Friday, June 15, 2018

Grand Auntie Tiger--the Earliest Recorded Version (Mainland Han Chinese)

Note: This bogeyman fairy tale is not suitable for the very young. 

A farmer in a mountain village sent his daughter off to the home of her waizumu (maternal grandmother) with a nice basket of dates for the old woman. Tagging along with her was her little ten-year-old brother.

Grandmother's home was six li away. The sister and brother plunged ahead along the path through the forest and mountains as the sun slowly set.

Soon, it was very dark, and the girl and boy became somehow confused and lost in the diminishing light.

Someone was on the path up ahead; they and this figure approached each other. It was an old woman.

"Where are you off to?" the old woman asked.

"We're on our way to our waizumu's house!" the girl responded.

"Why, child, I am your waizumu!"

The girl and boy looked at each other.

"Hmmm . . . " the girl said. "I remember my mother telling us that her mother had seven black spots upon her face. You don't seem to have such spots on yours."

"Oh, my child! I'm indeed your waizumu. I do have such spots--dark rashes, due to an allergy I had developed while I was winnowing rice and drying husks. Just a moment; let me wash my face for a moment." The old woman turned around and bent down next to a stream that ran along the path. She took off the eyes of some water snails and stuck those eyes to her face. She got up and went back to where the boy and girl stood. She said to the girl, "Now, child, do you not see the rashes on my face?"

"Oh, yes, I see them." The girl and her brother now believed the old woman and went along with her down the path.

They entered the heart of the forest on a side path into an area so dark that not even any moonlight shone through. They then carefully tread across a very narrow passageway, which led to a home that looked like barely more than a cave.

"Your grandfather and I have another house, which he and some workmen are repairing. For the time being, we're staying in this place. So, please come in and forgive your grandmother for being such a poor hostess in not making everything comfortable for you!"

The old woman led the children into the home and then prepared a dinner for them. After dinner, it was time for bed.

"Now," said the old woman, bidding the children to climb up onto the bed, "let's see which of you two is the fatter so that he or she can keep Grandmother warm through the night."

"I am, Grandmother!" said the boy.

"And so you are! All right, you shall sleep right next to Grandmother!"

The boy then cuddled with the old woman, while the sister slept next to the old woman's legs.

The sister fell asleep but woke up after a short while, and the first thing she noticed was that some of the old woman's torso was exposed between layers of blankets and that this skin was covered with very hairy fur.

"Grandmother, " the sister said, "your skin is so hairy!"

"That's not my skin, child," replied the old woman. "I'm wearing your grandfather's wooly quilt jacket. It gets quite chilly out here if you didn't notice. The jacket keeps me nice and warm."

"Oh . . ."

A short while later, the sister heard what sounded like munching.

"Grandmother, what's that noise?"

"Well, I'm eating some of the delicious dates you children brought to me. It's cold and nowadays I find it hard to resist eating when I'm the slightest bit hungry."

"Grandmother, " said the sister, "I'm hungry too."

"Have a date," said the old woman, handing the little girl a small object.

The sister took the item in her hands and looked at it.

It wasn't a date.

It was something small, white, longish . . . a small finger.

The sister stifled a gasp and quickly understood what had happened . . . her beloved little brother was likely no more.

She quickly gathered her wits about her and said, "Grandmother, I have to go outside to relieve myself!"

"Oh, dear, do you really need to go? Tigers might be right outside, roaming the mountains. Grandmother wouldn't want you to get eaten. Better not to go out, eh?"

"You can do this, if you're worried, Grandmother. Tie one end of a rope to me, and hold on to the other end of the rope. If there's any danger, I'll tug on the rope and you can come to me right away."

"Oh, very well . . ."

The old woman produced something long and rope-like. The sister got off the bed,  and the old woman tied one end of the rope around the girl's ankle. The girl went outside, ostensibly to "do her business," but, in reality, to escape, of course. In the moonlight, she could see the "rope" attached to her ankle was no rope but rather a long section of an intestine . . .

She quickly untied the intestine from her ankle and scurried up the first tree she could see. Her actions alerted the old woman, who came out and followed the end of the intestine to the tree in which the girl was hiding.

The old woman waited at the bottom of the tree for a while before calling out: "Child! Come down! Do you want to catch a chill? Tomorrow morning when I send you back home ill, how will your mother ever forgive me?"

Before long the old woman spotted the sister up in the tree. She cried, and her cries turned into roars, as she paced around the tree like a mad person.

"Come down from there, child!" she shouted to the little girl. "Tigers could be up in that tree!"

"I'm safer in this tree than in the bed with you!" the sister shouted back. "You're the tiger! You ate my little brother!"

With nothing to say in response, the old woman fled the scene.

By now the sun had come up.

