Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stories of Filial Children -- Series Three

(1) Meng Zong (Three Kingdoms)

During the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-265 A.D.), there lived a filial young man named Meng Zong. When he was very young, he lost his father. Later, his mother came down with a serious, debilitating illness. Zong's mother now had to depend upon him.

Winter came. With winter came, of course, fewer vegetables. Bamboo shoots, Mrs. Meng's favorite vegetable, were very difficult to find, and, in her weakened state, she began to long desperately for bamboo shoots again in her porridge.

Meng Zong didn't know what to do, where to go to find bamboo shoots. The markets wouldn't have them. He went to the cold, arid bamboo grove and, in desperation, knelt down in the grove, clutched a stalk of bamboo and cried.

Heaven and earth took pity on this young man's frustration, and instantly the earth split open to reveal fresh bamboo shoots for him to pull up and take home, which he did. He then, in the dead of winter, made his mother's porridge with the bamboo shoots she loved so much. He did so again and again. Eventually she made a full recovery.


from Xiaodao, p. 62. (See the posting for 4/17/09 for the full citation.)

Unlike most stories of filial children, this one has obvious supernatural elements.

(2) Tan Zi (Zhou Dynasty)

Tan Zi of the Zhou Dynasty (1045-221 B.C.) was a very filial son. He took care of his parents, both of whom had become blind from age and illness. His parents loved milk from deer, and, in order to get deer milk, Tan Zi had to wear the hide of a deer, with his head covered by the deer scalp and antlers. Then, he would approach a herd of the fleet-footed animals, enter into their midst, and then be able to obtain milk.

One day he was out searching for some deer on behalf of his parents, wearing his disguise, when from not far away, a hunter in the tall grass spotted him and assumed Tan Zi was a deer. The hunter deftly took an arrow out and and was about to shoot it at Tan Zi.

"Wait! Wait! Don't shoot!" cried Tan Zi. The startled hunter put his bow and arrow down. "I'm only dressed this way to get deer milk for my parents!"

The astounded hunter then praised Tan Zi for being such a filial son as to don animal skins and antlers and to go out to obtain deer milk.


from Xiaodao, p. 46.

(3) Wu Meng (Jin Dynasty)

Wu Meng of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.) came from a poor family, one so poor that they could not afford a mosquito net. Thus, on hot summer nights, he would study and sleep with his upper torso bared so that the mosquitoes would come and bite him instead of his fully covered father sleeping nearby.


from Xiaodao, p. 50.

(4) Pan Zong (Northern & Southern Dynasties)

Pan Zong of Wuxing Wucheng (now Wuxing County, Zhejiang Province) lived during the turbulent Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 A.D.). Around the year 422, when the leader of the Wudoumi bandits Sun En had already launched his revolt, Pan Zong and his father Pan Piao were among the refugees fleeing the fighting and carnage.

The two, father and son, were on the road pursued on foot by bandits. Pan Piao could not move any longer and turned to his son. "I'm old!" he said. "I can't move fast enough. You're young and strong. Hurry up and leave me behind! Leave this place! Escape while you can!"

Pan Piao just sat down on the ground and waited for what he believed to be the inevitable. His son, Pan Zong, however, refused to leave his father.

Then, moments later, a pair of bandits caught up with them.

"My father is old!" the boy cried to the bandits. "Please don't kill him!"

One of the bandits stepped forward and deliberately slashed the father with his sword, causing the older man to bleed. Pan Zong immediately shielded his father from the bandit, placing himself in the middle.

The bandit was about to kill them both when his comrade said to him, "What are you doing? That's a filial son protecting his father! How can you kill him? You know killing a filial son invites the wrath of heaven!"

The bandit put then put his sword down and allowed the pair to escape.

Thus did Pan Zong save his father. Both made it to safety and survived.

Centuries later the Song emperor Yuanjia in the fourth year of his reign changed the name of the village Pan Zong had come from to Chunxiaoli, "Pure Filial Hamlet," and exempted its residents from land taxes for three generations.


from Sanshiliuxiao, p. 48. (Full citation can be found at 4/17/09).
This is story #19 in the Wu Yanhuan edition.

