Weighing the Elephant
Illustrated By: Stella Wei
Listen to the story while you read along!
A long time ago, people who lived in China knew that a strange, amazing beast called an elephant lived in a faraway land, but no one had ever seen one. One day, a ruler came to see the Emperor of China. He brought a gift, and that gift was a real, live elephant!
Never in China had anyone seen anything like it. As soon as the royal guest left, it was all anyone at court could talk about.
“This elephant is bigger than a water buffalo!” said one mandarin.
“Are you kidding?” said a second. “It’s bigger than a rhino!”
“You must be joking,” said a third. “This elephant is bigger than TWO rhinos!”
One day the Emperor said to his mandarins, “I want to know how much this amazing elephant weighs. Who can tell me how to weigh it?”
“I can!” said the first mandarin, who used to be a merchant. “We will just put it on a scale.”
“Not likely,” said the Emperor. “There is no scale that could hold the weight of an elephant without breaking.”
“I can tell you!” said the second mandarin, who used to be a tailor. He said, “We will measure the elephant.”
“No,” said the Emperor with a sigh. “Even if you measured all the different parts of an elephant, you would still not know how much it weighs.”
“I can tell you!” said the third mandarin, who used to be a baker. “We will cut up the elephant and cook it. Then we will know.”
“We will surely NOT do that!” roared the Emperor. “Is there NO ONE who can tell me how to weigh the elephant?”
Then a small voice said, “I can.”
All eyes turned to the voice. It was the Emperor’s son!
“Son!” said the Emperor. “You should be in bed.”
“But I know how,” said the boy. “And we won’t need to cook it first.”
“Very well,” said the Emperor with a smile. “Tell me how to weigh the elephant.”
The boy described what to do.
Here is what the boy said. “You put the elephant in a big boat and take the boat out on the water. Draw a line on the side of the boat where it meets the water, at the watermark. Then bring the boat back to shore and take the elephant off the boat. Put rocks on the boat, one by one. When the boat sinks to the same watermark line it had when the elephant was in it, bring the boat to shore again. Take out the rocks and weigh them, one by one. That is how you can tell how much the elephant weighs!"
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" shouted everyone.
“It will work!” called out the first mandarin.
“What a clever plan!” said the second.
“Who knew this child would know?” said the third.
And the fame of Emperor's son traveled far and wide.
A Chinese folk tale retold by Elaine Lindy. ©2005. All rights reserved.