Saturday, September 24, 2022

Right to the Bone (Han & Hui)

 There was once a young man who had married a young woman, but, unfortunately, shortly afterward both of his parents passed away. 

Now this young man, not exactly the most handsome groom around, was addicted to gambling and drinking, and, at the same time, he was averse to working. He would often leave his wife for two or three days to attend gambling parties. 

Probably needless to say, his wife was extremely upset over all this. 

One day, the wife was out by the river doing the laundry. A hunter with a rifle slung across his back and with a dog in the lead approached. The wife could see his visage in the reflection on the water. 

Oh, she thought, that is definitely one handsome man! To be together with a man like that, even for but a day, would be worth it!

She totally lost her interest in washing the clothes and instead just watched the hunter disappear into the forest. 

She returned home and lay down on the bed, where she sank into a near coma-like state, not eating or drinking so much as a drop of water. This went on for days, and nothing passed her lips, not even herbal medicine that had been brought to her. She also began to lose her eyesight. 

She called for her husband. 

"Husband," she said, "my time is nearly up. After I go, don't bury me. Instead, place my body in the cave overlooking the cliff and have the entrance sealed up. In time, a man will come by the house and offer to buy my bones for a good price. Take him up on the offer. Do you hear me?"

"Yes," he replied. 

And so it was done. 

Three years passed by. 

A stranger in the neighborhood showed up at the house and asked the young widower if he had any antiques to sell. The latter didn't have any because being the gambler he was, he had already long before sold off nearly all the belongings left to him by his parents. He did have something, though. 

"I don't have any antiques," he said, "but would you be interested in buying some bones?"

"Human bones?"


"I might be," asked the buyer. "I'll tell you what. Do this: show me a finger bone and I'll let  you know."

The widower went up to the cave, unsealed the entrance, and fetched one of his wife's finger bones. He brought it back to show the buyer. 

When the buyer showed interest in this single finger bone, the widower asked, "How much would you pay me for the entire skeleton?"

"Three hundred ounces of silver."

It was a deal. When it came time for the buyer to take the skeleton away, the widower suddenly held up his hand to stop him from leaving. 

"Just a moment!" he said. 

"Hold on," said the buyer. "Are you trying now to back out of the deal? I gave you your silver,  didn't I?"

"No, no," I'm not trying to back out of our deal. I simply wanted to ask why on earth anyone would want human bones. I'm just curious. That's all."

"I see. Very well. In my family, for the past seven generations, we have collected human bones to concoct a remedy for lovesickness. It's critical that the bones, like the ones I purchased from you, are the so-called 'engraved' bones." 

"Oh? And what are these 'engraved' bones you are talking about?"

"Each person who dies while longing for another person has an image of that person engraved upon his or her bones. Here, take a look at one of these bones you sold to me . . ."

The widower took a look. Sure enough on the bone itself, he could see the faint outline of what appeared to be a man with what appeared to be a rifle on his back. 

How could this even be? thought the widower. 


[刻骨] See the post for 8/8/18 for full citation.

To "engrave the bone" [刻骨]means "to remember something indelibly." It suggests that the memory, love, or hatred for somebody or something is incised in that person's very being, something deep-rooted, if you will. We reveal a similar concept in English when we say of someone that "beauty is skin deep, but ugly/ugliness is to the bone." 

Motifs: D1812.2.4, "Dying woman's (man's) power of prophecy"; F1041.1.4, "Death from longing"; M391, "Fulfillment of prophecy"; T11.5, "Falling in love with (someone's) reflection in the water"; T15, "Love at first sight"; T24.1, "Lovesickness"; T81.2, "Death from unrequited love"; T211.4.1, "Wife's corpse kept after death"; T271, "Neglected wife"; W111.4, "Lazy husband." 

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Phantom Postman (Hong Kong)

 This story and its variants made the rounds back in the 1960s.