In case any person was around, the sister began to yell loudly, "Help! Help! Someone save me from tigers! I'm up in this tree!"

She shouted over and over until, indeed, some men working in the mountains heard her cries and rushed over. They brought her down from the tree and escorted her to safety. Some scraps of her clothing were left hooked and hanging in the tree because of their haste.

Not long after that, the old woman returned to the tree with two young tigers accompanying her.

"She's up in that tree," she told the tigers.

The tigers gnarled and chewed along the rim of the trunk until the whole tree toppled over. When the two tigers discovered there was only a bit of clothing on the tree but no girl, they became infuriated, assuming the old woman had been having sport with them. They turned around, leaped upon her, and tore her to pieces.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, ed; 經典中國童話 [Classic Chinese Fairy Tales]; Taipei: Azoth Books, 2012; pp. 92-94. 

This tale, a variant of the quintessential bogeyman tale that has frightened recalcitrant Taiwanese kids for centuries ("Grand Auntie/Grandauntie Tiger" 虎姑婆), comes from the early Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911)anthology Yuchu Xinzhi 虞初新志,  edited by Zhang Chao 張潮. (This particular version deals with a shapeshifting tiger claiming to be a grandmother, rather than a great aunt.) It has motifs that differ significantly from many of the Taiwanese versions. For example, in many, maybe most Taiwanese versions, the old woman shapeshifter shows up at the home of the children when the children's parents are not home, and the older sister is conned into believing this stranger is a great aunt, thus allowing her inside. The motif of an intestine-rope is a particularly ghoulish deviation from the Taiwanese version, which has the girl's tying an actual rope around her waist, instead of a length of intestine around her ankle. The end of the Taiwanese version has the girl kill the shapeshifter by pouring a bucket of boiled cooking oil or boiled water down the shapeshifter's throat after the girl tricks the monster into allowing her to pull the bucket up to her sanctuary in the tree branches, having promised Grand Auntie Tiger that she would cook herself for the shapeshifter to make herself tastier. 

I had to make some changes to the story above. The version I read from Azoth doesn't explain what brings the old woman out to the tree. Instead, it mentions the old woman goes outside, finds the intestine-rope extending from the upper reaches of the tree, and yanks on the intestine until it falls to the ground. 

(My translation of a Taiwanese version can be found in my e-book Taiwan Folktales, available on Another English version comes from the late, great sinologist and sociologist, Wolfram Eberhard. See his Studies in Taiwanese Folktales; Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1971.)

Finally, there should be mention of "Grand Auntie Wolf," a variant from China involving a shapeshifting wolf. Ed Young's Caldecott Medal-winning version is Lon Po Po, now also available as an e-book.

 "Grand Auntie Wolf" and "Grand Auntie Tiger" are classified as tale type AT 333, "Little Red Riding Hood."

Motifs: D112.2.1, "Wer-tiger" or "Weretiger'; F843, "Extraordinary rope"; cG61.1, "Child recognizes relative's flesh when it is served to be eaten"; G86.1, "Cannibal ogress gives finger of [boy] to frightened sister"; G87, "Cannibal crunching human bone says noise is only eating of [dates]"; K551.4, "Respite from death until toilet is made permits escape"; K1822.4, "Tiger disguises as human being"; R111.1.13, "Rescue of girl from tigers"; cZ18.1, "What makes your ears so big?"

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Deer Husband (Taiwan -- Amis)

Note: This rather sad and grim tale is not intended for younger readers. 

In a village, there was a young unmarried woman who lived with her family. One day, out of the blue, she started going out to the field to work alone, refusing all help or even just the simple company of someone else.

Ha, thought her mother, this daughter of mine always goes out to the field by herself, never allowing anyone else to go with her. That's not normal. I wonder what's going on with her.

One day the mother told the daughter, "You know, you needn't go out to do all the work by yourself. Somebody can go with you."

"No, thank you, " said the daughter. "It's not necessary."

Far from settling the issue, the daughter's reply only deepened the mother's worries and suspicions. The mother had an idea, however.

That day at noon, the mother carried a lunchbox to her daughter. Nearby where she knew her daughter would be, she stopped. She heard two people, one of whom was her daughter, talking, laughing merrily. She rushed into the clearing only to find her daughter, alone.

"Oh, who was just here seconds ago?" asked the mother. "I am sure I heard you talking and laughing with someone."

"No one else is here as you can see. I am alone."

The mother looked around their field. Surely somebody had to be helping her daughter! The girl couldn't have done all the field chores by herself.

"Daughter, where have you hidden him?"


"You know whom! The person, the young man, who was obviously here laughing and joking with you and helping you!"

"There is no one else here with me!"

The conversation ended and that was that, for the time being, anyway.

A few days later, the millet and yams were ready for harvesting.

The father told his wife, "I'm going out to the field to take a look."

