Saturday, September 24, 2022

Right to the Bone (Han & Hui)

 There was once a young man who had married a young woman, but, unfortunately, shortly afterward both of his parents passed away. 

Now this young man, not exactly the most handsome groom around, was addicted to gambling and drinking, and, at the same time, he was averse to working. He would often leave his wife for two or three days to attend gambling parties. 

Probably needless to say, his wife was extremely upset over all this. 

One day, the wife was out by the river doing the laundry. A hunter with a rifle slung across his back and with a dog in the lead approached. The wife could see his visage in the reflection on the water. 

Oh, she thought, that is definitely one handsome man! To be together with a man like that, even for but a day, would be worth it!

She totally lost her interest in washing the clothes and instead just watched the hunter disappear into the forest. 

She returned home and lay down on the bed, where she sank into a near coma-like state, not eating or drinking so much as a drop of water. This went on for days, and nothing passed her lips, not even herbal medicine that had been brought to her. She also began to lose her eyesight. 

She called for her husband. 

"Husband," she said, "my time is nearly up. After I go, don't bury me. Instead, place my body in the cave overlooking the cliff and have the entrance sealed up. In time, a man will come by the house and offer to buy my bones for a good price. Take him up on the offer. Do you hear me?"

"Yes," he replied. 

And so it was done. 

Three years passed by. 

A stranger in the neighborhood showed up at the house and asked the young widower if he had any antiques to sell. The latter didn't have any because being the gambler he was, he had already long before sold off nearly all the belongings left to him by his parents. He did have something, though. 

"I don't have any antiques," he said, "but would you be interested in buying some bones?"

"Human bones?"


"I might be," asked the buyer. "I'll tell you what. Do this: show me a finger bone and I'll let  you know."

The widower went up to the cave, unsealed the entrance, and fetched one of his wife's finger bones. He brought it back to show the buyer. 

When the buyer showed interest in this single finger bone, the widower asked, "How much would you pay me for the entire skeleton?"

"Three hundred ounces of silver."

It was a deal. When it came time for the buyer to take the skeleton away, the widower suddenly held up his hand to stop him from leaving. 

"Just a moment!" he said. 

"Hold on," said the buyer. "Are you trying now to back out of the deal? I gave you your silver,  didn't I?"

"No, no," I'm not trying to back out of our deal. I simply wanted to ask why on earth anyone would want human bones. I'm just curious. That's all."

"I see. Very well. In my family, for the past seven generations, we have collected human bones to concoct a remedy for lovesickness. It's critical that the bones, like the ones I purchased from you, are the so-called 'engraved' bones." 

"Oh? And what are these 'engraved' bones you are talking about?"

"Each person who dies while longing for another person has an image of that person engraved upon his or her bones. Here, take a look at one of these bones you sold to me . . ."

The widower took a look. Sure enough on the bone itself, he could see the faint outline of what appeared to be a man with what appeared to be a rifle on his back. 

How could this even be? thought the widower. 


[刻骨] See the post for 8/8/18 for full citation.

To "engrave the bone" [刻骨]means "to remember something indelibly." It suggests that the memory, love, or hatred for somebody or something is incised in that person's very being, something deep-rooted, if you will. We reveal a similar concept in English when we say of someone that "beauty is skin deep, but ugly/ugliness is to the bone." 

Motifs: D1812.2.4, "Dying woman's (man's) power of prophecy"; F1041.1.4, "Death from longing"; M391, "Fulfillment of prophecy"; T11.5, "Falling in love with (someone's) reflection in the water"; T15, "Love at first sight"; T24.1, "Lovesickness"; T81.2, "Death from unrequited love"; T211.4.1, "Wife's corpse kept after death"; T271, "Neglected wife"; W111.4, "Lazy husband." 

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Phantom Postman (Hong Kong)

 This story and its variants made the rounds back in the 1960s.

It was very late at night one evening. A fully uniformed mailman with a mailbag was seen walking down Queen's Road in the same manner as any postal carrier would in the middle of the day away from the former Wanchai post office.

 His body language did not suggest he was off duty, relaxed, and now on the way home. No, carrying his mailbag, he walked down the street with the professional determination of one who has a job to do. 

To see a mailman on duty so late at night was odd enough; this wouldn't be, however, the strangest aspect of the story. The most bizarre details were yet to come. 

Some who passed by him on the street stated the mailman was devoid of facial features; others said his eyes emitted light. 

Those who received mail late that night opened the ordinary appearing and properly addressed envelopes only to find, according to some sources, either a blank sheet of folded paper or a bill of paper money. It is said that most of these recipients of the letters regarded all this as some kind of prank. 

Sadly, those who passed by him and saw his face and those who received letters from him would all have something in common--each individual would pass away within three days. 

When news of this became known, it caused many, of course, to be greatly afraid. So, some unnamed residents contracted the services of a ghost catcher or exorcist from nearby Hung Shing Temple [洪聖廟] in Wanchai. The powers of the spirit that had manifested itself as a mail carrier were admittedly very formidable, and the holy man charged with ridding Hong Kong of this specter was unable to extinguish the menace completely. However, in the end, the exorcist succeeded in at least keeping the spirit at bay in some kind of limbo, thus making it unable to continue its rounds as long as he, the holy man, lived. 

In time, the holy man passed away, and his son took his place in making sure the threat posed by the deadly being remained neutralized. According to one version, the son of the holy man said to the spirit, "Until the day I die, you shall not return to plague this area!" 

At the time this is being written, the son of the holy man is still said to be alive, and so the frightful presence remains inactive . . . for now . . . 


Fan Qicong & Shi Zhiming. Xianggong Dushi Chuanshuo Da Baike 香港都市傳說大百科 [The Big Encyclopedia of Hong Kong Urban Legends], Chunghwa Book Company, 2021, pp. 76-82.都市传说香港鬼邮差 - Google Search

Fan Qicong and Shi Zhiming suggest that the ghostly mail carrier might be a modern manifestation of a being from ancient Chinese mythology, the ghost courier, or psychopomp, that escorts the dead to the underworld. They specifically cite Ox-Head [牛頭] and Horse-Face [馬面], two of the most famous examples of such couriers as possible inspirations.

Motifs: F159.4, "Demon guide on otherworld journey"; M341, "Death prophesized."  

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Legend of Guo Ziqi: A Case of Spirit Possession (Chaozhou)

 Guo Ziqi of the Qing Dynasty came from Beimen in Jieyang County. He came from a scholarly family with a younger sister who was herself an accomplished writer. Ziqi himself was still in the process of preparing for his exams. 

Ziqi decided to ask a well-regarded local fortuneteller about what his future would hold.

Now, the fortuneteller could foresee that Ziqi would become an official, but he did not outright tell the younger man that. Instead, the fortuneteller said, "If you really want to know what you shall do in the future, bump into your sister."

"Pardon me?" asked Ziqi. "Did I hear you correctly? I need to 'bump into' my sister?"

"That's correct, young man. Do so and your future shall be revealed to you. Good day."

That night, when his younger sister was bringing Ziqi's dinner into his study, Ziqi abruptly stood up from his desk, colliding with her and upsetting the tray of food, causing it to fall onto the floor. 

"GeGe! How could you be so clumsy?" she said. 

"Uh . . . it's the narrowness of this room that caused this to happen," he offered as an excuse. 

"Oh, please!" she replied. "Eight men carrying a sedan chair could come through here without any problem!"

