Yushan [玉山] is the tallest mountain on the island of Taiwan, its height peaking at 12,966 feet. During the era of Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), it was known as Niitakayama [新高山], or "New High Mountain," for in those days it was the tallest mountain in the Japanese empire, surpassing famed Mt. Fuji.
It is on this mountain, on its highest mountain path, on the fork that differentiates the approaches to the Main, Front and South Summits, that something weird, unsettling, and hazardous occurs, something bizarre that has played out more than once--the materialization of the Little Flying Swordsmen. Don't let the cuteness or quaintness of the name given to them fool you; they are malevolent and can be deadly, according to the lore.
The core story goes something like this:
It's anything but a clear day--it's foggy, damp, or snowy, and so on. Or, it might be a dark dusk. A party of mountain climbers approach the fork in the paths. A climber is lagging behind. Nearby, three figures appear. The three are wearing yellow raincoats, and each wears a conical bamboo hat, what the Taiwanese call a douli [斗笠]. Their faces are obscured by the hats, the lifted collars of the coats and the poor visibility. These three appear to know where they're going as they move along one of the steep paths. The straggler may call to them, asking them if they could lead him or her to the hostel below, the staging point for forays up into the mountain. Maybe one of the three will make a hand gesture suggesting the climber can come along and follow them, or maybe the climber lagging behind the group will just figure he or she should follow the three. After all, they seem to know where they are going.
If the straggler is lucky, he or she will be merely misled onto the wrong path, where, if he or she is careful in the darkness or fog, there will be no mishap. Otherwise, the straggler might never make it back to the hostel. A search party is formed, and each member is equipped with strong lanterns. The party breaks up to scour the different paths. Amazingly, all the lanterns malfunction during the search. The lost climber is never seen again . . .
What exactly do these beings look like? Those who have witnessed them and have survived to tell the tale say that they are of small stature and, as mentioned above, they wear high-collared yellow rain coats and conical hats. Oh, yes . . . and they are also faceless.
A Sample Story:
A Professor Dai took some people up the mountain. He was apparently more experienced and familiar with the terrain and thus went farther ahead of his group, so far that he and they lost sight of each other. He stopped to take a break and wait for the others to catch up. After tarrying at the spot, he decided to move on when he saw three men on the path not far ahead of him, three men with their backs turned towards him, each wearing a yellow raincoat and a douli.
Probably many of us, if not most, would assume these three were fellow mountain trekkers. They appeared to be walking along this particular path in a purposeful manner that would make anyone think they knew to where they were headed. Everything looked normal; nothing was amiss; these three men were likely rural residents familiar with Taiwan's greatest mountain and its various paths.
So, the professor followed them.
He continued to follow them for a while when he suddenly heard shouts from behind: "Professor Dai! Professor Dai!"
Only then did the professor slow down. Behind him were the people he was supposed to be leading. He turned around again to discover he was right on the edge of a precipice. A step or two farther and he would have gone right off the edge of the cliff.
Professor Dai, totally beguiled, had been following the three men in yellow without deviating. Where could they have gone? The only answer is off the mountain and into thin air, for they had totally vanished sometime before the professor had come to his senses, thanks to his party behind him who had snapped him out of his reverie.
This Professor Dai, whoever he was, lived to tell the tale. Many others, however, would not be so lucky.
The Little Flying Swordsmen (小飛侠--the name also used in Chinese for "Peter Pan") are a class of malicious forest and mountain spirit entity known in Taiwanese Hokkien as mo-sin-a (魔神仔), and theydelight in leading travelers astray, even causing them to vanish. (See Professor Zhang Xun's A Study on the Folklore of Mo-sin-a in Taiwan [ 台湾魔神仔傳說考察]; Taipei: National Chengchih University, 2010.) They might very well be a more modern version of the ancient wangliang (魍魉), a sprite of rivers, swamps, forests and mountains, or a similar being of the mountains, the chimei ( 螭魅), both of which were said to "mislead" or "delude" unwary peopleand to be avoided (seethe entries in The Dictionary of Chinese Folk Beliefs and Customs [中国民间信仰风俗辞典], Wang Jinglin & Xu Tao, eds; Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlian Chubanshe; 1997). The people of Xiamen, or Hsia-men, the port from which the ancestors of many today's Taiwanese left Fujian to travel to Taiwan, knew of the mo-sin-a. Back in Southern Fujian, China, just as on Taiwan today, these entities were regarded as responsible for causing others to vanish without a trace. The mo-sin-a perhaps represent the personified deep-seated human fear of the desolate, seldom visited and lonely mountains and forests, the same fear that, while not preventing organized expeditions to the New World, also manifested itself among the European settlers in North America who saw the deep woods as hostile territory full of fearsome beings. We see cognates of the mo-sin-a in the fairies of Europe, who could beguile a traveler or nearby farmer with their music, causing him or her to lose decades of time, as well as in the many types of dangerous goblins and demons that were thought to inhabit the forests and mountains of Japan, all of which have been so lovingly and creatively cataloged by Mizuki Shigeru. Jacques Vallee in his Passport to Magonia links primarily traditional European folklore, anomalous visitations similar to the mo-sin-a and UFO sightings.
Motifs: cE272.5, "Ghost misleads travelers"; F402.1.1, "Spirit leads person astray"; S147, "Abandonment on mountain."
According to Taiwanese folklore, say the authorities below, there is a type of invisible malevolent ghost that lurks within bamboo groves, waiting to snare passers-by. This bamboo ghost is most active at night and sometimes emits an eerie laughter. The ghost may be more prevalent within groves where unfortunate individuals hanged themselves. The spirit of a suicide victim, nursing resentment for the living and desiring to find a replacement, may leave a bamboo stalk lying on a path. When a traveler comes upon the stalk and attempts to step over it, the stalk might snap upwards, killing the person on the spot. The haunted bamboo stalks have also been known to whip around a person's throat, throttling him or her.
Locals where such occurrences are thought to occur will tell you that these possessed bamboo stalks are incredibly powerful and are able to fling a hog to its death.
Can a bamboo ghost be circumvented from taking someone's life in the ghost's quest to find a replacement? It is said that they can be dispelled if the potential victim sprays urine or throws a rock in the general direction of where the haunting seems to be coming from.
According to someone who says he or she knew the person involved the following story, there was a young fellow who was attending night classes. One night, on his way home after classes, he took the path home that went through a bamboo grove, the only road, it seems, that most directly connected his home with the school.
On his way home on this particular night, he stopped when he came to a large bamboo stalk lying in the middle of the path. It was twitching, shaking. Recalling stories he had heard of bamboo ghosts, he turned tail and ran back down the way he had come, back towards school, then taking a very long, roundabout way to return home. Upon returning home, his parents scolded him for coming back so late. He told them about the bamboo stalk shaking on the path.
The next day came the report that the corpse of a suicide victim had been found hanging nearby where the bamboo stalk had blocked the student's path.
Another story, told by someone who also purportedly knows the person involved, tells of a mother who had to get up very early in the morning, at about three or four A.M., to sell vegetables at the market. Her route would take her through a bamboo grove. She admitted she would walk through with her eyes closed.
Early one morning this woman was walking through the grove to market while in the midst of a thick fog that had suddenly descended on the area.
What had been clearly one path now suddenly became two with a fork in the road. She stopped in her tracks and dared not go farther, market or no market. She waited until the early morning rays of the sun finally dispersed the fog. Only then right before her eyes did the two paths merge into one . She was mindful of what is said about mysterious pathways that appear in bewitched forests: To take the wrong road or path would be to disappear forever.
In the safety of the day, she resumed her journey to the market and arrived without being harmed.
The first source is from Taiwan; the second one is basically the same but from China and retold in simplified Chinese characters.
These stories of bamboo ghosts haunting groves and waylaying travelers to find new ghosts as replacements seem to be a new variation of the deadly water ghosts. Stories of water ghosts appear in my ebook, Taiwan Folktales. Water ghosts are likewise believed to draw in unwary men and women to replace them in their watery haunts, such as a lake or pond.
Are bamboo ghosts actual folklore being transmitted regularly, or are they what is known as "fakelore," spurious legends such as those made up about Paul Bunyan? Indeed, are any of the previous posts on ghost stories gleaned from the Chinese Internet fakelore instead of folklore? Time will tell. If such stories continue to be transmitted, if some didactic meaning (e.g., a warning) can continually be derived from them to make their transmission purposeful, and if such stories are believed in the community in which they are told (grammar and middle school students, perhaps?), they'll probably be accepted as legitimate folklore. Urine is a powerful apotropaic, or magic, like an amulet, to ward off evil in Chinese folklore. The motifs below are largely approximate. Motifs: c E266.1, "Ghost of suicide leads people to commit suicide" ; E711.2.6, "Soul in bamboo"; and cF95.1, "Path to the world of the dead." Without the "Halloween" connection, this would also be very close: c1099.2, "Roads miraculously appear on Halloween."
A young man wanted to take out a young lady he had just met on an evening drive in the mountains and enjoy a scenic view of the city.
It wasn't long before they were well in the mountains when they realized they were lost. Suddenly, the young woman began giving him directions. Owing to the darkness and the narrowness of the road, he kept his eyes peeled on the road ahead as he followed her directions in what forks in the road to take.
Then, out of the blue, the girl blurted out: ""Go any farther and the car will go off a cliff!"
The young stopped the car. He got out and saw that they were indeed mere feet from driving right off the cliff.
