Very long ago, somewhere by the Min River in Fujian Province, there was once an island, and on top of a mountain on this island lived a nameless immortal and his daughter, Dingxiang. Because the river was deep and wide and because there were no bridges or ferries, the island and the mountain were completely inaccessible to people. The two people who lived there neither saw nor sought any other human company.
Now one day Dingxiang went to wash clothes by the riverbank. While doing her chores, she suddenly noticed a youth standing on the far shore, staring at her. The young man had nice enough features, and Dingxiang couldn't help blushing at all the attention she was receiving. She quickly finished doing her laundry, bundled the clothes up, and left.
The next day Dingxiang returned to the same spot to do some more washing. Once again, she spied the same young man looking at her, and once again she finished washing in a huff and hurried home.
On the third day, Dingxiang went back to the same riverbank, this time to wash a roll of silk. There, across the river, was once again the same young man, staring at her. Curiosity had now gotten the better of her, so she decided to find out what he was doing over there.
"Excuse me!" she called out. "Why do you stand on the riverbank every day?"
"I would like the great immortal who is rumored to live on your island to accept me as a pupil!" was his reply.
"Then why on earth don't you just come over? Standing around and gaping at me won't help you!"
"Well, I would come over," he replied, "but there seems to be a mighty river between us. How am I supposed to cross it without a boat or bridge?"
"I will help you," said Dingxiang.
"You will! I will be very grateful! I will thank you for--"
"Who wants your thanks!" she said. "Stand back a few paces. I shall provide a bridge for you to walk on."
Having spoken, Dingxiang took the roll in her two hands and unraveled it, allowing it to unwind all the way across the Min River until it stopped at the young man's feet. It now formed a sturdy, safe bridge.
The young man could not believe his eyes. Without waiting to thank Dingxiang, he walked across the silk bridge to the island. When the two young people came face to face with each other at close range, they both blushed and remained silent for a few minutes.
Finally the young man spoke. "What's your name? Where do you live?"
"My name is Dingxiang, and I am the daughter of the man you seek. I live here. And who are you?"
"My name is Chen Lang. I come from farther south."
As before, the two were now uncomfortably silent.
Then Dingxiang said, "You have trampled mud on my silk, so you must let me wash it. My father and I live in a house of glazed tile on the mountain. Go up the path and you shall find him there."
Chen Lang located the house of glazed tile and respectfully approached the immortal, who was sitting outside the house, smoking his pipe. He told the older man of his desire to be accepted as a pupil. The immortal decided to test Chen Lang's abilities.
"Early tomorrow after breakfast," said the immortal, "go to the ridge and gather two bundles of grass reeds. Carry the bundles on the bamboo pole resting against my house."
The next morning Dingxiang encountered Chen Lang. With her father out of earshot, she asked him, "What does my father want you to do?"
"Nothing special. He just wants me to take his bamboo pole to gather two bundles of reeds."
"Take care!" whispered Dingxiang. "When you take hold of the pole, make sure you grab it by the third joint from the top or bottom. If you fail to do this, it will turn into a viper and bite you to death in a flash. Furthermore, after you have gathered the reeds into bundles, take the bamboo pole and poke each bundle through its center until the bamboo pole goes out the other side. If you don't do this, both bundles will turn into hungry tigers which will devour you on the spot!"
Chen Lang took note of Dingxiang's warning and went on his way. He went to the other side of the house, where he found the bamboo pole leaning against the wall. He then picked it up by holding it at the third joint. He went to the mountain ridge and collected reeds, which he next divided into two bundles. He then promptly pierced the center of each bundle until the pole exited the other side, all the while mindful to handle the pole at its third joint.
Having accomplished his task, he returned to the house of glazed tile and presented the bundles to the immortal, who was surprised enough but didn't say anything else other than, "Thank you. That will be all for today."
The young whelp has overcome my magic on his own! he thought. I'll fix him.
The next day the immortal had a different assignment for Chen Lang.
"Here is one sheng of sesame seeds. Go up the mountain and plant each seed before noon!" the immortal ordered.
Nothing to it! thought Chen Lang.
He went to a broad spot near the mountaintop and proceeded to plant each seed. He finished way before noon, but now he was already famished. He saw one seed remaining in the seed basket and ate it. He took his hoe, shouldered it and went back down the mountain to the immortal's house.
On his way down, he heard someone crying, "Chen Lang! Chen Lang!" He turned and saw Dingxiang hurrying towards him.
"What did my father have you do today?" she asked.
"Nothing but plant sesame seeds."
"Well," she said, "he will next ask you to gather up each and every one and return all of them to him."
Exasperated, Chen Lang replied, "I just finished planting all of them! How am I supposed to bring each one back?"
Dingxiang laughed and said, "Don't worry. I shall help you."
