The tale of the Chinese emperor and the picture of the rooster

Once upon a time, there was an emperor who was extremely fond of roosters, and so one day he commissioned the most famous painter in all his realm to paint him a picture of a rooster. The painter replied that it would take him three years to accomplish this. The emperor was secretly rather annoyed, but in the end he agreed.

When the three years came to an end, the emperor summoned the painter, but on seeing that he was empty-handed impatiently demanded: "What about my painting of a rooster?" The painter remained perfectly calm, took up a piece of paper right where he stood, and started to paint. The brush flew across the page, the ink danced. With apparent ease, he produced the lifelike image of a rooster, capturing its very essence. It took him less than three minutes to complete. On seeing this, the emperor was furious and could stand it no longer: "Have you been deliberately deceiving your king? Is this some act of rebellion? It took you just three minutes to paint that picture; why did you make me wait three whole years?" To which the painter replied: "Sire, first please calm your fury; and when you have done so, follow me and see for yourself."

The painter led the emperor to a large house and opened the door, and on looking inside, the emperor realised that the house was filled to the roof with sketches of roosters. Then the painter spoke: "These are my efforts of the last three whole years. Without those three years of labour how could I possibly have produced that perfect rooster for you in less than three minutes?"


Many thanks to Norbert Pautner for translating this tale for me from Chinese to German.
Many thanks to Daniel Bullinger for translating this tale for me from German to English.

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