The golden jar
Compiled by John Millen
Long, long ago in Mongolia, there lived an emperor who was extremely vain and conceited. All he cared about was his appearance.
One morning, as he was checking himself in his bedroom mirrors, the emperor had a shock. There was a white hair sticking up on his head. He shouted for his chief adviser and wanted the white hair to be plucked out and thrown away secretly.
'Your Majesty!' the adviser said. 'It is quite natural for even great emperors like yourself to get white hairs as they grow older.'
The emperor stormed out of his bedroom, vowing to check his head every morning for white hairs and to have them plucked out. The emperor was quite happy about this, until his chief adviser warned him that eventually he would be bald if his servants kept on plucking hairs from his head.
After a great deal of discussion, his courtiers advised the emperor to have his white hairs dyed instead of plucked out.
So every morning when the emperor awoke, a couple of his servants were on standby with a bowl of dye as His Majesty checked himself in the mirror. But the emperor knew that dyeing his hair could not disguise the fact that he was getting older. More drastic measures were needed.
The emperor ordered that every mirror in the land must be destroyed so that he would never see himself grow old. The whole country echoed with the smashing of mirrors. The emperor could now forget about white hairs and old age.
And indeed he did, until one afternoon he looked out of a window and saw an old man with white hair in the street below. All the horrible thoughts about getting old flooded back into the emperor's mind, but he knew exactly what to do. He issued a decree banning old people with white hair from his county.
Soldiers were sent to every corner of Mongolia and the elderly were driven over the borders into neighbouring lands. The emperor could now rest peacefully in his bed with no reminders of old age anywhere in his realm.
One night, a terrible storm blew through the palace grounds and the wind lifted all the emperor's treasures high into the sky and scattered them all over the countryside. It took an army of servants many weeks to scour the land and recover all the lost items.
Everything was found and returned to the palace apart from the emperor's most valued possession - a golden jug that had once belonged to his mother.
Word eventually reached the palace that the jug had been seen at the bottom of a shallow lake in a village just outside the capital city.
The emperor sent his servants to the lake with instructions to dive into the water and recover the jug. Servant after servant dived into the lake but came up empty-handed. They could see the jug, but every time they made a grab for it, the jug dissolved as if it were made of liquid gold.
The emperor travelled to the lake himself to see what was going on. In desperation, he issued a decree. Anyone who succeeded in bringing the jug out of the water would be given anything that he or she wanted. The emperor was prepared to part with whatever it took to get the jug out of the lake.
Lines of men of all shapes and sizes appeared, but not one of them managed to bring up the jug from the bottom of the lake. Then a little girl called Bayarma came forward. Everyone laughed when she said she could recover the jug for the emperor.
But instead of diving into the water she began to climb up a tree at the edge of the lake. And there was the golden jug nestling among the branches! Everyone else had been looking at the jug's reflection in the water. Bayarma smiled at their stupidity as she passed the jug to the emperor.
The emperor was surprised when Bayarma asked for her reward. She wanted him to bring all the old people back to Mongolia so she could see her grandfather again.
The emperor suddenly realised what a stupid person he had been, and he granted the girl's request. From that day on, he stopped caring about the white hairs on his head and became one of the wisest emperors Mongolia had ever known.
1 Why did the emperor hate getting white hairs on his head?
2 How would you describe the emperor at this point of his reign?
3 Why did he ban elderly people from Mongolia?
4 What happened when the storm blew through the palace?
5 Why could no one manage recover the golden jug from the lake?
1 He was afraid of growing old.
2 He was vain, conceited and very stupid.
3 So he was not reminded about eventual old age.
4 All the emperor's possessions were scattered throughout the land.
5 Because it wasn't there. They were only seeing a reflection.