Friday, August 31, 2018

Creaking Wheels at Night--a Chinese Urban Legend

I don't know what year or in which province the following story took place. Unfortunately, the writer/editor didn't mention either one, but, anyway, here we go:

On one warm evening, the teachers took their students, young girls, camping on the grassy field on the right side of the campus. Tents and barbeques were set up; games and other activities were carried out.

Night had fallen.

The teachers were frankly pooped out by all the hectic games, cooking, and all the excitement the girls were having. The teachers decided to sit out the final game of the evening--hide and go seek, with a girl chosen to be the "ghost" who had to go find a "victim" as a replacement.

While the "ghost" was counting down to one, the girls all scattered, with some hiding within some particularly tall stalks of grass, behind the tents, or, in the case of one intrepid girl, inside the last stall of a row of old outdoor toilets, abutting outhouses with doors, left over from a now long-gone complex of buildings.

This girl waited breathlessly inside the stall with the old door closed. There, she waited and waited and waited . . . However, the "ghost" never came by. In fact, no one came by. There were none of the noises she expected of kids being discovered by "the ghost," noises like giggling, laughter, shouting, the noises that would signal the game was over.

When the girl was sure that by this time the game must be over, she decided to leave the stall, but now the door wouldn't open.

She pushed and kicked the door, but it wouldn't budge and remained tightly locked. The girl screamed and shouted for help, but no seemed to hear her.

This went on for some time. The girl just sank down and buried her face in her knees, frustrated, tired, and afraid.

Then, she heard a noise, one that was unexpected at this time and in this place.

She heard the creaking of wheels on an axle, reminiscent of the sound a wheelchair would make. Someone was at the very first stall, knocking on the closed door, asking in a distinctively female voice, "Is anyone in there?"

This frightened the girl even further and she held her breath.

Then, the girl heard the wheels move to the next stall, and once again, some woman she couldn't see banged on the door, asking, "Is anyone in there?"

There were a number of stalls left before the unseen person pushing some kind of cart would get to the very last stall, the one with the young student inside.

One by one, the unseen presence knocked on all the stall doors, and now whoever this was was outside the last stall. She heard the wheels stop outside the door. Terrified out of her wits, she didn't dare take a breath and awaited the rapping on the door.

No such rapping or banging occurred. There was only silence, the kind of deafening silence you experience in a place way out in nowhere.

The girl waited and waited. She was scared but decided she had to leave.

To her great surprise, the stupid door that wouldn't move now slowly opened.

She was free!

Then, she saw who or what was outside. . .

There, right outside the opened stall door, was indeed a wheelchair, but it was floating in the air. Seated in the wheelchair was a very old woman, and behind her and the wheelchair, likewise floating in the air, was a woman in a nurse's uniform.

Both were looking down upon the girl, grinning from ear to ear.

The girl screamed. . .

It is said that the row of outdoor toilet stalls once belonged to a large hospital which had years before burnt to the ground . . .

from Huang He, ed., pp. 89-90. (See 8/2/15 for complete citation.); 小女孩遇见鬼 - 地下道鬼故事

The above story purports to be a modern ghost story (urban legend), but there is no further information from the source about other details, which, I suppose, is fitting for an urban legend. No source, informant, witness, or storyteller, is identified. There is nothing so much as "This happened to my cousin's friend" or "to my friend's cousin."

Motifs: cE235, "Ghostlike conveyance" (i.e., wheelchair); E275, "Ghosts haunt place of great accident or misfortune"; E279.1, "Ghosts haunt outside at night in human shape"; E293, "Ghosts frighten people (deliberately); cE402, "Invisible ghost makes rapping or knocking noise": E402.1.1.1, "Ghost calls"; cE577, "Dead persons play games"; E587.4 "Ghosts are (always) in the air"; E599.11, "Locked doors open at touch of ghost."

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Sister Lintou Story (Taiwan)

This is an early version of the classic old Taiwanese ghost story, the later subject of movies, TV series,  and street operas. It is arguably the single most famous ghost story out of Taiwan. 

The story was said to have taken place during the latter years of the Qing (1644-1911). The location of the story was Lintou Quarter, Tainan City, where the old Tainan City Railway Station is located and where there stood some trees of that name.

