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The Story of the Three Genjias

March 5, 2011 in World Stories

Once upon a time in a certain place there lived three men who all had the same name — Genjia. One was the tribal chief, the second a carpenter, and the third the chief’s steward.

Genjia the carpenter was married to an exceptionally beautiful woman. Genjia the steward fancied her and dreamt day and night of having her for himself. But she was a very upright woman and would not let him get anywhere near her. Finally, he was driven to find some way of killing the carpenter in order to attain his end.

After a while, the father of Genjia the chief died. The steward saw in this a golden opportunity for eliminating the carpenter. Every day he secretly studied the calligraphy of the Buddhist scriptures and succeeded in reproducing the old-fashioned and esoteric style in which they were written. He then wrote a document in this style and handed it to the chief, saying, “Master, here is a document I came across the other day. I cannot understand a word of it and have brought it here specially for you to decipher.”

Genjia the chief was baffled by the writing and passed it on to his secretary in charge of documents. After reading it, the secretary said, “This document claims to be from the old chief. In it he says that he has ascended to heaven and is now serving as an official there, but he doesn’t have an official mansion. He asks you, Master, to send him a carpenter — the most skilled you have — to direct the construction of such a mansion.”

Genjia the chief thought constantly of his father and was most concerned to hear that he had nowhere to lay his head in heaven. He sent for Genjia the carpenter, showed him the document and ordered him to go to heaven at once.

Genjia the carpenter was greatly startled. He dared not refuse, however, and could only plead for time, “How could I disobey your order, Master! But I need some time to prepare. Please allow me seven days. After that time, please hold a Twig Burning Ceremony in the hemp field behind my house to send me off. Then I’ll be able to ascend to heaven to build the mansion for the old chief.”

Genjia the chief considered this request reasonable and willingly agreed.

When Genjia the carpenter left, he went round making a few investigations. He wanted to find out where the chief had got this idea. He eventually discovered that it had originated in a classical document found by Genjia the steward. He put two and two together and concluded that it must be a sinister plot against him hatched by the steward.

He went home and consulted with his wife. “The most absurd thing has happened. The chief wants me to go and build a mansion in heaven. He must have been tricked into it by Genjia the steward. I did not dare refuse, but asked him to hold a Twig Burning Ceremony behind our house before I go. It would be no use trying to disobey him now. There is only one way for me to get out of this alive. The two of us must dig a tunnel under cover of night leading from the field to our bedroom, and then you can hide me there later. In a year’s time I will find some way to get even.”

The wife was shocked by this tale. Hatred for the steward filled the very marrow of her bones. She was willing to do anything to save her husband. So every day when night fell, the two of them dug the tunnel in secret. On the seventh day it was completed. They sealed the entrance with a slab of stone and scattered soil on it, so that people wouldn’t notice it.

The eighth day came, the day for the carpenter to ascend to heaven. At the head of a retinue of elders and stewards and with a great din of bugles and drums, the chief came to send him off. They made a pile of faggots in the hemp field and asked Genjia the carpenter to sling his tool-kit over his shoulder and carry his bag in one hand. They made him stand in the middle, lit the faggots and watched the smoke rise, “carrying him up to heaven”.

Genjia the steward was afraid that as soon as the faggots were lit, the carpenter would spoil everything by crying out in terror. “Come on !” he shouted to the crowd. “Blow your bugles and beat your drums! Laugh and cheer! Genjia the carpenter is on his way to heaven to build a mansion for our old chief. Isn’t that a wonderful thing!”

The chief came over to have a look. Genjia the steward pointed gleefully to the rising smoke and said, “Master, you see, there goes his horse. Genjia the carpenter is on his way to heaven.”

The chief was delighted.

The moment the faggots were lit and the smoke began rising into the sky, Genjia the carpenter raised the slab and escaped through the tunnel back to his own bedroom.

He confined himself to his house for a whole year. His wife went to great lengths to find milk, butter and other nutritious food for him; and as he did no work, by the end of that year he was plumper and fairer-skinned than ever.

Meanwhile, Genjia the steward tried a thousand and one ways of seducing the carpenter’s wife, and she tried a thousand and one ways of avoiding him. He failed completely to attain his goal.

While Genjia the carpenter was hiding at home, he diligently practiced the calligraphy of the Buddhist scriptures. He prepared a document written in the authentic style and kept it on his person. On the first anniversary of his “ascent to heaven” he went and stood on the very spot where he was supposed to have been burned, the same tool-kit on his shoulder and the same bag in his hand. He called out, “How is everybody? I’ve just got back from heaven.”

His wife was the first to come out. She pretended to be extremely surprised and hurried over to report the news to the chief.

The chief was very happy when he heard that Genjia the carpenter was back. He gave him a hero’s welcome with bugles and drums, and invited him to stay in his mansion. He wanted to find out how his father was faring in heaven.

On meeting the chief, Genjia the carpenter said in a very serious tone of voice, “When I was constructing the official mansion in heaven, the old chief treated me with exceptional kindness, just as you always do, Master. That’s why I’m in such good shape! The mansion is finished, and what a magnificent building it is — ten times the size of an earthly mansion! Only one thing is lacking: a steward. The old chief misses his old steward dearly. He very much wants the steward to go up to heaven and manage things for him. After a period of time he can come back.” This said, he promptly produced the document and showed it to the chief, adding that it was the old chief who had asked him to bring it down.

Genjia the chief read the document and was totally convinced by the whole story. Presently he sent for Genjia the steward and asked him to go and work for the old chief in his newly-built mansion in heaven.

When Genjia the steward saw Genjia the carpenter standing there and looking so well after his “ascent to heaven,” and when he heard the vivid description of heaven given by the carpenter, he just didn’t know what to think. “Perhaps I really possess some sort of magic power”, he thought to himself. “It was my idea for him to go to heaven, and he actually seems to have done so! Perhaps it really is possible to fly to heaven, and the old chief really does have a new mansion there!”

He followed the carpenter’s example and asked for seven days to get ready, and a Twig Burning Ceremony to be held in the hemp field behind his house to send him off to heaven. He thought that since Genjia the carpenter could come back, he could too. On the eighth day, as on the previous occasion, Genjia the steward stood in the middle of the faggots with a box on his shoulder and a bag in his hand. As on the previous occasion, there was a great din of bugles and drums, and the chief gave the order to light the faggots and send him off to heaven.

But the outcome this time was somewhat different. One difference was that after everything was over, a pile of charred bones was found among the ashes. Another difference was that the steward never came back. He stayed on in heaven forever to help the old chief run his mansion.

THE END

• Source: Favourite Folktales of China, translated by John Minford (Beijing: New World Press, 1983), pp. 87-94.

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