He found the millet and yams ready for gathering; he also noted how well manicured the field was and how hard more than one person must have worked to make the field appear this way.

Who else has been here? he thought. Just my daughter? She is the only one responsible for making the field picked clean of all weeds, for watering it? All by herself? Impossible!

The father poked around the area for a bit longer and then for the first time, noticed a path nearby.

Hmm, he thought. This is curious. And look, footprints . . . 

The father went home and called all the family members together.

"Who else besides Daughter has been working out in the field, weeding and watering and so on?" he asked.

"I haven't!" everyone but Daughter replied.

"I see . . . " said the father, his mind clouded by the mystery.

He went back out to the field and poked around some more. The millet and yams lay neatly in rows, waiting to be picked, sitting undisturbed. Nearby the rows of millet and yams were some tracks he had not noticed earlier--deer tracks.

Now, this is the strangest thing of all! he thought. Here are all the millet and yams, and next to them, deer tracks. Why, this deer could have eaten its fill of yams and millet but didn't do so. Now, that begs some explaining. Anyway, I've got to take care of that deer before it becomes hungry . . . 

The father returned home for his bamboo rifle and then went back to the edge of the field to wait for the deer.

Before long, a deer, an antlered buck, entered the field from the forest.

Come on, buck deer, come on . . . the father thought. Just a little closer . . . 

He let the buck walk into his sights.


The buck was hit and now down on the ground. The father hoisted the dead creature up and slung it over his shoulders and carried it home.

The daughter began to tremble when she saw what her father had brought home.

"Turn . . . his . . . head . . . toward . . . me . . . Father . . ." she said. "Let . . . me take a . . . look . . . " When her father did as she asked, she shrieked. "Why did you kill him? Why did you kill my husband?"

"What? What did you say?"

"Yes! My husband! He was my husband!"

The daughter pushed her father away and scurried up one of the poles that supported the roof. Then, she climbed along the roof beam until she was directly over the dead buck's head. She leaped from the beam and fell directly onto the buck's antlers, impaling herself, quickly dying.

The family gathered around, with the broken-hearted father shaking his head, tearfully saying, "So, that was her husband all along . . . No wonder the field had been so well tended . . . "

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 163-165. (See the posting for 7/4/17 for complete citation.)

In this version of an animal groom tale, the deer husband never materializes into a human. He remains a true deer, apparently without a human soul. A young woman has a lover who is literally a wild animal, reflecting the willingness of the civilized but immature individual to give in to the more carnal, unrestrained, uncivilized world of nature. It is the long-lost primordial world to which our prehistoric ancestors once belonged (or so we imagine) and to which many claim they long to return. It is no surprise that the parental authority figure steps in and quashes the affair, for there is no going back to the lamented distant past for any of us. 

Motifs: B601.10, "Marriage to deer"; B611.5, "Deer paramour."

Some Hui Proverbs

1. 好男凭志强, 好马凭膘壮。A man's goodness is determined by the strengths of his aspirations;       a  horse's goodness is determined by its being plump and well-fed. (Everything under the sun--
     people, places, things--has its own set of standards by which it may be judged.) 

2. 锅下无火水永凉, 人无精神死人相。The water in a pot without a fire beneath it will grow
    cold; one without vitality has the face of a dead person. (Our vigor keeps us spirited; our passions 
    keep us alive.) 

3. 满瓶子隐隐当当, 半瓶子晃里晃荡。A full bottle stands stable, solid; half a bottle sways to
    and fro. (A full commitment outdoes anything halfhearted, wishy-washy.) 

4. 立志容易,成事险难。[To talk of] Resolve is easy; actually accomplishing a task can be
    perilous and difficult. (Talk is cheap; results speak volumes.)

5. 读书不知意, 等于嚼树皮。To study without grasping the significance of the topic (i.e., to
    study passively) is akin to munching just on bark. (One must approach one's activities, especially
    one's studies, completely engaged, with total mindfulness.)

6. 水不流要臭, 人不学必愚。Stagnant water begins to stink; a person who doesn't study will
    become stupid. (Without the constant stimulation and knowledge from studying and learning, one's
    mind will eventually just languish.)

7. 壮士穷途不卖剑,秀才饿死不卖书。A poor warrior wouldn't resort to selling his sword; a
    scholar on the verge of starving to death wouldn't sell his books. (A person of great resolve
    remains rock steady; a true person of honor and integrity doesn't sell out.)

8. 智慧是穿不破的衣裳, 知识是取不尽的宝藏。Wisdom is a set of clothes that never wears
    out; intelligence is an inexhaustible storehouse of treasure. (Knowledge, perhaps including 
    wisdom, is a gift that keeps on giving and something that no one can ever take away from you . . .
    provided you have done the requisite studying.)

