In a far away land in a bygone age, before any forms of modern comfort were available (no matches, nor gas fires and prior to the creation of electricity), the common form of daily transport was your own pair of good legs (the speed of your vehicle entirely depended on how strongly and fast your legs could carry you on). Mules and donkeys were used mostly for transporting goods, when the occasion arose they also carried the sick or the invalids from place A to B. These animals were considered as part of the workforce not luxury goods, but of course not every household possessed one.
There was a small farming village near a run-down town, where almost everybody was equally poor and some still poorer than the others. They worked by hand in their plots of land, from sunrise to sunset. Toiled as they were to make ends meet they often persevered with great difficulties. These villagers lived in mud huts as was frequently the case at the time. Their home (mud hut) was just as one would expect, made out of mud and straw. It was one open-plan room for all affairs: sitting, cooking, sleeping…all general indoor activities were catered for within the simple hut. Most of the villagers possessed very few valuable belongings or none, aside from a few clothes and several odd necessities, for instance, tools for farming, pots for cooking and minimal items used for eating. These were usually left on the earth floor.
One day, under the boiling hot sun, a farmer was digging and working hard in his land, for the sake of ease of addressing him in English, we will temporarily refer to him as Smith. Farmer Smith suddenly struck something hard in the soft soil he was working on, and carefully retrieved a half broken and chipped ceramic pot. To his mighty amazement there were silver coins in the pot. With a quick glance around himself to check if anyone was looking, he saw to his utter relief that no one was watching or working nearby. Quick as a flash, he hid the pot under his old worn out shirt and rushed back to his hut, which luckily for him, was just right in front of his tiny plot. After meticulously counting the number of silver coins, he found that there were 300 silver coins altogether in the pot. It was the equivalent of one hitting a 2015 Loterry jackpot. His heart ecstatically expanded with excitement but than a sudden violent wave of anxiety took hold of him: where can he hide his newly found fortune? Anxiously he looked around his hut for a place to hide them. Hard as he stared around, there were nowhere in his hut where could he store his silver. The only thing he could see were bare walls surrounding him. Then a stroke of genius came to him～ why not bury the silver coins in the wall? He swiftly dug a hole in the wall and emptied the entire contents of the pot into the wall, and followed this by replacing the mud firmly back on to the wall. Just as he was about to take a breath in relief, another nerve breaking thought occurred to him. His neighbours are bond to come to him in his hut; they may notice the wall, in fact they will see the mark that the wall had been re-filled and wonder if he had hidden something inside. He then had a new inspiration. Picking up his brush that was soaked in a tin of black ink, he wrote “There are no 300 silver coins buried in this wall.” Finally, he was at peace with himself.
Before long, one of his neighbours came to see him while he was not at home, again for the convenience of addressing this neighbour of his in English, we will perhaps call him neighbour Fred for the present, who on coming to visit, within a simple split second glance, could immediately see that farmer Smith was not in. On a second split second, he could hardly have missed the large strokes of brush writing left on the wall, even if he had tried. He thought to himself, of course there are not 300 silver coins buried in the wall. As he was about to turn his back to leave, he murmured again to himself, ‘But then, why should Smith have written so – unless there are?’ He took a few quick steps forward and quickly started digging. Instantly, he came across the silver coins that were buried in the wall. He hid them under his shirt that riddled with holes in a great haste, and hurried back to his own hut. His instinct told him to hide them urgently, but where? Pacing nervously around his bare hut quite a few times in quick succession, there was nothing that he could see that could hold the coins he now possessed from prying eyes. Than a stroke of genius came to him as it did to farmer Smith. Why, of course they can be buried in the wall. He congratulated himself on such good fortune as soon as the silver was covered in the wall and out of sight. But an horrid idea doomed on him simultaneously to his elation: his neighbouring farmers including farmer Smith may come to see him in his hut. In all likelihood they will see the mark on the wall that the wall had been newly filled in, and may – in fact will – question him if he had hidden something underneath. A thought came to rescue him in his misery, he picked up his brush which was soaking in a mini ceramic pot and walked out of his hut, and wrote over the entrance “I, Fred, an honourable man, did not take the 300 silver coins that were inside farmer Smith’s wall and hide them in the wall of my hut” on top of the entranceway to his hut in large stroke. That should settle the matter, he thought, and was pleased with himself.
Legend has it that this is the origin of the Chinese phrase ‘There are no 300 silver coins in this place’. The phase is still in use to this day, where Chinese is spoken, in nations such as Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia as well as China, where this legendary event happened, in all probability. Chinese speakers often use it when referring to or addressing someone who is trying to deny a minor crime that he had committed, declaring ‘there are no 300 silver coins in this place’, implying the person is in denial.
Dora Prosser (Chessers Tea)