Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weird & Eerie Stories From Old China -- Series Three

From A-Z, an ongoing series of the strangest stories from old China, with everything but ghosts. 

(1) Rat Demons

During the era of the Northern Song (A.D. 960-1127), there lived a man in Jiankang (now, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province).

Now one day, this man was eating and threw a fish head upon the floor.

Immediately, from out of a rat hole in the wall emerged a tiny man mounted on a small horse, with horse and rider together no longer than one chi (about 13 inches)! As small as they were, the rider, wearing a full set of gleaming armor, still possessed an undeniably gallant, dashing bearing, and the horse showed itself to be nothing but a noble heavenly steed, miniature though it was.

The rider speared the fish head with a long lance, lifted his catch off the floor, made a full circle with his horse and galloped back into the hole.

The onlooker was dumbfounded. After he gathered his wits, he went to tell his neighbors about what he had just witnessed. Not surprisingly, no one believed him. He felt he had no choice but to buy another fish. He cooked the fish and then, with all the doubters gathered around him, he tossed the fish head upon the floor.

As expected, the tiny rider and horse shot out of the rat hole like lightning, speared the fish head, and escaped back into the hole.

The man repeated the experiment three more times, and each time the same thing happened: the tiny rider and horse appeared, successfully snatched the fish head, and fled back into the hole.

Now it was the turn of all the other witnesses to be stupefied. After some hesitation, the man and his neighbors dug about three chi into the wall, starting from the rat hole. Inside the wall, the people found several huge, unfriendly-looking rats munching on fish heads. The rats took a look at the man and his neighbors and fled. The humans chased after them but were unable to catch a single one. Left behind in the rat lair were what looked like scattered chopsticks; upon closer inspection, they appeared to be the lances seen earlier. Gone without a trace were the horse or horses and the armor.

Everyone there came to the conclusion that this was a monstrous and, thus, evil event. All of them but the original resident of the house moved away to escape the deadly curse that was sure to follow. The man who lived there paid no heed and refused to move. However, he soon came down with a violent illness and died shortly after.

from Meiyingzhi yixia 魅影之一匣 [A box of beguiling shadows]; Chen Peng, ed. Guizhou: Guizhou Renmin Chubanshe, 2011; p. 62;  梦魇照进现实:中国古代那些稀奇古怪事 / 魇之侠 / 第58页-[天涯]

This is a story from Jishenlu 稽神录 [Records of research into spirits], a collection of strange stories compiled by Xu Xuan (A.D. 916-991) of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Rats, malevolent chthonian animals privy to secrets in the earth and walls and having a predilection for shape-shifting ("Rat," A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, Wolfram Eberhard; New York: Routledge, pp. 246-247) were, in ancient times, thought of as important bellwethers of a family's fortune. Rats vacating a home meant something akin to "rats deserting a ship" ("Rat," Dictionary of Symbolism, Hans Biedermann; New York: Facts-on-File, pp. 279-280). This story, however, suggests just to leave well enough alone, not to fool around with the bizarre, the inexplicable, for doing so only brings about misfortune. 

(2) Chicken Dreams

Over in Dongping County, Shandong Province, there once lived an old man named Dong Yingjian. All his life he refrained from eating meat or fish, and he remained an open-minded gentleman with a sweet attitude and respect for all. He told everyone he met the reasons why he never ate flesh. It all had to do years before with a bizarre occurrence involving his father.

Mr. Dong's father had once been county magistrate of Lingchuan County, Zechou (today, Lingchuan County, Shanxi Province). Now in those days, Lingchuan County had been a wild, desolate place, an impoverished region. Magistrate Dong was himself an honest, upright official, so he and his family, like the people in his county, lived frugal,  hardscrabble lives.

Despite the frugality, Magistrate Dong liked to eat, especially meat, sending his servant out to the local market to buy all kinds of meats. However, on this particular day, not really a market day, there wasn't any meat to purchase. Magistrate Dong was disappointed that there would be no meat.

Also on this day, the chief of the prefecture had heard that Dong's younger sister was about to marry, so the chief had thirty eggs delivered to Dong's house as a way of expressing his congratulations.

Thirty eggs!

Magistrate Dong was practically drooling in anticipation of eating something with meat in it, so he had his chef immediately cook seven of the eggs. He had the remaining twenty three eggs packed in a padded quilt and placed on a beam in the house for safekeeping.

That very night, he had a bizarre dream. In his dream, children he didn't recognize, twenty three of them, were leaping off the beam where the eggs had been placed. These children all came up to him with tears running down their faces, kneeling before him, begging him to spare their lives. Among them was a memorable girl in a skirt who walked with a limp.

Magistrate Dong woke up feeling uneasy but couldn't really figure out what exactly was bothering him as the details of the dream started to fade away.

That morning, he received word from a servant that his future brother-in-law was on his way over.