9. 葡萄不熟才酸, 人若无知才傲。Unripe grapes are sure to be sour; an unlearned individual is
    sure to be arrogant. (How interesting--and especially sad--it is that some people are proud of 
    their own ignorance! Those who are most vain tend to be stunted in their educational 

10. 学习的路程从阿妈的怀窝到坟坑。Studying and learning are a lifelong road from
      Grandmother's lap to the grave. (Living and learning--they never stop. Other Mandarin
      speakers would say, "To have studied and learned a long time means to have lived a long time" 

11. 一根毛线不成绳, 一根树木不成林。A strand of hair doesn't make a rope; a single tree
      isn't a whole forest. (Aristotle said that "one swallow does not a whole summer make." We 
      can also say that it is too easy to settle for half measures, quasi-victories, and so on. Real 
      accomplishments require hard work and sweat.)

12. 人多力量大, 蚂蚁搬泰山。People united are invincible; if enough ants could unite, they
      could even move Mount Tai. (Mount Tai appears in many proverbs as a steady, unmovable 
      presence. "Two heads are better than one, " the old saying goes.)

13. 人离群太孤单, 羊背群狼喜欢。The person who leaves the group will be friendless; wolves
      appreciate the lambs that reject the flock. ("United we stand; divided we fall.") 

14. 向你笑的人不一定都是你的朋友, 生你气的人不一定都是你的敌人。Those who laugh
      with you are not necessarily your friends; those who are cross with you are not necessarily
      your enemies. (These are words to share with our children, who too often happily claim their
      friends "are always there for them," while bemoaning how their parents have to admonish 
      them from time to time, something their friends don't do. As I tell my students, "Your friends
      don't wash your underwear, cook your dinner, or pay for your braces. They will, however,
      sit on your bed at three in the morning on nights you can't sleep and comfort and listen to you as 
      you recount tales of teenage woe.")

15. 一步走错, 百步难赶。With one step in the wrong direction, a person might find
      a hundred steps not enough to get back on the right course. ("If your train is on the wrong track, 
      every station you come to is the wrong station"--Bernard Malamud. The need for good 
       preparations, a clear vision, and a good start can never be overstated.)

回族谚语: 回族智慧结晶 [Hui Proverbs: Crystallization of Hui Wisdom]; Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture Literary Alliance, ed. N.P., 2016; [Kindle Paperwhite].

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part Two

"Father, Mother!" he cried upon arriving home. "A very lovely maiden is in love with me!"

The father was not so quick to believe his son's words.

"Son, my dear son," said the father, with a heavy heart, as the mother looked on, "how do I tell you the truth? Well, I'll just come out and say it. How could a lovely girl fall in love with the likes of you? Be realistic. I mean, you are an egg! If you go around saying a beautiful girl loves you, why, you'll put folks in stitches. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

The eggshell boy said no more about it.

Then came the day of the big village sports meet. The activities for the young men of the village would include wrestling and foot racing.

"I'm taking part in the racing meet, Father and Mother," the eggshell boy said.

"What?!" asked the mother.

"Yes, what?" asked the father.

"Aren't you concerned you might get trampled or crushed?" asked the mother. "You are a shell, my son! Might the shell not get cracked? Besides, you'd be seen in public."

"Don't worry about me," their son said. "Where there's a will, there's a way, and I have a way."

And off he rolled towards the sports meet.

He then rolled onto the grounds where the events were being held. There, he hid himself amongst all the feet of the spectators to watch for a while all the events. If a foot brushed against him or was about to step on him, he'd cry, "Hey, watch it! Don't step on me!" The foot would then be hastily pulled away by its owner.

He tired of this, and then, when no one was watching him, he rolled off to a deserted area behind all the people, where he came out of his eggshell and hid the shell in some bushes. He then ran over to join the young me of the village waiting to run in the big race of the day.

They were off and running!

The tall, strapping young men of the village were fast but not as fast as the eggshell boy. He easily outdistanced them and passed the midpoint mark way before any of them. He reached the finish line nice and early, while all the other young men ran through his dust. The young maiden he liked was there, and she was delighted to see her friend and neighbor win. She joined the throng that gathered to proclaim the eggshell boy top champion.

"Let's walk home together," she said.

"We'll walk for a bit," he answered. Halfway to her home, he said, "Look, I need to attend to something. You go on home without me."

"Then shall we see each other again?"

"Yes, of course! Come to my house tonight."

He then ran back to his eggshell and reentered it.

Back home again, he told his parents, "Well, Father and Mother, I won first place in the big race today!"

His parents were speechless at first, but then they began to have deep doubts about it, disbelieving their son had even been there. They said no more about it.

Later that very night, the pretty young maiden arrived at the eggshell boy's home.

"May we help you, young woman?" asked the parents, opening the door.

