Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Stone Girl (Hezhe/Hezhen)

One spring many years ago before any of our great-grandparents were ever born, a plague swept over the banks of the Black Dragon River and into a nearby village, infecting everyone who lived within its walls. Those stricken earlier were buried by those left behind, and those left behind soon fell dead wherever they had last been standing. Within a matter of days, all was quiet and empty.

Now one day an old peddler not too up on the news made his way into this ghost town. Here he saw "neither jumping chickens nor human shadows," as they say. He went through the town and could find not a single living soul. Just before leaving, he passed a hut with its door ajar. Peering inside, he saw a woman atop a still warm kang, and she appeared to be cradling an infant. The woman too was still warm, warm but dead, while the infant was very much alive. The old peddler snatched the child up, wrapped her in his long gown, and hurried out of this place of the dead.

Sixteen years passed. The baby girl had grown into a young woman named Husa, and she had been well taken care of by her foster parent, the old peddler, the man she affectionately called Ye-ye, or "Grandpa."

"Ye-ye," she asked the old man one day, "how is it that everyone I know has a father and mother but I do not?"

"But you did have a father and mother, my child!" he answered and then told her the tale of how he had found her upon her mother's breast in that dead village so long ago. When Husa started weeping, he said, "I have heard that deep in Mount E'tu is a cave of many treasures, and in this cave is a magical harp, a kungkangji. When this harp is played, the poor become wealthy and the dead, alive. Perhaps it's but a fairy story, but if you can get this harp, you might see your parents again. Is that what you want?"

"With your permission, Ye-ye, I would like to see my parents again."

"Please listen to me, then, Husa," replied the old man. "Entering the cave is not easy. There are tigers and bears nearby, and the cave is guarded by the Old Man of the Mountain himself. Are you ready to face and to outsmart all of them?"

Husa nodded.

"Then go with my permission and blessings," the old peddler said, understanding her need to honor those who had given birth to her.

Early the next morning, the old peddler led Husa to the foot of steep, fog-enshrouded Mount E'tu. Wishing her luck, he then departed. Husa started slowly up the mountain. Halfway up she stumbled upon the cave her Ye-ye had told her about, and, as it was already dark outside and the cave was seemingly vacant, she entered without making a sound. Once inside, though, she heard voices. She hid behind some rocks and listened.

It so happened that a mountain spirit, tree spirit, and bear spirit were inside the cave drinking wine together, laughing, playing, and generally having a good time. They soon became raucous.

"Hey," cried the mountain spirit, "let's dance!" He then brought out a golden box, opened it and took out a kungkangji. When he started playing the harp, all the other spirits immediately got up to dance. They danced and danced until all of them, the mountain spirit included, fell in a heap upon the floor of the cave. Now the only sound to be heard in the cave was their snoring.

When Husa thought it was safe, she came out from hiding and grabbed the harp from the mountain spirit, who was still sound asleep. She tucked the harp into her robe and tiptoed out of the cave.

"Not so fast, maiden!" shouted a gruff voice. "What are you doing with our kungkangji?"

Husa looked around and saw no one. She looked again carefully this time, and then she saw
him--the Old Man of the Mountain, an old man of stone, rocks, pebbles, and earth itself. He had been by the mouth of the cave all along.

"Please let me go! Many years ago my father and mother and everyone else in their village lost their lives in a plague. With this harp I can bring my parents and their neighbors back to life."

"That's all good and fine, maiden, but did you know that if I let you carry this harp from our well, you yourself will turn to stone in three days? Anything taken from the Cave of Spirits will cause you to turn to stone in three days."

"That does not matter," replied Husa. "My greatest wish is to see my own parents again, even if it means the end of me."

"Very well, then," said the Old Man of the Mountain, who was moved by Husa's love for her parents. "I shall let you take the harp." He then clapped his hands, and a stone swan appeared. "Climb upon the swan's back, and it will take you to your parents' village. Make sure that once you are there you play the kungkangji before sunrise. If you do, everyone in the village will come alive. Now hurry before the sun comes up!"

Husa knelt before the Old Man of the Mountain to offer her thanks. She then quickly climbed onto the swan's back and was off. Before she knew it, she had landed in a cloud of dust right in the middle of what had once been her parents' village. The buildings still stood, and in the early moonlight, she could see the bones of people, dogs, and cats. She got off the swan and immediately began playing the harp. Wherever she played, flesh returned to the skeletons, and the people who had just been skeletons moments before got up from the ground, fully restored to life. Husa went into every hut, playing the harp and waking all from the sleep of death. Soon the sun was up, and just as so many years before, men and women were again talking and shouting, while children were laughing and playing.

Among all the people moving about the village were Husa's own mother and father. They recognized their daughter and she, them as well. Overjoyed to be with them at last, Husa stayed with them.

On the evening of the third day, Husa asked her mother and father, "May I leave to go and bring back the man who found and raised me? He is all alone in the world."

"Bring him to us!" they cried. "He shall stay with us as our own dear brother."

Husa then stepped outside and played the harp. The stone swan immediately swooped down from the night sky. Husa climbed onto the bird's back and told the bird to take her to where the old peddler lived. The stone swan then flew her to the old man's modest home. There, Husa told him everything that had happened.

"Please go back with me, Ye-ye," she said. "I will soon turn to stone, and I don't want you or my parents to be left alone again."

The old peddler agreed, and just before they climbed onto the stone swan's back, Husa turned to him and gave him the kungkangji for safekeeping.

"Please take good care of the harp, Ye-ye," she said.

"Do not fear, my child. I shall always keep the kungkangji, and it shall bring us and those not even born yet much joy," he replied.

And then, before long, they arrived in Husa's village. Husa and the old peddler got off the stone swan and walked towards her parents' hut. Before she had gotten very far, her legs and then her waist had turned to stone. Then her chest, shoulders, arms. . .

"I will always be with you!" she managed to say just before her throat and finally her head turned to stone.

To this day, this curious rock known as "the Stone Girl" stands in the center of the village.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Heilongjiang minjian gushiji, pp. 354-359.

For another story that deals with a person turned to stone, see the Han Chinese "The Legend of Wangfu Rock" from 6/22/07. Motifs: C961.2, "Transformation to stone for breaking tabu"; E1, "Dead brought back to life"/ E55.4, "Harp/fiddle that revives"; F62.1, "Bird carries person"; W28, "Self sacrifice."

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