There was an old man who walked up and down the mountain side. For years people would see him and wonder why he would waste his time walking the mountain side, going from village to village caring nothing but a satchel. Everyone knew him but nobody really knew him. He was as commonly seen as the Starling but as rare to know as the Siberian Crane. The people called him, Hóng Tāo Rén because all he did was walk about carrying his satchel with him. People avoided him and children were told terrifying tales about how Hóng Tāo Rén would come and take naughty children away in his satchel and leave them on the mountain far away from home. Poor Hóng Tāo Rén did not have a friend to call upon or a place to call home.
One day the children were all playing in the village of Zishóu for it was a beautiful spring day and it was about the only thing that the children understood to be beautiful. The village had seen many years of bad weather which had destroyed the fields and the hopes of having plenty to eat. Many families had left to find work. Others had remained to stay and work as hard as they could to sustain and nurture what they could from the land. But for most, their efforts were futile and their children were obvious recipients of what meager food there was. Despite the pangs of hunger, the innocence of childhood sustained the children on such a beautiful spring day. They ran after an old ball. They kicked a can. They played hide and seek and even had an afternoon tea party.
Perhaps it was their hunger, along with a joyful imagination, that all the children were invited and participated in the imaginary tea. The boys pretended they were seated proudly at a grand teatable and the girls were thrilled to be pouring tea. They held in their hands the tiny rocks that were supposed to be tea cups and sipped gingerly at their stones. It made them happy, but it could not fill their empty stomachs.
The children were greatly enjoying their game of acting like their parents pouring and offering tea to one another that nobody noticed that Hóng Tāo Rén appeared standing over them watching. The old man smiled and looked pleased to see that their innocence could allow them to enact such a wonderful comfort as is the tea ceremony. But the children were shocked to seem him, even afraid that maybe he was here because their parents sent him to get a child.
It was Gânxiè’s turn to serve when Hóng Tāo appeared. Gânxiè was only five years of age but had within her a deep heart that extended far into the world. She was anxious to see Hóng Tāo Rén but with great trepidation and a heavy swallow she welcomed him to their imaginary table. The other children were shocked but made room for Hóng Tāo Rén. Gânxiè was very sure to enact the tea ceremony perfectly just as she had seen her parents do at home, hoping of it was right and she would not end up in Hóng Tāo Rén satchel. Carefully pretending to keep the lid on the large stone Gânxiè poured into a smaller stone. She carefully turned the stone and lifted it offering it first to Hóng Tāo Rén, for he was the oldest at the table. As her trembling hands reached out, Hóng Tāo Rén appreciatively accepted the cup with a great smile and without saying a word bowed graciously in return. There was not a single word uttered by the other children. They were in complete awe of what they had just seen.
Gânxiè returned to her seat and continued to pour but the other children just stared at Hóng Tāo Rén. Suddenly, Gânxiè uttered a shocking syllable. The children turned to see what had happened. What they saw, they could not believe. Before them there was a beautiful table laid out. There were hot steaming dishes and fresh fruits. There were beautiful bowls and spoons. There was food they had never seen before nevertheless the smell was mouth watering. And there was Gânxiè holding onto a beautiful golden teapot with an ivory handle. The children had never seen anything so beautiful and it was filled with delicious, hot tea.
Gânxiè looked up at the other end of the table. Hóng Tāo Rén was still sitting there smiling back. Gânxiè said not a word but bowed graciously and with that the children began to feast upon the wonderful meal that was laid before them with delight.
When the meal was all over, Hóng Tāo Rén opened his satchel and one by one put each dish, bowl, and spoon back into his satchel. How he ever got it all in there the children never knew. All that was left on the table was a cup for each child and Hóng Tāo Rén and a teapot.
They finished their tea in silence and then as suddenly as Hóng Tāo Rén appeared he was gone and left in the hands of each child was a beautiful golden cup, except for Gânxiè. There before her was also the beautiful teapot which everyone knew was hers.
Hóng Tāo Rén was never seen again in Zishóu but reports still were made of him being here and there. The children took their cups home to their parents and they were amazed to see such beautiful cups and Gânxiè teapot. The village people gathered the whole set together, with the permission of the children because they all realized that Hóng Tāo Rén gave them to the children and this must be respected, and bought many wonderful things that the village needed to survive and become great again. The one thing they kept was the golden teapot because it was the teapot that first appeared and it was Gânxiè’s invitation that brought such good fortune to the village. For this they were very grateful. The honored her by keeping the teapot and on special occasions, while Gânxiè lived, she would pour tea for the entire village honoring Hóng Tāo Rén.
One never knows when, unaware, we entertain angels! Liked the classic Chinese story telling method.