The Wedding Box
A loving mother prepares a beautiful wedding box as a gift for her daughter, Hsiang-ling. The daughter gives it away to a poor woman. Years later Hsiang-ling loses her home and her family in a great flood. She finds a job working for the poor woman, who is now rich because of the wedding box. When Hsiang-ling’s identity is discovered, the woman finds her lost family for her and they all live happily.
The Wedding Box
In a small town in China called Teng-chou lived a widow called Mrs. Hsueh. Her husband had been a smart businessman and Mrs. Hsiieh was now quite wealthy from the money he had left her. She had only one child, a daughter called Hsiieh Hsiang-ling. Hsiang- ling was a beautiful girl with many talents. Mrs. Hsiieh loved her and wanted the best for her. She always gave her daughter whatever she desired. She didn’t realize that Hsiang-ling had become spoiled.
The years seemed to fly past, until one night Mrs. Hsiieh looked at her daughter and saw that she wasn’t a little girl now. She was sixteen years old, a young woman ready for marriage. Mrs. Hsiieh arranged for her to marry a young man from a wealthy family in another town. She then began to prepare for her daughter’s wedding. It was the tradition that a young woman took gifts of property and money to her new husband. Mrs. Hsiieh prepared all of this with great care. She wanted her daughter to go to her new home with pride.
Mrs. Hsiieh then began preparing her own gift for her daughter. She went to the most expensive store in the town to order a wedding box. The box would be covered in bright red silk and would have a colorful ch’i-lin sewn on the top. A ch’i-lin is an animal that all Chinese people know from ancient stories. A wedding box with this animal on it would promise the birth of a strong and smart son. This would be Mrs. Hsueh’s special gift to her daughter on her wedding day.
However, it was very difficult to buy anything that would please Hsiang-ling. The color was wrong, or maybe the size; you could be sure that anything her mother bought would have to be exchanged or returned to the store. When the box was ready and the family servant brought it home from the store, Hsiang-ling wasn’t satisfied at all. She inspected it with a cold look on her face and said, “I don’t like the ch’i-lin. The design is all wrong. Take it back to the store.”
So the servant returned to the store, told them what Hsiang- ling had said, and ordered another box. But when he brought the second box home, she was still unhappy. The colors were too dark. A third box was ordered but this still didn’t please her.
Finally, the servant got very upset. “I can’t do this again,” he cried. ” The people in the store laughed at me the last time. They told me that I’m difficult to please, but it’s not me. You are the difficult one! You’re never satisfied! I’m afraid that if you don’t want this box, there’s nothing I can do. I’ll have to leave and work for another family.”
Although Hsiang-ling was spoiled, she was not a bad person.
She began to feel sorry for the servant. He was an old man and had been a loyal servant to their family since before she was born. So she agreed to keep the box and told him to go back to the store and pay for it. The servant was grateful that she had changed her mind because he didn’t really want to leave the family. He went back to the store, paid for the box, and gave it to Mrs. Hsueh so she could fill it with gifts for her daughter.
The sixteenth day of the eighth month arrived and it was time for Hsiang-ling’s wedding. Hsiang-ling had been looking forward to this day for many months. Her excitement had grown as she watched her mother preparing all the wonderful gifts and her beautiful wedding clothes. But she also felt sad because she knew she was leaving her mother.
Early in the morning her mother helped Hsiang-ling put on her beautiful wedding dress of the finest red silk. She was then taken to her hua-chiao. The hua-chiao is a special chair which is used to take a woman to her new husband. She sits in the hua-chiao and curtains are closed around her so she can’t be seen. The chair is then carried on the shoulders of four strong men. Hsiang-ling’s hua-chiao had beautiful red silk curtains.
Mrs. Hsiieh lifted the curtain at the front of the hua-chiao to speak to her daughter one last time before she left.
“This is your special day, my daughter, and I’m so proud and happy that you look so beautiful and that you’re marrying such a fine young man. Here’s my gift to you, a wedding box. When you’re in your new home, open it and you’ll see all the nice gifts I’ve put inside. I hope that when you do this, you’ll feel my love for you.”
But Hsiang-ling wasn’t really listening. She was too busy thinking about her wedding and wondering what her husband, whom she had never met, would be like. She kissed her mother, took the box, and put it by her side. A few minutes later the four men came, picked up the hua-chiao, and Hsiang-ling’s journey to her new life began.
As they came to the main road, it started to rain. Soon it was raining so hard that the road became a sea of mud and it wasn’t safe to continue. So the men carried the hua-chiao into a shelter at the side of the road to wait for the storm to end.
