Sheng Bi Ma Liang: Ma Liang and His Magical Brush

Once upon a time, there was a poor orphan called Ma Liang. His parents passed away when he was a baby, so he raised himself by chopping and selling firewood. He lived in a stone cave all alone in the middle of the mountain. Ever since he was little, he loved to paint. But he was so poor that he couldn't even afford to buy a brush.

One day when he was passing by a school, he saw a teacher painting on a scroll inside a classroom. As if daydreaming, he walked into the school and stopped beside the teacher. 'I love to paint,' he said to the teacher, 'Can you lend me a brush and teach me how to paint?' The teacher looked at him and spat on his face, 'A poor child wants to learn to paint? With a brush? Dream on!' With that he kicked Ma Liang out the door.

Ma Liang was angry. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he thought, 'Why can't a poor child learn how to paint? I will prove that I can.'

Ever since then, he was determined to practice painting by himself. When he went into the mountain to chop firewood, he used a thin branch to draw flying birds on the ground. When he went to the side of the river to cut grass for feeding pigs, he dipped the grass in the river to paint fish on the rocks. When he returned home at night, he used a piece of coal to paint on the wall of the cave, reviewing what he had painted during the daytime. Even though he didn’t have a brush, he was still teaching himself how to paint.

A few years had passed and Ma Liang had not let one day go by without painting. The wall of his cave home was filled with paintings of all kinds. He had improved a great deal as well. When he drew a bird, it looked like it was going to chirp. When he drew a fish, it looked like it was going to swim. One time after he painted a little chick on the ground in the village, there was a hawk flying around and around the village all day. Another time when he painted a black wolf on the mountain, no cows or goats dared to eat grass there. But Ma Liang still didn't have a brush. How he wished to have his own brush one day!

One night, Ma Liang finished his painting practice and fell asleep right away. In the middle of the night, bright lights lit the cave and an old man with a great white beard entered. He held up a brush in his hand and said to Ma Liang, 'This is a magical brush. I'm giving it to you now and you have to use it wisely!' Ma Liang took the brush and realized that it very heavy and made of gold. He was so filled with happiness that he jumped up, 'Thank you, Grandpa...' But before Ma Liang finished his sentence, the old man disappeared.

Ma Liang woke up. 'Was it just a dream?' he wondered. But no, he had the brush in his hands! He was very excited, and even though it was the middle of the night, he started painting. He painted a bird on the wall -- and the bird became real and flew up into the sky. He went to the river and painted a fish on the rock -- and the fish became real and jumped into the water. He was astounded: It was indeed a magical brush!

Ma Liang went to the village and started painting for the poor people. He painted plows, water buffaloes, water wheels for irrigating the fields, and mortars and pestles for whoever needed them but could not afford them.

Very soon the news of Ma Liang and his magical brush reached a rich landowner in a nearby village. He sent two servants to capture Ma Liang and bring him to his house. There, he did everything he could to convince Ma Liang to paint pieces of gold for him. He threatened him at times and tempted him with money at other times. But Ma Liang would not yield. So the greedy landowner locked him up in a horse stable and ordered his servants not to give him any food.

One evening at dusk, it started to snow. The landowner thought to himself, 'It must be very cold in the stable right now. If Ma Liang has not starved to death, he must have died from the cold.' He went to the stable only to find Ma Liang eating hot biscuits with a warm fire beside him. The landowner knew that Ma Liang used the brush to make the food and the fire and this made him very angry. He called for the servants and ordered them to kill Ma Liang and take his brush. The servants went in the stable but couldn't find Ma Liang. They only saw a ladder at the corner of the wall where Ma Liang had escaped. When they tried to climb the ladder they all fell back down to the floor. The ladder was nothing but a painting on the wall!

Ma Liang ran out of the village and painted a big black horse and rode it away.

After a few days of traveling, Ma Liang arrived in a small town and started selling paintings for a living. He didn't want people to know that his brush was magical. When he painted, he would not complete the objects so they wouldn't become real.

One day, he painted a white crane without eyes. But, by accident, he dropped a little ink on the crane's face. The white crane opened its eyes, stretched its wings, and flew straight up to the sky.

It became the biggest news of the day. Even the emperor was notified. The emperor ordered Ma Liang to present his brush to him in the capital. When Ma Liang refused to go, the soldiers forced him.

The emperor wasn't a noble man and Ma Liang had heard many stories about him taking things away from the poor. So when the emperor asked him to paint for him, Ma Liang decided to have a little fun. The emperor ordered him to paint a dragon, and Ma Liang painted a lizard instead. The emperor asked him to paint a phoenix, and Ma Liang painted a crow. The lizard and the crow started to crawl around in the palace and even had a fight with each other. The emperor got very angry. He had Ma Liang put in prison and took away his brush.

With the brush now in his hands, the emperor began painting gold mountains. He was so greedy that he painted one after another until there was no space left in his palace. When he finished, he looked at the 'gold mountains' and his selfish smile turned into a scowl -- instead of gold, there was only rocks on the mountains. Some of the rocks fell and broke the emperor's feet.

But, the emperor did not quit. He began painting gold bricks. He painted one and thought it was too small; so he painted another and another, each larger than the one before, until he painted one as long as the palace hall. When he stepped back to appreciate the 'gold brick,' it turned into a huge snake. It hissed and spat at him. If it hadn't been for the soldiers who jumped in to save him, the snake would have eaten him on the spot.

Frustrated, the emperor decided to let Ma Liang paint for him again. He promised Ma Liang lots of money and a princess to be his wife.

Ma Liang had an idea in his mind. He agreed to paint and the emperor gave him back his brush. 'Paint me a money tree,' he told Ma Liang, 'a tree that grows money instead of leaves. Paint it so when I shake it money falls down endlessly.'

Ma Liang started painting on the wall. He painted and painted until a wide blue ocean appeared on the wall. There was no wind on the ocean. It was beautiful and calm like a bright mirror. But the emperor was upset, 'I told you to give me a money tree. What would I need with an ocean?'

Ma Liang painted a small island in the middle of the ocean. On the island, he painted a giant tree full of gold and silver on the branches. 'Is this the money tree you want?' he asked the emperor. The emperor swallowed and smiled longingly, 'Quick! Paint me a boat so I can go to the middle of the ocean!' Ma Liang painted a big sailboat and the emperor, along with his wives, concubines, generals and bishops, excitedly got on the boat.

Ma Liang painted some wind. The wind caught the sail and the boat started to move. The emperor couldn't wait. He yelled to Ma Liang, 'Quicker! We need stronger wind!' Ma Liang added more wind. It blew the sail hard and the boat began moving towards to the middle of the ocean much more quickly.

The emperor became a little afraid. He waved at Ma Liang and yelled, 'That's enough wind. That's enough wind!' Ma Liang pretended he didn't hear him and kept on adding more wind. The ocean was now angry. Waves and waves rushed onto the boat and everyone aboard started screaming for help.

The emperor held on to the mast and screamed with a quivering voice, 'Too much wind! The boat is going to flip over. Don't paint anymore!' Ma Liang still didn't pay him any attention and continued painting. Dark clouds surrounded the boat. A storm came and the waves were as high as the city wall. Eventually the boat sank and the emperor and his evil encore all dropped into the ocean.

After the emperor died, the story of Ma Liang and his magical brush spread far and wide. But no one really knew where Ma Liang went after that. Some say he returned to his home town and lived together with his farmer friends. Some say he wandered around the country and painted for the poor people who needed things.


Reading Fun: Folk Stories

© 2007 OneWorld Classrooms. All rights reserved.