Tell Me a Story

Two Dreams (A Chinese Folktale)

Once upon a time, a wealthy man named Wang Hong lived in Shanghai and owned a successful factory. Wang Hong loved to work, but even more than work, he loved money. Day and night, he dreamed of making more money. He had no need for anything. He owned a beautiful home, and his wife and children had everything their hearts desired. But he could not help himself. He craved more and more money.

And so, in order to increase the supply of his goods, Wang Hong insisted that the men who worked for him had to work day and night. In many ways, he treated them like slaves. He forced them to work late into the night, every night. He ignored their grumbles and complaints. If anyone stood up to him and demanded time off, an increase in pay or better working conditions, Wang Hong told him that he must learn to be quiet and accepting, or he would be fired.

Whenever anyone was lazy, Wang Hong let him go. Although he was aware that his workers despised him, he did not let himself think about that. His craving for money overcame any embarrassment or shame.

As time passed, he amassed more wealth, but there was one problem. Every night Wang Hong lay down to sleep feeling exhausted, but he could not sleep through the night. You see, every single night, the moment he closed his eyes, a dream came back to him. This was a dream he'd had every night for years.

In this dream, he was a lowly servant who was forced to perform endless tasks. Sometimes he spent the whole night sweeping, and he awoke in the morning red-eyed and restless, with an aching back and tired limbs. Other times he chopped wood all night long, and in the morning he was so sore that he could barely move. Some nights he mixed cement, others he stacked bricks. Some nights he hammered nails into thick, mahogany beams.

Of course, as always, he felt as if he had not slept for one moment.

No matter the dream, it was always the same. Whatever chore he had to perform, it never ended until his wife shook him awake and whispered, "Time for you to go to the factory."

At long last he was so exhausted that he sought his doctor's advice.

"How can I stop having this dream?" he asked, but the doctor had no answer. Wang Hong then sought wisdom from the greatest judges in the land. He talked to politicians and their advisers. No one had an answer for him. No one could find a way to stop this dream.

In the meantime, Li Tao worked in Wang Hong's factory. He worked all day without rest just like all the others, but he never thought to complain. Naturally, he wished he had more time to spend with his wife and his daughter. He wished his boss were not so greedy and cruel. But he felt grateful for the gifts he had -- his lovely wife and precious daughter, his mother and father, and the fact that he was strong and healthy enough to work hard.

And Li Tao was grateful, too, for the nighttime. As soon as he fell asleep every night, he dreamed that he was a boss, and it was he who told everyone what to do -- how long he must work, when he might take off a day. He was a taskmaster in his sleep. He insisted everyone follow his orders, and because others did all his work for him, he slept like a baby through his dream, and he woke every morning feeling fit and happy.

This dream puzzled Li Tao, though. He could not imagine being so cruel. One day in the factory, he was telling his friend of his dream. Li Tao's friend told another friend, and he told still another, and that afternoon while Wang Hong was walking through the factory, inspecting the work, he overheard some of the men talking about Li Tao's dream.

"What's that?" he asked them. "What is this dream that you speak of?"

The men were terrified of their boss. They couldn't ignore him or hide the story from him. And so they told him that it was their fellow worker. It was Li Tao who dreamed that he was a taskmaster who forced men to work day and night, to work through sickness and exhaustion, to work until they could work no longer.

"He sleeps like a baby, or so he says," the men explained to their boss.

Wang Hong listened closely. After that, he could not stop thinking of the meaning of this dream, and the meaning of his own.

He thought and thought about this, and that night when Wang Hong fell asleep, he barely closed his eyes, and he did not dream. He was too busy thinking of the meaning.

In the morning he woke, and although he had not slept for one moment, he felt energized and happy for the first time in a long while. Now he knew the meaning: His cruelty was his curse. He had to lighten the workload of his workers, and he had to cut back on his avarice.

That very day he told his men he would no longer be so cruel.

"You will work a normal work day," Wang Hong explained. "If you're sick, you will take time off without penalty, and you will have holidays and nights for your families."

The workers rejoiced, and from that day on, Wang Hong slept peacefully. They say the same was true of Li Tao. He stopped dreaming of being a boss, but his sleep remained deep and peaceful, and the rest of his life was wonderful as well.

"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.

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