The King of the Bees

(Chinese)

There was once a man who, when he became Imperial Censor, had to live in the capital many months’ journey from his blue hills and green waters. He was a faithful official, and every morning, while the dew was still on the ground, he went to the audience in the palace. But, besides his love of duty, he had another love; and every night he returned to his wife and spent the night with her. His mother, however, knew nothing of this. One day the wife found that she was going to have a child, and her mother-in-law also noticed it and said: ‘You faithless woman! You shameless thing! You adulteress! How can you have a child when your husband is not at home? Who comes and visits you? If other people hear about this we shall no longer be able to live here. We shall completely lose face if there is a scandal. What have you to say? Tell me everything.’

‘Dear mother,’ said the young wife, blushing, ‘how could I dare do such a thing? My husband comes to visit me every night.’

‘Don’t tell me such stories! How can he make such a long journey? Does he bring anyone with him? You can’t deceive me,’ cried the mother angrily.

‘But it is quite true, he does come to me. How could I deceive you? Really I have no...’ and her words were choked by sobs.

‘He is not a spirit, so it is impossible. You are lying. It is no good crying, because I will never believe you,’ said the mother.

‘Dear mother,’ said the young wife, ‘I can explain. It is true that he is not a spirit, but he has a pair of magic shoes. When he puts them on, he can cross over the sea like a bird.’

‘I don’t believe it! How can there be shoes like that?’ retorted the mother.

‘It is true,’ replied the daughter, ‘and if you don’t believe...’

‘All right,’ interrupted the mother; ‘if you can show me one of the shoes, I will forgive you.’

When the daughter found there was no other means of convincing her mother-in-law, she decided to steal one of her husband’s shoes; but little did she know what unhappiness this would cause.

That evening, when her husband came as usual, she stole one of his shoes and showed it to her mother-in-law. But in the morning when the husband was ready to leave and wanted to put on his shoes, he could only find one of them. He had to run down to the seashore and make a shoe of mud and slime so as to go to the audience. While he was making the shoe, the sun came shining over the horizon. This made him so angry that he pointed his finger at the sun, which went down again at once.

When the shoe was ready, he set off for the audience. That morning, as usual, all the ministers and notables were present, but everyone wondered why the Censor had not yet arrived. Suddenly someone said to the Emperor: ‘Today a miracle has occurred. Just after the sun had risen, it disappeared again. I don’t know what that betokens.’ While the Emperor and his ministers were discussing in an agitated manner what was the meaning of the prodigy, the Censor came absent-mindedly into the Audience Chamber. Everyone crowded round him, and soon they noticed something very strange: one of his shoes was wet and slippery and, the other dry. The Emperor asked him: ‘Why have you arrived so late to-day in such a hurry that you did not even put on your shoes?’

Overwhelmed with confusion, the Censor did not know what reply to make. His face became pale as ashes, and when he was known to have meddled with the sun, he was accused of treason and sentenced to death.

After he was beheaded, his body stood up again, took up its head, and went home. On his way, he met a woman mowing grass, whom he asked: ‘Can grass go on living when it is cut down?’ The woman replied: ‘It soon grows up again.’ He went on his way and soon came upon a maid cutting garlic. ‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘does the garlic go on living?’ She answered: ’It comes up stronger than before.’

When he heard this, he did not ask anyone else, but went home and asked his mother: ‘Mother, when a man’s head is cut off, can he go on living?’ His mother answered in horror: ‘My son! That is not possible. How can someone come to life again?’ At this he fell down on the floor and blood poured out of his body in a ceaseless stream. He had hoped to be able to go on living, and when he heard the replies of the woman and the maid, he was full of hope, but when he heard his mother’s words, he collapsed.

After his death, his soul could find no peace, because he had been unjustly condemned. His first attempt having failed, he appeared to his wife in a dream and said: ‘Since I ought not to have died, I am able to live again. On no account must you bury my head, but place it in a pot and wait until the worms appear. If you feed them every day, I can come to life again.’

When the wife heard that, she was comforted a little in spite of her sorrow and mourning, and she did as her husband had told her. She hoped that when the worms had appeared she would live with him as before.

One day, when she had to return to her parents’ house, she asked her mother-in-law to feed the worms. But to her it seemed a useless task, so she poured boiling rice into the pot and killed all the worms that the wife had reared with such care, and threw them into the garden. But in the place where she threw them a lovely tender bamboo soon shot up.

When the wife came home and saw that all the worms had gone, she nearly wept herself to death, and wanted to end her life, but her husband appeared to her again and said: ‘There is still a third chance. The bamboo outside the window is my transformed soul. Tend it carefully for one hundred days, and then, if someone wants to buy it, ask exactly one hundred cash, no more and no less, and wait till the following day.’ This consoled the wife a little.

The time swept by like a stream and the last day drew near. One morning a high official on a tour of inspection was passing through the village, when one of the supports of his litter broke and could not be mended. He ordered his servants to find another pole, but though they searched high and low they could not find a good bamboo, until they came to the house of the wife. They went in and asked her to sell it. First they offered ninety pieces of money, then they went up to ninety-nine, but more they refused to give. The mother-in-law lost patience and sold it for ninety-nine pieces.

The wife, meanwhile, was sitting in the house listening to the hum of voices. Looking out, she saw that they were talking about the bamboo.

‘How much are they giving?’ she asked. ‘I must have one hundred cash, no more, no less. In any case it is not old enough yet, so I cannot sell it.’

‘But your mother-in-law has already sold it for ninety-nine pieces, you cannot bargain any more. We are going to cut it down now,’ answered the servants.

‘No! No! I must have one hundred pieces; on no account more nor less! If you cut it down, then...’

‘Be quiet, don’t make so much fuss about one copper piece. What are you talking about?’ said the mother-in-law, and she told the servants to cut it down and not listen to the wife.

The servants quickly drew their knives, but they had not yet cut the bamboo half through, when it split in half from top to bottom. And, strange to relate, in each knot they found a little man on a little horse. Some of them had already opened their eyes, others not yet. In the last knot, however, was a large bee, which flew away with a loud hum. The people could only talk about the strange occurrence; with the bamboo there was nothing to be done.

But the bee flew away to the Imperial palace, into the Audience Hall, where it stung the Emperor. No one could drive it away, until the Emperor questioned his ministers and learnt that the bee was the ghost of the Censor that he had wrongly condemned to death. Since the Emperor found no peace, he decided to let the bee sit on his throne for three days and to make him King of the Bees.

The men and the horses in the bamboo were meant to come forth after one hundred days, take their swords, and press into the capital to kill the Emperor out of revenge. But as the hundred days were not finished the husband only became King of the Bees.

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