Special Focus

A Good Laugh笑得好

- By Shi Chengjin [Qing Dynasty]

I Wish to Become Your cather

A wealthy landowner received his debtors to his home, explaining to them how to repay their debts. “Should thou be destitute and unable to repay thine debts, pledge to repay me in the next life and I shall willingly burn thine debenture notes.”

The man with the lesser debt said, “I wish to be a horse in my next life, and be ridden by my master to repay my debts from this life.”

The landowner nodded and thus his debenture notes went up in a puff of smoke.

The debtor with a middling amount of debt said, “I wish to become an ox in the next life, to work for my master ploughing the fields as a means with which to repay my debts from this life.”

The landowner nodded and took a match to his debenture notes.

Finally, a man with excessive debt said, “I wish to become your father in the next life to repay my debts.”

This comment drew the ire of the landowner, “Thou owest me a great deal of silver, knave! And thou knowst full good and well that failure to repay me is out of the question, thus thou wishest to engage in this charade as a means to take advantage of me. Is this not thy meaning?”

The landowner was just about to have the man scolded and beaten for such impudence when the debtor implored him, “I beg of thee to listen sire. The money I owe is nearly immeasurab­le. It is not something that could be repaid by the mere act of becoming a work horse or a plough ox. Hence, I wish to become your father. To toil away for my entire life with never a thought paid to my own needs. To amass a great fortune of land and property, none of which shall I dare enjoy for even a day in my life. And then to leave it—the whole lot of it—to thee, my heir, for thine own personal joy and leisure. I pray thee sire, is this not enough to repay my debts from this life?”

Prepostero­us Puffery

Two men met perchance upon the road. Curiously, each of them seemed angry.

The second man inquired of the first, “Wherefore thou appearest so vexed, sire?”

The first man retorted, “Though I reside in the Middle Kingdom of China, my ears can hear the goings on ten thousand miles away. Whilst I was sitting here serenely, it so happened that I perceived a monk under the Western Heaven chanting the scriptures incessantl­y. I complained of the noise and shouted for him to cease, but he paid no mind to me. He was simply unwilling to stop. Presently I became infuriated and picked up Mount Sumeru and threw it in his direction. Who could have known that, just at the very moment that the mountain hit him, the monk would blink, rub his eyes and say, ‘The wind has whipped up some dust that nearly got stuck in my eye.’ With this remark, he just went on with his chants. As I was unable to perturb him in the slightest, I’m afraid thou wilt have to regard me as powerless to control him. Pray tell good sir, who would not be irate under the circumstan­ces?”

After these words, he asked the second man, “What stirred thou to anger then?”

The second man replied, “A guest paid a visit to my home yesterday, but there was nothing with which I could entertain him. So, I picked up a mosquito, slit open its thorax and removed its liver, which I cut into one hundred and twenty equal sections with a blade. I promptly fried the liver and respectful­ly served it to him. Who could have guessed the guest would nibble the liver and get stuck in his throat. He lamented that the liver had been cut into too large of pieces and that he despised me for it. As a matter of fact, he is still staying with me and clearing his throat incessantl­y. The noise is driving me mad! Who wouldn’t find such a thing vexing?”

The first man asked, “But who in the world could have such a small throat?”

To which the second man replied, “Being that thou hast ears

to hear all the way to the Western Heaven and canst pick up the whole of Mount Sumeru in thine hand, is it not fitting that I should serve mosquito liver minced into one hundred twenty pieces to a tiny-throated guest?”

Lose a Fortune for Horse Riding

There was a pauperous fellow who brought home an empty wine jug that he used to make a bed stand.

One night, as he and his wife slept, he dreamt that he found a purse full of silver by the roadside.

The next morning he recounted his dream to her and asked what they should do with the money if they ever really came into a fortune. The two of them decided that investing it and using the profits years later to purchase land on which they could build a cottage would be the best choice. And once they became wealthy, they would buy a title. Though, riches such as those would necessitat­e riding a horse for transporta­tion, something to which the man was highly unaccustom­ed. So, he said to his wife, “You pretend to be a horse, and I’ll mount your back and try to ride you for practice, okay?”

As the man got onto her back, he unconsciou­sly swung his leg over to the other side of her like one would when saddling up on a real horse. He landed hard on top of her with a thud, and all his weight on her back, causing her to topple the wine jug, which then caused the bed to go crashing to the floor. Upon seeing their prized possession­s ruined, the man and the woman got into a knock-down-drag-out fight.

The neighbors heard the racket and knocked on the walls asking them what was wrong. The wife yelled through the walls, “I’m a good wife I am, just that I lost our family fortune trying to be a good horse.”

(From The Complet eVolume of Ancient Chinese Folk Tales: Qing Dynasty , Zhejiang University Press. Translatio­n: Chase Coulson)

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