She was a young widow by the name of Li Zhaoniang, and she had two small children. Her husband, a merchant, had perished when the ship he was on capsized in the Taiwan Straits. She was now left with a sizable fortune, so neither her children nor she herself was in any danger of starving.

Now into her life came her late husband's friend, Zhou Yasi, a camphor and sugar merchant originally Shantou, Guangdong, to offer friendship and support. In time, however, this friendship blossomed into a full romance, with Li Zhaoniang's falling hard for Zhou. These were very conservative times, and society was scornful of any kind of relationship between a single man and a widow. Both Li and Zhou decided to wait a respectful period to marry, which they eventually did, with Zhou pledging to Li never to abandon her.

Zhou Yasi now had effective control of Li Zhaoniang's money inherited from her late husband.

Zhou, having made a fortune by selling and shipping camphor and sugar to Hong Kong and claiming he needed money for an upcoming deal, absconded with virtually all of the widow's money and relocated across the Taiwan Strait to his hometown. There, he soon remarried and started a family.

Li Zhaoniang and her children were left behind, destitute and without any recourse. Soon, she was totally alone after her two children had died from cold and hunger.

So, one night, she stole away to one of the lintou trees in the area and, wrapping a cord from a high branch, took her own life.

In time, she became known as "Sister Lintou," the ghost that appeared amidst the lintou trees after sundown. People then began to avoid this section of old Tainan after dusk.

The story is told that one man, an opium addict, whose desire to fund his habit was greater than his fear of ghosts, went to peddle his bachaan, meat-and-rice cakes wrapped in leaves, in the district.

"Bachaan! Bachaan!" he cried in the mostly deserted area.

"I'll buy some!" a voice whispered from the nearby grove of lintou trees.

The peddler looked around and saw a thin woman with long hair approach him.

She told him the number of bachaan she wanted and paid the peddler in bills.

Great! he thought. I can get back to my pipe now. 

The woman was now gone. The peddler looked down at the money in his hand, except it wasn't actual money. They were "hell notes," paper money with tin foil embossed in the center, used solely to burn as offerings for the dead . . .

And so, Sister Lintou continued to haunt the area after dark in her thin white robes, with long disheveled hair and red eyes glaring, her cries piercing the night, her whispers from dark corners chilling all who heard them. The quarter remained deserted after sundown.

It is said that local people began to set up shrines and to make offerings to the ghost that plagued the area, to make it once again inhabitable. For this reason, the haunting eventually came to an end.

Shiyi Books Editing team, eds., 台灣民間故事 [Taiwanese Folktales]; Tainan: Shiyi Books, 1983; pp. 183-193; Sun Yiwang, ed., pp. 105-130 (see 3/1/18 for full citation); Lin Meirong, 台灣鬼仔古 [Taiwanese Ghosts]; New Taipei: Yuexiong, 2017; pp. 246-247; He Jingyao, 妖怪台灣 [Yokai Taiwan]; New Taipei: Linking, 2017; pp. 172-174. 

The story takes its name after the lintou tree (林投; Pandanus tectorius) which grows all around the Pacific. The tree and its leaves have various uses. In old Taiwan, the leaves were used as toilet paper. Today, due to the story, the lin tou tree is closely associated with tragedies that befall women, like Li Zhaoniang, who, in a Chinese play of words, "threw" (投) herself "from the tree" (林 or "forest"; by extension, "tree").

There is no mention of Li Zhaoniang's own parents or her late husband's, people who would presumably have helped the widow and her children. Some sources report Li Zhaoniang as having three children. 

The episode of the food hawker receiving money instantly transformed to that for the dead would have been considered extremely shocking since that "money" is only used in connection with funeral rites and would not be something anyone would normally dream of handling. Anything like that which smacks of death would be avoided so as not to court the very thing most feared.  