(5) Yan Yingyou (Late Yuan Dynasty)

Yan Yingyou of Xianju Hamlet, Jinmen County, Fujian Province, lived in the waning years of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (c. 1350-1368 A.D.), during the rebellions of the Great Sword Society. The upheavals forced young Yan and his mother to flee as refugees. Eventually he and his mother were separated. He then spent the next twenty six years traveling all over China to search for his mother. He ended up finding her in Qingling Ling (in what is now Yao'an County), Yunnan Province. Mother and son were both overjoyed to be reunited. Shortly after, Yan Yingyou took his mother back home to Jinmen, were he continued to treat her with the utmost filial love and respect.

In time, the two-and-a half-decade journey of Yan Yingyou to find his mother inspired many poems throughout the centuries, including this one by Shangguan Minwang:

Yunnan and Fujian
One in the West and one in the East,
Both provinces far apart,
Separated by ten thousand li and a bit more.
The waters of the Wu Gorge in Sichuan,
Surging like arrows,
Guansuo Ridge in Yunnan,
Impassable to horse and wagons.
But look at Yan Yingyou,
Who had many narrow escapes
But shrugged them off,
As he journeyed to rescue his aged mother,
His heart and mind tranquil.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Plunging ahead on a filial path,
While darkness lies before him,
Serving his parent with the utmost dedication,
He is the scholar Yingyou of Jinmen.


Sanshiliuxiao, p. 68. This is story #29 in the Wu Yanhuan edition.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jindalai -- A New Year's Tale (Korean)

It's long been said that the first flower to bloom in the spring is the jindalai, the purple rhododendron. As much as folks love seeing the first appearance of this flower, they love even more to tell the story of how this flower came to be . . .

Long, long ago, in a mountain hamlet there lived an old couple and their only child, their beloved daughter, Dalai. She was a dutiful daughter who went up into the mountains daily to chop and collect firewood.

Now on the southern slope lived a hardy young man named Jin Yu. He too would go into the mountains to gather firewood, and one day he encountered Dalai. They began to chat and soon became friends. Before long, Jin Yu would help Dalai carry her heavy load of wood down the slippery and treacherous mountain path back to her home. Putting the load down and wiping off his sweat, he'd then smile and leave without saying very much.

Dalai and her parents were very poor, like most of the other folks in the area, and like many others, her family was deeply in debt to the local landowner. It would take more than a couple of lifetimes of repayment for Dalai's family to compensate him! The landowner had a son who for a long time had had his eyes on Dalai. She was very beautiful and could embroider--what a wonderful wife she would make! The son liked very much what he saw and in his heart wanted her for his wife.

And so he decided he would pay Dalai's family a little visit . . .

With his retinue, the landowner's son arrived at the house dressed in his best outfit, waving a silk fan.

Smiling, he said to her parents, "I've come about the back rent and other loans you owe us. Shall we talk?"

The shaken parents quickly ushered him inside and bade him sit as an honored guest.

"I want all the money you owe my family paid up right now," he said.

"But . . . But that's impossible for us!" said the father. "Look around you! You can see we're not wealthy. All we have right now is an abundance of firewood! Surely you can't expect us to pay you right now . . ."

The landowner's son smiled and said nothing for a moment. Then he took out a small silk purse and placed it on the table before the nervous father and mother.

"Well, then, if you can't pay now, I guess you just can't! Here, take the gold and silver inside this purse and buy yourselves a nice meal with it." He then snapped his fingers for one of his servants outside the house. The man entered carrying a big bundle and, at the direction of the landowner's son, placed the bundle upon the floor. "In this parcel," said the son of the landowner, "is the finest silk you shall ever find. Have your Dalai make herself some fine clothes with it."

The landowner or his son had never shown such kindness before, thought both the father and mother. What is going on here? What is all this about? It dawned on them: he wants Dalai.

Dalai and Jin Yu then came in the house.

"What's this?" Dalai asked her parents in front of the landowner's son, pointing with her nose to the bundle upon the floor.

The landowner's son sat and watched eagerly, smiling, hoping for a favorable reaction.

Dalai understood from where the gift had come. Without opening it or waiting for someone to explain what was inside, she picked the parcel up and tossed it out the front door into the dunghill.

Well, the landowner's son was ready to explode! His face turned a beet red, and he struggled to keep his tongue still. However, he controlled himself. He got up, had his man retrieve the package of silk from the dung heap and left.

And so that was that--at least for a couple of days.

