The Empty Pot adapted by Clarice Cabanlit

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The Empty Pot

adapted by Clarice Cabanlit

YOU ARE FREE AND WELCOME to print and distribute a sufficient number of copies of this play script for your performance, provided you are personally and directly involved in the production.  What does that mean?  If you are the director, producer, an actor or performer, musician, stage hand, or a parent/caregiver of same for this play, you are welcome to make a sufficient number of copies.   Otherwise, you may not distribute this script in any format to any other third party whatsoever without permission – additional costs may apply.







  • WONG

  • BOY #1

  • BOY #2

  • BOY #3




  • HOPEFUL MOTHER (no speaking lines)

  • HOPEFUL FATHER (no speaking lines)



  • JUN



  • VILLAGE PEOPLE (adlibs only)

  • GIRL #1

  • GIRL #2

  • GIRL #3


Scene 1 – A palace garden
[Stage Set: On the right side is a backdrop showing the facade of a palace. On the left side is a beautiful garden with trees, potted plants, and flowers.]

This play is “The Empty Pot,” a folktale from China. It is brought to you by Stories to Grow by. Once in faraway China, there lived a wise Emperor. He loved birds and animals, but his deepest pleasure was found in flowers. Every day he tended the royal flower garden. Everyone else planted flowers, too, and the very air in the entire kingdom smelled like perfume. When the time came to choose an heir to the throne, since the king had no son he proclaimed the matter would be decided through a contest. It was announced that any boy who wanted to be king should go to the palace to receive one special flower seed. In six months, whatever boy could show the best flower would win the contest and become the next Emperor of the land.

[Curtains open with ROYAL GUARD #1 standing by the door on the backdrop. ROYAL ADVISOR stands behind him. CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, BOY #1, BOY #2, BOY #3 and VILLAGE BOYS are lined up in front of ROYAL GUARD #1. They are pretending to push each other, trying to be the first in line. Remember, no real pushing- this is all pretend! They argue: “I was first!” “No, I was!” “Me, me!” ROYAL GUARD #2 and ROYAL GUARD #3 try to make the kids line up in an orderly way. CHEUN ends up the first in line with MANCHU and VILLAGE BOYS lined up behind him. WONG is


are by the garden, looking excited and anxious, wringing their

hands, and sighing.]

No pushing please! Let’s have some order now.

(points at CHEUN and says sternly)
You! No pushing!
Silence, please. The Royal Advisor has an announcement to make.
Thank you all for coming. The Emperor is excited to decide an heir to his throne. As you may have already heard, you will each get one royal flower seed. Take the seed home with you. After six months, come back to the palace and show us the results. The boy with the best flower will win the contest. He will be next to wear the crown!
[CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, BOY #1, BOY #2, BOY #3 and VILLAGE BOYS whisper to each other. ROYAL ADVISOR motions for CHEUN to approach. He hands CHEUN a seed.]
(looks at seed in his palm)
Thank you! I will make this seed grow into the best flower the Emperor has ever seen. I know I will win the contest!
We’ll see, young man. (smiles then looks at other boys)
[CHEUN goes down the steps, holding the seed carefully.]
(motions for MANCHU to approach)
[CHEUN runs to CHEUN’S MOTHER and CHUEN'S FATHER, who hug him. CHEUN opens his palm to show the seed. They appear excited without sound.]
[ROYAL ADVISOR hands out seeds to MANCHU and VILLAGE BOYS. Each one says, “Thank you” after receiving seed. They approach HOPEFUL MOTHER and HOPEFUL FATHER. JUN enters hurriedly from right side just as ROYAL ADVISOR hands a seed to WONG. JUN receives seed next.]

