Date of Performance/Collection: 3/1/16
Primary Language: English
The Main Piece
Many East Asian cultures instill values in children through the legends they tell. Catherine recalls a story her grandparents would tell her as a child about a greedy landowner, his workers, and a rooster. Although the landowner was rich, he was extremely greedy, trying to make as much money as possible. Every day his workers would wake up when the rooster crowed and begin plowing the fields. “The landowner wanted them to work more so he came up with…with a scheme! To make the farmers work more, he would sneak up into one of the villager’s rooster house and would make a crowing sound. When the rooster heard this it too would make a crowing sound, but a louder one that woke up the other roosters in the village. Then, the workers would wake up, thinking it was time to plow the fields, making them work longer hours. One night a boy went to take a piss outside and saw the landowner. He told all the farmers so they came up with their own plan. The next night, when the landowner crept up into the rooster’s house one of the men yelled ‘THIEF’ and all the villagers came out and beat him up. That’s pretty much the end.”
The informant of this story is Catherine Wang, a current undergraduate student at USC and personal friend of mine. She recalls this story being told to her by her mother in an attempt to teach her daughter not to steal from or swindle others. As a child she enjoyed hearing this story because she felt it was funny imagining the landowner getting “beaten to a pulp.” To this day she still enjoys hearing and telling this story, but now it is because of the righteousness the plot line contains which she believes is absent in reality.
Catherine told me this story as we were riding the monorail together and we were talking about each other’s families. The conversation turned into more of a comparison of our two different lifestyles as we saw how our family’s differing beliefs influenced the stories we were told at an early age.
At first I had no idea what to expect when Catherine asked me “Do you know the story that had the rich landowner and the rooster?” It sounded as if it would be a simple children’s book, but as Catherine later explained to me, it represented the abuse of the Chinese government during the time and encouraged workers to take a stand and revolt against the government. While I always understood many children’s stories to have some type of moralistic meaning behind it, I did not consider this legend to also be a metaphor for the governmental system and abuse and the current time.