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Test Your Reading Skills with Taoist Parables: The Chinese Farmer Story

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If you don’t have time to read the story now, you can download Test Your Reading Skills with Taoist Parables: The Chinese Farmer Story PDF and read it later. There are two reading options in the PDF: separated and combined Chinese, Pinyin and English.

The Chinese farmer story is one of many tao parables that can be interpreted in many ways. These stories are part of Taoism, or Daoism, as it is more commonly known in the west. Taoism is a long-standing religion in China known for its philosophies and promotion of a harmonious lifestyle.

The religion concentrates on the unity and contrast of opposites known as Yin and Yang. Some of the main elements of Taoism are to achieve a union with nature, being virtuous and development of the self.

Taoist parables, such as the story about the farmer, were written to teach people moral or religious lessons in life.

Use the short story of the Chinese farmer to practise your Chinese reading skills. You can click each sentence and see a full breakdown of each character and their meaning. Scroll down to find the Pinyin and English translation of the story.

These Taoist stories are often still extremely relevant in the modern day, and so once you’ve read the story, why not take a look at some of the interpretations of the parable. What was your understanding of the story? Feel free to share your own readings of the Chinese farmer story below!

塞翁失马 (sài wēng shī mǎ) Sai Weng Loses His Horse

淮南子·人间训》(huái nán zi · rén jiān xùn) [Writings of the] Masters of Huainan – In the World of Man

塞翁失马 comes from the idiom 塞翁失马,焉知非福 (sài wēng shī mǎ, ān zhī fēi fú) that translates to ‘the old man lost his horse, but it all turned out for the best’. The English version of the story is often translated to ‘Maybe, Said the Farmer’.

 

  1. 1. 古时候,有一个老头儿,住在边塞地区,人称塞翁
  2. 2. 有一天,他家的一匹马自己跑了
  3. 3. 他的邻居听说了这个消息后,都来安慰他
  4. 4. 他笑了笑,说:“马虽然丢了,怎知不是一件好事呢?

 

  1. 5. 几个月后,老头儿丢失的马居然回来了,还领回来一匹骏马
  2. 6. 众人听说后,纷纷祝贺他
  3. 7. 可是他并没有很高兴,说道:“这有什么可祝贺的,又怎知这不是祸端呢?”

 

  1. 8. 老头儿的儿子喜欢骑马
  2. 9. 几天后,因为新来的马并不驯服,他的儿子从马上摔下来折断大腿
  3. 10. 人们听说了,又来安慰老头儿
  4. 11. 可是他并不焦急,说道:“说不定还是件好事。”

 

  1. 12. 后来,边境上发生战争,很多青年被征调入伍,上了战场,伤亡十之八九
  2. 13. 老头儿的儿子却因为腿摔断了,侥幸活了下来
  3. 14. 所以,福可变为祸,祸可变为福,这其中的变化难以捉摸

 

  1. 15. “塞翁失马”的成语就是从这个故事来的,它常常与“焉知非福”连在一起使用
  2. 16. 这个成语现在往往用来比喻坏事可以转化为好事,或者用来形容虽然暂时受了损失,也可能因此得到好处

Line by Line Pinyin Breakdown

 

