POPULAR FOLK TALES IN CHINA
The ancient books of the Han Chinese recorded thousands of myths and legends. The Sanhaijing, a book written 2,000 years ago, records legends, folk customs, and descriptions of faraway places, blending myth and perhaps some truth. These stories are further enriched by folk tales and religious and literary fables. In additions to these China’s 55 other ethnic groups have their own stories and regions and even villages have their own tales too. Although there is a lack of “talking animals” in the classics or other forms of high literature, popular entertainment literature is filled with animal characters that seek justice for some wrong. The study of “monsters” in traditional China through an analysis of the so-called zhiguai tales or “accounts of the strange” is a field of research in Chinese classical literature at the University of Liverpool.
Among the most famous stories are those of Chang’e, Hou Yi and the Jade Rabbit. Hou Yi was a scholar who possessed a potion to become immortal, but there only enough for one person. He did not want to become immortal without his beloved wife Chang’e, so he made her look after the potion for him. One day when Hou Yi wasn’t home, his student Feng Meng tried to steal the potion from Chang’e. She knew she couldn’t defeat him, so she drank it. The potion made her fly all the way to the moon, where she lives today as a a moon goddess, watching the world. [Source: Barbara Laban, The Guardian, February 8, 2016]
According to a Chinese legend, Chang’e is accompanied by the Jade Rabbit, who can brew elixirs of immortality. Many stories are told all over Asia about the Jade Rabbit. He is often pictured next to her on the moon and closely associated with the medical profession, often shown with a mortar and pestle. When the moon is the brightest, during the Chinese Moon Festival, if you look hard enough it is said you can see both of them on the moon. In 2013, China's lunar rover that made to the Moon but had technical difficulties there was called the Jade Rabbit.
According to legend on how the Chinese zodiac was created time was divided into sets of 12 after the earth and the heavens were separated at the beginning of the universe. The Chinese calendar was created by the legendary Heavenly Jade Emperor who held a race with all the world animals, giving places on the calender to the top 12 finishers. The rat won the race after tricking the ox into giving him a ride to the finish line, where he jumped off to win. The rat was supposed to wake up her neighbour the cat in the morning, but forgot. The rat joined the race in the middle, climbing on the ox after he had established a comfortable lead. The ox finished second, followed by the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig, which is the order of the zodiac. The cat arrived far too late and didn’t make it into the zodiac. This is why cats hates rats and are always trying to kill them. [Source: Barbara Laban, The Guardian, February 8, 2016]
The story of Nian explains why Chinese new year is celebrated with firecrackers and lots of noise. Barbara Laban wrote in The Guardian: Once there was an ugly, scary monster called Nian who regularly came down from the mountains to hunt people. The villagers were so afraid of it that they locked themselves in their houses on the days it was coming. One wise old man in the village suggested it would be better if they stuck together and chased the monster away. So they did, with the noise of drums and fireworks. The monster was so surprised and afraid that it ran around until it was completely exhausted and the villagers were able to kill it. This is how the first Chinese New Year celebration started. The name of the monster, “Nian”, also means “year” in Chinese.
Websites and Sources: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) mclc.osu.edu; Classics: Chinese Text Project ; Side by Side Translations zhongwen.com; Poetry: Li Bai Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Classic Novels: Journey to the West site vbtutor.net ; English Translation PDF File chine-informations.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Culture: China Culture.org chinaculture.org ; China Culture Online chinesecultureonline.com ;Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; Transnational China Culture Project ruf.rice.edu
Books: “Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction“ by Sabina Knight (Oxford University Press, 2012) ; “The Culture and Civilization”, a massive multi-volume series on Chinese culture (Yale University Press); “Anthology of Chinese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Fourteenth Century” edited by Cyril Birch; Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture,” translated by Stephen West, edited by Victor H. Mair, Nancy S. Steinhardt, and Paul R. Goldin (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005)].
Old Chinese Stories
In imperial times until the 20th century, people flocked to tea houses and public squares to listen to storytellers, who often told multi-part stories that kept audiences coming back for more. Popular literature was absorbed by the masses more in this way than through the reading of books.
Famous old stories include “The Good-Luck Horse” by Chih-yi Chan, a story about a boy and his miraculous pony; “Give Brother”, an old folk tale; “Shen of the Sea”; and “The Treasure” of Li-Po. Some scholars believe that the Cinderella story had its origins in China. Some classic stories have been rewritten so many times, with so many variations and differences, it is difficult to ascertain what the original story was.
There are also old stories about a silkworm, a beautiful lady with a white hare, the first firecrackers, the origin of rice, demons, warriors, ghosts, mandarins, and peasants. Famous stories explain why human sacrifices are necessary to makes bells and how the willow pattern on blue-and-white porcelain evolved. “Biographies of Model Women” is a 2000-year-old text from the Han Dynasty with some rather juicy descriptions of sexually liberated women.
Many popular stories were performed as Chinese opera. The love story between Xiang Yu, the ruler of the 2,200-year-old kingdom of Chu, and Lady Yu, is well known in China. The inspiration for the film “Farewell My Concubine”, it described how Xiang Yu challenged but ultimately lost to the first Han dynasty ruler and ends with Xiang Yu and Lady Lu in tent surrounded by Han forces. Rather than surrender they commit suicide. Lady Yi kills herself first after performing a sword dance and vowing to love Xiang forever, even in death.
Old Chinese stories often featured magic mirrors. In the tale of Yin Zhongwen a man is executed shortly after he looks into a mirror and doesn't see his reflection. There is another famous short tale about a woman who is unimpressed by a painting of woman said to be very beautiful. The punch line is when the woman realizes she is starting not at a painting but a mirror.
