The Magic Paintbrush | A Chinese Folktale of Creativity

Once upon a time, there lived a young man named Ma Liang who loved to draw and to paint. One night, he dreamt that an old man gave him a magic paintbrush and asked him to use it to help people. When Ma Liang awoke from his slumber, he was surprised to find that the magic paintbrush lay beside him.

The craziest thing was that whatever Ma Liang drew with the magic paintbrush would come into being. Blessed with this wonderful gift, Ma Liang used it to help people around him who were struggling to make ends meet. He used the brush to paint a river next to a dry field. He used the brush to draw food with which he fed the poor.

Quickly, his fame grew. Most people were grateful to Ma Liang–but not everybody.

In the same village, there lived a rich man who heard of Ma Liang and came to covet the magical brush. He didn’t want to help people at all. Instead, he wanted to make himself even richer. One day, in the still darkness of the night, the miser sent his servants into Ma Liang’s home. While Ma Liang was asleep, the servants stole his brush.

The next morning, the rich man used the paintbrush to paint many pictures of all that his imagination desired. But no matter how many pictures he drew, none of them actually came to life. Frustrated and angry, the rich miser ordered his guards to capture Ma Liang and bring him over.

When Ma Liang arrived, the rich miser demanded that he draw for him or face punishment. Ma Liang smiled cheekily and agreed.

He asked the rich man what he would like…. and Lo and Behold, the rich miser replied, “A mountain of gold!” (No surprises, there.)

So Ma Liang painted a mountain of gold, but he did so in the middle of a vast sea. The rich man then demanded a large boat large enough to sail the ocean to collect his gold.

Ma Liang then painted a huge sailboat into which the rich man and his cronies got in to set sail. When they were en route to the mountain, Ma Liang painted a wicked storm. The large boat capsized and all the men were lost at sea.

From that day on, Ma Liang and the people of his village lived happily… but not ever after.


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