5. Jade Chopstick Soup
In Wenchow in Chekiang, there lived a boy called Hsiao Chen. One night, a god in golden armor appeared in a dream and said, “Son, you can only live to be 18 years old.” When Hsiao Chen woke up, he was scared. He felt very sad that he would die so young.
Hsiao Chen’s father was a government official. He was very honest, so he got promoted and sent to Szechuan, another province far away. Hsiao Chen did not want to leave home, because he knew he couldn’t live very long. His father didn’t know about Chen’s dream, and insisted on taking him with him.
The day after his father got to his new post, the officials there prepared a party to welcome him, and of course Hsiao Chen was invited. For very special parties in Szechuan, after three courses came the main dish, called Jade Chopstick Soup.
The way they made Jade Chopstick Soup was very cruel. They heated an iron chopstick until it was red hot, and then pushed that into a cow’s udder. The milk in the udder would stick to the chopstick, so when they pulled out the chopstick, it looked like jade, and some people thought it was delicious.
While Chen was waiting for the dinner to begin, he happened to go into the kitchen. He saw a cow tied to a stake, and an iron chopstick roasting on hot coals. He asked the cook what was happening, and the cook told him just what they were going to do. When Chen heard that, he ran back to his father and begged his father to stop them. He said, “They are going to stick a red hot chopstick into a cow’s udder just to make a tasty dish, but think how much the cow will suffer! Please, Father, make them stop! Don’t let them make this horrible dish!”
His father was a kind man, so he immediately ordered them to change the menu and release the cow.
A few nights later, the god in golden armor again appeared to Hsiao Chen in a dream. This time, he said, “Son, you have done a good deed. You will not die young, and what’s more, you will be so successful that one day you will become one of the highest officials in all of China. This is because you have a kind heart.”
Hsiao Chen did grow up to win a very high post in the imperial government, and he lived to be more than ninety years old.