"Excuse me, Auntie and Uncle," she asked, "but is your son at home?"

"'Son?' Er . . . er . . . we don't have a son," replied the father. "Have you mistaken our house for someone else's?"

From his basket on the floor, the eggshell boy bellowed, "You don't have a son? Am I not your son?"

"Ahem! Ahem! Let's not embarrass ourselves, shall we?" replied the red-faced father, his teeth clenched.

"Who's embarrassed?" the eggshell boy replied. "This is who I am. Whoever doesn't love me for who I am can go find someone else to love for all I care!"

The maiden, nonplussed, excused herself and left.

The next day between the two neighboring fields, the maiden and the eggshell boy, having already hidden his shell, met.

"I was at the house you had said was yours, but the two adults there said they didn't have a son."

"You were at the right house. I was there. How could you have not seen me?" he asked.

"Just those two older people and a strange talking egg were there!"

"The couple are my parents."

"Then . . . that . . . means . . . the talking egg . . . was . . . "

He smiled, nodded, and pointed to his own chest.

The maiden was more mystified than ever but said no more. Later, at sundown, they walked home together.

"Say," said the boy, "you go on ahead. I have to take care of something."

"All right," she answered.

This time, though, she only pretended to walk away. She walked around the bend, hid, and then returned and watched the boy scurry down the path in the other direction. She quickly but quietly followed him to some bushes off the path and, there, watched him uncover an eggshell and enter it.

That night the maiden went back to the eggshell boy's home, and this time she didn't ask for their son. No, instead, she quietly whispered for them to come outside, which they did.

"I know the talking egg in your home  is your son," she said, "but please listen to me. Inside the eggshell is a very handsome, hardworking, and clever young man. I have seen with my own eyes how he can enter the shell. He doesn't really need that eggshell, but he continues to hide within it."

"Yes," said the father, "I suspected something like that."

"Yes," said the mother, "and it's our doing--my man's and my own. We must go in and tell him to come out of his shell."

"Please don't do that yet," said the maiden. "I have a better idea."

She told them of her plan.

The next morning, the egg announced it was going off to the field to work. The father and mother watched the egg roll away. Also watching was the maiden, hiding behind a tree. Then, the three of them--the father, the mother, and the maiden--followed the egg as it rolled down the path towards the field. From afar and hiding in the brush, they watched the egg roll off the path into the bushes. Shortly after, a small but very handsome youth emerged from the bushes and continued onto the field.

When the sun was ready to go down, the youth--the eggshell boy without his shell--reappeared on the path and went to fetch his hidden eggshell. However, the eggshell was nowhere to be found. Had he come to the right spot? Yes, he had left certain marks in the dirt and rearranged twigs and such, so this was the right spot beyond a doubt. Yet, there was no sign of the eggshell. He scoured the area just in case he had been mistaken about the location of the eggshell.

One hour turned into two, and two, into three.

The youth, upset and shocked, sat down in the dirt, his head in his hands.

"You don't need that eggshell anymore!" a voice cried. "It's gone, gone for good!"

The youth looked up. Standing before him were his father and mother.

"That's right, Son!" cried the father, embracing him. "You don't need it anymore."

"Our wonderful son!" cried the mother, likewise embracing him.

The lad and his parents returned home. They got rid of the egg basket and instead prepared a real grass-mat bed for him.

He now became another one of the village's stalwart, hardworking young men, and, yes, soon afterward he married his sweetheart, the beautiful maiden whose family field lay next to his.

Cai Tiemin, pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, pp. 40-44; Riftin, pp. 94-98. For full citations, please see the previous posting for 3/29/18. 

Riftin (96)  mentions variants of this story are known to the indigenous Paiwan, Binan, Atayal, and Rukai communities. Unfortunately, Mainland Chinese scholars persist in using the artificial umbrella term for the Indigenous Taiwanese, Gaoshan [高山族], or "Highland people," "High Mountaineers," etc. I find this term rather pejorative and insensitive, as it is often used to identify tales, myths, and legends instead of the name of the specific community from which the story originates.

Myths and legends about very small young men who, in Tom Thumb fashion, set out to prove their worth abound in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Often, these characters are born from melons, gourds, or eggs and become culture heroes and the progenitors of a clan (see Ho Ting-jui, 66-74; for full citation, see the notes for the 12/20/17 posting). This particular story, like the Japanese "Momotaro," where an old couple raise a miraculous strong boy who springs from a peach is a folktale or fairy tale, not a myth or legend, in that the story apparently doesn't seek to establish a family's royal or sacred pedigree. It also doesn't provide any place or personal names that have come down to us, as is the case with myths and legends. Perhaps "Eggshell Boy" had once been a myth or legend that took root in an outlying Indigenous Taiwanese region and was gradually transformed into a folktale/fairy tale devoid of all mythical or legendary trappings. 

