Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some Taiwanese Proverbs About Roosters and Chickens

Happy New Year--the Year of the Rooster! I hope you enjoy the following sampling of Taiwanese proverbs about hens, roosters, chicks, and chickens in general selected for the new year.

1. 雞嘴變鴨嘴 The mouth of the chicken turns into the mouth of a duck. (Said of someone who first       speaks forcefully, determinedly, even stubbornly but who then ends up being unable to speak at 
    all.)

2. 雞母帶子輕鬆, 雞公帶子拖帆 The hen is relaxed taking care of the chick, while the rooster
    finds doing so tough going. (Said of an individual who takes on a task for which he/she is 
    unqualified. Think of the Norwegian folktale "The Husband Who was to Mind the House.")

3. 雞仔腸, 鳥仔肚 Chicken intestine (but) bird stomach. (Said of situations, problems that cannot
    be remedied.) 

4. 雞母屎, 半黑白 Chicken droppings are black and white. (Describing one who is irresolute, one
    who lacks a point of view.)
   
5. 有看雞, 沒看人 To see the chicken but not see the person. (Said of someone who is "a work in
     progress," someone with potential, like one who is still "a diamond in the rough.")

6. 大猴哄雞 The big monkey frightens the chicken. (Describing someone without forbearance or 
    tolerance.)

7. 偷掠雞也得了米 A poached chicken ending up with a grain of rice. (Said of someone 
    encountering a great stroke of luck.)

8. 曹操吃雞筋--食之無味, 棄之可惜 Cao Cao's eating chicken muscle--a flavorless thing to
    eat, yet throwing it away would be a pity. (Cao Cao, the archvillain from The Romance of the
    Three Kingdoms, is often encountered in proverbs. This proverb reflects the desire to 
    "have things both ways" but faced with the reality that this isn't possible, as well as wanting
     to hold onto things of little or no value.)

from

台灣歇後語 [Taiwanese Folk Similes], Wu Reixing, ed. Tainan: Duanbo, 2002; 最新俗成語智慧
[Wisdom From the Latest Common Proverbs], Wang Shuixing, ed. New Taipei City: Junjia, 2012;
台灣諺語集成 [Integrated Taiwanese Proverbs], Guan Meifen, ed. Tainan: Wenguo, 2002; www.folktw.com.tw/folksay

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Owl Seeks a Wife (Guangdong: Hakka)

The owl wanted to marry the partridge, so he enlisted the help of the pit snail for help, to serve as his marriage broker.

"All right, " said the pit snail to the owl, "listen very carefully. The partridge is very pretty; we all know that. As for you,  you are a fine, sturdy fellow, but there's one problem: your eyes are too large! Now, when you meet her, keep your eyes closed! Otherwise, you're liable to spoil the whole deal when we go to see her!"

"All right" was the owl's reply.

"And let me do the talking!"

"All right."

The day came when the pit snail arranged for the owl and the partridge to meet each other for the first time.

The owl kept his eyes closed as the pit snail built up the owl in front of the partridge, bragging how great, how wonderful the owl was. All was going splendidly according to the plan, with the partridge showing more and more interest in the owl as each minute passed.

Then the owl decided to take a tiny peek at the partridge. He had seen her from afar, of course, but couldn't resist the temptation of glimpsing the lovely partridge now that he was this close to her. What harm could a little peek do?

Well, there's no such thing as "a little peek" from an owl. When the partridge came face-to-face with the two huge saucer eyes staring at her inches away, she immediately flew off to a nearby hillock.

"Whew!" she squawked. "That was close! I was going to marry him!"

The pit snail was fuming. He turned to the owl and said, "I told you, I told you, I told you to keep your eyes shut! Why didn't you listen to me?"

All the owl could say was "Ku-hu! Ku-hu! Ku-hu!"

