Fanning the Grave

A legend of the wife of Chwang-tsz (Zhuang zi, 庄子), the Taoist sage.

Chwang-tsz (B.C. 330) was out walking by a certain hill, where he saw a woman fanning the grave. He inquired the reason of the strange procedure. She answered that her husband, who was buried there, had ordered her not to quit his grave until the clay was dry. As she wished to go home as soon as possible, she was fanning it to accelerate the tardy process of drying. The philosopher fanned it dry at once with his magical fan, returned home, and related the story to his wife, who vehemently condemned the widow’s scanty respect for the dead.

After a while, Chwang-tsz was taken ill and died. His widow had promised that she would never marry again, but she soon became enamoured of a young man who introduced himself as one of the deceased philosopher’s pupils. They were soon betrothed, but he fell ill with cholic, and in reply to her solicitous inquiries, said that there was only one efficacious remedy for him, namely, the brains of a newly-deceased man. She went, therefore, to her husband’s coffin, and opened it with a hatchet, when, to her great alarm, he rose up alive and well. The ” disciple ” had been the product of his magical powers. She fled and hung herself for shame.

On which the philosopher began drumming upon a basin, and gave vent to his feelings by singing a song beginning :

” Alas ! earth’s joys are empty all ;

From open flowers the petals fall.

She dead, I must her Bury ;

I dead, she sure would marry.”

Nezha, The Third Lotus Prince

Li, the Pagoda-bearer

In Buddhist temples there is to be seen a richly attired figure of a man holding in his hand a model of a pagoda. He is Li, the Prime Minister of Heaven and father of No-cha.

He was a general under the tyrant Chou and commander of Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan at the time when the bloody war was being waged which resulted in the extinction of the Yin dynasty.

No-cha is one of the most frequently mentioned heroes in Chinese romance; he is represented in one account as being Yü Huang’s shield-bearer, sixty feet in height, his three heads with nine eyes crowned by a golden wheel, his eight hands each holding a magic weapon, and his mouth vomiting blue clouds. At the sound of his Voice, we are told, the heavens shook and the foundations of the earth trembled. His duty was to bring into submission all the demons which desolated the world.

His birth was in this wise. Li Ching’s wife, Yin Shih, bore him three sons, the eldest Chin-cha, the second Mu-cha, and the third No-cha, generally known as ‘the Third Prince.’

Yin Shih dreamed one night that a Taoist priest entered her room. She indignantly exclaimed: “How dare you come into my room in this indiscreet manner?” The priest replied: “Woman, receive the child of the unicorn!” Before she could reply the Taoist pushed an object to her bosom.

Yin Shih awoke in a fright, a cold sweat all over her body. Having awakened her husband, she told him what she had dreamed. At that moment she was seized with the pains of childbirth. Li Ching withdrew to an adjoining room, uneasy at what seemed to be inauspicious omens. A little later two servants ran to him, crying out: “Your wife has given birth to a monstrous freak!”

An Avatar of the Intelligent Pearl

Li Ching seized his sword and went into his wife’s room, which he found filled with a red light exhaling a most extraordinary odour. A ball of flesh was rolling on the floor like a wheel; with a blow of his sword he cut it open, and a babe emerged, surrounded by a halo of red light. Its face was very white, a gold bracelet was on its right wrist, and it wore a pair of red silk trousers, from which proceeded rays of dazzling golden light. The bracelet was ‘the horizon of Heaven and earth,’ and the two precious objects belonged to the cave Chin-kuang Tung of T’ai-i Chên-jên, the priest who had bestowed them upon him when he appeared to his mother during her sleep. The child itself was an avatar of Ling Chu-tzu, ‘the Intelligent Pearl.’

On the morrow T’ai-i Chên-jên returned and asked Li Ching’s permission to see the new-born babe. “He shall be called No-cha,” he said, “and will become my disciple.”

A Precocious Youth

At seven years of age No-cha was already six feet in height. One day he asked his mother if he might go for a walk outside the town. His mother granted him permission on condition that he was accompanied by a servant. She also counselled him not to remain too long outside the wall, lest his father should become anxious.

