Monday, December 31, 2012

Ghost Brides -- Two Folktales About Ghosts

(1) The Ghost Wife Pays a Debt of Gratitude (Inner Mongolian)

There was a poor young fellow, a day laborer too impoverished ever to get married.

One day, his neighbor, a very wealthy young widow, asked him over to do some work.

"How can I help you?" he asked.

"Go to the well. I believe I dropped my hairpin down into it. Can you retrieve it for me?"

The young man agreed to retrieve the hairpin for her. Having done so, he left. However, as the young man later heard, the mother of the widow's late husband had accused the young woman and the worker of improprieties. Based on her suspicions, the poor young woman was beaten to death and buried.

That was that. As for the young man, he returned to his life of toil.

Something strange in his life did begin to occur, however. Someone was now preparing wonderful meals for him in his home every night before he returned from a day's work. One night, he came back early to spy through the window and see who had been cooking for him.

It was none other than the young woman--the widow--who had been beaten to death and buried not long ago!

"But . . . how . . . is . . . this . . . possible? Are . . . you  . . . not . . . dead? " he asked.

"No, I'm alive, as you can see!" the young woman replied. "The truth is that I escaped from that house to be with you!"

She certainly did appear to be alive and well. The eyes are not supposed to lie.

They ended up marrying.

The young man certainly did not lack good food, for his bride continued to whip up the same delicious meals for him, which were always waiting for him on the table upon his nightly return from work.

How incredibly fragrant and flavorful these meals are! he thought.

However, one night he must have returned home early, for he discovered the secret that lay behind his bride's cooking secrets. He witnessed his wife standing over the freshly cooked food, dripping blood from her fingertips all over the food!

"What is going on?" he asked. "Tell the truth!"

She stood there, saying nothing. He asked her insistently again and again.

Finally, after the third time, she said, "All right, I am a ghost . . ."

"Yes," he replied, "I suspected as much . . ."

Instead of fleeing from her, he discovered he loved her all the more and was more determined than ever to remain with her as her husband.

Now that he knew she was a ghost, she asked him for a favor.

"Of course. What do you wish?"

"Please go to my grave and dig up my bones and remove them from that place to some other location no one knows about."

He did so, and shortly after, the two of them moved to Horqin (in Inner Mongolia). There, she gave birth to a daughter. The three of them stayed together and lived very prosperously.

Gu Xijia, Zhongguo minjian gushi leixing yanjiu [Research in the types of Chinese folktales], Liu Shouhua, ed. Wuhan: Huazhong Shifan, 2002; pp. 226-227.

What might be interesting to note in this tale and the one that follows is that the living man and female ghost remain together without apparently any ill effects. The previous ghost stories organized into six series (3/26/09; 5/4/09; 7/4/09; 10/1/09; 4/8/10; and 8/16/12) have been literary legends, with "actual" names and locations recorded. The ghosts in these stories, beautiful, charming, handsome or otherwise, have largely been noxious and therefore harmful to human life. The present two stories are folktales, not legends. In this first story, aside from one mention of an actual town (Horqin), no other names, not even those of the characters, are mentioned, as is often the case with folktales, which do not delve into the specifics tied to legends. (Two generic names are mentioned in the second folktale below, but the setting remains unidentified.) These folktales are diachronically presented; they could have occurred during any dynasty or era and are timeless, while legends are often linked to a particular era and location. Whether character or place names are given or not, these two folktales, like other folktales, are simpler and usually relate a poor but deserving individual's rise in status. Moreover, the ghosts in these folktales are not baneful and can, in fact, behave  in time biologically and emotionally much the way a human would. 

Another interesting aspect is in the folktale, unlike the legend, dreams and/or wishes can come true. A poor laborer can marry someone, albeit a ghost, from the upper class, thus breaching class differences, an event that would not normally occur in the ostensibly realistic legend and almost certainly never in actual feudalistic-era life. 

Motifs: D1041, "Blood as magic [herb]"; E363, "Ghost returns to aid living"; cE422, "Living corpse"; E474, "Cohabitation of living person and ghost"; E495, "Marriage to a ghost"; H976, "Task performed by mysterious stranger"; cN831.1, "Mysterious housekeeper." 

(2) Paper Manikin Wife (Han Chinese)

Impoverished young Li Guang lost a sum while gambling, so he went to his uncle to borrow some money.

"I'm getting married and need some money!" he told him. The uncle believed him and lent him the amount he requested.

There was one further matter. "Don't be surprised if one of these days I pop over to see your bride!" said the uncle.

That put Li Guang into a bind. What could he do? Obviously, if his uncle showed up and there was no bride to be seen, that would make Li Guang a huge liar. He wracked his brain for a solution. He finally thought up a plan. He went out and bought a life-sized paper manikin of a woman and propped it up in his bed to await
his uncle's eventual visit.

Finally, the day came for the uncle's visit.

Lo and behold, right before the uncle's eyes, from off the bed came a maiden--a real, live young lady!

The uncle was very impressed; his nephew had indeed married a lovely young woman. He then left.

Li Guang wasn't one to waste an opportunity or look a gift horse in the mouth, so he consented to live with her as his wife and did so for one hundred days.

On the hundredth day, the bride admitted that she was not a mortal but a ghost.

"For us to be together," she said, "there's something you must do."

"Tell me what it is, and I shall do it!" replied Li Guang.

"Go to the Liu family tombs. There, you shall find the freshly dug grave of Miss Liu, who passed away very recently. Dig up her grave and uncover her remains. I shall borrow them as my own to live in this world with you."

"Very well . . ."

And so Li Guang went ahead and did exactly what his wife had instructed. His wife's plan worked, and Miss Liu's body was now inhabited by the spirit of Li Guang's wife. Miss Liu was thus reanimated, and Li Guang married her.

Gu Xijia, Zhongguo minjian gushi leixing yanjiu, p. 227. 

The story implies that the ghost had not originally been the spirit of Miss Liu. 

Motifs: E.474, "Cohabitation of living person and ghost"; E495.2, "Marriage to a ghost"; E726, "Soul enters body and animates it"; and F990, "Inanimate object acts as if living." 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Tough Man & The Rooster's Eggs -- Two Chinese-Language Tales From Russia (Dungan Hui)

(1) The Tough Man

Some folks were amazed to see a woman leading a donkey, atop which was her husband.

"Aiya," some local menfolk said, "we might be afraid of our own wives, but not that man! Come on! Let's catch up to them and talk to him!"

The wags then ran after the short procession and stopped right in front of the woman.  Before they could say anything, they noticed the man on the donkey was crying.

"Aiya," he cried, addressing the people before him, "my wife hit my leg, and now I can't walk!"

"Aiya," one of the group said, "he's afraid of his wife! Let's leave . . ."

Dungan minjian gushi chuanshuo ji [A collection of Dungan folktales and legends], Li Fuqing [Boris Riftin], ed. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 2011; pp. 196-197. 

The Dungan people are Hui (Chinese Muslims) who live across the border from the far west of China in neighboring Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former states of the USSR. Some Dungan may also be partially of Kazakh or Kirghiz descent. The Dungan, like their Hui cousins in China, are Sunni and preserve many Chinese customs. Their ancestors left China in the late 19th century due to economic and probably political conditions. Their form of Mandarin preserves many archaisms; for example, instead of "president," they tend to say "emperor." 

Professor Boris Riftin, the Russian academic who compiled the volume of Dungan tales from which the preceding and the following tales come, is a giant in the world of Chinese folklore research. I would venture to say that he is the preeminent non-Chinese expert on Chinese myths, folktales, and legends today. He has done research in China and in the past decade was a visiting professor at a university on Taiwan. Unfortunately, little if any of his work has been translated into English. His first exposure to the world of Chinese folklore was in the early 1950's, when he happened to encounter members of the Dungan community in the former Soviet Union. 

The browbeaten husband, as witnessed in Laurel and Hardy two-reelers and  Fawlty Towers, is a staple of comedy. This very brief humorous anecdote from a bygone era about a husband who from afar puts on a good front is reminiscent of the Chinese joke about the milquetoast husband who one day while being scolded suddenly develops some backbone and talks back to his combative wife about how, once a man makes up his mind, he will do what he wants to do. His wife then becomes furious and chases the husband to the bedroom, where he takes refuge under the bed. When ordered to come out from under the bed, he shouts: "No! I'm staying right here! When a man makes up his mind, he sticks to it and no one can make him change it!" This is what Taiwanese today might label as "the mouse's bravery." 

