Lotus flowers in winter

In China, thousands of stories and parables help shape the culture. Here is a sample short story from the 17th century by famous author, Pu Songling.

In Jinan, there lived a Taoist priest. From where he came nobody knew, nor did anyone know even so much as his name. In summer and winter he wore only an unlined garment fastened with a yellow belt round the waist. During the day, he strolled barefooted around the market and at night he slept in the streets of the town. When it snowed at night, the next morning the snow and ice would be melted for several feet from where he lay. Lotus Flowers in Spring

When he first arrived in the town he played magic and people competed with one another in presenting him with gifts to see his tricks. Once an unworthy man offered him wine, asking him to teach him the tricks in return, but the priest refused.

One day when the priest was taking a bath in the river, the unworthy man stole the priest's robe threatening to leave with it if the priest still refused to teach him. The priest said to the man, "Have the kindness to return the robe to me and I shall not begrudge the secrets to you". The man refused to return it. "Do you plan to keep it?" asked the priest. "Yes, definitely", stated the man.

The priest turn away and suddenly, the yellow belt became a snake many inches in diameter. It twisted itself round and round the man, raising its head toward the man's head, its eyes glaring and its tongue sticking out. The man, frozen with fear, fell to the ground and begged for mercy. The priest grabbed the snake, which immediately changed back into a belt. At the same time, a snake was seen crawling toward the city.

The fame of the priest spread far and wide. Many strange stories about him reached the ears of the elite of the city, who then invited him to their parties. He became a frequent visitor to the houses of the bourgeoisie, even the higher magistrates heard of him and would invite him whenever there was a feast.

One day, the priest returned the favors by inviting all the officials to a party at the Shuimian Pavilion. Every guest received a written invitation on their desk without knowing how it had been delivered.

When the guests arrived, the priest met them with great ceremony, but the pavilion was completely empty, without even a table or chair. While the guests were wondering if they had been tricked, the priest said, "Unfortunately I have no servants, may I ask your attendants to assist me?" The guests agreed. The Taoist then produced a brush and painted a double door on the blank wall and knocked on it. A voice answered from within and opened the door... When the door opened the guests saw many people bustling about. Pieces of furniture was passed out of the door and the priest instructed the attendants to carry them into the pavilion, and warning the attendants not to exchange any words with the people within the wall. The attendants could only look at the people and smile. In a short time, the pavilion was richly furnished. Rare wine and steaming hot dishes were then handed out to the wonderment of all the guests.