Creation of the World and the Legendary Kings
Pangu is the god who created the world. He is a primordial being and creation figure who separated heaven and earth and created geographic features such as mountains and rivers. Nüwa is the goddess who made human beings. Other important deities from the beginning of time were Ji, the god of all crops; Shennong, the god of herbs. Suirenshi, who invented the method to produce fire; Yu who drained the great flood; and Cangjie, who created Han characters. Huang Di was the legendary ancestor of the Han people. [Source:C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]
According to Chinese mythology, the creation of the universe happened when Pangu cracked the egg that he was sleeping in. This egg also contained Yin and Yang, which where released and then separated, with The lighter male Yang rising to create the sky and the heavier female Yin forming the Earth. Pangu made sure both stayed in place using his hands and feet. [Source: Barbara Laban, The Guardian, February 8, 2016]
According to legend, the ancient Chinese were savages until a sage taught them how to build shelters. Later other sages taught them, in succession, about fire, music and the cultivation of crops. The last of these sages was the Yellow Emperor. There are variations of the story, generally with Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. Sometimes the Yellow Emperor is considered a Sovereign, sometimes he is an Emperor, sometimes he is both. The Five Emperors are succeeded by Emperor Yu, the first ruler of the the Xia Dynasty. The Xia dynasty is regarded as legendary, but there is some archeological evidence suggesting that it existed in some form.
The first sovereign, Fuxi (the Heavenly Sovereign), married his dragon-tailed sister the goddess Nuwa (Nügua, the Earthly Sovereign) who is credited with creating the institution of marriage and molding the first human beings from clay. Fuxi bestowed the gifts of hunting, fishing and animal husbandry on humanity. His successor, the ox-headed Shennong (the Tai Sovereign), gave humanity agriculture and knowledge of medicinal plants. This period is called the Age of the Rulers.
The five emperors also bestowed gifts in humanity. The first emperor, The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi or Huang Di) is said to have given humanity agricultural calendars, boats, armor and pottery. He invented mathematics, medicine, the civil service, and the use of fire in cooking, and used his knowledge to unite the Chinese tribes. His wife, Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) is credited with discovering how to weave silk from silk worm cocoons. A tomb in Huang Lin, a small town Shaanxi province, about 200 kilometers north of Xian, is said to contain Huang di's remains. “Huang Lin” literally means "Huang's Tomb."
The a "chi-lin "(qilin, kylin) is a dragon-like beast with the head of dragon, hooves of an ox, tail of a lion, and antlers of a deer and was said to be able to reveal disloyal subjects. See History. The “pulao” is a dragon-like creature that makes a bloodcurdling shriek when attacked by a whale The “xiechi” (“xiezhi”) is a horned cat that is believed to have the power to discern right and wrong. The phoenix is an auspicious symbol associated with the Imperial family. It has traditionally been used to symbolize the Empress. The Yongle Emperor (ruled 1403-1424) believed that a giraffe was a chi-lin. See Separate Article YONGLE EMPEROR (ruled 1403-1424) factsanddetails.com
According to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology: “A less familiar beast is the chi-lin, which resembles in part a rhinoceros, but has a head, feet, and legs like a deer, and a tufted tail. In spite of his unprepossessing appearance, he is of a benevolent disposition, and his image on a vase or other ornament is an emblem of good government and length of days. A strange bird, having the head of a pheasant, a long flexible neck, and a plumed tail, may often be seen flying in the midst of scroll-like clouds, or walking in a grove of treepeonies. This is the fengbuang, the Chinese phoenix, emblem of immortality and appearing to mortals only as a presage of the auspicious reign of a virtuous emperor. The tortoise (kuei ), which bears upon its back the seagirt abode of the Eight Immortals, is a third supernatural creature associated with strength, longevity, and (because of the markings on its back) the mystic plan of numerals that is a key to the philosophy of the unseen. [Source: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Gale Group Inc., 2001]
The Chinese and many other cultures around the world believed that eclipses occur when the sun is eaten by a giant beast, monster or dragon. The Chinese word for eclipse, “re she”, means "sun-eat."
Dragons were the symbol of the Chinese emperor and are now one of the main symbols of China itself. A hero in Chinese mythology, it is the most powerful and divine creature, bringing luck and good fortune and controlling water. It is said that after legendary Yellow Emperor died he turned into a dragon and flew to heaven. [Source: Barbara Laban, The Guardian, February 8, 2016]
Dragons have the power to change size at will and bring rain to farmers in need. New Year's festivities often include a line of people in a dragon costume. Dragons symbolize goodness, strength, vigor, excellence and breakthroughs. They bring good luck and control natural forces that produce good harvests. Dragons, the Chinese believe, are just below human beings in the hierarchy of living things, and dinosaurs bones have been presented as proof that they really existed.
Dragons have traditionally been associated with the Imperial family. Emperors were called “Real Dragon and Son of Heaven.” The five claw-dragon was a symbol of the imperial court; the phoenix sometimes symbolized the empress; and a dragon and phoenix together symbolize male and female. Emperors placed dragon symbols on everything from robes to thrones to flags.
In China, dragons are more like guardian angels than creatures that kidnap damsels in distress and are slain by knights. The Asian dragon has large claws and whiskers. Snakes are sometimes called "little dragons." Fish are regarded as baby dragons that haven’t yet grown up. Some dragons are said to have the ability to change into Sea Dragon Kings, Hai Long Wang that wander the oceans and protected seafarers. Other dragons such as the Cheien Tang River monster and the seagoing, red-maned Shan were regarded as evil.
While in Western mythology the dragon is an evil beast, and best illustrated by the story of St. George and the Dragon, in the East--especially in mainland Asia — It has an opposite significance. The dragon is the totem, the palladium and emblem, of China. It is the symbol of man in general, just as woman is represented by the phoenix, another of the four mythical animals of the land. When a dragon and a phoenix are shown together either in cloth designs or carvings, a marriage is represented; sometimes this is emphasized by the addition of a Chinese character meaning joy, and greater emphasis is achieved by repeating the character. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division,1967 ++]
The dragon may be a fanciful elaboration of the several varieties of common lizards, but its symbolic use seems to be of ancient Chinese origin. According to popular belief, the dragon is a genie that presides over the creation of meteors and other cosmic activity, and belief in cosmic activity has traditionally been strong in China. In addition, he is often considered to be the god of the waters who lives in the sea and other bodies of water. According to the Chinese tradition, the dragon has the horns of a deer, the head of a camel, belly of a crocodile, scales of a fish, and buffalo-like hair. Its hearing ability is in its horns rather than the ears. The neck of a serpent, eyes of a demon, and claws of an eagle complete a figure which is rather strange to the Westerner. ++
There are a number of legends about dragons. According to one, long ago when mist surrounded the earth, dragons were created in great rivers, and sprawling lakes, storm clouds and typhoons. They swam in the seas off the coast of China and moved about so much they stirred up enough sediment to make the island of Taiwan, where they rested, slept and still reside. In another, the great hero Fu Xi and his sister Nu Wa descended from semi-human creatures with snake bodies. Over time they developed animal legs, a horse mane, a rat tail, deer hooves, dog claws and fish scales and became dragons.