Back inside the car, he took a deep breath, only to hear the young woman mumble, "If only we had died!"
In shock, he turned his head to look at his female traveling companion. She was deep asleep and had apparently been so for quite a while . . .
For the first in this particular series of internet urban legends, see the posts for 8/17/13. From the same site comes a different version. A carload of young men are driving on a very hazardous hairpin road up in the mountains, the kind of road that demands one hundred percent attention. (I was thinking about California's Pacific Coast Highway up around Big Sur, Monterey, and Carmel as I read this.) Suddenly, a girl totally dripping with red blood flies onto the windshield and, just as suddenly, totally vanishes. The driver just about loses it but manages to stop the car after it nearly skids out of control. The boys get out; sure enough, just ahead of them is the edge of a cliff. One says to the others, "I bet whoever she was she lost her life here in an accident." The others concur. Each places the palms of his hands together, and the foursome together solemnly thank the spirit of the dead young woman. Then, in their ears, they each hear a mumbling female voice say, "You should have all died . . ." In keeping with traditional Chinese ghost lore, we have here a spiteful ghost, jealous of the living, apparently possessing a sleeping young woman. The redness of the ghost in the second version is probably not coincidental since, as other readers have pointed out, female phantoms in red seem to be the most malignant. Motif: E725, "Soul leaves one body and enters another." A similar motif would be E725.2, "Ghost possesses girl and she speaks in dialect unknown to her."
(2) The Slit-Mouthed Little Girl (Version 1)
One evening two young men from Neipu, Pingtung County, took their motor scooters out to a hot spring.
Leaving the hot spring and almost back to Neipu, the second man whom we'll call X, yelled to his friend, Y, on the other scooter, "Hurry up! Go faster!"
They both sped as fast as they could, though Y could not fathom the reason behind his friend's haste to leave the area.
Before reaching their respective homes in Pingtung City, Y followed X as he pulled up and parked next to the local Mazu temple.
"What's going on?" asked Y. "Why are we stopping here?"
"I'll tell you why," replied X. "Something happened at the hot spring. I already felt uncomfortable while there. After we left, as we were heading back, I heard something, a girl's shrill laughter. Then, I saw something I wish I had never seen."
X told Y a girl had followed him as he rode his motor scooter, a girl in red, gliding in the air right behind him, a girl with long fissures for eyes, no nose, and her mouth, a bloody gash from ear to ear, spurting gobs of blood.
The "Slit-Mouthed Woman" is a well-established Japanese urban legend, the source of many stories and at least one movie. The above Taiwanese story, as well as probably others from Taiwan that are gradually coming to the attention of folklorists may be a foreign graft on top of the foundation of traditional Taiwanese mountain goblin lore. The Wikipedia for the Japanese Slit-Mouthed Woman is as follows: Kuchisake-onna - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The side trip to the temple, a holy site, presumably precluded the girl's ghostly attachment to X. The author of this story, who goes by 夏町雪女 (Xiading Xue-nu, "Snow Woman of the Summer Street"), claims to know a relative of one of the participants.
(3) The Slit-Mouthed Little Girl (Version 2)
Two young women together rode a motor scooter into Tainan one night, looking for a certain street. The driver was a Tainan native, yet she couldn't find this street that she and her passenger were supposed to go to. So they drove on in this area that this girl who had been born in Tainan did not recognize, an area not far from what is known as the "New X" quarter.
They drove along a street and spotted a solitary little girl, her head down, standing on the deserted street, apparently sobbing.
They slowed down and stopped beside her.
"Little girl! What's wrong?" they asked. "Why are you crying?"
The two young women felt their hearts just about stop. The little girl looked up. Her mouth was a slash from ear to ear. She stopped crying and began laughing.
The motor scooter took off like a rocket, with both young women as scared as a crocodile in a wallet factory.
Perhaps a block or two later, the driver turned to the passenger and asked: "Is she there? Is she following us?"
The passenger turned her head. Right behind them, running, was the little girl, holding a knife and laughing.
The driver headed to one of Tainan's 7-11 shops, ubiquitous on Taiwan. They parked and rushed in, observing the little girl still outside. There they stayed through the night into the morning, when more customers were entering and leaving.
The little girl was gone . . .
As it turns out, the the driver and her passenger had probably strayed into the New X neighborhood, well known by the residents of Tainan. And what exactly had been this new area in older times? It had been an execution ground. In its latest incarnation, it now boasts some blue-collar eateries, where, as one eats alfresco, one might have the sensation of being watched, hear odd noises, or witness items inexplicably fall to the ground. Then, there's the danger of being called by your name while there. The trick is not to turn your back and to respond. Of those who aren't aware of this and do turn around to return the greeting, many are suddenly hit with a high fever and have to be sent to an emergency ward. One man, in a movie theater in the district, was accosted by a very small person, while another claims that in a fountain located nearby there was someone bathing in blood . . .
This urban ghost legend, recounted by the same author as the one above, in some ways resembles Lafcadio Hearn's "Mujina," in which a Tokyo businessman at the beginning of the twentieth century unwisely decides to take a shortcut home after work through a haunted area of Tokyo, encountering faceless entities. See Mujina by Lafcadio Hearn
The author also claims that the driver of the motor scooter in this tale is a friend of a friend, a telltale hallmark of urban legends. No mention if anyone in the 7-11 likewise saw the slit-mouthed girl. Is New X, the name used by the author, an actual area? Perhaps. However, my wife, a native of Tainan, said she has never heard of it. Both versions share these motifs: C0, "Tabu: Contact with the supernatural"; E265.1, "Meeting ghost causes sickness." Similar is E272.2, "Ghost rides behind rider on horse." Historically, such stories would be about riders on horseback with a ghost right behind them or following close by. Since urban legends are not static, today we have the same story with motorcyclists and the like.
Note: It might be best not to share these stories, especially the last one, with very young, impressionable and sensitive readers.
(1) The Tiger and the Frog (Buyi/Bouyei)
A tiger had crept out to a rice field to lap some water. He heard a "croak . . . croak . . . " and looked around to locate the source. Soon, below him, he spotted a little frog.
"Frog? Was that you?" asked the tiger. "Ha. Where does a pipsqueak like you get off making such a big noise?"
The frog was little, but he had what we would call today a "big attitude." "Don't look down on me, Tiger, just because I'm smaller than you. Why, I eat creatures bigger than you every day."
"You'd better watch your mouth." The tiger's intelligence was as small as the frog's ego was large. "With a mere swipe of my tail, I could turn you, Frog, in a meat paste."
"Tiger, save your bullying for other animals. None of that works on me. Sometime we'll match our skills, and then you'll know you're not as great as you think you are! I'll show you that I can leap farther than you ever can!"
"All right, then," said the tiger, "let's have a contest right now. The victor shall eat the loser!"
"Not right now. I'm a bit tuckered. I still have to sing my evening songs at the pond. Let's have our contest tomorrow."
"Tomorrow it is, then!" said the tiger. "Just know this: If you don't show up tomorrow and I get a hold of you, you'll be as good as dead."
The tiger returned to his mountain, leaving the frog where he was. The frog immediately regretted opening his big mouth and bragging about how he could best the tiger and how he could eat an animal bigger than the tiger himself. He fell into a deep blue mood.
His mood had slowly turned into panic when along came the farmer. The frog leaped into the air to catch the farmer's attention. After he did so, he told the farmer the story of what had just happened and asked the farmer to save him.
"Ah, my little friend," said the farmer, "you don't need me to save you. Don't worry; you can save yourself!"
"Oh? How so?" asked the frog.
"The tiger is big, strong and arrogant but also very stupid. Just make sure just before the contest begins that you squat on top of his tail. As soon as the tiger pounces forward, his tail spring upwards. He'll catapult you far beyond him! Believe me--you'll beat him in such a contest."
The next day came soon enough.
"All right, pipsqueak," said the tiger, "on the count of three."
"Got it. On the count of three," replied the frog.
"One . . . " said the tiger.
The frog tiptoed back to the tiger's fuzzy tail and planted himself within.
"Two . . ."
The tiger tightened and stretched his body to launch himself forward; as he did so, his tail, working like a lever, lifted up, sending the little frog sailing forward just as the tiger called the third number.
"Three!" cried the tiger.
"Threeeee!" shouted the frog, now many feet beyond the tiger's snout.
The tiger conceded he had lost.
"All right, you were lucky that time," said the tiger. "The contest we just had won't count. Let's see who can jump farthest across the river instead."
"Whatever you say, Tiger."
They sat on the bank of the river, facing the other side.
"One . . . two . . . three!"
The same thing happened again--the frog allowed the tiger's tail to propel himself far across the river, far beyond the length of the great leap the tiger was able to accomplish. On the other side of the river, the two animals once again came face to face. All kinds of things were now running through the tiger's limited brain.
Looking at the frog, the tiger now thought, He's won again . . . He's going . . . to . . . eat . . . me!
The tiger then took off for the hills. As he ran and ran for what he thought was his very life, he passed a wolf.
"Slow down there, Brother Tiger!" said the wolf. "What's chasing you?"
"A frog's after me, and he's going to eat me!"
"Oh, my word! What are you afraid of? No such thing'll happen. Listen. Just lead me to this frog."
"Wait, Wolf. You don't understand. I'm afraid! When you go up against that little devil, you'll take off too and leave me behind!"
"No, no, no. This is what we'll do. I'll tie myself to you with a rope. There's no way one of us will desert the other. Now, come on! Take me to this frog!"