(to ROYAL GUARD # 3)
Thank you, sir. I am honored to receive this special seed. (walks slowly, looking at seed in his palm)
[ROYAL ADVISOR and ROYAL GUARD #1 exit. ROYAL GUARD #2 and ROYAL GUARD #3 remain standing by the side of the palace doors. JUN catches up with VILLAGE BOYS, who are talking at the palace garden.]
Hello, everyone! Did you get your seed?
[CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, BOY #1, BOY #2, BOY #3, and VILLAGE BOYS walk toward JUN. HOPEFUL MOTHER and HOPEFUL FATHER gather around them.]
Yes, I did! Look at it. (shows seed in his palm) This is a great seed, can’t you tell? Check out the dark color. It’s practically starting to grow right here in my hand.
When’s the last time you washed your hands, Cheun?
(pulls back hand) You’d better watch what you say. (puffs chest) I am going to be the next Emperor! (stretches out his arm and points to MANCHU) "Do as I tell you!”
(crosses his arms) In your dreams!
Cheun, let’s not get carried away. Why don’t you wait till you’re Emperor before starting with that? (looks wistfully at palace) Though if you are the one, we will get to move to that palace. I could have whatever I want. Right, Cheun?
Of course! (spreads out hands) I can see it now. (looks up wistfully) Fine silk robes, royal servants waiting on our every need, anything we want. Anything at all! (turns to audience and cocks his head) Ahhh!!!
(at CHEUN)
Earth to Cheun! What makes you so sure? I am going to win!
We’ll see about that!
[CHEUN and MANCHU scowl and move toward each other threateningly.]
Hey you two, you’ll drop your seeds!
[CHEUN and MANCHU back off, gingerly holding their seeds.]
Maybe Jun will win. Remember his melons, last summer? Everyone loved them.
CHEUN and MANCHU (together):
Who cares?
This isn’t a MELON contest! (rolls eyes)
I know what I’m doing. Anyway, what are we waiting for? Let’s go home and plant our seeds!
[ALL ACTORS exit.]

Scene 2 – Jun’s garden
[Stage Set: A house with a garden on the left side. There are pots, plants, a small table, and three chairs. Trees, bushes, and flowers are found on the right side.]
[As the curtains open, JUN’S MOTHER and JUN’S FATHER are kneeling in the garden, talking to each other quietly. They look up when JUN enters, running excitedly towards them while holding up his seed.]
Mother! Father! I have it – the royal seed!
Excellent, son! When do I get fitted for my royal robes?
(rolls her eyes) First thing's first.
Well, nothing will start growing with all of us standing around. You'd better get started.
Too early in the day. The perfect time to plant is after the heat of the day is past. And I know just the perfect pot to use.
[JUN looks around, picking up some pots while thinking.]
Which one?
(looks around again then kneels beside a pot) Aha! Here it is. Not too big. Not too small. I know just how I’ll prepare the soil. First, I’ll cover the bottom of the pot with stones. Then I'll put a layer of pebbles on top. Then I will cover the pebbles with the richest, blackest soil I have. And then… (smiles and looks up) a special trick.

What is that, son?
(leans forward) I make the soil damp before I put in the seed. That way, it’s never dry- from the first moment the seed is placed, it’s set on a moist soil.
My goodness, you’ve thought of everything!
When a sprout comes out, I’ll watch it twenty times a day.
Take it easy, son! You do have chores to keep up with.
(laughs lightly) Until you become Emperor, that is.
Don’t worry, I’ll leave nothing to chance. This will be the best flower, ever!

Scene 3 – The village market
[Stage Set: Busy village market scene with tables of people selling fruits, vegetables, pots, and pans.]
[HOPEFUL MOTHER, HOPEFUL FATHER, and VILLAGE PEOPLE are selling and buying at the stands. VILLAGE BOYS and VILLAGE GIRLS are talking softly to each other. A few VILLAGE BOYS are holding pots that they are showing to the other children.]
The boys watered their pots every day. They constantly watched for the telltale unfurling of the first leaf as it bursts through the surface. Soon, sprouts emerged from pots all over Jun’s village.
Look at how my seed has grown already! (holds a pot with plant up) Look at these dark green leaves. Have you ever seen such strong leaves? I can’t wait to see the flower that will bloom on this one. It will be HUGE.
BOY #1, BOY #2, and BOY #3 (together):
(approach CHEUN)
Let me see! Let me see!
(pulls pot away and says angrily) Stay away! Stop breathing on my flower! Away, all of you! (points at other VILLAGE GIRLS and VILLAGE BOYS) When I become Emperor, I will not tolerate fools! And I will remember (points to BOY #1) you! (swings around to point to BOY #2) And you! Don’t think I won’t!
BOY #1:
Calm down.
BOY #2:
We were just looking at it.
[BOY #1 and BOY #2 walk away from CHEUN and go back with VILLAGE BOYS and VILLAGE GIRLS. WONG and MANCHU enter, carrying their pots.]
Cheun, take a look at this. My seed has taken off like crazy. (holds out plant for others to see) This one’s way ahead of the pack.
(shows his plant to others)
Who says? My leaves are way greener.

