Shen Wenpao lived near the great lake T’aihu. He was very kind. His whole family was gentle and kind. They released trapped animals whenever they could.
“Have you released those birds I bought from the hunters this noon?” Shen asked his wife.
“Yes, I’ve let them all go,” she answered.
“That’s wonderful,” Shen said. “Now they are free to fly wherever they please. They can fly in the sky or rest on a branch in the forest.” Just thinking about it made Shen so happy that he beamed.
Most of the people in the area trapped and fished. Only the Shens were different. When their neighbors, caught some animals, the Shens always bought as many as they could and released them. Their neighbors thought for sure that the Shens were out of their minds. “Why waste good money on a bunch of birds? What good can it possibly do?”
“They’re just simple minded, that’s all.” This is what most of the neighbors said.
But one night, when everybody had gone to sleep except Old Man Li, who had insomnia, he heard voices in the street. When he looked out, he was so scared he fell over.
In the street, he saw two demons bringing an epidemic. Now, of course, we say germs bring epidemics. Maybe a germ is one kind of a demon. At any rate, germs are frightening to think about, and these demons Old Man Li saw sure were frightening to look at! In their hands, they carried dozens of little flags.
One of the demons said, “One flag for each house, right?”
“That’s right,” said the other demon, “But not that house there. That’s the Shens’ house. They have released lots and lots of captured animals, so we can’t do anything to them.”
Within days, a terrible epidemic swept through the T’aihu district. In less than a week, over half of the people there were dead.
But the odd thing was that nobody in the Shen family got even a bit sick. His neighbors then knew that a good heart can earn good rewards. Shen Wenpao lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully, without any suffering.