Monday, September 18, 2023

Now up on Amazon: Sly Fox Maidens and Some Friends: Folktales and Legends From China Translated and Adapted for Reader's Theater

 Hi, everyone!

I'm very pleased to tell you that my book Sly Fox Maidens and Some Friends is available on Amazon. 

I've taken ten tales and adapted them for reader's theater. What is reader's theater? It is a story retold in a simple script form and designed to be performed without the need for costumes and props. Reader's theater scripts are perfect as classroom activities and allow everyone, even the shyest person, a chance to perform as a character in a fun and epic tale. No one is left out! The stories can also be read directly and enjoyed as they are. All the tales come with a pronunciation guide, a list of motifs, and cultural notes. 

Please check it out!

All the best, 

Fred Lobb

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Hai'ou and Baijuan (Xisha/Paracel Islands)

Hello, everyone. It's been a while, and I hope all are well. I have the pleasure of presenting a Chinese-language folktale from the Paracel or Xisha Islands (西沙群岛), which, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, are 250 miles east of central Vietnam and 220 miles south of Hainan, China. It's a contested region of around 130 small islands currently under Chinese control, with China's governance disputed by claimants Vietnam and Taiwan.  In any case, I'm not going to delve into geopolitical details regarding the Paracel Islands. I might hesitantly suggest that the tale below might be the first English translation of a folktale from this region. I sincerely welcome any reader or researcher to correct me if I am mistaken. 

Long, long ago, on the East Island (perhaps Lincoln Island), there lived fishing a couple well into their fifties. They were missing something that would have made their lives perfect: children of their own. You might say as a couple they were very happy together, but there was no denying that they were also very lonely and longed for the company of at least one child to call their own. 

The reality was, though, they were past childbearing years, so they prepared themselves for a future without the joys of having a child or children. 

One morning the husband and wife set out in their boat to fish. They cast their net nine times without so much as one fish. Then, at noon, they decided to cast the net one more time before calling it a day. Just as they did, a big wave hit their prow, rocking the boat. The couple quickly hauled in the net, which, this time, had a telltale weight to it. 

Had they suddenly made a huge haul of fish? They hurriedly hauled the net back onto the boat and unraveled the net to see what they had landed. 

What did they see? 

A creature with the head of a fish and the armless body and legs of a woman, both covered with fish scales!

Before the dumbstruck husband and wife could speak, the creature said, "I'm a mermaid from the Southern Sea! I was out playing in the ocean when a malevolent dragon chased me, threatening to eat me. I swam from him as fast as I could and accidentally found myself in your net. Would you kindly help me return home? My mother is waiting for me back home right now!"

The mermaid then began to weep. 

"Of course we will help you!" said the wife. 

"Show us the way!" said the husband. 

The mermaid guided them to the area where she wished to be dropped off. 

Once she had reached the area and lowered herself back into the water, she turned to the couple and asked, "How can I ever repay your kindness? What would you like to have? Just tell me, and I will tell my mother. I guarantee we'll make you both very happy!"

"Well, since you asked," said the wife, "we are childless. What we want most in the world would be to have a boy and a girl as our children." 

The mermaid nodded and replied, "All right. Note this spot and be here tomorrow at noon. Bye for now!" 

And then she slid into the sea and was gone. 

The next day just before noon, the couple arrived at the designated spot. The mermaid promptly arrived to greet the couple, and she placed two very large eggs onto their boat close to the prow. 

While the husband and wife marveled at the huge eggs, the mermaid said, "Here are our gifts to show our deep gratitude to you both. My mother told me to tell you to keep these eggs hidden in the hold of the boat. Farewell!"

And with that, she was gone. 

The couple returned to the island, moored their boat,  and carefully placed the eggs in the hold. 

That night the couple lay on their bed in their hut and listened to the sound of thunder accompanied by lightning. After one particularly loud boom, they soon heard the unmistakable waa . . . waa of babies crying. They rushed over to the boat, and there, down in the hold, were a pair of newborns, a boy and a girl, hatched from the two eggs! 

With their long unfulfilled dream finally becoming reality, the overjoyed couple named the boy "Hai'ou," or "seagull," and the girl, "Baijuan," "white and graceful." 