Qixi and the Story of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd
Qixi — Chinese Valentines Day — falls on the seventh day of the seventh Lunar month, which is usually sometime in August. The holiday is based on the myth about the 7th daughter of the Emperor of Heaven who falls in love with an orphaned shepherd boy and then is banished to the star Vega by her father and is allowed to meet shepherd boy, who has been banished to the star Altair, only once a year — on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month.
According to another variation of the Qixi Festival fairy tale the young cowherd Niulang herd falls in love with a beautiful weaver girl Zhinü, who is also the youngest daughter of the Empress of heaven. The cowherd and the weaver girl secretly marry and have children. When the angry Empress finds out she draws a line between them that becomes the Milky Way. The only time they can get together is on held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month when magpies help out and form a bridge between the two lovers.
Couples typically celebrate Qixi by dining out at fancy restaurants. These days many young singles attend match-making events specifically organised for under-25s. On Qixi in 2011 more than 4,250 couples registered their marriage. The figure was 10 times the daily average and was about 200 more than on Valentine's Day on February 14, according to the Beijing Daily, citing government statistics, Western Valentine's Day, known as Lover’s Day, is celebrated by many young urban people in China. Young men take out their girlfriends or prospective girl friends on big, expensive dates. Flower sales are brisk. Many vendors double the price of roses and lilies during the Valentine's Day season. Many hotels ignore regulations and allow unmarried couples to stay in double rooms.
Worship of Snakes and Hedgehogs in China
Many Chinese believe in animals spirits. The fox spirit is particularly well known. So too are the rabbit and snake. Some people protect their house from the fox's influence with a circle of incense. Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “ All the lofty maxims of Confucianism have been wholly ineffective in guarding the Confucianists from fear of the goblins arid devils which figure so largely in Taoism. It has often been remarked, and with every appearance of truth, that there is no other civilized nation in existence which is under such bondage to superstition and credulity as the Chinese. Wealthy merchants and learned scholars are not ashamed to be seen on the two days of the month set apart for that purpose, worshipping the fox, the weasel, the hedgehog, the snake, and the rat, all of which in printed placards are styled "Their Excellencies," and are thought to have an important effect on human destiny. It is not many years since the most prominent statesman in China fell on his knees before a water-snake which some one had been pleased to represent as an embodiment of Lung Wang, the god of floods, himself supposed to be the incarnation of an official of a former dynasty, whose success in dealing with brimming rivers was held to be miraculous.
This habit of worshipping a snake, alleged to be a Lung Wang, or a Tai Wang, whenever floods devastate China, appears to be a general one. In districts at a distance from a river, any ordinary land serpent will pass as a Tai Wang, and " no questions asked." If the waters subside, extensive theatrical performances may be held in honour of the god who has granted this boon, to wit the snake, which is placed on a tray in a temple or other public place for the purpose. The district magistrate, and' all other officers go there every day to prostrate themselves and to burn incense to the divinity, In a case of this kind, in the sub-prefecture of Kao-Tang in Shandong, occurring during the great floods of 1890, a small serpent said to have been found hanging from the city wall, was announced as the Tai Wang, and was worshipped with nine days of theatricals, and by all the city officials. Immense quantities of paper were burned in his honour, and as the paper was placed on the tray in which the Tai Wang was confined, the unfortunate divinity was either smothered, or starved, and at the end of his ceremonial was found to be quite dead ! It was then given out that he had gone to visit the Emperor, and the corpse of the late Tai Wang was escorted to the river in an elegant official sedan chair. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]
This Lung Wang is generally regarded as the rain god, in regions adjacent to waterways, but at a little distance in the interior, the god of war, Kuan Ti, is much more likely to be worshiped for the same purpose, but sometimes both are supplanted by the Kuan Yin P'usa or goddess of mercy. To a Chinese this does not seem at all irrational. In connection with these prayers for rain, another curious and most significant fact has often been brought to our notice. In the famous Chinese novel called the Travels to the West, one of the principal characters was originally a monkey hatched from a stone, and by slow degrees of evolution developed into a man. . In some places this imaginary being is worshipped as a rain god, to the exclusion of both Lung Wang and Kuan Ti. No instance could put in a clearer light than this the total lack in China of any dividing line between the real and the fictitious. To a Western mind, causes and effects are correlative. What may be the intuitions of cause and effect in the mind of a Chinese who prays to a non-existent monkey to induce a fall of rain, we are not able to conjecture.
Mouse Versus Cat in Chinese Folk Literature
In a review of the book “Mouse vs Cat in Chinese Literature”, Xiaorong Li wrote: “Chapter 1 examines the most salient aspects of the two animals as represented in Chinese literature from the earliest times until the Qing. This chapter establishes the archetypes of the mouse/rat as despised thieves and the cat as pampered mousers and pets. Chapter 2 discusses the stories of the White Mouse Demon and the Five Rats, which have intertextual links with the court case tales covered in the following chapters. [Source: Xiaorong Li, University of California, Santa Barbara, “MCLC Resource Center Publication, July, 2019]
“Chapters 3 and 4 focus on legends of the mouse as victim of the cat’s cruelty, leading them to seek justice from King Yama in the underworld. Some readers may have already learned about the motif of the mouse wedding on New Year’s Eve through folk arts, such as popular prints and paper cuts, but few have read these stories. (This is true in my case, someone who grew up and was educated in China, so I assume there must be many like me.) This is largely because these stories had been circulated mostly as oral folklores. The texts translated and discussed in these chapters are based on manuscripts or transcribed texts from twentieth-century scholars. One such text is “A Tale Without Shape or Shadow” , which had been particularly popular in Shanxi, and of which the book includes a full translation. This story, along with some others in the book, is to my knowledge being presented to the world for the first time. In Chapter 3, readers not only discover riveting details on how the mouse’s parents choose a bride or a groom for their children, but also learn that the cat turns out to be the chosen groom or bride that eventually raids the whole wedding party. Chapter 4 is an examination of the further developments of the court case or the mouse vs cat war by looking into the legal procedures related to and prequels to “A Tale Without Shape or Shadow.”