From far away, the pit snail and owl could hear the partridge say, "Sha-gua! Hao-ah! Hao-ah!"

from

广东民间故事全书:汕尾陆河卷 [The Complete Folktales of Guangdong: Shanwei & Luhe Volume]; Guangdong Union of Arts and Literature; Guangzhou: Lingnan Meishu; 2008; p. 159.

Shanwei and Luhe are districts of Guangdong where primarily the Hakka (AKA Kejia or Hakkanese 客家) dialect is spoken. 

This pourquoi tale purports to explain the origins behind the cries of, respectively, the owl and the partridge and what they actually mean. In the story, the owl's cry of "ku-hu" is written as 苦呼, suggesting something like "Oh, the pain!" or "The bitterness!" The partridge's "Sha-gua! Hao-ah!" 傻瓜! 好啊!can be translated as "Fool! Good!" or "Okay, idiot!" The "pit" snail 坑螺 had the character  attached, suggesting this tiny creature was a shape-shifter. 

Motifs: A2426.2.17, "Origin of owl's cries"; A2427.3, "Hooting explained"; A2462.2, "Cries of birds"; B623.2, "Owl as suitor." 





Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year 2017 . . . and Some Books in English

Happy New Year to everyone! May it be a joyful, loving time for all who read this and your family members.

I haven't been active for a while as I wrap up my Ph.D. dissertation. However, I'd like to take a moment to share with you seven books that have been instrumental in enabling me to understand and more fully appreciate one of my passions, Chinese folklore, specifically folktales from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Four of these books are by the same author. The folktales I relate on this blog, except for "The Midnight Bus" told to me in English by a premier Chinese folktale/legend scholar, come directly from Chinese sources I have translated. However, the books that follow below have been very helpful in allowing me insight into the psychological/anthropological/sociological backdrops of the tales.

#7  Guilt and Sin in Traditional China (Wolfram Eberhard; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967)

On this list, this is the first of 4 books by the late great German-born American sociologist and sinologist, Wolfram Eberhard. In this very slim volume, Eberhard analyzes the manifestations of guilt and sin in Chinese Buddhist writings and popular literature. He especially focuses on the theme of suicide. Everything he writes about in this book can be found as themes and motifs in folktales, legends, and myths. This book serves as an excellent introduction to traditional Chinese mores.

#6  Studies in Taiwanese Folktales  (W. Eberhard; Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1974)

Here, Eberhard provides sociological analyses of several famous folktales that are told in Taiwan. One of them, "Momotaro" (aka, "The Peach Boy") is actually a Japanese tale widely known in Taiwan. The most famous story "Grandaunt Tiger" is given an extended analysis that might interest anyone involved in a social science.

#5  A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols (W. Eberhard; London: Routledge, 1983)

This is a very good basic compendium of symbols that can be found as motifs and metaphors in Chinese folklore.

#4  Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives (C.A.S. Williams; New York: Dover, 1976)

Outlines overlaps in many areas with Eberhard's book on symbols. Williams's articles tend to be a little lengthier than Eberhard's. His book nicely complements Eberhard's later work on symbols.

#3  Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village (David K. Jordan; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973)

A masterful introduction to Taiwanese folk religion. It was eye-opening to me when I first read it back in 1976 in Taiwan. It introduced to me the world of ghost brides and temple shamans.  In my view, it is the best book of its kind.

#2  Folktales of China (W. Eberhard; New York: Washington Square Press, 1973)

An excellent survey of folktales, legends, and myths from across China, 79 in all, each appended with notes that provide some sociological/anthropological insight for that particular tale.

#1 Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio (Pu Songling; H.A. Giles, trans. New York: Dover, 1969)

This book, along with Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan, initiated my interest in East Asian folklore. It is an amazing collection of supernatural tales from the Ming Dynasty. Giles's edition is still one of the best. Shape-shifting foxes, ghosts, and early forms of what would be known as urban legends--they're all here.




Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Bleeding Tree (Baima)

Long ago there was a walled village on the slopes of a mountain. Halfway up this mountain was a crag out of which there grew a tree with black leaves.

