Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Watching, Waiting, Yearning Cloud (Bai)

This story happened ages ago, when the Nanzhao dynasty was in charge of Dali, in what is now Yunnan Province.

There once was a young woodcutter in those parts. He was not only a woodcutter but a skilled magician as well. He could turn himself into different small creatures, such as a tiny mouse or a bird. He could also transform himself into a very handsome gentleman. Here is what he did: he turned himself into a mouse and, slowly and steadily, pecked a hole, made a tunnel and thus dug his way into the king's palace. Once there, he transformed himself into a splendidly handsome man and introduced himself to the king's lonely, reclusive but very lovely daughter. Before long, they fell in love with each other and couldn't bear to part.

They wished to marry each other but how? One was a princess; the other, a humble woodcutter, albeit a skilled magician but a woodcutter nonetheless.

Such a marriage didn't happen, couldn't happen, there or anywhere else in those days. The princess knew if her father should ever find out she was in love with a woodcutter that would be the end of him and, probably, her too.

"We will never be together in this life," said the princess.

"No! Never say that!" said the woodcutter. "Don't worry. I have a plan to take you out of the palace."

He had the princess climb onto his back. He then stepped to the windowsill, opened the window and stepped out into the air. He flew upwards with the princess on his back, skipping across the sky to the most remote part of Cang Mountain, where no one lived, to a cave on the side of a cliff.

When the king discovered his daughter missing, he was beside himself with worry. He had all available soldiers search the mountains and forests for her, but not a trace of her was found.

Meanwhile, the princess and the woodcutter were trying to make the best of it living in the empty cave. A cave is no substitute for the warm quarters of a princess, and so no matter how much wood the woodcutter chopped to build a fireplace, the princess found she couldn't keep warm. Before they had been in the cave very long, she had already become ill. She sat in the cave, with a smoky fire roaring day and night, coughing and shivering; her hands, icy to the touch.

The woodcutter looked at the princess with sadness; his magic was of no use here. He had to act quickly.

"If only I could get you clothing that could keep you warm!" he said to her.

"There is such clothing. My father has a robe, the Robe of Jewels, that will keep anyone warm no matter how cold it is inside or out."

"Tell me where it is! I will return to the palace and get it for you!"

"It is hidden in a cabinet in the room of his favorite wife," she said, and then she told him where this room was in the palace.

The woodcutter turned himself into a blackbird and flew back to the palace. He found an open window, flew in, and, when no one was about, turned himself back into a man. He dodged guards and hid from servants before finally finding the room of the king's favorite wife. Luckily, no one was there. The Robe of Jewels was in the cabinet the princess had mentioned. The woodcutter grabbed the robe, turned back into a bird, and, with the robe in his beak, flew back to the princess.

A guard saw the bird flying away with a robe in its beak. He told the commandant of the guards, who then told the King, who was sitting in his throne room. Next to the king was Lo Quan, a fearsome and formidable sorcerer and monk who now worked for the king.

"Check upstairs in the room where you keep the Robe of Jewels, Your Majesty," said Lo Quan.

The king and some of his men rushed upstairs to his favorite wife's quarters. Sure enough, the cabinet drawer that kept the Robe of Jewels was open and the robe itself was missing.

The king returned to his throne room, ashen faced, livid.

"I have something to show you, Your Majesty," said Lo Quan, handing the king a cup of water. "Please look in, if you would."

The king looked into the cup; he could clearly see the image of a blackbird flying with the Robe of Jewels in its beak. He handed the cup back to Lo Quan.

"That is no bird. That is a man who can transform himself into a bird and no doubt other creatures," said Lo Quan. "I think, Your Majesty, you and I now both know what happened to the princess. This bird-man abducted her. I will be more than happy to handle this matter. Do you wish him dead or alive? Captured alive, he might lead us to the princess."

The king lowered his head and thought for a moment. He then looked up and said, "I want him dead. Someone like that is much too dangerous to be left alive."

"Very well. I shall take care of it this very moment," said Lo Quan. He took the cup of water that still showed the image of a blackbird in flight with a robe in its beak. He pointed at the image with his forefinger. Immediately the blackbird turned into a stone donkey and dropped from the sky, crashing down into the waters of Lake Erhai, never to stir again.

The princess continued to wait for the woodcutter who would never be coming back. She waited everyday and all through the night. If he doesn't come in the daytime, she told herself, he'll surely be here by night! If not today, it will be tomorrow! She told herself such things over and over as her body became colder and colder and as a raging fever finally took complete control.

Just a few days later, she died alone in the cave.

In life she had watched and waited, watched and waited. Her spirit now turned into a cloud.

In time, this cloud was supposed to form over Lake Erhai sometime during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Then, from the depths of the lake would emerge a stone donkey, bellowing, ruffling the smooth waters of the lake. Upon seeing the cloud floating above, the stone donkey would cry no more and sink back down to from where it had come.

When this Cloud of Yearning is out over the lake, local people never take their boats out to fish or to ferry passengers. They believe that it is a dangerous time and fear their boats will capsize. The lake is left alone for the two lovers who still cannot be together.


from volume two of Zhongguo minjian gushixuan (A selection of Chinese folktales), Jia Zhi & Sun Jianbing, eds., pp. 361-363.

For me, this story represents something new: my first published translation of a folktale from outside Han Southeast China and Taiwan and the region of those who speak Altaic-Tungusic languages. The story comes from the Bai minority of Yunnan, who are primarily Buddhist but who have also preserved some animist beliefs.

I had to make some modifications to the story in order to flesh it out. Like many Chinese-language folktales, it comes in a very terse, telegram-like form with interesting sections left unexplained. For example, the original never explains who first witnessed the woodcutter's flight from the palace with the king's robe. According to the story, Lo Quan, a Han Chinese-sounding name, is not only a sorcerer but also a Buddhist monk. I hesitated about keeping his identity as a monk, believing that the collectors of this particular story might have been demonstrating some anti-religious prejudice that was current in the immediate post-Cultural Revolution period, when this story was published. However, later research indicated that this is a very old story and previous collections also identify Lo Quan as a monk (Yuan Ke, et al., Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian, 367). We can bear in mind this story, like the Manchu "Nudan the Shaman" (posted 1/20/08), might represent the inevitable struggle between two competing religious systems--the Indo-Chinese Buddhism and the native Bai animism/shamanism that occurred when a larger, more powerful culture imposed itself on the other and not be merely crude anti-religious propaganda. Thus, this story might well be an historical artifact. In Zhongguo minjian wenyi cidian, Guan Yanru et al. also see this story as a wistful longing for the now vanished open and relaxed courtship and marriage standards of a minority people (415).

A much less tragic story with a similar theme--the creation of a natural phenomenon stemming from the separation of star-crossed lovers, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid," can be found in the posting from 6/23/07, "Two Taiwanese Opera Stories." The story also bears some similarity to a somber story about a woman who, while waiting and longing for her husband to return, a husband who would never return, was transformed to a rock: "The Legend of Wangfu Rock," posted on 6/22/07. Both this story and the Bai story have the Chinese phrase wangfu ("watching [and waiting] for the husband") in their respective titles.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Rose-Red Horse (Manchu)

Long ago, during the Qing dynasty, over in the Aihunkalun mountains, there lived an old man named Wu. He had a rose-red horse, a foal, with fleshy stumps for hoofs. Now this horse could barely walk, let alone gallop or canter. So old Wu decided to put him in his cart and walk him into town to sell him.

On the road to town, old Wu ran into someone he knew, a young fellow named Fuling.

"Say, where are you taking that foal?" the younger man asked.

"Oh, to town to sell him. He's no use to me with those hoofs of his."

Fuling looked the horse over. He knew something that old Wu did not: this was a very fine horse with lots of potential, a "treasure horse, " as the local people would say.

"Sell him to me. How much do you want for him?"

"Three silver coins."