“Chapter 5 moves on to discuss how the mouse vs cat antagonism continued to fuel Chinese literary imagination well into the Republican era. The selected texts include a Minnanese ballad (early 1920s), a long fable in classical Chinese called A New History of Rats (1908), and a poem titled “The Admonition by the Cat” (1925) by Zhu Xiang (1904-1933) who wrote in modern, free-style poetry. Although some of these texts, such as the long fable, have been examined before, this chapter on modern Chinese literature adds historical depth to the topic at hand. Furthermore, in using the epilogue to trace the mouse vs cat theme in Near Eastern and European literatures, as well as Chinese and Japanese literatures, Idema concludes the study from the same world literature perspective that opens it. Although there are interesting parallels between these different literary traditions, he argues, there is no evidence pointing to mutual
Book: “Mouse vs Cat in Chinese Literature: Tales and Commentary” translated and edited by Wilt Idema of Harvard University (University of Washington Press, 2019).
Legend of the White Snake
The white snake legend is set in Hangzhou, a beautiful city near Shanghai famous for its lake. In the story a female white snake lives in the lake that possessed magical powers that enabled her and could turn herself into a human. She falls in love with scholar named Xu Xuan and after overcoming many obstacles they convince the gods to allow them to be together [Source: Barbara Laban, The Guardian, February 8, 2016]
According to the abstract for “The Global White Snake” by Liang Luo: ““In the Chinese legend of the White Snake, woman is not seduced by the snake but is herself the snake, who would form a sexual liaison with a human male, and, in some versions, even give birth to a human son. Originating as a very local legend on the deadly dangers of seduction and infatuation, the story grew into one of China’s most popular love stories that allowed its adapters past and present to explore all possibilities of the relations between the sexes. [Source: “The Global White Snake” by Liang Luo, November 12, 2020; Liang Luo is an Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China (University of Michigan Press, 2014) and The Global White Snake (University of Michigan Press, 2021)]
White Snake legends are extensive and found “throughout East Asia, as well as in Southeast Asia and North America, from the late nineteenth century to the present, in print, on stage, in cinema and in digital media. Such travels across linguistic and cultural boundaries have generated distinctive traditions as the White Snake has been reinvented in the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English-speaking worlds, among others. Moreover, the inter-Asian voyages and global circulations of the White Snake legends have enabled them to become repositories of diverse and complex meanings for a great number of people, serving as reservoirs for polyphonic expressions ranging from the attempts to consolidate authoritarian power to the celebrations of minority rights and activism, which are key issues confronting our contemporary world today.
Insects in Chinese Literature
On the book “Insects in Chinese Literature” by Wilt L. Idema Professor Judith T. Zeitlin (University of Chicago) wrote: Idema takes us into the teeming world of creepy, crawling things — insects. Entertaining and erudite, and covering a mind-boggling range of genres, serious and parodic, the extraordinary range of Chinese writing on this subject — from culturally venerated insects like silkworms, cicadas, and crickets to universal scourges like fleas, mosquitos, and lice — over millennia is here made available for the first time."
The book traces the characterization of individual insects in three thousand years of classical Chinese poetry, from the ancient Book of Odes to the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), as emblems of virtues and vices. Separate chapters are dedicated to the selfless and diligent silkworm, the pure and outspoken cicada, the social organization of the ants and the bees (as well as the philandering tendencies of bees and butterflies), fighting crickets and disastrous locusts, slanderous flies, and sly mosquitoes, as well as body parasites as lice, fleas, and bedbugs. Each chapter includes extensive translations, highlighting lesser-known aspects of well-known poets and introducing original works by lesser-known authors.
“Preceding the second part of the book is a short intermezzo devoted to insects in classical and vernacular narrative literature, which shows a preference for tales in which insects appear in human shape. The second part of the book delves into the popular literature of late imperial China, in which insects spoke their minds in the formal settings of weddings, funerals, wars, and court cases. A representative selection of such ballads and plays is discussed and translated and is followed by an epilogue, which contrasts the treatments of insects in Chinese and Western literature.
Chapters in the Book: Introduction: Portrayal of Insects; Part I: Insects in Belles Lettres; Chapter 1: The Silkworm; Chapter 2: The Cicada; Chapter 3: Lessons Learned from Insects; Chapter 4: Fables on the Praying Mantis and the Spider; Chapter 5: The Ant, the Bee, and the Butterfly; Chapter 6: The Cricket, the Grasshopper, and the Locust; Chapter 7: The Fly and the Mosquito; Chapter 8: The Scorpion, the Louse, the Flea, and the Bedbug; Chapter 9: Group Portraits; Intermezzo; Chapter 10: Insects in Narrative Literature; Part II: Insects in Popular Literature; The Names of the Thirty-Six Kinds of Insects; Chapter 11: Weddings; The Precious Scroll of the Marriage of the Mantis; The Dragonfly’s Abduction of the Bride; The Mantis Abducts His Bride; The Dung Beetle Abducts His Bride; Chapter 12: Funerals; The Hundred-Day Insect; The War of the Insects; Chapter 13: Battles and Wars; The Battle of the Insects; The Song of the War of the Fly against the Mosquito; Chapter 14: Disputes and Court Cases; Southern Window Dream; The Louse Cries out his Grievances [followed by The Court Case of the Bedbug against the Mosquito]; The White Louse Voices his Grievances;
In an interview withCambria Press, Idema said: I have always been interested in animal tales, animal fables, and beast epics...When looking for insect tales, I was quite surprised to find a considerable number of tales about the weddings of insects, the funerals of insects, their battles and wars, their disputes and court cases in Chinese popular literature, and once I had found those materials I wanted to compare the depiction of insects in popular tales to those in classical poetry and in vernacular prose. Insects rarely are cuddly. The bee may be useful, but still has a sting. Perhaps the only insects that immediately draw our attention by their beauty are butterflies and dragon flies. Not only have people felt an aversion to many insects since times immemorial, the invention of the microscope has revealed the insects as truly “other,” creatures with different heads, fearsome maws, curiously shaped body parts, etcetera. The film has of course been the perfect medium to confront us with enlarged, moving, close-up images of these strange creatures, making them even more fearsome and horrible. The texts I deal with basically date from the pre-modern period before the insects had been disclosed in their full horrible ugliness, so authors treat insects as the small animals they are.