The above is only one version of the story, perhaps one of the earliest, if not the actual oldest version. Later adaptations, for film and the one for the folktale anthology from Shiyi geared for adolescents, contain a very grisly and heartless ending. In these versions, the woman who was later to become a ghost was married to a soldier who had secretly left her to go back to his other wife or a later wife on the mainland once his term of service was up. Either a yamen runner or a temple psychic takes pity on the ghost and volunteers to enable her to carry out her vengeance on the man who had dallied with her affections and who had ultimately abandoned her. He decides to journey across the Taiwan Strait to the man's hometown on the mainland, where the ex-soldier (or Zhou Yasi) has a household with young children from this other wife. The ghost indicates where her ally may find some money for traveling expenses. She joins him on the trip by housing herself in a rolled-up umbrella or parasol. Once the bigamous, deadbeat husband has been located, the ally contrives to leave the umbrella at this man's house. Then, on a special occasion like a newborn's first-month celebration, the ghost leaves the umbrella and appears before the husband who had abandoned her, scaring him to the point where he goes insane. (It is suggested that the ghost possesses him.)  In any case,  he takes a kitchen knife and then slaughters his current wife and their children before committing suicide.

Motifs: E293, "Ghost frightens people deliberately"; E411.1.1, "Suicide cannot rest in grave"; E425.1.1, "Revenant as lady in white"; K2232.1, "Treacherous lover betrays woman's love and deserts her"; S62, "Cruel husband"; cS144.1, "Abandonment alone on foreign coast."

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Man-Fish and His Son (Dawu)

A young woman from Lang Island married a man from Dongqing Village. The first two children of the couple were born without any complications, but the third child, a boy, was born with the head of a human and the body of a fish.

The parents, needless to say, were greatly shocked and sought words of wisdom from village elders. What should they do? Should they even let him live? After all, he was largely non-human, with just a human head, and he would be subjected to endless ridicule or become an object of great fear.

"Let him live!" the elders said. "Just keep him in as much water as he needs and out of the sight of everybody else."

So, that's what the parents did with this boy whom they named Ximila. They kept him away from everyone else. No one outside the home ever laid an eye on him; that also meant he never had any childhood friends to play with. Keeping prying eyes away was perhaps the easiest part. Ximila's parents were most concerned with who would take care of their son after their own time on earth was over, for it seemed impossible that Ximila, with the body of a fish, could ever possibly earn a living or just simply survive on his own.

One day, when Ximila and his siblings were several years older, Ximila's brother was out doing his chores but was soon stymied by a particular task--moving a large stone slab sitting in the middle of the field. Try as he might, he was unable to make the flat stone budge. He returned home.

"What's the matter, Brother?" asked Ximila.

"Oh, it's just that Father told me to move a large stone from the field and I haven't been able to do it."

"Let me help you, Brother!"

"Haha . . . don't be silly, Ximila . . ."

Ximila was insistent. He then looked at their mother, who just shrugged.

Ximila's mother and brother ended up taking Ximila out to the field. Ximila crawled up to the rock and flip-flap! Right then and there, in front of his mother and brother, he knocked the large flat rock to the other side of the field with his fish tail.

His mother went back home that day with newly found respect for her boy, Ximila.

Ximila soon enough reached the marriageable age, and his mother was determined to see him married. She found an eligible young lady and made the arrangements, cementing the deal for the upcoming wedding. She did not mislead the future bride about Ximila; no, she told her upfront that her son had the head of a young man but the body of a fish. The young lady wanted to see for herself if this future groom really had the body of a fish, which she could not believe. If he indeed had the body of a fish, she was ready to escape this arranged marriage and to wash her hands of the whole thing, arranged marriage or not.

The day of the wedding came. Ximila waited for the bride's party alone in the water at the dock While Ximila lay in the water, taking a quick nap, a god in the sky beheld the young merman awaiting his bride and took pity on him, thinking how awkward the rest of the young man's life would be as a husband with the body of a fish. The god then sent a courier to the world below and, as Ximila slept, he changed Ximila's body to that of a human one. Not only that but the god had instructed the heavenly courier to leave on the dock for Ximila the costliest gifts a Yami groom can give his bride at a wedding: a wedding crown, a special vest with gold ornaments, and a pair of silver bracelets.

Soon, Ximila awoke to discover that he now had the arms, legs, and torso of a man! He then saw the special gifts left for him. How overjoyed he was! He knew a god had taken pity on him and was speechless with gratitude.

