One beautiful spring day, two men strolled into the public square of a well-known Chinese city. They were plainly dressed and looked like ordinary countrymen who had come in to see the sights. Judging by their faces, they were father and son. The elder, a wrinkled man of perhaps fifty, wore a scant grey beard. The younger had a small box on his shoulder.
At the hour when these strangers entered the public square, a large crowd had gathered, for it was a feast day, and every one was bent on having a good time. All the people seemed very happy. Some, seated in little open-air booths, were eating, drinking, and smoking. Others were buying odds and ends from the street-vendors, tossing coins, and playing various games of chance.
The two men walked about aimlessly. They seemed to have no friends among the pleasure-seekers. At last, however, as they stood reading a public notice posted at the entrance of the town-hall or yamen, a bystander asked them who they were.
“Oh, we are jugglers from a distant province,” said the elder, smiling and pointing towards the box. “We can do many tricks for the amusement of the people.”
Soon it was spread about among the crowd that two famous jugglers had just arrived from the capital, and that they were able to perform many wonderful deeds. Now it happened that the mandarin or mayor of the city, was entertaining a number of guests in the yamen at that very moment. They had just finished eating, and the host was wondering what he should do to amuse his friends, when a servant told him of the jugglers.
“Ask them what they can do,” said the mandarin eagerly. “I will pay them well if they can really amuse us, but I want something more than the old tricks of knife-throwing and balancing. They must show us something new.”
The servant went outside and spoke to the jugglers, “The great man bids you to tell him what you can do. If you can amuse his visitors he will bring them out to the private grand stand, and let you perform before them and the people who are gathered together.”
“Tell your honourable master,” said the elder, whom we shall call Chang, “that, try us as he will, he will not be disappointed. Tell him that we come from the unknown land of dreams and visions, that we can turn rocks into mountains, rivers into oceans, mice into elephants, in short, that there is nothing in magic too difficult for us to do.”
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