On anthropomorphic aspects of the insect depictions, Idema said: “I is one of the great attractions of animal literature to see how authors handle the combination of beastly and human characteristics in their texts. Portraying a character as an animal immediately calls up a host of associations, so fable characters rarely need any further description. But at the same time the character cannot be reduced to only a few fixed animal characteristics, it also has to be given a human rationality that operates from its specific position in the animal kingdom. This requires skill and talent. Some authors in this collection limit themselves distributing human roles over a large number of different insects, others bring flies and mosquitoes, or lice and fleas together in extended dialogues. In classical poetry authors may borrow the voice of despised insects such as locusts or bed bugs to satirize human society.
Many of the attitudes towards insects in China and the West are actually quite similar, but practical issues account for some major differences. The Chinese kept bees, but the economic importance of bees was minimal in comparison with the importance of sericulture. Europe rarely suffered from locusts, but many regions of China did so quite often. People in pre-modern Europe apparently did not keep crickets as pet, and they also did not bet on cricket fights, so the “insect cultures” of pre-modern China and pre-modern Europe were quite different. This is reflected in the texts devoted to insects. In China there Is no trace of the metaphor of the hive, and ants are praised rather for their military than their economic organization.
Book: “Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology” by Wilt L. Idema of Harvard University (Cambria Press, 2019)
Folk Stories, Tales and Songs from China’s Ethnic Groups
The book “The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature “(2011), edited by Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender, two of the world's leading sinologists, presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China's recognized ethnic groups — including the Han, Yi, Miao,Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazak — and the selections include a variety of genres.
Chapters cover folk stories, songs, rituals, and drama, as well as epic traditions and professional storytelling, and feature both familiar and little-known texts, from the story of the woman warrior Hua Mulan to the love stories of urban storytellers in the Yangtze delta, the shaman rituals of the Manchu, and a trickster tale of the Daur people from the forests of the northeast. The Cannibal Grandmother of the Yi and other strange creatures and characters unsettle accepted notions of Chinese fable and literary form.
Readers are introduced to antiphonal songs of the Zhuang and the Dong, who live among the fantastic limestone hills of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; work and matchmaking songs of the mountain-dwelling She of Fujian province; and saltwater songs of the Cantonese-speaking boat people of Hong Kong. The editors feature the Mongolian epic poems of Geser Khan and Jangar; the sad tale of the Qeo family girl, from the Tu people of Gansu and Qinghai provinces; and local plays known as "rice sprouts" from Hebei province. These fascinating juxtapositions invite comparisons among cultures, styles, and genres, and expert translations preserve the individual character of each thrillingly imaginative work.
The Disney films “Mulan” — an animated film in 1998 and the live-action one in 2020 — are based on a 5th century poem about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy and takes her father's place to lead a Chinese army to victory against a force of invaders — Huns in the Disney version. Breaking female stereotypes, Mulan is determined, passionate and no shrinking violent when it comes to violence. Time magazine called the film a "total delight." The New York Times said Mulan was "the best animated heroine in Disney's history."
James Millward wrote: “Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one’s country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home — a war-weary expression of truth to power.[Source: James Millward, “More Hun than Han: Reading the Tabghach “Ballad of Mulan” in 2020, AAS, Asia Now blog, September 17, 2020; Millward is Professor of Inter-societal History at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and author of, most recently, The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013).
“Despite the non-Han identity of its ruling elite, Mulan’s country of Tabghach was eponymous with China for Turks, Muslims, and Byzantines. But exactly how “Chinese” were Mulan, the place where her story is set, and the author of the Chinese language poem that started it all? That may seem a crazy question to ask, since Disney has now twice chosen to promote her as the epitome of Chinese princesshood, bravely battling for family and country. We should not be surprised by these mixed cultural elements. Modern treatments of the Mulan story have progressively stressed war against an alien enemy, turning Mulan’s into a nationalistic tale. Disney has used it to project a clichéd Orientalist version of “China” It is only because of the Sinification and nationalization of Mulan that raising pigs and sheep together in the land of the Tabghach Khaghan seems incongruously un-Chinese today — and thus gets glossed over by film-makers. Such juxtapositions would not have been incongruous to the author/creator of the Mulan poem, but rather commonplace. McDonalds Happy Meal Toy figurine (1998) of the Shan Yu character from Disney’s animated Mulan” is a “commercial caricature of Inner Asian steppe peoples is as racist as Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben.”
Original Mulan Poem
The earliest version of Mulan, the poem “Ballad of Mulan” (Mulan ci) was written in the Northern Wei period (A.D. 386-535), compiled in the 6th century and anthologized in the 11th-12th century. There are several 20th century Chinese stage, opera, and film treatments. James Millward wrote: “The original poem differs strikingly from these, and especially from the Disney versions in its tone and themes. In particular, there’s no “let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns!” The poem is set during the Northern Wei, a state founded by the Tabghach (Tuoba) clan of the Xianbei people from the north who spoke an Altaic language, a likely descendent of Xiongnu (whom Disney called Huns) and ancestor of modern Mongolian languages. Today’s Han ethnicity bears the name of the Han empire, which in its heyday (ca. 2nd century B.C. through 2nd century CE) had consolidated much of what would become Chinese tradition and controlled a large swath of the east Asian continent. However, the Han collapsed in 220 CE, centuries before Mulan’s time — an event similar in its impact on continental east Asia to the fall of Rome in Europe. After the Han, a succession of smaller states ruled by a variety of peoples rose and fell in what was once Han territory, again, like post-Roman western Europe. The Tabghach state, known as Beiwei or Tuoba Wei in Chinese, was one of the most extensive and long-lived of these culturally and demographically hybrid polities. [Source: James Millward, “More Hun than Han: Reading the Tabghach “Ballad of Mulan” in 2020, AAS, Asia Now blog, September 17, 2020]
“A Uyghur friend and former student once told me about her own relationship to Disney’s East Asian princess. As a girl, my student had loved and identified with the spunky heroine of the first Disney Mulan, until her mother told her “our ancestors aren’t Mulan — our ancestors are the Huns!” Given the atavistic Disney portrayal of the Hun ruler, Shan Yu, as squat, ugly, and evil, leading his hordes in a swarm over the passes to imperil Mulan and her people, this revelation came as a shock to my student. In portraying Shan Yu this way, and transferring the same imagery and Fu Manchu mustache to the swarthy Rouran commander and his black-clad myrmidons in the live-action movie, Disney resurrects standard racist tropes by which European sources have portrayed Inner Asian steppe nomads (“Tartars”) since Roman times. It’s no wonder my Uyghur student was upset.