Then it dawned on Guo Ziqi. He would become a mandarin who would be carried by eight porters in a sedan chair!

In time, his essay passed and he became a jinshi, the highest level of candidate in the imperial exam system. He became a top official at the emperor's court in Beijing. Before long, he married a local young woman. 

Flash forward now ten years. 

 A terrible thing occurred: Ziqi's wife fell gravely ill. A number of doctors were summoned, but not one could find a cure for the wife. When it appeared she was taking her final breaths, Ziqi ordered the purchase of a coffin and made the burial arrangements. 

Almost immediately, his wife rallied and, to everyone's sheer joy, made a complete recovery! However, the strangest thing was that his wife now talked like Ziqi's young sister--same voice and mannerisms. Soon there came a letter from back home: Ziqi's young sister had passed away from an illness--the same time that Ziqi's wife had recovered from being ill. 

Ziqi put two and two together. His wife's soul had been swopped, so to speak, for his sister's. 

Ziqi requested a leave of absence and took his wife back to his old home in Jieyang County. 

Once there, his wife, seeing the almond tree the late younger sister had planted and lovingly taken care of, remarked in Ziqi's sister's voice,  "Look at that! It's been ten years since I last saw this tree, and it is as tall and sturdy as ever!"

Then, when Ziqi's wife came face-to-face with the memorial tablet for Ziqi's sister upright on a table, she suddenly fell ill. It wasn't very long before she passed away. 

It is for this reason that in Chaozhou, ever since then, if an unmarried younger sister dies before getting married, her memorial tablet is not placed inside the home. Another location, perhaps inside a temple, is located for the tablet in case the spirit inhabiting a body sees her own memorial tablet. 


Chaozhou Minjian Gushi 潮州民間故事 [Chaozhou Folktales]; pp. 43-44. (See 6/17/22.) 

In his monumental book Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village (1975)Professor David K. Jordan mentions that in some areas of Taiwan, families keep the altar (i.e., memorial) tablets of deceased unmarried daughters in seclusion in rooms where the tablets are not likely to be seen (p. 142). In the same book, Jordan provides the reason why these tablets are hidden away and why, at least in earlier times, the spirits of these unmarried females were wed in so-called "hell marriages" [冥婚]. Han Confucianist commentator Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (A.D. 127-200), writes Jordan, stated that deceased unmarried women, not leaving behind children, could not be venerated in ancestral rites; for any family member to do so "would . . . be a breach of proper behavior" (pp. 151-152). (For a complete citation of the Jordan book, see the posting for 12/31/16.) Thus, this legend of spirit possession might be a contrivance to reinforce the need to isolate the tablets of unmarried daughters, just as many urban legends have risen up to reflect anxieties like stranger abduction, going to places where one had been warned not go, violating social norms, and so on. 

This story and "The Tale of Duke Tiantou" (5/31/22) share an interesting motif: A character dies only after visibly witnessing proof of his or her death. Duke Tiantou, having been first decapitated and then with his head reattached to his neck,  only dies when his mother reminds him that naturally an organism dies when it loses its head. Mrs. Guo (or the spirit of Guo's sister that inhabits her body), dies when viewing the memorial tablet to Guo Ziqi's sister. It is implied in both stories that the characters might have continued to live if they hadn't stumbled onto evidence that they should be, by all rights, already dead. 

Motifs: C300, "Looking tabu"; C900, "Punishment for breaking tabu"; C920, "Death for breaking tabu"; E722, "Soul leaves body at death"; E725, "Soul leaves one body and enters another"; E726, "Soul enters body and animates it"; M312, "Prophecy of future greatness for youth."

Friday, June 17, 2022

Forest Vampire -- a Legend from Chaozhou, Guangdong

 In a rugged, forested, and mountainous area called Leiling, someone had once left a coffin with a dead body inside. Into that body eventually entered some miasma, some airborne evil spirit, infecting that corpse, turning it into a jiangshi, a vampire. 

And so, in the darkness of night, the vampire would venture out of its coffin and seek out humans who happened to be out in the forests of this hill country. It would appear behind them and envelop them with its arms, hugging and, thus, killing them, all this being accomplished in mere seconds. 

Despite the ruggedness and remoteness of the terrain, more than a few people fell victim to this vampire.

Now, it so happened that a man in the area had arranged with another family for his son to marry their daughter. Early one evening, he had a bridal sedan chair carried by two porters show up at the bride's house to escort her to the home of the groom. The bride climbed up into the sedan chair, one of the porters closed the curtains to her compartment, and the porters picked up the sedan chair to head for their destination. 

The path would take them through the forest. 

Once in the forest, the porters suddenly felt the need to relieve themselves. They gingerly put the sedan chair down and headed off into the bushes to take care of nature's business. They came back to the sedan chair as soon as they could, hoisted the chair, and quickly completed the journey, arriving at the groom's house. 

The groom eagerly came out of the house to greet his bride. He pulled back the curtains . . .

There sat his bride; from seven gaping holes in her lifeless pale body trickled blood . . .

What was supposed to have been a day of joy now turned into one of unspeakable tragedy. The family members and friends of the bride and groom had the two porters arrested and hauled into the yamen.  The county magistrate heard the case. He knew that a vampire had been responsible for murdering the unfortunate bride. He also reasoned the two porters would not have likely killed the bride and then still delivered her corpse to the groom's family. He came to the conclusion that the vampire had killed her while they, the porters, had been preoccupied with relieving themselves in the bushes. 

The county magistrate next had his men comb the area where the vampire had likely been. Its coffin was located, and the vampire was still inside it. The magistrate's men attacked the vampire with all the weapons they had. The vampire, though, as stiff as a log, extended its arms in an attempt to hug its attackers. 

The magistrate ordered the men to destroy the coffin to prevent the vampire from having a sanctuary to which it could return. With the rigid vampire now on the ground and under the watchful eyes of some of the armed men, the other men burned the coffin. The vampire rose and turned towards a tree and embraced the tree. The magistrate then ordered the tree, along with the vampire, to be burnt as well. 

The vampire would not plague this area ever again. 


Chaozhou Minjian Gushi 潮州民間故事 [Chaozhou Folktales], Chen Di, ed.; pp. 48-49.  (See 7/22/07 for complete citation.) 

One wonders why a bridal party would deliberately take a route through a part of the forest frequented by a vampire, but then again this is folklore, where ironies and inconsistencies with logic abound. Greater "truths," however, remain: the forest is a cold, unwelcoming place that is the home to beings whose very existence is adverse to humans. In addition, unburied corpses that are not provided the proper rites accorded to other decedents could very well be reanimated to curse any unlucky person who crosses their paths. 

For another story about a vampire, see the post for 4/9/22. 

Motifs: E20, "Malevolent return from the dead"; E250, "Bloodthirsty revenant"; E251, "Vampire"; cE363.1.1., "Ghost (vampire) substitutes for bride on her wedding journey." 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Tale of Duke Tiantou (Jing)

 Tiantou was a very energetic and studious young man, and he also happened to possess a remarkable thousand-li horse. Not only that but he knew a fair amount of magic tricks. 

In time Tiantou married a wonderful, beautiful, and clever young woman. With her encouragement, he studied very hard for his examination. Her support--her delicious meals and her being available to help him by making sure that items like the lamp wick and inkstone were ready for use--enabled him to study well and to obtain the highest score, zhuangyan, thereby allowing him to become a noble at the emperor's court. 