Every day this tree would cast its shadow onto the water vat belonging to a family whose home was located at one end of bridge that crossed a reservoir. In the evening the tree blocked the moonlight in another direction, likewise casting a shadow over a different family's water vat.

Both households continually prospered.

This situation was not lost on the rest of the villagers. Those who pondered would think, Both families have their water vats shaded by the tree with black leaves. Both are also very prosperous families. Why, though? What's the connection?

Finally, someone in the village said to some others, "Listen. It's very simple. The tree shrouds only their water vats and no one else's. That's unfair! The tree's clearly biased towards those two households! The tree won't shade our water vats and let us enjoy some of the wealth, so let's cut down that despicable tree that plays favorites!"

This angry man and his hangers-on went up the slope of the mountain and prepared to chop the tree down. All day long, they took turns hacking away at the tree but to no avail. The tree stood as sturdy as ever. They called it a day and headed back home.

That night, one of those who had tried to cut the tree down had a vivid dream. In the dream, the tree with black leaves spoke to him, saying, "Those fellows don't realize how close they really came to cutting me down. They also don't know I'm not afraid of cutting or chopping. I'm only afraid of coming and going."

The next day this man told the others who wished to cut down the tree what the tree had said in his dream.

Hearing the contents of the dream, one of the men said, "The tree said it doesn't fear cutting or chopping, just 'coming and going.' 'Coming and going . . .' That can mean only one thing: The tree is afraid of sawing!"

The men located a saw and rushed up the mountain to finish the job. They sawed down the tree easily enough.

Once the tree with black leaves had been cut down, out from the stump flowed blood . . .

A terrible mistake had been made, but of course now it was too late.

Within a few days, all the men who had participated in sawing the tree down died one by one from illness. The two families who had enjoyed prosperity from the tree's shadows now entered into financial decline. The crag from which the tree had grown split in two large formations leaning precariously over the village. The villagers, cursing the men who had sawed the tree, begged the rock for forgiveness and performed rites at the scene to protect the village.

The two rocks did not roll down and are still up there. It is said that if one stands on the road outside the village, one can spot those two separate crags perched above.

from
陇南白马人民俗文化研究 [Studies in the Folklore of the Baima People of Longnan]; Lanzhou: Gansu Renmin Chubanshe, 2012.

The Baima, or Baima Tibetans, are spread out through Gansu (the location of Longnan) and Sichuan Provinces. They originally didn't possess their own writing system. They preserve an animist and totemic religious system with influences from the ancient Tibetan Bon religion. 白馬人 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书Baima people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The "tree with black leaves" may be the goldenrain, or Koelreuteria paniculata, native to the Far East and introduced to North America in the 18th century. Its Chinese name is luan [栾树], but it's also known as "the tree with black leaves." 

Motifs: cC51.2.2, "Tabu: Cutting sacred tree"; D950, "Magic tree"; *D1316.5, "Magic speaking tree betrays secret"; D1316.5.1, "Voice comes forth from tree, revealing truth"; F811.20, "Bleeding tree"; Q301, "Jealousy punished." 


Monday, July 4, 2016

The Two Brothers and the Chinless Ghost (Han)

Two brothers lived up on Bear Ear Mountain, where they had made themselves some sort of makeshift home. There, they grew melons, and they were quite good at it. On the seventh month of every year, people would journey from far and wide up the mountain to buy and to gorge themselves on the luscious melons.

Now, not far from the brothers' melon patch was a hillock of unattended tombs, and this place became the source of all the trouble that was to occur. Every night this forsaken area would be the scene of ghostly activities. Come sundown, ghost fires, will-o-the-wisps, would flock together and flit about, scaring the wits out of anyone nearby, discouraging folks from approaching the melon patch in the day time.

The two brothers were aware of this but continued their chores as diligently as ever, paying little mind to the haunted hillock.

One night a chinless ghost carrying a lantern in one hand and a brass gong in the other came to the fence of the melon patch while the brothers were still there.

