Can anyone point to the origin of this Chinese parable?

“A man travelling through the country came to a large city, very rich and splendid; he looked at it and said to his guide, ‘This must be a very righteous people, for I can only see but one little devil in this great city.’

“The guide replied, ‘You do not understand, sir. This city is so perfectly given up to wickedness … that it requires but one devil to keep them all in subjection.’

“Travelling on a little farther, he came to a rugged path and saw an old man trying to get up the hill side, surrounded by seven great, big, coarse-looking devils.

“ ‘Why,’ says the traveller, ‘this must be a tremendously wicked old man! See how many devils there are around him!’

“ ‘This,’ replied the guide, ‘is the only righteous man in the country; and there are seven of the biggest devils trying to turn him out of his path, and they all cannot do it.’ ”

  • 1
    This version comes from Mormon Elder George A. Smith, speaking in Salt Lake in 1857. Elder Smith may have known some classical Chinese source but more likely felt that old Chinese proverbs are a legitimate genre for modern creation. Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 18:48
  • Why is traveling not Chinese? How is having someone wiser guiding not Chinese?, A parent, superior, hired guide, trader, friend that knows the area better. 7 could be part of the translation, eg a symbolic number in an Eastern culture could be translated to a symbolic number in a Western culture I'm not saying it has to be Chinese, but cop outs can stunt discovery It'd be cool to pursue this further Commented May 21, 2023 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


claiming this parable has chinese origin is doubtful. several themes in the text are very un-chinese, against the customs & culture:

1 "travelling through the country"

2 such travelling with a guide

3 seven

in other cultures, 7 might be a "magic" number, but it's not in chinese. we used 5, 10, 12, 3, or 4.

lastly, here's a link of its mormon origin:



Here is the bibliographical citation for the newspaper where this "Chinese fable" was originally reported:

Watt, G. D. (1857). Discourse. In The Deseret News (pp. 286-287).

This article appeared in periodical The Deseret News on 11 November 1857.

G. D. Watt was reporting the text of an address that Elder George A. Smith gave at the Tabernacle on 1 November 1857. According to G. D. Watt, Elder George A. Smith stated, "This makes me think of an old Chinese fable" before relating the story.

You can view a digital copy of the original article here:


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