Monday, February 4, 2019

The Mouse's Wedding Night--Two Versions (Han)

The upcoming Chinese New Year will be the Year of the Pig. However, very much associated with the new year is a fable known all over China and Taiwan, and it concerns an evening several days into the new year when two mice (or rats) have a grand wedding ceremony. As huge as China is, it isn't surprising that there is more than one version.

Happy New Year!

(1) A Version From Foshan, Guangdong Province

It was the seventeenth evening of the New Year, and there was no moon out. The mice were busy, all making feverish preparations, for two of them were to be married this night. This is, in fact, the night every year the mice are supposed to marry, and it is a gala night of festivities that would normally attract the attention of any cat.

And what of the cat?

Every year special precautions--dangerous undertakings for the mice involved--have to be made to take care of the cat. On this evening, all the mice join together to make sure the night's event can go off without a hitch, to make sure the cat doesn't take advantage of a bunch of mice gathered conveniently together in one spot.

So this is what the mice do. Being mice, they employ their natural talents to steal, in this case, several fresh fishes, along with an opened bottle of rice wine. Then, some other mice conspire to lead the cat to the fishes and the bottle of alcohol. How do they do so, you may ask? They leave a lucky red envelope on a path the cat is sure to take. The envelope will typically have the following words written by the mouse bride: "In celebration of the mice's wedding, three choice fishes and a bottle of rice wine for you, Brother Cat." Just beyond the red envelope sit the fishes and bottle of rice wine, an invitation for the cat to eat to its heart's content.

A mouse spy observes the cat as it begins to eat the fishes. The spy then reports back: "The cat has begun to scarf down the fishes!"

The spy returns to observe the cat drink the rice wine. As is usually the case, after the cat eats up its favorite food, it caps it off by drinking just half a bottle of rice wine, enough to plunge the cat into a nice drunken stupor.

As soon as this brother mouse spy is sure he can approach the cat and stroke its whiskers, the spy returns to the gathering of mice to announce: "The cat's drunk!"

The mice hear this and all laugh for joy and relief! Happiest of all is the bride, for she knows that on this very night she can indeed be married.

The festivities can commence!

With drums banging, gongs booming, and firecrackers exploding, the groom and his procession--a long, snaky line of kinsmen--arrive to pick up the bride.

As for the cat, if the feline is still awake, the mice know the cat will be half inebriated, still too drunk to chase mice, and more interested in munching any morsels of fish that might have been overlooked.

(2) A Version From Taiwan 

A mouse father and mother once had a daughter on whom they absolutely doted. They wanted only the best for their daughter, and as she grew to early maturity, they began to consider possible matches for their her.

"Only the best for our little girl!" the father said. "No ordinary mouse will do! We must find only the strongest, bravest, greatest future husband for her, mouse or not."

"Yes, yes," said the mother, "but, who?"

"I have it! The sun! Who or what is greater than the sun? Who is bigger and stronger than the sun?"

The wife agreed, so the couple went out to the field to call out to the sun.

"Mr. Sun!" said the father. "You are the greatest in the world! Therefore, we'd like you to be our daughter's husband!"

The sun frowned and began to sweat. "Well, thank you very much for your high opinion of me and your wanting me to marry your daughter. In all honesty, though, I'm certainly not the greatest and have to decline the honor!"

"But why?" asked the father.

"Because the cloud is greater than I am! If the cloud comes out, he can totally cover me up and you won't even see me!"

The father and mother looked at each other and nodded. They agreed that what the sun had said made sense. So, off they went to seek the cloud.

Finding the cloud, the father looked up and said, "Mr. Cloud! We've heard that you are the greatest in the world! It is for that reason we would like to ask you to marry our daughter!"

The cloud winced and said, "I thank you for the honor, but I cannot help you!"

"Why not?"

"I'm simply not the greatest! The wind is greater than I am. Every time he blows upon me, I disappear. You'd better ask him!"

Disappointed, the father and mother thanked the cloud and went in search of the wind. Finding the wind, the husband said, "Mr. Wind! We've been told you are the greatest in the world! Would you kindly marry our daughter?'

Hearing this, the wind, annoyed at the cloud for involving him in someone else's problem, responded, "Thank you for looking up to me with such regard. I am not, though, the greatest in the world."

"Who would that be, Mr. Wind?"

"Naturally, that would be none other than the wall!" said the wind. "Why, as soon as I hit the wall, my power crumbles! Thanks for your offer, but you'd be better off asking the wall."

The father and mother, now even more disappointed and fretful that they would ever find the perfect mate for their daughter, went to speak to the wall.