Banging the gong, the chinless ghost sang: "My chops! My chops! Bang! Bang! Let me me have some melons!"

The older brother said not a word.

The young brother said, "Well, your big tooth wants to chomp and your little tooth wants to chomp."

The chinless ghost then made nightly visits to the melon patch, banging his gong and chanting his strange song. The brothers watched him very closely, concerned that their melons not be stolen but otherwise unbothered by the presence of the ghost. Night after night, though, the ghost would come but never tried to take a melon.

This went on continuously for many nights, starting just after sundown. The ghost's nocturnal visits began to take its toll on the brothers. They now became disturbed by all this, waiting for the next shoe to drop. They decided to capture this ghost and give him a taste of his own medicine.

They waited until they were ready to do something about this annoyance. The night for action finally came. The brothers stood and waited . . .

The sun had set, and as expected the brothers soon heard the telltale song, "My chops! My chops! Bang! Bang! Let me have some melons!"

The chinless ghost, banging his gong, came into the view.

The two brothers immediately sprang towards the ghost. The ghost turned tail and fled before them. As fast as the brothers ran, they were at first no match for the ghost. When the brothers slowed down, the ghost, as if taunting them, slowed down to match their pace. When the brothers stopped and then resumed running after the ghost, the ghost likewise stopped and began to run when the brothers did. The brothers eventually got within four or five paces of the ghost, but all the running finally got to them and they stopped their pursuit.

The ghost slipped away, and the boys called it a night. They went back to their shed.

The next night, they tried something different.

The older boy had his younger brother go down the mountain to keep watch.

Down the mountain, the younger brother ran into an old fellow and they conversed, with the younger brother telling the old man about their attempt to catch the ghost.

"So, you want to catch this ghost, eh? Easy!" said the old fellow. "Here's what you and your brother do. Tie your shoes upside down under your feet . . . "

"What?!"

"Just hear me out," the old man continued. "Also, in your right hands, carry a branch from a peach tree. In your left hands, carry a red string. When the ghost appears, go after him. Trust me. Do all this and you'll catch him, all right. Then beat him with the branches. Now listen--this is very important. After you get hold of him and punish him, notice what's on the ground near and around him. This is where the string comes in handy."

The young brother thanked the old man and went back up the mountain. He told his older brother what the old man had said. They both agreed to give the old man's plan a try.

Late that afternoon, they were ready, with shoes tied upside down and all.

Just after twilight the chinless ghost came as if on cue.

As before the two brothers, each carrying a peach tree branch in one hand and red string in the other, sprang forward to catch him with their shoes tied to their feet in this ridiculous manner.

Surprise of surprises, the ghost could now barely move. With the two boys running like hoof-less ponies, the ghost himself turned but only ended up running as if weighted down with lead pants. He hadn't gotten very far when the two boys were able to reach him and beat him soundly with the tree branches.

"Oooh! Ahh!" yelped the ghost, thereupon vanishing before their eyes.

It was then the two boys noticed some objects littered on the ground near where the chinless ghost had been. They looked closely--persimmons.

"Persimmons? In the seventh month?" The older brother shook his head. He knew this couldn't be right.

The two brothers strung the persimmons on the lengths of string they had carried and took them home. They then discovered that in the day, the persimmons remained persimmons, but at night they turned into small shining lanterns.

Three days passed.

Then, on the evening of the fourth day, there appeared a whole host of chinless ghosts, each banging a gong and chanting with each step, "My chops! My chops! Bang! Bang! Return our lanterns to us! Otherwise, we eat up all the melons!"

Just as the chinless ghosts snatched up the strings of lanterns, the two brothers set out after them. The ghosts turned and fled with their lanterns, the brothers right on their heels. They ran and ran, and chased the ghosts all the way down to the edge of Black Dragon Pond, where--Katong!--the chinless ghosts, one by one, jumped into the dark water.