“In fact, though, if Mulan came from a Tuoba Wei elite family, she was likely more Hun than Han: both Inner Asian and a member of the post-Han Chinese cultural milieu. I say Mulan lived within a “Chinese cultural milieu” rather than “she was Chinese” because China in that era was not a single country or national identity. The Disney movies feature “the Chinese emperor,” but that term could refer just as well to rulers of the contemporaneous Eastern Jin or Liu Song states as to the Northern Wei monarch. All three kingdoms have been posthumously designated “China.” (The “one China policy” is a late 20th century conceit, selectively deployed: Chinese nationalists have no problem allowing multiple Chinas to coexist in the past, while claiming them all as the “paternal ancestor country,” or zuguo .)
“The Tabghach state does have one special claim to Chineseness, however: It gave its name to China — for a few centuries at least. In languages from the north and west of Mulan’s home, Tabghach became the name for “China” for centuries — until later replaced by “Khitai” (the name of the Khitan people, which in the same fashion came to mean China and gave us the name “Cathay”). The 8th century Orkhon inscriptions found in Mongolia were carved on steles in old Turkic (ancestor of modern Uyghur) to commemorate the exploits of the early Turkic khaghans. They warn future Turks not to get co-opted by the sweet words and soft silks of the “cunning” Chinese, but the Orkhon Inscriptions refer to Chinese as “Tabghach,” as do other Central Asian and Islamic texts. Even the early seventh century Byzantine history by Theophylact Simocatta mentions a city called Tαυγαστ (Taugast) — i.e. Tabghach — located beyond the Turks.
“A scholar of medieval Chinese poetry and the Mulan tradition, Jinghua Wangling, has wondered if “Mulan ci” was written by a woman. Besides the famous concluding couplet about how one cannot differentiate male and female rabbits running side by side , perhaps this poem’s air of war-weariness also reflects, or is meant to affect, a female sensibility? If so, this ur-Mulan is arguably more courageous even than the modern cinematographic Mulan, her kung fu skills (or support for the police) notwithstanding.
Original Mulan Story
James Millward said he couldn’t ready the original Mulan poem in the orginal language it was written but “I can read the old poem in Chinese...it is quite simple and beautiful...Just a few lines into “Mulan ci” is one of the poem’s biggest surprises: “Last night (I/she) saw the military notice: the Kaghan’s great draft of soldiers.” Not “emperor” — it was the khaghan (kehan ), or khan, who proclaimed the military call-up. Khaghan is the Central Asian, Turco-Mongolian word for an emperor. It appears twice in the poem referring to Mulan’s ruler. The word tianzi , “son of Heaven,” also occurs, twice, speaking of the same man. Note this casual transcription of a non-Chinese word into the poem, and the easy substitution of the ideologically weighty term “son of heaven.” Unless there are some unusual rules of prosody functioning here, this suggests that the terms were mutually exchangeable in the post-Han northern environment. If “Ballad of Mulan” concerns a patriotic war against an existential threat from barbarian invaders, that synonymous use of kehan/tianzi would be like referring here and there to an American president at war as führer. But khaghan here clearly doesn’t have that connotation. Khaghan is just one way to refer to the emperor in the Tabghach realm, maybe the most common way. In fact, Disney gets it backwards in the new film when it names Mulan’s enemy, the Rouran leader, Bori Khan. Mulan’s ruler was also a khan. [Source: James Millward, “More Hun than Han: Reading the Tabghach “Ballad of Mulan” in 2020, AAS, Asia Now blog, September 17, 2020]
“A few lines down, in the line , we learn that in the Yanshan area (in today’s Hebei province) one hears only the whinneys of “Hu” riders’ mounts. Hu , like most Chinese words that get translated as “barbarian,” is complex and polysemic. In some eras and contexts it was derogatory, but often it neutrally indicates specific kinds of foreigners. In the Qin and Han eras it referred to horse nomads of Mongolia, such as the Xiongnu. It could also indicate the Xianbei, of whom the Tabghach were a component tribe. By Tang times (7th-10th century), Hu specifically meant western Central Asians — those with beards, colored eyes, and high noses: Soghdians and other Iranian language speakers, not Turkic people. But in poetry Hu can convey an ahistorical, generic, romantic sense — perhaps something like “outlander” or simply “nomadic pastoralist.” It makes sense to read it that way here, given that the poet or narrator is referring to her monarch himself with a Hu word as well as a Chinese term.
“When Mulan finally arrives home, her brother sharpens a knife to slaughter a pig and a sheep. In China today, mutton is not uncommonly eaten in North China, but it is still culturally associated with northern and western peoples. Notably, Muslims, Mongols, and Uyghurs eat mutton, and their dishes have prominently entered Chinese cuisine: Mongolian hot-pot , cumin lamb , lamb kebabs , and yangrou paomo stew all retain their non-Han ethnic or northern associations. Pork is the quintessential meat of most Han meat dishes. There are environmental as well as cultural reasons for this: goats and sheep flourish in cooler grasslands and hill country, whereas pigs can be raised almost anywhere but do not do well if asked to walk miles on the prairie and survive on grass. The fact that Mulan’s household raises both pigs and sheep, then, is another indication that the poem takes place in a middle ground — a culturally diverse, hybridized environment where Hu and Han words and animals mingle, not a bastion of essentialized Han culture.”