Off they went down the hill to where the frog was. The frog spotted the tiger and wolf before either caught sight of him.
"Tiger! Tiger!" said the frog. "You're back! You lost and returned to let me eat you, as agreed. Fine! Don't run away again. Let me finish sharpening this stone so I can skin you . . ."
As soon as the tiger heard this, he turned tail and fled the scene even faster than before. The poor wolf ended up being dragged to death.
The frog watched his enemies disappear and then headed out to his favorite spot by the marsh. Once there, he suddenly felt very grateful for the farmer's original advice which had saved his life and then had inspired him to use his cunning against the tiger. He wanted to thank the farmer but didn't know the man's name. So, he contented himself by munching on his favorite insects and croaking out a song in the farmer's honor, singing to whoever was nearby about the wonderful man and his helpful advice.
from Zhongguo minjian gushixuan, Vol. 1, pp. 393-394. (See 2/26/08 for complete citation) This story shares some common motifs with the Mongolian "The Peasant and the Lion" (see 12/18/07). The Buyei or Bouyei live in Guizhou and Vietnam and speak a Tai language. Motifs: J1706.1, "Tiger as stupid beast"; K1715.2, "Ogre or larger animal deceived by bluffing."
(2) The War Between the Monkeys and Locusts (Buyi/Bouyei)
This happened back in ancient times, when animals could speak as we do.
A monkey happened to come across locusts living on the embankment of a rice paddy.
"Off with you, little children, off to the mountains!" said the monkey, disparagingly. "I'm bigger than you runts. The embankment's going to belong to us monkeys."
"Hang on a minute, Monkey," said one of the locusts. "The embankment here has always been our home since our ancestors first arrived. We're not going up into any mountains!"
"Oh? Fine, then. We'll fight over it."
" Yes, indeed, we'll fight over it. Tomorrow--here!" replied the locust.
The monkey left to go back and report to his brothers and sisters his encounter with the locusts.
The war was on!
The next morning the monkey force, armed with clubs, headed for the locust camp on the edge of the paddy.
The monkeys arrived and could find no sign of the locusts.
"All right, runts, where are you?" asked a club-wielding monkey. "Come on out and fight!"
"We're here, all right," replied a hidden locust. "We'll be out by and by, as soon as the sun's up and the dew's evaporated."
Before long the sun was up and the dew had evaporated.
"All right, so are you coming out to fight us or not?" asked the same monkey.
And then, with the roar all the locusts emerged and roared at the monkeys.
"So, let's fight!" cried the monkey.
A flying wall of locusts swarmed over the monkeys as the monkeys swung their clubs wildly.
Now, I don't need to tell you that monkeys are wily, agile devils, but on that day the whole lot of them had to yield the ground to the humble, lowly, and decidedly small locusts. The quick locusts found a clever way to defeat their foes: they would dart in and out of the monkeys' ample nostrils before any harm could befall them.
"Get 'im!" screamed the chief monkey. "He just flew up my nose!"
The monkey nearest to him swung his club and hit his teammate squarely in the face, seconds after the locust had exited, putting his leader out of action forever.
This scene repeated itself over and over all morning until one monkey out of the whole group was left standing. He surveyed the ground littered with dead, dying and severely injured monkeys.
"Well, Monkey," said a locust, "shall we finish the fight? Do you still insist on taking our area instead of going back to the mountains to your own home?"
"You . . . you can . . . can keep your embankment! You locusts scare me!" the monkey replied. "I'm going home, home to the mountains!"
He was gone in a flash.
So, the locusts got to keep the rice paddy and its embankments, while the monkeys stayed in the mountains.
And that is how it has always been and will always be.
from Zhongguo minjian gushixuan, Vol. 1, p. 395. In this "just-so" tale, why were the locusts so insistent upon waiting for the dew to evaporate? Were they afraid their bodies wet with dew would make them cling to the monkey's fur? Or, were they waiting for the sun to be higher up in the sky so as to attack the monkeys from the direction of the sun, while their foes were blinded? This narrative, like those of many Chinese-language folktales, doesn't say and prefers to leave much to the imagination.
Motifs: B263.6, "War of monkeys and grasshoppers (locusts)"; B268.8.2, "Army of locusts."
(3) Why the Barking Deer Is Red (Lisu)
Believe it or not, tigers and muntjacs, or barking deer, were once neighbors. Not only that but they would help each other out in a neighborly spirit with chores.
One day a barking deer was out helping his neighbor, the tiger, dig a hole.
"Say," said the tiger, "we've been out here for a while. Let me go home and prepare you a lunch. I'll bring it to you here."
The muntjac thanked the tiger and continued to dig away as the tiger headed back. What the barking deer did not know was that the tiger went to the barking deer's home, caught one of the smaller barking deer, killed it and cooked it up while his friend toiled away.
The treacherous tiger returned with this lunch, saying, "Muntjac, stop working! Come and eat while it's still hot!"
The barking deer stopped what he was doing and went to eat. To his great horror, he discovered that the steaming lunch before him was meat from a young barking deer--one of his own children. He was totally under the watchful and baleful eyes of the smiling tiger. Not wishing to reveal his shock and sadness and fear, he ate the lunch without letting on, biding his time, thinking of revenge.
The time for revenge came the very next day.
On this day, the muntjac asked the tiger for his help in digging a hole. The tiger obliged.
"Tiger, my friend," said the muntjac, "let me bring you some lunch as you toil away. I'm going to return home. I'll be back in a jiffy with a meal for you."
The tiger thanked the muntjac. The muntjac, instead of returning home, went to the tiger's den, where he slaughtered one of the tiger's cubs. He took the carcass home, cooked it and made a meal of it. He then carried the grisly lunch out to the tiger.
The muntjac, by now, was trembling all over with great fear for what the tiger would do. Even though he was about to exact a gruesome vengeance, he was still deathly afraid of the tiger. He gingerly set the meal down on the edge of the pit farthest from where the tiger was digging. He then ran off to an area from which he could observe the tiger from afar.
"T-Tiger!" said the muntjac. "I've . . . I've troubled you enough f-for now! Go ahead and eat!"
The tiger approached the hot lunch awaiting him, discovered it was made of the remains of one of his dead cubs, snarled, and roared. He bounded out of the hole and ran after the muntjac, who immediately took off into the brush.
Though the muntjac had a good head start on the tiger, he still ran for his life. He shot through the jungle, reaching a spot where a boar happened to be.
"Brother Boar," cried the muntjac, "you've got to save me! The tiger's after me! Hide me!"
"All right," said the boar, "follow me."
No sooner had the boar safely hid the muntjac away in his lair the tiger showed up.
"Have you seen the muntjac around here?" asked the tiger.
"No, I haven't."
"I don't believe you! I think you've got him tucked away somewhere."
"Since you don't believe me, Tiger, I guess we'll just have to fight and see who's more powerful."
The tiger, self-proclaimed local king of the animals, guffawed at the notion.
"You wish to duel with me, Boar? Am I hearing correctly?"
"Yes, Tiger. Just give me nine days to prepare."
"Very well. Just remember that after I whip you and then find that no-good, cowardly muntjac, I'll be coming back for you. See you in nine days!"
The tiger returned home and for nine days did nothing but lounge, eat and sleep without a care or fear in the world. What was a fat, bristly boar to him, the King?
The boar, however, did not take the upcoming challenge so lightly. For nine days, he rolled around in the mud. Every time a fresh layer of mud dried, he would roll around again, until the new layer dried. He did this constantly for nine days until his entire body was caked with tough, thick mud.
The day of combat came soon enough, and the two combatants squared off against each other.
With a roar, the tiger leaped forward to attack the boar. The tiger succeeded in taking a bite out of his foe--a bite of thick caked mud which filled up his mouth. With the tiger now preoccupied with spitting out the mud, the boar ripped into the tiger's throat, inflicting a fatal injury.
The tiger staggered and fell dead upon the ground.
The boar then went to call the muntjac to come from out of hiding.
"Hey, Muntjac, help me carry the tiger back home," Boar asked.
There was a problem: the dead tiger was too heavy to budge. The boar decided to cut the tiger's carcass into what should have been easy enough sections to carry.
"Muntjac, carry the tiger's head."
"Oh . . . no . . . I can't . . . " replied the muntjac.
"What? With the tiger's dead eyes staring at me, with his open mouth and fangs still dripping . . . ? How could I? No, let me carry something else . . . "
"Well, carry his arms and feet, then."
"No . . . no . . . I can still picture those claws of his trying to rip me apart . . ."
"Then carry his entrails!"
"Are you joking, Boar? I can just imagine them encircling me, choking me . . . "
"All right, fine! Here, let's drain the blood from his body and have you carry the blood in this vessel. Surely, you can do that!"
"Yes, I can do that."
And so the muntjac carried a large container of the tiger's blood back to the boar's home. On the way back, though, something happened. Did he feel a sudden breeze on his back and imagine it was the hot breath of a dangerous, vengeful jungle cat? Did he hear a rustling in nearby bushes? In any case, he suddenly imagined the tiger ready to pounce upon him. And what did he do? He panicked, stumbled, and ended up showering himself with the tiger's blood!
From head to food, he was completely drenched in red.