(2) The Rooster's Eggs

A local yamen tyrant turned to his yamen runner one day and said, "I feel like having a couple of rooster's eggs. I'll give you three days to come up with them. If, by the third day, you don't bring me any, I'll put you to death."

The runner was dismissed and left. On the way home, he thought, Where in the world would I ever be able to find such a thing as a rooster's egg? 

While at home, he neither ate, nor drank tea, nor spoke a word.

"What's bothering you? Why do you look so gloomy?" asked his wife.

"Aiya, I'll tell you why. The Laoye (i.e., "old grandfather," or local mandarin) has just ordered me to bring him two rooster's eggs in three days' time."

"Don't let it worry you," his wife replied. "On the third day, I shall go to the yamen and see the Laoye. Let me handle this."

The third day arrived, and the wife showed up at the yamen instead of her husband, the runner.

"What are you doing here?" asked the Laoye. "Where's your man?"

"Oh, Laoye, he couldn't be here today!" she replied.

"And why not?"

"He's giving birth to a baby!"

"What?! You shameless woman, saying such a thing! Who's ever seen a man giving birth to a baby?"

"Who, Laoye, has ever seen a rooster lay eggs?"

The mandarin didn't say another word!

Dungan minjian gushi chuanshuo ji, Li Fuqing, ed. ; p. 198.

For a tale with a similar theme, see the Sino-Korean tale from 1/7/08. A yamen was the local government house or office in imperial China, the seat of the mandarin's power. 

Motifs: H919.4, "Impossible task assigned by (official);  J1191, "Reductio ad absurdum."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers and your families!


Fred Lobb  羅老师

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weird & Eerie Stories From Old China -- Series Two

The weird, bizarre, and inexplicable from old China--just about everything anomalous except ghosts.  

(1) Fox Pearl

The following is a story told by Mr. Liu Quanbai.

Liu's wet nurse had a son named Xing'ai, who, when he was young, would hide himself beside some country path and set up a net as a booby trap to catch boars and foxes.

Liu's estate was at the foot of a mountain, and so on one evening, Xing'ai set his net up to the west of the estate, half a li down the road. Xing'ai was patiently sitting by the road, hidden, when he heard footsteps on the road.

In the darkness he could make out some kind of small figure on the ground near the net. By and by, the figure slowly stood up, revealing itself to be a young woman clad in red. The woman then sidestepped the net and ran towards two old disused carts by the road. There, she stopped and grabbed a rat, which she devoured alive.

It was then Xing'ai sneaked up on her, dropping his net over her, ensnaring her. Xing'ai then gave her a clubbing, which would normally kill a fox. However, the fox woman remained alive, and this gave Xing'ai pause for some thought. He had seen her transform herself from a smaller figure into that of a human; however, the transformation had largely been in the dark, in the shadows. In the back of his mind, there was still some doubt she could very well be an actual person; on the other hand, if she did happen to be a shape-shifting fox, it would be too dangerous and irresponsible of him to let her roam the roads. And then there was the fact that he had seen her eat a live rat on the spot, an act people were not normally known to do.

He decided to throw her, enclosed in the net, into the [dried, empty] pond for the night. He then went home and told his parents about what had happened.

Early the next morning, Xing'ai returned to the pond, where he discovered the woman had long since revived. Convinced she was a shape-shifting fox, he struck her with an ax. Immediately, she fell to the ground and turned back into a fox.

Xing'ai was overjoyed. He had subdued and killed a noxious being, and so he carried the fox back home.

On the road back home, he encountered an old monk, who pointed out to Xing'ai that the fox was indeed still alive.

"Don't kill it," the old monk said. "Let it live. In the mouth of such a fox, there is a 媚珠 (meizhu, "a pearl of attraction"), which would make the owner, if he can obtain it, the most beloved, desired person around! Now, allow me to tell how you may extract this pearl . . . "

Xing'ai took the fox home, bound her front paws and then her back, and placed her in a cage, where he kept  and fed her for the next several days. Then, the old monk came over and outside Xing'ai's home, buried some bottles in the ground so that the mouths of the bottles were level with the dirt. In each bottle were two
slabs of fresh roast pork.

Xing'ai  next let the fox loose near the bottles.

If there's one thing a fox loves, it's eating roast pork. The fox instantly ran towards the mouths of the buried bottles. The fox, however, could not retrieve the pork from the bottles, for the openings of the bottles were much smaller than her own mouth. She lay before bottle after bottle, her mouth locked onto each opening, desperately trying to get the meat.

The slabs of pork grew cold, so while the fox was restrained,  Xing'ai added some fresh, sizzling roast pork to each bottle.  Once again the fox attacked the mouth of each bottle, attempting to get to the pork but all to no avail.

The process was repeated over and over. Soon, each bottle was nearly full of savory pork that the fox could not reach. Finally, the fox lay before one bottle, again tried to reach the pork, and salivated copiously. A small object rolled out of her mouth, and she put her head down and died.

Xing'ai bent down to look at the small round object, no bigger than a weiqi, or go, tile. Before him lay the fox pearl.

Xing'ai gave the fox pearl to his mother, who kept it on her person. It is said that Xing'ai's father, for the first time or not, became totally infatuated with his wife.

Guangyi ji [Record of broadly odd things] by  Dai Fu in Zhongguo qitan [Talks on bizarre matters in China],
Lin Yaochuan, ed. Taipei: Changchunshu Shufang, 1977; pp. 68-69. 

I wish to thank Dr. Ulrich Theobald, a specialist in classical Chinese history, literature and technology, for his very kind help and time spent in providing me information about Dai Fu. For those interested in Chinese culture, technology, literature and art prior to the establishment of the Republic, I highly recommend Dr. Theobald's encyclopedic website:

Dai Fu was a writer who flourished between the Tang Tianbao and Zhenyuan eras (respectively, A.D. 742-756 and 785-805), dying at the age of 57. A biographer and short story writer, he came from what is now Anhui Province.  Liu Quanbai was a scholar who likewise lived during the Tang Dynasty. 

Foxes are prime shape-shifters in East Asian folklore and possess an alluring essence. They can turn themselves into men or women, usually women, though, and do great  harm to those they encounter and bewitch, the result of which is often a fatal encounter for the incautious human. While the Japanese have two attitudes towards foxes--reverence towards the fox spirit Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and agriculture, and fear and avoidance towards the arch-trickster Kitsune of folktales--the Chinese attitude in popular secular literature and folklore is less ambiguous. The fox shape-shifter is regarded as a malevolent enchanter/enchantress and troublemaker, though, to be fair, there are also Northern Chinese traditions in which the "fox immortal" (狐仙) is respected. Specific shrines exist where offerings are made to this spirit. 

The shape-shifting fox in this story, unlike those in many other stories, doesn't utter human speech. She doesn't attempt to beguile Xing'ai with sweet words or her alluring charm, hallmarks of the fox enchantress. 

Pearls in general are linked to the moon and water and are reputedly aphrodisiacs and symbols of feminine nature and romance, not to mention all the different applications of pearls in Western religious iconography. A pearl is, of course, a priceless object, and those pearls which do not exist in nature, even more so. A single dragon pearl, for example, was supposed to be worth a king's fortune or more. However, a dragon pearl or, here, a fox pearl, like the elusive blue rose of European alchemists, does not occur in nature; hence, the high value placed on that which we can never own but which we can in our imaginations cherish as representations of various unattainable ideals. 

Motifs: D313.1, "Fox transformed to person"; D1355.3, "Love charm"; H481, "Fox in human form betrays identity."  

(2) Night Watchman

In Hedong Prefecture (now in Shanxi Province) during the reign of the Tang Emperor Wenzong (A.D. 836-840), there lived a young man who served as night watchman. He very energetically and earnestly applied himself to his job, eager to, in his small corner of the empire, uphold the order of the mighty Tang Dynasty.

It was on a night when the moon shone like a mirror in the sky that the night watchman found himself patrolling the area just outside the gates of the Jingfu Temple. Nearby, he spotted someone all in black, or painted in black, sitting on the ground, head tilted forward, knees drawn up to the chin and with arms hugging his forelegs, someone the night watchman suspected was sleeping.