His future would be secure! He would now be known as "Duke Tiantou." 

However, it would mean that he would have to leave his wife's side and live at court, where he would need to be constantly on duty. 

Tiantou deeply loved his wife and could not bear to be without her, and so he would mount his thousand-li horse and fly off to the emperor's court before daybreak every day, secretly returning late in the evening. 

All this was highly contrary to imperial orders; however, this is what he did, and for the time being, it worked very well. He got to be an official throughout the day and much of the evening and be with his wife in the early hours of the morning. 

He took steps to make sure that no one at the court, especially the emperor, knew he was secretly leaving the palace each evening for fear of losing his head on the chopping block.

Before long, the young wife revealed to Tiantou that she was pregnant. Now, Tiantou believed he had all the more reason to make the risky late evening/early morning return trip home. 

Tiantou's mother, now aware of her daughter-in-law's pregnancy, was still unaware of her son's completely illegal and dangerous nightly returns home on the flying horse. So, one day, she remarked to her daughter-in-law in a snarky tone: "Barren trees won't produce fruit."

Tiantou's wife mulled over her mother-in-law's words. She absolutely wanted anything but a "barren" marriage, so she contrived an idea to get Tiantou to stay with her, her child-to-be, and her mother-in-law. So, late that night, upon Tiantou's return, she fed him a dinner made up of his favorite foods: prawns, crab, and fish. She also plied him with rice wine as he eagerly devoured his dinner. 

With dinner now over, Tiantou, as drunk as a skunk, staggered to bed without taking off his clothes. He was sound asleep as soon as he fell upon the bed. Once he was good and asleep, his wife pulled off his court boots, footwear issued to all members of the court, and hid them where he'd never find them. 

Early that next morning, Tiantou woke up to the cawing of the roosters. He had gotten up too late, and his boots were gone! Where could they be? He looked everywhere for them, including under the bed. He tried waking up his wife, who, after what seemed like forever, finally turned her head, groggily denied knowing where the boots were, and suggested he buy another pair as she immediately fell back asleep. 

Tiantou tried waking her up, but it was no use. Panicked, knowing that there would be a very real possibility that he could be executed, Tiantou went outside and smeared the darkest mud over his feet and halfway up his pant legs to mimic the appearance of wearing court boots. He also used his magic power to stop the sun from rising, thus silencing the roosters. 

He climbed onto his horse and took off for the court. He landed, hid his horse, and rushed to the palace, allowing the sun to rise just before entering the court. 

The emperor had noticed how strange it was that the sun had come up so late that day and shared this observation with a trusted councilor. 

"Your Imperial Majesty," said the councilor, "a renegade is surely at work! Anyone who can stop the sun from rising and the roosters from crowing is a rebel and poses a danger to the court!"

The emperor mulled over this. He issued an order for his guards to find if any courtier had been engaging in suspicious behavior. When Tiantou showed up with his muddy pant legs and shoes, the emperor decided he had found the court traitor. 

The emperor ordered his guards to take Tiantou out to the chopping block. Tiantou was thus beheaded. However, instead of that being the end of the story, he calmly got up from the ground, bent down to pick his head up, and repositioned his head back on his neck. He left the execution grounds, went back to his horse, and flew back to his home. 

Flying back home, he spotted a boy herding cows not far from his house. He landed the horse and spoke to the boy.

"Say, young fellow," said Tiantou, "allow me to ask you a question."


"That grass your cows are munching on. Once it's gone, it grows back doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes, Sir!" replied the boy. "It grows back as soft and munchy as ever!"

Good, he said to himself. 

He got back on his horse, took off, and continued flying until he saw below a young woman picking some wild onions. Once again, he landed his horse, dismounted it, and approached the girl. 

"Young lady," said Tiantou, "I'd like to ask you something."

"All right," said the young woman, without bothering to look up.

"Those onions you're picking. They will eventually grow again, won't they?"

"Ha," she said, still not looking up, "what a silly question. Of course, they'll grow back! With some fertilizer and water, they'll grow back quite nicely, thank you." 

Wonderful! he said to himself. He was now feeling very happy and encouraged. 

He got back on his horse and flew back to his house. He tethered his horse and entered the house. His mother, holding a dead chicken, was surprised to see him 

"Son!" she said. "It's wonderful you're back already. We slaughtered some chickens for tonight's dinner." 

She prepared to cut the chicken's head off when Tiantou asked a question.

"Mother, if a chicken's head is cut off, will it still live?"

"Aiyo!" said the mother, cutting her fingertip by accident out of surprise from the question she had just been asked. "When the head is cut off, Son, the chicken dies!"

As soon as Tiantou had heard that, he became very still. His head then fell right off his neck, and he collapsed upon the floor, dead. 

Needless to say, Tiantou's mother and wife were deeply shocked and saddened. They had his body washed and wrapped in coarse linen before being placed in a coffin. A priest performed a ceremony, and the family performed three days of funeral rituals before having the body and coffin interred. 

Tiantou was gone. Now, his widow would have to live in the dark, quiet house. A few nights after her husband's death, she saw him in a dream. 

"My dear wife," he said. "Do this: slaughter a chicken every day for 360 days. Let each carcass soak in a tub. All of this will be helpful!"

The widow was about to ask him why, but Tiantou immediately disappeared. 

She carried out the instructions her husband had given her in the dream. Nearly one year later, the tub was overflowing with the stinkiest, most disgusting maggots imaginable. The mother-in-law poured boiling water on the maggots to kill them.

That night Tiantou reappeared in his widow's dream.

"My dear wife," he said, "use the tub of maggots and chicken remains to fertilized the field in front of our house."

With tears in her eyes, the widow did exactly that. Within two days, two sturdy bamboo trees now grew in the field. 

A few days later, who should come by the area but the emperor himself, riding regally in his sedan chair, taking an inspection tour. When the emperor and his party were passing the house, the handles of his sedan chair suddenly snapped, and he hit the ground, with his rear end taking the brunt. 

"You idiots!" he shouted at the porters. "Fix these handles at once if you wish to keep your worthless heads!" Then, turning his head towards the bamboo trees in the field, he said, "Over there! In the field! There are two bamboo trees. Perfect! Chop them down and use them for handles. Hurry!"

The porters did as they had been told, of course. With the sedan chair repaired, the party moved on. 

"Perfect!" said the emperor. "Everything's just perfect for me! The weather, the views, the bamboo! Everything is just perfect in my land for me!"

The porters were taking the emperor across a narrow bridge, and just as the emperor had said, "Everything is just perfect in my land for me!", the handles of the sedan chair once again broke, and this time the emperor tumbled far down into the river below. 

That was the end of the emperor. 

All this happened on August 15 on the lunar calendar many, many centuries ago. The Jing people still honor Duke Tiantou on that date every year. 



The Jing (京族 or Gin or Kinh) people are ethnic Vietnamese who live in China's Guangxi Province. A friend from Vietnam told me that "Kinh" is the name Vietnamese people give to the majority ethnic group in Vietnam. For two other Jing tales, see the post for 5/24/14. 

The lesson of this magic tale seems to be that there is a limit to one's power, whether it might be supernatural powers like Tiantou's or earthly, imperial power like the emperor's. For all his ability, Tiantou could still not prevent his own death. Here was a man with a flying horse who could conceal or otherwise stop the sun itself and even remain alive (for a while, anyway) after being decapitated. Yet, he also depended on his wife so that he could put all his energy to use for studying. One might add that Tiantou's very power, like that of a Greek hero, led to his eventual downfall. 