"'Three silver coins'?! That's a bit steep, isn't it? Couldn't I have him for a little less?"

"No." Old Wu shook his head. "Not a coin less. Three silver coins."

"Very well," said Fuling, handing old Wu the price he had charged. "Three silver coins it is."

Old Wu and Fuling then pushed the cart with the foal inside to Fuling's house. Fuling's wife, Qingrong, was in the courtyard hanging up laundry when the pair and the horse arrived. After the two men had taken the horse out of the cart and a while after old Wu was good and gone, Fuling fetched a hog butcher's knife and a stool. He placed the stool next to the foal and then, still brandishing the knife, sat down.

"What in the world are you going to do with that horse?" asked Qingrong. "Slaughter him?"

"Ha! No one's going to slaughter him. I'm just going to open up his hoofs so he can later do his magic. Watch me."

He then gently scraped away the thin layer of skin that covered each hoof. He was very careful not to hurt the foal. He knew a good horse when he saw one, and this was a very good horse indeed.

The foal could now walk with ease.


Fuling and Qingrong beamed as he watched the young horse get used to walking without pain.

Fuling took good care of the foal. Three years later it was no longer a small foal with wobbly legs. It was now a fine, strapping horse.

One day Qingrong fell seriously ill. He summoned a shaman, who told Fuling, "There's one thing I need to help your wife that I don't have with me. I need this substance to complete her medical formula."

"What's that?"

"A portion of a spider's web, but it must be a spider's web from a relative's house, yours or hers. Only that will do."

Fuling leaped up and prepared to leave the house. "I know just the place to get such a web."

"Where would that be?" asked the doctor.

"At my aunt's house."

"And where is your aunt's house?"

"Over in Aihunkalun Town."

"Aihunkalun Town?! Why, that's a good nine or ten li from here! Do you suppose your wife will be able just to wait in comfort and health for your return?"

"Doctor," asked Fuling, "do you see that jug at the edge of the table?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"Well, I'll be back with the cobweb before you can finish half the wine in that jug."

"Oh, really? Do you think you have a 'thousand li horse' or something?" asked the disbelieving shaman.

But there was no answer from Fuling because he was already out the door!

The shaman looked at the jug and the small cup next to it. He got up and went to the table, where he poured himself a cup of wine. Hmm, not bad, he thought. He poured himself another and took a nice, long gulp. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and said to himself, I believe I shall have another!

He was finishing the third cup when he heard a whinnying from outside. Then Fuling came striding back inside, clutching a bag.

"I probably brought back more cobwebs than you really need, but, anyway, here you are," he said, handing the bag to the astonished shaman. "Finish the jug yet?"

The shaman just smiled and took the bag of cobwebs. He finished preparing the medicine for Qingrong. He gave it to the sick woman. Immediately, she felt better and sat up!

Fuling had the shaman stay for supper. After eating, he took the shaman outside to see his rose-red horse. Outside in the courtyard stood the majestic red horse with his bristling jet-black mane and tail.

"Watch!" said Fuling, mounting the horse.

The horse galloped out of the courtyard. His fleet hoofs lifted off the ground, and he and his rider soon disappeared into the clouds before returning in a flash!

You can probably guess what happened next. The shaman told someone else about Fuling's horse, and that person told a few others. Those few others told more people. . . Soon everybody in the Aihunkalun mountains knew about Fuling and his rose-red treasure horse.

Fuling and his horse also came to the attention of the local Qing army commander, who ordered Fuling and his horse to show up at the army camp for military service.

"All right," said the commander to Fuling, "let's see what this horse of yours can do. Let's see if he is as swift as they say and if he can beat the speed of one of my arrows. When I let an arrow go, head immediately for the target next to the one I am going to hit!

"Get ready . . .  " said the commander, pulling back the bowstring. "Go!"

He let an arrow fly, and as he did so, Fuling and his horse took off. They easily reached the second target at the same time the arrow hit the first one.

"Interesting, very interesting," said the commander, as Fuling rode back. "We shall repeat what we just did. Now, get ready . . . "

In all, the commander raced his arrows two more times against the horse, each time with the same result.

The commander called Fuling into his office.

"I don't need to tell you," he said, "that you have an amazing horse. Sell him to me."

"No," replied Fuling, "he is not for sale."

"All right. Give him to me and I shall make you a high-ranking officer. You and your wife shall live very, very well. What do you say?"

"No, he is not to be bartered either. I'd rather return to my own farm than to be an officer here."

"Oh, is that so? You impertinent wretch!" The commander shouted for his men. "Guards, take this good-for-nothing rat, put shackles on him and toss him in the stockade! I'll deal with him later!"

Fuling was shackled and led away to the camp's jail. The commander smiled and said to himself, One way or another that horse was going to be mine anyway . . .

Soon, a big show was held in the camp, a demonstration of military skills, such as archery, fencing and horsemanship. The commander led the rose-red horse out onto the field.

"Mount him! Mount him!" his troops cried.

"Show us what you and he can do!"

"Go, Commander, go!"

The commander nodded. He climbed upon the horse. With his feet firmly in the stirrups, he gave the horse a gently slap on its behind.

To the astonishment of all there, the horse and rider shot up into the heavens!

Up, up,up they went, so far up that those below lost sight of them.

The commander held onto the horse's neck and mane with all his might. He was terrified. He screamed at the horse to return and tried tugging on its reins and turning its neck, but to no avail. They continued to climb into the sky when, suddenly, the horse reared. The commander fell off. He tumbled down through the sky, down through the clouds and all the way back to earth. He landed near the camp with a horrifying thud, and, well, it was not pretty . . .

The horse returned to earth too and descended right outside the stockade where Fuling was being kept. When word came that the commander was no more, the nervous guards released Fuling. He mounted his horse, tipped his hat to the guards and took off into the sky to return home to Qingrong.

It is said that once back home, Fuling called Qingrong to climb upon the horse together with him. Then the three of them flew off to some place far, far away, never to be seen in these parts ever again.


from volume two of Zhongguo minjian gushixuan (A selection of Chinese folktales), Jia Zhi & Sun Jianbing, eds. p. 345-346.

The original title in Chinese was "The Rouge Treasure Horse" (yanzhisede baoma). I modified the title to prevent confusion with a story that has a similar title. Three other folktales about gallant horses from Tungusic-Altaic sources can be found at these postings: 8/4/07; 12/11/07; and 2/19/08. Motifs: B17.1.4.1, "Infuriated horse kills driver"; F460.2.2, "Mountain folk ride through air on horse."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Falcon Flute (Tajik)

This story comes to us from a long time ago, when the Tajiks of the Pamirs, like virtually everyone else's ancestors, were in servitude to cruel feudal overlords.

Long, long ago, people and falcons lived together.

At that time, Tajik people would hunt with falcons. Just about every household had at least one falcon; it was not uncommon for a family to have two, three or even five falcons. Just as hunters today still go out with hunting dogs, so did the ancestors of the Tajiks take their falcons out into the fields to hunt. Then, at night, back home in their compounds, huts, or manors, Tajiks would sleep securely as their falconss watched over them and their property. Falcons were indispensable to the lives of the Tajiks, and together they lived inseparably, much, I suppose, like, as the Han Chinese say, "the lips and teeth."

In centuries past, the feudal masters of the Pamir meadowlands enslaved local Tajik families, expecting Tajik hunters to catch for them choice animals for their larders. Now these lords owned thousands of herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, while the Tajiks of that era had nothing, nothing but their huts, their falcons and each other. Any game these Tajik hunters caught had to be turned over to the master.

Now in those long ago days, in the Dapuda'er Valley of the Pamirs, there lived a hunter named Wafa, who came from a long line of famed hunters. Like just about everybody else there, he was enslaved to his masters, the cattle and sheep lords, and had to wear rags and old carpeting for clothes and be content to eat bones with meager bits of mutton attached. That was the way things were.