"Hey, you!" he shouted. "This is a public place with strict laws against anyone sleeping here! Don't you realize how badly you are reflecting the great Tang Empire? Do you hear me? Hurry and get up! Outside the city wall, there's an abandoned temple you can sleep in! Don't let me catch you here again!"

The figure remained in the same position,  not moving a muscle.

The night watchman looked about; he and the figure were the only ones around at this time of night. The night watchman was a bit worried but girded up his courage.

"Did you hear what I just said? If you don't beat it, I'll bang this gong, and moments later every guard in the prefecture will be here! Then, you'll be in for it!"

The night watchman stood near the figure and dramatically waved the gong mallet around to scare the figure into getting up and leaving.

The figure indeed suddenly jumped to its feet and, instead of fleeing, headed towards the night watchman. The whiteness of the figure's face contrasted with its black, seemingly painted body and the night. Equally visible were the figure's long teeth. The night watchman was petrified as the figure rushed him, picked him up and threw him upon the ground like a rag doll. The figure then trampled the gong, crumpling it.

The night watchman, with great effort, managed to get to his feet and flee for his life as the figure laughed insanely behind him in the growing distance.

The next day the night watchman told everyone he knew about his encounter with the strange being the night before, but no one believed his story.

A few months later, the main gate of Jingfu Temple was being replaced. Digging a hole for the new gate's foundation, workmen excavated a bizarre painted manikin. The night watchman happened to be there and caused a one-man uproar. That dirt-caked, lifeless black manikin with the white face was the very thing that had attacked him that night!

Xuanshi zhi (Records of the revealed room) by Zhang Du in Meiying zhixia (Small box of bewitching shadows), Chen Peng, ed. Guizhou: Guizhou Renmin Chubanshe, 2011; pp. 194-195. 

Zhang Du was a chronicler of the strange and flourished during the Dazhong period (A.D. 847-860) of the Tang Dynasty. 

Motifs: cD1620.0.1, "Automatic doll"; cD1639, "Automata"; and F990, "Inanimate object acts as if living." 

(3) Fruits of the Forbidden Valley

When the official Li Lun was traveling through Qizhou (today, Jinan, Shandong Province), he passed the time doing some hunting in the countryside. He happened to come across a temple, where he took a room and rested. While there, he suddenly smelled the powerful sweet scent of a fruit, most likely peaches. His curiosity got the better of him, and so he asked a monk about the fruit with the strong fragrance. The monk handed Li Lun a couple of the fragrant peaches.

They were small, about the size of chicken eggs and had an irregular shape. Li Lun, as it turned out, was hungry and ate one of the peaches.

"These are not ordinary peaches, are they?" he asked the monk.

He told Li Lun that the peaches were an offering from the owners of a private orchard.

Li Lun wasn't content with only knowing about the peaches' general location of origin. He pressed the monk for more information about them.

"Well," said the monk, laughing, "this place is about ten li from here, in a deep, dark valley. There, you'll find several hundred peach trees, each bearing the most incredibly sweetest peaches you've ever eaten, peaches like these! By chance, your humble poor monk has actually been there, picked a few peaches and returned with them. Sadly, everyone just about ate them all up, leaving none for me . . ."

"Take me to this place."

"No, that's not possible," said the monk. "The place is too inaccessible; there's not even a road there. It would be too arduous."

Li Lun was so insistent that, finally, the monk relented.

So, they set off!

For the first five li,  they did nothing but navigate through and cut down brambles and thorns. Then, they came to roaring river which would normally discourage nearly anyone from crossing.

"Are you up to this? Is this where we turn back?" asked the monk.

"Don't underestimate me," Li Lun replied. "I'm not some weak, effete scholar!"

"All right, then," said the monk, "let's jump in!"

"Wait! Hold on. I don't know how to swim. Will you carry me across?"

The monk nodded, and Li Lun hopped onto his back as the monk swam across the river. Fortunately, this monk could swim like a duck, and so they made it to the other side.

Reaching the opposite river bank, the monk then led Li Lun in a northwest direction. The pair now had to cross two streams, climb a tall mountain, and ford a water-filled ravine. After several more li along a mountain path, they finally arrived at the hidden valley, a place blanketed by clouds and resounding with the sound of trickling spring water.

And there were the peach trees, hundreds of them.

The monk and Li Lun climbed down and began to pick peaches from the tree, eating peach after peach as if there were no tomorrow.

When they were full and ready to return, the monk caught Li Lun stuffing his robes with peaches.

"Sir, you mustn't do that!" said the monk. "This place is the realm of immortals! You mustn't be too greedy. After all, you are an official, not someone planning to open a fruit stand! My abbot told me that once before someone attempted to take back as many peaches as you have there. He almost ended up getting lost and dying out here!"

Li Lun thought about what the monk had just told him and decided it had merit. Before leaving that place, he decided to take back only two peaches.

They returned back to the temple. Before parting, the monk made Li Lun swear never to tell about what they had done or to reveal the location of the valley. Li Lun agreed.

Once back at his government office, Li Lun took out one of the deep valley peaches  to eat. He was suddenly overcome with the desire to have more and more peaches; the two he had with him would not satisfy him. He sent a courier to the temple to tell the monk to fetch him more peaches. However, the courier came back with the news that the energetic, strong young monk had already passed away while meditating in the lotus position.

Youyang zazu (Sundry offerings from Youyang's chopping board) by Duan Chengshi in Meiying zhixia; pp. 13-14. 

Duan Chengshi (A.D. c.803-863) lived during the Tang Dynasty and came from what is today Binzhou, Shandong Province. The son of a former prime minister, Duan Chengshi became a proofreader and later found renown as a poet. 

Peaches are important symbols of spring time and immortality. The particular peaches in this story are in a restricted, tabooed area, and one of the two men who enter that area pays the ultimate price for the taboo violation of taking/eating food from fairyland. The magical power of the peaches in this story is implied. The description of the peach orchard accentuates its otherworldly, supernatural nature.

Motifs: cC211.1, "Eating in fairyland forbidden"; cC225, "Taboo to eat certain fruit"; c*C621, "Forbidden fruit"; D950.3, "Magic peach tree." 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stinky Tofu & Eight Treasures Rice Pudding -- the Legends Behind the Two Specialties

(1) Stinky Tofu

Anyone even slightly familiar with Chinese cuisine knows about and has eaten soybean curd, or tofu, the Japanese name for what Chinese people call doufu (豆腐). Tofu was introduced to the Japanese during the Tang Dynasty. I also remember reading somewhere that the famed Japanese soup miso shiro, made from a soybean base with curds floating in the soup, is actually based on a Song or Yuan Dynasty recipe, enjoyed by the ancestors of today's Chinese eight or nine hundred years ago.

There's regular tofu, and then there's stinky tofu (臭豆腐), delicious but truly odoriferous, now enjoyed widely outside Taiwan and China. What follows is the legendary origin of stinky tofu, as explained by writers Shao Wenchuan and Guo Xiangshi:

It seems during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), there lived in Beijing a man, a failed licentiate, named Wang Zhihe. Having flunked the exam which would have perhaps allowed him entry into the civil service and, maybe, a post as a mandarin, Wang opened up a tofu shop to make ends meet.

One midsummer's day, business was slow, and Wang and his wife had on their hands many plates of tofu that were just not selling. The two of them couldn't eat up all the tofu themselves, so Wang cut the slabs of tofu into cubes, added some wild pepper and other seasoning, and sealed the tofu and other ingredients in some earthen jugs, sealing them tightly.

He then forgot all about the tofu in the jugs.

The autumn came.

Mrs. Wang was straightening up the shop when she first noticed the jugs. She had noticed a sour scent and assumed her husband had left some preserved cabbage nearby.

Just then, Wang entered, spotted the jugs, and said, "Aiya, the tofu! I forgot all about it. Quick, let's open up the jugs and see how the tofu turned out!"

By now, the soybean curds had fermented. Wang scooped up a small portion with his finger. He liked what he tasted.

"Not bad . . . Here, try some," he said, turning to his wife.

His wife agreed. It was delicious.

