Tell Me a Story

Kua Fu Chases the Sun (A Chinese Folktale)

Long, long ago, in a time when the world was desolate and empty, filled with vipers and beasts, there lived a giant known as Kua Fu. Kua Fu lived on a mountain called Heaven Pillar in the northern wilderness. He was so enormous that, with a single stride, he could cross hundreds of miles. Kua Fu led a group of mighty giants. Those who did not know Kua Fu thought he must be fierce. After all, from his ears he wore ferocious snakes as decoration. And he strode through the land without fear.

But in truth, Kua Fu was gentle and kind. He could be impatient, and sometimes he was vain. He wished everyone to know of his importance. But he was generous, and he thought not only of himself, but of others, too.

One year, the weather was scorching hot. The plants shriveled. The rivers ran dry. The people sweated and cursed and fainted from the heat. And Kua Fu's heart ached for their misery. He decided he must do something to help.

He thought for a long time about what he would do, and then one day as he was gazing up at the bright sun, he suddenly knew. He would challenge the sun to a race. After all, he was faster than anyone on Earth. Surely he could catch the sun and teach it a lesson. He would tame the sun. He would catch it and tell it to serve everyone. He would teach the sun to be kind to the plants and the rivers and the people.

That night, Kua Fu pulled a tree out of the Earth -- a tree so tall it could reach heaven, and he stood watching and waiting for the sun to appear.

The moment he saw the first light rise in the East, Kua Fu took the tree and began to run. With each step, he raised a gust of wind and an enormous cloud of dust drifted in his wake. The other giants watched as he disappeared from Heaven Pillar, and they saw all the mountains quake as their leader ran. The gods, too, watched closely. No one knew who would win this competition.

"Kua Fu may be as fast as the sun," the gods whispered, and the giants agreed.

The sun saw Kua Fu was giving chase, but the sun seemed not to care. As it had each day, the sun crossed the sky without a care in the world, and Kua Fu picked up speed. He grew tired. He was parched with thirst. But he was determined. And the closer Kua Fu came, the more excited he got, and that excitement overcame his exhaustion.

Hours passed, and because Kua Fu's shoes were so full of dirt, he stopped a moment to take them off and empty them. The dust that came from his shoes became a hill, and up that hill he ran.

That night, as the sun disappeared in the Western sky, Kua Fu rested. He used three stones to support the stove on which he cooked his supper, and when the first light came again, he left those stones behind and began to run, and those stones grew into tall mountains.

Nine days had passed. Each day, Kua Fu woke and stretched his legs, and the moment he saw the first light, he began to run. He ran like the wind -- faster than the wind, many say. He crossed thousands of miles, and he rested only when the sun rested. But on the ninth day, as he was running, he became so parched with thirst that he knew he had to drink. He had never felt this thirsty; his body seemed to be drying up, turning to stone.

He searched for the nearest stream, and he bent down and began to drink. He drank that stream dry, but even that was not enough.

"I must reach the river," he said, and he ran to the mighty Yellow River. Again, he bent down and began to drink. He drank, and he drank, and even the whole of the Yellow River did not quench his thirst. He drank that river dry. He moved on, drinking every stream and lake he passed, and still nothing quenched his thirst.

He drained the Wei River too, and soon he understood. The only thing that would quench his thirst was the sweet, cold water of the North Sea, and so he moved to the North. He could no longer run. His legs were too weak. He was too tired.

Still, he moved on. At long last, he saw the sun nearly within reach. He raised his arms, but he had no strength left, and in despair, he cast the tree he'd been carrying toward the sun, and then he collapsed. As he fell, the deafening sound rolled across the mountains and valleys, and everyone knew he had failed. The weight of his fall shook heaven and Earth. As always, the sun set that night.

The next morning, as the sun rose, the gods saw that Kua Fu's body had transformed into a mountain range. The tree he had carried grew into a peach tree grove. Today that forest is called Donglin Forest, and it is beautiful, lush and green, with peaches so sweet and moist that they might relieve the thirst of anyone who chases the sun.

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