The Magic Pear Tree

A Tale from China
Retold by Alida Gersie

A long time ago in ancient China a farmer went to market. He had luscious pears to sell and was determined to ask a very high price. Once he had found a good place in the market, he cried out: “Pears, beautiful pears…!”

Whilst he called attention to his goods, an old ragged-looking monk approached him. He humbly asked to be given one of the pears. The farmer said: “Why should I give a pear to you? You’re as lazy as anything and haven’t done an honest day’s work in your life.” As the monk did not walk away but repeated his request, the farmer became more and more angry. He called him the nastiest things under the sun.

“Good sir, ” said the monk, “I cannot count the number of pears in your wheelbarrow. You have hundreds of them. I have only asked for one pear. Why has this made you so angry?”

By then a large crowd of people had assembled around the farmer and the poor monk. “Give him a little pear,” someone suggested, in the hope that this might solve the problem. “Do as the old man asks, for heaven’s sake it is only a pear,” another one remarked, but the farmer wouldn’t hear of it. “No is no is no,” he said. Finally an elderly man bought one of the pears and handed it reverently to the old monk.

The monk bowed, thanked the elderly man and said: “You know that I am a holy man. When I became a monk I gave up everything. I have no home, no clothes which I may call my own, no food other than what is given to me. How can you refuse to give me a single pear when I ask for it? I shall not be this selfish. I invite every one of you to eat one of the pears that I have grown. It shall be an honour if you accept my invitation.”

The people were startled. Why had the monk asked for a pear if he had so many pears with him? He did not seem to carry anything. What did the old man mean?

The monk ate his pear with great concentration until there was just one small pip left. He quickly dug a hole in the ground, planted the pip and gently covered it with earth. Then he asked for a cup of water. One of the people in the crowd handed him the water. The monk poured it on the soil. Hardly any time had passed when the bystanders saw some green leaves sprouting from the earth. These leaves grew very quickly. The people were astounded. In front of their eyes stood a small pear tree with branches and more branches and leaves, more and more leaves. Where the old monk had planted the little pip only minutes ago, there was now a small pear tree. It continued to grow faster and faster. They could see it grow.

Silence fell in the marketplace as the tree burst into flower and the flowers slowly turned into large, sweet-smelling pears. The monk’s face was aglow with pleasure. He picked the pears one by one, and handed them to each person who had witnessed the pear tree’s miraculous growth. He handed them out and handed them out until everyone had been refreshed by a delicious pear. Then the monk took his axe and before the people even realized what was happening, the pear tree was cut down. The monk simply picked the tree up, put it over his shoulder and went on his way.

The farmer had watched the scene in amazement. He had not been able to believe his eyes when the pear tree grew out of the ground so near to his very own wheelbarrow which was full of pears. He looked at the barrow. It was empty. Not a single pear was left in it. One of the handles of the barrow was missing, too. Then the farmer knew what had happened. The old monk had used his pears to create the wonderful pear tree.

Of course the monk was nowhere to be seen. The pear tree which the monk had picked up with such great ease was found a little further down the road. It was the missing handle from the wheelbarrow. The farmer was in a towering rage, whilst the crowd laughed.
© Alida Gersie, 2003.


Many stories evoke in the listener quite contradictory responses, like interest, irritation, amusement or puzzlement. When I use a story such as “The Magic Pear Tree” in my work as a drama therapist and organisational consultant, I incorporate the telling of the story in an overall session pattern . This pattern consists of various newly designed creative expressive techniques . These techniques are related to an identified problem within the story. This problem engages, but does not necessarily match, a difficulty that the client encounters. I design these creative-expressive techniques to help the client to develop a new take on his/her difficulty in an unexpected way. In other words: the client’s doing of the activities problematises an identified issue that has long been resistant to change. The doing of the activities casts this issue in a new light. It also enables the client to practice new, more productive ways of dealing with something that was previously difficult for them. I call this the “therapeutic storymaking” approach to working with folktales and myths. Every folktale or myth contains a particular take on difficulties or issues.

The story of Magic Pear Tree story raises, amongst others, the following issues:

  • The reliability and unreliability of our perceptions
  • How to deal with someone’s charismatic or hypnotic powers
  • The morality of tricking somebody
  • what one thinks about seeking and enacting revenge
  • how to clarify the extent and boundaries of one’s generosity
  • what to do when one witnesses to a questionable event
  • how to request someone’s help or support
  • the dynamics between a group and an individual.

When I have identified in which issues a client wants to resolve, I select a pertinent story and design the accompanying set of creative-expressive activities. I call this set of activities a “storymaking structure”. The activities include innovative ways to make visual images, listening to a folktale or myth, writing and telling new fictional stories, and the creation of movements or dramatisations. During the ‘therapeutic storymaking’ session the linked creative-expressive activities become gradually but systematically intermingled with reflections on the person’s experience of his/her life and on how the client has understood his/her life till now. In this way the client is enabled to re-weave the connections between their experiences of the private, the personal and the public realms, between forgotten, hidden and shared stories.


The story of “The Magic Pear Tree” is found in many story collections, including: Giles, Prof. H.A. (1908) Chinese Fairy Tales, Messr. Gowans and Gray Ltd. Lee, F.H. (1931) Folktales of all Nations, Harrap & Co. Comber, L., Shuttleworth, C. (1975) Favourite Stories from Taiwan, Heinemann Asia.

Further discussion of the storymaking process can be found in a number of books by Dr. Alida Gersie. These include:

Storymaking in Education and Therapy(with Nancy King 1990),

Storymaking in Bereavement (1991), Reflections on Therapeutic Storymaking: The Use of Stories in Groups (1997). All published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London. Distributed in the USA by Taylor & Francis (215 785 5800).

Further discussion of the storymaking process can be found in a number of books by Dr. Alida Gersie. These include:
Storymaking in Education and Therapy (with Nancy King 1990),
Storymaking in Bereavement (1991),
Reflections on Therapeutic Storymaking: The Use of Stories in Groups (1997). All published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.
Distributed in the USA by Taylor & Francis (215 785 5800). Further USA purchasing information available at following links:
Storymaking in Bereavement
Storymaking in Education and Therapy
Reflections on Therapeutic Storymaking in Groups

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