Chinese Stories in English
The Magic Mirror
In a nation called the Country of Long Life, people could live to be over one hundred years old as long as they didn't contract a disease. Because the people lived so long, the country kept getting richer and richer and its subjects lived better and better. All over the nation they dwelt in peace and worked happily, and they flourished.
One day a high-ranking official came to see the King. He had a mirror with him and, as he handed it to the King, he claimed to have found the Magic Mirror of legend.
The King had heard of the Magic Mirror: One look in it would reduce a person's age to half of what it had been; a second look would increase his age four times; and a third look would return him to his original age.
The King took the mirror and looked it over. "Have you tried it?" he asked the official.
The official shook his head and said he hadn't. He'd come to offer it to the King as soon as he'd got hold of it.
The King was incensed. "You dare claim it's the Magic Mirror, and yet you haven't tried it!" he took the mirror and held it up in front of the official. Instantaneously the official's age was reduced by half. A forty-year-old became twenty.
The King smiled. "This Magic Mirror is miraculous!" He turned it toward himself right away.
The official smiled. "My King, you've become young again!"
The King went to look in another mirror and laughed out loud: He really had become young again! The fifty-year-old man he had been was now just twenty-five! He roared with laughter. He'd become young enough now that he could remain King for a much longer time!
That same day, all the King's subjects discovered that he'd become young again, and all the King's subjects realized that he had a Magic Mirror. "It'd be great if I could become young, too," they thought. The King of course understood how they felt. He said, "My dear subjects, if you make a contribution to the Kingdom, I will allow you to look into the mirror. Of course, if you do something to offend me, well, I'll make you look in it a second time!"
The subjects were all pleased with this, all except one fellow, that is: the King's son, the Prince. He thought, "Papa has become younger than me, now. By the time he gets old, I'll be old, too, and I'll never get to be king!" He really wanted to be king, so he decided to steal the Magic Mirror.
Every day the Prince thought about stealing that mirror. All things come to he who has heart, and he eventually was able to steal it. He hurried to hold it up in front of the King, and then he smiled: The King became old! The twenty-five-year-old turned into a hundred-year-old! He wouldn't be long for this world!
The King noticed that he could only walk with difficulty. When he looked in a mirror, he discovered that he had become old and realized that the Prince must have stolen the Magic Mirror. He sighed deeply but was powerless to do anything about it. When a king gets old, the only right thing to do is abdicate. And so the young Prince became King.
The Prince thought that the subjects whom his papa had made young would not have good feelings toward him. And so he held the mirror up and made them all look in it one more time, and they all became oldsters. The Prince stopped worrying and started to cultivate his own subjects.
The people who were raised up and rewarded by the Prince indicated that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for him. The Prince was ecstatic. Like his papa before him, he told the people that they need only make a contribution to the nation and, when they got old, he would allow them to look in the Magic Mirror. Of course, if they did something to offend him, he would have to make them look in the Magic Mirror a second time. They would become even older and would shortly be off to see Satan in Hell.
The Prince thought that, as long as he had the Magic Mirror in his hands, his subjects would be well-behaved and obedient. Indeed, his subjects were in fact well-behaved and obedient, and strove to do work for him. The Prince was thus quite happy. He believed he could rest easy and spend his days eating, drinking and having a good time.
Of course, the only important thing was to protect his Magic Mirror. And the person he needed to guard against the most was his own papa, from whom he'd stolen the Magic Mirror and whom he had made old. Papa must certainly bear him ill will and would certainly like to steal the mirror back. If he looked into it again, he would be returned to his former age and could set himself against the Prince.
While the Prince did everything he could to prevent that, the Magic Mirror was nevertheless stolen again. The thief this time was the Prince's ten-year-old son, the Young Prince.
As soon as he got the mirror, the Young Prince looked into it twice, becoming five years old the first time and turning twenty the second. The twenty-year-old Young Prince of course wanted to be king, so he held the Magic Mirror up to the Prince to look at twice. Thus the thirty-year-old Prince became fifteen and then immediately turned sixty. The sixty-year-old Prince was naturally not up to competing with the twenty-year-old Young Prince, so he was deposed, and the Young Prince became king.
Unsurprisingly, the Young Prince wanted his own subjects, so he made the Prince's subjects look in the Magic Mirror a second time and they all became old. Then the Young Prince had some children look into the mirror twice. They become young adults and of course were the Young Prince's subjects. The Young Prince told his subjects, in the same manner as his predecessors, that things would be fine for them if they worked hard for him. He thought that his subjects wouldn't dare turn against him as long as he held the Magic Mirror in his hands. Obviously he would have to guard it well.
The Young Prince carried the Magic Mirror with him every day. He figured that way he could keep anything bad from happening, but one day, as he was walking down some stairs, he slipped and fell. He was only slightly hurt, but the Magic Mirror was broken to pieces.
The Young Prince gathered the finest craftsmen, but they were not able to return the Magic Mirror to its former state. It had lost its magic.
The Young Prince cried, and everyone in the kingdom, high and low, cried with him. Because they'd lost the Magic Mirror, they would never be able to return to their previous ages. They were all much older than they would have been and would all die earlier than they would have. From that time forward, the kingdom never again had people living to be over a hundred years old, and many people died in their forties or fifties. Why that should be so has become an unsolved mystery.
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