Episode 158: The Magic Brush

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Today we will talk about a story of the magic brush. The story was written in the 1950s and is one of the most popular children’s mythological stories in China.

A young and kind peasant boy named Ma Liang 马良 helped a rich man to tend cattle. He liked drawing and drew pictures everywhere and had the greatest dream to be an artist even though he didn’t own a paintbrush.


One night when Ma Liang got ready for bed one night, he looked at all his drawings. Just as he was about to doze of, an elderly wizard-magician appears to him and gifted him a paintbrush. He told Ma Liang to use this brush wisely because it had great power. Before Ma Liang thank him, the magician vanished.


To test the power, Ma Liang used the brush to paint a rooster. When he paint the last feather, the rooster came to life and flew off. Ma Liang realized the power of the brush. He promised to use the brush wisely and help other people.

When he saw that people had no water to use in the fields, he drew a river which instantly becomes real where they can draw water from to take to the field and save a lot of time and energy. Ma Liang drew cows and water buffalo which came to life, and farmers used these animals to till lands easily.

Many people knew about the magic paintbrush, one of which was a powerful government official, who paid a visit to Ma Liang and invited him to his home. The official was a selfish and arrogant bad man who had an idea to steal the paint brush from the boy. He knew that he could make a lot of money by turning things to life and keeping them. The mandarin commanded Ma Liang to paint a pile of silver and gold coins for him but the latter refused due to his promise to the magician to use he brush wisely. The mandarin ordered him imprisoned in a dungeon.

In the dungeon, Ma Liang discovered the innocence of his fellow prisoners and their reason of being unjustly imprisoned; the mandarin wanted to seize their lands. That night, after the prison guards and their captain were asleep, Ma Liang used his magic brush to paint a door which later opened, allowing him and the other innocent people to escape silently. The guards awaken only to fail as Ma Liang painted a horse to escape quickly.

Ma Liang continued to use his magic brush to help people. He painted toys for children, paints a river and water wheel to irrigate farms, and more useful tools to ease people’s work. However, the official found Ma Liang and took away his brush. After ordering that Ma Liang be imprisoned once more, he invited a lot of his friends to come to his home and shows them the magic paintbrush. He drew a lot of pictures, of which none became real. The official then ordered the court painter to paint a tree with leaves of gold on a wall, but when he tried to shake the tree, the official only bumped his head since the tree was nothing but a painting.

Realizing in anger that the pictures would become real when Ma Liang painted, the official ordered his men to send for Ma Liang. He offered Ma Liang his freedom if he paints a mountain of gold.


Discovering the official’s deception, Ma Liang devises a plan to trick the greedy mandarin and agrees by telling the mandarin to have patience and obey his words. He painted a sea much to the official’s dismay but Ma Liang assured him that he was trying to make his work impressive. After the boy paints a golden mountain in the distance, the official happily appreciated his work and asked him to paint a ship for him and his men to gather the gold.

The official and his men hurried aboard the ship. When they were at the middle of the sea, the official told Ma Liang to give him wind to increase the ship’s speed. Ma Liang painted a wind cloud and then continued to paint storm clouds. The horrified official called out to Ma Liang to ease the weather saying that he and his men and friends would die. But Ma Liang defied orders and continued to paint more storm clouds. Giants waves crashed the ship and the vessel breaks then sinks, drowning the official and his men.


Ma Liang went back to his simple life. He always becomes ready to help everyone in need.

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