One day Wafa's grandfather had the great fortune to catch an antelope, something he had never done before in forty years of hunting. Think how he must have felt! "My biggest stroke of luck in years and years!" he kept muttering to himself. He had to keep pinching himself as he and his family quietly celebrated.

However, what to do?

By law, he was supposed to turn over any carcass from a hunt to his master, who would take it all and not share even the smallest morsel with the family of the hunter who had bagged it. Or, he could keep the antelope just for his family or himself. Of course to do that would mean holding back from his master. If he did this and was found out, he would have to suffer dearly.

"No," he said, "we're going to keep the carcass. I caught it, so I have decided to keep it."

Well, just as the ancients said, that "one can't wrap fire in paper," the news of the old man's antelope got out and found its way to the master, the feudal lord of the Pamir Tajiks, cattle and sheep. The old grandfather was taken away by the master's thugs, his antelope carcass seized. The ruffians, using a rawhide whip, whipped the old man over and over. The grandfather said not a word. He returned home, tall, proud but broken inside, and fell ill. Within a few days, he died.

This did not dishearten Wafa's father. Out hunting for his master, he killed a brown bear, and, out of defiance, decided to keep the bear for his own family. In time he too was discovered. This time, the master's men tied him up, dipped clumps of sheep's wool in a vat of butter, and then placed the wool on the man. They then set him on fire, torching him, burning him alive . . .

Now only Wafa was left, or, rather, Wafa and his one hundred year old falcon. The falcon had belonged to his grandfather; upon his grandfather's death, it became his father's; when his father died, the falcon was passed on to him. This falcon was old, to be sure, but it was as sharp-eyed and formidable as it had ever been. It could spot the smallest sparrow hiding in the brush 100 li away; it's claws and beak could rip the fur off a black bear. For these reasons, Wafa's falcon was known as "the king of all hunting falcons." Indeed, everybody just called the falcon "the King." With this falcon, Wafa caught much choice game, all of which he had to hand over to his master.

One day, Wafa was in a secluded valley, overcome by resentment and hatred for the feudal nobles who enslaved him and his fellow Tajiks. Wafa turned to the sky and, before his falcon as a witness, sang a song of defiance:

Tajik slaves!
You are like the shooting stars that fall out of the night!
You exist just as food for lice,
Fighting and dying without allowing even your eyes to close.
Fierce slaves!
With ice water for blood,
Like the mighty icy peak of the Mushi-tage,
Tajik slaves,
Will you always have to be shooting stars that fall out of the night!?

He went home without a day's catch. From then on, he caught less and less game; all of his hunting spirit had left him. In time he no longer took the King out with him to hunt. He just stopped hunting, and that meant he no longer turned over the best of his catch to his master.

The master, of course, noticed that Wafa was not turning over his intended portions. Wafa was told he would have to hand over the King to the master.

Having received the news, he turned to the King and cried: "Oh, Tajik slaves! Will you always have to be shooting stars that fall out of the night?"

"Wafa, O my friend, Wafa," said the King, "listen to me. Kill me as quickly as possible. From the bones in my wing, create a flute. Play that flute, and your wishes shall come true!"

Wafa was frightened out of his wits to hear the King speak.

Then, the old falcon spoke again.

"Quickly! Don't waste time! Kill me and use my wing bone to make a flute! Hurry! Before they come!"

Wafa was nearly out of his mind with grief but did what the King had asked. Soon he was left with a very thick wing bone perfect for a flute.

Not long after, the master's ruffians showed up and demanded that the old falcon be handed over to them. Wafa looked at them and just pointed to a pile of feathers by his hut. They looked and saw what Wafa had done and reported back to the master.

"What!" screamed the master. "Bring him out to the courtyard, and I'll beat him to death myself!"

Wafa was dragged to the master's compound and there, in the courtyard, he was stripped to the waist and told to await the master, who he was told, had something in store for him.

While awaiting the master, Wafa took out his flute. "I'm dead," he thought. "Might as well have at least a little freedom to play this flute before he kills me."

The master opened the door and left his house. Just as he did so, the noonday sky grew darker and darker. The master and his men looked up to the heavens. At first they thought the same thing--a sudden approaching storm. No. The sky had grown black with thousands of descending falcons.

Down the falcons came, driven by the music from Wafa's flute. They swooped down and pecked the slave master and his thugs, cutting and slashing their necks and backs.

"Are you doing this, Wafa?" screamed the master in terror and pain. "Are you making them do this to me?"

Wafa just nodded and continued to play the flute.

"Oh, for the love . . . make them stop! Make them stop!"

"And if I do?" Wafa asked.

"I'll give you whatever you want! Anything!"

"Grant to the each Tajik household of the Dapuda'er Valley ten sheep, ten heads of cattle and ten camels!"

"Yes! Yes! Whatever you say! Just get these accursed falcons off me!"

Wafa stopped playing that particular tune. He then played something else, and the falcons flew away, disappearing into the sky.

The master then, as he had promised, gave the sheep, cattle and camels to the Tajik families of the valley. For the first time in their history, these Tajiks could now breed their own animals and feed themselves with more than their overlords' scraps. Did the master have a change of heart? No, he did not. He was as glad to give the Tajiks animals as a hungry wolf is to give up a freshly killed rabbit. He thought about what he could do.

After he discovered the falcon flute was made of the wing bone from the King, he issued a proclamation: "Whoever kills a falcon and fashions a falcon flute from the wing bone will be granted a reward."

Sadly, a large number of falcons were killed for their bones, and these bones, now made into flutes, were turned over to the master of the Pamirs. Now, suddenly, their "friends" and "partners," the local hunters, turned on them and killed them.

The damage had been done.

Those that were killed fled the huts of the Tajiks, never to return. Since this time, for this reason, falcons roost away from people, deep in the mountains on trees by the creeks.

The call for falcon bones ended; the bond between the hunters of the Pamirs and the falcons had been broken.

Shortly after, not surprisingly, the slave master took back all the cattle, sheep and camels he had given to the people. The people, now too late, realized how they had been so cruelly tricked. However, falcon flutes still appeared; the people still used them but for music now, not to summon falcons. It is said that all Tajiks remember the sacrifice of the falcons whenever they play these flutes.

And so this sad and unforgettable story has come down to us.


(1) Dong Sen & Xiao Li, eds. Minjian tonghua gushixuan. (A selection of fairy tales). Beijing: Beijing Chubanshe, 1982, pp. 167-171. (2) Jia Zhi & Sun Jianbing, eds. Zhongguo minjian gushixuan. (A selection of Chinese folktales). Volume 1. Beijing: Renmin Wenyi Chubanshe, 1980, pp. 413-416.

One of the difficulties encountered in translating this tale is that the term for hawk (ying2) can also be applied to eagles and falcons. Even the name wu2ying2 ("vulture") applied to "the King" also occurs. Indeed, until recently I used "hawk" in this story instead of "falcon." In their magisterial Dictionary of Symbols (Penguin, 1994), Chevalier and Gheerbrant write that in their traditions, the ancient Persians, kin to the Tajiks, often failed to distinguish between eagles and falcons (326).

The Tajiks adore the falcon and hold it in as high esteem as the Kazaks do the swan (see the post for 12/09/07). Writing of the Tajik falcon dance, Guan Yanru et al. inform us that Tajiks view the falcon (or hawk or eagle!) as the embodiment of bravery and freedom. At weddings women play tabla drums and the men, the falcon flute as both participants move their shoulders in imitation of the beating of falcon wings (Zhongguo minjian wenyi cidian, p. 398-399).

Motifs: B300, "Helpful animals"; B350, "Grateful animals"; B455.2, "Helpful falcon"; B500, "Magic Power from animal"; B571, "Animals perform tasks for man"; F989.16, "Extraordinary swarms of birds"; and Q51, "Kindness to animals rewarded." has another version of this tale.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Emperor Shows up for Supper (Fujian)

In Fujian Province, near Yongchun and Dehua, there is a deep gorge full of boulders and sharp rocks all the way to the bottom. Local people call it Matiao, or "the horse jumps."