Together, they poured themselves a bowl of the fermented bean curd and added some ginger, onions, and sesame oil. They served other members of their family, who scarfed up this new style of tofu. Wang opened the other jugs, and the odor attracted passersby. The first customers wolfed down the tofu and couldn't stop praising it.

Wang put up a sign outside his shop: "Wang Zhihe's Southern Garden Soy Sauce." This evocative advertising and word-of-mouth brought in more and more customers. Thus, stinky tofu, the name by which we now know this food, was born.  Its fame spread far and wide and right into the warrens and quarters of the Forbidden Palace itself. Eventually, the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908; reigned 1861 -1908) herself was one of the many who became enthusiasts of stinky tofu. Soon, stinky tofu found its way to Japan and then, America.

Zhongguo xiangsu gushi (Stories of Chinese country customs), Shao Wenchuan & Guo Xiangshi; Taipei: Hanxin, 1999; pp. 55-57. 

The same thing is said of stinky tofu that is said of sausage: "You'll never eat it again once you've seen how it's prepared." Having said that, however, I still very much enjoy Taiwanese-style stinky tofu as well as a good hot dog. How about you? 

(2) Eight Treasures Rice Pudding

Who has never had eight treasures rice pudding? Maybe you ate it at a birthday or wedding banquet or during Chinese New Year. Eight treasures rice pudding (八宝饭) is a glutinous rice dish with many kinds of fruit added. Below is Shao and Guo's rather fanciful version of how this dessert came to be.

It all took place during the reign of the ill-fated Guangxu Emperor's "One Hundred Days of Reform" (1898).

While the progressive-minded emperor attempted to reestablish China as a constitutional monarchy along the lines of Japan, much dangerous palace intrigue occurred. The feared Empress Dowager Cixi, the real head of the empire, the actual puller of puppet strings and the one most to lose from any reform, fled for her life from the imperial court and had to hide. Imperial chef Xiao Dai accompanied her as she securely hid somewhere in the city outside the palace.

While in hiding, the Empress Dowager grew hungry and ordered Xiao Dai to rustle her up some food. The Dowager Empress and Xiao Dai had fled with just the clothes on their backs, and the capital was in an upheaval with the threat of all-out civil war between the Guangxu and Cixi factions. So Xiao Dai had to beg for some food while keeping a low profile.

Somehow finding a porcelain bowl, Xiao Dai went to a door and begged for some rice. Once he had the rice, he went along the street to the door of another residence to beg for something else. He received some corn. He then went to another door and received something else. By the time he felt he had enough to feed the Empress Dowager Cixi, he had already received eight different ingredients.

With the rice and other ingredients mixed together in the bowl, he rushed back to the Empress Dowager's hiding place and gave her the bowl of food.

"What is the name of this dish?" she asked, eating away.

Now, Xiao Dai had himself prepared only the finest, rarest meals for the Empress Dowager. How could he tell her that what she, the de facto supreme ruler of China, was eating were just scraps obtained by begging at eight different doorsteps?

He thought a moment and then said, "Why, this, Your Majesty, is 'eight treasures rice'!"

The Empress Dowager Cixi ate until the bowl was dry and clean, proclaiming this bowl of eight treasures rice to be finer than the all the exquisite delicacies Xiao Dai had previously prepared.

Before long, the One Hundred Days of Reform crisis was over. The Empress Dowager, with the help of Manchu general Ronglu and the secret backing of Han Chinese general Yuan Shikai, had launched a coup d'etat which swiftly and ruthlessly ended the Reform and stripped Emperor Guangxu of all real power. He was placed under house arrest; never again would he have any authority,especially any that could challenge Empress Dowager Cixi.

 The Empress Dowager could now return to the palace.

One day, the Empress Dowager called for Xiao Dai.

"Yes, Your Majesty?"

"I want to eat eight treasures rice. Prepare it for me."

"At once, Your Majesty!"

Xiao Dai, now that  he was back in the imperial kitchen, thought it was no great task to recreate the bowl of rice and added fruits and vegetables he had prepared for the Empress Dowager. He readily found all the ingredients and, within a short time, had a steaming bowl of eight treasures rice placed before the Dowager Empress.

She placed a spoonful in her mouth and immediately spat it out. Her face became a mask of pure rage.

"This is not eight treasures rice!"

She then made it very clear to Xiao Dai. He had until the next day to prepare eight treasures rice in the manner in which she had first tasted it; if he disappointed her again, she would deliver to him the white silk belt with which he was to hang himself.

He retired to his quarters to ponder what to do. There was a knock on the door. A messenger stood in the doorway with a package for Xiao Dai from a distant relative. He took the parcel and opened it. Inside were various fine quality sweet comestibles: lotus seeds, dried longan meat, melon seeds, winter melon strips, peanuts, peas, and dried dates.

Xiao Dai was at the point of desperation. These certainly weren't the ingredients in the original bowl of eight treasures rice, no. He figured he had no choice but to whip up something delicious in a hurry to try to appease the Empress Dowager. His life itself depended on it.

So, the next day he took the sweet snacks, added a generous quantity of sugar, and cooked them in a sticky rice pudding.

With great trepidation, he approached the Empress Dowager with his latest concoction.

"Your eight treasures rice, Your Majesty . . . "

Empress Dowager Cixi ate a spoonful of the rice pudding and beamed. "Yes! This is exactly the eight treasures rice I remember eating!"

From that day forward, cooking eight treasures rice pudding became Chef Xiao's chief duty.

In 1908, the Empress Dowager Cixi died. Shortly after that the Qing Empire crumbled. Xiao Dai retired to Jingzhou, Hupei, where he opened up a restaurant, Juzhen ("Gathering of Valuables") Garden. The restaurant's specialty? Eight treasures rice.

Thus, has this famous dish come down to us from history into popular folklore!

Shao & Guo, Zhongguo xiangsu gushi; pp. 81-83.

This legend is very much like another, "An Emperor Shows up for Supper" (see 3/28/08). In that tale from Fujian, an emperor escaping mutineers enjoys a very rough, rustic meal with a fancy name. When he returns to the capital, he finds he is unable to relive the enjoyment of that same dish once it has been recreated for him. Dai Xiao, however, is able to bamboozle Empress Dowager Cixi with something richer and more luxuriant to save his life. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ghost Stories From Ancient China -- Series Six

(1) Old Li Chiu

In Northern Liang, there lived a man known as Old Li Chiu.

One night, Old Li, somewhat tipsy, returned home from town. He was accompanied by a shapeshifting ghost which had gleefully impersonated Old Li's nephew all the way back to the old gentleman's residence. En route back home, the ghost constantly berated Old Li for having drunk over his limit, much to the latter's indignation.

Once home and once the effects of alcohol had worn off, Old Li summoned his nephew, scolding him, saying, "I'm like a father to you! I'd expect you to be more loving towards me! How dare you lecture me about having drunk too much on the way home last night!"

The nephew, tears in his eyes, knelt before his uncle, and said, "There's been a huge mistake, Uncle! I didn't do that! I wasn't even with you. Last night, I was in town requesting the repayment of a debt. You can go ask the debtor if you wish!"

"Ha," said Old Li, "now I know what happened! Some ghost attached himself to me on my way home last night.Yes, I've heard of such occurrences before."

The next night found Old Li inebriated once again in town. He was armed this time, determined to kill any ghost that dared to bother him.

When Old Li's nephew, fearful for his uncle's safety arrived to escort the old man home, Old Li assumed the young man was the ghost reappearing to harass or menace him. Old Li then took out his sword and cut down the young man, his actual nephew, thinking he had successfully dealt with the annoying shape-shifting ghost.


"Li qiu zhangren" by Lu Buwei in Guihua [Talks on ghosts], Li Mengsheng, ed. Shanghai: Shanghai Shiji Chubanshe, 2010;  p. 1.

This story, from the Age of Warring States (475-221 B.C.)  is one of the oldest--maybe the oldest--in which the Chinese character for "ghost"appears. Previously, I had thought "The Tale of Uncle Ju" (see 3/26/09) held that spot. This tale, however, predates "The Tale of Uncle Ju" by at least several hundred years and seems to be in terms of theme and plot the clear forerunner of "Uncle Ju."  Perhaps not coincidentally, Li Mengsheng, in his survey of old Chinese ghost stories through the centuries, placed "Li qiu zhangren" as the first story in his anthology. The characters in this story, like those in the later variant "The Tale of Uncle Ju," live in an age when "ghost," "demon," and "vampire" seem undifferentiated and when a "ghost" may yet be "killed."   

