Alan Watts told The Story of the Chinese Farmer, which is also sometimes found under the title Maybe. It appears that he told this story sometime between 1960-1969, since it was published in Watts, A. (2011). Eastern wisdom, modern life: Collected talks: 1960-1969. New World Library.

Is there any history of this story before Watts? Is there a similar story that it might have been based upon? On the other hand, has some scholar researched this question and concluded that Watts wrote it himself?


1 Answer 1


There may be earlier renditions, but this story is in the Huainanzi compiled around 139 BCE:

近塞上之人有善術者,馬無故亡而入胡,人皆弔之 。其父曰:此何遽不為福乎

Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : "what makes you think this is not a good thing?"


Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: "what makes you think this is cannot be a bad thing?"


The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it. He fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: "what makes you think this is not a good thing!"


One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the valid men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because he was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.


Thence, good fortune turns into bad fortune, and bad fortune turns into good fortune. These changes never reach an end, their complexity can never be fathomed.

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