Friday, February 27, 2015

Stone Soup, Chinese Folktale

‘Stone Soup’ has its traditional roots in European folklore. Nevertheless, this story is set in China, where three monks bestow happiness to the distant villagers. The three deities of Hok, Lok, and Siew are prominent in Chinese folklore, bestowing health, family, happiness, and mutual love.

High in the rugged mountains of China, three monks climbed its peaks. The youngest monk Hok asked, “What makes one happy?”
The oldest monk Siew replied, “Let’s find out.”
As they climbed up one of the peaks, on its other side a valley stretched. It was covered with a fog. Where the fog was the thinnest, the rooftops of the houses jagged through, showing a sign of a village.
The villagers were hard working people. But everybody just cared about their work. There was no helping, no sharing, no sense of community. Hard times of famine, floods, and war made people that way.
When the monks reached the gates of the village, there was nobody to welcome them. When they entered the village, the people hid in their houses. They knocked on the doors of people houses, but nobody responded.
The oldest monk looked at the youngest and said, “This is a picture of an unhappy village. Shall we bring happiness to them?”
The puzzled young monk asked, “But how are we going to do this?
“It’s very simple. We will make stone soup.”
The young monk still didn’t understand how a stone soup would make the whole village happy, but decided to follow the directions of the wise monk.
In the center of the village stood a square stone awaiting a fire to be set on it. The monks gathered twigs and branches and made a fire. Next to the stone stood a small tin pot awaiting its use. The middle monk took the pot and filled it with water from the nearby well.
All this time a curious girl was observing them from behind a house. The curiosity helped her gather her courage to approach the monks. “What are you doing?”
“We’re making stone soup and we need three stones,” answered Siew.
Together they searched around for three stones. The three monks pretended to be looking for them, but let the girl find them. Once she picked three stones, she proudly handed them to Lok, the middle monk, who was nearest her. The water was already bubbling under the hot fire. Lok dropped the stones into the pot and started mixing them, “Those excellent stones you helped us find will make a very special soup.”
The girl looked at the very tiny pot and worried it would not hold much soup, “I think my mother has a bigger pot.” So she ran home and asked her mom for the biggest pot.
“What do you need it for?”
“For the newcomers to make stone soup,” replied the girl.
“Hmm,” the mother thought to herself, the stones don’t coast anything. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to find out how they’re doing it.
She followed the girl already rolling a huge tin pot to the center of the village. The tin pot rolling on the stone streets made so much clamor that the villages started poking their heads in the windows and doors.
The monks switched the pots and filled the big one with more water. Lok mixed the stones, making even more clamor while hitting the tin pot. Now, the curious people started approaching  the center.
Siew pleased with the villagers coming out said, “Traditional soup should have some salt and pepper.”
“That is true, but we have none,” responded Lok while continuing to mix the stones in the pot.
A scholar quietly disappeared into his house, which was right there in the center. Now, he reemerged and said, “I just found some salt and pepper.”
Quietly observing and learning until now, the youngest monk spoke, “The carrots would make the broth even tastier.”
A woman standing in the back ran to her house. In a blink of an eye, she returned with a basket full of carrots and handed them to Hok, who suggested it.
“Do you think onions would make a difference?” asked Siew.
“Oh, yes, onion and parsley,” responded a farmer, and he was off. He returned in a moment with a basket full of onions, parsley, “and I found some green beans to add.”
“It smells delicious and I can’t wait for everybody to taste it,” said Hok.
“I think we could still add a few more vegetables,” suggested Lok, who continued to stir the soup.
A few villagers ran to their house. One brought mushrooms. Another brought cabbage. A shy seamstress brought noodles and asked, “Do you think we could use noodles?”
“Of course,” responded Siew.
More and more people were leaving the courtyard and coming back with baskets full of vegetables and breads. Something magical was happening. The people were opening their hearts and coming together.
The soup was making bubbly sound, filling the village with savory aroma. The villagers were pulling the tables and chairs out of their houses and setting them in the courtyard. Red lanterns were set above the tables. The bowls were set on the table ready to be filled with hot delicious soup.
Everyone sat down and the monks went around and filled the bowls with soup and cups with tea. The bread was passed around. The villagers’ hearts filled with joy. They had never been together for such feast, which continued with stories being told and songs being sang.
When it was time to say good night, the people unlocked their homes and invited the monks into them.
In the foggy morning, the villagers stood outside the gate saying farewell to the monks. An elderly man spoke, “You have given us the greatest joy of sharing and for that we will be grateful forever.”
 “To be happy is as simple as making stone soup,” smiled Sew.

Source: ‘Stone Soup’ by Jon Muth


  1. Stone soup is a comment on our current society and how it has deteriorated to the point where we do not help each other from our hearts in ordinary respectful ways.