Katie Knight

INLS 121

Dr. Sturm

6 October 2003





His Kou, Louise and Yuan (1976). “Three Blind Men and an Elephant.” Chinese Folktales, Celestial Arts: Millbrae, Ca. p. 83-85.


Ethnic Origin


            China (variants from India)


Running Time:


            Approx 5 minutes


Power Center:


            Anticipation, haughtiness




            Tsu, Hua, Gi (3 blind men)






            Yunnan province, South China, in Stone Forest

            3 men under tea tree

            Merchant with Elephant

            Tsu and Elephant (feels legs)

            Hua and Elephant (feels tail)

            Gi and Elephant (feels trunk)

            3 men arguing under tea tree

            Stones in forest




            3 blind men want to know what elephant looks like.  Merchant overhears them and takes them to feel an elephant.  They each touch a different part and argue over what the elephant really looks like.  To understand the whole you must first know the sum of its parts. 




            Fun language, seeing something with your eyes closed




            Young (any age would do, I think)


Other bibliographic info:


            http://www.his.com/~pshapiro/elephant.story.html (prose)


            In this version (a well-known fable from India that was modernized and re-told by Phil Shapiro) the blind men are very wise, where in the version I’m using the three men could be wise, but it’s not specified.  (There are 6 of them in this story as opposed to 3 in the Chinese version). Also, they aren’t in a forest but are walking through the zoo, and they encounter the elephant by accident (the elephants leave their cage and start wandering around).  They literally run into the elephant, and the first 5 men all jump to conclusions while the 6th decides to ask the zoo keeper to settle their disagreement.  The conclusion is the same (“only by sharing what each of you knows can you possibly reach a true understanding”). 


            http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/blind_men_elephant.html (poem)


            John Godfrey Saxe's (1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend in verse.  This version begins in a similar way to the Chinese one- though like the prose version there are 6 men instead of 3, and again they are labeled “wise”.   However they encounter the elephant via unspecified means as opposed to the zoo or a merchant.  Their arguments are the same as the prose version above and as the Chinese version (though because there are more of them they have additional ideas about what the elephant looks like), and just like the Chinese version I use these men don’t settle their dispute.  I like the way the poem ends:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


            I didn’t use much of these versions for my own telling, but rather researched the Southern landscape of China and found out which areas are most likely to have elephants (which is why I picked Yunnan).  Also, because the Chinese version leaves so much detail out, I decided to use additional characteristics of South China- which is why the Stone Forest (a real place that has a gigantic boulder shaped like an elephant) is my chosen setting.  Finally, the Chinese version doesn’t have a very good, definitive conclusion, so the Stone Forest helps bring the story full-circle without altering the moral or adding too much additional fiction to the established folk tale.  Moreover, I thought it helped my story conclude in tone similar to the final stanza quoted above- I really liked the implied moral, so I tried to do the same with my story.