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.

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 . . . "


"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!

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.

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.

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.

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."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Old Coffin Maker -- the Vanishing Hitchhiker in Old China (Han)

The following purports to be an old village legend from China:

There once was a coffin maker in town, Old Cui. Owing to his reputation of being upright and possessing a good disposition, he did well and lived a comfortable life as the majority of villagers turned to him for his skills when it was their time of need.

There came a time when there was an increase in deaths in the town. Old Cui had mixed feelings about this; on one hand, he relished doing more business; on the other hand, he was distressed that among the departed were those he had known for many years.

This one particular night, he was staying late at the shop, working on coffins. He decided to call it a night and head home early for the first time in many nights. He was hungry and didn't want to keep his wife waiting and waiting for him to get home.

So off into the night he went, heading north from the village to his home near the mountains, the moon helping to light the way. There was an old saying he was no doubt aware of--"Thieves are out on bright moonlit nights"--so he picked up his step. He was alone on the road, all the more reason for him to hasten.

Up ahead on the lonely road, he spotted a dark silhouette in the near distance--a person.

He puffed up his chest and continued towards the person. Maybe a traveling companion till I get home, he thought to comfort himself.

He soon saw that the figure was no other than a young woman sitting on a rock, seemingly resting one of her feet. He could see that she wearing a short red jacket and flowery pants.

"Young woman, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at home?" he asked.

"Oh, Master Cui," she replied, "I was just on my way home from doing some chores for my elder brother's wife when I sprained my ankle. I can't go on. I'm going to rest here until it's daylight. Maybe my ankle will be better by then."

"No, no, that won't do," said Old Cui. Bending over a bit, he said, "Here, hop onto my back. I'll take you home," intending to carry her home, piggyback.

The girl gladly got onto his back, and told Old Cui where she lived.

As they continued into the night, they chatted about this and that. Old Cui noted that the girl didn't seem very heavy. As he continued walking with her on his back, though, she seemed to get heavier and heavier by the moment.

Soon, poor Old Cui was gnashing his teeth in discomfort, thinking, What would my friends say if they saw how difficult it is for me to carry this mere girl? Why, they'd laugh their heads off . . . 

So, he put her increasing heaviness out of his mind and pushed on.

Soon, the lights of the girl's home came into view.

Whew . . . finally . . . thought Old Cui.

Balancing the girl on his back with one hand, he knocked on the door of his house with the other hand.

Before long, a woman opened the door. She gaped at Old Cui and said, "What in the world do you think you're doing?"

"What . . . What do you mean?" asked Old Cui.

"Are you that bored with life? What do you mean by carrying coffin planks to my house?"

"Madam, please! I've escorted this young woman to your home because she had twisted--"

"At midnight you're going to persist with this utter nonsense? Take a look for yourself what you have been carrying around!"

He squatted down and let the weight fall from his back. Sure enough, two heavy coffin planks fell to the ground. Old Cui was now bathed in cold sweat. The only thing he could do was recount from beginning to end what had happened.

The woman helped Old Cui carry the planks to the garden. She then went inside to get some incense, funeral money, and food. Then, she placed the food, money and incense on the planks, lighting the incense. There, they both prayed . . .

The next day, Old Cui and some assistants returned to the same area. They discovered not far from the home was a neglected tomb missing a tombstone. The tomb itself had apparently been broken into, and the coffin lid was missing. Inside the rotted remains of the coffin lay a decayed, maggot-infested body. The frayed, torn red jacket was unmistakable, though . . .

Old Cui had the tomb reconstructed, providing the remains of the girl a brand-new coffin and tombstone. The tombstone read: "The Goddess in Red."

It is said that later, even after Old Cui's son had made a name for himself and had become a mandarin, the whole family would still pay a visit to the young woman's grave once a year.

99 of the Rural Citizen's Most Worthwhile Supernatural Stories to Read [农民朋友最值得一读的99个神鬼故事]; Huang He, ed. Nanchang: Jiangxi Jiaoyou Chubanshe, 2011; pp. 79-81. 