Centuries ago in Fujian, an emperor found himself in grave danger during some sudden rebellion or mutiny. He had to flee all by himself on horseback with the enemy, also mounted, fast on his heels. He rode and rode nearly the life out of the horse before reaching this chasm. He stopped. Before him lay the gorge; behind him was the dust storm made by the men and horses after him, after his head!

To jump may save my life, he thought. To remain definitely means the end.

So he made the horse jump, and they both made it across. The enemy horseman were forced to cool their horses' hoofs on the other side as the emperor made his getaway. The emperor, however, didn't wait around to gloat; no, he continued to ride on through the woods without stopping.

On and on the emperor rode, not daring to stop. Soon, dusk was approaching. He was desperate now. If he and his horse didn't locate shelter for the night, how could they continue? Ahead was a spiral of smoke. Smoke from an oven or perhaps an outdoor cooking pit? He headed in the direction of the smoke and soon found himself on a desolate plain beyond the woods. The smoke? It had only been a wispy cloud and not from an oven at all. The emperor was disheartened.

Then, off in the distance, he saw it--a grass hut.

He rode over and dismounted just in front of the door. Someone was home--he had heard someone moving about inside. The emperor called out to the person inside, who turned out to be an old man living alone. The emperor identified himself as a merchant who had been chased to this place by bandits. Could he and his horse spend the night to eat and to rest?

Yes, was the answer. "Come on in and rest while I tend to your horse," said the old man.

The old man lived in utter poverty, the emperor noted, looking around the very sparse hut. There was absolutely nothing here with which to entertain a guest. Soon the old man came in and prepared supper.

"I don't have much rice, sir, but what I have I'll be glad to share it with you," he said to the emperor. "I was planning to have gruel for supper, along with some fish. I hope that will suit you."

"Yes, fine, whatever you have," said the emperor, passing himself off as a merchant.

Then came the time to eat. The emperor was presented with a small bowl of rice gruel and a meager fish on a small plate, the same things his elderly host provided for himself.

The emperor then started to eat. The rice gruel was simply delicious, and the fish was the best he had ever eaten. The emperor normally ate the choicest, the best meat and fish, but the meal he had just eaten here in this miserable hut was, hands down, the most splendid meal he had ever eaten.

"What do you call these dishes which I have just eaten?" he asked the old man. "Both dishes were delicious!"

"You found them 'delicious'?" The old man found this amusing. The food of poor people, people like me! he thought. Well, this stranger thinks they are delicious, so I'll come up with a couple of special names for them. " The rice gruel is called 'pearl gruel,' and the fish is 'phoenix-eye salmon.'"

"'Pearl gruel' and 'phoenix-eye salmon'! Wonderful names, wonderful food! I shall remember these two names," said the emperor.

He committed the names to memory and went to sleep. Early the next morning, he got upon his horse and was off again. If he made it back to the capital, he was determined to have the imperial chefs recreate these two dishes for him.

Somehow the emperor was able to make it back to the capital. A huge gourmet lunch was provided for him--the rarest and most delicious foods of the land, sea and air. He wasn't interested in these foods, though. Only one thing ran through his mind: Pearl gruel and phoenix-eye salmon!

He summoned his chefs and told them what he wanted. They had never heard of or had seen these two dishes; they hadn't the foggiest clue as to how to prepare them. The emperor explained a little bit and left it up to them. They couldn't very well refuse the emperor, so they retreated to the imperial kitchen and wracked their brains. One chef decided to cut up a shark's fin and from it form little fishballs for the "pearls." Another slaughtered a pigeon, removed its eyes and stuffed them with rare foodstuffs into some fish for the "phoenix-eye salmon."

The dishes were now ready; the emperor had them placed before them and began to eat. The chefs anxiously watched and waited for the emperor's reaction.

He took a bite of one dish and spat it out. He did the same for the other dish. "No," he said. "Neither of these is right. Go back and try again!"

So the imperial chefs once again returned to the kitchen to try to come up with pearl gruel and phoenix-eye salmon. Once again, though, the emperor rejected the two dishes.

"Go get the old man! Bring him to the capital!" said the emperor. "This is the only way I'll ever be able to eat those two delicacies again."

After a long search, the old man was finally located and escorted to the capital. He was brought before the emperor, the man he had previously known as a visiting merchant.

"Go with my chefs into the kitchen. Prepare pearl gruel and phoenix-eye salmon exactly the way you did for me when I stayed in your home. You'll find the chefs have everything you need. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Your Majesty."

Before long, the old man returned with two plates--pearl gruel and phoenix-eye salmon!

The emperor took bites from both plates.

"Ugh!" he cried, wrinkling his forehead and nose. "What is the meaning of this?" The gruel was too watery and salty, while the salmon was too bitter. "This is not fit for a human being!"

"But Your Imperial Highness, I cooked both of these the same way as I had when you ate with me last time."

"Is that true?" asked the emperor. "Are these really pearl gruel and phoenix-eye salmon?"

"Yes, the two foods before you here have been cooked exactly the same way as the foods you had eaten before," replied the old man. "There's not the slightest difference. The only difference is last time you were hungry and tired and you had just escaped losing your life. Of course these two simple things were delicious at the time! I guess anything, even what I cook, would be mouth-watering to someone who was starving and who had just cheated death!"

"Ah," the emperor said, "ha, ha, ha!" All he could do now was laugh.


(1) Fujian minjian chuanqi (Folk legends of Fujian) by Huang Rongcan. (Hong Kong: Luoto chubanshe, 1978.) pp. 59-61; (2) Fujian chuanshuo miyu (Legends and riddles of Fujian) by Zhi Nong. (Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1956.) pp. 118-120.

The longer Zhi version has the emperor become lost after wandering away from the city of Quanzhou and stumbling onto the cottage of an old couple named Cai (Tsai) just before nightfall. Also in this version, the emperor himself comes up with the names "pearl gruel" and "phoenix-eye salmon" and later summons Mrs. Cai to the capital to replicate her two tasty specialties. Motifs: K1812, "King in disguise"; K1812.1, "Incognito king helped by humble man."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Defeating the Wolf Goblin by Strategy (Manchu)

Deep in a cave in a ravine lived an old wolf goblin, a malevolent shapeshifting creature.

Right across from this ravine lived an old man, a widower, and his four sons. Now this was a hardworking bunch, and through the efforts of their sweat and energy they were able to acquire a corral full of mules, a pen full of hogs, and a yard full of ducks and chickens.

This family of five men had high walls and a forbidding gate, but these were not enough to hide these animals from view or to discourage the wolf goblin who wanted them all for himself to eat.

What was stopping him from getting what he wanted? The front gate and the five men inside. The wolf goblin waited, bided his time, until one particularly very dark night . . .

On this black night, the wolf goblin, transformed into the likeness of an old man, came up to the front gate.

Kuang! Kuang! he knocked at the door.

"Yes?" came a voice from the other side. The oldest son stood behind the gate's door.

"Please let me in for the night. Before me, there's no village; behind me, no shop. I'm an old man without a place to spend the night."

"You need to be careful," the father whispered to his oldest son.

The oldest son climbed up the wall and peaked over the top of the gate's door. Below, in the moonlight, there was an old man all right, but what was that dangling behind him from his trousers? A long bushy tail!

He then knew that this was an evil being and kept the gate locked.

The next night the wolf goblin turned himself into an old woman and once again came up to the front gate.

Dang! Dang! he knocked.

"Yes?" asked a voice from behind the gate; this time it was the second oldest son.

"Master of the house, please let me in. I'm dying of thirst. Before me there's no village; behind me, no shop. Please let me in, or I'm afraid that this old woman will have had it."

