Friday, March 2, 2018

Yellow Werewolf (Han)

Note: This is a rather grisly folktale that is perhaps best not shared with very young children. As it is, it is a bizarre juggling of humor, fairy tale, and Grand Guignol.

Here we go:

There once was a farming family made up of two old folks and their two children--a boy and his younger sister. They were happy, the four of them, and enjoyed a peaceful life together.

Now, it came to the attention of the boy that the sheep herd was dwindling daily when he gathered up the sheep to take them out to the meadow. It was not lost on him that something was preying on the sheep between their being returned to the pen and when they were let out in the morning.

So, late one afternoon, after returning the sheep to the pen, he stealthily climbed over the walls of the pen and hid way in the back where he could enjoy a commanding view of the entire place.

He waited and waited . . . Then, he noticed the door of his sister's room opening. Out quietly came his sister. With a bound, she leaped over the walls of the pen and landed among the sheep. In an instant, he witnessed his sister transform herself into a yellow werewolf. With several savage bites, she devoured an entire sheep.

The brother observed all this and was shaken to his very core. He waited for her to finish her deed,  change back into human form, and leave. Only then did he, well after she had left, leave the pen.

As soon as he could, making sure his sister was out of earshot, he told his parents what he had witnessed.

"Mother, Father, only one thing can be true. Little Sister is a  werewolf!"

His parents not only did not believe him but scolded him to boot.

"How dare you say such hogwash!" they said. "How could your sister be a werewolf?"

No matter what he said or how much he pleaded with them, the young man could not convince them.
So, he just gave up. He packed some belongings and a little money, left the house, got on his horse, and rode out of the area.

He kept riding and riding, camping wherever he could.

One day he saw three hunters haggling with each other over four hawks. When the young man came closer to them, each of the hunters then agreed to take one of the hawks. As for the fourth hawk, they decided just to kill it. The young man intervened and asked if he could buy the fourth hawk. They gladly took his money for the hawk, and the young man, now with a hawk, rode off.

He rode on, stopping along the way to pick up a small stray dog.

After many days and nights of traveling on his horse with his hawk and dog, he reached a small village. Here, he decided to settle down for a while. He found himself a place to stay and a job. In his free time, he took care of his hawk and dog.

Several years passed. His two animal companions had grown to adult size. Both had turned into skillful hunting animals with keen instincts. He named the hawk Heiying; he named the dog Tianquan.

The time came when he started to miss his parents and his home and wondered how everyone was He decided to return home for a visit.

Before leaving, he asked a village girl for a favor.

"Do you see that basin of water over there in the corner of the courtyard?" he asked her.


"Well, after I leave, if you ever notice the water overflowing, unchain my hawk and dog and let them go."

Only when she had assured him that she understood, he packed his gear and rode away.

After a few days, he arrived back in his native village. He did not see a single person outside. Not only that but the buildings all looked dilapidated, with tall weeds growing everywhere. He galloped directly to his own family house. He secured his horse and quietly entered the house.

His sister was in the house, brushing her hair. She could see her brother in the mirror, some distance behind her, looking nervously around.

"Big Brother!" she shouted with joy. "You're finally back home!"

"Yes . . . "

She immediately rushed to his side and, taking his hand, led him back deeper into the house. He could now see bones strewn everywhere throughout the house. Then, he came to a door on which was hung a dried human head.

Father . . . he thought. He knew his parents were goners, having been eaten by this werewolf, his own sister. He was filled with sorrow.

"Brother, here!" said his sister, handing him his old two-stringed banjo. "Play while I cook you some food!"

She immediately disappeared into the kitchen, leaving him holding the musical instrument. He was truly confounded about what to do. He knew he must stay and somehow end the werewolf's reign of terror. He played the banjo; he knew if he stopped, his sister would certainly return, maybe this time as a werewolf. A weakness and inertia overcame him as he played music. Normally, he'd fight this evil with all he had, but now, realizing his parents were gone, he just lost whatever spirit was inside him and remained rooted at the spot, strumming the banjo, waiting for the return of his sister.

As it were, his sister was busy. In the kitchen, she sharpened a kitchen knife. Hungry, she went out and cut off one of the horse's legs and devoured it.