That put Magistrate Dong in a fix: What would he feed his little sister's fiance? Would Magistrate Dong, the servant asked, consent to having the remaining eggs cooked for breakfast? Dong nodded his assent.

Suddenly it dawned on him as he saw the servant girl bring the eggs down from the beam--twenty three eggs and twenty three children, begging for mercy. . .

He ordered the eggs to be well cared for, finding someone to incubate them properly. As it turns out, all the eggs hatched, and among the chicks was a lame one that grew to be a hen!

From that day forward, Magistrate Dong never again ate meat or killed a living thing. His legacy became the practice observed by each later generation of the Dong family.

from Meiyingzhi yixia, pp. 17-18;  夷坚丁志卷十六 鸡子梦

This story is from the Yijianzhi 夷坚志 [Intimate Annals of Barbarian Tribes], a compilation of strange stories collected by Hong Mai (A.D. 1123-1202) of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1229). This tale is reminiscent of two from Japan: "Oshidori," which appears in Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan (see
Oshidori, by Lafcadio Hearn, 1904), and "Enough Is Enough!" from Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library), translated and edited by Royall Tyler (New York: Pantheon, 1987: pp. 114-115). In the former, a hunter kills one of a pair of ducks and later dreams of a beautiful but grieving widow who castigates him for having killed her lover. In the latter, a new homeowner whose villa is infested with foxes instructs his servants to hunt down and kill all the foxes. A dream about an apologetic old man who begs that his descendants be spared prompts the homeowner to call off the hunt. The cancellation of the order turns out to be a wise move. 


(3) "Now . . . Trade Faces!"

In the year 418, at the very end of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (A.D. 317-420), there lived a soldier and tactician named Jia Bi, originally from Hedong (now, Shanxi Province), serving at the prince's palace in Langya (perhaps in Anhui Province). Our annals tell us that he was one exceedingly good-looking man.

One night Jia Bi had a weird dream. In his dream he came across a fog. Then, from out of the fog stepped a man whose ugliness was unrivaled. This man was more hideous than any possible person could be in real life: He had a face full of pimples; a big "wine trough" nose (i.e., a nose with prominent rosacea); red eyes with eyelids swollen with pus; and an unkempt beard resembling weeds.

The face wobbled before him, giggling, saying, "Jia Bi, you are so handsome! How about you and I trade faces?"

"Brother," replied Jia Bi, "I've suddenly been thrust into the midst of a marvelous dream. How about not trading?"

"Don't try to stall me with that fancy talk about dreams. Now, let me have a more pleasing reply! Are we trading or not?"

"Come now. Our flesh, our bodies come from our parents! We can't do such things as you wish without violating the rules of filial piety! Each person's face is his own. How could someone possibly trade his for someone else's? Your request is absolutely impossible to grant."

The hideous man resorted to cajolery in his quest to trade faces. The pestering continued.

"I am to trade faces with someone impersonating a demon in some kind of . . . ahem . . . fabulous dream?" asked Jia Bi, trying a different tack. "No, we're not trading!"

The dream then started  to unravel as the fog dissipated; the bizarre man started to fade away; soon, Jia Bi was awake. He got up, remembering the details of the odd dream, and he felt deeply anxious.

As it turned out, Jia Bi was to have the same dream several nights in a row, with the weird, repulsive man pestering him over and over to trade faces.

Night after night, Jia Bi endured relentless entreaties and demands to trade faces, and gradually this harassment from the dream world began to take its toll.

One particular night, Jia Bi, now mentally exhausted by the stranger's incessant demands, blurted out without thinking: "Very well! If you can take my face and trade it with yours, then do it! Just make sure you never  bother me again!"

That morning, Jia Bi woke up, rolled out of bed, dressed, left his quarters and reported for duty at the palace. When he showed up, the servants who first encountered him reacted with such fright and caused such an uproar that the Prince of Langya himself appeared.

"Who are you, ugly man?" the Prince asked, recoiling as he faced Jia Bi. "Where do you come from?"

Instinctively, Jia Bi raised his hands and started groping around his own face. "Ahhh!" he screamed. He ran back to his quarters and looked into a mirror.

What he saw made him want to faint: His face was that of the repulsive man in the dream.

The Prince personally led a detachment of guards to Jia's quarters, where they subdued and arrested him. The Prince then spent some time with Jia Bi, talking to him, listening to him. The Prince came to the conclusion that this very homely individual was indeed Jia Bi.

"Jia Bi," said the Prince, "you've always been so clever and handsome, much more handsome than I. What happened to you? Did you do something, something perhaps stupid?"

With that, Jia Bi began to weep copiously.

"Jia Bi, whatever has brought this about won't be cured by your crying," continued the Prince. "You only look very ugly; it's not as if you've turned into an idiot! What are you worried about, then? Do you not still have your wits about you? Come on, now. Is it not said, 'A great man has great contributions to make'? So what if you're somewhat homelier now! I know you still want to be that handsome young man you once were! Well, don't fret. Your Prince is not going to turn his back on you now just because you don't look the same way you used to."

