2013 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
The Gift of Kindness

People around the world, regardless of what culture they're from, have experienced tense family relations from time to time. All human beings, young and old, have acted selfishly at some point in their lives. The Korean folktale “The Queen’s Swallow’s Gift” deals with these unavoidable aspects of human nature, and although the story highlights the importance of good family relations in Asian culture, the tale also teaches that karma, respect for others, and a forgiving spirit is what makes a true hero anywhere.

The story points out the importance of pure intentions being the motivating factors behind good deeds. When Hung-Bu tends to an injured swallow with sincere devotion, eventually mending the bird’s broken leg, he earns for himself the unexpected gift of wealth. To repay Hung-Bu’s kindness, the Queen Swallow gives him a gourd seed out of which “tumbled strings of gold and silver, silk and brocade fabrics, sacks of rice, and a large tiled roof house.” However, Nol-Bu, because he only wants the same reward Hung-Bu received, breaks a swallow’s leg and then mends it. Due to his selfishness, the Queen Swallow does give him a gourd seed but one that contains “beggars, foul-smelling muck, and an army of ogres that destroy Nol-Bu’s home.” The story emphasizes that the two brothers’ actions, although similar, are not truly the same because of the men’s different motives. Hung-Bu mends the swallow’s leg out of compassion because he is truly a kind man at heart, whereas Nol-Bu mends his swallow’s leg out of greed and not out of any real love or concern for the bird. Drawing upon the idea of karma, this classic folktale reminds its audience that a good deed will not produce reward if it is done for selfish reasons.

Beyond the tale’s lesson about karma, the story also has a message about the importance of harmonious relations and respect among family members. On his death bed, the father of Hung-Bu and Nol-Bu expresses his last wish: “I want the two of you and your families to live in harmony together, sharing everything equally. That is all I ask.” After their father passes, however, Nol-Bu does not do as his father asked and instead treats Hung-Bu and his family like servants. “Nol-Bu’s family ate first and Hung-Bu’s family had to make do with the leftovers. If Hung-Bu’s children cried for more food, Nol-Bu’s wife would slap them and say they had eaten more than their share.” Regardless of Nol-Bu’s shabby treatment of him, Hung-Bu never complains or fights with his brother because he remembers his father’s last wish and honors it. Because this is an Asian folktale, this aspect of the story is warning its Korean audience about what will happen if a family member behaves like Nol-Bu does. Many Asian households are made up of three generations that live as one very large family. Small disputes are common, and in order for the family members to keep peace, they have to think about the greater good. Nol-Bu’s family and Hung-Bu’s family were not able to live in harmony because Nol-Bu and his wife only thought about what they could have all to themselves and how Hung-Bu and his family were taking away from that. It is this selfishness on Nol-Bu and his wife’s part that destroys the family unity and dishonors not only the living, but as well as the dead.

Finally, the tale promotes forgiveness as an important quality to possess. It takes great strength to forgive someone who has wronged you, yet in the story, Hung-Bu never shows any resentment towards Nol-Bu. Although Hung-Bu may appear weak for not “standing up for himself” against Nol-Bu’s insults, it is actually strength of character and a forgiving spirit that is guiding Hung-Bu’s actions. Even after Nol-Bu kicks Hung-Bu and his family out of the house, when Nol-Bu and his wife go to Hung-Bu’s new house after learning of the gourd seed bringing Hung-Bu newfound wealth, rather than being resentful, “Hung-Bu welcomed Nol-Bu as if nothing had ever happened and while they talked in Hung-Bu’s study, his wife served them persimmon tea.” And in the end of the story, Hung-Bu could have gloated over Nol-Bu’s misfortune, but instead Hung-Bu rescues Nol-Bu and says, “Just rest. You and your family can come live with us. Everything will be fine.” In this way, Hung-Bu becomes somewhat of a hero.

The Queen Swallow’s Gift” is a story full of meaning and important lessons for us all. If more people would read this folktale, consider its various messages, and then practice what it teaches, there would be stronger families across the globe with kinder and more compassionate citizens. The world would be a better place to live, and heroes would be born every minute.