The Two Chinamen
: Han Folk Lore Stories
Ages ago, when this world was new, having been created but a short
while, two Chinese boys left their native country and started out on
their travels to discover things new and strange. After wandering for
many days they came to the hill and water country where the Shans live.
Here they found a monastery, where lived very wise and learned priests,
who instructed them in many ways.
They lived here some tim
and won the esteem of the head priest to such
an extent that he showed them a magic sword and bow that had lain in the
monastery many years waiting for somebody to carry away. The law was
that the man who could bend the bow or could draw the sword from its
sheath should keep it.
The elder brother went to the sword and tried to draw it. He pulled, he
tugged, he strained, till the sweat ran down his face, but in vain. He
could not draw it out one inch.
Seeing the ill success of his elder brother, the younger thought it
impossible for him to draw the magic sword, but at his brother's command
he took the handle in his hand and pulled with all his might. To
everybody's surprise out came the magic sword, and the Chinaman walked
away in triumph.
The elder brother now made up his mind that if he could not get the
sword he would try for the bow, and he might have more success with
that, so he exerted all his strength, and slowly, slowly bent it, till
the cord was taut and the bow all ready to shoot.
The people of the city were amazed that the two brothers should have
such strength and good luck, and many envious eyes followed them as they
again set out on their journey, carrying their trophies with them.
They traveled on and on till they gave up counting the distance, it was
so great, till one day, as they were resting on the banks of a large
river in a far country, they saw a great fish swimming in the water. It
was so great that nobody heretofore had been able to catch it, and it
was in fact the king of all the fishes. It broke all the nets and
smashed all the traps. It snapped all the lines that were set for it,
and nobody was strong enough to pull it ashore when it did take the
hook. The Chinamen saw it, and the elder brother instantly strung his
bow, put on a bolt, and shot the great fish as it was swimming in the
shallow water. In a few minutes he had it on his shoulder, and they
commenced to cross the bridge to the other side of the river.
Now the river was very wide, the current was very swift, and the bridge
was not at all strong. It was only made of bamboos and rattan and swung
from side to side as the men crossed it. When they got to the middle it
began to creak and strain till the two travelers were in great fear it
would break. The one who had killed it turned to his brother and said:
"O brother, the fish is so heavy I am afraid the bridge will break.
Please draw your magic sword and cut it in halves, and then we will be
able to get to the other side in safety."
The younger brother therefore drew his sword and cut the fish in halves;
but he did not yet know how sharp the sword was, for he cut the fish in
halves, it is true, but not only that, but the whole bridge as well, so
that his brother fell into the water and was immediately swept from his
sight. On his part he could not of course cross, now the bridge was
down, so he returned to the same side of the river and ran along the
bank looking to see whether his brother would be swept ashore in some
shallow place; but although he ran till he was exhausted and then
traveled for many days by the side of the river through the jungle, he
could discover no trace of his lost brother.
Swiftly down the stream his brother was carried. He tried to swim first
to one bank and then to the other as the current swept him along, but in
vain. At last he gave up trying. Nobody knows just how long he was in
the water, but for many days he floated, and when he was on the point of
dying from exhaustion, cold, and hunger, his feet touched bottom, and,
more dead than alive, he crawled up the bank to dry land.
He found that he had landed near a garden, and, on climbing over the
wall, he discovered that it belonged to the king. He was too tired to
climb back again, however, so sank on the ground and the next instant
fell asleep from sheer weariness.
Now it happened that the king of that country had just died, and his
amats had taken out the royal chariot and were drawing it around the
city looking for the proper person to become king. As they went along
they saw this young man sleeping in the royal garden with his magic bow
beside him. He had come from nobody knew where. He was so strong that
the river even could not kill him. Above all, he had a wonderful magic
bow which none of the amats or nobles could bend, so they came to the
conclusion that he indeed was the man who should be king of the country,
and he was crowned with great pomp and magnificence.
The other brother had been left standing on the bridge when the elder
fell into the water, as we have said, and for many days he followed the
river bank till he too arrived in a far country. It was a very strange
country. There were no men there, only monkeys, but they were the very
cleverest monkeys that ever lived, and were ruled over by a nang me
prah, that is, a queen, just as men are ruled. This queen of the
monkeys fell in love with the Chinaman and married him, so that he
became king of Monkey Land. They built a palace for him on the top of
the highest tree in the jungle. Every seventh day they brought him food.
Some brought plantains, some mangoes, some rice, and some fish fresh
caught in the river.
The elder brother had now been king of the country where he had landed
for some years, and one day he remembered his younger brother, whom he
had left standing on the broken bridge with the sword in his hand. He
therefore called his amats and told them he was going on a long
journey, and that they must rule well and justly till he returned. He
then called his favorite servants and set out to discover his brother.
