Thursday, April 21, 2022

Moving Ahead (Han)

 A young traveler, a man, was hurrying through the night, desperately searching for shelter.

By the path was a lone house seemingly with all the lanterns lit. From the house emanated the sounds of people laughing and the telltale sounds of an ongoing card game. 

He decided to take a chance and ask for permission to spend a night. And so, in that past day and age when strangers could ask to spend a night in one's house, this young man knocked on the door. 

"Yes? Who is it?" asked a voice from within. 

"I'm just an exhausted traveler. May I request your permission to spend a night inside your house?"

The door opened and a man appeared. "Absolutely!" he said. "Please come on in." The man beckoned the traveler to enter and showed him to a room, passing by the table of merry card players. 

The traveler lay down on the bed and quickly drifted off to sleep . . . 

He hadn't slept for long when he suddenly woke up with a start to the sound of sha . . . sha . . . sha . . .   Somebody was in the same room, which was now lit with a lantern.  

He looked up and turned his head. 

An incredibly beautiful young woman was seated at a vanity table, brushing her long hair. And then she lifted her head right off her neck and held it in her hands, all the while remaining seated in front of the mirror . . . 

The traveler leaped off the bed and ran stumbling down the hallway to the table of card players. 

"Hey!" he cried, interrupting the game. "I just saw something that scared the life out of me!"

"What was it?" asked one of the men at the table. 

"I saw a woman who lifted her own head off her neck and held it in her hands!"

"That scared you? Really? Why, that's nothing!" said another at the table. "Take a look at this!"

One by one, each person at the table calmly lifted his head off his neck and placed the head right on the table. 

The young traveler dashed right out of the house and didn't stop running until he had reached a street in a town far from the house he had just fled. Daylight was now breaking, and people were busily setting up their shops and stalls for the day's commerce. Someone must have noticed how he was out of breath. The traveler told this person about the solitary house with people who could take their heads off.

"Oh, that house . . ." said the man in the town, shaking his head. "That house is on land that used to be an execution field. You just encountered the headless ghosts that still haunt the area . . ."


Chinese Folktales, pp. 148-149. (See the posting for 4/9/22.)

This story is very reminiscent of "Mujina," a story from Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan. 

The tale doesn't explain in which province all this takes place. An execution field would have been where people, of course, had been decapitated.

Motifs: E281, "Ghosts haunt house"; E402.1, "Noises caused by ghost(s)"; E410, "The Unquiet Place"; E411.10, "Persons who die violent or accidental deaths cannot rest in grave"; cE419.7, "Person with missing bodily member cannot rest in grave"; E422.1.1, "Headless revenant"; E422.1.1.3, "Actions of headless revenant"; cE422.1.1.4, "Headless ghost carries head under arm"; E577.2, "Dead persons play cards." 

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