Once there was a kind young farmer named Han. He was very poor and could not afford to take a wife, and indeed most of the women in town did not want to marry someone so poor. One day, the father of his distant cousin, Mei, died suddenly and left her with nothing. Mei was not much to look at but she was well educated and very capable. Han did not want to just let her fend for herself, for in old China there were no opportunities for single women, in fact, it could be dangerous for them. So, Han asked Mei to marry him, and she agreed.
Han and Mei worked side by side, and Han was surprised at the difference it made for his small farm! With his wife’s capable management, Han’s farm soon became very successful and productive. Han was amazed! The animals were thriving. In fact, soon Han’s pigs were the biggest and fattest in the country. After a number of years, Han actually became prosperous.
Then Mei advised Han to use the extra money to buy a cloth factory, and soon, her wise management and Han’s hard work began to produce the best silk in the land. Mei also suggested that Han invest in a winery, and soon their partnership began to produce the best wines!
Unfortunately, as Han became more and more prosperous, he became more and more proud. Soon he began bragging among the city elders that he was simply “the best in the land” at everything; he produced the best wines, the best silks and the biggest farm animals—nothing was too difficult for him. The elders rolled their eyes and grew tired of Han’s never-ending bragging. Soon they began to complain to each other about Han, and they even complained to the governor of the city.
When the governor heard about Han’s bragging, he determined to teach him a lesson. He sent an official summons addressed to “Han, The Best in the Land.” Hand’s chest swelled with pride when he received the official document.
“I really am the Best in the Land! Even the governor says so,” said Han smugly as he promptly went to see the governor.
As Han approached the governor’s mansion, he admired himself in the governor’s long reflecting pools. He saw the beautiful silk paintings on the governor’s wall, and told himself they must be made with silk form his factory. He could smell the aroma of roast pork wafting from the governor’s kitchen, and imagined that it was probably a pig raised on his farm. No doubt, the governor will even serve me some of my own wine, he sighed to himself. Han was positively beaming with confidence when he finally stood before the governor.
“Greetings Han. I understand you have been telling everybody you are the best in the land!” said the governor. “Is this true?”
“Well, sir, I do produce the best pigs in the land—and the best silk, and the best wine,” said Han smiling to himself.
“And the city elders tell me that you say nothing is too hard for you, is that correct?” asked the governor.
Han was feeling very proud now. “Well, that could be, that could be,” he said, smiling happily.
Perhaps the governor is going to give me a special award of honor, he thought to himself.
“Well, then, it should be easy for you to help us with a few requests,” said the governor. “I would like you to do the following: 1) raise a pig as big as a mountain; 2) make enough wine to fill the ocean and 3) make cloth as long as the road that goes across China. That is all, you may go.”
Han’s face fell. He quickly stammered his goodbye and stumbled out of the governor’s office. “Oh no, what have I done?” he wailed as he hurried past the long reflecting pools. “These are impossible tasks! And yet, I cannot refuse the governor! I will be the laughing stock of the whole town, disgraced in front of everybody! What shall I do?”
Han trudged home and confided his troubles to Mei, but she just smiled. “Don’t worry Han,” she said, “Tomorrow, you must go back to the governor with three things: a scale, a measuring bucket and a yardstick.”
Han looked at her, incredulously. “What good will that do?” he asked, his stomach still churning with worry.
“Ask the governor to weigh the mountain so that you will know how big the pig must be, to measure the ocean and tell you how many gallons you will need and to measure the road to see how long the cloth must be,” answered Mei calmly.
The next day Han went back to the governor and did just that. The governor was very impressed with the wit and cleverness of Han, who had suddenly turned the tables on him! Yet, the governor could tell that Han was a simple man, for a clever one would not have been bragging in the first place.
“Tell me, Han, how is it that you were so distressed with these tasks yesterday, and today you have these clever answers for me?” asked the govrnor.
Han hung his head. “I cannot pretend to be that clever, sir,” he admitted. “It is my wife who is the clever one. She is the one who told me what to say. In fact, she is the one who has taught me everything. It is her good management and ideas and my hard work that has made our businesses successful. By myself, I was only a poor farmer—the poorest in the whole city.
The governor smiled. “It takes a wise man to admit his weaknesses and tell the truth, Han. Never mind about the demands I made of you. Instead, I would like to meet your wife. I think she may have some clever solutions to the problems of the whole city.!”
With that, Mei began to consult with the governor and the city officials on a regular basis. Soon the entire province became very prosperous, based on Mei’s wise ideas and everybody’s hard work.
Bragging always causes trouble!
Pride goes before a fall,
But humility reveals wisdom.