Jia Bi dried his tears.

"Your Highness," asked Jia Bi, "if I ask you a question, would you please tell me the truth as you see it?"

"Ask," replied the Prince.

"Very well. Your Highness, does my present appearance make me . . . perhaps . . . look somewhat . . . tougher?"

The Prince stifled a laugh and nodded vigorously. "Indeed, it does."

Hearing that, Jia Bi felt faint and passed out.

Not long after, there was some upheaval. An emperor passed away, and his successor took his place. The region suffered heavy rainstorms. Many wondered if all these events were presaged by what had happened to Jia Bi.

Jia Bi's new face remained for the rest of his life. However, with his new face he seemed to develop new talents. He could, for example, laugh with one half of his face and cry with the other half. Perhaps more noteworthy was he became a renowned essayist, able to wield the ink brush and to write in different styles which could appear to have been written by totally different people.

"Anyone who can write like five individuals deserves a huge pay raise!" said the Prince.

from Meiyingzhi yixia, pp. 216-217; Anye qianyu 暗夜千羽[A thousand wings in the dark of night]; Lin Suwei; Beijing: Beijing Kexue Jishu Chubanshe, 2011; pp. 117-123;  换脸_魇之侠_新浪博客



This story is originally from the Southern Dynasty (A.D. 420-589) collection of strange stories, Youminglu 幽明录[Records of the Nether Regions], compiled by Liu Yiqing (A.D. 404-444). 

This story could probably be included in an anthology about ghosts. It's included here, though, because this particular series excludes more traditional types of ghost stories, such as hauntings, dead lovers and spouses that interact with the living, and revenants, all of which I write about elsewhere. 

 Lin Suwei comments on the undeniable reality of how handsomeness/beauty is a great asset in life. She also likens this old legend to the 1997 Hollywood film Face/Off, which starred John Travolta and Nicholas Cage (117-118). In that movie, a criminal and an FBI agent have plastic surgeries to resemble each other, with the criminal now resembling the law officer and the officer, the criminal. However, the legend made me think of a marvelous Philip K. Dick story, "Impostor," in which a man is accused of actually being a totally human-looking android housing a powerful bomb in its chest. The accused man, the scientist (or engineer?) Olham, vigorously protests his innocence, especially when he, being considered too much of a hazardous risk by the authorities, discovers he is scheduled for instant termination. Apparently, this story inspired Dick to write a series of stories exploring the theme of what makes one a human. We see some of this theme when Jia Bi seems to change after acquiring his new face, developing talents that had never before been evinced. Perhaps those with a Freudian bent might see this as a meditation on the breakdown of the superego.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Haunting in Hong Kong--a Case From 1953

It all happened way back in 1953, in a place on Nathan Road, Kowloon, an unimaginable, bizarre ghostly event that shook up much of Hong Kong, and a section of Kowloon in particular.

(1) "Set up the Tiles"

There lived an older woman on the fourth floor of a home on Nathan Road. Now, starting early one evening in 1953, this woman began to see the same inexplicable, eerie scene replay itself over and over again every night. Looking out from her home to the fourth-floor home facing hers on Nathan Road, she could see four or five people stirring in the window, sitting at a table, playing mahjong, with one sitting by the window itself, as if on lookout duty. Such a sight in Hong Kong was and is still perfectly normal. What made these nightly gatherings out of the ordinary were two details--the mahjong players were all completely dressed in white, and each was completely headless.

Needless to say, the woman was horrified. She began refusing to roll up her curtain after dusk and completely stayed away from the window.

Residents had probably chalked up the story about the headless mahjong-playing ghosts in white to the woman's perhaps failing eyesight or maybe an urban legend making its rounds through the neighborhood. A few days later, a delivery boy in one of the restaurants had the following tale to tell . . .

(2) "With Money to Burn"

On one occasion, the delivery boy had brought food up to the fourth floor flat, the same locale where an older woman had seen headless spooks. At nine P.M. someone had phoned in the order for food to be sent up--four bowls of rice congee (i.e., gruel or porridge). The door opened a crack without revealing a glimpse of anyone or anything inside, a single hand picked up the bowls of porridge and then took each bowl one-by-one inside. Then came the time to pay the bill. The delivery boy was paid by this single hand, clutching the correct amount of money, appearing from out of the crack in the doorway. The boy took the money and returned to the restaurant.

Once at the restaurant, the delivery boy took out the money for the bowls of rice porridge just delivered and discovered that the bills were not standard Bank of Hong Kong currency; instead, they were "hell notes," money to be burnt for the dead as an offering to the deceased in the world beyond.

Then, the exact same thing happened again the following night when someone at the same address had called in an order for four bowls of rice porridge.

