Literal translation: Pretend to Play the Yu
Dynamic translation: Pretending to be something that you are not
XX: This story is about a musician. The musician- he couldn’t really play any instruments. Anyway, one day, he heard that there is an audition going on, and he went for it anyway. When he got to the place, he found that he’s going to be playing among a group, a group of instruments, in an orchestra in front of the emperor. So anyway, he got into the audition, and he passed it as a group, and the whole orchestra got employed by the emperor, and he got famous after that. So, he got famous, and after decades and decades, he played in the group for the emperor, to entertain him. So after the emperor passed away, his son succeeded his crown, and his son is someone who prefers to hear solo music, so one day, he gathered this whole orchestra and had every musician play to him one by one. And when it was the musician’s turn–the emperor finally found out that the man couldn’t play any instrument, so then the emperor executed him. That’s the story–that’s how we tell people that you cannot lie about your skill if you don’t know how.
Me: Oh wow–I was expecting this to be some sort of wholesome children’s story–so your grandpa would tell you this before you slept?
XX: Yup, but I’m not really bothered by the execution part, because I feel like he deserved it, right? Because he’s a liar.
XX mentioned that they heard this story almost every day as a young child. Their grandfather would tell this to them during the “little time we had before we all went to bed.” It was “just a little educational lesson my grandpa wanted to give me.” Their grandfather was never one to “say something really obvious–” he liked to “inspire you to know something.” While XX said that the story was mainly just a typical part of their daily nighttime routine, they also learned something from it: don’t lie about having a skillset you lack. It has been a while since XX last told this story, and this was the first time they told it in English.
When people first started to think of folklore, the bedtime stories told by nannies and babysitters came to mind. Bedtime stories and lullabies are meant to put children to sleep, but the text and lyrics themselves can be ambiguous. Perhaps introducing kids to these valuable lessons–don’t pretend to be something you’re not–in a relaxed, tranquil setting will resonate with them more vividly as they grow up and become acclimated to the world around them. This idea of “double vision” that parents/grandparents hold rings true: while they want to comfort their children, they also want to warn them and give them lessons and pieces of advice that they will carry on with them through adulthood. These stories balance the weight of consequences with lighthearted fun. However, it is questionable whether we associate these stories with their actual lessons or more with the fonder memories of childhood and bedtime.
Nonetheless, being set in a distant past and intertwining fictive elements with real world morals, these tales open up children to important pieces of knowledge to function in society, rather than shielding them in a romanticized image of the world. While execution is an exaggerated consequence of lying, the tale’s ending provides a vivid warning on what happens if you’re caught for fabricating your identity. These stories are effective because they are memorable–they spread messages creatively and even with a negative, violent ending, children want to hear them over and over because it is ingrained into their night routine. They’re comforting because they’re consistent–they’re told by the same, reliable person at the same time. The last words children hear before falling asleep often get at the heart of the bedtime story, so it lingers in their memory. These tales can contain universal values: its message is clear across language barriers, which reveals the foundational similarities amongst different variations.