They had a great store of provisions carried by coolies. He had his
royal elephants, on which he could ride when traveling over the steep
mountain roads and to carry his chief queens, and ponies for riding over
One night, however, he became separated from his followers and lost his
way. He shouted and called, but shouted and called in vain. He could not
find a trace of them. Servants, horses, elephants, and goods were all
gone, and he was in great fear that he would die in the jungle. When
morning broke he was much surprised to see that he had arrived at a
city, but that the houses were all built on the tops of the trees, and
on looking closer, he discovered that instead of people living in these
houses the inhabitants were all large monkeys. Not a man was to be seen,
and the monkeys were very fierce and screamed at him in anger from the
top of every tree. One especially he noticed as being more fierce than
any of the others, and he accordingly leveled his magic bow and shot it
dead. As it fell from the tree to the ground he heard all the friends of
the dead monkey come rushing out of their houses on the tops of the
trees calling to one another that a man had killed one of their
brethren, and asking that their friends would come to kill the man who
had been guilty of the deed.
After a little time the king came to a tree that was taller than any
other in the jungle, and upon it was a palace. Stairs led from the door
of the palace to the ground, and as he looked more closely he saw a man
up there. In great joy he called out to him, asking to be directed. "I
am the king of a far country," he said, "and I am on a journey to search
for my brother, whom I have not seen for many, many years. Last night I
lost my way. Will you take pity on me and show me the way and I will
give you a great reward?"
"Who was your brother?" asked the man in the tree.
"He was a Chinese student," returned the king, "and he had a wonderful
magic sword. One day as we were traveling he cut a great fish in two,
but such was the virtue residing in the magic sword that he not only cut
the fish in halves but the bridge as well, so I left him standing on the
end of the bridge."
You may imagine how pleased the king was when he discovered that the man
standing at the top of the tree was the long-lost brother for whom he
was searching, and he made ready to ascend to his house in the treetop.
At that moment a little monkey ran down the tree toward him, and he
kicked it aside, saying, "Out of my way, little monkey."
The small monkey in great anger said: "I am not a monkey, but your
"My nephew!" exclaimed the king in great astonishment. "What do you mean
His brother, the monkey king, then explained to him that he had married
the queen of all the monkeys and that this was their child, that he
ruled over all the monkeys, who had built this palace for him and every
seventh day brought him tribute of food.
"I am sorry to say, then," said the elder brother, "that I have killed
one of your subjects," and at the same moment the wife and son of the
dead monkey approached their king.
"Our lord," said they, "the man yonder has been guilty of a great crime.
He entered the domains of our lord and although we did nothing to him,
yet he raised his bow and killed one of the servants of our lord.
Therefore our lord's servants demand that he shall be killed too."
"I am very sorry," said the king of the monkeys, "that you have killed
that special monkey. He was very clever and brave. He was also one of my
chief amats, and his friends will assuredly kill you."
The monkeys were now assembling by hundreds and calling to each other
everywhere. Every treetop appeared alive with angry figures all calling
for vengeance on the man who had killed their friend.
The king, however, who had taken sides with his brother, was not afraid,
and said he could kill all the monkeys in the country; and he drew his
sword and cut in halves the monkey nearest to him. To his great
surprise, however, the two halves of the monkey he had killed each
became a whole monkey and attacked him again, so that he now had two to
fight instead of one. If he cut off the hand or leg of a monkey with
his long sword, it immediately turned into two, and he soon saw that
unless he devised some other way of fighting them they would soon kill
He therefore rushed off to the jungle and got a great hollow bamboo. He
then went to a bees' nest and swept all the bees into it, and caught a
great many scorpions and centipedes, snakes and spiders. When the
monkeys came toward him to renew the fight, he opened one end of the
bamboo and the insects and reptiles, swarming out, very angry at being
kept prisoners in the hollow bamboo, soon drove the monkeys off so that
the two brothers were able to escape. Shortly afterward they found the
escort of the king and together returned to the city where the good
elder brother made the younger his chief amat.
Now when the younger brother became amat, he of course saw what a
great king his brother was. He saw his subjects kneel before him; he saw
the royal elephants, oxen, horses, and buffaloes; he saw the riches in
money, jewels, and goods that belonged to him; that his queens were the
most beautiful women in the land; and he became jealous. Then he coveted
all these things. The next step was easy; he determined to kill his
brother and become king in his stead. Then he began to ponder and plot
how best he could destroy the brother who had been so good to him. He
did not remember how that same brother had left all these things to come
and hunt for him; how he had given him riches and honor and position,
so that now he was chief minister and next to him in power. No, he did
not think of any of these things, but like the ungrateful man that he
was, thought only that his brother had more than he.
He soon came to the conclusion that he could not kill his brother in the
city, for everybody loved the king, and he feared that his crime would
be discovered, so he was obliged to wait until they should be alone in
the jungle together. The opportunity soon came. One day the king was out
hunting and had gotten separated from all his followers. His brother the
amat was a short distance ahead when he saw, just in front of him, a
very deep hole, so deep in fact that it was impossible to see the
bottom. In great excitement he turned and beckoned to the king as fast
as he could, calling out in a loud voice that he had something very
wonderful to show him.
The king thought that at least he had discovered a mountain of rubies
and came running up. He knelt by the side of the hole but could see
"There is nothing down there," said he.
"Let our lord lean a little farther over," said the cunning amat. "He
will then see the most wonderful thing in the world."
