The Emperor of China was old and had no son, and because he had been a plant-lover for years, he declared that any boy who wanted to be king should come to the palace to receive one royal seed. The boy who could show the best results within six months would win the contest and become the next to wear the crown. Every boy in China wanted to win. On the day the seeds were to be handed out, many hopeful boys went to the palace. Each boy returned home with one precious seed in his hand.
And so it was with the boy Jun. He was already thought of as the best gardener in his village. His neighbors fought over the melons, bok choy, and snow peas that came from his garden. Anyone looking for Jun would probably find him between his rows, pulling out new weeds, moving one plant over to catch more morning sun, transplanting another to the shade.
Jun carefully carried the Emperor’s seed home, closing his hands so it wouldn’t fall, but not so tightly that it might crush. At home, he filled the bottom of a flowerpot with large stones, covered the stones with pebbles, then filled the pot with rich, black, moist soil. He pressed the seed about an inch below the surface and covered it with light soil.
Over the next few days Jun, along with every boy he knew and hundreds he did not know, watered his pot every day and watched for the first leaf to come through the surface. Cheun was the first boy in Jun’s village to say that his seed was sprouting through the soil, and his announcement was met with excitement and congratulations.
He said that he would surely be the next emperor and practiced his royal skills by bossing around the younger children. Manchu was the next boy whose tiny plant had emerged from his pot, then it was Wong. Jun was confused – none of these boys could grow plants as well as he!
But Jun’s seed did not grow. Soon sprouts emerged from pots all over the village. Boys moved their plants outside so the baby leaves could bask in the warmth of the sun. They built stone fences around their pots and guarded them. But Jun’s seed did not grow. He was confused with his empty pot – what was wrong?
Jun carefully repotted his seed into a new pot with the very best and richest, black soil from his garden. He crumbled every ball of soil into tiny pieces. He gently pressed in the seed, and kept the top moist and watched the pot every day. Still Jun’s seed did not grow. Strong, powerful plants soon grew from the pots cared for by other boys in Jun’s village. Jun was very sad.
The other boys laughed at him and started to say “as empty as Jun’s pot” if there were no treats in their pockets, or if they had just finished their bowls of rice. Jun repotted his plant yet again, this time sprinkling dried fish throughout the soil.
Even so, his seed did not grow. Six month’s passed. The day came when the boys were supposed to bring their plants to the palace for judging. Cheun, Manchu, Wong and hundreds of other boys cleaned their pots till they were shiny and dressed in their finest clothes.
Some mothers or fathers walked with their son to hold the plant as he carried the pot to the palace, to keep the plant from tipping over. “What will I do?” said Jun to his parents as he looked out the window at the other boys joyfully preparing their return to the palace. “My seed wouldn’t grow! My pot is empty!”
“You did the best you could,” said his father, shaking his head.
His mother added, “Jun, just bring the emperor your pot, it was the best you could do.”
Jun carried his empty pot on the road to the palace, while other boys with huge plants walked to his right and left. At the palace, all the boys lined up with their plants. The Emperor, wearing his nicest robe, walked through the line, viewing each plant with a frown.
When he came to Jun, he frowned even more and said, “What is this? You brought me an empty pot?”
“I tried my best. I planted your seed with the best soil I could find, I kept it moist and watched it every day. When the seed didn’t grow I repotted it in new soil, and I even repotted it again. But it just didn’t grow. I’m sorry.”
“Hmm,” said the Emperor. Turning so everyone could hear him, he said “I don’t know where all these other boys got their seeds. There is no way anything could grow from the seeds we passed out for the contest, because those seeds had all been cooked!”
And he smiled at Jun and said, “You will be the next Emperor!”