The Archer and the Oil Merchant – Chinese Tale

Context: I call my best friend from high school (AL) almost every day. We are really close since we are both going to the same college and share many interests. I collected this tale from one of our calls when I asked him if he knew any Chinese tales. 


AL: “This tale is one that my mom used to tell me all the time when I was young. There once was a very famous archer in China, who could consistently land nine out of ten shots on target. His skill with the bow drew the attention of the emperor, who was very impressed and made him a high-ranking General. People would come to see him practice all the time, and the crowd would clap and cheer him on. One day, he noticed that an old oil merchant did not cheer or clap for him, and was the only one that remained indifferent in the crowd. Curious and a little insulted, he confronted the old man and asked him why he did not clap for him and find his skills impressive. The old man replied and said that there was nothing very impressive about the archer’s skills. To prove his point, the old man brought out a Calabash and placed a copper coin over it, aligning the hole of the gourd with the hole in the center of the coin. He began to pour a whole jar of oil into the Cabalash without spilling a single drop. The archer was impressed and humbled, and the oil merchant said that there was nothing impressive about the skills gained from hard work because every person is able to work hard.”

Background: My friend heard this story from his mom, who used it to tell him that everyone works hard and that there will always be someone out there who is more skilled than you are. My friend thinks of the tale as a reminder to stay modest and uses it to remind himself that anything can be achieved if he works hard. The Cabalash is a Chinese gourd that has a very small opening, and Ancient Chinese copper coins had a hole in the middle, so the part about the old man serves to show that he is just as skilled, if not more skilled, than the archer.

Thoughts: I thought the lesson that the tale aims to teach was very similar to other Chinese stories. One example can be seen from the legend my mom told me about Li Bai where he sees an old woman grinding a metal rod into a sewing needle, and learns the lesson of anything being possible through perseverance. This also offers insight into Chinese values as traditionally they believe that being hardworking is something that everyone should strive towards.