Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Butterfly’s Dream and Other Chinese Tales

Book: A Butterfly’s Dream and Other Chinese Tales
Author: Cheou Kang Sie
First Published: 1970 by Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.
No. of Pages: 91
Genre: Folklore

A Butterfly’s Dream and Other Chinese Tales is a folklore anthology compiled and retold by Cheou-Kang Sie (former ambassador to the Holy See). The book is essentially a collection of 12 tales which draw their inspiration from the ancient Chinese philosophical writings. All of the stories have been carefully selected, and each one in some way or the other conveys human desires, emotions (both petty and sublime), nature, and ambition. So, it would not be wrong to say that they are quite universal in their appeal. Reading this book, it is inevitable that you will find the Taoist, Confucian, the urban as well as the peasant come to life.

It was the cover page that caught my eye while I was perusing through the aisles of the Santa Barbara Public Library. Kept on a separate stand, it did kind of lure me in. Painted by the master “Chi Kang” himself, considered as one of the greatest classical artists of Cathay, the jacket cover bears the illustration of the great Taoist master Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly; this is also the first story in the anthology, and the title of the book.

Here's a breakdown of the 12 stories.

These four tales come from the philosophical writings of Twang Tze and Lie-Tze (400 B.C.)
  • A Butterfly’s Dream
  • Old Man Stupidity
  • The Return
  • Spring Water

The themes for the Bridge of Magpies, Fetal Education, and Gratitude were derived from popular legends of Chinese folklore. The stories The Clay Statues, and Vinegar draw from some celebrated memoirs of the 17th century.

The Reward, and Illusion draw their inspiration from the 17th century work Extraordinary Stories by Liau Tsai.

Last but not the least, Tso Ying Tie is a love drama that finds its mention in the public records of the Whai Kwei Kee District in Chekiang Province. 

The stories are pretty interesting and most have a moral to impart. I quite liked the story “the return” which is a moving tale of an exiled man who imagines how overcome with emotions he would be on his final return home, but surprisingly doesn’t feel anything when he does go back to his country. In an elegant way the author tells us how we must not expect too much and wait to feel something which we can enjoy at the present. Another story “Vinegar” shows how vinegar has come to stand synonymous with jealousy. “Old man stupidity” depicts how the universe also helps you achieve your goals when you are completely focused and do your best to persevere against all odds. Another enchanting story is the “Bridge of magpies”, a lovely romantic tale of the celestials teaching us how excessive indulgence hampers your duty which should before love.

A light read, something you can go through as you sip a cup of your evening tea.

I give it 6/10.