It is said that from then on, barking deer, or muntjacs, all have red fur because their ancestor had accidentally bathed himself in the blood of the tiger.
from Lisuzu minjian gushixuan [A folktale anthology of the Lisu ethnicity], Xiong Faqing, et al, eds.; Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1985; pp. 349-351. Lisu live on both sides of the Thai-Chinese frontier. Their language, like that of the Buyi, belongs to the Tai family of languages. Lisu women are renowned for their silver finery. The last motif below is shared with at least one other folktale, one from India. Motifs: A24188.8.131.52, "Color of deer"; A2494.2.4, "Enmity between leopard (tiger) and deer"; A2494.10.2, "Enmity between tiger and boar"; B414.1, "Helpful boar"; cD1318.7, "Flesh reveals guilt"; cG61, "Relative's flesh eaten unwittingly"; and K97.1, "Boar in duel with tiger cakes mud on body; defeats tiger."
There once was a small household, just three mouths to feed--a young man, his young wife, and his little brother--all fed by the hard labor of the husband.
Now one day, the wife said to her husband, "Your young brother has more or less already grown up. It's high time that he takes a wife. We can give him half of what we have, such as it is. Otherwise, one way or another, we'll need to be rid of him!"
Her husband wasn't ready for this. He shook his head.
"No?" She ran to pick up a carving knife and held it above her bosom. "No? Then if you don't take care of him, let me end my life right here and now!"
The husband found himself over a barrel; he instantly agreed to her demands.
Early the next day, the husband--the older brother--presented his younger brother with a set of brand-new clothes.
"Change into the new clothes," he said to his kid brother. "I'm taking you out today to . . . to see the world."
The pair went out. Together, they crossed the high mountain and walked and walked until they came to a gully. Here, the older brother came to a complete stop. With tears in his eyes, he turned to his younger brother.
"Didi, here we need to say our goodbyes."
"What? Brother, you don't want me?" the younger lad asked.
The older brother explained the whole situation to him and then handed to him two strings of coins, worth two thousand in cash, roughly half of the older brother and Sister's-in-law fortune, such as it was.
"Take this money for your travel expenses," he said. "Take care crossing the gully and be safe! Farewell!"
The brothers parted, both in tears. The younger brother then began his journey into the unknown. He walked on alone as day turned to night. He stopped when he came to a thatched hut. He looked in the window and saw what appeared to be a hunter. He asked the hunter if he could spend the night, and the older man, seeing how the poor boy was all alone in the world, welcomed him as his guest.
While staying with the hunter, the boy noticed a hedgehog tethered to a pillar. The creature kept its gaze on the boy.
"Master," asked the boy, "why do you have a hedgehog tied up to this pillar?"
"I'm going to skin it and eat the meat" was the reply.
"But Master, look how sad the hedgehog is! Let it go!"
"'Let it go!'? After a backbreaking day of hunting, I'm going to let it go? No, I'm not. Its pelt's going to pay for sorghum wine."
"Master, I'll buy the hedgehog from you! I have the money." He took out his two strings of coins. "See?"
The hunter took the boy's money and said, "The hedgehog's all yours!" He untied the tether and handed the untied end to the boy.
The boy led the hedgehog away from the hunter's hut. When the hut was no longer in view, he untied the noose around its neck, saying, "All right, now run for your life far away from here! If you get caught again, I won't be able to buy back your freedom!"
The hedgehog seemed to nod as if it understood, and then, with a little peep, it headed off for some thick tall brush, into which it disappeared.
The boy stood there, looking at the spot where he had last seen the hedgehog when he noticed something big rustling within the tall grasses and weeds. To his amazement, from out of the brush stepped a maiden who couldn't be more than eighteen years of age. She was carrying a thick blanket decorated with flower motifs.
She approached the astounded young man and said, "My benefactor, you are here alone without any shelter. Allow me to present you with this blanket to keep you warm!"
He saw that she was utterly gorgeous, with her small mouth, big eyes and egg-shaped face.
"Miss, you are truly one of the goodhearted on this earth! Thank you."
They sat down in a comfortable place and chatted.
"Do you have a home somewhere?" the maiden, Hedgehog Girl, asked.
"Yes, I do."
"Then, if you have a home of your own, what are you doing in this forsaken place?"
"My parents are no longer around, so I lived with my brother and his wife. My sister-in-law wanted to be rid of me, so I am here!"
"Do you miss home?" she asked.
"I miss my brother, but I dare not go back."
"Don't worry. I'll carry you back to your home myself. One thing, however; you must agree that we become husband and wife."
"All right," he said.
That night they took vows to each other as husband and wife.
Early the next morning, the young woman said, "My husband, take the blanket and cover my back with it. Climb upon my back, clutch tightly and keep your eyes tightly closed until I tell you to open them."
The young man did as he was told and they were off, with the wind blowing sou! sou! sou! past his ears.
Eventually, the young man felt his feet touch the ground.
"Open your eyes!" said his wife.
He opened his eyes to behold the outskirts of his home village.
"Now, my husband, do not be in a hurry to return to your brother's home. Let's find a nice place for ourselves for the time being."
The young man agreed and led his bride to the wineshop owned by Er Daye, Second Uncle.
"Boy!" cried Er Daye, rubbing his eyes. "I can't believe it's you! I feared you were no more!"
"No, it is I, Uncle, and I've brought my wife."
"Er Daye," said Hedgehog Girl, kneeling before Second Uncle, "we plan to stay in this village and would like to purchase a plot of land to build a house. Can you help us?"
Er Daye clapped his hands and said, "Leave it up to me!"
The next day, Er Daye met with his nephew and Hedgehog Girl and said, "Listen, north of the village there's forty mu of land for sale. The owner won't sell it for anything under four hundred ounces of silver. I don't know if you two have that kind of money."
Without waiting for her husband to speak, Hedgehog Girl said, "Er Daye, we'll take it. Four hundred ounces of silver is a cheap price."
From out of her blanket, she produced five hundred ounces of silver in the form of a single ingot. She instructed her husband to purchase the land and use the left over money to host a dinner party for all concerned in the land matter.
That night Hedgehog Girl and her husband visited their land on the northern outskirts of town. There, she took out a hairpin and with it drew upon the dirt the floor plan of a house. As she withdrew her hairpin, the young husband heard a deep rumble. Now, standing before him was a grand house with a blue-green glazed tile roof!
"Come," she said. "Let's go inside."
Inside, the young husband found their new house furnished with everything they could ever need--precious jewels that shone with nearly blinding brightness and a granary fully stocked with millet, wheat and beans. And out in the back--a stable with nineteen horses!
And there the two of them made their home and lived happily and quietly.
Three years quickly passed.
One morning Hedgehog Girl said to her husband, "We've spent a fair amount of time together, but we still haven't had a child. I think you need to take another wife."
Her husband wouldn't have that. "It doesn't matter whether we have children or not. You're better than anything in this world for me."
"You don't understand. I won't be able to be with you for the rest of our lifetimes."
She then reminded him how she was the hedgehog transformed into a human woman to repay him for his kindness. He understood but was very reluctant to marry someone else. He went to Er Daye for advice.
"Well, my nephew," the old man said, "the world is full of lovely women, but if you want my suggestion, you'll head for Hangzhou and Suzhou and find a good young woman in one of those two places!"
The young man did as his uncle had suggested, and took a river boat down south to those towns. He looked all around both cities and must have seen thousands of young women but not one to equal the beauty and grace of his wife, Hedgehog Girl.
He was wandering around the shores of West Lake when he happened to see an exceptionally beautiful young woman on a balcony of a mansion. They locked eyes for a moment before she modestly looked away. He turned around and headed for a nearby shop to inquire about the girl and her family. It turned out that the shopkeeper knew the family, and he agreed to go to the mansion and ask on behalf of the young man for that girl's hand in marriage. The shopkeeper returned to the shop shortly after.
"That young lady," said the shopkeeper, "is the only daughter of a very wealthy local man, Merchant Wang. He will agree to let you marry his daughter on only one condition."
"And what is the condition?" asked the young man.
"If you send to him seven wagons full of silver, you may marry the girl!"
The young man heard these details, nodded and returned to his home.
"Well?" asked Hedgehog Girl.
"Well, I found someone all right, but her father demands seven wagons laden with silver in payment for her to become my wife."
"Is that all?" asked Hedgehog Girl. "It's done."
Sure enough, outside waiting for him were the wagons loaded with radiant silver, magnificent horses and sturdy drivers. He left Hedgehog Girl once more and led his caravan down to West Lake, not stopping until he and the caravan had arrived.
Outside the mansion, he called for Merchant Wang. Wang descended the stairs and came out the front door. The silver gleaming in the sunlight dazzled him, forcing him to shade his eyes.
"Come in! Come in!" said Merchant Wang. "Your future wife is upstairs!"
The young man then led his new bride back home, where she was warmly welcomed by Hedgehog Girl.
Early the next morning, the newlyweds rose to see Hedgehog Girl, but she was nowhere to be found.
Indeed, the young husband never saw his first wife and first love ever again.
It is said the next year, the second bride gave birth to a boy and a girl, fulfilling Hedgehog Girl's wish for her husband.
from"Ciwei nu" byZhang Chunxian in Qianqi baiguaide minjian gushi, pp. 288-291. For complete citation see 2/21/13.