Hai'ou grew up to be a very strong, able young man and superb fisherman, and as for Baijuan, she became a very lovely young woman and one who was very capable of steering the boat. Both of them, along with their attractiveness and other pleasing qualities and talents, became the talk of the settlement, filling many with some envy but also others with happiness for the couple who were able to have children at such a late stage in their lives. 

Eighteen years had now passed, and by this time the mother and father were no longer around. Hai'ou and Baijuan buried their remains on the island. The brother and sister took over their parents' occupation of fishing, with Hai'ou throwing out and pulling in the nets and Baijuan navigating the boat. They lived happy lives every day, even on those occasions when they would return to the island with an empty net. 

Now, lording over the islands was a tyrant called by all Yu Batian(渔霸天),  an obese bully whose girth and great fortune largely stemmed from his squeezing the money out of all islanders. In time Yu Batian caught a glimpse of Baijuan and decided right then and there to make her one of his wives. He sent one of his lackeys with gifts and a demand for Baijuan to marry Yu Batian the next day. 

None of this went over well with Baijuan and Hai'ou. Baijuan kicked the gifts into the sea, and Hai'ou roundly insulted Yu Batian. 

The tyrant's helper laughed and said, "Well, you can very well go ahead and kick the gifts into the water, but, mark my words, one way or another, my master is going to have you as next wife tomorrow. See you tomorrow!" 

He then left. 

Hai'ou and Baijuan, faced now with a threat they had never foreseen, both began to cry and shout in anguish until the tears just couldn't flow anymore and their throats had become raw with pain. It was now the evening, and suddenly they heard a woman's voice from outside address them. 

"There's something you can do!" said the voice. "Go into the hold of the ship where you'll still find the eggshells from which you had hatched. Carry the shells to the front of the boat, climb into the shells, and kneel down, and the shells will rebuild themselves into unbroken eggs with you inside!"

The brother and sister went outside and beheld the mermaid their parents had met so many years before. 

"Who are you?" asked Hai'ou and Baijuan.

"I am she who laid the eggs from whence you came," said the mermaid. "Now, act quickly!" 

The brother and sister watched her slip back into the sea. They then did exactly what she had said. Once they had placed the shells at the front of the boat, both climbed into the shells. The broken shells flew up and reformed themselves into smooth, unbroken eggs, all without the slightest crack, with Hai'ou in one shell and Baijuan in the other. 

The next day Yu Batian and his lackeys arrived at the hut where the brother and sister lived. 

"Find them both!" thundered the tyrant. 

His men searched the hut and scoured the grounds. They then climbed aboard the boat and scoured the small vessel.

One of the men called shouted to Yu Batian, "Master, they're nowhere to be found anywhere, not in the hut or on this boat, but there are two large eggs here right above the prow. Do you think it might be possible that they're somehow hiding inside these eggs?"

"Break those eggs open now!" screamed Yu Batian.

The men began hitting the eggs with clubs. Once the eggs began to crack, there was an earsplitting sound of thunder as fire and lightning burst out of the broken eggs, blasting everyone there, including Yu Batian, to smithereens. 

Hai'ou's spirit became a seagull, while Baijuan became the beloved white parrot that flies over the east island and that guides the boats of the fishing families, enabling them to avoid any trouble lurking at sea.  And the seagull? It always flies alongside the white parrot as a companion. You can still see them flying together to this very day!

from 民间故事:白鹦鸟和海鸥_腾讯新闻

The story follows a familiar course: a lovely supernatural woman appears; a local mandarin, king, despot, etc., decides to have her all to himself; supernatural aid is invoked; and the villain and his underlings meet a grisly end. 

The name "Yu Batian" might be translated as "Fisherman who lords over all."

I am not sure in primarily which dialect this story has been told; knowing this would perhaps lead us to the tales on which this one is based. 

The description of this particular mermaid was very interesting and perhaps, in my opinion, more startling than the way mermaids are usually depicted. 

Motifs: B81, "Mermaid"; B300, "Helpful animals"; B375, "Release of animal (mermaid) by hunter/fisher"; D150, "Transformation: Person to bird"; D493, "Spirit changes to animal (bird)"; E613, "Reincarnation as bird(s)"; F420.4.4, "Water spirits are grateful"; F815.0.2, "Helpful water spirits"; Q40, "Kindness rewarded";  Q210, "Crimes punished"; cQ552.1, "Death by thunderbolt as punishment"; T542, "Birth of human being from an egg"; cT548.1, "Child(ren) born in answer to prayer." 

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."