They both went up to the spot where the seeds lay buried. Dingxiang took Chen Lang's straw hat and lay it on the ground. Standing over the hat, she chanted:
"Little seed, big seed,
Without feet, just like a ball!
Come back, come back
One and all!"
Chen Lang peered inside his hat and, sure enough, the previously planted seeds were in a neat pile. Chen Lang was ready to jump for joy, but then he remembered something.
"These aren't all the seeds. One is missing," he said.
"How could one be missing?"
"I was hungry and ate one," said Chen Lang.
"I don't know what we're going to do now," said Dingxiang. "Father will surely demand that each seed be accounted for." Then, looking down on the ground, Dingxiang saw a column of ants. "I have an idea!" she said.
Dingxiang picked up an ant, placed it in a scarf in her hand, and gently wrapped the ant up in the scarf. Then she chanted:
When I open my scarf,
A sesame seed you shall be!"
She then produced a sesame seed from the scarf and added it to the other seeds. The pair then returned to the immortal's house.
"Have all the seeds been planted?" asked the immortal.
"All of them were planted before noon."
"Well, then," said the immortal, "I now want you to retrieve each one of them!"
Chen Lang then stuck out his arm and opened up his fist, displaying the original number of sesame seeds.
"Are these not the seeds?" asked Chen Lang. "Each one is here. Please count them."
The immortal was dumbfounded but tried not to show it.
Young upstart! he thought. He has some power; otherwise, how could he have recovered each seed? Just as a mountaintop cannot keep two tigers, I cannot allow another man of power to be upon my island . . .
On the third day, the immortal told Chen Lang, "Today you are to go to the bamboo grove. I shall hide myself there, and you must find me."
After breakfast, Chen Lang was on his way to the island's bamboo grove when he met Dingxiang.
"What is your task today?" she asked.
"I have to find your father within the bamboo grove," he replied.
"Do you know how to find him?"
"All I know is your father is very crafty," answered Chen Lang. "How do you think I should go about it?"
"This is what you must do," said Dingxiang. "Go from the east side of the grove toward the west. In the first row of stalks, find the thirteenth joint of the thirteenth bamboo stalk from the eastern side. Near the the thirteenth joint will be an insect hole. My father will be in that hole."
"And then," replied Dingxiang, "cover the hole with your thumb so that he can't escape. Then, he will have to grant your every request."
Chen Lang hurried down to the bamboo grove. Starting from the east, he counted to the thirteenth bamboo stalk of the first row. As Dingxiang had said, an insect hole was nearby the thirteenth joint. Chen Lang then pressed his thumb over the small opening.
"I've got you now, Master!" he cried.
"Well, done, my son. I yield. Now let me out," said a tiny voice as squeaky as a fiddle from inside the hole.
"Master," said Chen Lang, "I have some requests that must be met before I can let you go."
"Let me hear them, then."
"First, allow me to take Dingxiang as my wife. Second, in the next three years, you are to teach me all your magical arts. Third, you are not to interfere with me or to harm me. And if Dingxiang consents to leave with me, you are not to interfere with her, either."
"Three requests? I count more than three, Chen Lang," said the immortal, now gnashing his teeth.
"Three or more, those are the requests, Master."
The immortal had no choice but to agree, though the demands were galling. Once he had said yes to all requests, Chen Lang let him out.
From that day on, the immortal tutored Chen Lang in the skills of the immortals for a period of three years. Not long after, Chen Lang and Dingxiang were wed.
One day, Dingxiang pulled Chen Lang aside.
"Listen, my husband," she said, "we cannot stay here forever. My father may have agreed to all your demands three years ago, but that doesn't mean he plans to keep his word forever. We must leave this island before he can stop us. We will leave tomorrow morning. We will tell him that we are going on a picnic. Then, we'll leave!"
The next morning, they told the immortal that they were going off on a picnic. Once they reached the riverbank, Chen Lang took a leaf from a banyan tree and tossed it into the river, where it turned into a boat. Chen Lang and Dingxiang entered the boat, crossed the river, settled on a piece of distant and deserted land, and started a new and satisfying life for themselves.
As for the immortal, he became enraged when he found out that the young couple had escaped. Climbing to the top of the mountain, he pounded the earth with his dragon-headed staff 7,700 times. The mountain then slowly sank into the depths of the Min River until it was completely out of sight. To this day, no one has been able to locate it.
Zhih Nong, p. 31-41.
South of the Min River (the Minnan district), is the region of Fujian from which the ancestors of the majority of Hokkien-speaking people of Taiwan, the native Taiwanese, came. (They are not to be confused with the original inhabitants of Taiwan, the aboriginal tribal peoples, or shandiren, the so-called "mountain people.") Motifs: D1258, "Magic bridge"; F482, "Extraordinary bridge"; F944.3, "Island sinks into the sea"; H310, "Suitor tests"; H335.0.1, "Bride helps suitor perform his tasks"; T97, "Father opposed to daughter's marriage."