"Exercise some caution here," whispered the father to his second oldest son.

Son number two crept over to a fissure in the wall and peered through. There was an old woman standing under the moonlight all right, but her eyes! They glowed like a pair of mung bean insects in the dim light.

He then knew that this was some malevolent creature and kept the gate locked.

The next night the wolf goblin changed himself into a lovely, charming young lady. Once again he approached the gate.

This time there was no knocking.

"Master of the house," he called in the most beguiling and feminine voice he had, "please let me in. I'm starving. Do you not have some food for me? Before me there's no village; behind me, no shop. Please help me! If you do not, I believe I shall die right here and now."

"One moment," said the third son.

"Be prudent, my son," whispered the father.

Son number three went inside the house and came out again with a berry tart upon a small dish. He headed towards a slot in the gate. "Stick your hand through here to get something to eat," he said.

The wolf goblin did so and snatched the tart but not before the son saw the thick black hair that sprouted from the wrist to the elbow. A maiden indeed!

The third son wisely kept the gate good and locked for the night.

Three nights in a row and no entry! This was too much for the wolf goblin, so he climbed upon the millstone outside the gate and screamed curses throughout the night at the family inside the house.

Son number four was livid and wanted to rush outside and confront the wolf goblin right then and there.

"Now is the time to be careful, my son!" said the father. "Curses cannot kill. Just wait it out."

Before dawn, exhausted from all the yelling, the wolf goblin dragged itself back to its cave.

The very next day at sundown, the father poured ice water upon the millstone.

Later in the night, the wolf goblin, this time in its true form, showed up. He planted himself on top of the millstone and proceeded again to curse the family inside, showering them with the vilest words imaginable.

For hours he did this. When he was hoarse, he decided to go home but discovered he couldn't--his bottom was frozen stuck to the millstone!

"All right, boys! Have at him!" cried the father.

From out of the front gate rushed the four sons, armed with axes and clubs. They set upon the wolf goblin, which desperately tried to escape but couldn't, and finished him off once and for all.


from Minjian gushi (Folktales), Lu Yao, ed. (Shijiazhuang, Hebei: Hebei shaonianertong chubanshe, 2005). p. 191.

I chose to drop a motif or detail from the Chinese original text in which the father prays to the god of the millstone ("the millstone king") for intercession. Malevolent, shapeshifting creatures abound in both Chinese and Japanese folklore, with the most common being were-foxes, were-tigers, and, here again, werewolves. For other folktales in which shapeshifters appear, see the posts for 6/8/07; 6/22/07; and 12/23/07.

The Story of Yishan Island (Fujian)

One day centuries ago, it is said that this happened.

Five fishing boats, each one with four fishermen aboard, sailed down the Min River, past the Min River estuary and out to sea. They had no sooner entered the deep sea when the weather suddenly grew ugly. Huge winds buffeted the boats, causing them to bob violently up and down like so many eggs in a large, shaking tub. Each man aboard the boats was a seasoned mariner, and each one also calculated his chances of surviving a sudden squall like this.

The chances did not look favorable.

Suddenly a voice rang out, heard on all the ships and by every fisherman despite the din of the storm.

"Head for Yishan Island! Head for Yishan Island!"

It was a distinctly feminine voice, yet no girl or woman was aboard any of the fishing boats.

"Girl," shouted a fisherman, "wherever you are, where's this Yishan Island?"

"You don't know? Then follow me! I'll lead you there!"

A young woman appeared on the surface of the sea. She walked on the water, calming it with every step she took, leaving a long, wide, peaceful wake behind her, a pathway, if you will, for the fishing boats to follow her, which they did.

In no time, they reached Yishan Island. The five boats, one after another, followed the young lady all the way into a natural harbor densely ringed with banyan trees.

With their boats now safely moored, the fishermen climbed down onto the sand. They looked everywhere for the young woman who had miraculously led them to safety on this unknown islet. They searched every corner until it was dark; however, she was nowhere to be found.

The fishermen trudged back to their boats to hunker down for the night. Who could sleep that night, though? Each man couldn't take his mind off the young lady, try as he might. Then, each man would later swear that he had heard that night a woman singing a soft tune that came like a gentle breeze. Nobody could tell from where this singing voice came or what it was saying, but somehow the men who heard it that night knew that it came from the daughter of a fishing family.

It would not be the only time this voice was heard singing and then calming the waves. A large black dragon living in the depths of the sea was behind the storms that raged along the coast and in the Taiwan Strait, causing so many fishermen and sailors to lose their lives. The young woman who walked on the waters, whose singing hushed the storms had lost her own father and two brothers to the violent seas whipped up by this dragon. To avenge her father and brothers and to protect all those who worked upon the sea, she jumped into the ocean to do battle with the dragon. For years now, they have both struggled, the girl and the dragon, neither winning the upper hand. That meant that violent storms would still suddenly erupt, as they certainly do now.

That night aboard those five fishing boats, the fishermen knelt towards the direction of the voice they heard and offered incense and their prayers of thanks. Then at midnight she appeared over the prows of their fishing boats.

"You need to sail back now. Head southeasterly. Leave now and you shall arrive home safely," she said.

The ships left the harbor and headed back.

"Miss, who are you?" the fishermen implored. "What is your name?"

But no answer came; the young woman had disappeared.

The five boats and the twenty men all made it back to port. They and others then began the search for Yishan Island; their plan, to erect a shrine to the young woman who dedicates herself to fishermen and sailors. None of those fishermen ever found Yishan Island, though some searched for a decade. No trace of such an island has ever been located.

Even long after, there are those who say that during the midst of a storm, a distinctly feminine voice can be heard, saying, "Head for Yishan Island . . ."


from Minjian wenxuejuan. (Folk literature archives.) Zhuo Zhonglin & Chen Huiping, eds. (Fuzhou: Haixia wenyi chubanshe, 1990). pp. 19-20.

This is one of many legends about the folk goddess Mazu (Matsu), a patron saint of all seafarers. She is a very popular deity on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. She was also once an actual person. The first mention of her occurred in the Song dynasty. In life she was named Lin Mo (or Lin Moniang--"Silent Maiden" Lin), born at Putian, Meizhou, Fujian Province. She was called "Silent" because, according to legend, she didn't utter a sound for a month after being born. Today, she is worshiped in many temples in Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan and wherever the descendants of those from Southeastern China live. The former Portuguese colony of Macao is named for her, and it boasts a temple dating possibly from the fifteenth century, during the Ming dynasty. The island of Matsu north of Taiwan and under Taiwanese administration is also named for her. The most renowned Mazu temple on Taiwan is at Pei-kang (Beigang), a popular destination for pilgrims. The temple in her home town, Putian, remains a very important center of Mazu worship.

Update, 5/11/10: Isaac Julien's film anthology Ten Thousand Waves has been released. The film contains a chapter based on my translation of "The Story of Yishan Island" and features actress Maggie Cheung.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Snail-Shell Girl (Fujian)

Near Fuzhou City, in the Min River delta, there is a small island formerly populated by fishing and farming families. Now long ago on this same island there lived a young farmer who was all alone in the world, his parents having died years before. His name was Xie Duan, and everyone regarded him as a great hard-working, decent, and loyal neighbor and friend, perfect as a future husband--perfect, except he had no money and, hence, no wife. Now early one evening, on his way back from the rice paddy, he spied by the road, right next to the riverbank, a particularly beautiful tianluo shell, a river snail shell, ending in a long, coiled sharp point. He picked this shell up and took it home, to his hut, and put the shell, containing the still-living creature, into a vat of water. The very next night, upon entering his hut, he discovered his hut had been cleanly swept and that a very fine, still hot meal was awaiting him on his table! A repayment for something I did and forgot all about? he asked himself. Well, he asked his closest neighbors to make sure, for he believed in "thanking those who dig wells," as the ancients said, to thank those who have been kind. No, they all said, we didn't sweep your hut or cook your dinner. Puzzled, he returned home and ate the very fine dinner, a rare treat. He put it all out of his mind as he went to sleep that night. The very next night, the same thing happened--someone unknown to him had cleaned the hut and prepared a hot meal for him. Again, everyone who lived nearby denied the good deed. Now the next night after all this, he came back from the paddy especially early. He crept up to his window, knelt down so he could barely look in, watched and waited. For a while--nothing. But what did he soon see? An exquisite, unbelievably beautiful young lady emerge from the river snail shell in the vat. She proceeded to sweep the hut. Then, she started preparing his dinner. "Miss! Miss!" cried Xie Duan, now standing in his own doorway. "Who are you? And here you are cooking and cleaning for me!" Well, Xie Duan had burst in so quickly that the girl had no chance to hide, so she told him the truth, that she was the tianluo creature itself transformed into a young woman, here to help him out of compassion for his loneliness. "May I stay?" she asked.

