Let's Read the Story: Never Heard of This Before

Long, long ago, there was a king of the Thai people who had a daughter, the Princess Nanxiang.  She was as sleek and beautiful as a mandarin duck.  Her eyes were like two pearls shining in pure water.  Her voice shamed the nightingale with its beauty. Her name was well known far and wide.
Now the king loved his daughter more than anything, and dreaded the day she would get married and leave him.  He thought that one fine day she would fly far away.  So the king tried every way he could to stop her from going out into the world, and kept her shut up inside the palace all the time.

The poor princess could not bear to be shut in.  She longed to be able to fly up in the clear blue sky, to find a brave and loving companion and live happy and free.

From time to time princes would come from the four corners of the world to win her love. But the king didn't want her to get married or to live in other lands, so he plotted to keep her by him.  No matter who came, he always said, "I'll only let you marry my daughter if you can tell me something I've never heard before."

One prince said, "Your Majesty, in our country we have a cabbage whose leaves spread over three villages.  Its stalks can be used to build a house large enough for the entire population of three kingdoms.  You can't have heard of it before."  But the king just laughed and said, "Oh yes, I've heard of that before," and sent the young prince packing.

Another prince said, "Most respected king, in our country we have a huge spoon.  You can drive in ninety elephants from the right and ninety buffaloes from the left and it still isn't full.  Have you ever heard of that before?"  The king gave a little smile as if that was a very ordinary thing, "I heard of that a long time ago."  He sent the young prince about his business.

Yet another prince came, and said, "Most honourable king, in our country we have a huge rice bowl, which stands on the earth and holds up the sky. If there is a storm, all the people can huddle beneath it.  You too are welcome to shelter there.  I'm sure your Majesty never heard of this before?"  The king gave a careless shrug," Oh, thanks for your kindness, but I've heard of this many many times."  He showed the young prince the door.

The king turned away all the princes who came to propose marriage.  With the same answer, "I've heard this before," all the young princes were refused.  He still insisted on locking his daughter inside the palace, though she loved the open air.  Princess Nanxiang was very sad.  She hated her father, but she could do nothing to stop those handsome princes riding away.  The whole country pitied her, the old people as well as the young men, but nobody could help her.

In a certain village there lived a handsome young man called Aiwang.  His home was a poor one, and he lived by weaving bamboo baskets and cutting wood.  One day he went to sell firewood in town.  People there told him how the king mistreated his daughter, keeping her like a rare bird in a cage.  It would surely be a wonderful thing to rescue such a beautiful and noble princess and marry her.

Aiwang thought and thought about this and finally came to a decision.  Early the next day he rushed to the hillside and returned with a lot of bamboo. In seven days he made seven large baskets.  Then he asked seven friends to carry them into the king's palace.  They marched through the gate and set the seven baskets down in the courtyard.

The king was quite puzzled by this display.  He scolded Aiwang, " You poor rascal!  Fancy bringing so many people with empty baskets into my courtyard.  What's the meaning of it?"

Standing in front of the powerful king. Aiwang said quietly, "Don't abuse the poor, and be ungrateful as well as a cheat. Your Majesty, My father has told me all the facts."

"Facts?" said the king.

"I'm coming to them," said Aiwang.  He paused, and then continued, "Everybody knows you are rich and powerful and I am only a poor peasant.  But everybody knows why, too."

"Why?" said the king.

"I won't waste your time. In a word, your grandfather's grandfather borrowed seven basketfuls of silver and gold from my grandfather's grandfather.  That's the only reason why you are rich and I am poor. And that's all I've got to say. I've come for my gold and silver.  It's high time you returned it. Here are my seven baskets..."

The king was knocked sideways by the news.  "I 'm much older than you are, and have seen and heard many things, but I can tell you I’ve never heard of this before."

Cunning Aiwang turned to his friends.  "Did you hear that?  What did the king say?"

"He said, 'I've never heard of this before.' "

The king nodded, "Yes, that's right.  That's what said."

And then the king realized what he had done.  He felt very awkward, and didn't know what to say or do next. He knew he had made a big blunder.  He wanted to take back his words, but it was too late.

The oldest of  "Aiwang's friends then said, "Allow me to ask our wise and mighty king one question. Had you every heard the facts that Aiwang related just now?  If so, hurry up and empty your treasure into those seven baskets.  If not, just let your princess marry Aiwang, as you promised."

"Yes, hurry up, the silver or the princess," shouted the others.  The king was struck dumb, and could only stare wildly around him.  But nothing in his grand palace could tell him what to say, so he just repeated, "Truly. I've never heard of this before."

The beautiful Nanxiang walked towards Aiwang, and Aiwang walked towards her. Everyone cheered.  Alone in a throng of friends, they walked out of the palace hand in hand.

----Adopted from He Li-yi's first book The Spring of Butterflies (London and New York, 1985)                                                                         Back to Top

This folk tales story book is available in Mr. China’s Son Café. But at present, the illustrations are only white and black.

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