Motifs: D42.2; "Spirit takes man's shape"; E332.2, "Ghost(s) seen on road at night."

(2) The White Bones

A certain Mr. Liu, over sixty years of age, a native of Heshuo (an area north of the Yellow River), was returning from visiting Shangfeng Temple (in Hunan Province) when he got caught in a downpour. It was getting dark, and he quickly needed to take shelter.

By the road he spotted a large tomb mound. There was an entrance, so he went in and fell asleep until the rain stopped.

When he awoke, he saw the entire interior of the tomb was completely illuminated by the moonlight which had crept in. The spotlessly clean glazed tiles of the tomb shone brightly.

And then, there, on the other side of the tomb floor from him,  Liu saw a skeleton--a complete set of bones from head to foot. Nothing else was there but Liu and the skeleton.

Liu slowly rose to his feet.

As he rose, so did the skeleton.

Then, the skeleton ran pell-mell towards him and embraced him. Liu exerted every ounce of energy he had to free himself from the skeleton, and finally he broke free, causing the decayed bones to fall apart onto the floor in a pile.

Liu fled the tomb. He told everyone he encountered about his adventure.

Such an occurrence is not at all that strange, he was told.

from "Bai gu" by Guo Yu; Guihua, p. 39. 

From the Song Dynasty (960-1229 AD).

What Liu did would have been unthinkable according to traditional culture. It would have been considered extremely bold and foolhardy at best and suicidal at worst. However, since there are characters like Liu, rash people who "push the envelope," we can thus have ghost stories, the results of their heedless actions--related by the very protagonist if he/she survives. No wonder he was told that "such an occurrence is not at  all that strange"! What had he been thinking?

Motif: E422.1.11.4, "Revenant as skeleton."

(3) Ghosts Don't Torment the Poor!

Luo Liangfeng, a man of Yangzhou, Jiangsu, spoke of how he could see ghosts.

He said he could see ghosts at sundown, when the streets would be absolutely full of these entities that are much shorter than the living. There they would be on streets, avenues and boulevards, their facial features blurred, congregating so that they would resemble a black shadow cast over everything. So many of them would be on the street that they would walk into and out from the walls along the way. Like living people, many of them would be observed chatting while walking along, while others would walk along without any visible emotion, and while still others might  find a living human to walk behind and to follow that person to wherever he or she may go.

These and other ghosts, according to Luo, always enjoy the noisy, bustling, popular spots favored by people, thinking apparently, in their ghostly way, that wherever there is a popular gathering place, there shall one find people, not so much, though, in the empty grasslands of shepherds.

No wonder scholar Yang Xiong (53 BC-18 AD) wrote, "Ghosts always peep on what the affluent are doing."

In actuality, humans and ghosts belong to different realms but must share the same physical space. Ghosts normally don't pose humans any harm unless they, the ghosts, are out for vengeance or just in the mood to do some haunting. Consequently, it is usually very difficult for a person to see a ghost.

Since most ghosts enjoy frequenting busy, prosperous areas and since most are unable to change their habits, they tend to stay away from the shabby, depressed locations visited by the poor. This is why we have the old saying "Poor ghosts don't drop in [for a visit]." How true.

from Zi bu yu in Gao shenme gui, Yuan Mei, ed. Annotated by Wang Yuan. Taipei: Guanxue She, 2004; pp. 8-9. 

Zi bu yu [What the Master (i.e., Confucius) did not discuss] is the ghost story collection of Qing Dynasty writer Yuan Mei (1716-1797 AD). "Poor ghosts" is a play on words, meaning either literally poor, possibly "hungry" ghosts or people who are impoverished. Of course, the conclusion reached by Yuan Mei, that ghosts prefer to flock near the prosperous and seldom ever go near those who are poor, is debatable. 

The description of ghosts on the street reminded me of a story in Zhongguo yaoguai shidian [Dictionary of Chinese goblins] by famed Japanese artist and chronicler of the bizarre, Mizuki Shigeru (Taipei: Zhenxing, 2004). That story is "Gui shi" ["Ghost market"]. The gist of that story is as follows: 

    A servant was on an errand away from town. Since the daytime weather had been 
   unbearably hot, the servant decided to travel at night. One midnight, while still on the road,
   the servant stumbled into a very bustling, humming marketplace crammed full of people buying
   food from stalls. Hungry, he bought a bowl of soup noodles, devoured it, and continued on his 
   journey. He completed his task and made it back home, whereupon he came down with a sickness.
   He vomited up a toad and coiled worms . . .  (pp. 42-43). 

Such is what happens when one, in traditional thought, interacts with ghosts. The servant had more than likely stopped by a ghost market in a desolate area of tombs where spirits appear and recreate the world they had known when they were alive, using the spirit money that had been burned for them to buy whatever is available in their realm. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chunwang & the Ninth Maiden (Han) -- Part Three

As the Ninth Maiden wept, she heard a man's voice singing from the bushes:

"There go the Maidens flying back up into the heavens!
And I? I've taken the peahen skin and wings of one of them.
I'm ready to return them to her without much fuss.
All I ask is for one thing in return--for her to call me her one and only."

From out of the bushes stepped Chunwang, bearing the skin and wings.

What a handsome young man, thought the Ninth Maiden. Who would have thought such a handsome one existed among the mortals! She liked what she saw, laughed bashfully and sang back:

"Young man, if you say you love me, you'll need to love me with all your heart.
Otherwise, I don't care if I died--I still wouldn't call you my man.
If you truly love me, then, please hurry and give me back my skin and wings!"

Chunwang promptly returned the skin and wings to the Ninth Maiden. Right then and there, from that day forward, they became man and wife. How happy were they? There's no need to ask--they felt pure joy being in each other's presence and nothing else in the world mattered.

Nine months later, the wife and husband had a pair of twins--a boy and a girl--both soft and chubby with creamy complexions, as cute as children can be.

It was now a full year since Ninth Maiden had come down to earth for good and married Chunwang.

One day Chunwang noticed her carrying a beautiful large hulu, a gourd shaped like our number eight ("8"), from out of their garden.

"And what do you plan to do with the hulu, my wife?" he asked.

"Today's my father's birthday," she replied. "I'm presenting it to him. That means I'll need to return to the sky.  But don't worry. I'll be back before dark, so watch the children for me while I'm gone!"

"Very well."

Ninth Maiden stepped upon the hulu leaf and flew away up into the sky and out of sight.

Well, night came but Ninth Maiden had still not returned. Nor did she return by the next morning, or the morning after that.

from Tan Daxian, pp. 60-61. 

The story in the original Chinese doesn't reconcile Ninth Maiden's earlier temporary loss of her bird skin and wings and resultant lack of ability to fly with her human guise and capability of flying away on a leaf. Nor does it suggest that once married, she remains donned in her peahen skin and wings outfit.

The hulu gourd, gourd bottle, or bottle-gourd is a Taoist (Daoist) alchemy symbol, sometimes seen depicted on the windows and walls of Chinese herbalist shops. In ancient times, Taoist adepts were thought to carry medicine or magic potions in their hulu gourds. In Taiwan, a modern expression goes like this: "What's inside your hulu?" In other words, "What are you up to?"

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Midnight Bus -- an Urban Legend From Beijing

A young man and an old man, strangers to each other, got on Bus 302, the midnight bus. The old man took a seat near the front, and the young man, a seat a few rows behind. Two other passengers sat in the front close to the driver.

Shortly after the bus left the stop, the old man turned around to face the young man in the back.

"What did you just say?" asked the old man.

"I didn't say anything," the young man replied.

"Yes, you did. I heard you. Don't lie. You said something about me."

"Excuse me but I didn't say anything to you or anyone else."

"Oh, now you're suggesting I'm lying or that I am hearing things. Is that it?" The old man's face was furious.

"I didn't say anything to you! Don't bother me!"

"Why, you little disrespectful . . . I ought to . . . !"

The old man got up and marched back to the young man and boxed his ears.

"Hey . . . !" yelled the young man.

At this point, the bus driver pulled over to the curb, put the parking brake on, turned around and said, "All right, both of you get off my bus! I'm not having any fighting while I'm driving!"