Then there are “the battles and martial arts — or lack thereof — in the poem. Mulan tours the city compass points to buy horse and tack, with no mention of weapons. Later we read of the cold light flashing on “clothes of iron” which might be her armor, but there are no swords slashing or arrows leaping in these lines, no fetishization of weapons or training or combat that makes up the bulk of modern treatments. To the contrary, the poem skips all that entirely and transports us in a single couplet from the pain of parting from her family ( “she doesn’t hear the sound of her father and mother crying out to her,” a phrase repeated twice) to her return home. It offers a brisk summation of the pointlessness of her years away: “the general dies after a hundred battles, the warriors go home after ten years.” This may lack the bitter irony of Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est,” but the deep fatigue with which the author, in just ten characters, dismisses the whole military endeavor is no less devastating.
Excerpt from “Ballad of Mulan” (“Ode of Mulan”)
The Ballad of Mulan (Ode of Mulan) was composed in the A.D. fifth or sixth century during the Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (A.D. 317-589) at a time when China was divided between north and south. According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: The rulers of the northern dynasties were from non-Han ethnic groups, most of them from Turkic peoples such as the Toba (Tuoba, also known as Xianbei), whose Northern Wei dynasty ruled most of northern China from 386–534. This background explains why the character Mulan refers to the Son of Heaven as “Khan” — the title given to rulers among the pastoral nomadic people of the north, including the Xianbei — one of the many reasons why the images conveyed in the movie “Mulan” of a stereotypically Confucian Chinese civilization fighting against the barbaric “Huns” to the north are inaccurate. “The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry” by Han H. Frankel (New Haven: Yale University, Press, 1976)[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
Excerpt from: The Ballad of Mulan (Ode of Mulan): Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek, Mulan weaves, facing the door.
You don’t hear the shuttle’s sound, You only hear Daughter’s sighs.
They ask Daughter who’s in her heart, They ask Daughter who’s on her mind.
“No one is on Daughter’s heart, No one is on Daughter’s mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan is calling many troops, The army list is in twelve scrolls, On every scroll there’s Father’s name.
Father has no grown.up son, Mulan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse, And serve in the army in Father’s place.”, In the East Market she buys a spirited horse, In the West Market she buys a saddle, In the South Market she buys a bridle, In the North Market she buys a long whip.
At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother, In the evening camps on the Yellow River’s bank.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling, She only hears the Yellow River’s flowing water cry tsien tsien.
At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River, In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling, She only hears Mount Yen’s nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu.
She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war, She crosses passes and mountains like flying.
Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots, Chilly light shines on iron armor.
Generals die in a hundred battles, Stout soldiers return after ten years.
On her return she sees the Son of Heaven, The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall.
He gives out promotions in twelve ranks, And prizes of a hundred thousand and more.
The Khan asks her what she desires.
“Mulan has no use for a minister’s post.
I wish to ride a swift mount, To take me back to my home.”, When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming, They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other.
When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming, She fixes her rouge, facing the door.
When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming, He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep.
“I open the door to my east chamber, I sit on my couch in the west room, I take off my wartime gown, And put on my old.time clothes.”, Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair, Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder, She goes out the door and sees her comrades.
Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed.
Traveling together for twelve years, They didn’t know Mulan was a girl.
“The he.hare’s feet go hop and skip, The she.hare’s eyes are muddled and fuddled.
Two hares running side by side close to the ground, How can they tell if I am he or she?”
Ye Xian — Chinese Cinderella Story
The most popular version of this classic fairy tale Cinderella. was written by Charles Perrault in 1697. However, there is a similar story — that perhaps inspired the European story in one way or another over the centuries — called Ye Xian (Yeh-Shen, Sheh Hsien), written in China around A.D. 850. There are also stories with many parallels to Cinderella that date back to Greco-Roman times. [Source: Carrie Kellenberger, myseveralworlds.com. August 2, 2007]
The ancient Chinese version of Cinderella goes: “Long ago there was a chief of a mountain cave who had two wives. One of them died, leaving him a clever and intelligent daughter named Ye Xian. After he himself died, however, she was always treated badly by her stepmother. One day she caught a small fish which she kept in a bowl until it grew so large that she had to put it into a pond behind her house. There she fed it scraps of food, and it became so tame that whenever she approached, it would rise out of the water and rest its head on the bank. The stepmother learned of this and wanted to see the fish for herself, but when she came near, it refused to show itself. So one day, after sending Ye Xian away on an errand, she disguised herself in Ye Xian's clothes and went to the pond. When the fish, fooled by this trick, came out, she killed and ate it. Then she hid its bones under a dunghill. [Source: Derk Bodde, Assistant Professor of Chinese, University of Pennsylvania, Asia for Educators, Columbia University, July 1948 afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
“When Ye Xian returned and could no longer find the fish, she wept bitterly. But suddenly a man, with long flowing hair and wearing old clothes, came down from heaven and consoled her, saying: "Do not weep. Your stepmother has killed the fish and hidden its bones under the dunghill. Take them secretly to your room, and if you want anything, only pray to them. Your wish will be fulfilled." The girl did as she was told, and as a result got gold, pearls, dresses, and food whenever she wanted.
“One day the stepmother went away to a cave festival, leaving the girl to watch the house. After she had gone, the girl dressed herself in beautiful clothes, put on a pair of golden shoes, and also went to the festival. There, unfortunately, she was recognized by her stepmother's daughter. As a result, she had to run home so quickly that she left one of her shoes behind.
“The cave people then sold this shoe to the neighboring country of T'o-huan, where it fell into the hands of the king. He told the ladies of his court to try it on, but it was so small that it fitted nobody. The same thing happened when he ordered all the women of his kingdom to try it. Then he sent searchers everywhere to look for its owner. Finally they found Ye Xian, who put the shoe on her foot and it fitted perfectly. After that, they brought her before the king. She was married to him and went away with him to his kingdom, taking with her the fish's bones. But the evil stepmother and her daughter were stoned to death.
