Nationality: Chinese American
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 2022
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin
(Notes-The informant will GT be referred to as and the interviewer as K)
Background info: GT is a Chinese American student who was born and raised in California. Both his parents were born and raised in a small town in China, which is where he knows this story from. He told me this story in his home during the daylight.
K: Uh…so what’s the name of the story, the uh context of the performance and uh where-or how do you know if it? Like who told you or where did you hear it?
GT: *laughter* sorry I’m like super awkward. Uh, it’s called 蚂蚁之王, which means like uh “The king of ants” in English, I think. It’s told just like an uh like a bedtime story, like a fairytale and I always heard it from my mom or grandma. Oh! Also like everyone has a pretty different version, the only real similarity is like the ants help someone out, so this is only my, uh my family’s version of the story.
K: Cool! That’s perfect actually, start whenever you want. And if you only know a word in Mandarin or whatever that’s fine I can translate later.
GT: Yeah ok so uh… it’s really simple. So there was this guy, Ho Kwan of Kuang Nan, and he was like super kind. Like Buddhist level kind. He had this big jar of silver he had been saving for like his whole life when one day a bunch of ants came in and ate part of the silver. Oh! The ants were also white, which is important. Anyways uh, the guys’ family wanted to take revenge so they found where the ants were living, and there were MILLIONS, and said they would destroy them. Ho Kwan said no and argued until his family eventually left, leaving the ants unharmed. Uh…then he had like a dream uh that night, and it was like super weird. *laughter*. So a bunch of soldiers dressed in white (emphasized word white while winking) escorted him through this like huge, magnificent, rich city to the king who was also dressed in white. The king thanked uh…Ho Kwan for sparing him and his people, and said like sorry for the other ants stealing his silver. He directed Ho Kwan to a tree and said there’s a big jar of silver uh buried there for him. So Ho Kwan woke up and meditated and dug up the dirt and realized that like there was silver there! The end *laughter*
This was the first bit of Chinese folklore I had really ever heard and it was so interesting! I like the fact that there are so many versions of this same story, which isn’t surprising due to how physically large China is. I did a little bit of further research on some of the other versions of the story, and most of them were a man helping the ants in some way and later getting rewarded. Most of them included someone else trying to attack the ants and the man protecting them. I thought that especially was important to note. A lot of these stories originate from around the rise of Buddhism in China, so it makes sense that so many of these stories would include being kind to living beings that normally you wouldn’t think twice about. The reward also makes sense. Although not very Buddhist in teaching, the reward system in this story appeals to more people than a purely Buddhist reward, which one won’t see until death.