The bride's party finally arrived, as did Ximila's parents and brothers. The bride's family members were stunned at the marvelous gifts awaiting the bride They were even more astonished at the greater surprise--the handsome groom awaiting them at the dock, standing on his own two feet, his two hands easily resting on his hips. If the bride hadn't loved Ximila before, she certainly fell in love with the good-looking, strapping youth now standing before her.

"Are you pleased with what you see?" asked Ximila's mother.

The bride beamed and nodded.

Ximila and the young woman were then happily married. The next year Ximila's wife gave birth to a son, Xinkasi.

Very sadly, however, this time of bliss did not last. Both Ximila and his wife passed away when Xinkasi was only three years old.

Thus, little Xinkasi grew up without his parents. He was treated differently from the other children now, and many in the village looked at him in a different light. He was made to feel unwelcome everywhere he went and became friendless. Was it because he was the son of a man who had once had the body of a fish? Was it because he had been orphaned? In any case, no one played with him, while all looked askance at him in the village.

Xinkasi may have had some kinfolk in the village, but he still felt very much alone.

Once again, a god up in the heavens witnessed what was going on below and took pity on Xinkasi. He decided to punish the villagers who had been cruel to Xinkasi, so he sent a ghost with a huge swarm of insects behind him to the village. The ghost led the way, and the insects devoured everything in their path, leaving the farm fields of Dongqing Village stripped bare of all vegetation.

Eventually, everyone in the village but Xinkasi died of hunger. Xinkasi, living alone by a huge boulder, was the sole survivor. He wandered away from the area now that everyone he had ever known was dead.

On the island was another village, and the people there heard about what had happened to Xinkasi's village. Moreover, they knew who Xinkasi was; the "son of the man-fish," they called him. In this village were some who were not well off but who believed the orphan Xinkasi, the only survivor of his whole village, probably had some riches hidden somewhere. After all, he was the last one alive in the whole town. Wouldn't he, these evil people thought, know where the riches of everyone else were? So, they planned to rob and to kill him.

Xinkasi was unaware of this, but the gods, who have eyes and see and know all, continued to look out for the orphan. They sent the spirit of Xinkasi's father, Ximila, in the guise of a bird, which then flew down to a branch on a tree next to where Xinkasi was.

"Xinkasi! Xinkasi, my boy, my son!"

"Who said that?" asked Xinkasi. "Not you, the bird!"

"Yes, I, the bird! Listen carefully. You must leave this place now before the men of Dan'agang get here!"

"What do the men of that village want with me? Everyone from Dongqing's dead. They can't be at war with us . . . or me."

"It's not a war, Xinkasi. They want to rob you and then kill you! Now go! I've got some work to do!"

The bird flew off and Xinkasi left. He fled farther into the dense forest of the island.

Not long after Xinkasi had fled the area, the Dan'agang robbers arrived in the now empty Dongqing Village. They headed for what had been the famous merman's house, the home of Ximila. Just before they got to the front door, the murderous thieves stopped in their tracks. There, perched on the roof, was the bird, now looking at them very menacingly.

"So, what are you waiting for?" asked one of the ringleaders of the rest. "It's just a big, ugly bird! Go inside and find the--"

As he was speaking, the bird swooped down and killed him and several other leaders of the mob with its beak and talons. The rest of the crowd from Dan'agang turned tail and fled for their very lives, not stopping until they were back in their own village.

Xinkasi had been saved. When the Month of Sacrifices had arrived, he made offerings to the gods to express his gratitude for their saving him.

That night, in a dream, the heavenly courier that had helped his father contacted Xinkasi.

"A young woman shall be coming your way, Xinkasi," said the courier. "Keep an eye open for her. You may marry her and start your own family."

But Xinkasi didn't wish to marry, at least not yet. The young woman appeared, but Xinkasi didn't pay much attention to her. She then went on her own way and disappeared.

The spirits of Ximila and Xinkasi's mother noticed how Xinkasi's expected betrothal had come to naught and were dismayed. They petitioned the gods of heaven to give their son another chance. The gods responded by sending Xinkasi a number of celestial beauties with the understanding that Xinkasi must choose one among them for a wife.

This time he did so. He and his wife later had a son and a daughter. Their children eventually grew up to marry others and, in turn, had children of their own.

