Chinese Animation – Three Monks (三个和尚 / 三個和尚)

Three Monks

Three Monks (三个和尚 / 三個和尚) is a classic Chinese animation released by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio (上海美术电影制片厂 / 上海美術電影製片廠) in 1980 during a period of cultural rebirth following the Cultural Revolution.  This 20-minute short is a parable about being a team player and not passing the buck and is based on the following proverb:

One monk fetches water to drink
Two monks carry water to drink
Three monks have no water to drink





The story begins with a monk dutifully bringing water from a stream to his temple at the top of a mountain.  A tall monk arrives, and when water is needed, he volunteers to fetch water to the delight of the first monk who doesn’t need to do anything.  At the next water run, the second monk calls on the first to help.  Reluctantly, he does, but the two bicker over how to balance the water bucket on the yoke given their height difference.  A third, portly monk arrives at the temple.  He selfishly guzzles all the water, but when the water is all gone, nobody is willing to head down the mountain to get water.  Each would rather suffer than to do something that would benefit everybody.  There’s a humorous scene that has the thirsty abbots greeting a storm cloud with buckets.  In the end, a murine arsonist creates a need for water so great that three petty monks are forced to work together.

Curiously, Google Translate interprets the saying with this smart, but somewhat inscrutable translation:

A boy is a boy
Two boys half a boy
Three boys no boy

Directed by lauded animator A Da (阿达 / 阿達; aka 徐景达 / 徐景达) and written by playwright and children’s story writer Bao Lei (包蕾), the short won an award for Best Film from the Ministry of Culture and the award for Best Animation (最佳美术片 / 最佳美術片) at the first Golden Rooster Awards (中国电影金鸡奖 / 中國電影金雞獎) in 1981.  It also won a number of international awards including the Jury Prize Silver Bear for Short Film at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival in 1982.

Does anybody know how the film was shown in the 1980s?  In theaters?

With its simplicity, the wordless animation effectively conveys the universal message of cooperation through playful and traditionally-styled music, facial expressions, and body language.

The origins of the proverb are lost to time, but the 34-year old film is the canonical interpretation of the story and lives on in:

Cheap imitations:

Children’s songs:

that have been covered by Second Hand Rose (二手玫瑰)

Dancercise routines

and a completely adorable school play:

Image: Still from Three Monks