A number of tales, including this one, seem to suggest that unnatural unions (e.g., mortal and immortal; human and animal) or those in which the childbearing years have long passed will result in an offspring  who, in some way, won't, don't, or can't fit in with society in some dramatic or even monstrous way and who must be secluded  or hidden. However, if the parent or parents can provide their child with love, care, and understanding, the child may achieve a liberation from that which  negatively singles him  or her out  and finally enables the child to obtain self-actualization (Bettelheim, 70; for full citation, see the notes for the posting for 11/23/17). 

Stories about plucky little underdog heroes like Eggshell Boy both delight and encourage small children. Because of their own small size and lack of maturity, small children are on the lower end of the pecking order in a household of adults and older siblings and need, whether they know it or not, ego boosts (Bettelheim, 103-105). The journey of the Eggshell Boy from birth to complete self-actualization takes him through periods in which his parents hide him, doubt his abilities, and even mock him. Yet, he ignores the parental naysayers and their poor attempts to hide their shame of having an egg for a son and to just accept a status quo or whatever is second or third best. Moreover, he perseveres with various tasks, including wooing the one he loves and triumphs in the end. What small child wouldn't find any of this gratifying on some level?

I would be greatly remiss if I didn't mention how recently two of my students, Leo and Selina, simultaneously pointed out that this story is about someone's "coming out of his shell." The metaphor they used is very appropriate. 

This tale most resembles tale type AT 700, "Tom Thumb," for which there are also cognates in Chinese folk literature. 

Motifs: D1610.29, "Speaking egg(s)"; F611.1.11 "Strong hero born from egg"; T542, "Birth of a human being from an egg"; cT553, "Thumbling born as a result of the hasty wish of parents."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part One

There once were an older couple. They had already reached the age when they couldn't bring a child into the world, yet they so much desired to have a child of their own. Now the husband had heard that if they built a small altar to a certain god in their home and prayed before this altar with the utmost earnestness, they would indeed have a child.

And so the husband built such an altar, and both prayed fervently before it, beseeching the god for a child.

Lo and behold--the wife one day discovered the telltale signs that she was to have a baby, and ten months later, she finally gave birth to . . . a small egg.

Oh, why? she thought. Why couldn't it have been a healthy child? No, instead it is a tiny egg! I'm already old,  and now I have an egg, not a child, to care for. If only I had known! I wouldn't have prayed just to have this egg. 

She made her disappointment known to her husband, who just waved his hand and dismissed her, saying, "All right, so it's an egg! Anyway, it's what you gave birth to, so you and I'll need to love and to take care of it. We'll just make sure no one finds out it is our child. We'll keep it hidden from others. What others cannot see will not bring shame or embarrassment to us."

So, they set out to take the best care they could of this egg, showering it with love. They made a basket for the egg to keep it nice and safe. They would rush home from working in the fields every day just to behold the egg, their egg. True, they were rather sad that the child they had longed for turned out to be just a small egg, but in time they grew to love the egg and to appreciate having it. At the same time, they told no one about their having an egg instead of an actual child.

When the egg began making the sounds of an infant several months later, the old couple were overjoyed. Could intelligent speech be not far behind? And then the egg began to move, to rock within its basket. When the basket was placed on the floor, the egg would cause the basket to tip over, without any harm to the egg, and then the egg would roll all over the floor.

Once the egg reached the age of eight, it could make intelligent speech and said one day in a boyish voice, "Father, Mother, I know other children my age have chores. I want to take care of our water buffalo."

"Don't be silly," said the father. "You're an egg. What are you going to do if the animal strays off? Chase after it by rolling on the ground?"

The egg didn't laugh but instead replied, "I won't need to chase or roll after the water buffalo. Just place me in its ear, and I shall be with the animal every second. I'll be able to guide it and stop it from wandering off."

"All right," said the father, "I'll do that. Let's see then what you can do!"

The father placed the small egg into the water buffalo's ear so that the egg could control the animal's movements. The egg started singing a song. People who passed by the water buffalo heard singing coming from the creature but couldn't see who was singing. Some walked by believing the water buffalo itself was actually singing.

The father observed all this and was both amused and very proud of his legless, armless, and headless son's resourcefulness. But had the father now changed his mind and wanted to show his son to the world? No. He and his wife still kept their son away from the eyes of others.

The egg knew that boys his age would go out to the woods to chop firewood, so one day he rolled over to his father and said, "Father, I want to go to the forest to chop firewood."

"Oh, you must be really joking now," said the father. "It's one thing to guide a water buffalo when you're lodged in its ear, but, really now, how can you chop firewood, my son? You have neither arms nor hands!"