So what? My plant is taller!
My buds are bigger!
That doesn’t matter. My stalk is thicker!
Both your plants are getting big.
(cups hands to his mouth and whispers)
I heard that Jun’s seed has not even sprouted yet. His pot is still empty. Is it true?
[JUN enters with a sad face. He stops at the rightmost table. WONG walks over to him.]
(calls to JUN)
Jun! How are you? How’s your seed?
[JUN walks slowly with stooped shoulders.]
Not so good.
What do you mean?
I’ve been doing all I can to help my seed grow, but nothing’s happened!
Nothing at all?
Nothing. At all.
That’s what I said, didn’t I? I planted my seed in the richest, blackest soil there is. I did everything I could think of. But nothing’s happened!
(to JUN in a pleasant voice)
Don’t worry, Jun. There’s still time. Um… do you think you might move the seed to another pot?
Of course I thought of that! Two weeks ago I did that. So carefully. And still nothing. Wong, this has never happened to me. What could be wrong?
Maybe tomorrow a shoot will come up?
I’m way behind! Even if I see a shoot, I could never catch up! (sighs) Thanks just the same, Wong.
[CHEUN and MANCHU walk over to JUN and WONG.]
(to JUN)
So your pot is still empty. Just as well, Jun. Saves you the trouble. Face it, you are just not Emperor material. (to audience) While I, on the other hand, was born to rule! (shows his pot to JUN) Just look at my plant. What a beaut!
(shows his pot)
Look, my seed has sprouted!
(shrugs shoulders)
Who cares, Wong? (leans over) Where is it? I can’t even see it. (looks more closely) Oh, there it is. There’s no way that tiny sprout could ever amount to anything.
[VILLAGE GIRL #1, VILLAGE GIRL #2, and VILLAGE GIRL #3 enter from stage left. They walk slowly while talking to each other. They stop near CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and JUN.]
So I was playing with my yo-yo yesterday, and the string broke.
Oh, no!
Your yo-yo has no string anymore?
None that works, anyway.
(to the girls as they pass)
It’s as empty as Jun’s pot?
As empty as Jun’s pot! (laughs)
[VILLAGE GIRLS shrug, saying: “What are they talking about?” “Boys!” “What do they know about yo-yos anyway?” “Let’s get out of here.” They move to edge of stage, but remain onstage.]
Wong, do you still have those almond cookies?
(checks pockets)
Sorry, Manchu. I ate all of them. (shows empty pockets)
Your pockets are empty? As empty as…

MANCHU and CHEUN together:

…Jun’s pot! (they laugh and look at VILLAGE BOYS and VILLAGE GIRLS)


All of you should make sure you finish your supper tonight.

BOY #1:
Sure, we will.

Would you say your plates will be as empty? As empty as…

MANCHU and CHEUN together:

…Jun’s pot? (they laugh again)

[VILLAGE BOYS and VILLAGE GIRLS join in on the laughter. They look at JUN while laughing.]
(very sadly)
I’d better go back to my garden. I still have work to do. (to WONG) Good job on your seed, Wong. Now that it’s sprouted, I know it’ll grow fast. (sighing, to the audience) At least Wong’s seed has come up. Mine has a long way to go.
[JUN exits. ALL OTHER ACTORS are still laughing. Some point at JUN.]
Cheun, is that a lady bug I see on your plant?
What?! (hovers over his plant worriedly)
Anything can happen. It’s still a few months until we show our results to the Emperor.
I’d better go take my plant back home!
WONG and MANCHU (together):
See you later!
[CHEUN, MANCHU, and WONG exit. ALL OTHER ACTORS stay on stage, some busy with their plants while others talk to each other. Curtains close.]

Scene 4 – The emperor’s throne room
[Stage Set: A throne room backdrop in the middle of the stage. A chair, decorated to look like a throne, is placed at the center.]
[Curtains open with JUN, CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and VILLAGE BOYS already on the stage. They are evenly distributed between the left and right side of the throne. They hold their pots of plants. CHEUN is not moving. His arms are wound up tightly around his pot. CHEUN’S MOTHER and CHEUN'S FATHER are standing right behind him. MANCHU and WONG are talking animatedly to each other. VILLAGE BOYS, VILLAGE GIRLS, VILLAGE PEOPLE, HOPEFUL MOTHER, and HOPEFUL FATHER are talking amongst themselves excitedly. Soft laughter can be heard.]
Six months passed. The day for judging finally arrived. That morning, all the boys wiped their pots, very carefully, till they shone. They gently wiped the leaves till the leaf veins glistened. They prepared themselves by dressing in their finest clothes. Some mothers or fathers accompanied their sons to the palace to help them hold their plants upright. All were very careful not to tip their plants over.
[JUN enters with JUN’S FATHER and JUN’S MOTHER. He is holding an empty pot.]
My pot is empty. I feel so ashamed. (turns around to leave)
(stops JUN)
It is what it is, Jun.
You did your best. What else could you do?
I will show the Emperor my pot even if it’s empty. I really did try my best.