  1. 1. shí hou, yǒu lǎo tóur, zhù zài biān sài dì qū, rén chēng ‘sài wēng’.
  2. 2. Yǒu yī tiān, tā jiā de yī pǐ mǎ jǐ pǎo le.
  3. 3. Tā de lín jū tīng shuō le zhè ge xiāo xi hòu, dōu lái ān wèi tā.
  4. 4. xiào le xiào shuō: “suī rán diū le, zěn zhī shì jiàn hǎo shì ne?”
  5. 5. ge yuè hòu, lǎo tóur  diū shī de mǎ jū rán huí lai le, hái lǐng huí lai jùn
  6. 6. zhòng rén tīng shuō hòu, fēn fēn zhù
  7. 7. shì bìng méi yǒu hěn gāo xìng, shuō dào: “zhè yǒu shén me zhù hè de, yòu zěn zhī zhè shì huò duān ne?”
  8. 8. lǎo tóur de ér zi huan mǎ.
  9. 9. tiān hòu, yīn wèi xīn lái de bìng bù xùn fú, tā de ér zi cóng shàng shuāi xià lai zhé duàn dà tuǐ.
  10. 10. rén men tīng shuō le, yòu lái ān wèi lǎo tóur.
  11. 11. shì bìng jiāo jí, shuō dào: “shuō bu dìng hái shì jiàn hǎo shì.”
  12. 12. hòu lái, biān jìng shàng shēng zhàn zhēng, hěn duō qīng nián bèi zhēng diào rù wǔ, shàng le zhàn chǎng, shāng wáng shí zhī jiǔ.
  13. 13. lǎo tóur de ér zi què yīn wèi tuǐ shuāi duàn le, jiǎo xìng huó le xià lai.
  14. 14. suǒ yǐ, fú biàn wéi huò, huò biàn wéi fú, zhè zhōng de biàn huà nán zhuō mō.
  15. 15. “sài wēng shī mǎ” de chéng jiù shì cóng zhè ge shi lái de, cháng cháng yǔ “yān zhī fēi fú” lián zài qǐ shǐ yòng.
  16. 16. zhè ge chéng xiàn zài wǎng wǎng yòng lái yù huài shì yǐ zhuǎn huà wéi hǎo shì, huò zhě yòng lái xíng róng suī rán zàn shí shòu le sǔn shī, yě kě néng yīn cǐ dé dào hǎo chu.

 

English Translation of the Chinese Farmer Story

  1. 1. Once upon a time, there was an old farmer, called ‘Sai Weng’, who lived in the frontier area.  
  2. 2. One day his horse ran away.
  3. 3. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said, sympathetically.
  4. 4. “Maybe,” the farmer replied with a smile.
  5. 5. Several months later, the horse returned unexpectedly, bringing with it another fine horse.
  6. 6. “How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.
  7. 7. “Maybe,” replied the old man, who did not seem very happy.
  8. 8. The old man had a son who liked riding horses.
  9. 9. The following day, his son tried to ride the untamed horse, but was thrown off and broke his leg.
  10. 10. Once again, the neighbours came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
  11. 11. “Maybe,” answered the farmer, who didn’t seem very worried.
  12. 12. Later, war breaks out at the border and military officials went to the village to draft young men into the army. Most of them were killed or seriously injured in the war.
  13. 13. However, because of the broken leg, the old man’s son was unable to fight in the war.
  14. 14. So, ‘good’ luck can turn into a ‘bad’ thing, and a ‘bad thing’ can become ‘good’ luck, and it is hard to see how the change occurred.
  15. 15. The chengyu “塞翁失马” cames from this story and is always used with “焉知非福”  meaning ‘a blessing in disguise’.
  16. 16. It is always used to express the sentiment that “‘bad’ things can become ‘good’ things” or “though suffering loss at the moment, profit may come later because of it”.

 

Interpretations

The following are interpretations of the Taoist story of the Chinese farmer:

  1. – The nothing is ‘bad’ luck or ‘good’ luck, but it depends on your interpretation of those events. Source
  2. – “The farmer’s tale captures many of those. In short, it reminds people that it’s best not to get too upset — or attached — to what happens to us. Even something that seems dark and confounding can turn out to be an opportunity when looked on in hindsight.” Source
  3. – The line between good and bad is blurry and therefore who can say what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. Based on Taoist beliefs on the balance of nature, everything has both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ parts equally. This is a really great Medium article, and the author talks a lot more about the story here: Source
  4. – My own interpretation is probably the most similar to #3: I see the farmer’s story as being about cause and effect. Going back to the balance of Yin and Yang, eventually, everything in the story was balanced again. Although seemingly ‘bad’ things happened, the universe realigned itself and ‘good’ things also occurred.

 

None of the members of the Written Chinese team are Taoists, and these are purely opinions based on the story of the farmer.

 

                    

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