ONE DAY LONG AGO, the King of China announced a contest to find the next ruler of the land. He was getting old and had no sons to take over the throne. (It was different then, and only a boy could rule the land.)
One thing about the King is he loved to grow plants. So he announced that any boy who wanted to be king would have to come to the palace and get a royal seed. In six months, the boy who grew the best plant would be the one to win the contest. He would be the next to sit on the throne.
Every boy in China was wild with joy! Each one was sure HE would be the winner! Boys all over started to walk with pride, as if they were the winner. Mothers and fathers were excited, too. It sure would be grand to live at the palace!
One boy, named Jun, was quiet. He knew he was good at growing things. Everyone in his village would fight over who was to get his melons, snow peas, his baby corn. All summer long, Jun was working hard at pulling weeds, or moving plants from here to there so they could grow better.
Every boy in China was wild with joy.
On the big day when the royal seeds were to be given out, huge crowds of boys came to the palace. Jun was one of those boys. Each boy took home his royal seed, held tight in his hand.
At home, Jun took out a good flowerpot. He set down large stones on the bottom. Over them, he set smaller stones. Over those, he filled the rest of the pot with rich black dirt. Then he made a hole at the top, about one inch deep. Last, he pressed the royal seed into the hole and set dirt on top. With care, he tapped the top.
Over the next few days, Jun watered his pot every day. All over China, boys were doing the same thing. Each one looked with care at his own pot. When would the first little green leaf show up? Day after day, Jun watched and waited.
With care, he tapped the top.
Chen was the first boy in Jun’s village to announce that a green leaf was coming up. His news was met with great cheers. Chen said in a loud voice that he knew he would be King!
Han was the next one to say a little green plant was coming up in his pot. Then it was Wong. Jun did not know why there was no little plant in his pot. None of the other boys could grow plants as well as he! But still, Jun’s seed did not grow.
Soon sprouts were popping up from pots all over the village. Boys moved their baby plants outside so the little leaves could grow even bigger in the sun. Many stood guard over their dear pot at all times. Why, it seemed to Jun that every boy who planted a seed had a sprout by now. Every boy, that is, except him.
Still, Jun’s seed did not grow.
He carefully took out the seed and moved it into another pot. He put the very best and richest black soil from his garden in the new pot. He broke up every clump of soil there was into a tiny, tiny bit of dirt. With great care, he pressed the royal seed on top. Jun watched the pot every day, adding drops of water here and there. But still, his seed did not grow.
Strong, mighty plants were soon rising from pots cared for by the other boys in Jun’s village. Sadly, Jun walked around with his head down. The other boys laughed at him. When something was empty, they would say that it was “as empty as Jun’s pot.” Jun moved his seed yet again. This time he took some dried fish and made it into a powder. He dusted the powder into the soil as fertilizer. Yet even so, Jun’s seed did not grow.
Six months passed. The day came when all the boys needed to bring their plants to the palace to be judged. Chen, Han, Wong and hundreds of other boys cleaned their pots till they shone bright in the sun. They wiped with care each green leaf. They dressed in their best clothes. Mothers and fathers walked next to their sons to help keep plants up so they would not tip over.
Six months passed.
“What will I do?” wailed Jun to his mother and father as he looked out the window. The other boys were walking with pride to the palace. “My pot is empty! My seed did not grow!”
“Bring the King your pot, the way it is,” said his father. “That’s right,” said Jun’s mother. “You did the best you could.”
His face red with shame, Jun carried his empty pot on the road to the palace. Happy boys who could hardly hold such a large plant passed him by.
At the palace, all the boys lined up. Holding their big, strong plants in front of them, they waited to be judged. The King, in his rich silk robe, walked slowly down the line. He looked at each plant with a blank look in his face. When he came to Jun, he frowned and said, “What is this? You brought me an empty pot?”
At the palace, all the boys lined up.
It was all Jun could do to keep from crying. “If you please, Your Majesty!” said Jun, “I tried my best. I planted your seed in the best soil I could find. I kept it wet and watched it every day. When the seed did not grow, I moved it to new soil, and I even moved it a third time. But it just didn’t grow!” Jun hung his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Hmm,” said the King. Turning so everyone could hear he roared, “I do not know where all these other boys got their seeds. There is no way anything could grow from the seeds we passed out for the contest. And that is because all those seeds had been cooked! No plant could grow from them!”
And he smiled at Jun.