Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Blue Pearl (Fujian)

A long time ago, there lived a young fellow named Ah Xiao. He was handsome, smart, strong and capable. He was an orphan, though, and so, to make ends meet, he hired himself out as a porter and pottery seller to a Mr. Gao, owner of a ceramics shop. Every day he picked up his shoulder pole and carried ceramic pots, tubs, and vases to sell outside, thus earning his keep.

Now Mr. Gao had a daughter named Yunu who was eighteen years of age. She was a sturdy young lady, even taller than Ah Xiao. She was not particularly beautiful, but she was warm and kindhearted. Moreover, she loved Ah Xiao but only from a distance. In turn, Ah Xiao treated her very kindly and had similar affections for her. This was not lost on Mr. Gao, who at last told Yunu, "From now on, if you so much as speak to that Ah Xiao, I shall break your legs."

So the two young people concealed their feelings and did not even dare speak to each other for one year, which was very difficult because they worked in the same shop.

It was now the beginning of the spring rainy season. Ah Xiao was given a number of pots to sell, so into the rain he went, carrying the pots on both ends of his bamboo pole. However, it was a poor day for business, and not one pot was sold. The sky was dark, and the rain was coming down very hard. Ah Xiao got up from his vendor's space and headed back to Mr. Gao's shop. It was too wet to walk very far. Ah Xiao quickly looked for some shelter to sit out the storm. He spied the local temple of the Dragon King of the East Sea, which was a short distance from the shore, and headed for it. He entered the main hall of the empty temple, bolted the huge wooden doors behind him, and lay down in front of the god's image. He was soon fast asleep.

He woke up with a start. He heard someone outside the door speaking to himself and trying to pry the doors open.

"Why do these miserable doors have to be locked now? They're never locked! You'd think that the Dragon King himself knew I was coming to steal his robe, confound it!"

Ah Xiao recognized the voice as belonging to Mei Shi, the town's number one gambler and drunkard, who would filch anything he could lay his hands on, including his old mother's jade bracelet or a temple god's gold embroidered robe.

Ah Xiao sat up and quickly untied his bundle of pots. He then threw them one by one at the two doors. Hong! Hong! Kaqiang! Pow! The pots shattered against the doors and flagstone floor.

Hearing the noise, Mei Shi thought he had stirred the angry god himself into action. He received the shock of his life and fled from the temple.

Ah Xiao then settled down and went back to sleep. He dreamed a silvery, smoky form appeared before him him and said, "Young man, I am the Dragon King of the East Sea. Thank you for driving off that thief and saving my gold robe. For your act, I shall give you a blue pearl. As long as you have it, you will find fortune. You can locate the blue pearl beneath the incense burner on my altar. Help yourself to it."

Ah Xiao woke up early the next morning. He remembered the vivid dream and walked over to the incense burner on the altar. Beneath the incense burner was, lo and behold, a blue pearl. Ah Xiao took the blue pearl and placed it in a pocket. He then collected the shards of Mr. Gao's pottery and threw them into the sea.

Ah Xiao headed back to town to Mr. Gao's shop. He waited until nightfall before approaching the shop. When it was dark, he made his way to Yunu's quarters. Yahuan, Yunu's servant, helped him enter through a window. Ah Xiao and Yunu were reunited after not having had a chance to be together for a year. Ah Xiao then told Yunu about the blue pearl and gave it to her for safekeeping.

Mr. Gao heard some noise coming from his daughter's room and, suspecting something was going on, stormed in and found Ah Xiao. Mr. Gao flew into a rage. He beat and kicked Ah Xiao mercilessly. He thundered blow after blow upon Ah Xiao until the young man lay in a heap on the floor. Mr. Gao then called for a rope and had his men tie Ah Xiao up. Once he had Ah Xiao secured in ropes, Mr. Gao and his men had Ah Xiao rowed out to a nearby deserted island and left there to starve.

Yunu fainted when her father had begun beating Ah Xiao. Yahuan helped bring her to her senses after Mr. Gao had Ah Xiao taken away.

"Miss Yunu," cried the servant girl, "you must get up! The master has taken Ah Xiao away to Huangwu Renyan Island. We must leave quickly!"

Gathering her wits, Yunu got up and took the blue pearl from under her bed. She and Yahuan then went to the temple of the Dragon King of the East Sea.

"The Dragon King will help us!" she told Yahuan.

Once at the temple, she knelt in prayer before the Dragon King's altar and asked if she and Ah Xiao might be allowed to live as husband and wife.

Suddenly the lips of the temple god's statue moved and it spoke. "Yunu!" said the god. "Do you not have the blue pearl with you? When you are in danger, place the pearl in your mouth. You will be able to carry Ah Xiao on your back, and you will have the power to go anywhere you like. You shall need to fear neither mountain tigers nor creatures of the sea as long as you have the blue pearl in your mouth. But make sure your mouth remains closed, for if the pearl should drop out and become lost, you shall be truly on your own."

The god having spoken, Yunu sent Yahuan back home. She then put the blue pearl in her mouth as she was told to do so by the god, and swam out to the island where Ah Xiao lay helplessly tied up on the beach. She untied Ah Xiao, and with the young man holding onto her back, Yunu headed back into the water towards the mainland.

Mr. Gao and his men happened to be returning in a small boat when he saw his daughter with Ah Xiao on her back effortlessly gliding past their boat through the choppy waves. Thunderstruck, he dropped his jaw and stared as the two young people passed him like a pair of flying fish.

Yunu saw how easily she outdistanced her father's boat and could not help laughing at the expression on his face. As she did, however, the blue pearl dropped into the sea below. Yunu and Ah Xiao then sank beneath the waves.

There, under the sea, the creatures that inhabit that world--the fishes, the shrimp, the sea turtles, the clams--took pity on Ah Xiao and Yunu. They located the shards from the cracked pottery that lay on the ocean floor and used them to mark Ah Xiao's and Yunu's graves. In time, the spirits of the two lovers became hou, crabs that dwell off the coast of Fujian, and the shards then became their shells.


from Chinese Folk Literature Association (CFLA), pp. 106-109.

The Dragon King of the East Sea is descended from one of eight to ten deities that appeared when Buddhism entered China. They may have once been related to the Hindu
naga serpents. Their domains include all the rivers, oceans, seas, lakes and wells in and around China. Originally Buddhist deities, they later entered the Taoist (Daoist) pantheon as god-kings. The four Dragon Kings of the Sea, including the one associated with the East Sea, are more closely identified with Taoism now (Liu, 166-167). As Taoist deities, the dragon kings are responsible for rain and can rectify human errors made during funerals (Fischer-Schreiber, 97). Pearls appear in many stories as magical objects, particularly as charms against fire, and, along with being one of the "eight treasures," they remain identified with feminine grace (Williams, 319-320). The character of the strong, active and determined young woman makes the story all the more striking. The original Chinese version interestingly emphasized Yunu's lack of superficial glamor. This leads to a question: Is this an original or invented folk legend? One might suspect the latter due to the enlarged role given to Yunu. I don't have an answer. Many folktales collected in mainland China before the 1990s likely have added "Maoist-friendly" motifs and details. My own guess is that it is a local legend with some modern, non-traditional sentiments added. Motifs: D1384.4.1, "Magic prevents swimming fatigue"; D1520.29.1, "Transportation by magic pearl"; E629.2, "Reincarnation as crab"; K335.1, "Robbers frightened from goods"; and S11, "Cruel father."

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