She reentered the house and approached her brother, who just stood stunned as he took in everything that had happened.

"Big Brother, guess what?" she asked."Your horse has only three legs!"

"Oh . . . so my horse has only three legs," he said, not moving.

She dashed out and returned shortly. "Guess what? Your horse has only two legs!"

"Oh . . . is that so? My horse has only two legs . . ."

She rushed out again, this time finishing off the entire rest of the poor horse. She went back into the kitchen and continued to sharpen her knife on the whetstone, taking her time, knowing her brother was in no mood to fight back or even simply to leave.

Out from a hole in the wall came two white mice, scampering right up to the young man.

"Hey," said one of the mice, "snap out of it! It's your chance to escape. We'll strum the banjo for you. Now, get out of here!"

He indeed came to his senses. He put the banjo down and let the mice make sounds on the strings. He quickly ran out a back door. He ran and ran until he came to a small reservoir, in the center of which grew a tree. He jumped into the water, swam to the tree, and climbed it all the way to the top.

Not far behind him was the werewolf, which soon enough arrived at the reservoir.

Hmm . . . she thought, he should be here . . . Where is he? She looked at the water and saw his reflection. Aha! There he is . . . in the water. 

She knelt down by the embankment and proceeded to drink up all the water.

After a while, she grunted. "Huh . . . He is not here . . . "

The brother heard this and could not refrain from laughing despite his precarious situation. The werewolf heard this and leaped toward the tree and proceeded to gnaw at the trunk.

Miles away, the village girl who had promised to check the basin of water went over to observe the basin and witnessed the water violently spilling out. She immediately turned the hawk and dog loose. The hawk flew off towards the young man's location with the dog bounding after it on the ground.

By the time Heiying and Tianquan arrived at the reservoir, the tree was tottering in the wind as the werewolf was close to gnawing completely through the trunk.

Heiying swooped down from the sky and plucked out the werewolf's eyeballs. Tianquan next dashed over and ripped out the werewolf's heart and devoured it on the spot.

The werewolf's reign had finally come to an end.

静宁民间神话传说故事 [Myths and Folk Legends of Jingning], Wang Zhisan, ed.; Beijing: Zhongwen Zaixian [Kindle Paperwhite].

This story is from a county in Gansu Province, inhabited by both Han and Hui people. The storyteller's ethnic identity is not mentioned, leading me to believe he is a Han, as Hui and other minority people are normally identified as such. 

The actual title in Chinese is "The Yellow Werewolf" ( "The Yellow Wolf Shapeshifter" 黄狼精, to be exact). "Yellow" can have a plethora of meanings, some positive and others, not so much. On the positive side, yellow was an imperial color reserved for the emperor. The legendary Yellow Emperor (d. 2598 BC) is still revered as a bringer of culture. Buddhist monks were allowed to wear yellow robes. In classical Chinese, "yellow" could also mean "gold" and "young" or "youthful." However, it can also mean "sallow," as in the insult "yellow-faced" (黄脸). By extension, this can also imply "weak," "spent." Of course, today "yellow color" (黄色) is synonymous with "prurience" and "pornography."

"Heiying" means "black eagle, ""falcon," or "hawk" (黑鹰), as "eagle," "falcon," and "hawk" are not always precisely differentiated in Chinese. "Tianquan" (天犬 ) means "heavenly hound."

In this interesting tale which is cluttered with motifs, the storyteller omits whether or not the yellow werewolf consumed the sheep bones as well as their flesh. Of course, the appearance of a telltale clue such as bones should have alerted the parents that something was seriously amiss. 

The storyteller also neglects to state if he sister metamorphizes into a werewolf after the brother returns home and when he dodges her at the reservoir. Also lost is what caused her to become a werewolf in the first place. 

Motifs: cB524.1.2. 1, "Dog breaks bonds and kills master's attacker"; B524.1.9, "Grateful hawk attacks hero's enemy"; D113.1.1, "Werewolf"; D1171.12, "Magic basin"; E541.2, "Eating humans"; H142, "Drinking enormous amount"; J1791, "Reflection in water thought to be the original of thing reflected"; K515, "Escape by hiding"; R311, "Tree refuge."

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