It was in the fifth moon: the heat was excessive. No-cha had not gone a _li_ before he was in a profuse perspiration. Some way ahead he saw a clump of trees, to which he hastened, and, settling himself in the shade, opened his coat, and breathed with relief the fresher air. In front of him he saw a stream of limpid green water running between two rows of willows, gently agitated by the movement of the wind, and flowing round a rock. The child ran to the banks of the stream, and said to his guardian: “I am covered with perspiration, and will bathe from the rock.” “Be quick,” said the servant; “if your father returns home before you he will be anxious.” No-cha stripped himself, took his red silk trousers, several feet long, and dipped them in the water, intending to use them as a towel. No sooner were the magic trousers immersed in the stream than the water began to boil, and Heaven and earth trembled. The water of this river, the Chiu-wan Ho, ‘Nine-bends River,’ which communicated with the Eastern Sea, turned completely red, and Lung Wang’s palace shook to its foundations. The Dragon-king, surprised at seeing the walls of his crystal palace shaking, called his officers and inquired: “How is it that the palace threatens to collapse? There should not be an earthquake at this time.” He ordered one of his attendants to go at once and find out what evil was giving rise to the commotion. When the officer reached the river he saw that the water was red, but noticed nothing else except a boy dipping a band of silk in the stream. He cleft the water and called out angrily: “That child should be thrown into the water for making the river red and causing Lung Wang’s palace to shake.”

“Who is that who speaks so brutally?” said No-cha. Then, seeing that the man intended to seize him, he jumped aside, took his gold bracelet, and hurled it in the air. It fell on the head of the officer, and No-cha left him dead on the rock. Then he picked up his bracelet and said smiling: “His blood has stained my precious horizon of Heaven and earth.” He then washed it in the water.

The Slaying of the Dragon-king’s Son

“How is it that the officer does not return?” inquired Lung Wang. At that moment attendants came to inform him that his retainer had been murdered by a boy.

Thereupon Ao Ping, the third son of Lung Wang, placing himself at the head of a troop of marines, his trident in his hand, left the palace precincts. The warriors dashed into the river, raising on every side waves mountains high. Seeing the water rising, No-cha stood up on the rock and was confronted by Ao Ping mounted on a sea-monster.

“Who slew my messenger?” cried the warrior.

“I did,” answered No-cha.

“Who are you?” demanded Ao Ping.

“I am No-cha, the third son of Li Ching of Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan. I came here to bathe and refresh myself; your messenger cursed me, and I killed him. Then–“

“Rascal! do you not know that your victim was a deputy of the King of Heaven? How dare you kill him, and then boast of your crime?”

So saying, Ao Ping thrust at the boy with his trident. No-cha, by a brisk move, evaded the thrust.

“Who are you?” he asked in turn.

“I am Ao Ping, the third son of Lung Wang.”

“Ah, you are a blusterer,” jeered the boy; “if you dare to touch me I will skin you alive, you and your mud-eels!”

“You make me choke with rage,” rejoined Ao Ping, at the same time thrusting again with his trident.

Furious at this renewed attack, No-cha spread his silk trousers in the air, and thousands of balls of fire flew out of them, felling Lung Wang’s son. No-cha put his foot on Ao Ping’s head and struck it with his magic bracelet, whereupon he appeared in his true form of a dragon.

“I am now going to pull out your sinews,” he said, “in order to make a belt for my father to use to bind on his cuirass.”

No-cha was as good as his word, and Ao Ping’s escort ran and informed Lung Wang of the fate of his son. The Dragon-king went to Li Ching and demanded an explanation.

Being entirely ignorant of what had taken place, Li Ching sought No-cha to question him.

An Unruly Son

No-cha was in the garden, occupied in weaving the belt of dragon-sinew. The stupefaction of Li Ching may be imagined. “You have brought most awful misfortunes upon us,” he exclaimed. “Come and give an account of your conduct.” “Have no fear,” replied No-cha superciliously; “his son’s sinews are still intact; I will give them back to him if he wishes.”

When they entered the house he saluted the Dragon-king, made a curt apology, and offered to return his son’s sinews. The father, moved with grief at the sight of the proofs of the tragedy, said bitterly to Li Ching: “You have such a son and yet dare to deny his guilt, though you heard him haughtily admitting it! To-morrow I shall report the matter to Yü Huang.” Having spoken thus, he departed.

Li Ching was overwhelmed at the enormity of his son’s crime. His wife, in an adjoining room, hearing his lamentations, went to her husband. “What obnoxious creature is this that you have brought into the world?” he said to her angrily. “He has slain two spirits, the son of Lung Wang and a steward sent by the King of Heaven. To-morrow the Dragon-king is to lodge a complaint with Yü Huang, and two or three days hence will see the end of our existence.”