[JUN, JUN’S FATHER, and JUN’S MOTHER join the others

near the throne. Shortly after, ROYAL GUARD #3 enters.]
His Majesty, the Emperor of China!
[ROYAL GUARD #3 steps aside, and ROYAL GUARD #1 and ROYAL GUARD #2 enter from right behind him. They are followed by EMPEROR and ROYAL ADVISOR. They pass through the middle. EVERYONE stands in attention and keeps quiet. EMPEROR sits on the throne. ROYAL GUARD #1 and ROYAL GUARD #2 stand on each side of the throne. ROYAL ADVISOR addresses the crowd.]
Welcome, everyone! Six months ago today, I gave each of you boys a royal seed. I told you to bring it back here today to show the Emperor the best result. He will now take a look at your pots. Please form two lines here. (motions with his arms to show them where to line up)
[EMPEROR stands up and goes around. ROYAL GUARD #1 and ROYAL GUARD #2 follow him. VILLAGE BOYS, BOY #1, BOY #2 and BOY #3 stand closest to the throne. CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and JUN are more visible to the audience.]
Hmmmm… (frowns) Interesting! (continues walking) How strange! (to CHEUN) Did this plant grow from your seed?
Yes of course, Your Majesty!
The seed you got from the palace six months ago?
The very one!
And this one, too?
Indeed yes, Your Majesty! I took it home and planted it, and look!
(scowls at JUN)
What do you have here? You brought me an empty pot?
(voice shakes)
I tried my best, Your Majesty. I planted your seed with the best soil I could find. I kept it moist, and I watched for signs every day. But the seed didn’t grow! I repotted it in a new pot. I tried hard, Your Majesty! But the seed still didn’t grow.
What is your name, lad?
(looks down then shyly looks at EMPEROR)
Jun, Your Majesty.
Well, I don’t know where all you boys got your seeds. There is no way anything could have grown from the royal seeds we passed out for the contest. Because all of those seeds had been cooked!
[The crowd murmurs: “What?” “What did he say?” “The seeds were cooked?” “How can that be?” “Nothing grows from a cooked seed!” “Everyone knows that!” “Why would he have done that?” “Who can say?” “I can’t believe it, can you?” “Not I!”]
[EMPEROR walks back to his throne and sits down. ROYAL GUARD #1 and ROYAL GUARD #2 follow him and take their positions beside his throne.]

I have ruled this kingdom for many years. Before I step down as Emperor, I want to be sure the one who will rule after me will be a good ruler. Six months ago, I instructed the royal advisor to pass out seeds that have been cooked. I admire Jun’s courage to appear before me with the cold truth, his empty pot. Today, I have found the next ruler of our fair land. Bring the boy to me!
(to audience with a surprised look)
I won the contest? I won the contest! I can’t believe it!
[JUN’S FATHER and JUN’S MOTHER hug him tightly. CHEUN and MANCHU scowl, and WONG smiles. Some VILLAGE PEOPLE, VILLAGE BOYS, and VILLAGE GIRLS cheer loudly. Some shake their heads. ROYAL GUARD #1 and ROYAL GUARD #2 take JUN and escort him to stand in front of the EMPEROR.]
Jun, please face all these people. (motions for JUN to turn around) I now proclaim you the next Emperor of our land.
[ROYAL ADVISOR hands EMPEROR a red satin cape. EMPEROR places cape around JUN and shakes his hand.]
Thank you, Your Majesty!
In your empty pot, you brought me the most beautiful gift of all.

and HOPEFUL PARENTS shake his hand. CHEUN and MANCHU stomp their feet angrily and exit stage left.]

When the time came, Jun became the next Emperor. His mother and father moved into the royal palace. Jun also loved the royal garden, and he tended it every day. Jun ruled the rest of his days in peace and prosperity and was beloved by all the people in the land.
[If you have a curtain, close it now. If you do not, all actors come on stage and bow to the audience.]


The play script, "The Empty Pot," was adapted by Clarice Cabanlit from a story of the same name found at and further described at the end of the story. ©2006 Elaine L. Lindy. All rights reserved.