The answer was yes, she could stay if she didn't mind a life of never having much. Not only did she stay but she also became Xie Duan's wife. They then lived as a very happy couple, admired and envied by all their neighbors and friends.

It didn't take long for the local mandarin to hear about the beautiful snail shell girl. The local mandarin and landlord summoned Xie Duan to his manor.

"You owe me grain," he said and made up an extravagant amount that Xie Duan was supposed to give him. "If you don't pay me in three days' time, I shall take your wife as payment."

What could Xie Duan do? He couldn't possibly pay a ransom that large on such short notice. He brooded about it for three days and refused to tell his wife, though she asked him more than once. On the third day, shortly before the mandarin's men came to take his wife away, he finally told her.

She laughed and said, "Don't worry. Do this. Collect every bird feather you can and fashion them into a suit. Three nights from now, when the moon is full, appear outside the mandarin's front gate wearing the suit. Don't forget now."

The mandarin's men arrived, stormed in and took the snail shell girl away.

Xie Duan immediately set to work. He spent the next couple of days shooting at and netting all the birds he came across. Sparrows, gulls, ducks, storks--no bird was too big or too small to escape his interest. He collected a huge sack of feathers and then began to sew them into a suit big enough for himself to wear . . .

The third night, the night of the full moon, came.

The snail shell girl had been locked in the mandarin's bedroom. She had refused to speak to him and to allow him so much as to touch her. This bothered him, hurt him, for he had expected the young woman to be joyful and playful with all the possessions he had promised her, but no, she was not interested. He could take all the "cold rice and cold tea," as they say, but not her cold looks. He was desperate to turn things around, to make her like him, even just a little bit.

That night, the snail shell girl stood by the window, looking out. The mandarin sat on a nearby chair, holding his hands, waiting and hoping for a sign.

Then, suddenly, the snail shell girl began to giggle . . . then laugh.

The mandarin sat up and then left his chair to join the young woman by the window.

"Why do you laugh?" he asked.

Still laughing, she pointed out the window. "Look! Out there! By the gate! A man dressed all in feathers!" Tears flowed from her eyes.

The mandarin looked. Yes, out there by the gate was some fool dressed in feathers.

The mandarin fled the bedroom and rushed out the front door towards the gate.

"Say, you there, the man in feathers!" he cried to the stranger in the ridiculous suit. This man, was of course, none other than Xie Duan.

"Quickly, take that suit off!" said the mandarin, not recognizing the snail shell girl's husband. Xie Duan began to take the suit off. "Oh, and here's something for your trouble," said the mandarin, tossing some coins into the dirt.

The mandarin disrobed and put on the suit of feathers. He then rushed away, leaving his silken mandarin robes on the ground and leaving the unclothed Xie Duan behind to pick up the coins.

The mandarin rushed back into his house. He burst into his bedroom, throwing the door open and shouting to the young woman inside, "Ha! Take a look at me!"

Instead of laughing and clapping, the snail shell girl screamed. "Help! Guards! Intruder! Help me!"

The guards rushed in and, not recognizing their master, proceeded to beat him to an unrecognizable pulp. And that was the end of him!

Xie Duan and the snail shell girl were reunited that very night. They resumed their lives, and within a year, the young wife gave birth to a child.

And then things changed again . . .

While the young wife and mother was out drying clothes one day, black clouds suddenly gathered over the island. She looked up. From out of the clouds boomed a voice: "Prepare to return to the Star River!"

Originally the snail shell girl had escaped from the heavenly realm of the Jade Emperor and hadn't had the permission to enter the world of mortals. Now, having married Xie Duan and given birth to a child, having defeated the wicked mandarin, she was being ordered to return to her home far up in the stars, the place we call the Milky Way.

Now, from out of the clouds, the Jade Emperor's guards and a general himself were coming down to take her back by force.

Her husband had come home from the field and saw his wife being dragged away. He grabbed hold of her hand but could not hold on. Thrashing and twisting and turning, the snail shell girl was dragged up by one hand into the sky. Preferring death to leaving her husband, she managed to let go of a guard's hand and plummeted down, down into the Min River.

After that, the island she had briefly lived on became known as Luozhou, "River Snail Shell Prefecture," and the spot she had fallen into, Luonu Jiang, "the River of the River Snail Shell Girl." It is also said that a shrine honoring the river snail shell girl was built on the land upon which Xie Duan's house once stood.


from (1) Fujian chuanshuo miyu (Legends and riddles of Fujian) by Zhi Nong. (Taipei: The Orient Cultural Service, 1956.) pp. 54-57; (2) Fujian minjian chuanqi (Folk legends of Fujian) by Huang Rongcan. (Hong Kong: Luotuo, 1978.) pp. 85-87.

A classic legend from Fujian, found in many, if not most folktale anthologies of tales from this province. Zhi's version differs in the retribution meted out to the mandarin/landlord, having the river snail shell girl to transport magically the landlord's grain to Xie Duan, who, in turn, dutifully hands it back over to the landlord. That, of course, doesn't stop the landlord from taking the young woman by force. The story ends with her sending a heavenly conflagration down upon the landlord and the corrupt official with whom he is in cahoots, burning both to ashes. Her magical abilities are not as emphasized in Huang's version. Folktale readers should recognize this tale as a variant of the widespread AT 465A,B "Man Persecuted Because of his Wife," a common tale type in Chinese folklore. The "Star River" is, of course, the Milky Way.

6/4/10 Update: the oldest recorded Chinese folktale

A reader recently asked me what the oldest Han Chinese folktale is. Research conducted by Tan Xiandao suggests this tale--"The Snail Shell Girl--and its local variants may be the oldest recorded Chinese folktale. The earliest version is "Baishui su'niu," "The Waif of White Water," found in Jin dynasty (A.D. 265-420) Gan Bao's Soushenhouji (A later collection of rounded-up tales of deities). See Tan Xiandao's Zhongguo minjian tonghua yanjiu (Research in Chinese folk/fairy tales), Hong Kong: Shangwu, 1981, p.12.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Sound of Water, the Crashing of the Waves (Manchu)

There was once an old fiddler whose music could soften the stoniest of hearts. He had a lovely daughter of sixteen named Muke, or "water." Her singing could make one look to the heavens and laugh or look below and silently weep. Her singing was that beautiful! Together, the old fiddler and his daughter traveled along Bohai Bay and performed for many families in fishing and herding villages.

In time the feudal magistrate of Bohai heard about this golden flower who could sing so beautifully and ordered her and her father to his manor. Once they were there, the magistrate fell madly in love with Muke just after laying his eyes upon her. He then had her father kicked out. All the fiddler could do now was to play his fiddle mournfully on the banks of the Mudan River and cry for his daughter locked up in the magistrate's manor.