The poor mother began to weep copiously. “What!” she sobbed, “you whom I suffered so much for, you are to be the cause of our ruin and death!”

No-cha, seeing his parents so distracted, fell on his knees. “Let me tell you once for all,” he said, “that I am no ordinary mortal. I am the disciple of T’ai-i Chên-jên; my magic weapons I received from him; it is they which brought upon me the undying hatred of Lung Wang. But he cannot prevail. To-day I will go and ask my master’s advice. The guilty alone should suffer the penalty; it is unjust that his parents should suffer in his stead.”

Drastic Measures

He then left for Ch’ien-yüan Shan, and entered the cave of his master T’ai-i Chên-jên, to whom he related his adventures. The master dwelt upon the grave consequences of the murders, and then ordered No-cha to bare his breast. With his finger he drew on the skin a magic formula, after which he gave him some secret instructions. “Now,” he said, “go to the gate of Heaven and await the arrival of Lung Wang, who purposes to accuse you before Yü Huang. Then you must come again to consult me, that your parents may not be molested because of your misdeeds.”

When No-cha reached the gate of Heaven it was closed. In vain he sought for Lung Wang, but after a while he saw him approaching. Lung Wang did not see No-cha, for the formula written by T’ai-i Chên-jên rendered him invisible. As Lung Wang approached the gate No-cha ran up to him and struck him so hard a blow with his golden bracelet that he fell to the ground. Then No-cha stamped on him, cursing him vehemently.

The Dragon-king now recognized his assailant and sharply reproached him with his crimes, but the only reparation he got was a renewal of kicks and blows. Then, partially lifting Lung Wang’s cloak and raising his shield, No-cha tore off from his body about forty scales. Blood flowed copiously, and the Dragon-king, under stress of the pain, begged his foe to spare his life. To this No-cha consented on condition that he relinquished his purpose of accusing him before Yü Huang.

“Now,” went on No-cha, “change yourself into a small serpent that I may take you back without fear of your escaping.”

Lung Wang took the form of a small blue dragon, and followed No-cha to his father’s house, upon entering which Lung Wang resumed his normal form, and accused No-cha of having belaboured him. “I will go with all the Dragon-kings and lay an accusation before Yü Huang,” he said. Thereupon he transformed himself into a gust of wind, and disappeared.

No-cha draws a Bow at a Venture

“Things are going from bad to worse,” sighed Li Ching, His son, however, consoled him: “I beg you, my father, not to let the future trouble you. I am the chosen one of the gods. My master is T’ai-i Chên-jên, and he has assured me that he can easily protect us.”

No-cha now went out and ascended a tower which commanded a view of the entrance of the fort. There he found a wonderful bow and three magic arrows. No-cha did not know that this was the spiritual weapon belonging to the fort. “My master informed me that I am destined to fight to establish the coming Chou dynasty; I ought therefore to perfect myself in the use of weapons. This is a good opportunity.” He accordingly seized the bow and shot an arrow toward the south-west. A red trail indicated the path of the arrow, which hissed as it flew. At that moment Pi Yün, a servant of Shih-chi Niang-niang, happened to be at the foot of K’u-lou Shan (Skeleton Hill), in front of the cave of his mistress. The arrow pierced his throat, and he fell dead, bathed in his blood. Shih-chi Niang-niang came out of her cave, and examining the arrow found that it bore the inscription: “Arrow which shakes the heavens.” She thus knew that it must have come from Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan, where the magic bow was kept.

Another Encounter

The goddess mounted her blue phoenix, flew over the fort, seized Li Ching, and carried him to her cave. There she made him kneel before her, and reminded him how she had protected him that he might gain honour and glory on earth before he attained to immortality. “It is thus that you show your gratitude–by killing my servant!”

Li Ching swore that he was innocent; but the tell-tale arrow was there, and it could not but have come from the fortress. Li Ching begged the goddess to set him at liberty, in order that he might find the culprit and bring him to her. “If I cannot find him,” he added, “you may take my life.”

Once again No-cha frankly admitted his deed to his father, and followed him to the cave of Shih-chi Niang-niang. When he reached the entrance the second servant reproached him with the crime, whereupon No-cha struck him a heavy blow. Shih-chi Niang-niang, infuriated, threw herself at No-cha, sword in hand; one after the other she wrenched from him his bracelet and magic trousers.

