepted the challenge already, there was nothing he could do to go back on his word. So, disgraced and defeated, he left. And that’s how the awesome bulbul became the queen of birds.”


The informant related the context of his story to me: “It was actually pretty cool – I’d read both the versions of the story, one, as you know, in Amar Chitra Katha comics, and the other in a book of Indian folktales and legends. But I liked the one with the standing more than the one with the pecking, because it seemed more embarrassing for the hornbill, and so that’s the one I decided to tell you.”


This tale has the makings of a classic fable. Not only are there talking animals, but there is also a theme that is explored and built up to at the end of the story, which is demonstrated throughout the events that occur during the story. When examined closely, it reveals a moral of the triumph over adversity – adversity in this case being the tyrannical hornbill – employing cleverness and strength in numbers. The bulbul, the owl, and the woodpecker, all relatively small birds when compared to the large and imposing hornbill, team up together to take down their cruel king and succeed in doing so through devising a smart plan, proving that might isn’t always right, and brain is stronger than brawn.
*Citation: Kadam, Dilip. Amar Chitra Katha Special Edition – Panchatantra Tales. Mumbai: ACK Media, n.d. Comic Book.

Tales /märchen

The Dog and the Shadow

“A dog had a piece of meat that he was carrying to his home in his mouth to eat it. There was a river that he saw on his way home with a plank laying across it. He had to cross this plan in order to reach the other side. As the dog was crossing, he saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath him. The dog thought his own shadow was another dog holding another piece of meat. He wanted this piece of meat too, and decided to have it to eat along with his. So he snapped at the shadow in the water, which caused him to open his mouth and drop the piece of meat in it into the water. It fell inside and traveled away and was never seen again.”

My informant told me that a neighbor had passed on this story to him. His neighbor had a book containing Aeseop’s fables, and read this one in particular to him. Although this particular fable could be interpreted in many different ways, for him it always reminded him to be humble and to count his blessings. It meant to enjoy what he already has rather than trying to reach unattainable things. Of course striving for success is still good, but to be grounded in what he has, such as his family and friends and religion. The fables were straightforward but gave him a lot to consider, and were a great morale compass in his childhood.

I had never heard of these fables before, and found it to be very interesting and informative. It also reminds me to be content with what I have and not foolishly grasp for what is not real. In this world where success and promotions are so highly sought after, reminders like these are necessary, to be content with what you have. Or else, even if you achieve that next level, you will still not experience satisfaction.


James, Thomas. Aesop’s Fables: A New Version, Chiefly from Original Sources. London: J. Murray, 1848. Print.