This above book with the very odd title contains 99 ancient and "modern" ghost stories. This particular story does not mention the province where the story took place or even the year. 

It does share some motifs in common with the Vanishing Hitchhiker: a kind older man picks up (here, literally) a stranded girl old enough at least to be his daughter, taking her to a destination, upon which she has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind some telltale trace of herself. Interestingly, the girl knows Old Cui's name, a detail that doesn't appear in the familiar American version of the story. Perhaps this is not so strange. Old Cui may have been one in a long line of coffin makers in that town, something a ghost might know. 

The Vanishing Hitchhiker has a motif number all to itself: E332.3.3.1, including the motifs of riding in a car, leaving behind drops of rainwater, and the revelation that the ghost is one of a girl who had been killed in a car accident and has been trying to return home at least yearly. Otherwise, we also have the following motifs:*E262, "Ghost rides a man's back"; E332, "Non-malevolent road ghost(s)"; E332.2, "Person meets ghost on the road"; and cE332.3, "Ghost on road asks traveler for a ride." The latter is modified because it is the old man who offers the ride to the girl without her asking.

One of my students, I wish I could remember who that was to credit him or her, said that the Western subtext of this tale, E332.3.3.1, reflects the longing for that which cannot be regained, at least not in this life, for that which is now sadly gone forever. It seems to me the Chinese version reflects instead the need to be remembered and appreciated, the need to be venerated. In folklore and popular belief, the ancestors certainly remind their descendants in less than gentle ways whenever they feel forgotten or neglected. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Riding the Elevator--Some Boyhood Reminiscences of Tainan, Taiwan, in the 1920's & 1930's

It's been a while since I posted anything. In any case, I'm back from a trip to a place I love, Taiwan, with something to share, some memories of life in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), provided by my beloved father-in-law, Mr. Fang of Tainan. To me, he is and will always be BaBa, which is also what my wife and my brothers-in-law call him.

Now 90 years young, BaBa sat down with me a week ago to have tea. I asked him some questions in Mandarin about his childhood. My wife translated my words into Taiwanese, and BaBa happily recalled some favorite memories of a simpler time.

(1) Riding the Elevator
BaBa told me he used to walk two hours from the Tainan countryside to the city of Tainan to ride the elevator of the five-story Hayashi Department Store (林百貨), then the tallest building in Tainan and the only one with an elevator. He couldn't ride the elevator for free; he had to pay the lowest denomination of coin, something like a US penny, for each ride. All this probably occurred after the store opened in 1932. With glee in his eyes, BaBa told me the store still exists. Sure enough, I visited the newly refurbished and reopened store the very next day. If you find yourself in Tainan, you might visit the Hayashi Department Store and use your imagination to visualize a young farm boy entranced by the modern technological advancement of the elevator. (

(2) The Medicine Show & Other Forms of Entertainment
Back in the countryside of Tainan County, there wasn't much in the way of entertainment. Cloth puppet shows and outdoor storytelling were discouraged by the Japanese authorities as such entertainment wasn't deemed Japanese enough. Medicine shows were tolerated, however. A company would present some individuals singing for just a few minutes, followed by sales pitches for whatever the company sold. A crowd would always gather to hear the singing. Another permitted diversion was Japanese movies shown outdoors on big makeshift screens.

(3) Favorite Childhood Games
BaBa and friends loved spinning tops, perhaps those of the large Chinese variety. They also enjoyed hide-and-seek, swimming and splashing each other with water in the river, and staging sword fights with homemade wooden swords.