Deprived of his magic weapons, No-cha fled to his master, T’ai-i Chên-jên. The goddess followed and demanded that he be put to death. A terrible conflict ensued between the two champions, until T’ai-i Chên-jên hurled into the air his globe of nine fire-dragons, which, falling on Shih-chi Niang-niang, enveloped her in a whirlwind of flame. When this had passed it was seen that she was changed into stone.

“Now you are safe,” said T’ai-i Chên-jên to No-cha, “but return quickly, for the Four Dragon-kings have laid their accusation before Yü Huang, and they are going to carry off your parents. Follow my advice, and you will rescue your parents from their misfortune.”

No-cha commits Hara-Kiri

On his return No-cha found the Four Dragon-kings on the point of carrying off his parents. “It is I,” he said, “who killed Ao Ping, and I who should pay the penalty. Why are you molesting my parents? I am about to return to them what I received from them. Will it satisfy you?”

Lung Wang agreed, whereupon No-cha took a sword, and before their eyes cut off an arm, sliced open his stomach, and fell unconscious. His soul, borne on the wind, went straight to the cave of T’ai-i Chên-jên, while his mother busied herself with burying his body.

“Your home is not here,” said his master to him; “return to Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan, and beg your mother to build a temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan, forty _li_ farther on. Incense will be burned to you for three years, at the end of which time you will be reincarnated.”

A Habitation for the Soul

During the night, toward the third watch, while his mother was in a deep sleep, No-cha appeared to her in a dream and said: “My mother, pity me; since my death, my soul, separated from my body, wanders about without a home. Build me, I pray you, a temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan, that I may be reincarnated.” His mother awoke in tears, and related her vision to Li Ching, who reproached her for her blind attachment to her unnatural son, the cause of so much disaster.

For five or six nights the son appeared to his mother, each time repeating his request. The last time he added: “Do not forget that by nature I am ferocious; if you refuse my request evil will befall you.”

His mother then sent builders to the mountain to construct a temple to No-cha, and his image was set up in it. Miracles were not wanting, and the number of pilgrims who visited the shrine increased daily.

Li Ching destroys his Son’s Statue

One day Li Ching, with a troop of his soldiers, was passing this mountain, and saw the roads crowded with pilgrims of both sexes. “Where are these people going?” he asked. “For six months past,” he was told, “the spirit of the temple on this mountain has continued to perform miracles. People come from far and near to worship and supplicate him.”

“What is the name of this spirit?” inquired Li Ching.

“No-cha,” they replied.

“No-cha!” exclaimed the father. “I will go and see him myself.”

In a rage Li Ching entered the temple and examined the statue, which was a speaking image of his son. By its side were images of two of his servants. He took his whip and began to beat the statue, cursing it all the while. “It is not enough, apparently, for you to have been a source of disaster to us,” he said; “but even after your death you must deceive the multitude.” He whipped the statue until it fell to pieces; he then kicked over the images of the servants, and went back, admonishing the people not to worship so wicked a man, the shame and ruin of his family. By his orders the temple was burnt to the ground.

When he reached Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan his wife came to him, but he received her coldly. “You gave birth to that cursed son,” he said, “who has been the plague of our lives, and after his death you build him a temple in which he deceives the people. Do you wish to have me disgraced? If I were to be accused at Court of having instituted the worship of false gods, would not my destruction be certain? I have burned the temple, and intend that that shall settle the matter once for all; if ever you think of rebuilding it I will break off all relations with you.”

No-cha consults his Master

At the time of his father’s visit No-cha was absent from the temple. On his return he found only its smoking remnants. The spirits of his two servants ran up lamenting. “Who has demolished my temple?” he asked. “Li Ching,” they replied. “In doing this he has exceeded his powers,” said No-cha. “I gave him back the substance I received from him; why did he come with violence to break up my image? I will have nothing more to do with him.”

No-cha’s soul had already begun to be spiritualised. So he determined to go to T’ai-i Chên-jên and beg for his help. “The worship rendered to you there,” replied the Taoist, “had nothing in it which should have offended your father; it did not concern him. He was in the wrong. Before long Chiang Tzu-ya will descend to inaugurate the new dynasty, and since you must throw in your lot with him I will find a way to aid you.”