From that time on, there were no more ghostly visitations at the melon patch. The troop of chinless ghosts had been permanently scattered!

from
民间文学; [Folk Literature]; Li Munan, et al., NP: Green Apple Data Center, 2006.

Ghosts without chins are a staple in oral ghost literature in China. Why, though? Perhaps the chinless feature accentuates the ghost's creepy otherworldliness; in addition, the loss of the jaw bone signifies an entity that will soon be a skeleton. (That fewer things are deader than a skeleton may be the thinking here.) The seventh month of the lunar calendar is associated with the appearance of ghosts. Hence, it's popularly known as "Ghost Month" [鬼月], a time when unnecessary travel is curtailed. Fresh persimmons in July would be like blooming roses on a cold winter's day; therefore, something to avoid. An interesting detail in the story is the counterintuitive plan of wearing shoes upside down on the feet in order to capture the ghost. We see successful ideas that contradict common sense often in world folklore, suggesting that sometimes we need to think outside the box, to do something radically different to solve an impasse. It works in folktales and sometimes in real life!

Motifs: E402.1.1.3, "Ghost cries and screams"; E402.1.1.4, "Ghost sings"; E554, "Ghost plays musical instrument"'; E999.7, "Ghost carries a lantern"; F91, "Will-o'-the-Wisp."



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Those With the Baleful Eyes--Two Sad Tales About Palis (Paiwan)

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016!

Note: The Paiwan are an indigenous people on the island of Taiwan. They live primarily on the upper half of the Taiwan's southern peninsula. If you travel east from Kaohsiung to Tai-tung (Taidong), you will be going through some of their tribal land. 

(1) Lagabawei (Lagvaui)

It is said that there once was during Japanese times a great warrior, Lagabawei, and he had the red eyes, the eyes that could kill people and animals with a single look. He had once been a normal human like anyone else, but then some evil entity attached itself to him, changing him into something else, into one of those red-eyed palis whose glare can mean instant death. How did this happen? No one knows. All we know is it  just happened to him and others. Lagabawei had already been a renowned warrior able to slay enemies left and right. Now, with this power, or affliction, he was invincible. Anyone who locked eyes with him would be sure to be sent to the spirit world.

Lagabawei may have had an evil spirit afflict him with red eyes, but he was not evil. He did not wish to harm any innocent people, so  he moved into an uninhabited cave. There, he had local farmers deliver food to the mouth of the cave to avoid his deadly eyes.

This living arrangement lasted until the day five Japanese policemen came to arrest Lagabawei for rebelling against imperial rule. A struggle ensued, with Lagabawei's killing all five but not before he himself was mortally wounded.

After that, the local people in Xinhua hired a shaman to rid the location once and for all of the malevolent spirit that caused red eyes.

A relic connected to Lagabawei, the Stone Fan, a large rock in the shape of a fan, still stands near the remnants of Gufaleng Village, Taidong (Tai-tung) County,  and it is tied to Lagabawei's rebellion against Japanese authority. There are those who believe this had once been an actual paper fan belonging to Lagabawei, and later it was transformed into a stone growing into the ground and which, no matter the effort, could never be uprooted.

from
Daxiwulawan Bima, ed. Paiwan Myths and Legends. [排灣族神話與傳說]. Taichung: Morning Star, pp. 196-198.; 台灣原住民電子報 -- 原藝之美

This story and the one that follows it are oral tales copied down by Taiwanese folklorists. 

The pali [帕利] is a person who, like a werewolf or vampire in the Western lycanthropic tradition, has been infected in some manner, in this case, by some unseen evil. He or she then can kill anything with a simple glance, a power that cannot be controlled or otherwise limited. The Japanese period of rule was from 1895 until 1945. It is not clear exactly which year or years the above events supposedly occurred. "Japanese policemen" here can refer to ethnic Japanese, Han Chinese (i.e., Taiwanese or Hakka)  or indigenous individuals who served in the colonial police force. Lagabawei, or Lagvaui, is a legendary character apparently held in high regard and affection by the Paiwan. 

