Friday, July 22, 2022

The Legend of Guo Ziqi: A Case of Spirit Possession (Chaozhou)

 Guo Ziqi of the Qing Dynasty came from Beimen in Jieyang County. He came from a scholarly family with a younger sister who was herself an accomplished writer. Ziqi himself was still in the process of preparing for his exams. 

Ziqi decided to ask a well-regarded local fortuneteller about what his future would hold.

Now, the fortuneteller could foresee that Ziqi would become an official, but he did not outright tell the younger man that. Instead, the fortuneteller said, "If you really want to know what you shall do in the future, bump into your sister."

"Pardon me?" asked Ziqi. "Did I hear you correctly? I need to 'bump into' my sister?"

"That's correct, young man. Do so and your future shall be revealed to you. Good day."

That night, when his younger sister was bringing Ziqi's dinner into his study, Ziqi abruptly stood up from his desk, colliding with her and upsetting the tray of food, causing it to fall onto the floor. 

"GeGe! How could you be so clumsy?" she said. 

"Uh . . . it's the narrowness of this room that caused this to happen," he offered as an excuse. 

"Oh, please!" she replied. "Eight men carrying a sedan chair could come through here without any problem!"

Then it dawned on Guo Ziqi. He would become a mandarin who would be carried by eight porters in a sedan chair!

In time, his essay passed and he became a jinshi, the highest level of candidate in the imperial exam system. He became a top official at the emperor's court in Beijing. Before long, he married a local young woman. 

Flash forward now ten years. 

 A terrible thing occurred: Ziqi's wife fell gravely ill. A number of doctors were summoned, but not one could find a cure for the wife. When it appeared she was taking her final breaths, Ziqi ordered the purchase of a coffin and made the burial arrangements. 

Almost immediately, his wife rallied and, to everyone's sheer joy, made a complete recovery! However, the strangest thing was that his wife now talked like Ziqi's young sister--same voice and mannerisms. Soon there came a letter from back home: Ziqi's young sister had passed away from an illness--the same time that Ziqi's wife had recovered from being ill. 

Ziqi put two and two together. His wife's soul had been swopped, so to speak, for his sister's. 

Ziqi requested a leave of absence and took his wife back to his old home in Jieyang County. 

Once there, his wife, seeing the almond tree the late younger sister had planted and lovingly taken care of, remarked in Ziqi's sister's voice,  "Look at that! It's been ten years since I last saw this tree, and it is as tall and sturdy as ever!"

Then, when Ziqi's wife came face-to-face with the memorial tablet for Ziqi's sister upright on a table, she suddenly fell ill. It wasn't very long before she passed away. 

It is for this reason that in Chaozhou, ever since then, if an unmarried younger sister dies before getting married, her memorial tablet is not placed inside the home. Another location, perhaps inside a temple, is located for the tablet in case the spirit inhabiting a body sees her own memorial tablet. 


Chaozhou Minjian Gushi 潮州民間故事 [Chaozhou Folktales]; pp. 43-44. (See 6/17/22.) 

In his monumental book Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village (1975)Professor David K. Jordan mentions that in some areas of Taiwan, families keep the altar (i.e., memorial) tablets of deceased unmarried daughters in seclusion in rooms where the tablets are not likely to be seen (p. 142). In the same book, Jordan provides the reason why these tablets are hidden away and why, at least in earlier times, the spirits of these unmarried females were wed in so-called "hell marriages" [冥婚]. Han Confucianist commentator Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (A.D. 127-200), writes Jordan, stated that deceased unmarried women, not leaving behind children, could not be venerated in ancestral rites; for any family member to do so "would . . . be a breach of proper behavior" (pp. 151-152). (For a complete citation of the Jordan book, see the posting for 12/31/16.) Thus, this legend of spirit possession might be a contrivance to reinforce the need to isolate the tablets of unmarried daughters, just as many urban legends have risen up to reflect anxieties like stranger abduction, going to places where one had been warned not go, violating social norms, and so on. 

This story and "The Tale of Duke Tiantou" (5/31/22) share an interesting motif: A character dies only after visibly witnessing proof of his or her death. Duke Tiantou, having been first decapitated and then with his head reattached to his neck,  only dies when his mother reminds him that naturally an organism dies when it loses its head. Mrs. Guo (or the spirit of Guo's sister that inhabits her body), dies when viewing the memorial tablet to Guo Ziqi's sister. It is implied in both stories that the characters might have continued to live if they hadn't stumbled onto evidence that they should be, by all rights, already dead. 

Motifs: C300, "Looking tabu"; C900, "Punishment for breaking tabu"; C920, "Death for breaking tabu"; E722, "Soul leaves body at death"; E725, "Soul leaves one body and enters another"; E726, "Soul enters body and animates it"; M312, "Prophecy of future greatness for youth."

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