Motifs: A721.1, "Theft of sun"; B41.2, "Flying horse"; D1810.8.2, "Information revealed through dream"; E321, "Dead husband's friendly return"; cE720.1, "Soul(s) of the human being(s) seen in dreams"; F961.1, "Extraordinary behavior of sun"; Q200, "Deeds punished"; cQ211.0.3, "Emperor punished for many murders"; Q411, "Death as punishment"; Q428, "Punishment: Drowning." 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Dog That Became a King (Dai)

There was once a cast-off mangy, hungry dog, so starved that his rib bones were clearly visible. The wondrous monk Laxi took pity on this dog and took him in, caring for him so that before long the dog became healthy and active once again. Not only that, the dog became incredibly brilliant while under Laxi's skillful and magical tutelage. 

One day Laxi asked the dog, "If you could, would you like to become a person?"

"I don't only wish to become a person," replied the dog. "I would like to become the king!"

"Very well," said Laxi. "Come and jump through the hoop in my staff!"

The dog did so, and when he had touched the ground again, he instantly turned into a man. The man bowed and thanked Laxi. 

Patting the man's head, Laxi said, "Your name henceforth shall be Maxi'xiang!"

Now, it so happened at this time that the kingdom of Menghuidihai had recently suffered the death of the king, and there were no suitable heirs to the throne. It would be an understatement to say the kingdom was in a complete uproar as to what to do. Councilors carrying lanterns went out into the night and combed the area, searching for anyone who could possibly become the next king. 

Eventually, they came to the renowned Laxi for his help and suggestions. Maxi'xiang just happened to be with the monk, too. 

"Gentlemen," said Laxi, "you need not search any longer. This is Maxi'xiang. He can be the next king!"

On the spot, Maxi'xiang provided an audition, if you will, by demonstrating his advanced ability, thanks to Laxi, in martial arts and by reading aloud ancient texts on the science and art of being a ruler. 

The councilors looked at each other and nodded. Yes, they thought, this is the right man for the job. They escorted Maxi'xiang back to the palace, where he was thereupon made king. 

So, Maxi'xiang had now become king and wore the regal robes and crown. He sat on the throne with councilors by his side, with everything at his bidding just by the snap of his fingers. 

Yes, he had everything he could possibly want but one thing--a sense of security. He knew he had once been a dog, and he feared the day would come when this secret would be made known to everyone in the kingdom. But how could this secret ever come to light? Who could possibly give the game away? Only one name came to mind: Laxi! Laxi, the man who had saved his life and who had enabled him to become a human and king. 

King Maxi'xiang decided then and there that Laxi had to die. 

He issued an arrest warrant for Laxi on a trumped-up charge and ordered his guards to seize and to kill his former benefactor.

When the guards showed up at Laxi's residence, the wise and powerful monk was waiting for them. He came out to speak to them, and none of them, seeing him there before them, in all his powerful presence, felt able to approach him, let alone to kill him.  

"Who has ordered you here to do me harm?" he asked them. 

"The . . . king . . ." one of them answered. 

"Well, you go back and tell your king that I still have plenty of magic power to teach him," said the monk. "Kill me now and that power will be lost forever. The day may come when the king will realize this and blame you for having killed me. So, go back and tell him I still have many things to teach him, which I will very willingly do. If he's not interested, you can always return here to carry out his order. You know where to find me."

The guards scurried back to the palace and told the king what Laxi had said about teaching him further magic. The king thought about what Laxi had told the guards. Yes, he decided, there was still a lot for him to learn. The only way he'd ever be able to defeat Laxi and thus preserve his legacy would be to learn all the magic powers Laxi had. Only then, with Laxi gone forever, would he be able to rule with confidence and the dignity supported by abundant confidence. 

King Maxi'xiang left the palace and went directly to Laxi's home. There, he humbly apologized for his actions and intentions. Laxi just smiled. 

"You were correct, Master," said the king. "I have still much, much to learn! Would you still graciously teach me all your powers?"

"I shall teach you if you are able to squeeze through the hoop in my staff," said Laxi. 

"Hmm . . . all right . . ." said the king. 

The king squeezed through the hoop and touched the ground, whereupon he instantly turned back into the mangy starving dog with protruding ribs. 

And so, Maxi'xiang, once the king, was now again a dog. 


Daizu minjian gushixuan 傣族民间故事选 [An Anthology of Dai Folktales]; Fu Guangzi, Yang Bingli, Feng Shouxuan, Zhang Fusan, eds; Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1992; pp. 250-251.

For another Dai folktale, see the posting for 1/1/09. For another story about a dog that was transformed into a man, see 7/26/12. 

The staffs carried by monks may have large loops at the top; however, the story implies that either the loop in this story is particularly wide and accommodating or Maxi'xiang, in both his animal or human form, is adept at squeezing through openings. (A Google image search for "monk's staff" will result in many photographs of different staffs with loops at the top.) 

Laxi (腊西) is presented just matter-of-factly without any background information, leading me to believe he might be a legendary or cultural hero of the Dai people, someone without the need for an introduction. 

Motifs: B211.7, "Speaking dog"; B300, "Wise Animal"; cD22, "Transformation: common man to exalted personage"; D141, "Transformation: man to dog"; D341, "Transformation: dog to person"; D1254, "Magic staff"; K2061, "Treacherous plan of hypocritical animal detected & prevented"; N848.0.1, "Holy man as helper"; Q261.1, "Intended treachery punished"; R165, "Rescue by saint (holy man)." 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Moving Ahead (Han)

 A young traveler, a man, was hurrying through the night, desperately searching for shelter.

By the path was a lone house seemingly with all the lanterns lit. From the house emanated the sounds of people laughing and the telltale sounds of an ongoing card game. 

He decided to take a chance and ask for permission to spend a night. And so, in that past day and age when strangers could ask to spend a night in one's house, this young man knocked on the door. 

"Yes? Who is it?" asked a voice from within. 

"I'm just an exhausted traveler. May I request your permission to spend a night inside your house?"

The door opened and a man appeared. "Absolutely!" he said. "Please come on in." The man beckoned the traveler to enter and showed him to a room, passing by the table of merry card players. 

The traveler lay down on the bed and quickly drifted off to sleep . . . 

He hadn't slept for long when he suddenly woke up with a start to the sound of sha . . . sha . . . sha . . .   Somebody was in the same room, which was now lit with a lantern.  

He looked up and turned his head. 

An incredibly beautiful young woman was seated at a vanity table, brushing her long hair. And then she lifted her head right off her neck and held it in her hands, all the while remaining seated in front of the mirror . . . 

The traveler leaped off the bed and ran stumbling down the hallway to the table of card players. 

"Hey!" he cried, interrupting the game. "I just saw something that scared the life out of me!"

"What was it?" asked one of the men at the table. 

"I saw a woman who lifted her own head off her neck and held it in her hands!"

"That scared you? Really? Why, that's nothing!" said another at the table. "Take a look at this!"

One by one, each person at the table calmly lifted his head off his neck and placed the head right on the table. 

The young traveler dashed right out of the house and didn't stop running until he had reached a street in a town far from the house he had just fled. Daylight was now breaking, and people were busily setting up their shops and stalls for the day's commerce. Someone must have noticed how he was out of breath. The traveler told this person about the solitary house with people who could take their heads off.

