Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Tale of the Fifth Sister (Hui) Part Two

 So now Selim and Fifth Sister were happily married, and every day for them seemed to be a more joyful day than the one before. 

By and by, First, Second, and Third Sisters each got married; only Fourth Sister, Fifth Sister's twin, remained unwed, largely because she had remained very, very picky and obstinate. However, Fourth Sister was not blind. She observed how Fifth Sister ate well and didn't lack anything and had a wonderful, loving husband for the bargain. She became very regretful that she hadn't agreed to marry Selim. This deep regret and building resentment against Fifth Sister led Fourth Sister to hatch a plan . . . 

On a day when Selim would be busy working in the fields, Fourth Sister went to visit Fifth Sister. Fifth Sister joyfully embraced her jiejie and offered to make some tea. 

"I'm not here for tea, Mei Mei," said Fourth Sister. "I thought it would be fun if I came over here to help you with your laundry!"

"Why, thank you, Jie Jie!" said Fifth Sister. "Let's gather up the clothes and go down to the river!"

And so down to the river they went. 

During a break while washing clothes, Fourth Sister said, "Mei Mei, I wonder which one of us looks a little older. I'm slightly older than you, but I'm also single, while you're a bit younger but already married."

"You might look a bit older, Jie Jie, since your clothes are rather plain and of one color but mine have a flowery pattern," said Fifth Sister. 

"Anyway, I don't believe I look older, but let's do this. We'll fill this bucket with water from the river, exchange clothes, and then see whose reflection looks older." 

"Good idea!" said Fifth Sister. "Let's do that."

They filled the bucket and exchanged clothes.  

As Fifth Sister looked down into the bucket, Fourth Sister came up from behind and pushed her into the flowing river below. 

She then picked up the washed laundry and bucket and headed back to Selim's house.  Selim didn't notice that wearing his wife's clothes was not his wife but instead her twin sister. 

Life went on as before for a while . . . 

Not long after, Selim carried some water back from the same river and told Fourth Sister about a marvelous lotus growing on the banks of the river. He told her how beautiful it was, and so Fourth Sister went to take a look for herself. She came across the lotus at the very spot where she had pushed her sister into the river. 

The lotus, though, was shriveled up and not anything really worth seeing. She wondered why Selim had "deceived" her. 

The next day, Selim returned with more water from the river and told Fourth Sister that the lotus had grown even larger and was more stunning than it had appeared the day before. Well, Fourth Sister could not resist going back to the river to take a look. 

The lotus had shriveled even more than before. Irritated, Fourth Sister pulled the lotus up and took it back home to the outdoor oven and burned it. 

The next morning Selim went to the outdoor oven and discovered a peach pit inside. He tossed it into the yard. Within a few days, a beautiful peach tree had grown in the yard!

Even more miraculous than that, every evening, after Selim and Fourth Sister lay down to sleep, a large, incredibly sweet peach would fly into Selim's mouth, which Selim would then eat. Nothing flew into Fourth Sister's mouth, so she insisted that Selim trade sides with her on the bed, thinking that the peach would fly only to what had been Selim's side of the bed. 

Selim and Fourth Sister traded spaces, and that night Selim still enjoyed the taste of a luscious peach as he lay on the bed. And what, if anything flew into Fourth Sister's mouth? Just an acrid, bitter peach pit! 

So while Selim was away one morning, Fourth Sister chopped the tree down and hacked it to pieces. 

Selim returned and discovered his beloved tree had been chopped down. He gathered up the pieces of wood and deposited them in a corner of the yard. He then stood over the remnants of the tree as tears ran down his face and directly onto the pieces of wood. 

Three days later, the pieces of wood had transformed themselves into a snow lotus! 

Selim was overjoyed but also determined, to Fourth Sister's horror, to guard the snow lotus day and night. 

The snow lotus grew and grew and soon began to take on a definite shape, that of a human body. Finally, it grew into a lovely young woman, Fifth Sister, who was now very much alive. 

Fourth Sister must have witnessed this transformtion from the window of the house, for when Selim, rubbing his eyes in disbelief, turned to look back at the house and call Fourth Sister, he caught a glimpse of her fleeing off into the horizon. 

Fifth Sister recounted how her own sister had pushed her into the river and then brazenly took her place as an impostor. Selim now understood everything. 

In any case, Selim and Fifth Sister were overjoyed to be together again. Later, they went to Hassan's house to inquire about Fourth Sister. She had disappeared, they were told, and, indeed, Fourth Sister was never seen again. 

Selim and Fifth Sister then decided to put the matter with Fourth Sister out of their minds, and they continued to live happily together. 


Li Shujiang, ed. 中国回族民间故事集 [A Collection of Chinese Muslim Folktales]. Ningxia Renmin Chubanshe, 1988. Kindle Paperwhite. 

This story is reminiscent of two other tales, "Da Jie" (see 7/4/07) and "The Bride of Sir Gentleman Snake" (see 11/1/11, 11/22/11, and 12/18/11). 

The snow lotus (saussurea involucrata) grows on the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang and is used in a number of ways as a medicine. A lotus is a symbol of purity, for it springs forth from dirt and mire but remains untainted by its immediate surroundings, or, in other words, "pure."

The peach is a very important and symbolic fruit in China.  The peach itself is a symbol of long life and immortality and is closely associated with the god of longevity. Images of the god of longevity often depict him holding an enormous peach in either hand. Peach blossoms often serve as a metaphor for marriage, as peach trees have blossoms in the spring. 

The Hui people or, as some of them call themselves, the Han Hui (漢回)are an ethnic minority who practice Sunni Islam. Their distant ancestors were Arab soldiers who fought for a Chinese emperor and/or Arab, Turkish, and Iranian merchants who plied the Silk Road and who intermarried with local Chinese women. The Hui are physically indistinguishable from their majority Han Chinese neighbors; the most obvious differences would be their adherence to Muslim dietary rules and their observance of some non-Han Chinese customs and holidays. They may also have surnames that do not occur among Han Chinese people. Their primary language is Mandarin or whatever the regional dialect (e.g., Cantonese, Hokkien) happens to be. In the past, when there was a lack of literacy among the population, the Hui remained largely literate by being able to write Chinese phonetically in Arabic letters. 

Whenever I read a Hui folktale or legend, I always think back to my USC professor Dr. Henry Hung-Yeh Tiee (1921-2009), a Hui gentleman, who taught Mandarin. He was a very kind and patient man who always looked out for those of us like me who didn't have family nearby or in the States. He was also an excellent teacher and one who was devoted to his religion and who was proud of his Chinese identity. I'll always remember his making time to meet me when he returned to Taiwan in 1976 when I was living there. He certainly had many old acquaintances to look up but still reserved a generous amount of time for me. Many of us, myself included, would say of him, "His life was a blessing; his memory is a treasure."

Motifs: D212.3, "Transformation: woman to lotus"; D610, "Repeated transformation"; K22.12, "Treacherous sister"; K1911, "The false bride"; K1911.2.2., "True bride pushed into water by false bride"; K1911.3, "Reinstatement of true bride"; cK832.1.1, "Victim persuaded to look into well or pond."

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