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《ChineseTales for Everyone__ Real and Imaginary: (21) A Wise Judgment (包公)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Tales Real and Imaginary
(21) A Wise Judgment (包公)

In a small hamlet with a cluster of small villages, there once lived an old woman and his adult son. They were very poor and depended on gathering and selling twigs to earn a meager living.

On one market day, the son carried two bundles of twigs to sell as usual. It was a fine day and the market had a good crowd. But no one came to buy his twigs in the morning. He was disappointed when he saw a small bag on the floor near his twigs.   “Someone must have dropped it unmindfully,” he mused as he picked it up.

On examination, he found some coins in the bag. He hurried home with it and his unsold twigs.

“Why are you home early, and not selling the twigs?” The mother asked.

“I am lucky today, mother. I found this bag with coins in it.”

Mother and son eagerly emptied the bag. They found fifteen coins in it, a large sum, considering the sale of two bundles of twigs would fetch three coins.

The old woman ordered: “You must take this back and return them to the owner. He must be very unhappy with the loss.”

“But I don’t know who the owner is.” The son replied, a bit unwilling to return the easily found fortune.

“Just go and stand on the spot you found the bag and wait for the owner to come back for it. It is not right for us to keep these coins. You must hurry and go!”

The son did as told. He looked left and right and in all directions, the bag in hand. Before too long, a man saw him and asked: “Are you looking for someone?”

“Yes. I am looking for the owner of this bag of coins left here earlier.”

“I am the owner.” The man said as he snatched the bag and counted the coins. He rolled up his eyes as he became greedy. “I had actually thirty coins in the bag when I lost it. You must have taken fifteen coins, and you must return them to me.”

“Wash your mouth clean, you cannot insult me. My mother taught me to be honest. That’s why I am here!” the youth retorted. But the man insisted. Their loud argument attracted a crowd. One old folk suggested that they went to Magistrate Pao for a judgment. The crowd followed them to the local court.

Magistrate Pao was a legend for fair and wise judgment among folks in China. He began the case by asking the youth why he was in court. The latter presented the case as it happened.

He then called in the mother and asked her how they had counted the coins in the bag. She replied: “We counted the coins carefully. I did not feel it was right for us to keep the coins, so I sent my son to return them.”

The Magistrate nodded, showing a faint smile. He then asked the claimer the number of coins he had in the bag he had lost.

“Of course thirty coins. I counted three times before putting them in the bag.”

“You are sure?”

“As sure as your honor is the most respected magistrate in our country.”

Magistrate Pao signaled all attendants to be silent.

He told the claimer of the bag: “Since you are very sure you had lost a bag with thirty coins in it, this is not your bag. You have therefore no claim for it.”

He then turned to the old woman and her son and said: “Since you have tried to return this bag to the rightful owner, and he is not found, you can now keep these coins as reward for your honesty.”

The case was settled and the crowd dispersed with satisfaction.

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Note: This is an English narration of a folk tale fondly told among the Chinese people. It shows the wise judgment of Pao Gong (包公), a legendary magistrate. Here, it distinguishes the difference between greed and honesty.

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