Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Dog Legs!" (Han)

Long, long ago, there was a very remarkable little boy, a child genius, if you will, with the utterly strange name of Gui Guzi ("Ghost[ly] Millet" or "Unhusked rice").

What made him so amazing? At the age of three, he began to study medicine. By the age of five, he could cure people of their diseases.

Before long, people from far and near would come to him to seek a cure for whatever ailed them.
He was able to diagnose the symptoms, prescribe medicine, and perform surgery! Forget about playing with other children, hitting and catching balls, rolling in the grass, wrestling and just horsing around--his single activity was helping those who came to him in pain and misery.

Not far away, the local tyrant, the county magistrate, was in agony, his right leg covered with deep, sore ulcers. No one in his mansion could help him--not his family, staff, or any of the many doctors called in to take a look at his leg.

Then, somehow he heard of Gui Guzi.

He snapped his fingers and called for his head thug, officially, a magistrate's runner. "Fetch this child, this boy called Gui Guzi. Now!"

The runner located the boy, who, not surprisingly, was treating someone.

"All right, boy," said the thug, "let's go. His Honor, the county magistrate, needs your help."

"The county magistrate? I don't treat people like him, only people who cannot afford a doctor."

"Why, you impertinent little dog! Get up immediately and come with me! That's an order!"


The runner, the thug, immediately hit the boy several times and roughly pulled him to his feet.

"Then," said this brute, "I'll drag you back to the mansion!"

And so he did; he literally had to drag the boy back with him. Soon, Gui Guzi was standing before the county magistrate.

"Thank you for coming, boy," said the county magistrate. "Your fame precedes you. I need your help."

"Well," said Gui Guzi, rubbing the lump on his noggin, "since I'm now here, I'll help you."

"Good. That's the right attitude! Now, behold this . . ." The county magistrate rolled up his right pant leg, exposing the numerous ulcers all over his leg. "Cure me of this, boy, and I shall reward you with great riches."

"Hmm," said the boy, "I can surely help you, but the treatment is drastic."

"'Drastic'? What do you mean?"

"I shall need to cut your diseased leg off and replace it with someone else's leg, a healthier leg."

"Cut my leg off? Are you serious? You expect me to do my work while hobbling around on some stranger's leg? This better not be a joke!" The boy looked up at him, and he could see it was no joke. "Very well, very well." The county magistrate took a deep sigh and gritted his teeth. He turned to the henchman who had brought the boy. "You, go to the prison, secure a prisoner with a healthy right leg, and have the whole leg amputated!"

"No, Your Honor," said Gui Guzi, "that will not do. I need to judge whose leg you are to receive. Suppose a leg slightly shorter or longer were brought? Or, a leg with rougher skin? Such a leg wouldn't match. No, I need to select the leg for this procedure to be a success, and I need to do it soon."

"All right, boy, all right. Then, whose leg am I to receive?"

The boy turned to the runner standing loyally by the county magistrate and pointed at him.


The runner turned white. "What?!" this thug cried. "My leg? My leg?"

"Yes, your leg," replied Gui Guzi. "When I was brought to this place, I had the opportunity to observe your right leg. It is just right."

The thug started breathing heavily and exuding rolling drops of sweat. He knew that the boy was doing this for revenge, but what could he, the mighty runner, the chief enforcer of the county magistrate's law in this district, do?

"Oh, not my leg! Please! I beg you!"

The runner turned to the county magistrate, hoping for some reconsideration, some mercy. The county magistrate turned to his runner and looked at him with the utmost coldness.

"You would deny me, the imperial magistrate for this county, a needed leg? You wretch . . ." Turning back to Gui Guzi, he said, "Cut his leg off."

The county magistrate's servant gave Gui Guzi a sharp vegetable-and-meat carving knife. Gui Guzi first cut off the diseased right leg of the county magistrate. Then he cut off the right leg of the runner, who was being held down and restrained by men stronger than he. Finally, Gui Guzi replaced the county magistrate's missing leg with the runner's now severed right leg. The new leg was attached to the stump. Within minutes, the county magistrate was up and around, walking about on his new right leg.

"Wonderful!" the county magistrate cried. "Simply wonderful! Just like new!"

And the runner? He lay on the floor, writhing in blinding pain, moaning the torment and the loss of his leg.

Gui Guzi, however, was not without compassion. He had the rear right leg of a dog amputated and attached it to the stump where the runner's right leg had been. The thug now had a right leg again, albeit a dog's, but he could still somewhat walk and get around.

For this reason, many Chinese today still refer to corrupt, petty officials, low-level hoodlums, and those who act as bullies under the guise of authority as "dog legs."


from Minjian gushi, Lu Yao, ed. N.P.: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2004; pp. 78-79.

The character for "ghost" (gui) used as someone's nickname can indicate his/her connection to the mystical, dark and occult. The location of the province from which this story comes remains, unfortunately, unidentified.

Motifs: cE782, "Limb successfully replaced"; E782.4.1, "Substituted leg"; cQ451.2.0.1, "Limb cut off as punishment."

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