The magistrate of Bohai now had Muke, but from that day on, all was not well for him. He could no longer have a full night's sleep. No sooner did he immediately fall asleep then he would be awakened by the sound of water from the small outside his window. At times the stream would sound like the mighty East China Sea itself, with its huge waves rising from the depths and crashing thunderously against ships and rocks. At other times, though, it sounded hauntingly like weeping. Then, at still other times, it resembled whispered laughing, snickering. Wherever he tried to sleep, he could not escape these sounds that seemed to come from outside but also from the confines of his skull. After countless nights of no sleep, the magistrate was very upset, his nerves frayed and raw.

Summoning Muke, the magistrate asked her, "Girl, since the day you stepped foot onto my property, I have not had one good night's sleep. I no longer feel like eating and cannot think straight. Why is that, you think? Tell me."

"Your Excellency," Muke answered, her eyes reddening, "it is because my father is thinking of me."

"Your father is thinking of you?" replied the magistrate. "How does that make the waters of the stream I used to love so much roar like a great river or ocean?"

"My father is playing the song 'Thinking of the Water,' Excellency. His voice and music penetrate the waters of the Mudan, from which your little stream flows. I know this, for I can hear him too."

The magistrate turned away from her and snapped his fingers for his attendants. "Send some men to the Mudan and have them bring the girl's father to me!" he barked.

The magistrate's guards finally found the old man sitting by the water, his legs crossed, his hands folded in his lap, his fiddle resting by his side and his eyes closed.

"Let's go, Grandpa," said one guard, shaking the old fiddler's shoulder. However, the old man showed no response.

"I said to go! The magistrate of Bohai is waiting for you, and he doesn't like to be kept waiting. So if I were you--"

The old man neither moved nor said a word.

The guard touched the old fiddler's neck and knelt down to look closely at the little old man below him. The old fiddler was stone, cold dead and had been so for a long time.

The guards rushed back to the palace and reported directly to the magistrate, who was somewhat relieved. Maybe now that accursed noise of surging, breaking water would finally stop.

When it continued even louder that very night, the enraged magistrate ordered Muke beheaded, thinking it had been she all along responsible for the mysterious noise. However, the sound of crashing, turbulent water continued night after night.

Before long, the magistrate died a madman's death in some dark corner of his estate, cursing and screaming at the sound of waves only he could hear.

Even now when people in that part of Manchuria hear the distant sound of water churning and roaring, they say, "The fiddler is crying for his Muke again!"


From Heilongjiang minjian gushi xuan (A selection of folktales from Heilongjiang) pp. 89-91. (Harbin: Heilongjiang renmin chubanshe, 1983.)

Motif: D2063.1.1, "Tormenting by sympathetic magic."

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Loyal Old Servant (Ewenki)

Long, long ago there lived a very rich and powerful nobleman named Batu. At the age of fifty, Batu still did not have a child. Since his wife was already past the age of not having a child, Batu took a second wife, a lovely young woman. However, Batu was often away from home hunting, so every time he was off in the mountains or forest, he'd have his second wife enclosed in a huge mosquito net in a room in his mansion and guarded by an old servant. Batu feared younger men would steal her heart!

One day, after Batu had already been gone for several days, the second wife was taking a nap, and the old servant sat nearby guarding the mosquito net. All seemed well with the world when the servant suddenly heard a drip! drip! drip! He looked up and around but saw nothing. He then looked in the net and saw what looked like water dripping on the face of Batu's second wife, still fast asleep. Looking above, he saw a deadly forest snake on top of the net, ready to chew through the fibers of the net, slither down and bite the sleeping girl.

The old man moved quickly and hit the snake with a nearby broom handle, forcing it to escape through the open window. He then entered the net and started to wipe the snake venom from the girl's face, especially from near her mouth. She awoke as the old servant wiped her mouth and sat up, alarmed and on the verge of screaming.

Now Batu happened to enter and saw the old servant leaning over wife number two, though he hadn't a clue that a dangerous snake had just been driven away. He stormed over and grabbed the old man by the shoulders and roughly threw him against the net.

"You old devil!" Batu screamed. "I trusted you to watch over my wife, and this is what you do when I'm away!"

"But . . . but . . . ," stammered the old man.

"He started making eyes at me as soon as you left!" chimed in the second wife, fearful that she might be accused of wrong doing.

The old servant tried to tell Batu about the snake, but Batu wouldn't believe him. Instead, he struck the old man across his back with a bamboo stick.

Batu was a very wealthy man and employed several chamberlains to dispense justice to the rest of his servants when they stepped out of line.

"This is what you shall do," said Batu to the old servant. "Report at once to the first chamberlain."

"Yes, sir," replied the old one, "and then?"

"'And then?' Why, tell him what you did and so on! He'll find a suitable punishment for you! Now go!"

So the old servant went to see the first chamberlain. He found that man seated behind a great wooden desk in his quarters. The first chamberlain bade the old servant to sit and to state his business.

After hearing what the old man had to say, the first chamberlain looked at the old man with a weary but not unfriendly expression and said, "I am not a well man these days and cannot exert myself. However, I have a story that I want you to tell Batu. Now please listen.

"There was once a widow whose son was born shortly after her husband had died. As you can guess, her life was very hard without her husband, but she managed to keep her small cottage and find food for her son, herself and a cat she kept to watch over her son whenever she had to fetch food.

"Well, one day she went out and returned to find her infant son screaming. The cat was next to him, licking away blood pouring from the son's ear. She shooed the cat away and discovered part of her son's ear had been eaten!

"'Filthy treacherous creature!' she roared, and picking up a club, she beat the cat to death.

"Sometime later, after nursing her son back to health, she discovered in a corner by her oven the body of a truly huge rat with part of the infant's ear still in its mouth. The poor cat had killed this rat and then tried to stop the infant's bleeding.

"The mother tearfully picked up the dead cat and cradled it in her arms. 'Forgive me!' she cried to the dead animal. 'Please forgive me!' Of course it was a bit too late."

Having spoken, the first chamberlain told the old man to return to Batu and tell him the tale, which he thereupon did.

"Huh!" replied Batu. "Don't waste my time with stories! If the first chamberlain cannot handle your punishment, I know others who can. Go to the second chamberlain now!"

So once again the old servant was dismissed and told to report for his punishment, this time to the second chamberlain, whom he found behind his desk in his quarters. The second chamberlain told the old servant to sit, and, by and by, the old man told the reason why he had come.

Having spoken, the old man then said, "Could you now please punish me as Master Batu has ordered?"

"I cannot," replied the second chamberlain in a voice full of weary and quiet sorrow, "for I am now dealing with the death of a close family member. There is much to be done and rites to observe. However, I will tell you a story, which you may relate to our master.

"Long ago, there was a great hunter whose name has now been forgotten. This was a man which all animals ran before in stark terror. 'For every one hundred shots, he had a hundred bulls' eyes,' as they say. However, one day this man noticed his eyesight had seriously declined, and so he took a splendid, keen falcon with him to hunt. This hunting bird never let him down, always catching the rabbit, fox, or quail it had set its eyes on. The hunter loved this falcon, and it became his steady companion.

"One hot dry day, the hunter and falcon were at rest beneath a pine when a small shower came down. The hunter stretched out his hands and cupped them to drink, only to have the falcon land on his hands and angrily flap its wings. It then flew off when the collected water had all been lost.

"Once again the hunter cupped his hands to drink and relieve his parched throat, and once again the angry, squawking falcon stopped him.

"Perhaps it was because of the extremely hot day, or perhaps it was because the hunter was getting on in years and thus a bit cranky. In any case, the hunter was now very annoyed and slashed his falcon with his knife, killing the unfortunate creature. He then stood up and looked above him. The shower that was coming down was not rain but venom from an enormous python not more than ten feet from the man's head.

"Well, needless to say, he killed the monster, and then turning to his dead falcon, he knelt and said, 'I am very sorry for misjudging you!' His regrets came rather too late."