The owner of the restaurant was incensed at these thieves who he thought were using some kind of subterfuge to trick his delivery boy, and he was not one to put up with such chicanery. Something was going on, and the law probably couldn't help, especially since on each occasion, the delivery boy walked away, without complaining, with a payment in his pocket. No, he, the owner, would do something . . .

When the order for four bowls of rice porridge came in the next night, the owner sent a different deliveryman, someone who might be better able to spot a sleight of hand and to deal with any miscreant trying to get away with paying not just fake money but money for the dead. Maybe when getting paid by the hand that appeared from behind the door, the deliveryman this time looked carefully to see if it was legal tender. Perhaps he counted it himself before the door closed. In any case, the deliveryman returned to the restaurant, took out the money he had kept his eyes upon while up on the fourth floor, and . . . saw that he was indeed holding those telltale fake banknotes on cheap yellowed newsprint paper in his hands, the ones with a conspicuous square of foil in the center, the kind of paper no one in his or her right mind would dare to carry around, let alone touch . . . money to be burnt for the dead . . .

(3) "A Sealed-up Unit"

The restaurant owner notified the police, and some officers were sent to the apartment that very night. By now a crowd of over one thousand onlookers, with  newspaper reporters in attendance, gathered below to watch whatever unfolded. 

The police officers went to the apartment of the woman who lived directly across from the fourth-floor flat, and, as witnessed by the police officers and civilians, four human figures in white, without heads, could be seen in the window, sitting around a mahjong table, playing mahjong. From the beginning to the end of this incident, no officer dared to enter the haunted apartment. The whole affair finally came to a conclusion when the policemen had the front door to the place sealed. 

In time, the building itself was demolished to make way for a new structure. 

(4) Another Version

A reporter wrote there had once indeed been live humans having a mahjong party upstairs in the fourth-floor flat. The owner's daughter was having some friends over for a friendly game one evening. Everything was going well; all were merry, enjoying themselves. When it was time to order some refreshments, the players remained seated in their places around the table and each stuck a hand out with some coins to pay for his or her portion of late-night snacks. From out of nowhere, a fifth outstretched hand and arm appeared . . . 

Those at the table bolted out the door. The police were notified. Later, it came out that several people, including those who had called the police, had simply vanished, whereabouts unknown. 

And what of this location now? There's a different building there, one housing a bookstore. 

from
Eastweek.com.hk 東周網【東周刊官方網站】 - 玄機 - 玄緣學院 - 香港史上最猛鬧鬼事件

香港史上最猛鬧鬼事件 (HK旧闻) - 恐怖鬼话 - 闲情逸致 - 佳礼网络社区综合论坛 ~ 马来西亚中文论坛 - Powered by Discuz!

A bowl of rice porridge is a favorite late-night meal of gamblers. The fourth floor is interesting; the pronunciation of "four" in many Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien/Taiwanese included) sounds like "death," a word to be avoided during felicitous times, such as New Year. White is the color of mourning. The motif of money offered by a ghost which is then inexplicably transformed into the money for the dead is not unknown. One of the most famous Taiwanese ghost stories, "Lin Toujie" 林投姐, the story of an avenging spirit, also has this motif. In at least one version, the female ghost buys something from a vendor, maybe a rice cake, and pays with what seems to be good money. She disappears or otherwise goes off with the food, and the hapless vendor discovers he or she now has a fistful of money for the dead. Such an interaction with the dead, resulting in a physical memento of the occurrence, would be, of course, bad luck. But then again, in Chinese lore, ghosts are just about always bad luck. 



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two Animal Fables From the Jing People (Guangxi)

(1) The Dragon King of the Sea Holds a Meeting

Long ago there was a time when the whales and the sharks ruled the oceans and ate up the rest of the aquatic life without any qualms. The rest--the fish, the rays, the octopuses, and so on--couldn't do a thing about it because they were unarmed and unprotected. They had no means to fight back, to defend their young and their own lives. It became very clear that it would be only a matter of time before the whales and the sharks would gobble down every other living thing in the sea.

None of this was lost on the Dragon King. He hurriedly called a meeting of all the weaker, defenseless sea creatures.

"I hereby grant each of you the means of defense," the King told the gathering.

The thornback ray, due to its soft shell and body, was given a virtual whip for a tail that would ward off any enemy. The lobster already had two pairs of four shelled legs but was then allowed pincers on the front pair. Any foe attacking it would be pinched and caught in its vises. The king crab already had some formidable spiny defenses, but it was also saddled with poor eyesight. So it was then granted a pair of scissors-like pincers for its front legs. The octopus had no such protection--its body was and still is squashy. Thus, the octopus was given eight arms with which to beat off attacks and to run away swiftly when it needed to escape. Then there was the ray, and its body was soft, spongy like many of the rest. It was then equipped with an electrical system installed in its spine, electrifying its tail, making it able to ward off any attacker. From then on it became known as the electric ray.

The carp showed up to the assembly late, enraging the Dragon King.

