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《Chinese Tales for Everyone__Real and Imaginary: (29) An Artist and an Architect》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Tales Real and Imaginary

(29) An Artist and an Architect

Once upon a time, Duke Shong became a powerful sovereign of east China. He had a gifted artist and an able architect to help him build a beautiful grand palace. But the two were jealous of each other.

One day, the artist decided to get rid of the architect. He prepared a sheepskin which appeared ancient and tattered, with words and pictures that could not be understood. He told the Duke that he had a dream where a ghost told him to pick it up by the door at dawn.

“What does it say?” asked the Duke.

“The ghost told me, Your Highness, it is a letter from your deceased father. He said he had been living in a shed in the underworld since his death, suffering from cold and rain. He wondered if you still remember him.”

“How dare you say my father questioned my filial piety!” shouted the Duke in grieve and anger.

“There is more in the message, sir.” the artist continued: “Your father wanted you to raise him to heaven by sending an architect to build him a grand palace.”

“How can I do that?”

“By burning one, sir, just like burning incense sticks and underworld money. The dead would receive them in the other world. Oh yes, he said he would return him to you when the palace is built.”

The Duke pondered. He would do anything to please his father. But to burn his architect is just unreasonable. Then he thought, “Didn’t my father say he would be returned after the job was done?” He decided to do as told.

He summoned the architect and told him of his father’s wish and his own decision. “Will you help me?” he asked.

The architect knew right away it was the vile trick of artist. But he must obey the Duke. He replied: “I agree to go. But, could I have ten days to settle my family affairs before going as you asked?”

The Duke nodded, weeping to show his gratitude.

The architect went home to share the bad news with his wife and children, as well as his plans to survive. He engaged two workers to secretly dig a tunnel from his basement to a corner of the public square where all public functions took place. There, they would make a hole to the ground and cover it with a slap and some logs on top to conceal it.

On the day of the architect’s ascension, the Duke held a simple ceremony to tell the public of his father’s message. He praised the architect for his loyalty and courage.

Many people wept as workers piled up twigs and firewood around the architect until he was enveloped. A thong of Buddhist monks chanted blessings before a torch set the woods on fire. Smoke quickly filled the air. The architect’s family wailed loudly.

During the commotion, the architect quickly removed the logs and slap and jumped into the hole to escape back to his house and hided in his basement.

Back in the public square, people watched until all the woods were burned into ashes. The architect’s family collected some ashes into an urn and asked the monks to bless the architect’s remains. A sad event ended.

After four months, the architect came out of hiding. He went to see the Duke wearing a long white silk robe and a turban. He appeared weak, with an ashen face and long bears. He said: “Your Highness, I am back from heaven, having built a grand palace for your dear father.”

The Duke was at once surprised and happy. He listened attentively how magnificent the palace looked. He asked if his father had sent any message for him.

“Your father was very pleased with your filial actions and the palace, sir. He asked me to tell you he wanted the palace painted and decorated by an able artist from earth, because no one up there could do the job.”

The Duke summoned the artist the next morning, with the architect standing by his side. He asked the surprised artist if he would go to heaven to decorate his father’s new palace by the same method the architect went there to build it.

The artist was shocked. But he could not refuse the request. He had himself to blame for the ravaging design. The only solace he had was that he might return as the architect did.

“Of course I will do it, Your Highness” he replied, lowering his head.

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Note: This is an English narration of a tale in the book故事叢林.It was an extraordinary story that erased the barrier between people alive and dead, to teach us that people who initiated vile actions against others would ultimately suffer the harm of their own doing. Thus we have the proverbial phrase 害人害己.

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