One mu 亩 is approximately a sixth of an acre. Hangzhou and Suzhou are reputed to have some of the most beautiful women in China. Famed West Lake is by Hangzhou. The girl's "small mouth," "big eyes," and, most important, her "egg-shaped face" are all classical Chinese ideals of beauty. Apparently, Hedgehog Girl only manifests herself in animal form briefly when she is purchased and taken back out to the wilds. It is hinted that she is animal form when her husband rides her back and closes his eyes. No mention of the older brother or sister-in-law is made after the younger brother takes leave of his sibling in the mountains. Hedgehog Girl and her husband live in the same village, yet the narrative never mentions if they ever encounter the husband's family. Another odd detail--or omission--is how the young man is able to lead a caravan of silver without falling prey to bandits. Shall we assume that the wagon drivers also double as well-armed guards? This is one of many stories in the Supernatural Wife cycle of folktales. The usual shapeshifting animal is the fox or tiger; here, it is the very modest hedgehog. This makes sense, as often the lowliest of the lowly, the otherwise despised--such as a one-legged dog or a snake--possess incredible powers, reminding us not to underestimate who or what is in our midst and not to be arrogant or vain. "Hedgehog Girl" is a touching tale of love, devotion, gratitude and selflessness. Like many stories in the cycle, it ends with a permanent separation of the lovers, with the tacit understanding that their being together could have never lasted, as such unions contravene nature. We can go "back to nature," but only to a certain point, even in most examples of folk literature. Motifs: B310, "Acquisition of helpful animal"; B312.4, "Helpful animal purchased"; B360, "Animal grateful for rescue from death"; cB542, "Animal carries man through air to safety"; B650, "Marriage to animal (hedgehog) in human form"; *D1051, "Magic cloth (blanket)"; and D1599, "Magic object produces house." A very close but ultimately unsuitable motif is B641.5, "Marriage to person in hedgehog form."
This campus ghost story, sworn to be true, supposedly took place in the women's dorm of a college or university in Sichuan Province.
On this particular night, a student named Xiaoping (小萍, a pseudonym) was tossing and turning in the upper bunk in a room that slept six other young women. For some reason, she just couldn't get to sleep. As just about everyone knows, fretting about not getting to sleep is the worst thing to do, so Xiaoping remained awake.
She looked at her watch: two A.M.!
Oh, get to sleep! she told herself. Got to get up for class in the morning . . .
She looked up and saw that the mosquito netting was slipping down at the end of the bed. Did a breeze loosen the net and make it slip?
She gradually became aware of something floating just beyond the mosquito net at the end of the bed. She squinted at it as it became clearer in the darkness of the room.
It was a face, a male face that appeared to be made of plaster, like some home decoration, and the face was smiling at her.
Xiaoping leaped out of bed, screaming, pointing. "There's a ghost! A ghost!"
That woke everyone up. The other young women got up and gathered around Xiaoping, who was shuddering like mad.
"You were having a nightmare!"
"C'mon, Xiaoping, quit kidding around at this time of the morning!"
"All right," said Xiaoping, "maybe it was a nightmare."
By now, all the other girls were nearly as spooked as Xiaoping.
"Okay, go back to sleep," said one of them.
Everyone went back to sleep; all was peaceful for the rest of the night.
The next night, however, and the night after that, the face reappeared to just Xiaoping. No one could now fall asleep in the room. What could they do? Staying awake and keeping vigil all through the night was not an option.
One of the girls who had gone downstairs to contact their Student Services dean said, "This can't go on. Whether something is really haunting this room or not, we have to do something."
The dean came up to the room and said," Tonight there'll be several security guards posted outside your room. I'll be there, too. If anything happens, just let us know and we'll come in in a flash."
That night, several guards as well as several male volunteer students and the dean himself stationed themselves outside the door to the dorm.
The young ladies, comforted by the presence of the small army outside their room, prepared to sleep.
"With so many people outside, would a ghost dare show his face in here?" one of the women quipped.
The students then turned in early that night.
Two A.M. rolled around. Xiaoping instinctively looked up at the mosquito net over her feet.
Will it come back? she thought.
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the white plaster face appeared once again, leering as it had before.
"It's back! It's back!" cried Xiaoping.
Into the room rushed the dean and the guards.
"Where is it? Show us!" cried the dean.
"It's right there, I said!" Xiaoping pointed to the spot over her bed. "Right there, laughing!"
No one else in the whole room could see what Xiaoping saw.
"Where is it, you say?"
"It's . . . now floating away . . . floating away . . . to the window sill . . . now . . . it's . . . in the open doorway." Xiaoping became silent and then added, "He wants me to go with him . . ."
"All right," said the dean, "go ahead. We're right behind you."
Xiaoping got out of bed and headed out the doorway, following the floating face that only she could see. Following her was everyone else in the room.
The group made their way down the stairs of the dormitory, through the campus and out the main gate, going along a path that took them to a pond, where, according to Xiaoping, the face, all the while laughing, dropped into the water and disappeared.
"He's gone into the pond," said Xiaoping.
"Get someone to drain the pond immediately," said the dean.
By the next day, the pond had been drained, and there, at the bottom, a body was discovered, that of a male student who had mysteriously vanished the week before. The deceased student's I.D. photo was shown to Xiaoping, and she verified that his was indeed the face that had haunted her during that week.
Everyone was left wondering about the whole affair. The ghost had clearly wanted to be found, but why did he select Xiaoping as the one to uncover the truth? It would have to be a mystery left unsolved.
This is one of many campus ghost stories, a branch of urban legends, that are now popular in China and Taiwan. Two things stretch credibility a bit: (i) The original narrative never suggested that anyone, Xiaoping included, had requested a simple change of rooms; and (ii) the dean seemed more than willing to go out of his way to accommodate Xiaoping and her friends' beliefs and demands, at two A.M., mind you! This latter detail probably brings a smile to the face of anyone who's ever had to deal with university bureaucracy and red tape. I found this detail personally more amazing than that of a disembodied face. Motifs: E.4184.108.40.206, "Revenant as face or head"; E544.13, "Drowned man's ghost leaves water puddles (pond)."
(2) "Skip to My Lou, My Darlin' "
The author of this story attests the following is a true story, told to him/her by a good friend.
A fellow known to be interested in mainly young women and alcohol headed home late one night and prepared to climb the six flights of stairs to his flat. His being inebriated would not make the journey to the sixth floor any easier. It would not be, of course, the first time he arrived home drunk after a full day of drinking; he came home this way just about every night.
It was the dead of night. Everyone in the apartment building, everyone except for him, was fast asleep. His trip up the stairs would take him past the balcony terrace on each floor. He staggered up the first flight.
He was just below the fifth floor when he detected an odd sound coming from the terrace above. Someone was skipping rope. He reached the fifth floor and saw in the profile of a girl on the terrace skipping rope. She was dressed in red and totally made up in a garish and coquettish style. There she was, jumping rope and chanting over and over, "Ninety eight . . . ninety eight . . . ninety eight . . ."
Well, the drunkard was stupefied. Here was a pretty young woman jumping rope and repeating "Ninety eight" repeatedly at an awful hour of the night. What was she doing there? Why was she jumping rope? Why was she saying the same number over and over?
Yes, this was a good-looking young woman. So, his drunkenness and debauched nature overrode whatever small amount of caution may have remained within him. He approached her, asking, "Miss, Miss! Why are you jumping rope and repeating the same number?"
"Move your head in closer, and I'll tell you why!" she said, while jumping.
He came in closer and closer until he was in front of her.
Then he saw that she was literally half a person--the entire left side of her body had been cleft right down the middle and was gone. Where the division was was nothing but dried blood and gore . . .
She continued skipping on her one leg . . .
He sobered up pretty quickly and momentarily looked just beyond her.
There, on the terrace, were scores and scores of men, likewise with half-bodies, skipping along with her on their single legs . . . There must have been at least . . . ninety eight of them up there . . .
"Ninety nine . . . ninety nine . . . ninety nine . . ." the girl now chanted as she jumped rope.
"Ahhhh!" screamed the drunkard, as he fled like a crazed bat down the long flights of stairs all the down to the first floor, where he collapsed. He was found there later, with the entire left side of his head and face seemingly evaporated.
Red seems to be the default color for the most vicious, vengeful ghosts. Two "comeuppance factors" help make this tale similar to other urban legends: (i) the main character's willingness to engage in immoral activities, including walking around drunk (and thus allowing himself to become highly vulnerable) at night; and (ii) his eagerness to approach a pretty woman engaged in a very suspicious and bizarre activity. Motifs: F525, "Person (Ghost) with half a body"; cK816, "Dupe lured to (supposed) dance and killed"; K850, "Fatal deceptive game."
(1) Heaven Raises Its Height
In ancient times the heavens were so low that one could reach the sky and touch it by merely extending one's hand above one's head. This was the case until one day a servant girl was throwing out a night bucket of urine and accidentally splashed the sky. The sky immediately receded upwards to its present height.
(2) Some New Year's Day Taboos
Don't eat rice porridge/congee/ gruel on New Year's Day; otherwise, there will be rain whenever one is out of town on business. In addition to avoiding rice porridge, one should also refrain from eating sweet potato; otherwise, one may become impoverished.
Don't pat a child on the head on New Year's Day; to do so will cause him/her to lose hair, causing that child to grow up to be a balding adult. Also make sure not to cause a child to cry piteously; to do so could cause a death in the family that year.
The Broom God takes a break on New Year's Day, so on that day, do not use the broom.
(3) Some Precautionary Taboos
A child who is not yet a full four months old should not eat duck egg; otherwise, he or she will grow up to have halitosis.
A child who is not yet fully sixteen years old should not eat fish roe; otherwise, he/she might not be able to do arithmetic. Nor should he/she eat chicken feet; otherwise, when he/she writes characters, his/her hand might be shaky.