"But--" the young man began.

"Get off now! You heard me!"

The young man, followed by the old man, exited the bus. The bus took off, leaving the two alone on a deserted street when night is at its blackest.

"What the hell was that all about?" the young man asked the old man. "Why in the world did you start a stupid quarrel with me? Why did you hit me?"

The old man smiled and shook his head. "I just saved your life and mine."

"What do you mean?"

"Did you see the two passengers in the front?"

"Yes . . . well, not clearly. I know there were two people with their backs turned. So what?"

"Well," the old man continued, "I happened to see them more clearly than you did.  Below their waists there was nothing there."

"So . . . they . . . were . . . ?"

"Yes," said the old man, nodding. "Exactly."

The news media reported the next day that Bus 302 had disappeared some time after midnight. No trace of it or anyone on the bus was ever found.


For another version of this urban legend, please see the posting for 3/18/18.

I just heard this story told in English by my very good friend Professor Li Yang of Qingdao, Shandong, China, an expert on Chinese urban legends. This story is now making the rounds in China. His son Andre related another version in which at the very end, once the pair have been kicked off the bus, the old man tells the young man basically the same story, then adding that he, too, is a ghost, meaning, of course, the hapless young man is now in mortal danger. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chunwang & the Ninth Maiden (Han) -- Part Two

Chunwang now found himself the guest of the young hunter, Brother Deer. Brother Deer's family treated Chunwang with great courtesy and affection, feeding the young man plates of fish and meat and cups of rice wine with which to down the food. Brother Deer also took Chunwang along to pay respect to other members of the deer community.

Some time passed and Chunwang began to think of his mother. As much as he had enjoyed staying with Brother Deer and his family, Chunwang longed to return to his mother. And so, escorting Chunwang to the gates of his compound, Brother Deer handed Chunwang a basket and said, "Little Brother, take this parting gift. Don't look at it as just an ordinary basket. See what happens when you place freshly cut grass into the basket!"

With tears in his eyes, Chunwang accepted the gift and prepared to say farewell. However, Brother Deer had more words to say.

"Remember this: If you should ever encounter any problem and need my help," Brother Deer said, "don't hesitate to come this gate and shout: 'Maha! Brother Deer!' Do so and I shall immediately come!"

Chunwang returned home to his worried mother. He dutifully stayed by his aged mother's side for the next few days until it came time to cut the grass.

He was cutting the grass alone when he decided to use the basket Brother Deer had given him. As soon  he placed a few blades of grass into the basket, the entire basket became full of grass and the grass on the ground to cut became that much less. With the basket, Chunwang could now cut much more grass with much less effort! What a great boon this basket turned out to be!

In his free time, Chunwang kept in contact with Brother Deer and his family, often visiting their compound.

In his eighteenth year, Chunwang's mother passed away. He made the funeral arrangements and made sure they were carried out in a filial manner. Afterwards, he visited Brother Deer.

Brother Deer took one look at Chunwang and asked, "Little Brother, what happened? Your face looks so cloudy! You can tell me."

"Brother Deer, my mother has passed away, the person who had loved me and taken care of me since birth, the one person in my little home besides myself. Brother Deer, I shall not want to live alone . . ."

"Listen to me, my little brother. Don't be upset. I think I have the answer. Just about every evening, nine female immortals come down from the sky to the West River to bathe. Here's what you can you do. Hide yourself in the grass a hundred paces from the riverbank before they come down. Wait for them to take off their beautiful peahen skins and wings. You'll see that they are incredibly lovely maidens. Note which of the group is the one most beautiful. While they bathe, take the skin and wings of that maiden and hide it. She shall come out of the water and despair when she is unable to find her skin and wings. Meet her, introduce yourself, and return her skin and wings to her. She shall then become your wife! Now, leave quickly! You need to be somewhere!"

Chunwang thanked Brother Deer, grabbed a bite to eat,  and took off towards West River. Once there, he found a spot a hundred paces from the shore that was full of tall stalks of grass and hid himself there. Then, he watched and waited . . .

The dark grayness of early evening soon turned to the black of night punctuated by the brilliance of the silver stars overhead. Chunwang continued to watch and wait.

A star descended to earth!

Now gathered on the bank of the river were nine gorgeous peahens. One by one each discarded its skin and wings to reveal itself as a ravishing beauty. The last, the ninth, was the most beautiful of all, and she dazzled Chunwang's eyes.

Yes, she's the one, he said to himself.

The nine celestial maidens entered the river water and cavorted and splashed about, unaware of Chunwang's creeping over to pick up the skin and the wings of the ninth maiden. Grabbing the wings and skin, he slipped off to a safe location where the maiden's skin and wings could be safely hidden and never found. He quietly returned to the riverbank and once again hid himself in the tall grass.

Soon, the maidens finished bathing and left the water. One by one, each donned her skin and wings to return to peahen form--all except the Ninth Maiden, of course.

"Wait! Wait!" she cried. "Where are my skin and wings? Sisters, where are they? Have you seen them?"

One by one, her sisters flew away up into the sky.

The Ninth Maiden, without a stitch to conceal herself, covered her eyes and cried.


from Tan Daxian, pp. 58-59. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chunwang & the Ninth Maiden (Han) -- Part One

Long ago, there lived a hardworking, honest village boy named Chunwang. His household was small--just he and his widowed mother.

One day he and about eight or nine other boys were out together doing their chores, cutting grass and weeds.

One of the older boys said to the others, "Hey, let's go to the ravine and get some water!"

So all the boys except Chunwang left to draw some water from the creek that ran along the ravine. Chunwang continued to cut weeds.

Shortly after, he heard the voices of the boys from afar.

"Somebody get a rope!" cried one.

"I've got my sickle ready!" cried another.

"Quiet, now!" cried still another. "It looks like it's going to sleep by the road. Don't wake it up before we have a chance to catch it!"

Chunwang stopped what he was doing.

Hmm . . ., he thought, a wolf, fox or goblin wouldn't rest or sleep out in the open. Whatever they're after has got to be a good being, not a bad one . . . 

He left the field and quietly headed for the place, a nearby spring, where he had heard the other village boys. Sure enough, the boys were there. They appeared to be creeping up on a large deer, a beautiful buck with spots, a "plum deer,"  resting not far from the spring. Closer and closer they approached the deer.

"Get up, Deer, and run!" shouted Chunwang at the top of his lungs. "Quickly before you're captured!"

The deer woke up and, in no time, it fled the area, way before any of the children got close enough to it.

The children were incensed. They turned on Chunwang and mercilessly beat him, pummeling him over and over, until he just lay on the ground, bruised in a heap. The children then left and went back to their homes.

The children were now long gone. And Chunwang? He just lay stunned, every bone in his body in utter agony. He cried out for help, for anyone who might be near but no one responded. In any case, he couldn't pull himself up; the pain was too great.

Evening fell and now he heard all the many weird, sometimes seemingly unearthly but always scary sounds of night--the howling, screeching and whistling of restless forest animals on the move.

Chunwang cried and cried.

Then, he heard someone approach.

A woodcutter! The young man had heard the boy's sobs and found him. The  young woodcutter helped Chunwang up and led him to his own cottage nearby.

What kind of place is this? thought Chunwang, seeing the strange metal lion's head that served as a knob for the gate.

The woodcutter could tell Chunwang was reluctant to go through the gate, so he turned to the boy and said, "Look, you don't have anything to worry about!"

"I . . . I . . . don't?"

"No, you see, you and I have already met today."

"We did?"

"Remember you warned an exhausted deer buck about those children who were ready to do it harm? I am that deer! Now, let's go inside so you can rest and eat."


from Tan Daxian, Zhongguo minjian tonghua yanjiu (Studies in Chinese fairy tales). Hong Kong: Shangwu, 1981; pp. 57-58. 

First part of a folktale collected in Yishui County, Shandong Province. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Princess Who Married a Dog -- a Taiwanese Aboriginal Myth From Mainland China

for my friend Rick Matz, who's more than once given me much appreciated encouragement

It's been said that the Bunun people originally came from the Chinese mainland. 

