During the Chin dynasty about 1,600 years ago, there was a kindhearted Confucian scholar named Mao Pao. Once, before he had passed the imperial examinations and become a government official, he happened to see a fisherman on his way to the market to sell a turtle he had caught. Mao Pao immediately bought the turtle, but instead of eating it, he took it to a nearby lake and let it go.
Later, Mao Pao became a very powerful general. Even the best generals lose sometimes, though, and at Chuch’eng, General Pao’s forces were beaten by Shih Chilung, and they had to run for their lives.
The enemy was following hot on their heels. General Mao was running as fast as anyone else. He reached a lake, but there were no boats around, and there was no bridge. There was no way to cross the water. General Mao couldn’t swim, and anyway, he was dressed in battle armor, which would carry him straight to the bottom.
He looked back and saw the enemy was almost on top of him. He sighed and said, “The heavens have abandoned me!”
Rather than fall into enemy hands, General Mao prepared to take his own life. Just as he was about to commit suicide, he noticed something huge come to the surface of the water, and float over close to the shore where he was preparing to kill himself.
He had no time to worry about what was floating in the lake. The enemy was coming closer and closer. General Mao decided, “If I kill myself here, the enemy will capture my corpse, which will disgrace my country and my emperor. It will be better for me to throw myself into the lake so they cannot find my corpse.” With that, he leaped into the water of the lake.
But to his surprise, he landed on something. Then he started to move away from the shore, across the lake, to the other side. General Mao was astonished.
The enemy reached the lake. They shrieked and howled and shot arrows at General Mao, but he was already out of range. The arrows fell into the water and didn’t hit him.
General Mao looked down and discovered he was standing on a huge turtle! The turtle took him to the other side of the lake. General Mao got off and climbed up the bank. The turtle came to the surface and nodded to him. Then it sank back into the water and swam away.
Then General Mao remembered that dozens of years before, he had saved a turtle and released it in a lake — this very lake!
Now, in his time of need, the turtle had come to rescue him: a life for a life!