Monkeys Fishing for the Moon
hóu zǐ lāo yuè
Meaning: In pursuit of an impractical goal.
Once upon a time, hundreds of monkeys lived in the city of Poluna in the ancient country of Gashi. One evening, while monkeys were playing by a well, one of them caught sight of the moon’s trembling shadow in the water. He shouted, “Oh, no! The moon has fallen into the water!” An elderly monkey came to check the water and announced, “We should try to fish out the moon. If we don’t, the whole world will be dark every night.”
But the monkeys wondered, “How can we capture the moon if it lies at the bottom of a deep well?” The elderly monkey had an idea. “I know how. Let us climb the nearest tree. One of you will hold my tail, I will hold another monkey’s tail, and so on until we form a chain. That way we can hang from the tree branch and descend into the well – the last monkey can reach down and grab the moon,” he said.
As instructed, all the monkeys climbed the tree. The top one wrapped his tail around a branch and hung upside down; soon all the monkeys were connected tail-to-tail in a “monkey ladder.” When the last monkey dangled near the surface of the water, inches away from the reflection of the moon, the branch suddenly cracked from the weight of all the monkeys – all of them tumbled into the water.