Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Rose-Red Horse (Manchu)

Long ago, during the Qing dynasty, over in the Aihunkalun mountains, there lived an old man named Wu. He had a rose-red horse, a foal, with fleshy stumps for hoofs. Now this horse could barely walk, let alone gallop or canter. So old Wu decided to put him in his cart and walk him into town to sell him.

On the road to town, old Wu ran into someone he knew, a young fellow named Fuling.

"Say, where are you taking that foal?" the younger man asked.

"Oh, to town to sell him. He's no use to me with those hoofs of his."

Fuling looked the horse over. He knew something that old Wu did not: this was a very fine horse with lots of potential, a "treasure horse, " as the local people would say.

"Sell him to me. How much do you want for him?"

"Three silver coins."

"'Three silver coins'?! That's a bit steep, isn't it? Couldn't I have him for a little less?"

"No." Old Wu shook his head. "Not a coin less. Three silver coins."

"Very well," said Fuling, handing old Wu the price he had charged. "Three silver coins it is."

Old Wu and Fuling then pushed the cart with the foal inside to Fuling's house. Fuling's wife, Qingrong, was in the courtyard hanging up laundry when the pair and the horse arrived. After the two men had taken the horse out of the cart and a while after old Wu was good and gone, Fuling fetched a hog butcher's knife and a stool. He placed the stool next to the foal and then, still brandishing the knife, sat down.

"What in the world are you going to do with that horse?" asked Qingrong. "Slaughter him?"

"Ha! No one's going to slaughter him. I'm just going to open up his hoofs so he can later do his magic. Watch me."

He then gently scraped away the thin layer of skin that covered each hoof. He was very careful not to hurt the foal. He knew a good horse when he saw one, and this was a very good horse indeed.

The foal could now walk with ease.


Fuling and Qingrong beamed as he watched the young horse get used to walking without pain.

Fuling took good care of the foal. Three years later it was no longer a small foal with wobbly legs. It was now a fine, strapping horse.

One day Qingrong fell seriously ill. He summoned a shaman, who told Fuling, "There's one thing I need to help your wife that I don't have with me. I need this substance to complete her medical formula."

"What's that?"

"A portion of a spider's web, but it must be a spider's web from a relative's house, yours or hers. Only that will do."

Fuling leaped up and prepared to leave the house. "I know just the place to get such a web."

"Where would that be?" asked the doctor.

"At my aunt's house."

"And where is your aunt's house?"

"Over in Aihunkalun Town."

"Aihunkalun Town?! Why, that's a good nine or ten li from here! Do you suppose your wife will be able just to wait in comfort and health for your return?"

"Doctor," asked Fuling, "do you see that jug at the edge of the table?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"Well, I'll be back with the cobweb before you can finish half the wine in that jug."

"Oh, really? Do you think you have a 'thousand li horse' or something?" asked the disbelieving shaman.

But there was no answer from Fuling because he was already out the door!

The shaman looked at the jug and the small cup next to it. He got up and went to the table, where he poured himself a cup of wine. Hmm, not bad, he thought. He poured himself another and took a nice, long gulp. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and said to himself, I believe I shall have another!

He was finishing the third cup when he heard a whinnying from outside. Then Fuling came striding back inside, clutching a bag.

"I probably brought back more cobwebs than you really need, but, anyway, here you are," he said, handing the bag to the astonished shaman. "Finish the jug yet?"

The shaman just smiled and took the bag of cobwebs. He finished preparing the medicine for Qingrong. He gave it to the sick woman. Immediately, she felt better and sat up!

Fuling had the shaman stay for supper. After eating, he took the shaman outside to see his rose-red horse. Outside in the courtyard stood the majestic red horse with his bristling jet-black mane and tail.

"Watch!" said Fuling, mounting the horse.

The horse galloped out of the courtyard. His fleet hoofs lifted off the ground, and he and his rider soon disappeared into the clouds before returning in a flash!

You can probably guess what happened next. The shaman told someone else about Fuling's horse, and that person told a few others. Those few others told more people. . . Soon everybody in the Aihunkalun mountains knew about Fuling and his rose-red treasure horse.

Fuling and his horse also came to the attention of the local Qing army commander, who ordered Fuling and his horse to show up at the army camp for military service.

"All right," said the commander to Fuling, "let's see what this horse of yours can do. Let's see if he is as swift as they say and if he can beat the speed of one of my arrows. When I let an arrow go, head immediately for the target next to the one I am going to hit!

"Get ready . . .  " said the commander, pulling back the bowstring. "Go!"

He let an arrow fly, and as he did so, Fuling and his horse took off. They easily reached the second target at the same time the arrow hit the first one.

"Interesting, very interesting," said the commander, as Fuling rode back. "We shall repeat what we just did. Now, get ready . . . "

In all, the commander raced his arrows two more times against the horse, each time with the same result.

The commander called Fuling into his office.

"I don't need to tell you," he said, "that you have an amazing horse. Sell him to me."

"No," replied Fuling, "he is not for sale."

"All right. Give him to me and I shall make you a high-ranking officer. You and your wife shall live very, very well. What do you say?"

"No, he is not to be bartered either. I'd rather return to my own farm than to be an officer here."

"Oh, is that so? You impertinent wretch!" The commander shouted for his men. "Guards, take this good-for-nothing rat, put shackles on him and toss him in the stockade! I'll deal with him later!"

Fuling was shackled and led away to the camp's jail. The commander smiled and said to himself, One way or another that horse was going to be mine anyway . . .

Soon, a big show was held in the camp, a demonstration of military skills, such as archery, fencing and horsemanship. The commander led the rose-red horse out onto the field.

"Mount him! Mount him!" his troops cried.

"Show us what you and he can do!"

"Go, Commander, go!"

The commander nodded. He climbed upon the horse. With his feet firmly in the stirrups, he gave the horse a gently slap on its behind.

To the astonishment of all there, the horse and rider shot up into the heavens!

Up, up,up they went, so far up that those below lost sight of them.

The commander held onto the horse's neck and mane with all his might. He was terrified. He screamed at the horse to return and tried tugging on its reins and turning its neck, but to no avail. They continued to climb into the sky when, suddenly, the horse reared. The commander fell off. He tumbled down through the sky, down through the clouds and all the way back to earth. He landed near the camp with a horrifying thud, and, well, it was not pretty . . .

The horse returned to earth too and descended right outside the stockade where Fuling was being kept. When word came that the commander was no more, the nervous guards released Fuling. He mounted his horse, tipped his hat to the guards and took off into the sky to return home to Qingrong.

It is said that once back home, Fuling called Qingrong to climb upon the horse together with him. Then the three of them flew off to some place far, far away, never to be seen in these parts ever again.


from volume two of Zhongguo minjian gushixuan (A selection of Chinese folktales), Jia Zhi & Sun Jianbing, eds. p. 345-346.

The original title in Chinese was "The Rouge Treasure Horse" (yanzhisede baoma). I modified the title to prevent confusion with a story that has a similar title. Three other folktales about gallant horses from Tungusic-Altaic sources can be found at these postings: 8/4/07; 12/11/07; and 2/19/08. Motifs: B17.1.4.1, "Infuriated horse kills driver"; F460.2.2, "Mountain folk ride through air on horse."

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