A New No-cha

T’ai-i Chên-jên had two water-lily stalks and three lotus-leaves brought to him. He spread these on the ground in the form of a human being and placed the soul of No-cha in this lotus skeleton, uttering magic incantations the while. There emerged a new No-cha full of life, with a fresh complexion, purple lips, keen glance, and sixteen feet of height. “Follow me to my peach-garden,” said T’ai-i Chên-jên, “and I will give you your weapons.” He handed him a fiery spear, very sharp, and two wind-and-fire wheels which, placed under his feet, served as a Vehicle. A brick of gold in a panther-skin bag completed his magic armament. The new warrior, after thanking his master, mounted his wind-and-fire wheels and returned to Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan.

A Battle between Father and Son

Li Ching was informed that his son No-cha had returned and was threatening vengeance. So he took his weapons, mounted his horse, and went forth to meet him. Having cursed each other profusely, they joined battle, but Li Ching was worsted and compelled to flee. No-cha pursued his father, but as he was on the point of overtaking him Li Ching’s second son, Mu-cha, came on the scene, and keenly reproached his brother for his unfilial conduct.

“Li Ching is no longer my father,” replied No-cha. “I gave him back my substance; why did he burn my temple and smash up my image?”

Mu-cha thereupon prepared to defend his father, but received on his back a blow from the golden brick, and fell unconscious. No-cha then resumed his pursuit of Li Ching.

His strength exhausted, and in danger of falling into the hands of his enemy, Li Ching drew his sword and was about to kill himself. “Stop!” cried a Taoist priest. “Come into my cave, and I will protect you.”

When No-cha came up he could not see Li Ching, and demanded his surrender from the Taoist. But he had to do with one stronger than himself, no less a being than Wên-chu T’ien-tsun, whom T’ai-i Chên-jên had sent in order that No-cha might receive a lesson. The Taoist, with the aid of his magic weapon, seized No-cha, and in a moment he found a gold ring fastened round his neck, two chains on his feet, and he was bound to a pillar of gold.

Peace at the Last

At this moment, as if by accident, T’ai-i Chên-jên appeared upon the scene. His master had No-cha brought before Wên-chu T’ien-tsun and Li Ching, and advised him to live at peace with his father, but he also rebuked the father for having burned the temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan. This done, he ordered Li Ching to go home, and No-cha to return to his cave. The latter, overflowing with anger, his heart full of vengeance, started again in pursuit of Li Ching, swearing that he would punish him. But the Taoist reappeared and prepared to protect Li Ching.

No-cha, bristling like a savage cat, threw himself at his enemy and tried to pierce him with his spear, but a white lotus-flower emerged from the Taoist’s mouth and arrested the course of the weapon. As No-cha continued to threaten him, the Taoist drew from his sleeve a mysterious object which rose in the air, and, falling at the feet of No-cha, enveloped him in flames. Then No-cha prayed for mercy. The Taoist exacted from him three separate promises: to live in harmony with his father, to recognize and address him as his father, and to throw himself at his, the Taoist’s, feet, to indicate his reconciliation with himself.

After this act of reconciliation had been performed, Wên-chu T’ien-tsun promised Li Ching that he should leave his official post to become an Immortal able to place his services at the disposal of the new Chou dynasty, shortly to come into power. In order to ensure that their reconciliation should last for ever, and to place it beyond No-cha’s power to seek revenge, he gave Li Ching the wonderful object by whose agency No-cha’s feet had been burned, and which had been the means of bringing him into subjection. It was a golden pagoda, which became the characteristic weapon of Li Ching, and gave rise to his nickname, Li the Pagoda-bearer. Finally, Yü Huang appointed him Generalissimo of the Twenty-six Celestial Officers, Grand Marshal of the Skies, and Guardian of the Gate of Heaven.

Xu Fu set sail on a quest for the herb Immortality

Xu Fu, or Jofuku

Xu Fu was the Wise Man of China. Many books he read, and he never forgot what was in them. All the characters he knew as he knew the lines in the palm of his hand. He learned secrets from birds and beasts, and herbs and flowers and trees, and rocks and metals. He knew magic and poetry and philosophy. He grew full of years and wisdom. All the people honoured him; but he was not happy. Because the First Emperor of Qin dynasty (Qin Shihuang) was a tyrant who ruled all over China, and he made the Wise Man’s life a burden.

“Xu Fu,” he said, “teach the nightingales of my wood to sing me the songs of the our great poets.”

Xu Fu could not do it for all his wisdom.

“Alas, liege,” he said, “ask me another thing and I will give it you, though it cost me the blood of my heart.”

