Tuesday, July 10, 2007

To the Other Realm and Back (Fujian)

A long time ago, in the city of Quanzhou, there lived two sworn brothers, Mr. Wang and Mr. Li. Both were retired merchants and life-long friends. However, one day Wang came down with a fierce illness and died shortly afterwards. Li was beside himself with grief. On the day of the funeral, he sobbed uncontrollably for his lost friend and felt like neither eating nor sleeping for many days after. Eventually, though, he realized that life must go on and became determined to continue life without his friend, Wang.

One evening, Li had a particularly vivid dream in which Wang came to visit him.

"Is it really you?" Li asked.

"Yes, it is," Wang replied. "I'm back but only for a short while. I work in the Land of the Dead now and must return soon." Wang then turned serious for a moment. "Look," he said, "I have something to tell you. There is a way for us to meet. I will teach you a spell. All you need to do is to repeat this spell as you take a nap at noon while on your bed. If you do so, we'll be able to meet again in my new home. Now listen carefully. Here is the spell . . . "

Then, in the dream, Wang slowly recited the incantation, the words of which were familiar to Li, though he had never before heard them in that sequence. When Li awoke from his dream, he immediately wrote down the spell and then committed it to memory.

The next day at noon, Li decided to test the spell. He lay down on his bed and recited the formula as he drifted off to sleep. As he was promised, he soon found himself in the shadow world. And before long he was able to locate Wang, now a mandarin in one of the Courts of Hell. The two old friends had a wonderful lunch together until Li woke up.

In time Li became quite adept at entering the Land of the Dead and visited his friend there every day.

One day, Li's beloved grandson came to visit. After playing with the boy all morning, Li felt worn out and in need of a noontime nap. After telling the boy a story, Li said that he wanted to rest and to close his eyes and suggested the little boy do the same. Li had been looking forward to meeting Wang for their daily lunchtime get-together, and so he began reciting the spell as he drifted off to sleep. His grandson was of the curious age, so he copied his grandfather's words and followed the old man to the Land of the Dead.

Once there, Li was surprised to find his grandson tagging along at his heels.

"What? You're here too?" he asked. "Very well. Go along and play. Your grandpa has an appointment to meet his friend. Stay in this area."

The little boy spotted a group of twelve children playing by a nearby wall.

"Can I play with them?" he asked.

"Fine. Be a good boy and don't stray," answered Li, who then turned around and went off to have lunch with Wang.

The grandson approached this noisy but friendly gathering of children. One was wearing a paper hat in the shape of a pig's head. The wearer of the hat was the "pig," and the others, the "farmers."

"Can I play too?" asked Li's grandson.

"Sure! Come on!" the children cried. "Put on the cap! You be the pig now!"

Their lunch meeting over, Li returned to our world, the yang sphere, having left the yin sphere. He woke up to find his grandson lying next to him, cold and still. He immediately recalled that his grandson had been with him there in the Land of the Dead. He shook his grandson, but the boy remained unresponsive.

Then it dawned on Li: his grandson was still behind with the dead.

Li then tried to go back to sleep to return to the Land of the Dead, but as hard as he tried to sleep, he just could not. Since the spell worked during noontime naps, he would have to wait until the next day.

The following day at noon, with his still grandson lying beside him, Li once again sent himself to the Land of the Dead.

"My grandson! My grandson!" he cried as he clutched his old friend Wang's arm. "Where is he?"

Li then told Wang that the boy was lying like a stone on his bed back in the other world.

"There must be something you can do!" implored Li.

"Yes. Yes, there is," said Wang. "Come with me."

The pair ran into the palace of the King of the Dead, King Yanluo. There, Wang looked through the Book of Life and Death.

"All right, listen to this!" said Wang. "According to the book, yesterday twelve children down here were scheduled to be reborn as pigs on a farm in the Xinghua District. Your grandson had been playing with them. Return to your world and go to Xinghua. Find the farmer whose sow has given birth to thirteen piglets. Your grandson will be the thirteenth of the litter. Once you butcher that piglet, your grandson will return to life. Make haste!"

Li woke up with a start and leaped out of bed. He ordered the priests and everyone else keeping a vigil around his grandson to let the boy be.

"There shall be no funeral!" he thundered and then promptly left for neighboring Xinghua.

After scouring all the farms in the area, he finally located a farm where thirteen piglets had been born. He bought the thirteenth one and had the farmer butcher it on the spot. At the same instant, miles away, in Li's house, Li's grandson suddenly sat up in bed, none the worse for his ordeal.


Jiang Tao, p. 67-69.

A version of this tale can be found in Eberhard's Folktales of China (82-83; 221). The story touches upon a tremendously important Buddhist concept found in the religious beliefs of China--reincarnation or transmigration, a concept also found in "The White-Nosed Cat." It is commonly believed deceased sinners are reborn as animals, such as pigs or insects; others who had been more noble in life may be reborn as humans. Motifs: E238, "Dinner with the dead"; E577, "Dead persons play games"; E611.3, "Man reincarnated as swine"; E721.2, "Body in trance while soul is absent"; F81.1.2, "Journey to the land of the dead to visit the deceased."

1 comment:

  1. pretty good story mr lob... i would have done that if it was me.