The king bent farther over and his wicked brother gave him a push that
sent him headlong to the bottom.
He had now succeeded in all his plans; he had reached the height of his
ambitions, but although he became king he was not happy. He had trouble
all the time. It is true he had his brother's riches, that he rode the
royal elephants, wore the royal robes, and lived in the royal palace,
but he had trouble with his amats, with his soldiers, and his people,
and therefore instead of being happy as he expected he would be, he was
unhappy and miserable.
If he had only known what was happening in the jungle he would have been
more anxious still. His brother was not dead as he thought. The fall to
the bottom of the hole did not kill him and he was only a prisoner. His
followers had all gone back to the city with his wicked brother. He
called, but called in vain. He heard nothing but the echo of his own
cries, and he was about to give up in despair, when it happened that the
mighty Lord Sa Kyah coming through the jungle heard his cries and
inquired the cause. The king did not know that this was the Lord Sa
Kyah, but told him all that had happened. Lord Sa Kyah was very angry
with the king's heartless brother and created at the bottom of the hole
a lily of the kind that has a very long stalk. The king sat upon the
blossom of the lily which then began to grow very rapidly, and as it
grew carried the king up toward the mouth of the hole.
As he gradually rose toward daylight he saw that a tree was growing at
the very edge of the pit, and that some of the branches hung over. He
saw also that a monkey was busily engaged in feeding on the leaves and
fruit. The lily, of course, made no noise as it pursued its upward path;
the king also kept quiet so as not to frighten the monkey, and when he
was near enough suddenly put forth his hand and caught it by the tail.
The monkey screamed and kicked, fought and scratched, but in vain; the
king held on, and at last the monkey climbed down the tree taking the
king with him, and the latter was speedily standing once more on solid
ground and able to offer up his thanks to the mighty Lord Sa Kyah.
The king was not long in reaching the city and when he arrived, to his
great sorrow he saw, as he expected, his ungrateful brother reigning,
while the people all sorrowed for their old king. He determined to wait
awhile before he declared himself, feeling that the Lord Sa Kyah who had
already once helped him when in trouble and danger would aid him in
regaining his lost kingdom; so he went into the poorest part of the
city, put on the poorest and most ragged clothes that he could find, and
sat near the gate of the city begging, from whence he often saw his
brother riding by in state.
One day the heralds came riding by and stood in the open space fronting
the market where the gambling booths are, and gave notice that the king
had commanded that if anybody could bend the magic bow belonging to the
late king, his brother, he was to be made the chief amat of the
kingdom and receive many and great presents besides.
As may be imagined, the next day there was a great crowd gathered
together at the great gate of the palace, waiting for the king. At last
out he came with all his ministers and followed by attendants bearing
golden umbrellas. Behind him came a soldier carrying over his shoulder
the magic bow which was placed at the king's feet. The king called upon
his soldiers to come and bend the bow, and the strongest of them came
forward, but although they pulled and tugged, tugged and strained, they
could not bend it. Then the people of the city, or "the king's people,"
as they loved to call themselves in contradistinction to the people who
lived in the jungle villages, tried, but met with no better success than
the soldiers. They could not bend the bow. The king then ordered the
amat loeng to call the men from the jungle. The very strongest coolies,
those who carried heavy burdens over the mountains, came in answer to
the king's summons, but although some of them could carry fifty soie
over the highest mountain they could not draw the cord a hand's-breadth.
The king, much disappointed, was about to return to the palace when a
beggar man approached and bowing at his feet said he was able to draw
the bow and fire an arrow from it. The king was angry at what he thought
was the presumption of this beggar. The soldiers derided him, saying
that the bravest of them could not draw the bow and how was a beggar to
do it? The coolies also asked him whether he could carry fifty soie
over Loi Mawk Pah that was called the Cloud Mountain, because its head
was often in the clouds. But the beggar asked to be allowed to try and
the king gave orders that he should be given the bow, at the same saying
that he assuredly should be made amat loeng if he was successful, but
if he could not bend the bow, he should be put to death immediately.
The beggar assented to these terms and seized the bow. He took hold of
the string and without any show of strength pulled it a hand's-breadth,
and then as the king and his courtiers looked on in amazement he pulled
it to its full length, placed the string on the ivory trigger, put an
arrow on it, and asked the king where he should shoot.
"Straight up into the air," said the king. The beggar raised the bow,
twang went the string, and the arrow whizzed out of sight. Everybody
stood looking up into the sky when suddenly one of the courtiers gave a
warning cry. It came too late. The arrow had gone straight up, turned,
and fell almost on the same spot from whence it was shot. Almost, but
not quite, for in its fall it struck the upturned face of the king and
he fell dead.
A great cry was raised as the king fell and the guards rushed forward to
seize the beggar and lead him to immediate execution, but he waved them
off with a gesture of his hand. The next instant his rags fell from him
and he stood before them in the royal robes of a king.
Thus we see that the younger brother, although indeed he had not
murdered his brother the king, yet did kill him in his thoughts and
intentions, and he suffered the punishment that is always meted out to
the man who kills his fellow.