Text: “水滴石穿”. Water drops and penetrates the stone.
Once upon a time, there was an honest Mayer who caught a corrupt manager who took coins from the budget. The manager said, “It’s just a copper coin!” The Mayer said: “One coin per day, a thousand coins on the thousand days. The rope can saw the wood, and drops of water can penetrate the stone.”
Context: The informant heard this story when she was young. She did not want to do her homework because there were so many of them, and she didn’t know how to do it. Her parents used the four-character word to continue working, but she did not know the meaning of the word. Thus, her parents told her the story. Although the story did not convince her, she memorized it.
Analysis: All of the Chinese four-character words came from historical texts. Ancient history books included stories summarized into four-character words that teach a moral. This story also came from a four-character word, which means that small things build up; If people see wood with a rope every day, the wood will break; If water drops on a stone every day, the rocks will also be worn through. The idea that small things will build up and be impactful is present in many Chinese stories. Taoism has a similar saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.” This reflects Chinese people’s belief that a small effort will make a big change.
“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.