(4) Eating Taboos
To choke while eating is a portent of bad luck to come. To stick chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice is extremely unlucky and should be avoided at all costs.
(5) Thunder and Lightning
There was once a young wife who cut open a melon and then threw the seeds outside. The God of Thunder witnessed this act and assumed the woman had committed an unthinkable sin: throwing away perfectly edible grains of rice. He sent down a ball of thunder to kill her. Afterwards, her spirit ascended into the heavens, where she became the wife of the God of Thunder, providing lightning to help him see clearly who is and who isn't a sinner.
(6) Rock Gods
Certain rock formations are called "Rock Lords" and serve as sacrificial sites. One such rock sat in an inconvenient spot in a farmer's field. The farmer had it rolled into a pond. The very next day, the farmer discovered the same rock had returned to the same location. Once again he had it rolled down into the pond, and the day after that the farmer saw to his amazement the rock still sitting where it had presumably always been. The farmer came to the conclusion that a spirit inhabited this rock, so, accordingly, he erected a small shrine to offer sacrifices to the Rock Lord.
from Cang Dewu, pp.99-104. See 9/12/11 for full citation. And now the disclaimer: The above superstitions and taboos are from a bygone era and are not claimed to represent current belief systems of the majority of Taiwan's population. Chicken and duck feet and fish roe might be avoided because of the principle of similarity in sympathetic magic, in which, in other words, "like produces like." Placing chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice mimics memorial rites and sacrifices and is thus evocative of the dead. For another version of the tale of the Thunder God's wife, see "The Mother of Lightning" in my e-book, Taiwan Folktales. As for deified rock formations, they are likely to be sites tied to ancient cultic/fertility activities sometimes based on their supposed shapes that evoke certain qualities. For a Cantonese legend about such a rock, see 6/22/07.
A little note: I haven't been active recently because I've been preparing my PhD dissertation in psychology, the culmination of a fifteen-year quest! (No, the topic won't be folktales or urban legends; it will be, instead, on OCD.) I certainly appreciate all of you who have come to this site and who have left kind notes of encouragement. In the future I plan to leave more time to translate and post these stories.
(1) That Lavatory on the Second Floor
It seems the new employee had heard there was a haunted privy on the second floor, where unearthly sounds would be heard, rolls of toilet paper would dance in the air, and the faucets would turn themselves on.
Well, he, the new employee, didn't put any stock in such things and didn't believe in the concept of "evil." So on this one particular night, when he had to work overtime, nature called and he had to visit the second floor lavatory for the first time.
He went up.
The lavatory itself looked positively normal, with nothing out of the ordinary. And so, fine, he entered.
He was standing up and just about to relieve himself at the urinal, when somebody tapped him on the shoulder. The cold shock startled his entire body. He turned around to face a security guard, a uniformed young man in his early twenties.
"Sorry, you can't use this lavatory," said the guard very earnestly, tapping his badge. "It's under repair. Please use the lavatory on the third floor."
The new employee left and headed up to the third floor. He used the lavatory up there and returned to his work station on the first floor.
"Say," he told his coworkers, "there's nothing to that story of ghosts in the second-floor lavatory! I just went there. It looked okay, but then a guard told me to use the one on the third floor. So, I went up there too."
Now, all his coworkers within earshot gathered around him, some with faces as white as paper. This alarmed the new employee.
"Well," said one of his coworkers, "you've only just begun to work here, so you probably couldn't have known that we've never had a lavatory on the third floor . . ."
The new employee looked at his colleagues; his mouth was wide open but no sound came out.
It is said by some authorities that privy ghosts are among the most dangerous. (That makes sense since where else are people at their most vulnerable than when using the restroom? See Guiguai xiao pin 鬼怪小品, Chen Yangfeng and Ding Changqing, eds.; Juhai: Juhai Chubanshe, 1994; p.20) In any case, lavatory/bathroom ghosts are nothing in new in the corpus of Chinese ghost folk literature. The young man's visit to a non-existent lavatory suggests some serious bewitching has occurred, the kind of trick a malicious ghost would pull. The pointed mentioning of his disbelief in evil--something the original writer emphasized in Chinese--foreshadows his rendezvous with that very concept, all of which resembles a common "setup" in urban legends. Finally, ghosts in East Asian cultures are, for the most part, not cuddly and cute but rather sinister and relentlessly malicious. They resent being dead and need to be propitiated, coaxed, wheedled, etc., not to harm the living for whom they harbor endless enmity and jealousy.
(2) He's Got Mail!
(Disclaimer: The name used below appeared in the original story. It is presumed fictitious and as such does not represent any person, living or dead.)
X was fooling around on the Internet one night, looking at the list of people on the web who would like to make new friends. He came across the name "Zhong Cuiwen" (钟翠雯), found her interesting, and sent her an email introducing himself.
No reply email came, and so X developed the habit of checking daily and nightly to see if Miss Zhong had ever sent him an email--all to no avail.
Late one night, while X lounged in front of the computer, a sudden wind began howling outside, followed by heavy rain, thunder and lightning. X decided to check his inbox; sure enough, there was an email from "Zhong Cuiwen." X's joy knew no bounds and just as he was about to read Miss Zhong's email, his Internet phone rang.
A chilly, downbeat female voice was speaking to him on the phone.
X's first impression was that the caller on the other end was a friend up to something, so he ignored the call and hung up.
The phone rang and rang afterwards, as X refused to pay any attention.
Finally, when the phone rang yet again, X couldn't stand it anymore and picked up the receiver, asking brusquely for the caller to identify him or herself.
The caller identified herself as "Zhong Cuiwen." What's more, she said that she had thought about X, that she was lonely, and that she had wanted to find a male companion in her life.
They chatted on for a long time, way into the night, for more than several hours.
Then she said that it would soon be daylight and that she had to be going. She ended the conversation cryptically, saying, "If only I had met you earlier, I wouldn't be the way I am now . . ."
X tried to get her to explain these remarks, but the line had already gone dead . . .
Later that morning, X was reading that morning's paper when a news story caught his eye. Early the previous evening, a young woman in red had taken her life by leaping from the upper floor of a tall building, all because of an unhappy romance. Her name was Zhong Cuiwen . . .
The original narrative was in first person. It's probably not surprising that ghost lore has long since moved into the Computer Age. Urban legends are not static; they keep up with the times. As Professor Jan Harold Brunvand has pointed out, the Vanishing Hitchhiker, for example, has moved from vanishing from open wagons to buggies, and from buggies to automobiles. The name "Zhong Cuiwen" is suitably lyrical but also dreamy and sad, summoning images of jade-colored clouds. There might be significance in her red clothes; in the last decade, a number of ghost stories dealing with women in red have been making the rounds in Taiwan.
There once was a young Emperor, and when he became of age, he naturally desired a mate. He looked far and wide for an Empress but, alas, could not find a single young woman with whom to share his life and the throne.
One day, on his travels through his land, the young Emperor spied a very fetching and clean, young but also extremely poor maiden.
He fell in love with her at first sight! It was she he wanted an no one else. And so, as was the custom in those days, the Emperor--yes, even the Emperor--had to dispatch a matchmaker to negotiate the marriage.
The parents of the maiden readily agreed to the match, but the young woman herself refused.
"Why, my dear?" asked the matchmaker. "He is the Emperor himself! No one is mightier than he in our land! No one else possesses all that he has!"
"Emperor or not," replied the maiden, "I want a husband who has a skill, not just one with mere power. Today, he is the Emperor, but tomorrow? Is tomorrow promised to anyone? Emperors rise; they also fall. For this reason, I will not marry someone unless he has a skill."
The matchmaker returned to the palace and reported on the maiden's response. The Emperor was at first livid, but after some reflection he came to the conclusion that the maiden's words had merit. Yes, he was the mighty Emperor who could, at the snap of his fingers, muster a great army or order any delicacy under the sun for his personal enjoyment. But what could he actually do, create, accomplish, build? Nothing. And yes, today he was indeed the Emperor, but would he always remain so? What would tomorrow have in store for him?
The Emperor had a master weaver summoned to the palace.
"Can you teach me the art of weaving a rug?" he asked the weaver.
"Yes, Your Highness, I can."
The Emperor placed himself under this weaver's tutelage and thereafter, night after night, he learned to weave carpets. Two months later, he had accomplished his goal: to learn a skill; he could now weave a decent-looking but albeit simple carpet with flowery motifs. Not only that but he took this very carpet he had woven and presented it to the young lady he desired to marry.
Delighted that the Emperor had indeed learned a skill, the maiden immediately accepted his proposal to marry her.
Thus, the maiden from the poor household married the Emperor and became the Empress.
Not long after that, the Emperor donned peasant clothing as he was wont to do and left the palace to tour his land incognito, hoping to hear sincere words spoken by subjects not intimidated by being in the Emperor's presence.
He had traveled far and wide and one day came to a dumpling house to rest and to eat. The proprietor greeted the Emperor and led him into a dining room where he, the Emperor, sat down alone. The proprietor noted the chubby appearance of his well-fed guest and had some rough men come in and seize the Emperor, whom they had assumed was just a fat peasant. And why did they do this? The owner of this dumpling house made and sold dumplings made of human flesh.
The took the Emperor down to the cellar.
"What's the meaning of this?" cried the Emperor.
