2. A Turtle’s Gratitude
During the Chin dynasty of the fourth century, there was a middle aged man in Shanyin called K’ung Yu. He was an official for the government, but he had practically the lowest official position in the whole dynasty. His position was low, and so was his pay. Times were hard for him.
Once he saw a turtle someone was getting ready to eat. He felt sorry for it, so he bought the turtle and took it to the river. There he let it go.
The turtle seemed to understand that Yu had saved it from the soup. As it swam away, it kept looking back at him. Yu watched it until he couldn’t see it any more.
Years later, Yu had reached a better position. Leading troops, he quelled a rebellion. For his great deeds, the Emperor raised him to the rank of Lord, a high and powerful position.
The official insignia for the rank of Lord is a metal seal, or chop. When K’ung Yu was promoted, the royal artisans cast a seal for him, but for some reason, it came out with a turtle on top, and the turtle was looking back over its shoulder. They thought that was strange, so they melted the seal down, made a new mold, and cast it again, but it still came out with a turtle looking back over its shoulder! The artisans tried over and over again. Every time they made the mold very carefully, and everybody inspected the mold. Every time, the mold was fine, but every time they cast the seal, it came out with a turtle on top of it, and every time, the turtle’s head was looking back over its shoulder!
The artisans thought this was uncanny. They decided to go to the new Lord and see what he thought about it. They knelt in front of him, and said, “My Lord, as directed by our Emperor of Ten Thousand Years, we have tried to make a seal for you as sign of your new rank, but every time we cast the mold, the seal comes out with a turtle on top, and the turtle is always looking back over its shoulder.”
“Carry on,” K’ung Yu directed. “Do it over again.”
The artisans followed his command, but once again, the seal appeared with a turtle on top, looking back over its shoulder. K’ung Yu was perplexed. The news of this strange occurrence spread, and eventually reached the royal ears of the Emperor.
The Emperor called K’ung Yu in to explain why his seal always came with a turtle, but K’ung Yu was at a loss to explain.
On his way home, K’ung Yu suddenly remembered something. The next day in court, he reported, “Your Highness’s loyal minister has considered the manner of the seal and the unexplainable turtles, and perhaps has found a reason.
“Many years ago, this minister happened to see a fisherman preparing to cook and eat a turtle he had caught. This minister felt sorry for the turtle, and so purchased said turtle from the fisherman and released it by the river. The turtle seemed to understand, for it swam along the surface of the water and looked back as if in gratitude.
“Your Highness has currently granted me the rank of Lord; the official seal has a turtle on it; this must be a sign that I have had the opportunity to win such favor from Your Highness due to the gratitude of that turtle, which must have moved Heaven on my behalf.”
The Emperor told the court, “Those who do good will reap good rewards. The Lord K’ung is an excellent example.”