Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chunwang & the Ninth Maiden (Han) -- Part Three

As the Ninth Maiden wept, she heard a man's voice singing from the bushes:

"There go the Maidens flying back up into the heavens!
And I? I've taken the peahen skin and wings of one of them.
I'm ready to return them to her without much fuss.
All I ask is for one thing in return--for her to call me her one and only."

From out of the bushes stepped Chunwang, bearing the skin and wings.

What a handsome young man, thought the Ninth Maiden. Who would have thought such a handsome one existed among the mortals! She liked what she saw, laughed bashfully and sang back:

"Young man, if you say you love me, you'll need to love me with all your heart.
Otherwise, I don't care if I died--I still wouldn't call you my man.
If you truly love me, then, please hurry and give me back my skin and wings!"

Chunwang promptly returned the skin and wings to the Ninth Maiden. Right then and there, from that day forward, they became man and wife. How happy were they? There's no need to ask--they felt pure joy being in each other's presence and nothing else in the world mattered.

Nine months later, the wife and husband had a pair of twins--a boy and a girl--both soft and chubby with creamy complexions, as cute as children can be.

It was now a full year since Ninth Maiden had come down to earth for good and married Chunwang.

One day Chunwang noticed her carrying a beautiful large hulu, a gourd shaped like our number eight ("8"), from out of their garden.

"And what do you plan to do with the hulu, my wife?" he asked.

"Today's my father's birthday," she replied. "I'm presenting it to him. That means I'll need to return to the sky.  But don't worry. I'll be back before dark, so watch the children for me while I'm gone!"

"Very well."

Ninth Maiden stepped upon the hulu leaf and flew away up into the sky and out of sight.

Well, night came but Ninth Maiden had still not returned. Nor did she return by the next morning, or the morning after that.

from Tan Daxian, pp. 60-61. 

The story in the original Chinese doesn't reconcile Ninth Maiden's earlier temporary loss of her bird skin and wings and resultant lack of ability to fly with her human guise and capability of flying away on a leaf. Nor does it suggest that once married, she remains donned in her peahen skin and wings outfit.

The hulu gourd, gourd bottle, or bottle-gourd is a Taoist (Daoist) alchemy symbol, sometimes seen depicted on the windows and walls of Chinese herbalist shops. In ancient times, Taoist adepts were thought to carry medicine or magic potions in their hulu gourds. In Taiwan, a modern expression goes like this: "What's inside your hulu?" In other words, "What are you up to?"

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