The Emperor’s Regret
Ancient tales from other cultures reveal not only charming stories but also ideals that the culture holds dear. This tale is from Ancient China and tells of an emperor who wants to disengage from his royal duties and live freely. He confides his desires to his most trusted and wise adviser, asking the adviser what he should do. The old sage has magical powers and uses them to have the emperor switch places with a parrot in the rainforest. The emperor (now as a parrot in the rainforest) quickly realizes that a “free” life is not what he initially imagined it to be and longs to return to his life in the imperial palace. None too soon, the wise adviser returns to the rainforest to take back the emperor–as the emperor–to the royal palace.
Throughout the book, the characters take time for reflection and, in face of major decisions, also demonstrate some hesitation before moving forward. This conveys the gravity of their actions. The illustrations showing contemplation and the narrative elucidating their thoughts serve to augment their fears and doubts. When the characters begin to second-guess their decisions, events have already moved too far for a reversal. In stark contrast stands the last decision, when the emperor is transformed back and returned to the palace. Here the decision is made swiftly and carried out with alacrity.
Confucian ideals of being content with one’s place in society and the bold illustrations showing more contemplation and deliberation are never too far away. The perils and uncertainty of action when out of one’s element are also portrayed both in the narrative and the illustrations. The text can be used to illustrate notions of contentment and deliberation, or it can be used in conjunction with other literary works to contrast these ideals with those of individuality and social mobility. With older children, it can be used to discuss the influence of stories on personal ideals. The story itself is very simplistic, but its narrative is versatile enough for it to be used in a variety of ways.
Barbara A. Pierce