Yushan [玉山] is the tallest mountain on the island of Taiwan, its height peaking at 12,966 feet. During the era of Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), it was known as Niitakayama [新高山], or "New High Mountain," for in those days it was the tallest mountain in the Japanese empire, surpassing famed Mt. Fuji.
It is on this mountain, on its highest mountain path, on the fork that differentiates the approaches to the Main, Front and South Summits, that something weird, unsettling, and hazardous occurs, something bizarre that has played out more than once--the materialization of the Little Flying Swordsmen. Don't let the cuteness or quaintness of the name given to them fool you; they are malevolent and can be deadly, according to the lore.
The core story goes something like this:
It's anything but a clear day--it's foggy, damp, or snowy, and so on. Or, it might be a dark dusk. A party of mountain climbers approach the fork in the paths. A climber is lagging behind. Nearby, three figures appear. The three are wearing yellow raincoats, and each wears a conical bamboo hat, what the Taiwanese call a douli [斗笠]. Their faces are obscured by the hats, the lifted collars of the coats and the poor visibility. These three appear to know where they're going as they move along one of the steep paths. The straggler may call to them, asking them if they could lead him or her to the hostel below, the staging point for forays up into the mountain. Maybe one of the three will make a hand gesture suggesting the climber can come along and follow them, or maybe the climber lagging behind the group will just figure he or she should follow the three. After all, they seem to know where they are going.
If the straggler is lucky, he or she will be merely misled onto the wrong path, where, if he or she is careful in the darkness or fog, there will be no mishap. Otherwise, the straggler might never make it back to the hostel. A search party is formed, and each member is equipped with strong lanterns. The party breaks up to scour the different paths. Amazingly, all the lanterns malfunction during the search. The lost climber is never seen again . . .
What exactly do these beings look like? Those who have witnessed them and have survived to tell the tale say that they are of small stature and, as mentioned above, they wear high-collared yellow rain coats and conical hats. Oh, yes . . . and they are also faceless.
A Sample Story:
A Professor Dai took some people up the mountain. He was apparently more experienced and familiar with the terrain and thus went farther ahead of his group, so far that he and they lost sight of each other. He stopped to take a break and wait for the others to catch up. After tarrying at the spot, he decided to move on when he saw three men on the path not far ahead of him, three men with their backs turned towards him, each wearing a yellow raincoat and a douli.
Probably many of us, if not most, would assume these three were fellow mountain trekkers. They appeared to be walking along this particular path in a purposeful manner that would make anyone think they knew to where they were headed. Everything looked normal; nothing was amiss; these three men were likely rural residents familiar with Taiwan's greatest mountain and its various paths.
So, the professor followed them.
He continued to follow them for a while when he suddenly heard shouts from behind: "Professor Dai! Professor Dai!"
Only then did the professor slow down. Behind him were the people he was supposed to be leading. He turned around again to discover he was right on the edge of a precipice. A step or two farther and he would have gone right off the edge of the cliff.
Professor Dai, totally beguiled, had been following the three men in yellow without deviating. Where could they have gone? The only answer is off the mountain and into thin air, for they had totally vanished sometime before the professor had come to his senses, thanks to his party behind him who had snapped him out of his reverie.
This Professor Dai, whoever he was, lived to tell the tale. Many others, however, would not be so lucky.
The Little Flying Swordsmen (小飛侠--the name also used in Chinese for "Peter Pan") are a class of malicious forest and mountain spirit entity known in Taiwanese Hokkien as mo-sin-a (魔神仔), and theydelight in leading travelers astray, even causing them to vanish. (See Professor Zhang Xun's A Study on the Folklore of Mo-sin-a in Taiwan [ 台湾魔神仔傳說考察]; Taipei: National Chengchih University, 2010.) They might very well be a more modern version of the ancient wangliang (魍魉), a sprite of rivers, swamps, forests and mountains, or a similar being of the mountains, the chimei ( 螭魅), both of which were said to "mislead" or "delude" unwary peopleand to be avoided (seethe entries in The Dictionary of Chinese Folk Beliefs and Customs [中国民间信仰风俗辞典], Wang Jinglin & Xu Tao, eds; Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlian Chubanshe; 1997). The people of Xiamen, or Hsia-men, the port from which the ancestors of many today's Taiwanese left Fujian to travel to Taiwan, knew of the mo-sin-a. Back in Southern Fujian, China, just as on Taiwan today, these entities were regarded as responsible for causing others to vanish without a trace. The mo-sin-a perhaps represent the personified deep-seated human fear of the desolate, seldom visited and lonely mountains and forests, the same fear that, while not preventing organized expeditions to the New World, also manifested itself among the European settlers in North America who saw the deep woods as hostile territory full of fearsome beings. We see cognates of the mo-sin-a in the fairies of Europe, who could beguile a traveler or nearby farmer with their music, causing him or her to lose decades of time, as well as in the many types of dangerous goblins and demons that were thought to inhabit the forests and mountains of Japan, all of which have been so lovingly and creatively cataloged by Mizuki Shigeru. Jacques Vallee in his Passport to Magonia links primarily traditional European folklore, anomalous visitations similar to the mo-sin-a and UFO sightings.
Motifs: cE272.5, "Ghost misleads travelers"; F402.1.1, "Spirit leads person astray"; S147, "Abandonment on mountain."
I'm an English teacher and collector/translator of Chinese-language folktales from Southeastern China--Guangdong and Fujian--and from the island of Taiwan. In addition, I have posted stories from China's extreme Northwest and Northeast. I have translated and adapted each folktale and have attached cultural and folklore notes for each particular story.
Please note these tales are definitely not PC; folktales and fairy tales are essentially never PC. I bring them to you "warts and all."
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