"Father, Father, it wouldn't be difficult. Just tie a hatchet around me. Then I'll show you how I can chop firewood."

"All right . . . "

The father tied a hatchet to the egg by wrapping a string around and around the egg to secure the handle. Then he said to his son, "Well, let's go."

"I'll go alone, Father."

"All right, then. Go alone, but make sure no one--I mean no one--sees you!"

"As you say, Father."

And so the egg, with the hatchet securely attached, rolled out towards the forest. Then, in a place where no one else could see him, he exited his shell. Invisible seams of his eggshell came open, and out hopped a tiny boy. He took the hatchet off the shell and covered his eggshell up. Then, carrying the hatchet, he headed for the woods. He chopped a large amount of firewood, and carried it back to the spot where his eggshell was hidden. He neatly stacked the firewood, re-tied the hatchet to the shell, and reentered the shell. The invisible seams once again sealed the boy inside the eggshell. He rolled back home again.

"Father!" he cried, returning home. "Done! But you'll need to bring out the wheelbarrow. Let me lead you to where the firewood is stacked."

The father, once he had reached the spot his son--the egg--had directed him to, looked upon the neatly stacked tower of firewood.

"If I didn't see it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't believe it," said the father.

The son had proven to his father his worth as a worker. He was no longer just a clever talking egg anymore. Now, he was allowed to go to the forest and the field at will and to do just about what everyone else his age did for chores.

One day, halfway to his family's field, he saw ahead of him on the path a very pretty maiden walking away. He quickly left his shell and covered it up. Then, as fast as he could, he ran after the girl to catch up to her.

"Young lady, where are you off to?"

The young woman stopped in her tracks and looked around. No one was there!

"I said, 'Young lady, where are you off to?'"

She turned around and looked down. This time she saw him, a very small but very handsome young lad.

"I'm going to our field to work," she replied.

"Where's your field?"

"Right over there." She pointed in the direction. "See it?"

"It's right next to my family's field. Let's go together."

"All right," she said, "let's go!"

All afternoon they sang to each other as they worked. When they reached the spot where the eggshell had been hidden, the tiny boy said, "You go ahead home; it's not far from here. I still have things I need to do."

The maiden nodded and headed home, apparently without any suspicions.

Once back inside his eggshell, the boy quickly rolled home.

"Father! Mother!" he cried upon arriving home. "A very lovely maiden is in love with me!"


Cai Tiemin, ed.  高山族民间故事选 [A Selection of Indigenous Taiwanese Folktales].; Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, ed. 高山族神话传说 [Indigenous Taiwanese Myths and Legends]. Fuzhou: Renmin Chubanshe, 1980; pp. 40-44; Riftin, Boris. 從神話到鬼話:台灣原住民神話故事比較研究 [From Myths to Ghost Stories: A Comparative Study of Indigenous Taiwanese Myths]; Taichung: Morning Star Publishing, 1999; pp. 94-98. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Last Run of Bus 375--Another Version of "The Midnight Bus"

Beijing . . . late one evening in 1995 . . .

Bus 375 is supposed to make its final run for the evening. On board are the driver and the ticket seller. Otherwise, the seats are empty.

The bus stops and an elderly woman and a young man, strangers to each other, board. They buy their tickets, and they both sit back for what will be a long journey into the night.

The bus drives on into the darkness for what seems a long while. Soon, the bus is on the outskirts of the city. It stops and three men in heavy military-style coats board.  They likewise purchase tickets and take their seats.

The bus continues on.

Soon, there is a ruckus on board.

"You thief! You put your hands into my purse!" The elderly woman stands up, clutching her purse and scowling at the young man who had boarded with her.

"No, I didn't! I didn't even touch your purse!" he replies.

"You did so! I saw you!" Then, to the driver, she shouts, "Stop the bus! I want to report this thief to the police! Something's missing from my purse!"

The bus slowly comes to a stop.

"Lady," says the young man accused of theft, "I didn't touch or take . . . "

"All right," says the old woman, "then get off with me and let's settle this at the nearest station or  with the first police car we see!"

She begins to pull the young man towards the exit.


"Come with me! We're going to take care of this!"

"Fine! Fine! Let's do that, then," says the young man.

The bus driver opens the door, and the two get off. The bus pulls away, leaving them both on the sidewalk in the middle of nowhere late at night.

The young man glares at the old woman for what has got to be the biggest pain in the neck imaginable, but she just smiles sadly.

After the bus is now totally out of sight, she says, "Young man, don't be angry. Did you see the three men in the heavy coats that got on a while back?"

"Yes!" he sighs. "What of them?"

"I guess you didn't see that none of them had feet. They were ghosts."

During the night, the bus disappears, never reaching the terminal. The terminal manager notifies the police. The police comb the area, finally locating Bus 375 lying overturned in a ditch. Inside, they find the bodies of the driver and the ticket seller. Both have apparently died from having their necks twisted and broken.

