Stories from Ancient China: A Villager Learns to Make Umbrellas

Liu Buowen’s original name was Liu Ji. He was born near the end of the Yuan Dynasty. At a young age, he successfully passed the highest imperial examinations and became an official at the royal court. Later on, he became disenchanted by the tyranny of the emperor and resigned from his position. He returned home and lived in seclusion in the remote mountain regions in today’s Zhejiang province. He was an expert in military theory, politics, astronomy, geography and history, and was a well-known person in his hometown. Additionally, Liu had achieved certain literary success, too. He wrote a book called Yu Lizi. The book contains many fables appearing to be only funny stories on the surface. However they actually have deep inner meanings. One of the stories is entitled “A Villager Learns to Make Umbrellas" and it goes like this:

During the era of Warring States, in the state of Zheng, a man from the countryside decided to learn how to make rain gear. He spent three years learning the craft and after spending a great deal of effort he finally became an expert at it. Unfortunately a major drought came along and his rain gear was of no use. He decided to switch to learn how to make water buckets and spent another three years mastering that craftsmanship. Soon there was a major flood and nobody was interested in buying water buckets anymore. He changed back, starting to make rain gear again. But soon, bandits and thieves came on the scene from all directions. People all put on military uniforms to protect themselves, and the military uniforms were themselves waterproof; hence, nobody asked for his rain gear. Considering this new development, he thought that it probably was better for him to learn how to make weapons, but he was already old and lacked the ability to do what he would like to do.

When Yu Lizi learned this story he said, “Human will does not control many things in one’s life. Instead, humans are completely controlled by divine beings. Whether or not a technique can have any use is determined by the gods, but the right to choose which technique one should learn is in our hands. That is why the person from the state of Zheng in the story experienced the fate of accomplishing nothing. He is the one responsible for his own failure. Let me use an example. A farmer in Guangdong was good at planting rice. He therefore reclaimed wasteland to plant rice. But there was serious flooding, and he wasn’t able to harvest any crops for three years. Many friends tried to convince him to simply drain the water and plant corn. But he remained unpersuaded and persisted in planting rice successfully. The next year brought about great drought, as did the following two years. His crop of rice loved the dry weather, and he enjoyed a tremdous rice harvest for three whole years. When he calculated the crops he harvested in those three years, he found out that it had not only compensated him for the losses in the past, but there was plenty of extra harvest. Therefore, manufacturing ships during the drought and sewing cotton-wadded jackets on hot days makes a lot of sense."

As long as we persist in our own callings and earnestly and steadfastly concentrate on our own choices, once we survive the drought, the rainy days will arrive by themselves. If we withstand the hot days, the cold winter will arrive. Human life always fluctuates. It has losses and gains. There is a saying, “Wait, and then the clouds will vanish and the blue sky will appear."

In fact, victory is from perseverence and persistence!

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