Locks in the Heart

China Today (English) - - CONTENTS - By HOU FASHAN HOU FASHAN is a mem­ber of He­nan Pro­vin­cial Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

WHEN a child, Mas­ter Liu was in­fected with po­lio, which left him lame in one leg. His dis­abil­ity de­cided him to be­come a lock­smith, and he set up busi­ness on a street cor­ner. Over time, Liu be­came skill­ful enough to spring any lock. Grad­u­ally, he be­came well known lo­cally. The old and the young, men and women, ev­ery­one knew him and called him “the king of locks.” Even the po­lice de­part­ment some­times asked Liu for his help. Mas­ter Liu was much re­spected, and lived a full life with his wife and son.

The idea of work­ing as Liu’s ap­pren­tice ap­pealed to quite a few peo­ple – some of­fered money, some tried to lure him, and some even threat­ened him. But Mas­ter Liu re­fused them all. As time went by, peo­ple stopped ask­ing to be his ap­pren­tice. But Liu’s stub­born­ness didn’t af­fect his rep­u­ta­tion as a kind, gen­er­ous man. If you didn’t have money in your pocket, Liu would waive his fees. When you paid him the next time, he would say: “Re­ally? I for­got all about it.” If some­one hap­pened to be in trou­ble, he would ap­peal to ac­quain­tances to do­nate money. When Mas­ter Liu grew older, and his health de­te­ri­o­rated, peo­ple urged him to look for an ap­pren­tice, say­ing that it would be a real pity if his skills were not passed down. Mas­ter Liu agreed: Life would be less con­ve­nient if he re­fused. Af­ter rounds of se­lec­tion, he took on two young men: Big Zhang and Lit­tle Li.

The two ap­pren­tices were elated. They were so ea­ger to learn that they fol­lowed their mas­ter around all day long and re­garded him as a guru. Af­ter a while, Big Zhang and Lit­tle Li both made progress. They could both make keys for dif­fer­ent locks and re­pair locks. But all these skills were su­per­fi­cial, not core. Mas­ter Liu had his rea­sons: his unique skills could be passed down to only one per­son. In other words, only one of his two ap­pren­tices could be se­lected.

Big Zhang was smart and forth­right, and Lit­tle Li was sim­ple and kind. Both were good, but which one was bet­ter? Mas­ter Liu de­cided to chal­lenge them with a lock­pick­ing test. The win­ner would be the one to be taught his exclusive skills. So, Mas­ter Liu put a safe in each of two rooms and told the two ap­pren­tices to un­lock them.

It took Big Zhang less than 10 min­utes to spring the lock, win­ning cheers from peo­ple wait­ing on the scene for the re­sult. Big Zhang’s con­fi­dence he would be se­lected beamed on his face. Lit­tle Li spent 15 min­utes on the lock, ob­vi­ously less com­pe­tent than his fel­low ap­pren­tice. He glanced at the Mas­ter and blushed. How­ever, Mas­ter Liu didn’t say any­thing. Peo­ple around whis­pered: Mas­ter Liu must select Big Zhang. They hoped Big Zhang would win, as he had lost his job pre­vi­ously and his wife was sick. Lit­tle Li’s life was rel­a­tively bet­ter. Mas­ter Liu asked Big Zhang: Tell me what is in the safe. Big Zhang low­ered his voice: Mas­ter, there’s a stack of 100-yuan ban­knotes, a gold ring, a watch, and a neck­lace.

Mas­ter Liu turned to Lit­tle Li: So what is in the safe you un­locked?

Lit­tle Li mum­bled, beads of sweat on his nose. “Mas­ter, I didn’t look in the safe. You just asked me to open it.”

Mas­ter Liu nod­ded and said: Good, good, good! Then he an­nounced that Lit­tle Li was his choice. Peo­ple were con­fused, es­pe­cially Big Zhang. He asked: “Why? Is it be­cause he is bet­ter than me?” Mas­ter Liu pat­ted Big Zhang on the back: “You have skills, you are smart, and you are sure to have your own busi­ness in the fu­ture.” But Big Zhang was un­con­vinced, and still wanted an ex­pla­na­tion from the Mas­ter. Mas­ter Liu sighed: “I didn’t choose you be­cause you popped two locks.” Con­fused Big Zhang claimed: “No, Mas­ter, I just un­locked one safe.” The peo­ple around nod­ded: “Yes, Big Zhang did noth­ing wrong.” Some­one asked: “Mas­ter, you must be mud­dled.” Mas­ter Liu smiled: “Yes, I am old, but my mind is clear.” He turned to Big Zhang: “Kid, if you want to do well in this busi­ness, you must keep locks in your heart and noth­ing else – like money!”

Re­al­iza­tion dawned on the spec­ta­tors and Big Zhang’s face turned red.

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