(4) Japanese Cops & the Gamblers
BaBa remembers a local Japanese policeman with a fierce reputation. He used to instill fear by going on his rounds with a metal nightstick, which would make a clanging sound. The mere sound of that nightstick would send gamblers and hoodlums fleeing in all directions. This policeman would head out into farm fields, somehow alerted to the location of clandestine gambling sessions. The gamblers would be so frightened that they would take off, leaving behind all their money. The policeman would then scoop up all the money for himself and leave the scene. Not only gamblers and local thugs would run at the sound of the nightstick. BaBa recalls a tang-ki (乩童), a medium who would commune with the dead for those who needed to placate displeased spirits, and this medium once went into a trance, mumbling, muttering, shaking, rolling his eyes and so on. (Bear in mind that this would certainly be an occupation frowned on by the Japanese.) But when he heard the clank, clank, clank of the nightstick, he stood straight up, opened his eyes, and, trance or no trance, rushed off in the opposite direction of the approaching policeman. (The best book I know of in English on these mediums is David K. Jordan's Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village.)

(5) The Exploits of the Criminal Ong Sa Zai
Ong Sa Zai (Wang Sancai 王三财, or "Three Treasures Wang") was a local hoodlum in Tainan City and County. Among his various crimes was poaching. He would rustle local cattle, butcher the animals and sell the meat. One one occasion remembered by BaBa, Ong had butchered someone's cow or bull, swaddled the meat up as if he were carrying a child, and hired a rickshaw man to take him into Tainan City to sell the meat on a street corner. As soon as he alighted from the rickshaw, though, he was immediately approached by a policeman. (BaBa didn't specify if the policeman was a Taiwanese or a Japanese.) Suspicious, the policeman began aggressively questioning Ong. All of a sudden, Ong hit the cop with both right and left crosses, flooring him. Ong then took off and disappeared down one of the many alleys that exist in Tainan. When the policeman came to, he discovered the rickshaw man was dutifully standing by. Then, despite the rickshaw man's protests, the policeman arrested the innocent man as an accessory to a crime. On another occasion, after the Japanese period had ended, Ong made it known he was supporting one of the two candidates for mayor of Tainan. The other candidate, incensed,  got wind of this and sent several thugs of his own to pay Ong a little visit in the hotel Ong had made his home. Ong, with the second sight for survival many people like him seem to possess, somehow found out he was in store for a major beating or worse. Before the thugs reached his doorstep, Ong had wrapped himself up in a thick quilt or two, burst out the door past the astounded hoodlums, and rolled himself down the long, hard stairway, all the way to the first floor, whereupon he discarded the quilts and disappeared into the night, to live again for yet another day. BaBa relates that Ong Sa Zai ended up living to a ripe old age.

BaBa, may you live well and be healthy and happy for many, many more years to come!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Righteous Tiger (Han)

Final posting for 2014. Once again, Happy New Year!

The events you are about to read occurred during the reign of Ming Emperor Hong Zhucong (A.D. 1521-1566), in Xiaoyi County in what is now Shanxi Province.

A woodcutter once set out to do a day's work. While way up in the mountains, he slipped and fell into a deep valley, losing consciousness.

When he came to, he discovered he had landed, of all places, into the midst of a tiger's den. Right by his side were two tiger cubs, crying to be fed. The woodcutter raised his head and surveyed his plight : He was indeed in a deep valley surrounded by high walls of rock and stone. There was no chance of his getting out of there.

He sighed and prepared for what was certain to be a brutal death.

Around what he reckoned to be noon, an adult tiger showed up, dragging a deer carcass. The tiger ripped into the carcass and tossed the cubs some meat. The tiger then turned to the woodcutter and did the same for him--throwing him a chunk of deer meat.

The woodcutter was still frightened out of mind but took stock of the situation. He still expected a swift, violent death, but he was also very, very hungry. So, he took the raw meat that had been offered and, like an animal himself, he wolfed the meat down in the presence of the tiger and cubs.

Once the cubs and woodcutter had been fed, the tiger quickly climbed its way out of the canyon and disappeared. It returned that evening with more fresh meat for the cubs and the woodcutter.

The woodcutter noted that the tiger had so far not harmed one hair of his head.

Time passed on, and the woodcutter one day discovered he had been living with the tigers for a month or so. During this time, he had gotten fatter and become more comfortable among the predator felines. In time, he played and roared with them.