Hsiang-ling was annoyed by the rain and anxious to get to her new home. Then she heard something. Was someone crying? Or was it the sound of the rain? She opened her curtain to see. In the shelter, next to hers, was another hua-chiao. It wasn’t nearly as nice as hers, and it had old, torn curtains. And yes, the crying was coming from inside the old hua-chiao. “This only annoyed Hsiang- ling more.
“Why is this woman so unhappy on her wedding day? This could bring me bad luck!” she thought.
So she sent her servant to find out what was wrong with the girl. The servant came back and told Hsiang-ling that the young woman was very sad because she was poor and had nothing to take to her new home.
Hsiang-ling then felt sorry for her. She realized that she had always had everything she wanted and that this girl had nothing. It was especially sad because it was her wedding day. Hsiang-ling didn’t have any money with her, so she decided to give her the box. She called her servant again.
“Here. Take this to her, but don’t tell her who sent it. Don’t tell her my name.”
The servant tried to stop her. “But Hsiieh Hsiang-ling, this is your wedding box!”
“Shhsh! I don’t care. Take it to her now. Quickly!” Hsiang-ling ordered.
The servant did as she was told and went quickly to give the box to the girl. The crying immediately stopped, leaving only the sound of the rain.
Soon the storm ended and the men picked up the hua-chiao to start again on their journey. Hsiang-ling had given a stranger her wedding box without knowing what her dear mother had put inside.
In a few hours she arrived at her new home and the marriage took place that evening. She discovered that her mother had chosen well for her. Her husband was a wonderful and handsome young man. After a year of marriage they had a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Hsiang-ling felt that she must be the happiest woman in the world.
But after six years this happiness was destroyed when a terrible flood hit their area. Hsiang-ling and her family lost their home and everything they owned. In the rush to escape the town, Hsiang-ling became separated from her husband and little boy in the crowds. She searched and searched but she couldn’t find them anywhere. So she finally had to accept defeat and travel with other people who were escaping to a town called Lai-chou. It was a long, difficult journey and Hsiang-ling was full of sorrow. She didn’t think she would ever see her husband and child again.
Life was hard when they first reached Lai-chou, so everyone tried to help each other. One day, as Hsiang-ling sat, exhausted and alone, by the side of the road, a woman came up to her and said, “You look terrible. And you must be hungry. You can find food not too far from here, just down this road. Yuan-wai Lu, a wealthy businessman, has put up a tent and his servant is giving food to people who’ve suffered in the flood. Go now. I’m sure you can get something to eat there.”
Hsiang-ling thanked the woman and went to find this place. When she got there, she found a long line of people holding bowls and silently waiting. Hsiang-ling had never done anything like this before in her life. She had never felt so depressed. As she was standing there, holding her bowl and waiting for her turn, she had to force back her tears.
Finally her turn came. Yuan-wai Lu’s servant put the last bit of food into Hsiang-ling’s bowl and then announced to the rest of the people in the line that there was no more food left and they should come back tomorrow. The person behind her began to cry. Hsiang-ling turned around and saw an older woman. When she looked at this woman, she remembered her mother. She thought of how much she loved her and how unselfish she had been. Without saying anything, she put her food into the woman’s bowl and walked away. She couldn’t stop her tears now and they ran down her cheeks until she could hardly see where she was going.
The servant had watched all of this. He was very surprised at what Hsiang-ling had done and ran after her. As she was walking away, Hsiang-ling heard him shouting.
“Madam! Madam! Please stop!”
Hsiang-ling stopped and turned around. The servant then asked her why she had given her food to the woman.
She said simply, “I’m very hungry, but I’m also young. I can stand my hunger for longer than that old woman can.”
The servant smiled. “Well, you did a very unselfish thing. My employer, Yuan-wai Lu, is looking for someone like you to take care of his young son. Are you interested in this job?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you,” Hsiang-ling replied, feeling happier.
“Then come with me now,” the servant told her. He then took her to Yuan-wai Lu’s house.
When Yuan-wai Lu met Hsiang-ling and heard the servant’s story of her great kindness, he offered her the job immediately.
He then told Hsiang-ling, “My wife is an excellent mother but unfortunately has had very poor health for some years. This is why we need someone to take care of our young son. You will have a lot of freedom in this job, but there’s one place you must never go. That is the small house at the end of our garden. It is my wife’s private place. If I ever discover that you’ve been inside, you’ll lose your job immediately. On this one point I must be very clear.”