"Here we sell dumplings from human meat," one of the thugs replied. "You stumbled upon us, and so we'll make dumplings out of you! Now, in you go!"
They threw the Emperor in and locked the door.
The Emperor had to do some quick thinking. He called for one of his captors.
"What do you want?"
"Bring the owner down here!"
"Never mind! Just bring him down here. It shall be worth his while, and you won't regret it!"
The owner came down.
"All right, so what is it?"
"Listen," said the Emperor, "my flesh made into dumplings wouldn't be worth the cost of even just one lamb. I am a master weaver, and I could weave a carpet for you the value of which could fetch a hundred lambs. Why, as they say, 'Be greedy for the small and thus lose the large?'"
The owner thought it over. The offer made sense, so he had his men escort the Emperor into yet another room where they soon supplied the Emperor with everything he would need to weave--a loom, fine wool thread, dyes, and so on.
The Emperor went ahead and started weaving. Soon, he had woven a flowery carpet.
"Now," said the Emperor to the restaurant owner and his thugs, "take this to the Imperial Palace. I know the the Emperor himself loves this style of carpet and will pay dearly to own it."
"Yes, the Emperor!" said the real Emperor passing himself off as a carpet weaver. "Imagine the riches that will soon be flowing through your hands!"
Three months had already passed since the Emperor had disappeared, and so the Empress had now taken the reins and managed the Empire.
The Emperor had now been gone for three months. He had just vanished in the minds of his subjects. In his place reigned the Empress, who had guards scour the land looking for her husband. Heartbroken, she sat in the throne room and waited day after day for any report that might bring a glimmer of hope . . .
"Your Majesty," a servant announced one day, "a man is here wishing to show you a carpet."
"A carpet . . . Very well," she responded unfeelingly, "show him in . . ."
A man bearing the flowery carpet was ushered in before the Empress.
"Your Majesty," said the man, one of the dumpling shop's confederates, "it would be my greatest honor if you would behold this very fine carpet!"
"Very well," said the Empress with a sigh, "let me take a look."
She took a look and saw immediately it was a spitting image of the carpet her husband had woven for her before their marriage. She looked and then thought: Aha, my husband is likely being held by ruffians and has sent me this carpet as a message . . . She smiled at the man and said no more. She had the man richly rewarded and sent him on his way.
Before the thug had left the palace with his riches, the Empress had already ordered one of her most cunning guards to tail him. The guard followed him back to the dumpling house, noted the location and immediately returned to the palace.
The Empress had three hundred heavily armed guards sent to the address. The guards surrounded the shop so tightly that "not even a rooster could crow." The guards arrested everyone within the place and searched the premises from roof to cellar floor. In time, the located the Emperor locked in a room with his loom. The guards freed their monarch and had him identify one-by-one each criminal involved, including the owner.
The freed Emperor led the party, including the secured ruffians, back home. The owner and his underlings were placed in a dungeon. The next morning, the Emperor had each one put to death.
And thus this fortunate ending was made all possible by the wisdom of a poor maiden who had insisted her man, Emperor or not, learn a trade!
from Donggan minjian gushi chuanshuo ji, Boris Riftin [Li Fuqing], ed.; pp. 185-187. Full citation at 12/28/12. The Dungans (or Donggans) are Hui people, Mandarin-speaking Chinese Muslims, who reside in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and other Central Asian nations, their ancestors having left China during the late Qing Dynasty. As I mentioned elsewhere (See 12/28/12), they speak and write a quaint, very colloquial Chinese. To those from China and Taiwan, Dungan Chinese might read as very choppy, perhaps even staccato in some texts, but no less intelligible than the written vernacular elsewhere in the Chinese world. The present story is a version of "The Shah Weaves a Rug"--a folktale with Persian and Armenian cognates. (For the former, see Anita Stern's version in World Folktales, McGraw-Hill, 2001.) This folktale emphasizes the impoverished state of the maiden destined to be empress and her innate sense of wisdom as well as if to suggest that the former is compensated by the latter. Motifs: P31, "(King) learns a trade"; P51, "Noble person saves self from difficulties by knowledge of a trade"; cL143.1, "Poor girl chosen rather than the rich."
I'd like to honor all United States military personnel who have lost their lives in service to my country and in the defense of freedom. At the same time, I honor all fallen British, Commonwealth, and current Coalition allies.
I honor today my uncle Lyle Ellis, formerly of Vancouver, Canada, an American by birth. He is interred at
the Commonwealth War Cemetery, Yokohama, Japan. When Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, he and my dad signed up for the Canadian Army. In Lyle Ellis's case, his doing so was for a war he wasn't yet obliged to join; nevertheless, he answered the call.
Our men and women should not be forgotten, for every time we read a book of our choice, voice an opinion, worship, wear clothing we want to wear, and choose to go abroad, we can do so because of their ultimate sacrifice.
That same day, at sundown, the Ninth Maiden encountered Chunwang.
"Husband, where has my father ordered you to sleep this evening?"
"Oh, he told me to sleep in the South Bedroom tonight."
"Chunwang, you'll have to take great care."
"I shall tell you. Remember the louse in the East Bedroom? Well, the South Bedroom has an even more cunning and dangerous and formidable creature, a 3,800 jin Worm Spirit!"
"This could be it for me," sighed Chunwang.
"Don't worry. Once again, I shall bring you a bowl of water and a plate of meat. I'll also give you a needle of mulberry wood. When the worm appears, repeat the same things you said last night: 'There's water here if you're thirsty, and there's meat here if you're hungry. If you're neither thirsty nor hungry, get out! Otherwise, the Ninth Maiden's got a needle here for you!' Then, when you've spoken those words, hold the wooden needle up for the Worm Spirit to see and wave it.
"That should do the trick," added the Ninth Maiden.
Chunwang was left alone for the night with a bowl of water, a plate of meat and a mulberry wood needle.
When it was the darkest part of the night, Chunwang felt the whole room shake and heard a chong! chong!
Nearby, coiled and as big as the largest millstone was the Worm Spirit, more disgusting and smellier than words could do justice.
Mustering up his courage, Chunwang said, "There's water here if you're thirsty, and there's meat here if you're hungry. If you're neither thirsty nor hungry, get out! Otherwise, the Ninth Maiden's got a needle here for you!"
He held up the mulberry wood needle and then waved it. As he did so, the room resounded like a volcano with the sound dengleng! dengleng! dengleng!
The Worm Spirit immediately picked itself up and scudded out of the room as fast as such a large, heavy entity could do so, not to return.
Early the next morning came the Master Immortal, once again carrying his shovel and broom, once again hoping to sweep up Chunwang's head. He opened the door to the South Bedroom a crack, and what did he see? Why, Chunwang sleeping soundly like a rock!
Oh, how the older man's face turned scarlet as he gnashed his teeth!
Fine, fine, he thought, just wait until tonight!
That same day, at sundown, the Ninth Maiden took Chunwang aside and asked, "All right, which bedroom is it to be tonight?"
"Your father told me to sleep in the West Bedroom."
"Oh, that's the worst place so far!"
"And what is in the West Bedroom?"
"In the West Bedroom," said the Ninth Maiden, "dwells the Scorpion Spirit which stings with a thick venom blacker than a bottomless well! It will be very difficult to defeat!"
"Then, I'm doomed . . .," said Chunwang.
"I said 'difficult to defeat,' not 'impossible to defeat.' The only thing it fears is the large pair of scissors my mother keeps. In a moment I'll sneak into her chamber and take them for you. Once again you'll need to have a bowl of water and a plate of meat by your side, along with the shears. When the creature appears, remember to say, 'There's water here if you're thirsty, and there's meat here if you're hungry. If you're neither thirsty nor hungry, get out! Otherwise, your mother's shears are here for you!' Did you get that?"
"Yes," said Chunwang, "only please hurry up and get those shears!"
That night, with the large scissors, the plate of meat, and the bowl of water by his side, Chunwang prepared for what would probably be a sleepless night.
Sure enough, when utter darkness rules the night, the Scorpion Spirit appeared, coiling and twisting and turning, snapping its claws, positioning its stinger.
Taking a deep breath, Chunwang said, "There's water here if you're thirsty, and there's food here if you're hungry. If you're neither thirsty nor hungry, get out! Otherwise, your mother's shears are here for you!"
He held the scissors up, snipping at the air for good measure.
The Scorpion Spirit, shaking the whole room, turned tail and fled out.
Early the next morning, the Master Immortal, with his shovel and broom, appeared outside the door to the West Bedroom, absolutely sure this time that he would finally have the pleasure of sweeping up Chunwang's remains. He opened the door to see Chunwang, sitting up and smiling at him.
"My," said Chunwang, "you get up awfully early to do your cleaning!"
The Master Immortal didn't say a word; instead, he nodded tersely, turned around and left, planning yet another way to finish off Chunwang for good.
Our story occurred during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (1875-1908) in Xinye, Henan Province. In Xinye there lived a prosperous jeweler, antique seller and craftsman, Lu Bancheng. Lu was extremely well-read in calligraphy and very enterprising, always scouting for valuable items. Not surprisingly, he took many business trips.
On one such trip, he was returning to Xinye from Hankou when the riverboat he was on made an emergency call to a river port due to some strong winds. However, the winds weren't strong enough to deter Lu from leaving the shelter of the berth to do some sightseeing. A temple by the river had caught his eye, and so that was where he headed.