Thus, the gods and the spirit of Ximila made sure that those in Ximila's line lived, multiplied, and prospered.

Lin Daosheng, Vol 1.; pp. 177-179.  (See 3/1/18 for citation.)

The Dawu people, also known as the Tao or the Japanese-era name, Yami, live on Orchid Island, or Lanyu, south of Taiwan and speak a Malay-Polynesian language. 

Some loose ends remain. We never learn the name of Ximila's wife. We also never find out why Ximila's brothers as well as his son's four grandparents all starve to death along with everyone else who had been cold, apathetic, and/or rude to Xinkasi. Finally, we are not told if Xinkasi lived with any of his grandparents or uncles after his parents' deaths. The story does not shed any light on any of  the above. 

We have already seen the magic power of birds (see "Uncle Bird," 7/16/17), how they, as mediators between heaven and earth, may represent the unfettered human spirit. In this myth, the spirit of the fish-man Ximila animates a guardian bird and, in doing so, thus fills a third "slot." Consequently, the story establishes the lineage of a family with its roots directly in the water (Ximila as fish), on the land (Ximila's metamorphosis, courtesy of at least one god), and, indirectly, in the sky (Ximila's spirit as a bird), creating a very formidable triad. Tales with transformations such as this one probably originate in a shamanistic tradition.

In addition, coincidentally (or maybe not), an urban legend about a fish with a human face has made the rounds in Taiwan. In south part of the island, a family group had a caught a fish. While eating the fish, an older woman's voice suddenly spoke in Taiwanese, asking more than once, "Is the fish good?" (or, "Is the fish delicious?"), startling the living daylights out of everyone there. It turns out the that the fish had human-like features. See:

人面魚 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书【情報】民國84年的新聞 人面魚 @恐怖驚悚 哈啦板 - 巴哈姆特【紅衣小女孩3】台灣人面魚傳說嚇到唔敢食魚 仲有靈異照片流出|香港01|即時娛樂「魚肉好吃嗎?」恐怖傳說再搬大銀幕!徐若瑄、鄭人碩合演《人面魚》 | GQ瀟灑男人網十大都市傳說:崗山人面魚、彰化送肉粽 - 每日頭條

Motifs: B16.6, "Devastating insects"; B82.1, "Merman marries maiden"; B83, "Fish with human face (head); D370, "Transformation: fish to man"; F401.3.7, "Spirit in the form of a bird"; M369.2, "Prophecy concerning love and marriage"; "M369.2.1, "Future wife foretold"; T111.2, "Woman from sky-world marries mortal man."

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Blind Woman's Curse (Amis)

There once lived a blind widow named E'shapu. She lived with her two nieces who tilled the soil on their land near a village.

One year the youths of the village decided to set some controlled fires on and near a local mountain to  flush out game animals into snares rather than going out and hunting the animals as their forefathers had done in the traditional way. The young men sat around, discussing the various strategies for pulling this project off.

"We'd probably have a lot more success," said one, "if we could also burn the old blind woman's field, too."

The other young men thought that was a good idea, so the group of them went to E'shapu and informed her of what they had planned to do--to burn her field.

"No, absolutely not!" said E'shapu. "You won't find any animals in or coming out of my field! Besides, if you do this, how will I survive? I just have this field  on which to grow some crops. You burn it and I'll have nothing!"

The young men were unmoved by her pleas and gave their reasons, how it would benefit the village to ensnare once and for all the animals taking refuge in the tall grasses and so on.

"No!" said the old woman again. "Don't do this, I'm telling you! Leave my field alone!"

"Very well, Auntie," said one. "Suppose you allow us to go to your field to see for ourselves if any of these deer and wild goats are lurking there."

"Go ahead!" was her response. "Make yourselves happy and satisfied."

The youths set out for E'shapu's field with its tall, flowing stalks of grain. There, they beheld many spotted deer, water deer, and wild goats.

"Come on and burn the field now while these animals are still here!" cried one of the boys. "What are we waiting for? Let's drive them into our hands!"

And so they methodically set fires that practically drove these deer and goats into their open arms. Having captured the animals, they butchered a number of them. They cut off the head of a small deer and took it to E'shapu. They found the woman sitting on a grass mat in her hut.