It was very late at night one evening. A fully uniformed mailman with a mailbag was seen walking down Queen's Road in the same manner as any postal carrier would in the middle of the day away from the former Wanchai post office.

 His body language did not suggest he was off duty, relaxed, and now on the way home. No, carrying his mailbag, he walked down the street with the professional determination of one who has a job to do. 

To see a mailman on duty so late at night was odd enough; this wouldn't be, however, the strangest aspect of the story. The most bizarre details were yet to come. 

Some who passed by him on the street stated the mailman was devoid of facial features; others said his eyes emitted light. 

Those who received mail late that night opened the ordinary appearing and properly addressed envelopes only to find, according to some sources, either a blank sheet of folded paper or a bill of paper money. It is said that most of these recipients of the letters regarded all this as some kind of prank. 

Sadly, those who passed by him and saw his face and those who received letters from him would all have something in common--each individual would pass away within three days. 

When news of this became known, it caused many, of course, to be greatly afraid. So, some unnamed residents contracted the services of a ghost catcher or exorcist from nearby Hung Shing Temple [洪聖廟] in Wanchai. The powers of the spirit that had manifested itself as a mail carrier were admittedly very formidable, and the holy man charged with ridding Hong Kong of this specter was unable to extinguish the menace completely. However, in the end, the exorcist succeeded in at least keeping the spirit at bay in some kind of limbo, thus making it unable to continue its rounds as long as he, the holy man, lived. 

In time, the holy man passed away, and his son took his place in making sure the threat posed by the deadly being remained neutralized. According to one version, the son of the holy man said to the spirit, "Until the day I die, you shall not return to plague this area!" 

At the time this is being written, the son of the holy man is still said to be alive, and so the frightful presence remains inactive . . . for now . . . 


Fan Qicong & Shi Zhiming. Xianggong Dushi Chuanshuo Da Baike 香港都市傳說大百科 [The Big Encyclopedia of Hong Kong Urban Legends], Chunghwa Book Company, 2021, pp. 76-82.都市传说香港鬼邮差 - Google Search

Fan Qicong and Shi Zhiming suggest that the ghostly mail carrier might be a modern manifestation of a being from ancient Chinese mythology, the ghost courier, or psychopomp, that escorts the dead to the underworld. They specifically cite Ox-Head [牛頭] and Horse-Face [馬面], two of the most famous examples of such couriers as possible inspirations.

Motifs: F159.4, "Demon guide on otherworld journey"; M341, "Death prophesized."  

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."

Friday, June 17, 2022

Forest Vampire -- a Legend from Chaozhou, Guangdong

 In a rugged, forested, and mountainous area called Leiling, someone had once left a coffin with a dead body inside. Into that body eventually entered some miasma, some airborne evil spirit, infecting that corpse, turning it into a jiangshi, a vampire. 

And so, in the darkness of night, the vampire would venture out of its coffin and seek out humans who happened to be out in the forests of this hill country. It would appear behind them and envelop them with its arms, hugging and, thus, killing them, all this being accomplished in mere seconds. 

Despite the ruggedness and remoteness of the terrain, more than a few people fell victim to this vampire.

Now, it so happened that a man in the area had arranged with another family for his son to marry their daughter. Early one evening, he had a bridal sedan chair carried by two porters show up at the bride's house to escort her to the home of the groom. The bride climbed up into the sedan chair, one of the porters closed the curtains to her compartment, and the porters picked up the sedan chair to head for their destination. 

The path would take them through the forest. 

Once in the forest, the porters suddenly felt the need to relieve themselves. They gingerly put the sedan chair down and headed off into the bushes to take care of nature's business. They came back to the sedan chair as soon as they could, hoisted the chair, and quickly completed the journey, arriving at the groom's house. 

The groom eagerly came out of the house to greet his bride. He pulled back the curtains . . .

There sat his bride; from seven gaping holes in her lifeless pale body trickled blood . . .

