Folktale – Taiwan

Taiwan – Folktale

“This story is called ‘Filial Piety of Kuo Chu.’ So there’s this poor farmer couple. They have a grandma that lives with them… the farmer’s mom actually. They have three kids as well. However, they have little food… the bare necessities like rice, and the little greens picked from the ground. If lucky, meat. When they would eat, the grandmother would give food to her grandsons, leaving less food for herself. One day they started running out of food. The couple talked amongst themselves and decided that in order to save their mother they would have to kill their sons so the grandmother would have enough food for herself. The farmer said, ‘We can always have another son, but we cannot have another mother.’ As they go along to the farmland, they dig a big hole to put their sons’ bodies in. He strikes the ground two times. But when the guy strikes one more time, he hits a bunch of gold. He said that the gods were looking out for them and wanted to reward them because they were impressed at the amount of commitment and respect they had for family. So they took the gold and lived wealthily for the rest of their lives.”

On a summer visit to Taipei, Taiwan, Alex learned this story from his uncle, who read it from a children’s folktale book. His uncle actually gave Alex the book for his sixth birthday after telling him some stories from it. Alex described this folktale as a moral story about family that follows the Chinese belief of family being everything. He explained, “Without it, you’re nothing. It’s what you cherish and appreciate. You should always put family first.” Being born in Santa Barbara, California, Alex did not have the opportunity to visit Taiwan as often as he would like to. Thus, he cherishes each and every story he hears from his family members, especially the ones he learned during his trips to Taiwan, like the one shown above. Most of his family members reside in Taiwan, and he expresses regret for not being able to visit more often. He wishes he could have bonded with his family members more when he was younger because, back then, he didn’t have to worry about academics and other factors relating to young adulthood. This story made him realize how important his family is to him, and made him appreciate his family members and culture a whole lot more.

I agree that this particular tale emphasizes the importance of family in the Chinese culture. It illustrates the self-sacrificial love that each member of the family has for one another, for each character in the tale reflected this altruistic love in some way. The grandmother was selfless enough to give up a large portion of her food to feed her children. The farmer and his wife loved the grandmother enough to give up their own children for her sake. The story did not mention the sons being rebellious or angry about their parents’ decision. Finally, the gods recognized this love and rewarded them for their pure motives.

On a side note, what is particularly fascinating to me is the repetition of the number three in this story. The farmer had three sons, and he dug a hole in the ground three times. Just as in American culture, “3” seems to be a number that is often used in Chinese culture. The concept of the number three being quite common is delineated in the chapter “The Number Three in American Culture,” from the book Every Man His Way: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. by Professor Alan Dundes of Berkeley University.[1] Although it could have been coincidence, it is still interesting to notice the similarity in conventions.

[1] Dundes, Alan, ed. Every Man His Way: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1968.