Long ago, there lived a hardworking, honest village boy named Chunwang. His household was small--just he and his widowed mother.
One day he and about eight or nine other boys were out together doing their chores, cutting grass and weeds.
One of the older boys said to the others, "Hey, let's go to the ravine and get some water!"
So all the boys except Chunwang left to draw some water from the creek that ran along the ravine. Chunwang continued to cut weeds.
Shortly after, he heard the voices of the boys from afar.
"Somebody get a rope!" cried one.
"I've got my sickle ready!" cried another.
"Quiet, now!" cried still another. "It looks like it's going to sleep by the road. Don't wake it up before we have a chance to catch it!"
Chunwang stopped what he was doing.
Hmm . . ., he thought, a wolf, fox or goblin wouldn't rest or sleep out in the open. Whatever they're after has got to be a good being, not a bad one . . .
He left the field and quietly headed for the place, a nearby spring, where he had heard the other village boys. Sure enough, the boys were there. They appeared to be creeping up on a large deer, a beautiful buck with spots, a "plum deer," resting not far from the spring. Closer and closer they approached the deer.
"Get up, Deer, and run!" shouted Chunwang at the top of his lungs. "Quickly before you're captured!"
The deer woke up and, in no time, it fled the area, way before any of the children got close enough to it.
The children were incensed. They turned on Chunwang and mercilessly beat him, pummeling him over and over, until he just lay on the ground, bruised in a heap. The children then left and went back to their homes.
The children were now long gone. And Chunwang? He just lay stunned, every bone in his body in utter agony. He cried out for help, for anyone who might be near but no one responded. In any case, he couldn't pull himself up; the pain was too great.
Evening fell and now he heard all the many weird, sometimes seemingly unearthly but always scary sounds of night--the howling, screeching and whistling of restless forest animals on the move.
Chunwang cried and cried.
Then, he heard someone approach.
A woodcutter! The young man had heard the boy's sobs and found him. The young woodcutter helped Chunwang up and led him to his own cottage nearby.
What kind of place is this? thought Chunwang, seeing the strange metal lion's head that served as a knob for the gate.
The woodcutter could tell Chunwang was reluctant to go through the gate, so he turned to the boy and said, "Look, you don't have anything to worry about!"
"I . . . I . . . don't?"
"No, you see, you and I have already met today."
"Remember you warned an exhausted deer buck about those children who were ready to do it harm? I am that deer! Now, let's go inside so you can rest and eat."
from Tan Daxian, Zhongguo minjian tonghua yanjiu (Studies in Chinese fairy tales). Hong Kong: Shangwu, 1981; pp. 57-58.
First part of a folktale collected in Yishui County, Shandong Province.