"There's nothing for you since you decided to show up so late!" said the King. "Nothing but . . . this!"

He then slapped the carp so hard that he left its mouth twisted, as it has been to this very day.

So, that is how virtually all the residents of the sea were provided self-defensive weaponry and armor, all but the carp, which was left with a permanent wry mouth!

from
京族小故事之海龙王开大会_京族吧_百度贴吧

I am happy to share this story with you because it is a bit of elusive folklore from the Jing, a rare story from an ethnic group that doesn't have many published stories available for folklore enthusiasts. Turning to the Internet, I've been able to find these two fables. 

The Jing people are apparently descendants of Vietnamese migrants who entered China. They primarily live in Guangxi Province. (See Gin people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) They still speak a dialect of Vietnamese that may remain intelligible to many people from Vietnam or other members of the Vietnamese diaspora. Below are some YouTube music videos that show young women of the Jing minority wearing the ao dai and playing traditional instruments:

[远方的家 720HD] 边疆行 (02) 海防京族三岛 1/3 - YouTube

【风华国乐 720HD】蓝色梦岛 / 京族独弦琴民乐 - YouTube

【天之蓝 720HD】簪蒲树 / 京族哈妹组合 京族民歌 - YouTube

This short fable is a pourquoi story, explaining the origin of certain sea animal attributes. The dragon king frequently appears in folktales and myths. Dragon kings belong to watery domains and may be related to the Hindu naga serpents. 

Motifs: A139.3, "Dragon god"; cA1459.1, "Acquisition of weapons";  A2461, "Animal's means of defense"; A2531, "Why animal is harmless (defenseless)"; B11.12.5, "The dragon-king"; B223, "Kingdom of fishes"; B248, "King of dragons." 


(2) The White Eel and the Long-Necked Crane

One day a white eel was swimming along, looking for something to eat when a long-necked crane standing on the river embankment saw him approach.

The crane stretched his neck a bit to grab the eel, but--snap! The sharp-eyed and quick-moving eel dodged the crane's beaks and instead bit onto the crane's beak, clamping down on it, preventing the crane from doing anything.

So there they were, one in the river and one on land, both wriggling, neither going anywhere. Needless to say, the eel couldn't exactly let go with the beak of such a  formidable foe locked between his own jaws.

The weather turned warm, and then both creatures commenced quarreling, as best as they could, that is, with both of their jaws locked down.

"Say, old brother, you want to live?" asked the crane. "If you do, you'd better let go of my beak now!"

"Oh, I want to live all right!" replied the eel. "Where do you get off trying to eat me? And you think I'm so stupid as to let you go? Huh! There's no way I'm letting you go!"

"So you're not letting me go?"

"No, I'm not!"

The long-necked crane could see that he was getting nowhere by trying to intimidate the eel, so he came up with a different gambit.

"Say, eel, it's not that I'm afraid of you, but think about this: If some fisherman or hunter came upon you right now, you'd be unable to escape."

"You think so? I could submerge myself and burrow myself into the mud on the floor of the river and hide there."

"So you say. I myself could just instantly fly off to the sky and right into the clouds!"

There they were, arguing back and forth about each one's merits and how he--the crane or the eel--would boldly do this or amazingly do that. And so on and on they went . . . until a fisherman did actually show up and--whoop! He scooped them both up in his bamboo basket. Off he went with both long-necked crane and white eel inside the basket.

Only now did the eel let go of the crane and did the crane refrain from trying to eat the eel. They continued their argument.

"Are you happy now?" cried the crane. "If only you had listened to me and let me go!"

"And if you hadn't tried to eat me," replied the eel, "we wouldn't be in this situation!"

"Why didn't you swim to the bottom of the river and hide in the mud? Huh?"

"And why didn't you fly up to the sky and hide in the clouds?"

And so they argued and argued until . . .  they couldn't anymore.

from
海白鳝和长颈鹤 - 中国民族宗教网

This is the Jing version of a fable based on the very famous Han Chinese proverb 鹬蚌相争,鱼夫得利 (i.e., "In a struggle between a sandpiper and clam, it's the fisherman who walks away with the upper hand"). In the fable that inspired the proverb, a sandpiper attempting to eat a clam gets its beak caught between the edges of the clam's top and bottom shells. While they wrangle, a fisherman comes along and snatches both of them up. A similar Korean proverb is "While the whales wrestle, the shrimp get their backs broken." The Korean proverb bemoans the fate of smaller nations that get in between more powerful warring neighbors (e.g., Russia vs. Japan or China vs. Japan). The Chinese proverb and Jing fable, however, urge quarreling neighbors or countries to unite to in order to resist larger, more formidable dangers or powers. Americans, for example, might interpret this as "United we stand; divided we fall!"

This tale is classified as 160A* ("The Pike Caught by the Fox," or "The Snipe Caught by the Mussel") in A Type Index of Chinese Folktales by Nai-tung Ting (FF Communications No. 223, Helsinki, 1978), pp. 36-37.






