Once there was an elderly widow, Chen Ma, who lived with her only son inside a forest in the Shanxi Province. Her son was one of the tiger hunters licensed by the local magistrate, following the same profession of his father and grandfather before him. His share of the profits from the sale of tiger skins, meat and bones was sufficient to keep the small mud hut well provisioned for himself and his old mother.
All was well until a particularly bitter winter. During a snowstorm, Chen Ma’s son was separated from his fellow hunters and became food for a hungry tigress.
After her initial shock and grief subsided, Chen Ma took stock of her own utterly desperate situation — an old woman left all alone. She went and implored the magistrate to provide her with compensation for the loss of her son, who was her only source of support. The magistrate decreed that henceforth, she would have a small share of profits from the kill of each tiger by the hunters. Needless to say, his decision was not taken well by the hunters, who had plenty of mouths of their own to feed both old and young.
So, when the hunters succeeded in killing the tigress that ate Chen Ma’s son, they decided not to give her a share of the profits. Instead, they brought her the tigress’ newborn cub. He was a small quivery ball of golden fur with wobbly legs and toothless gums. The rope they tied around his neck was so tight that it was practically choking him. Instantly, Chen Ma’s heart went out to this helpless creature, whose jade-green eyes were glistening with tears.