The second chamberlain finished his tale and ordered the old servant to return to Batu. This he did, and he then told Batu the tale of the hunter and his falcon.

This time, after hearing the story, Batu thought, These two stories--could they have been about me?

However, this thought departed from his mind as quickly as it had entered it. He pushed the old servant out the door, ordering him to report to the third chamberlain, who he was sure could administer a sound punishment.

The old servant found the third chamberlain seated behind his desk and told the man the whole story.

When asked to provide the needed punishment, the third chamberlain smiled, shook his head and said, "I cannot. My wife will give birth to a child shortly, and I must help to prepare. I will, though, tell you a story that you may in turn tell Batu.

"In ancient times there was a khan of all the birds, a master of all birds that could fly. When his wife had given birth to his heir, she said to the khan, 'You're the mighty khan! You must call an assembly of all the world's birds so they may pay homage to us and the prince, your heir.'

"So this khan of all flying birds did exactly that, and all the birds in the world save one showed up. The missing subject, a falcon, did not arrive until three days later. As you can well guess, the khan was absolutely furious and was prepared to execute the falcon right then and there.

"'What's your excuse?' fumed the khan.

"'Your Majesty! Please don't think for a moment that I planned to be late,' replied the falcon. 'I was delayed and kept from attending by the Jade Emperor himself, who required that I answer two questions before he allowed me to leave.'

"'And what were the two questions?'

"'The first question was which is longer--day or night. The second was who are there more of--men or women.'

"'How did you answer the first question?'

"'Well, Your Majesty, all the cloudy and rainy days are dark days, and added to all the nights, they see to it that nighttime lasts longer than daytime.'

"'And how did you answer the second question?'

"'Why, I said that there are more women than men!'

"'On what basis do you say so?'

"'When you take into consideration all the women who are already on earth and you add to that number all the men who do nothing but only listen to their wives, you can see then there are indeed more women than men!'

"Now," concluded the third chamberlain, "go back to our master and tell him this tale."

The old servant then went back right away to Batu and told him the third chamberlain's tale.

Batu immediately thought, Am I like the khan of all birds, all too eager to listen to just my wife? Am I like the hunter and mother in the other two stories, too eager to punish first and to reason later? No! Better to be judicious first rather than having to say sorry later!

Batu then placed his hands on the old servant's shoulders and apologized for having accused him of disloyalty and having physically maltreated him. He then made the old servant the fourth chamberlain, and he, like the other three chamberlains, became known for his fairness and sense of justice.


from Ewenke minjian gushi (Ewenki folktales) by Lu Guangtian. (Huhehaote: Neimengu renmin chubanshe, 1984; pp. 71-74.)

A frame story, like the much longer Arabian Nights, but made up of only three other stories. Two of the stories are variations of AT 178, "Killing the animal that has saved your life." (The most famous version is the very similar "Prince Llewellyn and His Dog Gellert," AT 178A.) Motifs: B331, "Helpful animal killed through misunderstanding"; B521.1., "Animal warns against poison."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Complete Bibliography for The Wonderful Treasure Horse

(1) Sources for the Tales

Aixinjueluo Wulaxi. Manzu gushenhua. (Ancient Manchu myths). Huhehaote: Neimenggu Renmin Chubanshe, 1987.

Heilongjiang minjian gushixuan. (A selection of folktales from Heilongjiang). Harbin: Heilongjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 1983.

Hu Shaoqing. Minjian gushi. (Folktales). Shanghai: Shanghai Chubanshe, 1993.

Jia Zhi, et al. Zhongguo minjian gushixuan. (Anthology of Chinese folktales). Vol. 2. Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1980.

Li Meng. Zhongguo funu chuanshuo gushi. (Chinese Legends about women). Chongqing: Xinhua Chubanshe, 1985.

Li Yonghai, et al, trans. Shiyu gushi. (Tales from a corpse). Beijing: Central Institute of National Minorities, 2002.

Liu Fajun. Weiwu'erzu minjian gushixuan. (A selection of Uighur folktales). Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1980.

Lu Guangtian. Ewenke minjian gushi. (Ewenki folktales). Huhehaote: Neimenggu Renmin Chubanshe, 1984.

Menggu minjian gushi. (Mongol folktales). Hong Kong: Hai-ou Publishing Company, 1977.

Qiu Meidai. Minhuaji. (A collection of popular tales). Taipei: Yongan Chubanshe, 1978.

Song Zhe. Heilongjiang minjian gushi. (Heilongjiang folktales). Hong Kong: Won Yit Book Company, 1979.

Wang Shizhen. Zhongguo shenhua: shiji bian. (Chinese myths: deeds). Taipei: Xingguang Chubanshe, 1981.

Wu Bingan, et al. Manzu minjian gushixuan. (A selection of Manchu folktales). Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1983.

Xinjiang minjian wenxue. (Xinjiang folk literature). Vol. 2. Urumchi: Xinjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 1983.

Xinjiang xiongdi minzu minjian gushixuan. (A selection of folktales from the fraternal peoples of Xinjiang). Urumchi: Xinjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 1980.

Chen Qinghao & Wang Qiugui, eds. Heilongjiang minjian gushiji. (A collection of folktales from Heilongjiang). Vol. 32 fo Zhongguo minjian gushi chuanji. (The complete collection of Chinese folktales). 40 vols. Taipei: Yuanliu Chubanshe, 1989.

__________, eds. Liaoning minjian gushiji. (A collection of Liaoning folktales). Vol. 31 of Zhongguo minjian gushi chuanji.

__________, eds. Xinjiang minjian gushiji. (A collection of Xinjiang folktales). Vol. 38 of Zhongguo minjian gushi chuanji.

(2) Works Cited

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Bar-Itzhak, Haya and Aliza Shenhar. Jewish Moroccan Folk Narratives From Israel. Gen. ed. Raphael Patai. Jewish Folklore and Anthropology Series. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

Campbell, Joseph. The Way of the Animal Powers: Mythologies of the Great Hunt. Vol.1 and Part 2 of Historical Atlas of World Mythology. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

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Chevalier, Jean & Jean Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. John Buchanan-Brown. 1994. London: Penguin Books, 1996.

Creeden, Sharon. Fair Is Fair: World Folktales of Justice. Little Rock: August House, 1997.

Delaby, Laurence. "Souls and Their Avatars in Siberia." Trans. Michael Sells. Asian Mythologies. Comp. Yves Bonnefoy. 1991. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 342-345.

Dorson, Richard M. Folk Legends of Japan. 1962. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1971.

Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. Trans. G. L. Campbell. 1983. London: Routledge, 1996.

__________, ed. Folktales of China. 1963. New York: Washington Square Press, 1973.

Frederic, Louis. Flammarion Iconographic Guides: Buddhism. Trans. Nissim Marshall. Paris: Flammarion, 1995.

Grimm, Jacob & Wilhelm. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Trans. Jack Zipes. New York: Bantam Books, 1987.

Hearn, Lafcadio. Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. 1932. New York: Dover Publications, 1968.

Kimmens, Andrew C. Tales of the Ginseng. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1975.

Kurath, Gertrude Prokosch. "Shaman and Shamanism." Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. Eds. Maria Leach & Jerome Fried. 1972. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1984. 1003-1004.

Li Xiongwei, ed. Tuteng wenhua gushi baize. (One hundred stories from totem cultures). Changsha: Hunan Chubanshe, 1991.

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Roux, Jean-Paul. "The Importance of Animals in the Religion of the Turks and the Mongols: Tribal Myths and Hunting Rituals." Trans. Danielle Beauvais. Asian Mythologies. 323-327.

Snyder, Gary. He Who Hunted Birds in His Father's Village: The Dimensions of a Haida Myth. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1991.

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Ting Nai-tung. A Type Index of Chinese Folktales. Helsinki: Folklore Fellows Communication, 1978.

Williams, C.A.S. Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives. 1931. Taipei: Huangjia, 1978.