Monday, May 12, 2014

The Little Old Man Who Sold Sticky Rice Dumplings (Taiwan)

From out of nowhere, a stranger, a little old man arrived in a village one day. He had a full head of snowy white hair, and his ruddy cheeks made him look vigorous.

He noted both the nearby mountain and the north-south path that ran by the village and decided this place was to his liking, that he would remain here and do some business. And so he rented a cottage near the foothill of the mountain. Underneath a phoenix (or flame) tree, he set up a stand to sell tangyuan, sweet sticky rice dumplings.

His dumplings were not those small marble-sized glutinous dumplings; no, his were large, plump, and delicious--fragrant and sweet. Moreover, they were sold at a very reasonable price. Soon, everyone in the neighborhood had heard of the old man's sticky rice dumplings stand and flocked over.

He began to do a brisk business.

One day a bunch of customers as usual showed up at the stand and began placing orders for his rice dumplings. One of the customers, a local farmer, noticed the old man had now set up a sign in front of his stand.

"Hey, Boss," said the farmer, "what do those characters on your sign say?"

"Well," replied the old man, "one copper coin will buy you a big dumpling."

"All right. I already know that. What does the rest of the sign say?"

"The rest says that if you pay three copper coins, you may eat until you kut ("slip," "slide," "drop")!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, my friend, for three copper coins, you can eat as many sticky rice dumplings as you like until you are full."

"Wa!" cried the growing throng, overhearing what the old man had said to the farmer.

"Hey," said one, "I'll pay three coins to eat all the dumplings I can!"

"Sure, so will I! Who wouldn't, with dumplings this tasty?" said another.

They each scrounged for three copper coins in their pockets, satchels and coin purses. Each one thrust forward three copper coins upon his palm.

"All right, everyone! All the dumplings you can eat coming right up!" cried the old man. Soon, the crowd of farmers, laborers, passersby and others were scarfing down fragrant, sweet sticky rice dumplings.

Well, as they say, "ten told a hundred and a hundred told a thousand." Before long, everyone from the village and outlying areas headed for the sticky rice dumpling stall under the flame tree. The crowd grew day by day, swamping the area with hungry men, women and children ready to shell out three copper coins for the chance to eat their fill of sticky rice dumplings.

As for the little old man, he worked from morning until night without rest, providing all paying customers with as many dumplings as they could eat. On and on he worked, without taking any breaks or time off. Some local ladies began to talk about him.

Li Saosao said, "With only three copper coins and then eating until you kut, I'm afraid the old gent will go bankrupt! He'll have to shut down the stand!"

"That's right!" said Great-auntie Wang. "The point of doing business is to make a profit. How long can he manage to do what he's doing?"

"Aiya," said Auntie Zhang, "who knows if he's even on the up and up or not! Maybe he's planning to go bankrupt. Maybe he's got something up his sleeve . . ."

"That's right! Who knows?" Li Saosao and Great-auntie Wang said, turning to each other and nodding.

"Listen," continued Auntie Zhang, "has anyone ever seen him at the marketplace buying rice or sugar? Has anyone ever seen him making the sticky rice dumplings? Does any of us even know from where he gets his dumplings?"

And on and on they talked . . .

Seemingly in the blink of an eye, a whole year passed since the little old man had first come to town. In the past year, not one customer opted to buy the sticky rice dumplings one by one; no, all gleefully chose to eat as much as they could for three copper coins.

Now, one day a little girl carrying a bowl approached the little old man at his stand.

"Ah Gong," she said, "I'd like to buy a dumpling."

"Oh? Just one, child? Don't you know that for three copper coins you can as many dumplings as you like?"

"I know," said the little girl. "I have more than three coins, but I just want one sticky rice dumpling. That's all!"

"Hmm . . ." said the old man. "Isn't that remarkable? Very well, child, hold out your bowl . . ."

He scooped up a big dumpling with his ladle and put it into her bowl. The little girl ate it while it was still good and warm. Then she scampered home.

Once the little girl reached home, something happened--her stomach grew and grew, not unlike that of a woman who is with child.

"Ma, come quickly!" she cried. "Look at my stomach!"

Her stomach was as big as a leather ball. The mother shrieked and then the father came.

"What happened to your stomach?" asked the father. "What did you eat?"

"A sticky rice dumpling . . . from the old man under the flame tree!"

Her parents were shocked, but then the shock turned to white fury. With their daughter in hand, they marched off to the old man's stall to confront him.

The old man saw them approach from far away. He was unconcerned; he even had a slight smile upon his face.

When he saw the angry faces of the parents, with their blue veins standing out on their heads and smoke practically bellowing from their noses and ears, the little old man chuckled and said, "You know I've been here a full year now, and every single person who comes to me plunks downs three copper coins to eat his or her fill of my dumplings--every person that is but your daughter. Your daughter's the only one to insist on eating just one dumpling instead of gorging herself as everyone else has.

