In a sixth grade literature textbook (c. 2001), I read a short story or fable (I'm thinking Chinese in origin) about a poor man who goes on a journey to a place that'll give him three wishes so that he can be wealthy.

On the way there, he is stopped by three guardians of some kind, who attempt to kill him, but when he promises them he'll give them one of his three wishes, they make their request and let him move forward. The only guardian I remember is a giant serpent who is wondering why he can't become a dragon, so he asks the man to wish for knowledge as to what more he needs to do.

After the man gets there, he decides to keep his word and wish for the guardians' wishes instead of his own, then sadly starts walking back. In order for the serpent to become a dragon, he needs to remove the pearl from his head. Once he does, he becomes a dragon, and he gives the pearl to the man in gratitude. The other guardians similarly reward the man in thanks, so when the man returns home, he's wealthy because he kept his word.

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    – jo1storm
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 7:37

1 Answer 1


I have an anthology that includes a story called "The Living Kuan-yin". It's described as a Chinese folk tale taken from Sweet and Sour: Tales from China, by Carol Kendall and Yao-wen Li. The details are slightly different, but I assume this is at least a form of the same story.

It's the story of a poor man who travels to see the Living Kuan-Yin, a goddess who will answer three questions. His question is basically "Why am I so poor?" Along the way, he receives aid from three separate people (one, the serpent who wants to be a dragon), and in return he offers to ask a question of the Living Kuan-Yin on their behalf. Upon arriving, he realizes he cannot ask his own question without breaking his word to one of his benefactors. But he keeps his word, and each time he delivers the answer to the original asker on his trip home, he receives a reward. By the end, the rewards have made him a rich man.

  • 3
    What an interesting coincidence. In Slavic mythology there is a story about a man going to meet Fate (Usud) to find out why he is poor and has a bad luck. He meets 2 people and a river on the way.Helps them by asking Fate about their problems (kids who ate for 10 people,bad growing cattle and barren river without any fish in it) but he doesn't have limit on questions so he asks about his own. His own is solved by marrying a girl born lucky and telling everybody who asks him about his new found wealth that it is hers. Can be read here sr.m.wikisource.org/sr-ec/%D0%A3%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4
    – jo1storm
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 8:45
  • You can read "The Living Kuan-Yin" story here. It is shocking how similar it is to the Usud story I know. books.google.rs/…
    – jo1storm
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 8:59
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    Pure speculation, but I wonder if both are descendants (with the Chinese version coming via Buddhism) of a single story of Proto-Indo-European origin. (Or perhaps even older, though any shared ancestor between Slavic and Chinese is untraceable at this time.)
    – chepner
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 15:35
  • That's it! Maybe the difference between him seeking "questions" instead of "wishes" is why I couldn't find it. Thanks so much! Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 16:54

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