"Oh, that house . . ." said the man in the town, shaking his head. "That house is on land that used to be an execution field. You just encountered the headless ghosts that still haunt the area . . ."


Chinese Folktales, pp. 148-149. (See the posting for 4/9/22.)

This story is very reminiscent of "Mujina," a story from Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan. 

The tale doesn't explain in which province all this takes place. An execution field would have been where people, of course, had been decapitated.

Motifs: E281, "Ghosts haunt house"; E402.1, "Noises caused by ghost(s)"; E410, "The Unquiet Place"; E411.10, "Persons who die violent or accidental deaths cannot rest in grave"; cE419.7, "Person with missing bodily member cannot rest in grave"; E422.1.1, "Headless revenant"; E422.1.1.3, "Actions of headless revenant"; cE422.1.1.4, "Headless ghost carries head under arm"; E577.2, "Dead persons play cards." 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The Flying Vampire (Han)

 Long, long ago, in a small village there lived a mother and her two sons. The father had died some twenty years before. 

One day, a man delivered a letter to their home. The letter read: "Sons, I, your father, really need your help. I am the owner of a pharmacy in a town in Anhui Province. Business is really booming, but I need more help in the pharmacy, especially from people I can trust. Could you please come over and help me out behind the counter?" 

Needless to say, the mother and sons were astounded. 

"Mother, is possible Father is still alive?" asked the sons. "Every year, we visit the tomb and tidy it up. How could he still be alive?"

The mother didn't have an answer. After the three thought about it for a while, they came to the conclusion that someone was playing a cruel prank on them. By and by, they forgot about the matter. 

Six months passed. 

One day, a man from Anhui came to the house and presented the mother and sons with three hundred silver coins and yet another letter purported to be from the father. 

"Sons," the letter read, "I waited and waited, and neither of you showed up. I am really desperate at this point, so I have entrusted a gentleman to deliver to you three hundred silver coins as a sign of good faith and as your first payment for wages. Please don't disappoint me! I am depending on you to come to Anhui to help me!"

"Mother," asked one of the sons, "how can you explain this now? We two kids were very small when Dad passed away. Is there any way possible that he could still be alive? Somebody is writing letters and signing them as our father, and now this person has delivered to us three hundred silver coins! Could he still be alive?"

"This has to be a joke!" said the mother. "When a person dies, that's it for that person's time on earth!"

The three then discussed the matter for what seemed like hours before the older brother said, "Mother, I have an idea. You still have some of Father's letters. Let's compare the penmanship in those letters to this letter that came with the silver coins. If our father really wrote this letter, the penmanship in this letter and the old letters should match!"

"Mother, Older Brother has a great idea!" cried the younger brother. "Let's do that!"

The mother agreed and fetched an old letter the father had written. The three compared the two letters. 

The penmanship was a perfect match. 

"Father . . . is still . . . alive . . ." said the older brother. 

"I don't believe it," said the mother. "I remember things you don't, like his passing and burial. There's something really fishy about all this . . ."

The two brothers had already made up their minds to journey to Anhui and work with their father in the pharmacy. They began to argue that only one of them should go. 

"I need to go! I'm the first-born son!" said the big brother. 

"Excuse me but as the older brother you need to stay and look after our mother," the younger brother responded. 

The mother observed this and knew it would be of no use trying to keep them both at home.

"You both can go if you must," she said. "After all, the letter requested the two of you to go. I shall be all right. I still can take good care of the home by myself. All of this is too extraordinary to make sense. So, all I ask of you before you leave is to take care and to be very wary in case some evil person is preparing to trick you!"

"Yes, Mother!" the two sons responded. 

The next day they set off for their supposed father's town in Anhui. In those days, traveling was very difficult, and so it took the boys a month to reach the town. The evening they arrived, they passed by a Buddhist temple. They decided to ask the monk there if they could spend the night. The old monk inside welcomed them, showed them to their quarters for the night, and invited them to eat dinner with him. 

They chatted during the meal and told the monk the purpose of their journey. 

The monk became alarmed and said, "This all sounds very suspicious. I am certain a vampire is involved. If you go to the pharmacy unprepared, there's a huge chance neither of you will survive."

"What should we do, then?" asked one of the brothers. 

"You should be all right there during the daylight hours," replied the monk. "If it's a vampire we're dealing with, he won't appear there in the daytime. It's way after dark that I am concerned about. You will be shown a bedroom in or near the pharmacy. You must not actually sleep there. I suggest you somehow get ahold of two fresh pigs that have been totally plucked of all their hairs. Some time before midnight, place the dead pigs under the blankets of the bed, dress them in your clothing, and then make sure you stay out of that bedroom for the rest of the night! If you find yourselves in danger, immediately return to this temple. I have methods of dealing with evil beings."

The brothers thanked the monk for his advice and help, spent the night in the temple, and early the next morning presented themselves at the pharmacy. They were welcomed by a senior employee. 

"Is our father here?" one of the brothers asked.

"No, he isn't," replied the employee. "He doesn't really show up here in the day. He spends the day in his room in prayer and to study religious texts. You'll see him tonight. I've been instructed to see to all of your needs in his absence. I'll show you to your room, and you may let me and my assistant know whatever you need!"

Not present in the daytime . . . thought the brothers. To them, this confirmed what the old monk had said. 

"Could we have your assistant go to the market for us and purchase two pig carcasses that have been totally plucked?" asked the older brother. 

"Of course!" the senior employee replied. "It's as good as done. Now, allow me to show you your room."

The brothers were taken to a room in the same building. Before long, the junior assistant arrived with two pig carcasses. Once the assistant had left, the brothers placed the pigs under the blankets of the bed and dressed them in their clothes. They then bided their time until nightfall.

"It's time to leave," the older brother whispered to his younger brother. 

They exited the bedroom and hid in a nearby closet. From time to time, they looked through the crack in the doorway to see if anything was going on in the bedroom. They weren't totally sure that their father was now a vampire, but they remained wary just in case. 

Around midnight, they heard a strange wind sweep through the building and sensed how this wind blew into the closed bedroom. They tiptoed to the closed door and looked through the crack. They saw inside the bedroom a frightful-looking being with a wild shock of long, bushy hair and long, crooked fingernails. The figure picked up one of the dead pigs dressed in clothing and ripped its skin off. He next tried to unfurl the pig's skin and stick it to his own body, but it refused to stick since it was not the skin of his own son. 

With great anger and frustration, the wicked being violently searched through the room before literally jumping out of the room and going on a frantic search for his sons. 

The two brothers, however, were long gone, having fled for the temple. 

"Master! Master!" they cried. "Save us!"

The old monk was still up and rushed out to receive them at the entrance to the temple. 

"Quickly make your way to the main hall and hide in there!" he told them. "I'll handle the vampire."

The brothers did as they were told as the monk headed for the gate. 

Soon enough, the flying vampire appeared at the gate.

"Noxious creature," said the monk, "you have no business here! Pretending to read the sutras in the day while committing evil at night, you are here to harm your own two sons! They're under my protection! Now cease whatever you are trying to do!"

The vampire leapt towards the monk, his claws extended. The monk calmly stood his ground and spat at the vampire. The evil creature instantly dropped to the ground and dissolved into a puddle of coagulated blood and hair. 

The vampire was no more. 