What was supposed to have been a day of joy now turned into one of unspeakable tragedy. The family members and friends of the bride and groom had the two porters arrested and hauled into the yamen.  The county magistrate heard the case. He knew that a vampire had been responsible for murdering the unfortunate bride. He also reasoned the two porters would not have likely killed the bride and then still delivered her corpse to the groom's family. He came to the conclusion that the vampire had killed her while they, the porters, had been preoccupied with relieving themselves in the bushes. 

The county magistrate next had his men comb the area where the vampire had likely been. Its coffin was located, and the vampire was still inside it. The magistrate's men attacked the vampire with all the weapons they had. The vampire, though, as stiff as a log, extended its arms in an attempt to hug its attackers. 

The magistrate ordered the men to destroy the coffin to prevent the vampire from having a sanctuary to which it could return. With the rigid vampire now on the ground and under the watchful eyes of some of the armed men, the other men burned the coffin. The vampire rose and turned towards a tree and embraced the tree. The magistrate then ordered the tree, along with the vampire, to be burnt as well. 

The vampire would not plague this area ever again. 


Chaozhou Minjian Gushi 潮州民間故事 [Chaozhou Folktales], Chen Di, ed.; pp. 48-49.  (See 7/22/07 for complete citation.) 

One wonders why a bridal party would deliberately take a route through a part of the forest frequented by a vampire, but then again this is folklore, where ironies and inconsistencies with logic abound. Greater "truths," however, remain: the forest is a cold, unwelcoming place that is the home to beings whose very existence is adverse to humans. In addition, unburied corpses that are not provided the proper rites accorded to other decedents could very well be reanimated to curse any unlucky person who crosses their paths. 

For another story about a vampire, see the post for 4/9/22. 

Motifs: E20, "Malevolent return from the dead"; E250, "Bloodthirsty revenant"; E251, "Vampire"; cE363.1.1., "Ghost (vampire) substitutes for bride on her wedding journey." 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Tale of Duke Tiantou (Jing)

 Tiantou was a very energetic and studious young man, and he also happened to possess a remarkable thousand-li horse. Not only that but he knew a fair amount of magic tricks. 

In time Tiantou married a wonderful, beautiful, and clever young woman. With her encouragement, he studied very hard for his examination. Her support--her delicious meals and her being available to help him by making sure that items like the lamp wick and inkstone were ready for use--enabled him to study well and to obtain the highest score, zhuangyan, thereby allowing him to become a noble at the emperor's court. 

His future would be secure! He would now be known as "Duke Tiantou." 

However, it would mean that he would have to leave his wife's side and live at court, where he would need to be constantly on duty. 

Tiantou deeply loved his wife and could not bear to be without her, and so he would mount his thousand-li horse and fly off to the emperor's court before daybreak every day, secretly returning late in the evening. 

All this was highly contrary to imperial orders; however, this is what he did, and for the time being, it worked very well. He got to be an official throughout the day and much of the evening and be with his wife in the early hours of the morning. 

He took steps to make sure that no one at the court, especially the emperor, knew he was secretly leaving the palace each evening for fear of losing his head on the chopping block.

Before long, the young wife revealed to Tiantou that she was pregnant. Now, Tiantou believed he had all the more reason to make the risky late evening/early morning return trip home. 

Tiantou's mother, now aware of her daughter-in-law's pregnancy, was still unaware of her son's completely illegal and dangerous nightly returns home on the flying horse. So, one day, she remarked to her daughter-in-law in a snarky tone: "Barren trees won't produce fruit."

Tiantou's wife mulled over her mother-in-law's words. She absolutely wanted anything but a "barren" marriage, so she contrived an idea to get Tiantou to stay with her, her child-to-be, and her mother-in-law. So, late that night, upon Tiantou's return, she fed him a dinner made up of his favorite foods: prawns, crab, and fish. She also plied him with rice wine as he eagerly devoured his dinner. 

