Background: The informant is a Chinese immigrant who immigrated to the US in adulthood. She grew up on a small island off the coast of China.
Informant: “The old man in the story is named Sai Weng…”sai” means far away, far from the city, and “weng” means sort of..just old man. Sai Weng raised horses in the countryside. He had a great horse to help till his fields, but one day it ran away. His neighbor said to him, you must have spent so much money on this wonderful horse, you must be very upset. But the farmer was not sad, he said, “Who knows whether this is a good or bad thing?
But one night the horse returned and brought many female horses with him, who would now all belong to the farmer. Everyone congratulated the farmer, but he still said, “We don’t know if it’s good or bad.”
Sai Weng had a son who loved to ride horses, and he wanted to tame the wild horses. One day while trying to ride a wild horse he broke his leg. His neighbors offered their condolences to him, they said “Oh no, what a young healthy man but his leg is broken now. What a loss, I am very sorry.” The old man stayed quiet, and the neighbors asked why. “Good thing or bad thing, it’s hard to say,” the old man finally said. The neighbors did not understand him at all. His son was crippled, and he’s not even sad! One day, a war broke out in China. All the young men in the village were sent to the war, but when they came to Sai Weng’s house, they saw his son had a broken leg and did not make him go to war. That war was terrible…most of the young men who had been sent to fight died, and Sai Weng’s son was one of the only young men left in the village. Then, the neighbors perhaps understood.
Basically when bad things happen, you always stay positive.
This is… sort of…old people talk. An old man’s wisdom. The core main idea is that you must stay positive, even in the face of unlucky circumstances.
When good things happen, he remains cautious. He is prepared for the bad things. He stays strong. When anything bad happens, he won’t be devastated: he always stays positive. When good things happen, don’t be overly excited. The American saying “There’s no free lunch” is similar I believe…when something good happens you should still be weary. It’s the Chinese people’s philosophy, don’t be too happy but don’t be too sad. When good things happen stay cautious, and when bad things happen stay positive”
Me: “Where did you first hear this story?”
Informant: “I think I heard this story in my textbooks when I was in school, or maybe my dad told it to me.”
Context: This was told to me over a recorded phone call. The text is mostly translated from mandarin, though certain sentences and words were told to me in English.