"Auntie, we've brought some things for you!" said one of the young men. "Animal heads! You can use them as containers."

Then, they dropped the single head pudong! pudong! onto her floor over and over again, picking it up and dropping again, to gull the old blind widow into thinking there was more than one head.

"Good day, Auntie!" the boys said, leaving.

E'shapu called for her nieces. "Girls, quickly! Count all these heads for me! There must be a lot of them!"

The two nieces looked at each other.

"Why, no, Auntie, there's just one head, that of a small deer."

"Hand it to me! Let me feel it for myself."

Sitting on her mat, she felt the deer head over and over, turning it around in her hands. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Why, she thought, why would they lie to and cheat an old blind woman who can barely make ends meet? And they went ahead and burned down my field anyway. All I got out of the whole thing was just one deer head! I'll find out who did this to me, which of the village boys they were. But . . . can I truly ever find out . . . ?

From that day on, E'shapu refused to eat. Every day she prayed to her ancestors and the gods of the sky and land, asking for redress.

Shortly after, disaster struck the village.

For three months, there was a drought. The rivers and streams ran dry. Everyone else's crops  withered and died. Miraculously, though, fresh water continue to pour freely from one of the the old blind woman's ceramic pots. Before long, the rest of the village had heard about how E'shapu had an endless supply of fresh water.

The villagers murmured restlessly amongst themselves. "Huh!" griped one. "How is it that old E'shapu has an old pot from which you can always get good, clean water?"

"Good question!" said another. "I'm dying of thirst here!"

E'shapu already knew that sooner or later the villagers would descend upon her and ask her how they too could get an endless supply of water, so she had her nieces arrange many pebbles outside her door to make sitting spots for the visitors who were bound to come. These visitors could just come and sit down, and then they would gently sink comfortably on the smooth pebbles.

The visitors arrived soon enough.

The now very insolent, unrepentant young men who had burned her field were among them. They all, along with everyone else,  sat on the pebbles, waiting for E'shapu to come out of her hut.

Finally, E'shapu came out to address the still growing crowd.

Instead of speaking to everybody, she addressed a certain group in the crowd, saying, "Young men of the village! I know you are sitting before me. These words are for you!" If she had had the gift of sight, she would have seen the sneers on the the faces of the young men who had caused her so much pain. "Listen to me before it's too late. I need to hear you cry for not having water; I need to hear you cry kebi! kebi!"

The young men smirked as they heard her curse them with "kebi! kebi!"

"Keep your kebi!" a defiant young man shouted back. "It means nothing to us!"

E'shapu heard this. She turned around and went back inside. Moments later, huge gusts of wind roared through the village followed by a fierce downpour of rain. The young men, who had only minutes before sat so arrogantly, tried to get up and flee but could not--their rear ends were stuck to all the stones they sat on. All through the night of the raging wind and torrential rainstorm, they had to sit and endure the elements, while everyone else was able to take shelter at home. All night and into the morning they sat there, drenched to the skin and chilled to the bone.

The next morning, with the storm still continuing, E'shapu said to her nieces, "Girls, open the door and take a look at the boys. How are they?"

"They're still there, Auntie!" said one of the nieces. "They're sitting there, shivering, and their eyes have gone white!"

E'shapu said some prayers to lift the curse. Then, she went back outside to speak to the young men. By now the winds and rain had stopped.

"Well, boys, how does it feel?" she asked. "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" The young men, some of them, were only able to give a feeble, teeth-chattering plea for mercy, but E'shapu was not finished with them yet. "Would any of this have happened if you had not taken advantage of an old blind woman? Well?"

From that day on, no one in the village, especially the young men, ever dared again to mistreat or deceive old widows, blind or otherwise.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1., pp. 153-155. (See 3/1/18 for full citation.)

As often is the case in folk literature, especially folktales and fairy tales, characters may be clueless and/or passive about events that occur in their presence. The two nieces, for example, say nothing to E'shapu as the young men burn the field. No mention is made of whether or not E'shapu herself smelled the smoke from her burning field. The story does not say that the young men were permanently paralyzed or blinded. It will have to be left up to the imagination.  

