The Chinese Siamese Cat The Chinese Siamese Cat


THE CHINESE SIAMESE CAT by Amy Tan Illustrated by Gretchen Schields

This is the story about the Chinese Siamese cats. You see, they are not really Siamese cats but Chinese cats. Chinese cats have faces, ears, paws and tails that will turn darker and darker with age. This is the story.

Sagwa was one of the three pearl white kittens born to Mama Miao and Baba Miao, two fine cats who lived in a place everyone called the House of the Foolish Magistrate. The Foolish Magistrate was in charge of issuing rules and proclamations for the people of his province.

He was called a Foolosh Magistrate because he was not wise. He made rules that helped only himself. Because he wanted to command respect, he ordered people and animals to bow down to him. Because he was people would laugh at him behind his back, he made up a rule that people could no longer laugh. Because he wanted more money, he charged people fines for breaking his rules.

Sagwa, meaning melon head, was named this because she was always getting into trouble at the Magistrate's palace. She was always knocking into vases and clawing banners. Once, she even fell into the giant fishbowl while playing near it.

The cats were born with creamy white fur all over, but over the years, the tails of Mama Miao and Baba Miao had turned the colour of lampblack ink. This was because the Foolish Magistrate had used their tails as writing brushes.

Mama Miao and Baba Miao were very smart. They did not need the Magistrate to guide their tails. They knew how to write the words all by themselves. Of course the Magistrate still told them what to write: No dancing! No playing! No celebrating.

One day, the Foolish Magistrate called Mama Miao and Baba Miao to his study as usual.

"Today's new rule!" he commanded.

The two cats dipped their tail in the pot of ink and poised it over a piece of white scroll.

"From now on, people must not sing until the sungoes down!" You see, the magistrate believed that if people sing, they must be enjoying their work and if they are enjoying their work, they must not be working hard enough.

All this while, Sagwa was hiding on the top of the book shelf witnessing the whole incident. After the new rule was written and everyone had left the study, Sagwa leaped down from the book shelf. Guess where she landed? That's right - in the ink pot. Chinese ink splashed all over her face and ears, coating them black!

For a moment, she could not see, and, in her haste, she wiped her nose against the piece of paper below her paws. The piece of paper was the Scroll of Rules!

At first Sagwa was quite afraid of the mess she had made. The she saw exactly what she had done. Her nose had accidently blotted out the word not. So the rule now read, "People must sing until the sun goes down."

They must sing - what a delightful rule. Sagwa purred just to think of it: thousands of people singing, all that happy music.

Satisfied with her secret work, Sagwa jumped off the desk. She suddenly caught sight of herself in the mirror - her face, ears, paws and tail were all black!

"Oh no," she thought, "the magistrate will know that it was I who changed the rule and he will punish my father and mother for raising such a naughty kitten. Sagwa fled in fright and hid herself under the magistrate's dragon chair.

The Official Reader of Rules arrived. It was his job to take the scroll out and read it to the people. When he saw the rule, he was surprised, then excited. He quickly left the room.

On his way to the town square, the Official Reader of Rules began to sing, just as the scroll had instructed. From the crowd came a roar of disbelief. Could it be that the magistrate has had a change of heart and had become kind?

"It's true," said the Reader of Rules, "here, look for yourselves."

Soon everyone started singing. Songs fromtheir childhood. Songs about a good harvest. Songs about love. The singing grew louder and louder and soon it was thunderous!

"What's this?" cried the magistrate. He ran through his courtyard shouting, "How dare they disobey my rule!" Hearing this, Sagwa curled herself into a small, miserable ball.

As the Reader of Rules walked through the gates singing, the magistrate snatched the scroll from him. He opened it and was going to show it to the people and thinking of a punishment at the same time when he noticed the smudged scroll. He saw the lampblack ink spots and noticed how they looked like little cat paws. He was very angry. He was trying to think of a way to punish the cats when he heard the words of the songs the people were singing. They were all in praise of him! Songs that thanked him for thinking of them. What a strange feeling he had. In all his years as a magistrate, he had never heard a kind word said of him. Now they are all singing well of him. Tears came to his eyes. His heart of stone were melted with his warm tears.

Just as the magistrate had ordered, the singing did not stop until the sun went down. When the people finally left, the magistrate walked back into the study with the Scroll of Rules in his hand. He sat in his dragon chair where Sagwa was hiding.

Of course Sagwa had not seen what had happened outside the front gate. She was still shivering with fright - which was why she sneezed: chh! chh! chh!

"Who's this?" said the magistrate. He looked under the dragon chair and drew out the scared kitten. He immediately saw the dark spots on Sagwa's fur.

"So you're the one who changed my rule," he said as he held the frightened kitten close to his face.

"Mama Miao, Baba Miao, come here at once," the magistrate ordered. "Look what your kitten has done!"

When Mama Miao and Baba Miao saw Sagwa, their ears flattened back in fear and they hung their heads.

"Because of what Sagwa has done, I want yoou to write three new Scrolls of Rules."

Mama Miao and Baba Miao dipped their tails into the ink pot, ready to do their duty.

"For the first rule," began the magistrate, "I take back all the old rules. The people may now laugh and joke and dance and whistle from morning to night, whenever they desire."

Mama Miao chirped with surprise as Baba Miao wrote this down.

"As to the second rule, from now on, my house shall be open to all stray cats and they can eat as much catfish as they want."

"Now for the third rule," said the magistrate, "from now on, all Chinese cats shall have dark faces, ears, paws and tails - in honor of the greatest felines, Sagwa of China."

That's why Chinese cats may look like Siamese cats, but are really Chinese cats, with their dark faces and paws and ears and tails.