With dinner now over, Tiantou, as drunk as a skunk, staggered to bed without taking off his clothes. He was sound asleep as soon as he fell upon the bed. Once he was good and asleep, his wife pulled off his court boots, footwear issued to all members of the court, and hid them where he'd never find them. 

Early that next morning, Tiantou woke up to the cawing of the roosters. He had gotten up too late, and his boots were gone! Where could they be? He looked everywhere for them, including under the bed. He tried waking up his wife, who, after what seemed like forever, finally turned her head, groggily denied knowing where the boots were, and suggested he buy another pair as she immediately fell back asleep. 

Tiantou tried waking her up, but it was no use. Panicked, knowing that there would be a very real possibility that he could be executed, Tiantou went outside and smeared the darkest mud over his feet and halfway up his pant legs to mimic the appearance of wearing court boots. He also used his magic power to stop the sun from rising, thus silencing the roosters. 

He climbed onto his horse and took off for the court. He landed, hid his horse, and rushed to the palace, allowing the sun to rise just before entering the court. 

The emperor had noticed how strange it was that the sun had come up so late that day and shared this observation with a trusted councilor. 

"Your Imperial Majesty," said the councilor, "a renegade is surely at work! Anyone who can stop the sun from rising and the roosters from crowing is a rebel and poses a danger to the court!"

The emperor mulled over this. He issued an order for his guards to find if any courtier had been engaging in suspicious behavior. When Tiantou showed up with his muddy pant legs and shoes, the emperor decided he had found the court traitor. 

The emperor ordered his guards to take Tiantou out to the chopping block. Tiantou was thus beheaded. However, instead of that being the end of the story, he calmly got up from the ground, bent down to pick his head up, and repositioned his head back on his neck. He left the execution grounds, went back to his horse, and flew back to his home. 

Flying back home, he spotted a boy herding cows not far from his house. He landed the horse and spoke to the boy.

"Say, young fellow," said Tiantou, "allow me to ask you a question."


"That grass your cows are munching on. Once it's gone, it grows back doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes, Sir!" replied the boy. "It grows back as soft and munchy as ever!"

Good, he said to himself. 

He got back on his horse, took off, and continued flying until he saw below a young woman picking some wild onions. Once again, he landed his horse, dismounted it, and approached the girl. 

"Young lady," said Tiantou, "I'd like to ask you something."

"All right," said the young woman, without bothering to look up.

"Those onions you're picking. They will eventually grow again, won't they?"

"Ha," she said, still not looking up, "what a silly question. Of course, they'll grow back! With some fertilizer and water, they'll grow back quite nicely, thank you." 

Wonderful! he said to himself. He was now feeling very happy and encouraged. 

He got back on his horse and flew back to his house. He tethered his horse and entered the house. His mother, holding a dead chicken, was surprised to see him 

"Son!" she said. "It's wonderful you're back already. We slaughtered some chickens for tonight's dinner." 

She prepared to cut the chicken's head off when Tiantou asked a question.

"Mother, if a chicken's head is cut off, will it still live?"

"Aiyo!" said the mother, cutting her fingertip by accident out of surprise from the question she had just been asked. "When the head is cut off, Son, the chicken dies!"

As soon as Tiantou had heard that, he became very still. His head then fell right off his neck, and he collapsed upon the floor, dead. 

Needless to say, Tiantou's mother and wife were deeply shocked and saddened. They had his body washed and wrapped in coarse linen before being placed in a coffin. A priest performed a ceremony, and the family performed three days of funeral rituals before having the body and coffin interred. 

Tiantou was gone. Now, his widow would have to live in the dark, quiet house. A few nights after her husband's death, she saw him in a dream. 

"My dear wife," he said. "Do this: slaughter a chicken every day for 360 days. Let each carcass soak in a tub. All of this will be helpful!"

The widow was about to ask him why, but Tiantou immediately disappeared. 