“Have a care,” said the Emperor, “look to your ways. Wise men are cheap in China; am I the one to be dishonoured?”

“Ask me another thing,” said the Wise Man.

“Well, then, scent me the peony with the scent of the jasmine. The peony is brilliant, imperial; the jasmine is small, pale, foolish. Nevertheless, its perfume is sweet. Scent me the peony with the scent of the jasmine.”

But Xu Fu stood silent and downcast.

“By the gods,” cried the Emperor, “this wise man is a fool! Here, some of you, off with his head.”

“Liege,” said the Wise Man, “spare me my life and I will set sail for Mount Peng-lai where grows the herb Immortality. I will pluck this herb and bring it back to you again, that you may live and reign for ever.”

The Emperor considered.

“Well, go,” he said, “and linger not, or it will be the worse for you.”

Xu Fu went and found brave companions to go with him on the great adventure, and he manned a junk with the most famous mariners of China, and he took stores on board, and gold; and when he had made all things ready he set sail in the seventh month, about the time of the full moon.

The Emperor himself came down to the seashore.

Xu Fu set sail for Mount Peng-lai

“Speed, speed, Wise Man,” he said; “fetch me the herb Immortality, and see that you do it presently. If you return without it, you and your companions shall die the death.”

“Farewell, liege,” called Xu Fu from the junk. So they went with a fair wind for their white sails. The boards creaked, the ropes quivered, the water splashed against the junk’s side, the sailors sang as they steered a course eastward, the brave companions were merry. But the Wise Man of China looked forward and looked back, and was sad because of the uncertain future.

The junk of Xu Fu was for many days upon the wild sea, steering a course eastwards. He and the sailors and the brave companions suffered many things. The great heat burnt them, and the great cold froze them. Hungry and thirsty they were, and some of them fell sick and died. More were slain in a fight with pirates. Then came the dread typhoon, and mountain waves that swept the junk. The masts and the sails were washed away with the rich stores, and the gold was lost for ever. Drowned were the famous mariners, and the brave companions every one. Xu Fu was left alone.

Mount Peng-lai

In the grey dawn he looked up. Far to the east he saw a mountain, very faint, the colour of pearl, and on the mountain top there grew a tree, tall, with spreading branches. The Wise Man murmured:

“The Island of Peng-lai is east of the east, and there is Fusan, the Wonder Mountain. On the heights of Fusan there grows a tree whose branches hide the Mysteries of Life.”

Xu Fu lay weak and weary and could not lift a finger. Nevertheless, the junk glided nearer and nearer to the shore. Still and blue grew the waters of the sea, and Xu Fu saw the bright green grass and the many-coloured flowers of the island. Soon there came troops of young men and maidens bearing garlands and singing songs of welcome; and they waded out into the water and drew the junk to land. Xu Fu was aware of the sweet and spicy odours that clung to their garments and their hair. At their invitation he left the junk, which drifted away and was no more seen.

He said, “I have come to Mount Peng-lai the Blest.” Looking up he saw that the trees were full of birds with blue and golden feathers. The birds filled the air with delightful melody. On all sides there hung the orange and the citron, the persimmon and the pomegranate, the peach and the plum and the loquat. The ground at his feet was as a rich brocade, embroidered with every flower that is. The happy dwellers in Mount Peng-lai took him by the hands and spoke lovingly to him.

“How strange it is,” said Xu Fu, “I do not feel my old age any more.”

“What is old age?” they said.

“Neither do I feel any pain.”

“Now what is pain?” they said.

“Tell me,” said the Wise Man, “is this death?”

“We have never heard of death,” said the inhabitants of Mount Peng-lai. “anyway, welcome to the Island of Eternal Youth.”

Soon the youths and maidens of the island gave him to eat of the delicious fruit of the island, they laid him down upon a bank of flowers to hear sweet music. Afterwards they wandered in the woods and groves. They rode and hunted, or bathed in the warm sea-water. They feasted and enjoyed every delightful pleasure. So the long day lingered, and there was no night, for there was no need of sleep, there was no weariness and no pain.

(Selected and edited from Japanese Fairy Tales, by Grace James. Mount Peng-lai is the legendary mountain in the Eastern Sea. In Japan, it is called HORAIZAN, or Mt. Horai; Xu Fu, 徐福, Jofuku was a famous Taoist who lived during Qin dynasty.)