"Boys," said the monk, having reentered the temple, "the danger is over. The vampire has been neutralized. You are free to leave!"

The brothers profusely thanked the monk and then returned to the pharmacy, where they took over as the owners. 


Zhongguo minjian gushi 中國民間故事 [Chinese folktales], Meng Zhongren, ed., Hanxin, 1994, pp. 140-146. 

The traditional name for Chinese vampires is jiangshi [僵屍] ("stiffened corpse"). The original story states that the dead father had somehow become a vampire twenty years after his death and that he could appear in the visage of an old wealthy merchant. Thus, this vampire could also shapeshift. It also explained early on that his plan was to kill his sons, drink their blood, and attach their skin to his body. The story does not explain,  however, why the vampire had targeted his own sons or how the he was able to amass the sizable funds to purchase a pharmacy and hire assistants since he would not be available during the day. (Regarding the former point, in traditonal belief, the walking dead, revenants, are considered by their very nature to be inimical to anything good or decent, so perhaps a vampire who would kill his own sons is not such a big stretch.) Finally, the tale does state that one of the pharmacy employees was in on the secret that the boss was a vampire. 

In his Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, Wolfram Eberhard mentions that spittle is a potent apotropaic weapon to ward off evil. 

Motifs: D42.2, "Spirit (vampire) takes the shape of man"; D1001, "Magic spittle"; D1381.2, "Saint's (monk's) spittle protects fugitive(s) from attack";  D1402.14.1, "Magic charmed spittle kills"; D2050, "Destructive magic powers"; E220, "Dead relative's malevolent return"; E251, "Vampire"; E251.1, "Vampire's power overcome"; E251.3, "Deeds of vampires"; E261.4, "Ghost (vampire) pursues men"; E443.2.4, "Ghost (vampire) laid by priest (monk)"; E541.2, "Ghost (vampire) eats living human beings"; E557, "Dead man (vampire) writes"; K500, "Escape by deception"; K525.1, "Substituted object (pigs) left in bed while intended victim(s) escape(s)."  

Friday, April 8, 2022

Ghost Maiden (Hmong)

 Over in A'xiubangning, there was once a huge field, where every year around New Year's Day and several days after the Tiaohua (or "Flower Jumping or Hopping") Festival would be held. Young Hmong men and women would flock there to attend the festival, take walks in the moonlight, and perhaps find the love of their lives there. 

Ruo'gai Sinilu was one of the young men who arrived to take part in this year's festival. A well-regarded, handsome youth and someone who was proficient at playing the lusheng, or bamboo flute, Ruo'gai was hoping to find his future wife on one of the upcoming evenings at the festival.  

On the opening day of the festival, Ruo'gai was there, all dressed up in his finery, playing the flute as he had never played it before. The sweet sounds of his melodious flute went up the mountains and down into the valleys. No one who heard his music mistook it for anyone else's; all felt that this young man was destined for something great. 

The beautiful spirit Niya Sigugashedi had also heard the sounds of Ruo'gai's bamboo, and unbeknownst to Ruo'gai, she had been in love with him for a number of years. At other festivals, smitten by his good looks, she had walked side by side with him as he performed and danced, and he had never been any the wiser since Niya Sigugashedi had always remained invisible.  

And now here he was again--playing the flute while dancing with high steps. 

Niya decided she would appear to him in human form and flirt and play with him a bit. If he liked her, she would commit to remaining in human form and, if possible, marry him. 

So, Ruo'gai played and danced, and then spied coming towards him a most lovely young lady, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old, her loop earrings jingling, her silver necklaces shimmering in the dusk. 

A goddess . . . ? thought Ruo'gai. 

The beautiful girl walked right up to him, smiling, and said, "Ruo'gai Siniliu! Nice to meet you!"

Ruo'gai had fallen in love with her immediately before he had a chance to respond. 

"Hello . . . Whose household are you from? And how did you know my name?" 

"Hahaha! Ruo'gai, the well-known flutist and dancer? Are you joking? Even ghosts know your name."

"Then, young lady, you must be a ghost!"

"Ruo'gai," she responded with a smile, "in any case, you're not a ghost, and I'm no longer a living being. I'm Niya Sigugashedi, and I'm here to be together with you."

Niya Sigugashedi, the beautiful ghost of Hmong legend! he thought. He reached out for her hand, but she suddenly vanished into thin air. "Niya, Niya, where did you go?" he cried. 

He played his flute, hoping its sounds would reach Niya, wherever she was. 

Then, from the air itself, came the sound of someone making music with a leaf, the sound of a mu'ye, and, in the euphonious voice of a young woman, it said, "Ruo'gai, I'm at Dao'yue'ning, waiting for you! Come to me whether you love me or not!"

Ruo'gai instantly headed for Dao'yue'ning. Once there, he looked all over for Niya but could find no trace of her. 

Yes, he thought, it must indeed be a ghost with whom I'm in love. 

Playing the flute, he sang, "Niya! Niya! Where are you?"  

Once again came the squeaky, high-pitched sound of mu'ye music, with a voice saying, "Ruo'gai! I'm by the Great Sea, waiting for you! Come to me whether you love me or not!"

After some time, Ruo'gai finally arrived at the Great Sea. Across the water, on the other shore, was Niya, apparently washing something. Her image in the shimmering water entranced him. 

"Ruo'gai," she said, "you'll need to cross this water to come here. Here, come on over by walking on this cloth as a bridge." 

She unfurled the roll of cloth, which then instantly turned into a stone bridge that ended right where Ruo'gai stood. 

"Come on!" she said. "It's safe!"

Ruo'gai walked on the bridge and thus crossed over to be by the side of Niya. 

"Let's become husband and wife," said Ruo'gai. 

"I've loved you for a long time," said Niya, "and I'll gladly return to the world of the living just to be with you! Now, I'll need to let my father and mother know about our plans. There might be some trouble with them, but you'll need to meet them. Are you ready to go with me so that I can introduce you to them?"

"Let's go!" said Ruo'gai. 

Niya took Ruo'gai deep into a long, dark cave. Along the corridors of the caves were mounds of bones, and on the walls hung human legs. Ruo'gai felt the hair on his neck rise with alarm and his teeth chatter as he proceeded deep into the cave. 

Finally, they arrived at a chamber, and inside were Niya's parents, two old ghosts. The mother and father knew that this must be the man their daughter had fallen in love with and would wed. They also sensed that he was not wealthy but rather somewhat impoverished. They were deeply incensed that their daughter would love such a man, but they still put on a good show and feigned delight. 

"Ah, Niya," said the father, "you've brought our son-in-law to be! We'll prepare your accommodations for tonight in the annex. Tomorrow shall be the big day with a special wedding banquet!"

"Thank you, Father and Mother!" said Niya, but she knew something was amiss. The giveaway was her parents' having them stay in the annex instead of one of the bedrooms. 

Ruo'gai felt very happy about meeting the parents and believed they liked him. 

Afterward, when they had left the presence of her parents, Niya turned to Ruo'gai and said, "Don't be so happy. You're marked for death."

Ruo'gai, who had been very pleased with his future parents-in-law, asked, "What do you mean? 'Marked for death' by whom? Your parents? They were very sweet and I enjoyed meeting them."

"You're too trusting. The main dish for the big dinner tomorrow shall be you!"

"We'll need to flee from this place," said Ruo'gai. 

"Yes," said Niya, "we shall, but first wait here for a moment while I return home to collect a few items that I'll need."