"And so," he continued, "I wish to reward her for not being a glutton but rather for being moderate. I gave her a 'Pearl From the Great Ocean.' Why are you so upset?"

"'Pearl From the Great Ocean' or not, look what happened to her stomach!" said the girl's father. "How dare you harm our child, making her stomach bloat up like a huge balloon!"

"Not a problem, not a problem!" said the old man, who then lifted his hand to the sky, mumbled some words to himself, and then assumed a posture of prayer. He stepped behind the girl, and then he gave her a slap on the back.

"Pwee!"

The little girl spat out what was indeed a large "Pearl From the Great Ocean." Her stomach then shrank to its original size. The pearl itself was round and shiny, and as it spun on the ground, it gave off a striking effulgence.

"That pearl," said the old man, addressing the little girl, "is your reward for not being gluttonous."

By now a large crowd had gathered around the flame tree.

"Exactly who are you, old man?" asked someone. "And how can you make a pearl appear?"

The old man laughed and said, "I guess I can tell you. I came here to examine the hearts and minds of the people here. Never did I suspect just how much all of you are so lacking in moderation, self-control, frugality! All those sticky rice dumplings all of you so joyfully ate to  your stomach's content? Why, all of those dumplings were made from dirt I took away from the foot of that great mountain over there! If you don't believe me, go take a look."

Some villagers then rushed away to the foot of the mountain. There, they found a large pile of earth, much of which consisted of tiny little balls of rolled dirt the size of sticky rice dumplings awaiting boiling.

When those men returned and told their neighbors, friends and family members gathered what they had found, the throng turned ugly. Countless pairs of glaring eyes turned towards the little old man, as many coughed and tried to vomit up the "dumplings" they had just moments before consumed like starving wolves.

"Who are you?" asked those gathered. "Why did you do something so disgustingly immoral as to feed us dirt? We're going to let you have it . . ."

The little old man chuckled, and then, before everyone's eyes, he floated up into the sky and out of sight.

Originally, the little old man was no mere human; he was, instead, an immortal.

from
Jiang Rulin & Guo Fengjuan. 台灣民間故事 (Taiwanese folktales). Taipei: Liangguang, 1987; pp. 4-15. 

This anthology seems geared towards students of grammar school age. The flame, or phoenix, tree, the Delonix regia, apparently originates in Madagascar, and, according to various sources on the Internet, didn't arrive on Taiwan until relatively recently, the late 1890's. Tangyuan (湯圓) on Taiwan commonly have a sweet red bean paste filling and are often enjoyed around the New Year. Kut (滑)means "to slip." 

Motifs: A171.0.2, "God (immortal) ascends to heaven"; D452.4, "Transformation: earth (dirt) to another object; D855, "Magic (pearl) acquired as reward"; cK1811.2, "Deity (immortal) disguised as old man visits mortals"; cQ277, "Covetousness punished"; Q552.3.5, "Punishment for greed (gluttony)."



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chinese Proverbs About Horses for the Year of the Horse

Happy Lunar New Year--the Year of the Horse!

The following are some of the many proverbs, metaphors, and other folk expressions that mention horses.
Before we get to them, let's start with the most felicitous of all for this season:

馬到成功 or the other version 馬到功成 The arrival of the horse means/signifies success, achievement, accomplishment, etc. In other words, success shall swiftly arrive. (This is what people might write in black ink on red paper to hang on their doors to signify the imminent arrival of the Year of the Horse. Indeed, some anonymous kindhearted friend posted such a message on my office door this morning, much to my pleasant surprise.)

百福骈臻 A hundred blessings arriving with a pair of horses. (May you be blessed.) 

好马不吃回头草 A good horse doesn't head back to eat the remaining grass. (A person with determination to succeed doesn't look back. Baseball player Satchel Paige said, "Don't look back; something might be gaining on you.")

老马识途 The old horse knows the path. (Those who are experienced can be trusted.)

万马奔腾 Ten thousand horses stampeding as they ascend. (Memorable, grand, thunderous display.) 

龙马精神 The spirit of a dragon and a horse. (A compliment said of seniors who possess much stamina and energy.)

神龙马壮 The strength, robustness of a god, dragon and horse. (Said of one who is physically powerful.)

香车宝马 A wagon of sandalwood with splendid equines. (Said of an impressive display of magnificent horses in a procession.)

马不停蹄 The horse's hoofs don't stop. (Said of those who persist and persevere, who work without stopping until the goal is met.) 

青梅竹马 Green plums and bamboo hobbyhorses. (Said affectionately and sentimentally of small girls and boys playing and growing up together.)

天马行空 A heavenly steed that traverses the sky. (A metaphor for anything that possesses graceful majesty, especially calligraphy.) 