The day came for the cubs to venture out of their lair with the adult tiger. The big tiger allowed one cub to climb onto its back and picked the other up with its massive jaws. The tiger approached the woodcutter, and the woodcutter understood this to mean he, the woodcutter, was to ride along with the cubs.

The woodcutter knelt before the tiger and said, "Please, Highness, don't pick me up and carry me along this way! It would surely mean my death!"

The tiger looked at him and then, with his two cubs, leaped out of the lair. By and by the tiger returned, this time without the cubs. The tiger knelt before the woodcutter and allowed the man to climb onto its back, which the woodcutter did without hesitation. The woodcutter hugged the tiger's neck for dear life. The tiger let out a roar and headed for the side of the cliff, which it very smoothly scaled. The tiger shortly reached the forest, still carrying the woodcutter on its back. Once in the forest, the tiger let the woodcutter down.

"Kind Highness," said  the woodcutter, kneeling, "I'll never forget you for the rest of my life! I'm afraid I've been away from my world too long and no longer know where I am. Could you please take me to the nearest road so I can find myself back to town?"

The tiger obliged him, nodded its head, and then deposited him by a road.

With tears in his eyes, the woodcutter said, "Highness, there's no way I can ever adequately repay you for all you've done for me. I shall return to my home. I will purchase and raise a hog. Two months from today at noon, go to the courier station outside the West Gate. I'll have a juicy hog waiting for you!"

The tiger seemed to understand, nodded its head, and departed.

Two months later from that day, the tiger showed up at the West Gate but far too early. It looked around for the woodcutter, didn't find him, and proceeded into the town proper. A huge uproar ensued, with townspeople screaming and fleeing in all directions. The county magistrate called out armed guards who succeeded in trapping the tiger alive. The guards then transported the subdued tiger to the magistrate's office so the magistrate could decide what to do with the animal.

The woodcutter heard the news about what had happened. He rushed to the magistrate's office, ran up to the tiger, and there, in front of all the astonished witnesses, knelt before the tiger, hugging it. There, in the silent chamber, all beheld the tiger's face flowing with tears.

"Highness . . ." said the woodcutter. "You came too early! Oh, how could that have been a good idea . . . "

The county magistrate was amazed at what he had just seen and asked the woodcutter to explain all this.
Then, having heard the woodcutter's story, the county magistrate said, "This is a righteous tiger! How could I ever punish it?"

He ordered the tiger released to the thunderous cheers of all present.

The tiger was then allowed to accompany the woodcutter to the West Gate, where the woodcutter had a butchered hog delivered to the tiger. The tiger devoured the hog with gusto. Then, when there was nothing left of the hog, the tiger tarried, reluctant to leave. It finally left, turning its head back to look at the woodcutter each time it took several steps. Finally, the tiger was gone.

Everyone there was moved beyond speech.

from 魅影之匣 [A Box of Beguiling Shadows], Chen Peng, ed.; pp. 34-35.  (See 6/29/14 for full citation.)

This is one version of a beloved fable of a friendship between a human and what should have been a mortal enemy--a tiger. This version doesn't not identify the sex of the tiger or explain whether the man and tiger ever saw each other again. 

Another more famous version of the "Righteous Tiger"concept is "The Noble Tiger," classified by folklore scholar Professor Nai-tung Ting as tale *156D in A Type Index of Chinese Folktales (FF Communications No. 223, Helsinki, 1978). In that particular legend, a tiger kills an old woman's only son. She sues the tiger in court, resulting in a subpeona being issued against the tiger. An inebriated court officer (who else?) goes to the forest and serves the summons to the tiger. The tiger then volunteers to go to court, and later, to make up for what he had done, he attends to the old woman until her death by supplying her with food. 

The original author was Wang Shizhen (1634-1711) of the Qing Dynasty. This tale comes from his anthology 池北偶谈 [Unexpected Tales From North of the Pond].

Motifs: A511.2.2.2., "Hero (man) cared for by tiger"; B.431.3, "Helpful tiger"; B.557.10, "Tiger carries person."