Six hundred years ago the people of Southern China trained elephants and taught them to do many useful things. They worked for farmers and woodcutters, and helped make the roads twice a year; for an elephant could do many times more work than any other animal. So wise were the elephants that the people grew superstitious about them, believing they could see even into the heart of man.
A judge named Ko-Kia-Yong had an elephant that was trained to do this wonderful thing, so it was said. Three cases which were brought before him, were decided by a wise old elephant which he owned. And this is the way one of the decisions was made:
A man came before the judge and said that some robbers had been in his house during the night and had taken his gold and jewels — all that he had; and he asked the judge to find and punish the thieves.
In three months, five robbers had been found. When they were brought to the judge, they bowed before him and each one said, “I have never stolen anything.”
The man and woman who had been robbed were called. And the woman said, “That man with the long gray hair is the one who robbed us.”
The judge asked, “Are you sure it is he, and how do you know?”
She answered, “Yes, I remember. He took the bracelet from my arm and I looked into his face.”
“Did the other four rob you also?” asked the judge.
The woman answered, “I do not know.”
But the judge said, “The man who you say is a robber, seems not like one to me. His face is kind and gentle. I can not decide according to your testimony. I know of but one way to find out, and we shall soon know the truth in this matter. My elephant shall be brought in to examine the men. He can read the mind and heart of man; and those who are not guilty need have no fear, for he will surely know the one who has done this deed.”
Four of the men looked glad.
They were stripped and stood naked — all but the cloth — before the judge and the law of the nation, and the elephant was brought in.
Then the judge said to the elephant, “Examine these men and tell us which is the robber.” The elephant touched with his trunk each of the five accused men, from his head to his feet.
And the white-haired man and the three others stood still and laughed at the elephant with happy faces; for they knew in their hearts they were not guilty and they thought the elephant knew. But the fifth man shivered with fear and his face changed to many colors. While the elephant was examining him, the judge said, “Do your duty,” and rapped loudly. The elephant took the guilty man and threw him down on the floor, dead.
Then the judge said to the four guiltless men, “You may go.” And to the woman he said, “Be careful whom you accuse.” Then he said to the elephant, “Food and water are waiting for you. I hope you may live a long time, and help me to judge wisely.”
After this many wise men who were not superstitious went to the judge and said:
“We know that your elephant can not read the heart and mind of man. What kind of food do you give him and what do you teach him? Man himself lives only from sixty to one hundred years and he knows little. How could an elephant read the heart of man, a thing which man, himself, can not do? Did the spirit of a dead man grow wise and enter that elephant? We pray that you explain.”
And Ko-Kio-Yong, the wise judge, laughed and said, “My elephant eats and drinks as other elephants do. I think he surely does not know a robber from an honest man, but this is a belief among our people. The honest man believes it and has no fear, because he has done no wrong. The thief believes it, and is filled with terror. Trial before the elephant is only confession through fear.”