Motifs: D905, "Magic storm"; D2072.2, "Magic paralysis by curse"; D2141.0.7, "Storm raised by incantation"; D2141.1, "Storm magically stilled"; M411.5, "Old woman's curse"; M430, "Curses on persons"; Q552.14, "Storm as punishment (curse)"

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Cheeky Werefox Plays Matchmaker (Han & Hui)

Two hunters were after a fox and had chased the creature for a good ten li without letting up. The fox, exhausted by the chase, continued to run for its life. It ran around to the other side of a hill, giving the two hunters a momentary slip. There, by a path, the fox encountered an old gent collecting animal droppings and putting them in his dou, a long conical container made of woven reeds.

"Grandpa, Grandpa," begged the fox, "please save me! Not far behind me are two men who want to kill me for my pelt. Maybe my own life's but a drop in the bucket, but back home at my lair my cubs will starve to death without me! Do me the favor of hiding me and I promise I'll reward you!"

The old man looked at the fox and saw how desperate and pitiful it looked.

"All right, all right, Fox . . . " he said, emptying the dou of its stinky contents. "Now, climb in and hide inside the dou."

The fox immediately leaped inside. The old man then quickly scooped up the scat and put it back inside the dou and on top of the fox hiding inside the reed container.

Seconds later, the two hunters came along the path, stopping when they came to the old man.  The old man made himself look as nonchalant as possible.

"Good day, young fellows!"

"Old man, did you happen to see a fox come this way?" asked one of the hunters.

"Oh, yes," said the old man randomly pointing in a direction. "It went that way."

The pair then headed off in haste in the direction to which the old man had pointed.

When they were good and gone, the old man scooped out the ordure and said, "All right, Fox, come on out. You're safe. They're gone."

The fox climbed out, shook off any droppings clinging to its fur, and thanked the old manure collector, saying, "You'll be rewarded for this! You shall see!"

The fox then ran off towards the woods and was soon out of sight.

The old man returned to his cottage, which he shared with his eighteen year old son, who had been studying for his examinations in a local academy. His elderly father had saved and scrimped each coin to pay for his son's tuition.

Now, it so happened that the boy had been passing by the home of a local wealthy family on the way to school. He caught a glimpse of the young lady of the house, a staggeringly beautiful young woman of eighteen, the same age as he himself. He made a point of passing by the house every morning.

Then, one day it happened--from afar, he saw her smile and laugh. That did it. He was now totally smitten by her.  He contrived a way to meet her. They met, and she ended up liking him.

In any case,  he eventually realized nothing could ever come of it. She was of a totally different class from his--hers being the wealthy gentry. He was still bewitched by her, nevertheless, and nothing he did could shake off his thoughts of her, especially since he had really begun to know her and sensed that she liked him.

He started coming home and then, without studying or reviewing his lessons, just falling asleep on the kang, the brick oven the top of which serves as a heated surface for a bed on cold days and nights in the north of China.

His father noticed that day after day he now spent all his time on the kang. He thought his son must be ill, which to some extent he was.

After a few days of his son's moping around on the kang, the father said one evening, "Son, you've spent many years of deep studying, using much of your energy to do so. Now, for the past couple of days, you've been in bed, just lying around, doing absolutely nothing, not even cracking open a book. Are you sick or something?"

"No, Father, I'm not sick. I just don't feel like studying anymore."

"What? Son, since your mother left us, I've worked and worked to pay for your education and have had to be both a father and a mother since you were five years old. Now, you've grown into a young man, and you're telling me you no longer plan to study! I deserve to know a reason why."

"Very well, Father, " said the son, and he proceeded to tell his father of how he could not get his young woman friend from the wealthy family out of his mind.

"So, you see, Father, " he concluded, "It's no use trying to study. I can't concentrate. Night and day, I just can't think of anything else except her."

"Son, I can understand your heartache, but you can't simply toss out all your years of studying and preparations for a match that was never meant to be! Be realistic! Did you seriously expect the daughter of such prosperous parents could ever be your wife?"

"No, I thought so as well but couldn't bring myself to admit it, which is why I am in the state I am now. I'm looking at some dangerous days ahead . . ."

"What, Son?"

"Hey!" said a handsome young stranger, pushing open the door and standing in the doorway. "It's already night time. Isn't either one of you going to sleep? What's all this talk of sad things anyway?"

