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This is a folktale from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, about the origin of the name of Banping Mountain (半屏山). The name of the mountain translates to "half-screen", a name given after the residents noted that the mountain's sharp cliffside made it look like a painted screen. Name aside, there is a popular story about how the mountain obtained its distinctive shape in the first place.
The story centers on a sage and his hidden quest for a disciple, with some versions of the story stating that this sage is in fact one of the Eight Immortals from Chinese mythology. Other versions assert that the dumplings in question were tang yuan, a stuffed round glutinous rice flour dumpling. No matter the difference, these various versions of the story carry the same message about the perils of greed and the importance of kindness. Read on for the full story!
There once was a small village which resided near Banping mountain, which had yet to be named at that time. One day, an old man came into the village, rolling his cart with him. He planned to set up his stall at the foot of the mountain and sell dumplings to the villagers.
He set up a sign to display the prices of his dumplings, “One dumpling for one cent, two dumplings for two cents, and three dumplings for free!” When the villagers saw this sign, they were astonished. Three dumplings for free? Of course people would order three dumplings, just so they did not have to pay! Word soon spread around the village.
“Who is this old man, and why would he sell three dumplings for free?”
“What even is in those dumplings?”
“I do not know, but I am hungry and I am going to take all the free dumplings I can get!”
Visitors swarmed around the dumpling cart, each individual ordering three dumplings at a time so they would not have to pay. The old man did not seem mind and worked tirelessly to give everyone their food despite not earning any money. No one seemed to suspect anything.
The old man returned for several days after that, the price of the dumplings remaining unchanged even though he had to give away all his dumplings for free. The villagers did not seem to care and continued ordering three dumplings each time, happily stuffing their faces with the delicious food.
One day, a young man timidly approached the cart after most of the villagers have had their fill.
“Old man, may I have one dumpling?”
The old man looked at him with a puzzled look, pointing towards his sign, “Why only order one when you can order three for free?”
The young man shook his head and replied, “I have seen you giving away dumplings for a few days now, and I felt bad that you were not earning any money. I do not have much myself, but I still want to help by buying a dumpling.” The villagers around them heard the conversation and started to feel guilty about their selfish actions.
The old man smiled. Gasps were heard through the crowd as the old man revealed himself as a sage from the mountain. He turned to the young man and said, “I have been searching for a kind youth such as yourself to take on as an apprentice.” The sage had disguised himself as a helpless old man to find a trustworthy apprentice!
The sage turned to the crowd and picked up a dumpling. He ripped it in half to show that the dumplings had been filled with dirt, and then gestured to the mountain. “Your greed has caused half the mountain to vanish!”
The villagers realised that the sage had taken dirt from the mountain to fill the dumplings, and that their greed had caused part of the mountain to disappear! The mountain now looked like someone had taken a knife and cut out a huge chunk from the side.
Upon realising this, many villagers began to fall ill, experiencing stomachaches and coughing up dirt. The villagers regretted acting out of greed, and named the mountain “Banping Mountain” to remind themselves of this story and the lesson they had learned.
Did you enjoy the story of the dumpling sage and Banping Mountain? Try colouring in the story yourself and come up with your own food-related legend with the activity sheet below!
Illustrations by: Painted Isla