"Mr. Wall," said the father, "you're the greatest of all, and we need your help as parents!"

"Please tell me what's on your mind," he said kindly.

"We're at the end of our wits trying to find the perfect suitor for our daughter! We've asked the sun, the cloud, and the wind, with each telling us he is not the greatest. Now, the wind has told us to come to you. Only the greatest man will do for our daughter. Mr. Wall, would you please consent to marry our daughter?"

The wall was silent for a moment and then said, "It's funny you should think I'm the greatest! There's actually something greater than I."

"Oh, no," groaned the father, anticipating another quest to ask someone else. "Who?"

The wall laughed. "Don't you know that I fear most of all you mice? You mice are the greatest! You can burrow into me, causing me to crack here and split there until I am in danger of totally collapsing! No, no, I'm not the greatest. How could I be if I remain in total fear of you! How could I ever be the greatest if you could completely wreck me, leaving me in pieces?"

The father and mother laughed and hugged each other. They now realized the truth, thanks to their search and the words of the wall. They themselves--mice--were the greatest, the strongest. They put up posters announcing a competition for a mouse groom. The day of the competition would be the third day of the new year.

On the day of the competition, male mice from far and wide came to the area to vie for the position of suitor. However, it began to rain, and the rain caused a flood which washed out the bridge, stranding all but ten mice contestants on the other side of the river.

The competiton proceeded with the ten contestants. Eventually, the mouse parents were able to select a sturdy, dependable mouse as groom for their beloved daughter!

The pair wed and remained devoted to each other for all their days.

Chen Qinghao and Wang Qiugui, eds., 廣東民間故事集: 中國民間故事全集, 3. [A collection of folktales from Guangdong: the complete collection of folktales from China, vol.3]; Taipei: Yuanliu, 1989; pp. 100-102; 老鼠嫁女(民间传说)_百度百科老鼠嫁女的故事内容是什么?有着什么寓意?老鼠娶亲 - 睡前故事 - 5岁儿童故事 - 贝瓦故事民間故事:老鼠娶親 | 歲時禮俗 | 民俗文化百問百答 | 大紀元(5) 08老鼠娶親 - YouTube

The first version comes from Chen and Wang. The Taiwanese version is from the above YouTube link.
Interestingly, the Taiwanese version very closely parallels the details of the third Chinese joke from the 12/25/18 posting.

The Chinese language doesn't distinguish very precisely between "mouse" and "rat." Both are referred to as laoshu, [老鼠]. However, an informant from Northwestern China, one of my students, said that in his locality, rats were further distinguished as haozi [耗子] (i.e., "consumer," "waster," "one that gobbles up,"), though this too can indicate "mouse" as well as "rat."

Some areas (e.g., Foshan) hold that the seventeenth evening of the Lunar Calendar is the wedding night of the mice, while the tradition in other areas, such as Taiwan, have it as the third evening. Whichever evening it is, we are all supposed to hit the sack early so as to let the mice prepare and carry out the ceremony without interference or peeping from us humans. In addition, as V. R. Burkhardt suggests (Chinese Creeds and Customs, Vol. 2; Taipei, Dunhuang, pp. 43-44; 1977), offerings are left out as a plea or bribe to prevent mice/rats from depleting the family's larder for the rest of the year.  In Akira Kurosawa's 1990 film Dreams, there is a section titled "Sunshine Through the Rain," which is about the Japanese folk belief that foxes have their weddings and wedding processions in the forest on rainy but concurrently sunny days. All this is depicted through the eyes of a boy who sneaks off to the forest to see this phenomenon for himself. He thus breaks a taboo and is spanked by his mom and forced to write a letter of apology to the foxes to prevent future bad luck, just as some Chinese families might leave food out as a bribe to avoid trouble from mice/rats. My daughter's classmate, a young woman from South Africa, told me that in her native land such "sunshowers" indicated that the monkeys were having their wedding party in the forest. 

Still other versions of the second tale have the bride's parents coming to the conclusion that the best, strongest candidate for groom would be the cat himself. The cat very willingly accedes to the request, with the story concluding in a predictably much less than happy ending for the mice. 

Motifs: B280, "Animal weddings"; B281.2, "Wedding of mouse"; B299.3, "Animals (cat) discover liquor and get intoxicated"; C300, "Looking tabu"; C316, "Tabu: Looking at certain animal"; H310, "Suitor tests"; H331, "Suitor contests: Bride offered as a prize"; T132, "Preparation for a wedding"; 
cT133.3, "Drummer beats drum before bride on way to wedding."

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