The Story of the Chinese Farmer


Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. Ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said that’s too bad. And he said maybe. The next day the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. And all the neighbors came around and said, why that’s great, isn’t it. And he said maybe. The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it and was thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors came round in the evening and said, well that’s too bad isn’t it. And the farmer said maybe. And the next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army. And they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And all the neighbors came round that evening and said, isn’t that wonderful. And he said maybe. The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. And it is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


100 Responses

  1. the GOAT

    July 16, 2015 1:43 pm

    That was Deeeep! and Awesome.  I would know cause I've been on both ends of bad and good fortune.  Awesome Video

  2. roxiboomalotti

    July 23, 2015 5:50 pm

    Does anyone know the book title of this story?  I am searching for a printed version.

  3. SpringtimeMusic

    September 11, 2015 8:37 pm

    Dear uploader…

    You have to give credit to the person doing the speaking!!!!
    Alan Watts everybody!
    Please update the title and/or description!!!

  4. animateclay

    October 13, 2015 6:04 pm

    Two years ago I fell into financial trouble and had to move back in with my parents. A real blow to my ego – I was a failure. Then, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was very sick for about three months and I was able to be with her until her dying breath. So yes, never look at bad fortune as bad because you never know when it is a blessing in disguise.

  5. Chun

    January 3, 2016 8:22 pm

    This is a Chinese proverb called "塞翁失馬" (sai weng shi ma). I'm very happy that wisdom like this can be shared from one culture to another. I hope more proverbs like these can be shared in the future! Keep up the good work 🙂

  6. - Linus

    January 5, 2016 8:38 pm

    This Chinese parable is similar to the story of Joseph.
    In difficult times, it's important to remember: Romans 8:28
    "All thing work together for good to those who love God…"

  7. Barbara Williams

    January 20, 2016 6:38 pm

    A dear person in my life often said, "Sometimes the unfortunate are fortunate." This was perfect example of that

  8. MisterSir

    April 27, 2016 10:47 am

    nice. I needed this. Have been following watts since the early days when it was not cool and hippyish .. always recognised his wisdome. Top chap.

  9. Jerry Reiger

    May 11, 2016 3:49 am

    Heard this story from my English teacher awhile back, thought it was funny. still do

  10. Chris Owen

    June 13, 2016 1:09 pm

    Profound, especially if you don't let go. "I'm sorry but we can't cure your illness. It's unfortunate." "Maybe."


    October 17, 2016 6:07 am

    Yes I'm here from joe rogan inter view with Dan Bilzerian, did not who that cat was cause I don't fuck with social media, but sounds like a cool cat.

  12. Tan Suan Khai

    October 17, 2016 5:31 pm

    I've heard of this story when I was younger. Much wisdom contained in them. Glad that it can now be shared with the world.

  13. Stanly Manly

    October 27, 2016 2:24 pm

    So strange. I love Alan Watts and had seen this video before.

    When Dan Bilzerian mentioned this video on the podcast I hadn't recalled it was the same one. Awesome stuff.

  14. Ogrodnicza Obsesja - Permakulturowy Eksperyment Ogrodniczy

    December 28, 2016 6:14 am

    Very, very good tale that everyone should be reminded once in a while…

  15. Korakys

    June 1, 2017 1:58 am

    When the old man from the frontier lost his horse
    It can be difficult to foresee the twists and turns which compel misfortune to beget fortune, and vice versa. There once was an old man, skilled in divination, who lived close to the frontier (with his son). One of his horses accidentally strayed into the lands of the Xiongnu, so everyone consoled him. (But) the old man said, "Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?" After several months, the horse came back from the land of the Xiongnu, accompanied by another stallion, so everyone congratulated him. (But) the father said, "Why should I hastily (conclude) that this can not be unfortunate?". One day (the son) fell off the stallion, and broke his leg, so everyone consoled (the father). (But) the father said, "Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?" One year later, the Xiongnu invaded the frontier, and all able-bodied men took up arms and went to war. Of the men from the frontier (who volunteered), nine out of ten men perished (from the fighting). It was only because of (the son's) broken leg, that the father and son were spared (this tragedy). Therefore misfortune begets fortune, and fortune begets misfortune. This goes on without end, and its depths can not be measured.

    (Xiongnu were like the Mongols but predate them.)
    Courtesy of Wiktionary:

  16. space flow

    July 5, 2017 3:34 pm

    the music that plays in some of his speeches seems to always go with the flow while he us talking . which enhances the speech making it even better

  17. Martin Hyizna

    July 29, 2017 3:36 am

    First time I heard this was Brooklyn, 1983, radio tuned to WFMU 91.1, it devastated me. It was like 2 am. Made one of the best paintings of my life.

  18. David

    August 17, 2017 3:55 am

    Life is full of probabilities and possibilities. Often we have no idea what those probabilities actually are and we jump to in-accurate conclusions that pigeonhole us into particular interpretations of the world.

    I think the lesson here is just that we shouldn't try judging reality to fit our limited pre-conceptions about the way things work, and instead try to look at it as it is. It's not that we can't sometimes change things or find better ways of predicting things, but when we don't know what the future has in store it's better to be like this man and take things as they are. Much of reality is beyond our ability to accurately predict, and so much of it should be accepted as it is so we can turn our faculties to more useful problems that we can actually solve.

  19. SS Savior

    November 1, 2017 7:00 pm

    I graduated from the university. Then, my father got sick. I dealed with his diagnosis, his surgeries and his medical stuffs. I couldn't get a job. Meanwhile I loved a man who was supportive and nice. When my dad got better, my boyfriend was frequently arguing with me. If something goes wrong, some other things will definetely goes wrong, as well.

  20. Matthew Heagerty

    August 29, 2018 1:15 am

    This is just a story they tell poor people to make themselves feel better. It's the same as telling a child with cancer he's going to make it when you know damn well he's not. Yeah, it's nice because there is some element of truth to this story but you are coping hard if you were to say you didn't want "good" things to happen to you.

  21. SpecialJ11

    February 5, 2019 8:01 pm

    When approaching the world, there is a lot more to gain from wisdom than knowledge. This is easy to forget in our modern world which puts education on a pedestal like it will give you every tool to solve life.

  22. Chris Baldwin

    February 27, 2019 4:46 am

    There's a variant of this story that was in the '90's show Northern Exposure. It was about an Indian Chief who lost a horse. All the people said how unlucky, and the Chief said "Maybe". Then the horse returned the next day with 7 fine horses, and the people said "How lucky!", and the Chief said, "Maybe." One day the Chief's son was out riding one of the horses, and fell off and broke his leg. The people said, "How unlucky!", and the Chief said, "Maybe." The next day the tribe went on a war party against another tribe, in which many of the warriors we're killed. But, due to his broken leg, the Chief's son stayed home and his life was spared.

  23. Esperanto Variety Show

    May 21, 2019 10:31 am

    Is Steve Agnos associated with this channel? I'd like to use the animation and dub the story into Esperanto.

  24. mockingbird187

    July 28, 2019 6:48 pm

    Looked up the Chinese version…
    It takes a LOT longer to say "maybe" in Chinese! 😉


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