Ages ago, a Chinese emperor had a very beautiful daughter. This princess, however, one day came down with a horrible skin disease: her entire body was covered by huge oozing, itchy red boils. These painful and ugly sores tormented the poor princess day and night. She stayed in her room, and at night she tossed and turned, unable to sleep. All day and night long, her cries pricked at the hearts of her parents, the emperor and empress, who by this time had called on every doctor and shaman in the land to help their daughter--all to no avail. 

The emperor and empress cried too, knowing they were unable to help their daughter and seeing her condition grow worse and worse. 

"Enough of this!" cried the emperor. "I shall find a way to cure our daughter!"

This is what he did: he ordered proclamations put along all the roads. Each proclamation read: "Anyone, be he beggar or otherwise, who can cure the Princess of her skin ailment shall have her hand in marriage."

The emperor and empress then waited for someone, anyone, who could come to the palace and cure their daughter. 

A whole month went by, and not one person came to the palace gates with a proposed cure. Where were all these doctors, healers, shamans and herbal masters? Were they afraid to show up? Nobody had an answer. The emperor and empress felt as despondent as ever.

Finally, someone or, rather, something showed up--a stray dog with a torn-off proclamation in its mouth appeared at the gates. One guard was of the mind to kill the dog on the spot, while another felt the dog should be led into the palace. Then, the emperor could decide what to do with it. 

The second guard prevailed, and he brought the dog past the gates and into the palace. Once inside, however, the dog bolted from the guard and scampered down the hallway until it reached the princess's room. It hopped onto her bed and began licking her all over, especially her boils. 

When the licking had stopped, the boils had all disappeared . . .

The guard then summoned the emperor, who was, of course, amazed.

The dog was given shelter in the palace for the night.

The next day, the emperor went to his daughter and said, "What this dog did is amazing, but we need to get rid of it."

The dog was right by the princess, and its eyes glowered at the emperor.

"Ah, Dog," said the emperor, "you performed a great service. Please don't misunderstand. It's just that you are not a human. If you can in the next thirty days turn yourself into a young man, you may marry the princess."

The dog immediately scrambled out the palace and headed for the mountains. The emperor ordered some guards to follow the dog, which they did, after going up the mountain and passing through a forest. They observed the dog enter a cave. The guards then made camp and took turns watching to see if the dog left the cave.

On the morning of the twenty eighth day, they spotted a figure leave the entrance of the cave. It had the full figure of a man--the arms, legs and trunk. However, it still had the head of a dog. The dog had become a dog-man, nearly the full man required by the emperor to marry the princess.

The dog-man spotted the guards watching him and shouted, "Why are you spying on me? I still have two more days left, so leave this place!"

The dog-man charged towards the guards, who were shocked and frightened. The guards then fled down the mountain.

The guards returned two days later and crept towards the cave. They poked around a bit but no one--neither man nor beast--was around.

Meanwhile, at the palace, the emperor had just concluded an assembly of his subjects. Everyone in the audience was filing out of the assembly room. One young man, however, appeared to be in a deep sleep in his chair. The palace servants tried rousing him but on he slept. A guard was called, and he rushed over to wake up this young man. The guard succeeded in awakening the fellow, who immediately leaped out of his chair and ran out of the assembly room and down the hall to the princess's room.

The guard entered and found the young man and the princess in a loving embrace. Don't ask how or why, but the princess knew this young man had once been the dog that had licked her skin free of boils. The guard
could not, of course, slay someone the princess was embracing, so he summoned the emperor.

"So, you're finally a man now, Dog," said the emperor. "Very well. You may, as I promised, marry my daughter, only you both will need to leave immediately and never ever return to this place!"

The emperor gave his daughter some time to pack her belongings. Then, the princess and her husband fled the palace. Not far behind them were guards who were given the order to murder the young man.

The princess and her husband, evading the guards, made it to the coast, where they took a small boat and, just the two of them, crossed the Straits all the way to Taiwan itself. They landed at what is now called Lugang (Lu-kang), "Deer Harbor." There, they settled down and had many children. These children then became the first Bunun people, the ancestors of those on Taiwan today.


from Li Fuqing [Boris Riftin], Cong shenhua dao guihua: Taiwan yuanzhumin shenhua gushi bijiao yanjiu.  [From myths to ghost stories: a comparative study of Taiwanese aboriginal myths]. Taipei, Zhenxing, 1999; pp. 322-324. 

The Bunun live primarily on the southern half of Taiwan.

Our best friend in the animal kingdom is as linked to us in world folklore as in real life like a shadow. Hence, we can read stories from all around the world about canine ancestors, as in the story above, or canine stand-ins for us like Old Man Coyote of North America. No one should take stories about a canine ancestor to be denigrating. Some of these animals represented honored totem-like figures. For example, the Mongols of centuries past would tell the story of either the yellow dog-man or sometimes the blue wolf that somehow impregnated Alan Qo'a/Alan or Alan Gua, the female ancestor of the fearsome Genghis Khan. Other Mongol tribes claim descent from camels, bulls, and lions. (See "The Importance of Animals in the Religion of the Turks and Mongols: Tribal Myths and Hunting Rituals" by Jean-Paul Roux in Asian Mythologies, Yves Bonnefoy, comp. & Wendy Doniger, trans.; Chicago: University of Chicago, pp. 325-326.)  

The above myth was told to sinologist and Chinese folklore specialist Boris Riftin by a seventy five year old Bunun man, Quan Shaoren. Stories of marriages between princesses and dogs and the subsequent founding of new races are not limited to Taiwan. In his Myths of the Dog-Man, David Gordon White discusses European folktales from Germany, Ireland, Russia and other nations about princesses marrying dogs with the subsequent founding of new races. In addition, he writes about the ancient Germanic Lombards, who supposedly had among their warriors dog-headed soldiers. The very symbol of the Lombards was an image of a dog. (See Myths of the Dog-Man by David Gordon White; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991; p. 61.)

Other than this story from the Bunun, at least two other aboriginal tribes on Taiwan, according to  Ho Ting-jui,  have similar stories: the Sedeq and the Ketagalan. Still other Asian groups with stories of dog ancestors include the Li tribe of Hainan, some Hmong groups, the Vietnamese Yao, and the Manipur of India. (See A Comparative Study of Myths and Legends of Formosan Aborigines, 2 Vols. by Ho Ting-Jui; Ph.D. dissertation; Indiana University, 1967; pp. 75-78.) 

Motifs: A522.1.1, "Dog as culture hero"; A1611, "Origin of particular tribe(s); B421, "Helpful dog"; 
cB601.2, "Marriage to a dog"; cB631, "Human offspring from marriage to animal"; S247, "Daughter unwittingly promised to dog rescuer"; T68, "Princess offered as a prize." 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dogs -- a Legend & a Pourquoi Tale from China

Amber (1996?-2012)
We'll love and miss you forever, Amber
(And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NKJV)

Dedication: These two stories are dedicated to my beloved older dog Amber, who left this life today, March 6, 2012.

Amber was a big dog. In her prime, she weighed over 90 pounds. We adopted her from the street as a stray when she was already full grown back in 1998.

I guess most dog owners rave about their pets, regarding their abilities, their keen intelligence, and so on. I won't be an exception. Of all the dogs I've ever owned or encountered, Amber had the sweetest disposition. Everyone who met her instantly loved her. She never asked for much in this life, just some companionship and a short walk. Too often I failed to grant either of her modest wishes. Now, of course, it's too late. I'm left just with an empty backyard, some fur here and there, her empty bowls and dishes, and a huge cavern in my heart.

I'm very grateful to God for allowing us to have Amber in our lives all these years.

(1) Lu Yan and His Dog  (Han)

Lu Yan was from Shangdang, Shanxi Province.

One day, while he was out for a walk, he came across a stray dog as thin as kindling, obviously starving and near death. Lu Yan pitied the dog and took it home to raise it as his own.

One evening, after some heavy drinking, Lu Yan  collapsed on his bed and fell into a deep sleep. He was awoken by his dog's loud barking into his ear. The dog also strongly took hold of Lu's sleeve as if to pull its master off the bed. 

Lu Yan, groggy, was forced to stagger out of bed.

As it turned out, the neighboring house had caught fire, and now the fire had spread to Lu's house. His dog had been barking and pulling his sleeve to rouse him from his sleep to save his life! Thus was Lu Yan and his loyal dog able to escape the inferno.


from "Yi chuan jiu ju" by Di Xin in Fojiao tonghuaji zhi er (Zhongguo zhi bu) [Buddhist stories for children, Vol. 2: China], Zhu Fei, ed.; Taipei: Putishu Zhazhishe, 1975; p. 44. 

