The Frog Who Became an Emperor

Once upon a time there lived a very poor couple. A baby was on the way when the husband was forced to leave his home to find a living somewhere far away. Before he left, he embraced his wife fondly and gave her the last few silver pieces he had, saying, "When the child is born, be it a boy or a girl, you must do all you can to bring it up. You and I are so poor that there is no hope for us now. But our child may be able to help us find a living."

Three months after her husband's departure, the wife gave birth. The baby was neither a boy nor a little girl, but a frog!

The poor mother was heart-broken, and wept bitterly. "Ah, an animal, not a child!" she cried. "Our hopes for someone to care for us in our old age are gone! How can I ever face people again!" She thought at first she would do away with him, but she did not have the heart to do so. She wanted to bring him up, but was afraid of what the neighbors would say.

As she brooded over the matter, she remembered her husband's words before he went away, and she decided not to kill the child but always keep him hidden under the bed. In this way, no one knew she had given birth to a frog-child. But within two months, the frog-child had grown so big that he could no longer be kept under the bed. And one day, he suddenly spoke in a human voice.

"Mother," he said, "my father is coming back tonight. I am going to wait for him beside the road." And sure enough, the husband did come home that very night.

"Have you seen your son?" the wife asked anxiously.

"Where? Where is my son?"

"He was waiting for you by the side of the road. Didn't you see him?"

"No! I saw no sign of anyone," her husband answered, surprised. "All I saw was an awful frog which gave me such a fright."

"That frog was your son," said the wife unhappily.

When the husband heard that his wife had given birth to a frog, he was grieved. "Why did you tell him to meet me?" he said.

"What do you mean, tell him to meet you? He went without any telling from me. He suddenly said you were coming tonight and went out to meet you."

"This is really extraordinary," thought the husband, brightening up. "No one knew I was coming. How could he have known?"

"Call him home, quickly," he said aloud. "He might catch cold outside."

Just as the mother opened the door to do so, the frog came in. He hopped over to his father, who asked him, "Was it you I met on the road?"

"Yes," said the frog. "I was waiting for you, Father."

"How did you know I was coming back tonight?"

"I know everything under heaven."

The father and mother were amazed by his words and more amazed when he went on.

"Our country is in great peril," he said solemnly. "We are unable to resist the invaders. I want Father to take me to the emperor, for I must save our country."

"How can that be?" said the father. "Firstly, you have no horse. Secondly, you have no weapons, and thirdly, you have never been on a battlefield. How, then, do you propose to fight?"

The frog was very much in earnest. "Only take me there," he pleaded. "I'll defeat the enemy, never fear."

The father could not dissuade the frog, so he took his frog-son to the city to seek an audience with the emperor. After two days' journey, they arrived at the capital, where they saw the imperial decree displayed!

"The imperial capital is in danger. My country has been invaded. We are willing to marry our daughter to the man who can drive away the enemy."

The frog tore down the decree and with one gulp swallowed it. The soldier guarding the imperial decree was greatly alarmed. He could hardly imagine a frog accepting such a responsible duty. However, since the frog had swallowed the decree, he must be taken into the palace.

The emperor asked the frog if he had the means and ability to defeat the enemy. The frog replied, "Yes, Lord." Then the emperor asked him how many men and horses he would need.

"Not a single horse or a single man," answered the frog. "All I need is a heap of hot, glowing embers."

The emperor immediately commanded that a heap of hot, glowing embers be brought, and it was done. The heat was intense. The frog sat before the fire devouring the flames by the mouthful for three days and three nights. He ate till his belly was as big and round as a bladder full of fat. By now the city was in great danger, for the enemy was already at the walls. The emperor was terribly apprehensive, but the frog behaved as if nothing unusual was happening, and calmly went on swallowing fire and flame. Only after the third day had passed did he go to the top of the city wall and look at the situation. There, ringing the city, were thousands of soldiers and horses, as far as the eye could see.

"How, frog, are you going to drive back the enemy?" asked the emperor.

"Order your troops to stop plying their bows," replied the frog, "and open the city gate."

The emperor turned pale with alarm when he heard these words.

"What! With the enemy at our very door! You tell me to open the gate! How dare you trifle with me?"

"Your Imperial Highness has bidden me to drive the enemy away," said the frog. "And that being so, you must heed my words."

The emperor was helpless. He ordered the soldiers to stop bending their bows and lay down their arrows and throw open the gate.

As soon as the gate was open, the invaders poured in. The frog was above them in the gate tower and, as they passed underneath, he coolly and calmly spat fire down on them, searing countless men and horses. They fled back in disorder.

The emperor was overjoyed when he saw that the enemy was defeated. He made the frog a general and ordered that the victory should be celebrated for several days. But of the princess he said nothing, for he had not the slightest intention of letting his daughter marry a frog.

"Of course I cannot do such a thing!" he said to himself. Instead, he let it be known that it was the princess who refused. She must marry someone else, but whom? He did not know what to do. Anyone but a frog! Finally he ordained that her marriage should be decided by casting the Embroidered Ball.

Casting the Embroidered Ball! The news spread immediately throughout the whole country and within a few days the city was in a turmoil. Men from far and wide came to try their luck, and all manner of people flocked to the capital. The day came. The frog was present. He did not push his way into the mob but stood at the very edge of the crowded square.

A gaily festooned pavilion of a great height had been built. The emperor led the princess and her train of maids to their seats high up on the stand.

The moment arrived. The princess tossed the Embroidered Ball into the air, and down it gently floated. The masses in the square surged and roared like a raging sea. As one and all stretched eager hands to clutch the ball, the frog drew in a mighty breath and, like a whirling tornado, sucked the ball straight to him.

Now, surely, the princess will have to marry the frog! But the emperor was still unwilling to let this happen.

"An Embroidered Ball cast by a princess," he declared, "can only be seized by a human hand. No beast may do so."

He told the princess to throw down a second ball.

This time a young, stalwart fellow caught the ball.

"This is the man!" cried the happy emperor. "Here is the person fit to be my imperial son-in-law."

A sumptuous feast was set to celebrate the occasion.

Can you guess who that young, stalwart fellow was? Of course it was the frog, now in the guise of a man.

Not till he was married to the princess did he change back again. By day he was a frog but at night he stripped off his green skin and was transformed into a fine, upstanding youth.

The princess could not keep it a secret and one day revealed it to her father, the emperor. He was startled but happy.

"At night," he said to his son-in-law, "you discard your outer garment, I hear, and become a handsome young man. Why do you wear that horrid frog-skin in the day?"

"Ah, Sire," replied the frog, "this outer garment is priceless. When I wear it in winter, I am warm and cozy; and in summer, cool and fresh. It is proof against wind and rain. Not even the fiercest flame can set it alight. And as long as I wear it, I can live for thousands of years."

"Let me try it on!" demanded the emperor.

"Yes, Sire," replied the frog and made haste to discard his skin.

The emperor smiled gleefully. He took off his dragon-embroidered robe and put on the frog-skin. But then he could not take it off again!

The frog put on the imperial robe and became the emperor. His father-in-law remained a frog forever.

* Source: Folk Tales from China, third series (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1958), pp. 74-82. No copyright notice. Slightly abridged.


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