Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Righteous Tiger (Han)

Final posting for 2014. Once again, Happy New Year!

The events you are about to read occurred during the reign of Ming Emperor Hong Zhucong (A.D. 1521-1566), in Xiaoyi County in what is now Shanxi Province.

A woodcutter once set out to do a day's work. While way up in the mountains, he slipped and fell into a deep valley, losing consciousness.

When he came to, he discovered he had landed, of all places, into the midst of a tiger's den. Right by his side were two tiger cubs, crying to be fed. The woodcutter raised his head and surveyed his plight : He was indeed in a deep valley surrounded by high walls of rock and stone. There was no chance of his getting out of there.

He sighed and prepared for what was certain to be a brutal death.

Around what he reckoned to be noon, an adult tiger showed up, dragging a deer carcass. The tiger ripped into the carcass and tossed the cubs some meat. The tiger then turned to the woodcutter and did the same for him--throwing him a chunk of deer meat.

The woodcutter was still frightened out of mind but took stock of the situation. He still expected a swift, violent death, but he was also very, very hungry. So, he took the raw meat that had been offered and, like an animal himself, he wolfed the meat down in the presence of the tiger and cubs.

Once the cubs and woodcutter had been fed, the tiger quickly climbed its way out of the canyon and disappeared. It returned that evening with more fresh meat for the cubs and the woodcutter.

The woodcutter noted that the tiger had so far not harmed one hair of his head.

Time passed on, and the woodcutter one day discovered he had been living with the tigers for a month or so. During this time, he had gotten fatter and become more comfortable among the predator felines. In time, he played and roared with them.

The day came for the cubs to venture out of their lair with the adult tiger. The big tiger allowed one cub to climb onto its back and picked the other up with its massive jaws. The tiger approached the woodcutter, and the woodcutter understood this to mean he, the woodcutter, was to ride along with the cubs.

The woodcutter knelt before the tiger and said, "Please, Highness, don't pick me up and carry me along this way! It would surely mean my death!"

The tiger looked at him and then, with his two cubs, leaped out of the lair. By and by the tiger returned, this time without the cubs. The tiger knelt before the woodcutter and allowed the man to climb onto its back, which the woodcutter did without hesitation. The woodcutter hugged the tiger's neck for dear life. The tiger let out a roar and headed for the side of the cliff, which it very smoothly scaled. The tiger shortly reached the forest, still carrying the woodcutter on its back. Once in the forest, the tiger let the woodcutter down.

"Kind Highness," said  the woodcutter, kneeling, "I'll never forget you for the rest of my life! I'm afraid I've been away from my world too long and no longer know where I am. Could you please take me to the nearest road so I can find myself back to town?"

The tiger obliged him, nodded its head, and then deposited him by a road.

With tears in his eyes, the woodcutter said, "Highness, there's no way I can ever adequately repay you for all you've done for me. I shall return to my home. I will purchase and raise a hog. Two months from today at noon, go to the courier station outside the West Gate. I'll have a juicy hog waiting for you!"

The tiger seemed to understand, nodded its head, and departed.

Two months later from that day, the tiger showed up at the West Gate but far too early. It looked around for the woodcutter, didn't find him, and proceeded into the town proper. A huge uproar ensued, with townspeople screaming and fleeing in all directions. The county magistrate called out armed guards who succeeded in trapping the tiger alive. The guards then transported the subdued tiger to the magistrate's office so the magistrate could decide what to do with the animal.

The woodcutter heard the news about what had happened. He rushed to the magistrate's office, ran up to the tiger, and there, in front of all the astonished witnesses, knelt before the tiger, hugging it. There, in the silent chamber, all beheld the tiger's face flowing with tears.

"Highness . . ." said the woodcutter. "You came too early! Oh, how could that have been a good idea . . . "

The county magistrate was amazed at what he had just seen and asked the woodcutter to explain all this.
Then, having heard the woodcutter's story, the county magistrate said, "This is a righteous tiger! How could I ever punish it?"

He ordered the tiger released to the thunderous cheers of all present.

The tiger was then allowed to accompany the woodcutter to the West Gate, where the woodcutter had a butchered hog delivered to the tiger. The tiger devoured the hog with gusto. Then, when there was nothing left of the hog, the tiger tarried, reluctant to leave. It finally left, turning its head back to look at the woodcutter each time it took several steps. Finally, the tiger was gone.

Everyone there was moved beyond speech.

from 魅影之匣 [A Box of Beguiling Shadows], Chen Peng, ed.; pp. 34-35.  (See 6/29/14 for full citation.)

This is one version of a beloved fable of a friendship between a human and what should have been a mortal enemy--a tiger. This version doesn't not identify the sex of the tiger or explain whether the man and tiger ever saw each other again. 

Another more famous version of the "Righteous Tiger"concept is "The Noble Tiger," classified by folklore scholar Professor Nai-tung Ting as tale *156D in A Type Index of Chinese Folktales (FF Communications No. 223, Helsinki, 1978). In that particular legend, a tiger kills an old woman's only son. She sues the tiger in court, resulting in a subpeona being issued against the tiger. An inebriated court officer (who else?) goes to the forest and serves the summons to the tiger. The tiger then volunteers to go to court, and later, to make up for what he had done, he attends to the old woman until her death by supplying her with food. 

The original author was Wang Shizhen (1634-1711) of the Qing Dynasty. This tale comes from his anthology 池北偶谈 [Unexpected Tales From North of the Pond].

Motifs: A511.2.2.2., "Hero (man) cared for by tiger"; B.431.3, "Helpful tiger"; B.557.10, "Tiger carries person."

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