Arriving at the gate, he discovered the temple was dilapidated and abandoned. There were weeds growing everywhere, and paint was peeling from the walls. Doors and windows were missing. Worst of all, the statue of Buddha was tilting. The whole place manifested a deep sense of gloom.
Then, Lu saw the painting.
A painting was still attached to one of the decayed walls. Lu looked at it. The painting style was definitely ancient and the style of the artist was somehow familiar to Lu, who had seen and had handled a great many such paintings in his time. The painting itself depicted Yakshas, demons or spirits from the bowels of the earth; a particularly hellish demon with a green face was wielding a bronze pitchfork.
Yes, I've seen this work before. Wu . . . Wu Daozi . . ., thought Lu. This has got to be an original painting by Wu Daozi!
Lu had seen copies of this very same painting, with the original attributed to Tang Dynasty master muralist Wu Daozi, whose works by this time were now extremely rare. Who would have guessed that a painting by this giant of Tang art would be found in a run-down, abandoned temple? As such, it would fetch an enormous price . . .
Like a feverish madman but one still sane enough to be careful, Lu took out the artist's knife he always carried and gingerly used the blade to extract the painting from the wall. He carefully rolled it up and took it with him back to the boat.
Lu Bancheng was delighted with his find. He sat on the bow of the still-docked ship and ordered a warmed pot of wine and some food for himself to celebrate. There he sat, enjoying the wine, admiring the view, and reveling in his latest acquisition, one sure to bring him great riches!
He turned his head. Someone was on the dockside of the boat, looking at him and then at the food he was eating.
It was an unkempt, emaciated female beggar, whose lion mane of disheveled hair blew in the breeze.
Lu got up and beckoned to her. He approached the side of the boat, extended his arm and helped her aboard. He then handed her a plate of steamed buns, each of which she wolfed down. He also allowed her to eat the other food, which she did without bothering to use chopsticks.
Once she had finished eating, Lu asked her about herself, where she was from and so on.
She was a local, she told him, the daughter of a hog butcher. Her mother had died young; she and her father lived off the meat he didn't sell. Eventually, her father died, and she was then adopted into a household as a "little daughter-in-law," one who, once marriageable age had arrived, would marry the young man of the house. Things didn't work out so well, however. Since she was literally addicted to eating meat, she wouldn't touch any dish that didn't meat. Her adopted parents decided she was a burden, too expensive to raise as their future daughter-in-law. So, they turned her out. With nowhere else to go, she took refuge in the abandoned temple Lu had visited earlier that day and before long became a beggar.
Poor child, thought Lu. What if one day she runs into a vicious beast or a beast in human form?
"Listen, young lady, " said Lu, "begging daily for a meal is no way to go through life. Why don't you work for me as one of my household staff? You'll have daily square meals and clothes to boot! You can have what others have, a home."
That was the sound of the beggar's head hitting the deck of the boat as she kowtowed before Lu out of deep gratitude and joy. Lu gently helped her rise and escorted her into the cabin, where, before taking leave of her, he had someone provide her with a tub of water in which to bathe, a brush for her wild hair, and a change of clothes.
An hour or so later, someone knocked on the door of Lu's private cabin. He opened it to find a very enchanting servant girl carrying a tray with a teapot and cup. Exquisite eyes and lovely brows; brilliant white teeth and ruby lips; yes, she was gorgeous, indeed.
He stared at her. She was none other than the beggar!
He decided then and there to take her as his second wife, not as a household domestic.
Five days later, they were back in Xinye. Lu Bancheng immediately proceeded with the wedding plans. At the ceremony, all were impressed by the second Mrs. Lu's beauty. Lu himself couldn't get over his fortune and this new wife who had become his very precious darling, someone for whom he would spare no expense.
All was well in the Lu house . . . for a while.
The new Mrs. Lu had made many new fans with her grace and winsomeness. Yet, there was something decidedly odd about her. In all regards but one she was wonderful; when it came to eating meat, she was a downright miserly glutton who demanded each plate of meat for herself. "Sharing" didn't seem to be a concept that she understood.
She began to eat more and more meat, and as she did so, her personality underwent a change. Gone was all her humbleness. She now treated the household staff with oppressiveness and disdain, causing the servants to gnash their teeth in resentment as they went about their duties.
The day came when Lu Bancheng wished to throw a lavish dinner party for clients. He had had more than twenty jin (more than ten kilograms) of pork cooked and placed in the kitchen on platters to await the guests. At midday, when the cook entered the kitchen to prepare the vegetables, he was astonished to find that the meat was gone, every slice of it.
Lu was called and he first suspected a member of the servant staff. He interviewed each one, and more than a few said the same thing--he or she had seen the new Mrs. Lu enter the kitchen alone sometime in the forenoon.
Aha, he thought. But could she have actually consumed all that meat?
The next day, Lu ordered half of an entire cooked hog brought into the kitchen. Lu then hid himself in a corner of his spacious kitchen.
There, he waited . . .
Not long after, the "little beauty" tiptoed into the kitchen. The second Mrs. Lu then looked around and locked the kitchen door from the inside. Suddenly, her face and body underwent a transformation. Her hair turned red as her face turned a sickly green. Her eyes had become a baleful gold. With her hands, now long-nailed claws, she attacked the half hog lying on the pallet, ripping its flesh, stuffing the meat into her now bloody mouth and doing so over and over and over.
Within minutes, the hog was gone; the pallet, as dry as a sun-bleached stone.
Lu Bancheng watched the spectacle in horror and disgust, riveted to his hiding spot, too terrified to move. He watched the demon pat her gut in delight after finishing off half of a hog . It was a good while after she had left when he was able to get up and leave the kitchen.
He went to his shop and gathered up ten of his stoutest, hardiest workers. He armed them with knives and guns.
"We're going to drive out and kill a demon," he informed them.
He led his party back to his house, from where not only the demon had now fled but all of Lu's own family and servants as well. Lu had to dismiss the men and think of a plan to eradicate the demon he had brought into his own home.
In town he sought the services of a Taoist priest who was reputed to be a very effective exorcist.
For the next three days, the priest performed his rituals. While he did so, however, the demon went on a rampage as she searched for food. Not only pigs but sheep, cows and horses were being devoured alive.
After three days, the priest had to acknowledge all his efforts had been in vain.
"This is a very powerful malevolent entity," he told Lu Bancheng, "one that has apparently invaded our community from somewhere else, one that has been honing its evil power for a thousand years. Thus, I'm afraid I don't have the ability to destroy it."
Reluctantly, Lu and the Taoist priest parted.
Lu was at a loss about what to do. A powerful exorcist had no effect on a demon running amuck. What could he, Lu, possibly do to stop it?
Then, it dawned on him. He had seen the face of the kitchen demon before--one of the faces of Yakshas on the temple painting he had brought home. He himself had brought this demon to his community. His willingness to steal a temple painting, a painting that had undoubtedly been placed in the temple to neutralize the power of these demons, had unleashed all this destruction.
He ran into his house and into the room where he had hidden the temple painting. He grabbed the ancient, valuable work of art and headed outside. He went to a glazed well that had been built on the order of Han Emperor Guangwu (5 B.C.- 57 A.D.). The well was rumored to be bottomless. Without the slightest regret, he threw the painting down into the well. He next hired some workmen to drop a millstone down the well. For good measure, he had the well filled with earth.
The Yaksha, the second Mrs. Lu, was never seen again.
Qianqi baiguaide minjian gushi, Wang Fan, ed.; pp. 276-278. (See 2/21/13 for full citation.)
Wu Daozi (A.D. 680-759) was an actual artist.
This legend, the product of an earlier, less sensitive time, doesn't mention anything about the first Mrs. Lu. And like many legends, it has a cautionary tone not unlike urban legends of today, which, in many cases, are just updated versions of cautionary tales from the medieval ages or even earlier periods. The didactic message attached to the end of the tale warns young readers not to take anything without having earned it and that nothing good comes from ill-gotten gains. The demon's father had been a hog/pig butcher, an inauspicious occupation in a tale with an anti-meat eating subtext. Like today's urban legends, the story also suggests to beware of hurriedly befriending strangers of the opposite sex.
Yaksa (夜叉) comes from Sanskrit, with a number of meanings: "ghost that can eat," "ghost that can bite," "ghost that swiftly brings disease," but also "light and quick," etc. In Hindu mythology, Yaksas arefriendly, benign attendants to the gods. They are associated with the air, water or land. Once Buddhism entered China, however, the Yaksa became identified with ghosts or gui(鬼), in earlier eras that catchall phrase for any revenant or demon that hated the living and that devoured human flesh but despite its supernatural powers, could be destroyed by humans . Consuming flesh, in fact, became one of their chief characteristics. Motifs: D435.2.1, "Picture comes to life"; F402.4, "Demon eats ravenously"; F496, "Demon of gluttony"; G11.15, "Cannibal demon"; G81, "Unwitting marriage to cannibal"; and cH461, "Cannibal nature of woman recognized when she devours dead buffalo raw."
I'm an English teacher and collector/translator of Chinese-language folktales from Southeastern China--Guangdong and Fujian--and from the island of Taiwan. In addition, I have posted stories from China's extreme Northwest and Northeast. I have translated and adapted each folktale and have attached cultural and folklore notes for each particular story.
Please note these tales are definitely not PC; folktales and fairy tales are essentially never PC. I bring them to you "warts and all."
NOTE: Enter into the search bar above themes (e.g., "wolves," "shapeshifter," etc.)or titles or approximate titles (e.g., "Grandauntie Tiger").