“The first year after he was married, the king prayed so greedily to the bones for precious stones of all sorts, that after a while his wishes were no longer granted. So he buried the bones on a beach, and enclosed them in a golden parapet. One night a high tide came up and washed them away.”
History of Cinderella Stories
Professor Derk Bodde wrote: “It is not generally realized, for example, that a tale written in China in the ninth century is the world's oldest known version of the story of Cinderella. The next earliest was not published until seven hundred years later — in Lyons, France, in 1544. And the one generally known to us, in which Cinderella's fairy godmother sends her to the ball in a pumpkin coach drawn by six mice which have been changed into horses, dates from 1697 and is also French.[Source: Derk Bodde, Assistant Professor of Chinese, University of Pennsylvania, Asia for Educators, Columbia University, July 1948 afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
“Almost three hundred and fifty other stories have been collected that are related in some way to Cinderella. They come from practically every country of Europe, as well as the Near East, India, Indo-China, North and South Africa, Chile, and the West Indies. Many of them differ so greatly from one another that only a specialist in folklore can recognize them as belonging to the same general group. But in the case of the Chinese version, with its evil stepmother and the incident of the fitting of the shoe, there can be no doubt.
“It was written by a Chinese scholar named Tuan Ch'eng-shih, whose hobby it was to gather all the stories he heard about strange and supernatural events. In the year 853 C.E. he published a collection of these under the title Miscellaneous Offerings from Yu-yang. (Yu-yang was the name of a place in central China.) Among them is one that he says he heard from a servant, whom he describes as a "caveman" from South China. In other words, the servant was a non-Chinese tribesman coming from a part of the country that at that time was still a wild area only thinly populated by Chinese. "He remembered much," says our author, "about the strange stories of the south."
“The Cinderella stories fall into two main groups. In one, interest is centered on Cinderella's ball, while comparatively little attention is paid to the supernatural animal that helps her. This is the type most familiar to us and most commonly found in western Europe. In the other, much attention is paid to the helpful animal, but Cinderella's ball is omitted. This type is most common in Russia and other Slavic-speaking countries. The Chinese story contains both the helpful animal — the fish — and the ball — the cave festival — and thus seems to be related to both types.
“Old though it is, the Chinese version shows definite signs of having been derived from still earlier — and now lost — versions. The incident of the cave festival, for example, is vaguely told and only mechanically linked with the remainder of the story. It seems very much as if the author had borrowed this incident from some still earlier version, but without clearly understanding its significance. It will also be remembered that the king who married Ye Xian came from a country called T'o-huan. Though this country is not identified in the story, we know from Chinese historical writings of that time that there was a country by that name located near a region called "T'o-ho-lo." And T'o-ho-lo can be identified with fair certainty as close to the modern city of Bangkok, the capital of Siam. This makes it probable that the Chinese story of Cinderella did not originate in China, but was taken there from southeast Asia, perhaps by the Arabs and others who went as traders to Canton in large numbers.
“This story shows that the same code of human ethics, the same simple virtues which are regarded as basic in the Western world, have been emphasized for centuries in China and other parts of Asia. It is but one example of the way a story or an idea can travel all over the world.
Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Qian (A.D. 376-427)
According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ “Tao Qian (T’ao Ch’ien, or Tao Yuanming, 376-427 CE) was a man of the southern part of China during the time of the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420) and its successor state, the Liu Song (420-479), during the period in which China was divided between northern and southern dynasties. The years between the final collapse of the Han dynasty in 220 CE and the Sui dynasty’s reunification of north and south in 589 were characterized by warfare and instability. The rulers and elite of the south were tortured by the loss of the north to various non-Chinese (mostly Turkic) rulers. In both north and south, one ruling house succeeded another. It was in this context of instability that Tao Qian, an official, scholar, and poet, wrote his famous essay, “Peach Blossom Spring.” [Source: “Anthology of Chinese Literature, Volume I: From Early Times to the Fourteenth Ce ntury”, edited by Cyril Birch (New York: Grove, Press, 1965), Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
The story goes: “During the reign-period T’ai yuan [326-97] of the Chin dynasty there lived in Wu.ling a certain, fisherman. One day, as he followed the course of a stream, he became unconscious of the distance he had travelled. All at once he came upon a grove of blossoming peach trees which, lined either bank for hundreds of paces. No tree of any other kind stood amongst them, but, there were fragrant flowers, delicate and lovely to the eye, and the air was filled with drifting, peachbloom.
“The fisherman, marvelling, passed on to discover where the grove would end. It ended, at a spring; and then there came a hill. In the side of the hill was a small opening which seemed, to promise a gleam of light. The fisherman left his boat and entered the opening. It was almost, too cramped at first to afford him passage; but when he had taken a few dozen steps he, emerged into the open light of day. He faced a spread of level land. Imposing buildings stood, among rich fields and pleasant ponds all set with mulberry and willow. Linking paths led, everywhere, and the fowls and dogs of one farm could be heard from the next. People were, coming and going and working in the fields. Both the men and the women dressed in exactly, the same manner as people outside; white.haired elders and tufted children alike were cheerful, and contented.
“Some, noticing the fisherman, started in great surprise and asked him where he had, come from. He told them his story. They then invited him to their home, where they set out, wine and killed chickens for a feast. When news of his coming spread through the village, everyone came in to question him. For their part they told how their forefathers, fleeing from, the troubles of the age of Ch’in, had come with their wives and neighbours to this isolated, place, never to leave it. From that time on they had been cut off from the outside world. They, asked what age was this: they had never even heard of the Han, let alone its successors the Wei, and the Chin. The fisherman answered each of their questions in full, and they sighed and, wondered at what he had to tell. The rest all invited him to their homes in turn, and in each, house food and wine were set before him. It was only after a stay of several days that he took, his leave.
““Do not speak of us to the people outside,” they said. But when he had regained his boat, and was retracing his original route, he marked it at point after point; and on reaching the prefecture he sought audience of the prefect and told him of all these things. The prefect, immediately despatched officers to go back with the fisherman. He hunted for the marks he had, made, but grew con fused and never found the way again. The learned and virtuous hermit Liu Tzu.chi heard the story and went off elated to find, the place. But he had no success, and died at length of a sickness. Since that time there have, been no further “seekers of the ford.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021