Motifs: D2061.2.1, "Death-giving glance"; F592, "Man's glance kills"; cG514.2.1, "Ogre kept in cave"; R315, "Cave as refuge." 

(2) Balirong

In Taiwu Village, there once lived a kindhearted shaman named Balirong. He gained the love and affection of everyone around for his good work in healing the sick and driving out evil spirits.

One day Balirong himself came down with the red-eyed affliction that turned his vision into the killing beams which can strike dead anything that lives, breathes and moves. He had become a dreaded pali. What could he do? He, being the compassionate person he was, knew what he could not do--remain among the people and subject them, their children, their cattle and their poultry to sudden death.

So, with a heavy heart, he covered his face with heavy black cloth and announced that he would be leaving the villages to make a home for himself away from everyone else. On the day of his departure, with the black cloth over his face, he was accompanied by some warriors to a distant, nameless but beautiful lake beyond the mountains, where by the shore, he would live out his days. There, a simple structure for him was built. The chief of the village had assured Balirong that men from the village would regularly deliver food supplies to him in his exile. This would have to be the arrangement, for if Balirong ever removed the cloth from his face, who knows how many animals or people innocently passing by would needlessly die day and night?

And thus this was the arrangement that was worked out for Balirong, and all went well for a period of time.

Then disaster struck . . .

One summer there was a record amount of rainfall, causing a massive landslide that wiped out the path across the mountains to the lake. There was no longer access to the lake and no way to deliver food to Balirong, who continued to cover his face day and night with the black cloth.

Finally, long after every bit of the food supplies had been used up, Balirong became weak with hunger. He stood by the shore and with shaking hands slowly lifted up the black cloth from his eyes. Before him was the idyllic lake, shrouded in rising mist. He continued to focus his gaze on the shimmering greens and blues of the water as if in a deep reverie.

Then it came to him: entranced by the natural beauty his eyes had long been denied, he had poisoned the water by staring at it.  What if this same water flowed in  a stream to other villages? How many would become palis? How many would die? He berated and cursed himself! But it was too late; the damage had been done.

He waded deeper and deeper into the water until he disappeared . . .

Then, a huge tremor struck the area, changing the landscape, causing more landslides, corking up the mouth of a stream that did stem from the lake, sinking the lake into what is now a small valley.

The lake and surrounding area, known now as Dalu Balibaling, or "Mystery Valley," remain tabooed.

from 
Paiwan Myths and Legends, pp. 198-200. (See above for complete citation.) 

What lessons can we draw from this story and the one that preceded it?  Perhaps one lesson is that no one, mighty hero and beloved village shaman included, is immune from evil or, on a perhaps less serious level, the vicissitudes of life itself. This might seem obvious in the case of Balirong, whose very job was extremely dangerous, placing him frequently into close contact with evil forces. This reminds me of a Roman Catholic priest and exorcist I once heard interviewed on the radio. He planned to continue on with his job even though he admitted doing so was shortening his life by forcing him to encounter and to contend with demons, occupational hazards of his calling.  Another lesson might be the observation that we all contain seeds of evil within us, dark shadows waiting to erupt and take charge if given the opportunity, like Dr. Hyde's Mr. Jekyll. 

Motifs: C615.1, "Forbidden lake"; F960.2.5, "Earthquake at death of important person"; F969.4, "Extraordinary earthquake"; S264.1.2, "Self-sacrifice by drowning."  See also D2061.2.1 and F592 above. 


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Girl From Under the Old Tomb (Han)

Zhang Guangding lived in a time of great upheaval, a time when the "old hundred names," the common people were subjected to much turmoil, violence, and lawlessness, when authorities were rolled in and out, like drawers in some chest.

And so, with great reluctance, he made plans to flee his home and area with his family, as many others were doing. After much thought, he came to the agonizing decision to leave his four year old daughter behind instead of subjecting her to the hardships, trauma and danger of witnessing people being killed or seeing corpses, starving people and ruined, smoldering buildings. So, he decided to hide his child in some spot with a supply of food and return to the area as soon as possible.

