The wise toad.

Told by Wang Ming-ji.


This story was widely known and often told. It is one of the many Miao tales in which the weaker animal gets the better of the stronger by using its wits. In this version of the story, the toad challenged the crow to match his story with something equally clever, like an exchange of riddles. The toad’s saying, "Toads do not eat salt so toad’s eyes bulge", does not reflect any popular belief that lack of salt affects the eyes in this way. The Miao did recognise, however, that salt deficiency was a contributory cause of goitre. It is just possible, therefore, that at some stage this story concerned a bulging neck, not bulging eyes, and the creature concerned was a frog rather than a toad.

The point of the crow’s response reflects the Miao custom of making thick felt capes from natural coloured wool. These were worn as overcoats in cold weather and served as bedding at night.

The crow’s final cry, an imitation of the crow’s cawing, was also a Chinese colloquial expression, common in Yunnan, meaning "all in vain", "it is all for nothing" or "it is useless".

Literal Transcription

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