Hsiang-ling agreed to this and began her new life. She liked the little boy. It didn’t take long, however, for her to discover that he was very spoiled. He wanted everything immediately and if he didn’t get what he wanted, he cried and cried until he did. This upset Hsiang-ling because it reminded her of how spoiled she had been as a child. She regretted now how badly she had behaved.
One day she and the little boy were playing in the garden when his ball went into the little house. The boy began to cry.
“I want my ball! Go and get it!” he shouted.
Hsiang-ling told him that she wasn’t allowed inside the house, but the boy didn’t care and just cried louder. She tried again to make him understand.
“But your father doesn’t allow this. If I go in there, I’ll lose my job.”
The boy wasn’t listening. His face was red and wet with tears. He started screaming.
Hsiang-ling finally gave up and agreed to go inside. She looked around to make sure no one could see her and then walked quietly up the steps, opened the door, and stepped inside.
When her eyes became used to the darkness, she was very surprised by what she saw. It was a temple, calm and peaceful. She walked slowly toward a small table, which was covered with a beautiful yellow silk cloth. On the table was a small Buddha, some pictures of relatives from long ago, and there, in the middle of all this, was her wedding box! She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Hsiang-ling remembered her wedding day and how happy she had been. She thought of her mother’s love and kindness. She thought of her husband and her son and how much she missed them. She had had everything and now she had nothing. She started crying so hard that her body shook.
Suddenly someone touched her shoulder. Shocked, she quickly turned around and saw a woman’s angry face. It was Mrs. Lu, the wife of her employer. A young servant girl was standing behind her.
“What are you doing here?” asked Mrs. Lu angrily.
“I’m so sorry,” Hsiang-ling answered. “Your son’s ball came in here. He was very unhappy. He wouldn’t stop crying. In the end I felt I had to do as he asked and get his ball for him. Forgive me, please. I know that this is your private place.”
“Why were you crying?” asked Mrs. Lu.
“Because I saw the box, my wedding box. My mother gave me this box on my wedding day.”
Mrs. Lu looked shocked. “Where are you from?” she asked, as she picked up the box and sat down in a chair near the table. Her voice now sounded strange, almost happy.
“I’m from Teng-chou,” answered Hsiang-ling.
“What was your name before you were married?” Mrs. Lu asked.
Mrs. Lu said nothing to Hsiang-ling, but turned to her servant girl. “Bring her a chair,” she ordered.
The servant wasn’t happy at all about bringing a chair for another servant, but she did as she was asked.
Mrs. Lu then told Hsiang-ling to sit down on the chair. Hsiang-ling was surprised to be treated with such honor. She didn’t understand, but she was afraid to speak.
“And when were you married?”
“On the sixteenth day of the eighth month, six years ago.”
Mrs. Lu was silent for a moment. Her face looked very strange now. Could she be smiling?
“Tell me. How did you lose this box?” she asked.
Hsiang-ling then told Mrs. Lu about the terrible rain storm on her wedding day, the old hua-chiao, and the sad young woman.
Suddenly, Mrs. Lu went down on her knees in front of Hsiang-ling and began to cry.
“You saved me!” she cried with joy. “Your kindness on my wedding day took away my worry and brought me so much joy. All these years I’ve been praying for your health and happiness. When I got to my new home, I opened your box and found many things of great value inside, including this beautiful piece of the finest jade.”
She took a piece of deep green jade out of the small box and held it up for Hsiang-ling to see.
“When my husband and I were first married, we didn’t have much money. I took this jade to the moneylender and received a large payment for it. That allowed US to start a business, which has made US very rich. As soon as we had enough money, I went to the moneylender and bought the jade back. I’ve kept it in this box since that time. I didn’t know how to find you, so I built this temple to honor you. I’ve always hoped and prayed that we would meet. I’m so grateful that I can now thank you with all my heart. So please take your box. Your mother must be a wonderful person because she gave you such a special gift on your wedding day.”
Hsiang-ling cried with happiness as Mrs. Lu put the box into her hands.
Mrs. Lu then spoke again. “I know that your husband and son are missing. We’ll send people out to search for them immediately. I also want you to think about something else. When your family returns, we would like to share our property with you. Please accept this. You’ll make US very happy if you do.”
That same day Yuan-wai Lu sent servants out to search for Hsiang-ling’s husband and son. They were soon found, not far from Teng-chou. The two families lived near each other from that time and became very close friends. They were always ready to help each other.
As the years went by and Hsiang-ling grew older, she often told the story of the wedding box. She always ended her story with these words: “Remember, life moves in circles and happiness comes to people who help others.”