She carried out the instructions her husband had given her in the dream. Nearly one year later, the tub was overflowing with the stinkiest, most disgusting maggots imaginable. The mother-in-law poured boiling water on the maggots to kill them.

That night Tiantou reappeared in his widow's dream.

"My dear wife," he said, "use the tub of maggots and chicken remains to fertilized the field in front of our house."

With tears in her eyes, the widow did exactly that. Within two days, two sturdy bamboo trees now grew in the field. 

A few days later, who should come by the area but the emperor himself, riding regally in his sedan chair, taking an inspection tour. When the emperor and his party were passing the house, the handles of his sedan chair suddenly snapped, and he hit the ground, with his rear end taking the brunt. 

"You idiots!" he shouted at the porters. "Fix these handles at once if you wish to keep your worthless heads!" Then, turning his head towards the bamboo trees in the field, he said, "Over there! In the field! There are two bamboo trees. Perfect! Chop them down and use them for handles. Hurry!"

The porters did as they had been told, of course. With the sedan chair repaired, the party moved on. 

"Perfect!" said the emperor. "Everything's just perfect for me! The weather, the views, the bamboo! Everything is just perfect in my land for me!"

The porters were taking the emperor across a narrow bridge, and just as the emperor had said, "Everything is just perfect in my land for me!", the handles of the sedan chair once again broke, and this time the emperor tumbled far down into the river below. 

That was the end of the emperor. 

All this happened on August 15 on the lunar calendar many, many centuries ago. The Jing people still honor Duke Tiantou on that date every year. 



The Jing (京族 or Gin or Kinh) people are ethnic Vietnamese who live in China's Guangxi Province. A friend from Vietnam told me that "Kinh" is the name Vietnamese people give to the majority ethnic group in Vietnam. For two other Jing tales, see the post for 5/24/14. 

The lesson of this magic tale seems to be that there is a limit to one's power, whether it might be supernatural powers like Tiantou's or earthly, imperial power like the emperor's. For all his ability, Tiantou could still not prevent his own death. Here was a man with a flying horse who could conceal or otherwise stop the sun itself and even remain alive (for a while, anyway) after being decapitated. Yet, he also depended on his wife so that he could put all his energy to use for studying. One might add that Tiantou's very power, like that of a Greek hero, led to his eventual downfall. 

Motifs: A721.1, "Theft of sun"; B41.2, "Flying horse"; D1810.8.2, "Information revealed through dream"; E321, "Dead husband's friendly return"; cE720.1, "Soul(s) of the human being(s) seen in dreams"; F961.1, "Extraordinary behavior of sun"; Q200, "Deeds punished"; cQ211.0.3, "Emperor punished for many murders"; Q411, "Death as punishment"; Q428, "Punishment: Drowning." 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Dog That Became a King (Dai)

There was once a cast-off mangy, hungry dog, so starved that his rib bones were clearly visible. The wondrous monk Laxi took pity on this dog and took him in, caring for him so that before long the dog became healthy and active once again. Not only that, the dog became incredibly brilliant while under Laxi's skillful and magical tutelage. 

One day Laxi asked the dog, "If you could, would you like to become a person?"

"I don't only wish to become a person," replied the dog. "I would like to become the king!"

"Very well," said Laxi. "Come and jump through the hoop in my staff!"

The dog did so, and when he had touched the ground again, he instantly turned into a man. The man bowed and thanked Laxi. 

Patting the man's head, Laxi said, "Your name henceforth shall be Maxi'xiang!"

Now, it so happened at this time that the kingdom of Menghuidihai had recently suffered the death of the king, and there were no suitable heirs to the throne. It would be an understatement to say the kingdom was in a complete uproar as to what to do. Councilors carrying lanterns went out into the night and combed the area, searching for anyone who could possibly become the next king. 

Eventually, they came to the renowned Laxi for his help and suggestions. Maxi'xiang just happened to be with the monk, too. 