A few days later, a messenger from the landowner arrived at Dalai's home. Dalai and her parents were there to receive the message.

"You are to surrender your daughter Dalai to our master within three days' time for the wedding ceremony," he told the parents. Before leaving, he added, "Have her ready on the appointed day and sent to our master; otherwise, our master will be obligated to send a party here and take her by force. Woe unto anyone who interferes!"

Dalai turned to her parents and said, "I'd rather die than marry the son of the landowner! I already love someone who loves me back and who respects me! Jin Yu!"

Dalai's parents were very upset, as was Jin Yu when he had heard the news. Together they went off to collect firewood.

Not sure of what to do, they looked up to the white crane in the sky and asked him where they could go.

"Outside this heaven you can see," replied the crane, "there are nine other heavens. Among them there is no place for you? Come now!"

They next asked the deer the same question.

The deer said, "Within this forest, there is a deeper, lusher, thicker forest. Do you fear within it there is no place for you two? Oh, please!"

That is what we shall do, Jin Yu and Dalai decided. We shall go together to the forest within a forest and then through the nine heavens . . .

Dalai didn't show up at the landowner's house on the appointed day. Instead, the day after the third day, she put on her finest dress, a pink one. Then, hand in hand, Dalai and Jin Yu headed off into the forest.

Hot on their heels and chasing them into the forest were the landowner himself, his son and his men. Within striking distance they were until the rocks, stones and pebbles made them stumble and fall. When they picked themselves up to chase farther, the moss made them slip and fall again. And again they picked themselves up to go after Jin Yu and Dalai, and this time the vines coiled around their ankles, and the thorns and brambles stung them.

When the landowner, his son and his henchmen finally got free, Jin Yu and Dalai were nowhere to be seen.

"Do this then!" shouted the landowner. "Have all available men surround the base of the mountain. Then have men with torches burn the whole mountain right up to its peak! For sure those two will try to escape the inferno, and when they do, we'll grab 'em!"

And that's what the landowner's men did--they torched the whole mountain from bottom to top, knowing that fire travels upwards. Soon the entire mountain was engulfed in flames.

Soon, thought the landowner, any minute now, the pair will come fleeing from the smoke . . .

Soon, thought, the landowner's son, Dalai will be mine . . .

The fire burned and burned and did not die until the mountain was a scorched and all its vegetation burned to smoking crisps.

The landowner, his son and their men waited and waited, but no one came out.

Jin Yu and Dalai were never seen again.

Dalai's father and mother went to the mountain to search for Dalai and the man who was to be her husband, Jin Yu. It was now spring, and though the mountain had been seared by fierce flames, on both sides of the mountain path grew fresh wildflowers. Then, at the peak, the old couple saw two very beautiful blooming flowers facing each other.

"Dalai . . . and . . . Jin Yu . . . " one of the parents said aloud. "There . . . they . . . are! There they are!"

As soon as those words were spoken, the whole mountaintop was bathed in the most aromatic scent the old people had ever encountered.

The story spread far and wide. In time those two flowers became known as jindalai, a combination of the names "Jin Yu" and "Dalai." And so every spring, Jin Yu and Dalai return, though just for a short time, as these flowers.


from Zhongguo funu chuanshuo gushi, Li Meng, ed., pp. 37-40. (See 2/26/08 for complete citation.)

This is a story linked to the new year of the traditional lunar calendar (i.e., Korean and Chinese New Year).

Another English version of this story is at

This story, collected in Heilongjiang, is well known on the Korean peninsula, its place of origin.

In yet another Chinese-language version, it is Dalai's brother who escapes with her to the forested mountain, where they incite a rebellion against the emperor who would snatch Dalai away from her family. An old man with silver whiskers materializes out from a crevice and offers the pair a magical horse and jeweled sword with which to fight the emperor's forces. In the end, however, due to their carelessness, Dalai is killed and her brother is captured. Their blood stains the mountain slopes upon which later grow the flowers known as
jindalai (see "Jindalai" in Zhongguo minjian wenyi cidian, ed. Guan Yanru. Lanzhou: Gansu Renmin chubanshe, p. 188).

D212, "Man, woman transformed to flowers"; D457.13, "Blood becomes flowers"; E711.2.2, "Soul in flowers"; T311.1, "Flight of maiden to escape marriage."