As the Emperor was getting old, and had no children, he called together the children of all his courtiers and gave them each a seed. He told them, “Whoever grows the best flower will be the next Emperor.”
The children all took their seeds home, planted them, and watched over them carefully. The son of the chief gardener thought he had a good chance of winning, as he knew just what to do, but the weeks went by and his seed failed even to sprout. At school, the other children boasted about how well their plants were doing, but he just kept quiet.
He tried everything, changing the soil, keeping the pot warm or cool, but as the day approached for judging, he had no result at all. On the final day, when all the children had to take their flowers to show to the Emperor, he was so disappointed and ashamed that he didn'’t want to go at all. His father encouraged him, “Never mind. You have done your best. Take it anyway.” So, very reluctantly, he took his empty pot to the Emperor’s court.
When he arrived there, all of the other children had flowers and plants. He just hid his empty pot, and talked to no one. He stayed right at the back as all the other children went up to show their flowers to the Emperor. The Emperor looked at each flower in turn, but never even smiled. At last, all the children except the gardener’s son had shown their flowers, and the Emperor called him: “Come, please show me what you have grown.” Trembling with fear, thinking that everyone would laugh at him, he took his empty pot out of his bag, and covering it with his hands, took it to the Emperor.
The Emperor took one look, and smiled. “Ah! You have won the competition. You will be the next Emperor.”
The gardener’s son could not believe his ears. “Why have I won? My seed didn’t even sprout, and all the other children had beautiful flowers.”
Then the Emperor spoke to all of the children, “Before I gave out the seeds, I had them boiled. That is why they would not grow. All of you, except for the gardener’s son, threw away the seed that I gave you, and put another in its place. Only this boy was honest enough to keep trying with the seed that I gave him. Therefore he is the only one suitable to be the next Emperor.”