The Farmer and The Hunter

The Farmer & The Hunter

By Derek Lin

Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a farmer who lived next door to a hunter. The farmer’s primary means of livelihood was raising sheep. He had a small flock that he tended with much care.

One night, the hunter’s dogs discovered a hole in the fence. They broke through and attacked the sheep, causing much damage. The farmer was dismayed and notified his neighbor the next morning. The hunter was apologetic: “I am sorry. I will have my sons keep the dogs in the house from now on. That ought to fix the problem.”

The hunter was mistaken. The dogs got out somehow and more chaos ensued. The farmer appeared at the hunter’s door the next morning, tired from lack of sleep and angry: “Is this how you fix your problems?”

Again the hunter was apologetic: “My boys tell me the dogs got out by climbing through an open window. I’ll have them lock up all the windows at night from now on.”

This still did not stop the trouble. These hunting dogs were highly intelligent, and once every few days, they would figure out a new way to break out of the house. Each time the farmer would confront the hunter, and the hunter would make promises, but there were just too many ways for the dogs to get out, so the hunter was not able to cover all the possibilities. This situation continued for weeks.

One morning, the farmer regarded his loss from the previous night, and decided he had enough. Like most Chinese people, he preferred to resolve disputes privately, but in this case he felt he had no choice but to go before the judge.

Judges held tremendous power in ancient China. They could not only interpret the law, but also conduct investigation, render verdict, decide punishment, and enforce sentence. In the right hands, these powers made them extremely effective as agents of justice; in the wrong hands, such powers could be highly corrupting.

At the courthouse, the judge probed the farmer with questions and considered the matter. After a while, he said: “We can solve this problem in two ways. Certainly I can punish your neighbor and order him to compensate you. However, this will no doubt turn him against you. Do you wish to live next door to an enemy?”

“Of course not, your honor,” said the farmer. “But I don’t see any other way out of this problem.”

“There is always another way,” said the judge. “I can point it out to you. However, if you wish to hear of this alternative, you must first give me your word to do exactly what I tell you.”

Something about the judge’s quiet confidence compelled the farmer to nod his head in agreement. “Very well,” the judge said. “Here are the steps I want you to follow…”

The judge’s instructions were brief. They were also shocking to the farmer. He stuttered: “But… your honor! This is preposterous! Have I not already lost enough?”

The judge’s face was stern: “Do you wish to go back on your word and risk my wrath?”

“Of course not! Of course not!” The farmer was frightened. “I will carry out your instructions immediately, your honor.”

The farmer went home feeling depressed. He selected two of the youngest and most adorable lambs from his flock. Then, still following the judge’s instructions to the letter, he went to the hunter’s house and knocked on the door.

The hunter answered with much annoyance: “What is it now?”

The farmer cleared his throat and recalled what the judge told him to say: “For the past few weeks I have bothered you many times, and you have worked hard to contain your dogs as a favor to me. I would like to give you something for your trouble. Here are two of my best lambs for your two sons.”

The two boys overheard this and could hardly believe their ears. They crowded the doorway and looked at their father with pleading eyes. The hunter shooed them away, thanked the farmer, and accepted the gift. As the farmer walked back to his house, he could hear the excited voices of the youngsters as they eagerly took their new pets.

Early next morning, the farmer got up to check the sheep. He expected more problems, but found none. Everything was peaceful and quiet. He looked toward the hunter’s house, and an amazing sight greeted his eyes: the hunter had built a large cage outside his house. The dogs were sleeping in it, locked up and leashed securely.

After several more uneventful days, the hunter came by the farmer’s house, bringing with him fresh kills. He had selected his best to give to the farmer as a reciprocal present. The farmer was touched, and realized that the hunter was actually quite a decent fellow. “The judge was right,” he thought to himself. “There is always another way – a much, much better way!”


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