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."