Sai Wong loses a horse (塞翁失马 焉知非福)

Once upon a time, in a village at the northern frontier of China, there was a man well-versed in fortune-telling. His name was Sai Wong.

One day his horse ran away, and his neighbours came offering their sympathy.

“Who really knows if it’s bad luck,” Sai Wong said.

A few weeks later the horse returned, and brought with it several other wild horses. The neighbours came rejoicing.

“Who really knows if it’s good luck,” Sai Wong said.

The next day Sai Wong’s son rode one of the wild horses out to play but was thrown off and broke his leg. Again, the neighbours came offering their sympathy.

“Who really knows if it’s bad luck,” Sai Wong said.

Not long after, the northern frontier was invaded and many soldiers died. Conscription officers came drafting young men of the village into the army. As Sai Wong’s son had a broken leg, he was exempted. The neighbours congratulated him on how well things had turned out.

“Who really knows,” Sai Wong said.

(adapted from the book Huainanzi, 淮南子)

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