A white tortoise

The ruler Yüan of Sung once dreamt at midnight that a man with dishevelled hair peeped in on him at a side door and said, ‘I was coming from the abyss of commissioned by the Clear Kiang to go to the place of the Earl of the Ho; but the fisherman Yü Zü has caught me.’ When the ruler Yüan awoke, he caused a diviner to divine the meaning of the dream, and was told, ‘This is a marvellous tortoise.’ The ruler asked if among the fishermen there was one called Yü Zü, and being told by his attendants that there was, he gave orders that he should be summoned to court. Accordingly the man next day appeared at court, and the ruler said, ‘What have you caught lately in fishing?’ The reply was, ‘I have caught in my net a white tortoise, sieve-like, and five cubits round.’ ‘Present the prodigy here,’ said the ruler; and, when it came, once and again he wished to kill it, once and again he wished to keep it alive. Doubting in his mind what to do, he had recourse to divination, and obtained the answer, ‘To kill the tortoise for use in divining will be fortunate.’ Accordingly they cut the creature open, and perforated its shell in seventy-two places, and there was not a single divining slip which failed.

Kung-nî said, ‘The spirit-like tortoise could show itself in a dream to the ruler Yüan, and yet it could not avoid the net of Yü Zü. Its wisdom could respond on seventy-two perforations without failing in a single divination, and yet it could not avoid the agony of having its bowels all scooped out. We see from this that wisdom is not without its perils, and spirit-like intelligence does not reach to everything. A man may have the greatest wisdom, but there are a myriad men scheming against him. Fishes do not fear the net, though they fear the pelican. Put away your small wisdom, and your great wisdom will be bright; discard your skilfulness, and you will become naturally skilful. A child when it is born needs no great master, and yet it becomes able to speak, living as it does among those who are able to speak.’

The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the sparrow behind

螳螂捕蟬, 麻雀在后 táng láng bǔ chán má què zài hòu

The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind.

This story is excerpted from the Writings of Chuang-Tzu ( Kwang dze in James Legge’s transcribe system), or Zhuang zi (in modern Chinese Pīnyīn), name Zhōu (or Kâu in James Legges’s transcribe system).

This idiom when quoted in modern Chinese writing, a sparrow ( má què) is used instead of oriole, but in normal translation (as in a dictionary) an oriole is used. Oriole is mostly tropical songbird, the male is usually bright orange and black; or American songbird, male is black and orange or yellow.

In this story Chuang Tzu just say a strange bird with huge eyes from the south, its wings were seven cubits in width. The bird has large eyes but failed to see Chuang tzu approaching who was trying to shoot it with the cross-bow, since all the bird’s attention were on its prey, i.e., the mantis and cicada. This scenario startled and awakened Chuang tzu, because he wasn’t aware the forester who was behind him to find fitting object of reproach, either. If he shoot the bird, he would have become the victim of the forester just as the cicada of mantis, or both the cicada and mantis of the bird.

As Kwang Kâu (庄周, Zhuāng Zhōu in modern Chinese Pīnyīn) was rambling in the park of Tiâo-ling, he saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven cubits in width, and its eyes were large, an inch in circuit. It touched the forehead of Kâu as it passed him, and lighted in a grove of chestnut trees. ‘What bird is this?’ said he, ‘with such great wings not to go on! and with such large eyes not to see me!’ He lifted up his skirts, and hurried with his cross-bow, waiting for an opportunity to shoot it. Meanwhile he saw a cicada, which had just alighted in a beautiful shady spot, and forgot its care for its body. Just then, a preying mantis raised its feelers, and pounced on the cicada, in its eagerness for its prey, also forgetting its care for its body; while the strange bird took advantage of its opportunity to secure them both, in view of that gain forgetting its true instinct of preservation. Kwang Kâu with an emotion of pity, said, ‘Ah! so it is that things bring evil on one another, each of these creatures invited its own calamity.’ With this he put away his cross-bow, and was hurrying away back, when the forester pursued him with terms of reproach.

When he returned and went into his house, he did not appear in his courtyard for three months. When he came out, Lan Zü (his disciple) asked him, saying, ‘Master, why have you for this some time avoided the courtyard so much?’ Kwang-dze replied, ‘I was walking about in the park of Tiâo-ling, and forgot myself. A strange bird brushed past my forehead, and went flying about in the grove of chestnuts, where it forgot the true art of preserving itself. The forester of the chestnut grove thought that I was a fitting object for his reproach. These are the reasons why I have avoided the courtyard.’