(2) The Reason Why Dogs and People Get Along  (Han?)

One day, long before dogs became our best friends in the animal kingdom, a dog was roaming up in a mountain ravine. As he looked and moved about, he began to do some thinking.

Well, I've got my limitations, this dog thought. There's no doubt about it. What I need to do is partner myself up with some other animal, and together we can each bring something to the table. 

Before long, the dog spotted a rabbit darting through the ravine. 

Aha, there we go, thought the dog, and he sprinted after the rabbit, finally catching up to it.

"Say there, Rabbit," said the dog, "let's be friends and partners! What do you say?"

"All right," said the rabbit.

That night, after the first day of their partnership, they both lay down to go to sleep. Suddenly, the dog heard something, and, as you know dogs are wont to do, he started barking his head off. 

"Hey, hey, hey, Dog!" whispered the jittery rabbit. "Stop it, would you? You keep doing that and the wolf is sure to hear us and find where we are! Then, we'll both be in big trouble." 

The dog saw how frightened the rabbit was and thought, So, he's afraid of the wolf. That's the animal I need to team up with, not a timid rabbit!

The next day, after some searching, the dog located the wolf and approached this bigger animal.

"Wolf, I have an offer for you! How about you and I become partners and friends?" asked the dog.

"Fine, Dog," replied the wolf. "Let's be friends and partners."

So the two new friends and partners spend their first day together, and when night fell, they prepared to sleep. Suddenly, the dog heard something.

"Wang! Wang! Wang!" Dog barked. 

"Hey, Dog!" hissed the wolf. "Stop that immediately! Are you out of your mind? Do you want the leopard to find us and eat us?"

Hmm, thought the dog, this wolf is just as afraid of the leopard as the rabbit is of the wolf. Why spend my time with Wolf? It's the leopard I need to find!

So the dog ended his alliance with the wolf and sought out the leopard. Deep in the mountains, he found the large cat.

"Leopard, greetings!" said Dog. "How about you and I become friends and partners?" 

"Why not?" replied Leopard. "Let's see how it goes."

The two had just spent their first day together and were now ready to lie down for the night when suddenly Dog heard something and began barking like mad. 

"Dog! Dog!" whispered Leopard. "What do you think you're doing? You want to get us both killed? Your barking is going to lead the tiger here!"

Huh, thought Dog, this leopard is as scared as they come! What a waste of time! First thing tomorrow morning, I'm going to join up with the tiger . . . 

And so the next morning, the dog said goodbye to the leopard and went to see the tiger.

"Hello, Tiger!" said the dog, finally locating the tiger lurking on a hillock. "How about if we join forces? You know, become partners and pals?"

"Hmm," said the tiger, "all right. Let's do so . . . "

And so the dog now became the tiger's companion and ally, sharing everything alike. Then came their first night together. It was close to sleeping time when the dog, hearing a noise somewhere off in the bushes, started barking.

"Whoa, whoa, Dog! What on earth?" asked the tiger in hushed tones. "Do you realize with all that racket you're making you're going to attract the attention of the hunter?"

"The what?"

"The hunter," continued the tiger, "the man! He hears us and we're as good as dead!"

So, thought the dog, even the tiger fears something, the hunter! What am I doing here with the tiger? It's the man I need to be with. 

That morning, the dog bid the tiger adieu and headed out to search for the hunter. Later that day, the dog descended the mountain and came upon a village. There were people everywhere! He spotted one man in particular and approached him.

"Hey, Person, " said the dog, "why don't you and I become partners and friends?"

"Ha, ha," replied the man, "sounds fine to me!"

The man than gently stroked the dog's legs and patted his back. The dog, of course, was overjoyed to receive such affection.

That night, the man showed the dog to the eaves of the veranda, where earlier he had prepared a nice bed of soft rice straw for the dog.

"Dog, here's where you can sleep! Good night."

The dog found the rice straw to be nice and warm, and there he spent a very good, comfortable night. Then, very early that morning, the dog heard something and began his customary barking. The dog's new friend came running out.

"Dog, what's going on? Are you afraid of something?" the man asked.

"Y-Yes, actually," said the dog. "I'm afraid of something but I don't know what."

The man laughed, patted the dog, and said, "Dog, as long as you have me, you have nothing to fear."

Well, that calmed the dog down and he went back to sleep. A few hours later, he awoke and again began to bark. Once again, the man came outside.

"Poor dog, you must be hungry!" said the man. "Let me show you where you can get something to eat. How does some rice with meaty ribs sound to you?"

Of course such a meal sounded very good to him, indeed!

This man is so wonderful, thought the dog. He's not afraid of anything, and he takes wonderful care of me. He's the best partner of all! I'm sticking with him!

And so from that day on, dogs and people have been partners and good friends, even though most, maybe even all dogs have never quite learned to give up their habit of barking at night!


from Minjian chuanshuo [Folk legends], Liu Xiaolu, ed.; Shizhuangshi, Hebei: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2004; pp. 170-171. 

Pourquoi stories or just-so stories purport to explain the origin of some phenomena such as why turtle shells have ridges or why dogs and cats seem to hate each other. Those that explain the origin of the heavens, earth, sun, and so on fall into the realm of myths, while those like this simpler tale are categorized as folktales. 

Motifs: A2493.4, "Friendship between man and dog"; B210.3, "Animals (dogs) and men spoke the same language."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Words of Encouragement

I almost never post anything personal other than season's greetings and Memorial/Remembrance Day thoughts. Today I'd like to share some information about an incident that happened last month: my Gmail account's being hacked and then reclaimed. I have other accounts, like many people, but my being unable to log into this account meant also access denied to this blog. I love writing on this blog and was not about to take this lying down. So I persevered and finally, thanks first to God and then to Google/Gmail, was able to recover my account and, in effect, my blog.

So I'd like to take a moment and share some things I have learned from this. Preparation and awareness are the best cures. Here are some tips I've learned that will lessen the likelihood of your Gmail and mine ever being hijacked again.

1. Never ever use the same password for multiple sites. Very important. Don't allow laziness or convenience to lead you to this error. You can write your usernames, passwords and security questions in a designated notebook.

2. Change your password frequently. Some advise doing so bimonthly or more often.

3. Follow the recovery steps Google & Gmail provide you. If you're unable to log in, if your password is rejected or if you, as I did, get the telltale message, "You changed your ago," then you know you have a problem. Just follow through the steps. You can read more about them here: Gmail Account Recovery

4. To make it possible for Gmail to recover your account, you should have some data on hand for the recovery form. You will be asked to remember the date you were first invited to Gmail. Do you remember it? I remembered the year but not the exact date. Fortunately, that seemed to be helpful enough. My guess is if you can remember the exact date, that would make the recovery process all the quicker. If you have saved all your correspondences, go back to the very first or second email in your inbox, one of which would be the invitation. Also note who invited you and his/her email address. You can write all this down in that secure notebook that contains sensitive information. Also write down four or five email addresses that you have a history of communicating with on your Gmail account. You will be asked to supply such email addresses. In any case, approximate responses are better than nothing if you cannot be exact. You will also be asked to supply applications used for that account, such as Docs, News, and so on. If possible, try to note exactly when you began using them. Every time you think of something you can add, such as an email address or other pertinent datum, you can go back and resubmit a recovery form. Sooner or later all the data you add will tally with what the Gmail computer finds, and the tide will turn in your favor; you'll get the message, "Congratulations! You're steps away from reclaiming your account . . ."

5. Note the password and the last time it was successfully used. You will be asked what the compromised, erased, altered, etc. password was and the last time you were able to use it to successfully log in.

6. Have more than one Gmail account for recovery purposes. 

7. Above all, don't give up hope. I spent about five very bleak days trying to reclaim my account, and all the efforts paid off, despite my being somewhat inept with technical matters, data, terminology, etc. A lot of naysayers on the web will tell you a hacked account is next to impossible to recover. My experience proves otherwise. Bottom line: If I could recover my account all on my own, so can you!

Best wishes & Good luck!
Fred Lobb

Sunday, January 22, 2012