At the entrance to the village was an ancient cemetery. There, he found an old tomb on top of a cave. He lowered his little girl down into the cave beneath the tomb through a small opening; he then lowered down some food and water.

"We'll be back soon!" he said to her, knowing that his words were most likely a lie. Her little face stared back at him and her mother from the hole deep in the ground. "Don't worry! We'll be back for you! Be good and don't make any noise!"

Little did Zhang know that he and his wife would not be able to return until three years later.

And now on this early evening, three years later, here he and his wife were, running as fast as they could into the quiet cemetery after what had seemed like eternity.

There it was, the old tomb . . .

Zhang put his face to the hole in the ground and, trying to keep doubt and fear at bay from entering his mind, cried, "Daughter! Daughter! Are you there?"

"Yes, Father, I am here!" a little girl's voice replied.

A . . . ghost . . .  he thought. It has to be . . . 

Nevertheless, he said, "I'm lowering a rope down to pull you out. Hold on!"

"Yes, Father!"

He pulled the rope up, and from out of the hole came his now, very much alive seven year old daughter, as cute as ever, amazingly healthy, though understandably a bit dirty for the ordeal. The child smiled happily as she wiped away her tears.

It's a miracle she's still alive after all this time, Zhang thought. How did she survive without food and water?

Once the three were in a safe place, the little girl related her bizarre ordeal about how she stayed alive.

It wasn't long, she told them, before all the food and water were gone. She became wracked with hunger and thirst, but there was nothing she could do about it, as she had agreed to obey her father and stay below and not make noise.

The hunger and thirst had become unbearable when she noticed something moving about in the darkness, in a far corner of the cave, something with a long enough neck that enabled its head to touch the ground, something for which she had never been taught a name. She studied it as it moved slowly along the ground. She decided to copy the movements and habits of this thing, whatever it was. She got down on her arms and knees and moved over the floor or ground of the cave, keeping her face as close to the bottom as she could.

Eventually, something happened: She discovered by mimicking the actions of this creature or being that her hunger and thirst went away. She also discovered that whenever the pangs of hunger and the thirst reappeared, all she had to do was to repeat the creepy-crawly movements and to keep her face to the ground.

And that was how she had survived those three long years, living underground beneath a tomb!

Zhang's curiosity soon got the better of him; he had to know what thing was down in that cave. He later went to the cemetery and made an opening in the dirt big enough to enter. There was nothing down there, nothing save a large tortoise slowly moving about.

from 
Wisdom From Chinese Stories of Gods and Spirits [中國神怪故事裡的智慧], Ceng Yifeng [曾一鋒], ed. Taipei: How Do Publishing, 2006; pp. 18-20; 张广定女_CNKI学问s; 陈寔写的故事--打印文章

The original source of this old tale is from Chen Shi [陳寔], or Chen Zhonggong [陳仲弓](A.D. 104-187), of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The longer, more modern version in Ceng's book, makes no mention of the wife. The other versions mention her only in conjunction of her being with her husband. The story implies Zhang Guangding made the incredible and unthinkable decision by himself to leave his small daughter in the tomb.  

A giant tortoise supported the world, the ancients believed. (Not so ancient. I still remember more than forty years ago a high school classmate from Hong Kong remarking earnestly to me that his grandparents still believed that.) In any case, the tortoise is a cosmic symbol of longevity. One can see today stone tortoises outside Fort Providentia [赤崁樓], Tainan, supporting edicts,
commendations, etc., in Chinese and Manchu on huge tablets. Such an animal would be a most fitting vehicle to convey that which is supposed to be eternal. 

Motifs: B491.5, "Helpful tortoise"; cB535, "Animal nourishes abandoned child"; R131ff, "Exposed or abandoned child rescued"; cZ356, "Unique survivor."