Performance Notes:
1. Students can read the play aloud from their seats. Students simply read their lines. They do not follow the stage directions.

2. Students can perform the play in the classroom. Clear an area that can be used as the stage. Have the audience sit on the floor in front of the stage. Students in the play can make simple costumes and/or sets as described below. When the scene change, the characters "on stage" simply walk to the back of the room where they wait until their next appearance "on stage."

3. Students can perform the play on stage. For performance on a real stage, see the notes on costumes, props, and sets.


  • ROYAL GUARD #1, ROYAL GUARD #2, and ROYAL GUARD # 3 wear Mandarin collar shirts with long sleeves along with pairs of trousers. The colors of the shirts should be lighter than the colors of the trousers. They wear red conical Chinese hats. Black beards can be drawn on their faces using black eyeliner pencil. The hats can be made by using cardboard paper big enough to fit the head. Cut the paper into circles and cut out a small segment from each (about one-sixth of the total size). Bring the edges together to form cones and glue in place.

  • ROYAL ADVISOR wears a blue robe tied with a purple belt at the waist and a special hat on his head. Use hairpins to ensure that the hat will not fall off his head. The special hat can be made by using a rectangular piece of yellow cardboard. To determine the length of the cardboard, measure the head of the actor who will wear the hat. Bring the edges together to form a lopsided cylinder with a base larger in circumference than the top. Glue the edges in place. Draw some vertical lines at the front. See image below:

  • CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and VILLAGE BOYS wear round-necked t-shirts and shorts, similar to JUN’s. In Scene 4, the boys wear Mandarin collar shirts and trousers.

  • JUN’S MOTHER, JUN’S FATHER, CHEUN’S MOTHER, CHEUN'S, FATHER, HOPEFUL MOTHER, HOPEFUL FATHER, and VILLAGE PEOPLE wear plain, dull-colored shirts. Males wear neutral-colored trousers, and females wear dark skirts.

  • JUN wears a round-necked t-shirt and a pair of black shorts in SCENE 1, SCENE 2, and SCENE 3. In SCENE 4, he wears a Mandarin collar shirt and a pair of trousers.

  • VILLAGE GIRLS wear light-colored shirts and dark skirts.

  • EMPEROR wears a yellow satin robe tied with a red belt at the waist and a special hat on his head. He has a long white moustache and beard that can be made out of white paper. Baby powder or cornstarch can be placed in his hair. The special hat can be made by using a rectangular piece of yellow cardboard. To determine the length of the cardboard, measure the head of the actor who will wear the hat. Bring the edges together to form a lopsided cylinder with a base that is larger in circumference than the top. Glue the edges in place. Take a black rectangular piece of cardboard that is big enough to cover the top part of the cylinder that you just made. Give an extra two inches so that some part of it will protrude. Glue this piece to the top of the yellow cardboard cylinder. Around the base, glue a small strip of red paper. Cut a small piece of blue foil in an oval shape. Glue this to the center of the red strip. See image below:


  • Colored marbles to be used as seeds. If marbles are not available, any round objects covered with colorful construction paper can also be used. The total quantity will depend on the number of actors who will get seeds from ROYAL ADVISOR.

  • Several potted plants (flowering and non-flowering). The plants can be real or made from paper.

  • Empty pot covered with silver foil.

  • Pots and pans

  • Bread

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Fake fish and fake meat

  • A variety of pots with plants sprouting out for CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and other VILLAGE BOYS. The plants can be constructed of green cardboard, should be leafy, and can be stiffened by taping long wooden dowels or rods to their backs. The total quantity will depend on the number of actors who will use them.

  • Red satin cape.

  • The flowers held by CHEUN, MANCHU, WONG, and other VILLAGE BOYS should be full-sized. You can make the flowers quite big to stand in visual contrast to JUN’s empty pot.


The façade of a palace is seen on the right side in scene 1. This can be done by drawing two pillars and a door on a large piece of Manila paper. On the left side is a garden. A backdrop can be painted showing trees, flowers, and nice landscaping. If a backdrop is not possible, simple cut-outs of trees and flowers can be used.

Jun’s house has a garden that can be seen on the left side. A table and three chairs are set up in front of it. Pots of plants, both flowering and non-flowering, are lined up near the edge of the stage. One pot is empty. On the right side are the trees and flowers used in scene 1.

Several tables are spread out across the stage to depict a village market.
Place a chair in the center of the stage for the Emperor’s Court. The chair is covered with satin fabric. Behind it is a backdrop showing a golden arc painted with nice designs.

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