Sometimes Chinese do not call a person by his name, but by his number in the family. In Ch’uchou there was a minor official everyone called Fang 3, because he was his parents’ third son.
Fang 3 was a nice man. Everyone liked him. One day he went to the Hou farm to collect taxes.
“Brother Hou, I have to ask you to pay this year’s taxes. I know nobody likes to pay tax, but I have to report to my boss.”
Hou 2 very politely said, “Fang 3, you must know that this year’s harvest was terrible. We simply don’t have anything to pay you with. Could you possibly give us ten days or half a month? Maybe we can gather some firewood to sell and get some money to pay our taxes to the Emperor.”
Fang 3 paused to consider. Hou 2 told his wife to prepare a meal for their guest. Just as Mrs. Hou walked out the door with the butcher knife, Fang caught a glimpse of a woman in brown standing outside the door begging him to be kind. Just then he heard a hen clucking. He knew that hen was brown. He told Hou, “I’ve already eaten. You don’t have to cook anything for me.” So Mrs. Hou put down her knife, and the hen was spared.
When Fang came back a few weeks later for the tax money, that brown hen was waiting respectfully outside the gate for him. She had her little chicks lined up and they all seemed happy to see him.
Fang got the tax money and left. As he crossed the stream by Hou’s farm and climbed the hill on the far side, a tiger came rushing out of the forest and pounced at him. Fang 3 was petrified. He shut his eyes and prepared to be eaten.
Then he heard a strange sound, and saw the hen and her chicks attacking the tiger! But how could some chickens possibly fight off a tiger? They flew at its eyes and pecked and pecked. The tiger howled and ran away.
Fang 3 fainted like a dead man. When he came to, he went back to the Hou farm and bought the hen and her brood for a high price. He carried them home and took good care of them forever after.