悬崖勒马 To rein in the horse at the edge of a cliff. (To come to one's senses just in time. Contrast this with the one directly below.)

好马崖前不低头 A good horse doesn't shy away from the edge of a cliff. (A person of integrity and courage, in other words, does what needs to be done regardless of the risk.) 

长安何处在?只在马蹄下! How may one get to Chang'an (Ch'ang-an)? By the hoofs of horses! (In other words, nothing is accomplished without some energy and sweat, or, some "elbow grease." Chang'an, by the way, was an ancient capital of China.)

And then we have:

牛头不对马嘴 An ox head doesn't tally with a horse's mouth. (Referring to that which is irrelevant, incompatible or incongruous.)

指鹿为马 To point to a deer but mean a horse. (To confuse right and wrong.) 

露出马脚 To reveal horse hoofs. (To "show one's true colors.") 

走马看花 Like a horse passing by looking at flowers. (Said of individuals who make a hasty judgment based on superficial observation.) 

愿附骥尾 To attach oneself to the tail of a swift steed. (To "hitch oneself to someone's wagon" or to "ride in on someone's coattails.")


from

請給我有關馬的成語 - Yahoo!奇摩知識+

关于马的谚语_谚语大全

关于马的谚语——【老百晓在线】

名言_马的名言_关于马的名言_句子_经典语录_话_诗句

马的成语谚语_百度文库

I don't normally post material that is thematically linked to the seasons, but I couldn't help resist as the Year of the Horse is my own "year." In keeping with the spirit of a new year, I left out some of the more negative proverbs.

Once again, Happy New Year! May you all enjoy excellent health, continual happiness and unceasing prosperity. 



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Xibe/Xibo Proverbs From Xinjiang

In life, it takes just once to be kicked by a bad horse and once to be cheated by a wicked friend. (Proper vigilance will stave off disaster.) 

A single strand of silk doesn't make a thread. (To "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.")

Pants that are too long entangle the feet; a tongue too long binds one's life. (Many Chinese-language proverbs deal with the dangers of outspokenness, rumor mongering, and slander. Hence, Mandarin speakers say, "Disaster comes from out of the mouth.") 

The wise can be happy while being poor; the unwise are still miserable while rich. ("The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven"--John Milton.) 

Neither land nor a great city are big enough to fill the pupils of a greedy person's eyes. (Like gluttons whose "eyes are bigger than their stomachs.")

The longer the torch, the less danger your hands will be burned. ("Better safe than sorry," we say.) 

To depend on others is to freeze one's hands. (To depend on others will prevent us from helping and, thus, empowering ourselves.) 

To mouth the words of a saint but to do a demon's work. (Said of hypocrites.) 

To be pecked on the bum by the hen you raised. (To "bite the hand that feeds you.") 

To those who seek wisdom, time is gold; to the stupid, time is a mound of dung. ("Make hay while the sun is out.")

Just as beautiful snakes may be venomous, people who smile all too often may be carrying knives. (A Chinese proverb warns us of "those who smile yet carry a dagger within the girdle."  A rather cynical Korean proverb just tells us to "beware of those who are always smiling." We are reminded of "wolves who come in sheep's clothing.") 

Sometimes it can be easier to move a mountain than to accomplish one's goals. (Perhaps this hearkens to the Chinese proverb of the "Foolish Old Man Who Tried to Move a Mountain." When the mountain got wind of what the old man was up to, it became so discouraged that such an indefatigable foe existed that it picked itself up and moved.) 

The frog that croaks first gets struck by lightning. (An English proverb states that "an ounce of prudence is worth a pound of gold.")

While one may acclaim the greatness of one's land, the land, in return, says nothing. (Sometimes  love and affection are a one-way street.) 

The fiercest tiger still doesn't eat its own cubs. (In the end, "blood is [still] thicker than water.")

A beating merely hurts the flesh; a scolding hurts the heart. (Mongols say: "Sometimes it's easier to recover from a knife wound than a wound caused by words.") 

A determined person, even tied to a rock, will still not starve to death. (The motto of the famed British Special Air Services [SAS] Regiment is "He who dares wins.")

A boastful doctor doesn't really have any great medicine; a cocky friend doesn't really have any words worth hearing. (What do Texans say about braggarts and poseurs? "All hat and no cattle.")

from 
Xinjiang Folk Literature, Vol. 3[新疆民间文学第三集]; Urumchi: Xinjiang Renmin Chubanshe; pp. 139; 212-215.

The Xibo (or, Xibe, Sibo, Sibe) are originally from China's Northeast. Many were sent to the Far West, Xinjiang, during the Qing Dynasty to man border garrisons. They are renowned for their prowess in archery. To this day, the Xibo, an ethnically Tungusic people like the Manchus, continue to use a modified Manchu script. 

More Xibo proverbs can be found at the the posting for 7/31/07. 






Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! 圣诞节快乐!
Fred Lobb & family