"Gentlemen," said Laxi, "you need not search any longer. This is Maxi'xiang. He can be the next king!"

On the spot, Maxi'xiang provided an audition, if you will, by demonstrating his advanced ability, thanks to Laxi, in martial arts and by reading aloud ancient texts on the science and art of being a ruler. 

The councilors looked at each other and nodded. Yes, they thought, this is the right man for the job. They escorted Maxi'xiang back to the palace, where he was thereupon made king. 

So, Maxi'xiang had now become king and wore the regal robes and crown. He sat on the throne with councilors by his side, with everything at his bidding just by the snap of his fingers. 

Yes, he had everything he could possibly want but one thing--a sense of security. He knew he had once been a dog, and he feared the day would come when this secret would be made known to everyone in the kingdom. But how could this secret ever come to light? Who could possibly give the game away? Only one name came to mind: Laxi! Laxi, the man who had saved his life and who had enabled him to become a human and king. 

King Maxi'xiang decided then and there that Laxi had to die. 

He issued an arrest warrant for Laxi on a trumped-up charge and ordered his guards to seize and to kill his former benefactor.

When the guards showed up at Laxi's residence, the wise and powerful monk was waiting for them. He came out to speak to them, and none of them, seeing him there before them, in all his powerful presence, felt able to approach him, let alone to kill him.  

"Who has ordered you here to do me harm?" he asked them. 

"The . . . king . . ." one of them answered. 

"Well, you go back and tell your king that I still have plenty of magic power to teach him," said the monk. "Kill me now and that power will be lost forever. The day may come when the king will realize this and blame you for having killed me. So, go back and tell him I still have many things to teach him, which I will very willingly do. If he's not interested, you can always return here to carry out his order. You know where to find me."

The guards scurried back to the palace and told the king what Laxi had said about teaching him further magic. The king thought about what Laxi had told the guards. Yes, he decided, there was still a lot for him to learn. The only way he'd ever be able to defeat Laxi and thus preserve his legacy would be to learn all the magic powers Laxi had. Only then, with Laxi gone forever, would he be able to rule with confidence and the dignity supported by abundant confidence. 

King Maxi'xiang left the palace and went directly to Laxi's home. There, he humbly apologized for his actions and intentions. Laxi just smiled. 

"You were correct, Master," said the king. "I have still much, much to learn! Would you still graciously teach me all your powers?"

"I shall teach you if you are able to squeeze through the hoop in my staff," said Laxi. 

"Hmm . . . all right . . ." said the king. 

The king squeezed through the hoop and touched the ground, whereupon he instantly turned back into the mangy starving dog with protruding ribs. 

And so, Maxi'xiang, once the king, was now again a dog. 


Daizu minjian gushixuan 傣族民间故事选 [An Anthology of Dai Folktales]; Fu Guangzi, Yang Bingli, Feng Shouxuan, Zhang Fusan, eds; Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1992; pp. 250-251.

For another Dai folktale, see the posting for 1/1/09. For another story about a dog that was transformed into a man, see 7/26/12. 

The staffs carried by monks may have large loops at the top; however, the story implies that either the loop in this story is particularly wide and accommodating or Maxi'xiang, in both his animal or human form, is adept at squeezing through openings. (A Google image search for "monk's staff" will result in many photographs of different staffs with loops at the top.) 

Laxi (腊西) is presented just matter-of-factly without any background information, leading me to believe he might be a legendary or cultural hero of the Dai people, someone without the need for an introduction. 

Motifs: B211.7, "Speaking dog"; B300, "Wise Animal"; cD22, "Transformation: common man to exalted personage"; D141, "Transformation: man to dog"; D341, "Transformation: dog to person"; D1254, "Magic staff"; K2061, "Treacherous plan of hypocritical animal detected & prevented"; N848.0.1, "Holy man as helper"; Q261.1, "Intended treachery punished"; R165, "Rescue by saint (holy man)." 

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."