No traces of the three men in military jackets are found.


For my earlier version, see my posting for 8/6/12. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Cocoon Girl (Han)

Long, long ago in ancient times, there was a girl who lived with just her father and her horse far out in the countryside. This girl was alone with her horse a lot while her dad was out of the area working.

So, it was just this very young woman and her horse to watch over the house and to pass the time together. She doted on her horse and made sure the horse was well fed every day.

The girl missed her father a lot, so one day, feeling bored and a little cheeky, she said to the horse, "Tell you what. If you go and fetch my father for me, I shall marry you!"

Like an arrow, the horse slipped out of its reins and took off, leaving the girl behind in the dust, watching, stunned. Off the horse galloped until it was out of sight. It didn't stop until it found the father at work some distance from home.

Why, this is our horse! he thought. What in the world has happened to bring him here? I need to leave and return home . . . 

He got up on the horse and immediately road back home, worried something was amiss with his daughter. The father returned home soon enough and saw that nothing was out of order. His daughter didn't reveal her careless oath to the horse and just let on she had no clue why the horse had behaved that way. The father was perplexed but dropped the matter.

After the father's return, the horse began to act very strangely. Normally, the horse would eat hay with relish; now, however, the horse refused to eat. What's more, every time the girl appeared, the horse would neigh and kick up its hoofs as if possessed.

The father witnessed this and knew there was more to the story than he had been told.

"All right," he told his daughter, "I want the truth. Why is your horse acting like this?"

"I told him I'd marry him if he would bring you back home . . . It was just a joke . . ."

"Daughter, how could you have done something like this?" The father was livid. "No one should ever make an oath like that, joking or not! You have caused great shame to our family! For the time being, you are not to leave the house until I say otherwise!"

The father then grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows and stepped outside to the horse stall. He shot the unfortunate horse with an arrow, skinned it, and hung the horsehide to dry outside.

Days passed.

The father was once again hired to work away from home.

On this day, the girl was outside, playing with several other neighboring girls. In the midst of a game, the girl spied the horsehide still hanging on a hook. She walked over to it and gave it a good kick.

"Well, look at you!" she then said. "Just a farm animal, a working animal, that's all! You thought you were going to get married, but now look at you! Just a dead animal's hide drying, twisting in the wind! So much for your stupid dreams!"

And then, with a great whoosh, the hide lifted off from the hook, enveloped the girl from head to foot and flew off with her into the sky and across the horizon.

The neighborhood girls, frozen with fright, pulled themselves together and ran off to find the girl's father. They finally located him at another home a little distance away.

The father then ran off on a frantic search for his daughter. He scoured the surrounding areas, all to no avail. He didn't give up, though, and finally located something a few days later in the forest, growing on a tree--a giant cocoon that covered what looked like an animal hide. It was the same horsehide all right, and it was simply huge, the biggest cocoon ever, totally encased in silky strands.

In time, women of the area gently removed the cocoon from the branch and brought it to the ground, where they would feed it and watch over it.

The tree on which the cocoon originally grew became known as the sangshu [桑树], what we call the mulberry tree.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, ed., 經典中國童話 [Classic Chinese Fairy Tales]; Taipei: Azoth Books, 2012; pp. 48-49;  蚕女 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书蚕神姑娘_民间故事_中国历史故事网

The earliest version of this story is from Records of the Search for the Gods [搜神記] by Gan Bao (fl. 315-336 A.D.).  For an excellent academic analysis of this story, including a different variant of this tale and its psychoanalytical significance, see a1075.pdf by Professor Alan Miller. 

The version translated and adapted above reveals the cruelty of the girl just before her abduction by the horsehide. 

Azoth titled this story as "The Horsehide Maiden" [馬皮姑娘] rather than the more traditional title by which this story is known, the title I used for this translated and adapted version. Other versions are titled "The Horsehead Girl" [馬頭女], alluding to the ideal shape of a silk cocoon--a soft long body with a "head" faintly resembling that of a horse, also alluding to the eventual disposition of the girl in the story herself.  

The Chinese name for "Mulberry" is a play on words: "Mulberry," sang [桑], versus "mourning"  [喪], also pronounced sang. Both are pronounced with the first tone. The idea is perhaps conflating plant protein from the mulberry leaves and excreted by larvae with the process of mourning to signify the daughter's transition and her inability to be seen again. Various commentators on this story suggest the cult of the Horsehide Maiden eventually led to the spawning of the silk industry. 

Motifs: A2811, "Origin of silk"; cB611.3, "Horse paramour"; cC16, "Tabu: Offending animal husband"; D264, "Transformation of man (woman) to skein of silk; cS215.1, "Girl promises herself to animal suitor."