Soon she returned with the following objects: three horse spoons, three chopsticks, and three spirit nets. The horse spoons would be talismans the ghosts found to be noxious and tabooed, something they would deeply fear; the chopsticks would be for obstructing the movements of ghosts; and the spirit nets would be for permanently entrapping the ghosts. 

In the middle of the night, "when no chickens were clucking or dogs were barking," as they say, the pair fled into the darkness. Their escape did not go unnoticed. The little ghosts guarding the area reported this back to Niya's parents, who ordered the ghosts to capture the pair. 

Niya had anticipated all this. Of course, no mortal could possibly move as swiftly as a ghost, so Niya threw a horse spoon behind them as they ran along the path, forcing the alarmed ghosts to take a very wide detour to catch up to them. Niya was aware of this and tossed another horse spoon behind them. This again greatly deterred the pursuing ghosts, allowing Niya and Ruo'gai to escape farther along the path. When she sensed the ghosts had once again become close to catching up, she threw down the final horse spoon. 

Niya and Ruo'gai proceeded on while the ghosts had yet again to find a long way around the horse spoon. 

Soon enough it became apparent that the ghosts were once again close to catching up. Niya took one of the chopsticks and tossed it behind them. Immediately, a lush virtual forest of asparagus stalks appeared between Niya and Ruo'gai on one side and the ghosts on the other. Now, if there's one thing that ghosts just love, it's asparagus. The ghosts stopped in their tracks, collected all the asparagus they could carry, and took the asparagus stalks back to their home. 

Niya and Ruo'gai continued on, and soon it was time to discard another chopstick, leading to the sprouting of another asparagus "forest." This again sidetracked the ever-approaching ghosts, forcing them to pick as many stalks of asparagus as they could carry away. Niya was eventually forced later to throw down the last chopstick. 

They continued and then realized the very speedy ghosts were not far behind them. This time Niya threw down all three spirit nets. This very act and the result of seeing three such nets facing them terrified the ghosts so much that they feared to continue their pursuit of Niya and Ruo'gai. The ghosts halted in their tracks. They turned around in great fear and fled back to from where they had come. 

Niya and Ruo'gai reached the land of the living, and she re-entered life as a human. They married and both worked hard to build good lives for themselves and the children they had planned to have. Not long after, they indeed had children. Ruo'gai plowed the land and grew crops, while Niya spun and wove cloth. They lived good lives until, as it is said, "they grew old and white-haired."


Guizhou minjiangushi 贵州民间故事 [Folktales of Guizhou]; pp. 97-101. (See 3/31/22 for citation.)

Here's a YouTube video of the Hmong Tiaohua Festival: 苗族千人同跳芦笙舞过“跳花节” / Hop Flower Festival of Miao People in Guizhou, China - YouTube 

I had some difficulty with the Chinese transcriptions of Hmong names (Ruo'gaisinilu 若改司尼陆 and Niyasigugashedi 尼亚司谷尕社笛), and so for better or worse I mainly kept the first two characters for their names. In any case, a note following the story indicates that Niyasigugashedi is a legendary Hmong ghost renowned for her great beauty. There was no mention of Ruo'gai's parents in the tale. 

This supernatural spouse folktale, unlike many others, has a happy ending. The "Great Sea" is not specified. It seems to suggest that Ruo'gai journeyed all the way to the shores of the South China Sea, though this "Great Sea" might very well be a large inland lake. The obstacle flight (i.e., the escape methods by which Niya and Ruo'gai evade the pursuing ghosts) reveals to us that ghosts have a deep, enduring love for asparagus. The spirit nets remind me of Native American spirit catchers. 

Mu'ye 木叶 music is created by one's blowing upon a single sturdy leaf, and it seems to be used, among other purposes, to convey messages of love and affection. 

Motifs: D672, "Obstacle flight"; D1258.1, "Bridge made by magic"; D1980, "Magic invisibility"; cE322.1, "Dead wife returns and bears children for husband"; E384, "Ghost summoned by music"; E425, "Revenant as woman"; E461, "Flight of revenant with living person"; E470, "Intimate relations of dead and living"; E474, "Cohabitation of dead and living";  E480, "Abode of the dead"; E599.5, "Ghost travels swiftly"; F842, "Extraordinary bridge"; R200, "Escape(s) and pursuit(s)"; T91.3, "Love of mortal and supernatural person"; T97, "Father (and Mother) opposed to daughter's marriage"; T111, "Marriage of mortal and supernatural being." 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

In the House of the Weretigress (Hmong)

Note: This rather grim (pun intended) tale should perhaps be avoided by very young readers due to both language and violence. 

A young woman was out tending to her flock of ducks and noticed one of her ducks had somehow left the flock and entered the forest. With the rest of the ducks secured, she set off into the forest to look for her lost duck. 

She made duck calls as she searched through the woods. 

"Ga, ga, ga!" she heard in reply to her duck calls.  

She went deeper into the forest in the direction of the sound that resembled that of a duck--except it wasn't a duck that was making that call. No, it was an old tigress and her cub which had caught sight of the young lady from afar while remaining concealed in the thick bushes. The old tigress changed herself into an old woman and her cub into a small girl. She next conjured up a house in the clearing just behind her. 

By the time the young woman had cleared the brush, the old tigress, now in the guise of an old woman, was sitting near the open doorway of her house, spinning cotton.

"Grandmother!" said the young lady calling out to the old woman, the tiger. "Have you seen a duck around here?"

"Oh . . . yes . . . " said the old woman. 

“Where is it?"

"It's in the rice paddy in the back," the old woman nonchalantly replied, "eating fish shavings."

"Oh, thank you, Grandmother!" said the girl, turning around to head over to the rice paddy. 

"No hurry! No hurry!" said the old woman. "You look tired. Come inside and rest a while. There are plenty of fish shavings out there, so let your duck eat its fill before you go get it!"

Well, truth be told, the young woman was a bit tired, so she accepted the invitation and entered the house. After resting for a bit, she said, "Thank you so much. I'll go get the duck."

"No hurry!" said the old woman. "Don't rush away hungry! Let me cook something for you."

"Well, I don't wish to trouble you . . ."

"It's no trouble, young woman! After all, we have to eat anyway, don't we?"

The young lady thanked the old woman, and before long she, the old woman, and the "girl" all sat down to eat. 

During the meal, the young woman noticed something about the old woman and the child and thought, How odd . . . Neither one seems to know how to use chopsticks . . . They're just picking up the food with their hands and placing it into their mouths . . . 

After dinner, the young woman said, "I can't thank you enough for your kindness and hospitality. I'll go get my duck and be on my way home and not bother you further . . ."

"Oh, young woman! Don't rush away!" said the old woman. "Look how dark it is outside! Spend the night! You can sleep in the same bed as my daughter here."

How nice this old woman has been to me even though we've never met . . .  thought the young lady. Well, truth be told, it was very dark outside, and she wasn't too keen on returning back to the village in the dark. 

She agreed to spend the night. 

"Splendid!" said the old woman. Turning to the little girl, the tiger cub, she said, "Little Sister, show Big Sister to the bed you two shall share tonight!"

The little girl took the young woman to the bedroom as the old woman continued to do more weaving on her loom. 

The young woman had suspicions she couldn't rid her mind of, so as the "child" next to her slept soundly, the young woman felt the little girl's hand. 