The old man, the father, turned around, and yelled, "Who do you think you are, coming in here? Whoever you are, what's any of this to you?"

"I heard everything. Your son is in love with a young woman with whom he can never marry, so he's lost the will to continue his studies. Well, in this matter, I can help."

"I don't know who you are, " said the father. "You aren't a friend; you aren't a relative; you aren't a neighbor. Why would you want to help my son?"

"Come, come," said the young man. "Your son needs help. How could I just stand around and observe and not help? Now, listen. Tomorrow, I will deliver to you 300 ounces of silver to assist you in this matter. I don't care if you don't repay me for even three years. Just take the silver."

The old man couldn't believe his ears. A stranger who has come out of nowhere and who has now overheard his son's plight will lend them 300 ounces of silver for the bride price!

With some suspicion, the father said, "If you do this for us, my son and I will be grateful to you for the rest of our lives as our benefactor."

The young stranger smiled and waved his hand. "Never mind such talk! The silver is but a scab off the skin to me. Use it so your boy can marry the girl of his dreams!" And then he left.

The young stranger kept his word. At the break of dawn, he arrived with the 300 ounces of silver

"Here it is, " he said. "Oh, by the way, allow me the honor of approaching the young lady's family to speak on your son's behalf as well as to deliver the bride price."

The father and his son were overjoyed and gave the young man their permission and blessings.

As it turned out, there was some wrangling in the negotiations, but the young stranger's mission was, in the end, successful. Both parties--the bride's family and the old man--next selected an auspicious date for the wedding to occur within the upcoming month.

And, so, the wedding took place without a hitch!

However, that's not the end of the story . . .

Soon came the night in which the bride and groom were to enter the wedding chamber for the first time. In came the bride, along with the groom, but then another bride, the exact twin of the other bride right down to her shoes, also entered.

"Who are you?" asked the first bride.

"Pardon me. I need to ask  who you are!" replied the second bride.

"I am the bride of this man!" said the first. "I rode in the bridal sedan chair, not you!"

"Oh no, you most certainly did not, Miss! That was I, wasn't it, Husband?" the second one asked the groom.

The groom felt he was losing his mind. Both brides looked alike; he couldn't tell who was who or who was the real bride.

The two women bickered and raised a ruckus until one of them said, "All right! She is the actual bride. I am but a fox." Turning to the groom, the false bride, the fox, said, "Your father saved my life when two hunters were after me for my fur. He hid in his manure sack and sent them off on a wild chase. He saved my life. In turn, I came up with the 300 ounces of silver and the matchmaking proposal so you could be married. I guess I saved your life!

"Anyway, as they say, 'One life saves another; goodness is repaid by goodness.' May you both have a wonderful, long life together!"

Ehhhh . . .

With a slight groan, she, the fox in disguise, was gone.

海原民间故事 [Folktales From Haiyuan], Wang Xinlin, ed.; Yinchuan, Ningxia: Yangguang Publishers, 2013 [Kindle Paperwhite].

Here, the werefox, or fox shapeshifter, performs a good deed. Perhaps the fox's wily nature appears at the end with the scene where the werefox impersonates the actual bride, suggesting that just as "a leopard cannot change its spots," a fox or werefox remains cunning or even duplicitous. Moreover, the fox, the sex of which is not identified in the story, proves itself to be a shapeshifter par excellence, first appearing in the guise of a young man and then, as the bride herself. 

This story is from Haiyuan, Ningxia, where a majority of residents are Hui people. For other Hui tales, see 12/28/12 and 5/27/13. However, Han people also live in Ningxia, so I'm hesitant to classify this as a purely Hui tale. 

This story is reminiscent of "Puss in Boots" (tale type 545B). Professor Ting Nai-tung indicates in his A Type Index of Chinese Folktales (Folklore Fellows Communication No. 223, Helsinki, 1978) that the animal helper in the Chinese versions of this particular tale type is usually either a fox or a rabbit (p. 96). 

Motifs: B300, "Helpful animal"; B350, "Grateful animal"; B435.1, "Helpful fox"; B582, "Animal helps person to success in love"; Q10, "Deeds rewarded."