She pulled her hand back in shock--the little girl's hand was covered with fur!

She knew now that she was in the conjured house of a shapeshifting tigress. She stifled a cry of horror and gathered her wits about her. This is what she did: She took off her dress and slipped it on the soundly sleeping girl. She then slipped her silver bracelet onto the girl's wrist. She next took her padded cotton jacket, turned it inside out, ripped the lining, exposing the coarse cotton lining, and put it on. She then waited for what would come next. 

It was now midnight. 

Before long, the tigress, no longer in the form of an old woman, having put out the fire in the oven and extinguished the lamplight, crept into the room and climbed up on the bed in the dark bedroom. The young lady was aware of this and pretended to snore loudly. The tigress touched her, felt the cotton, and assumed she had felt tiger fur, thus assuring herself that this was her cub. 

She next approached the side of the bed where her actual cub lay. She touched the dress the cub wore and felt the bracelet on her wrist; all this confirmed to her that the young person lying on the bed before her was the visiting young woman, her evening meal. 

With a mighty bite, she devoured her own cub, which never woke up, and loudly munched on the flesh and bones. 

The young lady just lay there in terror, wondering how she would ever survive this ordeal, but she knew she couldn't panic at this point. She had an idea. She mustered up her courage and asked softly, "Mama, what are you eating?"

"Oh, just some lice and fleas."

"They sound nice and crunchy! Give me some!" said the young lady. 

"No. They're not good for someone your age."

The young lady continued to pretend she was sleeping. After a while, with the old tigress continuing to eat next to her, she asked, "Mama, what are you eating now?"

"Some soybeans."

"Give me some!"

"No, no. If you eat soybeans now, you'll get gas and let go stinky farts." 

"Oh, please, Mama, let me have some too! I want some!"

This continued for a minute or so before the old tigress sighed and said, "Oh, all right! Here! What an annoying pain you are!"

She handed the young woman the remnants of one of the cub's paws. The young woman took the paw and made a big show of noisily pretending to devour it. 

Minutes later, the young woman said, "Mama . . . Mama . . ."

"Oh, what is it now?" asked the old tigress. 

"Mama . . . my tummy hurts . . . I need . . . to . . . poop . . ."

"Oh, I should have known this would happen! Go poop under the bed!"

"But . . . it'll stink . . ."

"Then go poop by the oven!"

"But . . . if Auntie, Uncle, or some visitor comes later and sees what I did. . . that would be . . . embarrassing . . . for us . . ."

"Then go to the corner of the house!"

"But . . . if I poop there . . . I'm afraid . . . a rat . . . might bite my bottom!"

"All right! All right! I'm losing my patience with you. Where do you want to go to poop?"

"The . . . doorway . . ."

"The doorway? You might encounter a bear there! No!"

The young woman thought and thought . . . Then, she remembered something. She felt in the pocket of her jacket. Yes, the long coiled rope she used for tying bundles of grass was still there. 

"Mama! I got it! Here's a rope. Tie one end around my waist, and you can hold onto the other end. In case a bear or something comes towards me, I'll cry out and you can pull me in! What do you think?"

The old tigress grunted her approval and tied the rope around the girl's waist. 

The young woman quickly went outside, untied the rope around her waist, and looked for a place to tether it. She spotted a tall rock. 

"Rock! Rock! Please help me!" she whispered. "Let me tie the rope to you. If the old tigress calls out to you, answer back as I would!"

"Got it! Now hurry up and tie the rope and then get out of here as fast as you can!" replied the rock. 

After fastening the rope to the rock, the young lady fled into the forest. 

Minutes later, the old tigress yelled from the house, "Hey, are you finished with your pooping or not?"

"Not yet!" yelled back the rock. 

Several minutes had passed when the old tigress once again cried out, "Aren't you done yet?"

"No, not yet!" yelled the rock. 

After asking seven or eight more times, the old tigress asked, "What are you doing--pooping gold and silver? What in the world is taking you so long?"

When she heard no reply, she yelled, "All right, then! I'll have to get up and go see!"

She went outside and saw no sign of the person she had assumed was her cub. All she saw was the rope attached to the rock. She dashed back inside her house, lit the lamp, and scoured the interior. She returned to the bedroom, pulled back the heavy quilt, and beheld the remains of her devoured cub.

"Noooo!" she screamed. "I ate the wrong one!" She dashed back out to the forest, shouting and crying, "I should have eaten you as soon as I saw you!"

It was now daybreak when the old tigress arrived at the edge of the river. There, she spied the young woman in a small fishing boat rowing herself to the middle of the river.

"Maiden!" cried the old tigress. "Wait! Wait a moment for me!"

"Just come on over, Granny!" said the young woman. 

"How? How do I 'just come on over'?" 

"Do this, Granny--go and get the rope or a vine or something like that. Tie one end around your neck, and tie the other end to a rock. Toss the rock into the river, and you'll fly right over to me!" 

"All right! Wait!" cried the tigress as she looked for something long and sinewy. Finding a suitable vine, she tied one end to a sturdy rock and the other end around her neck. With a mighty effort, she heaved the heavy rock into the river, launching herself into the river. 

The young woman had nearly made it to the other side when she heard the pudung of a loud splash. She turned her head to see the tigress struggling on the surface of the water. 

"Well, Granny Tiger," said the giggling young woman, "it looks as if your plans to eat me failed today!"

The old tigress merely gurgled a bit and then sank to the depths of the river. 


Guizhou minjian gushi 贵州民间故事 [Guizhou Folktales], Yen Bao &  Zhang Xiao, eds. Guizhou Renmin Chubanshe, 1997; pp. 73-77. Miaozu minjian gushi 苗族民間故事 [Hmong Folktales] (See 1/13/09 for complete citation); pp. 330-337.

This tale seems to be a hybrid version of "Grandmother/Grandauntie Tiger" (or "Auntie Wolf," the Chinese version of "Little Red Riding Hood") and "Hansel and Gretel" (due to the magical nature of the house and the predatory cannibal or carnivore that resides within). For other versions of "Grandmother Tiger," see my posting for 6/15/18 and my e-book Taiwan Folktales. 

No parents are mentioned in this story. We might keep in mind the significance of who is and isn't in the picture--whether it is in a child's drawing or a fairy tale.  Here, we just have the young woman, the old tigress, and the ill-fated cub in perhaps an extended metaphor for a young woman's navigating alone through the dangers in this stage of her life. The setting is the forest--a place of magic (sympathetic talking stones) and lurking danger--the place our ancestors were warned to stay away from. We also have yet again the flat and clueless personas of the traditional folktale/fairy tale characters who are unable to draw conclusions or to use common sense, a worldwide characteristic and perhaps a necessary abbreviated component in tales that are to be transmitted across boundaries and cultures.

Motifs: D112.2.1, "Weretiger"; F771, "Extraordinary castle (house)"; F800, "Extraordinary (talking) rocks and stones; G61, "Relative's flesh eaten unwittingly"; J1706.1, "Tiger as stupid beast"; K551.4, "Respite from death until toilet is made permit escape"; K891.3, "Monkey (tigress) tricked into jumping in water and drowning self"; cK1611.5, "Kid puts one of tigress's cubs in his (her) place; she eats cub"; K1810, "Deception by disguise"; K1810.1, "Disguise by putting on clothes of certain person"; K1822.4, "Tiger disguises as human being"; K1868, "Deception by pretending sleep."