Chinese Folktales

12. Nü Wa

Nü Wa was the sister of Fu Hsi. She helped him with the arranging of marriages. Whereas in the old days men and women had been free to marry whom they chose, Nü Wa ascertained the names of all tribes. Men and women from the same family were no longer allowed to marry. Marriages were concluded by order of the parents, a marriage broker was necessary, and since money did not then exist two skins were laid down as the bridal gift. Thus Nü Wa became known as the divine foundress of marriage, and succeeding generations venerated her as the patroness of matrimony and the guardian of relations between families. After her brother’s death she succeeded him on the throne. But a man arose by name of Gung Gung, hirsute of body and with red hair, who considered himself a god because of his wisdom. He occupied the land along the Yangtse River and rebelled against the divine princess. He called himself the spirit of the water and used magic formulas to raise a deluge which caused the water to pile up in all the river beds and do great damage to the land.

Nü Wa commanded the Lord of Fire to subdue him. Gung Gung was defeated. In his anger he struck his head against the Mountain of Imperfection and died. As a result, one of the pillars of the sky snapped and the sky tilted towards the north-west. The earth, however, sagged in the region of the new opening in the south-east. Nü Wa thereupon fused some five-coloured stones together with which to mend the sky. She took the legs of a giant turtle and used them as the four poles of the sky.

As for the deluge, she channelled it towards the spot where the earth had sunk. That is Why to the present day the north-westerly wind is so cold and why all rivers flow towards the south-east to the great sea.

Nü Wa also introduced a system into music. Then she died and temples were built to her.

Once on New Year’s Day, the tyrant Chou Hsin of the house of Yin came to the temple of the goddess Nü Wa in order to make a sacrifice there. But a wind sprang up and the curtain in front of the goddess’s picture was blown aside. The ruler saw the goddess’s golden face. He was inflamed with an unholy love for her, and wrote a poem on the wall and returned home. But the goddess Nü Wa was highly indignant. She commanded the nine-tailed fox to turn into the beautiful girl Ta Chi so as to captivate the ruler and destroy his empire. Just about that time the tyrant Chou Hsin had issued an order to all his vassals to send the most beautiful girls to him. One of his favourites told him that the Count Su Hu had a daughter by name of Ta Chi whose beauty was matchless. The ruler therefore commanded Su Hu to bring her to him. Su Hu had no choice but to take his daughter to the palace. Halfway there they spent a night at an inn. There the nine-tailed fox caused a magic wind to spring up which carried Off Ta Chi’s soul. Then he himself entered her body and although he remained a vicious fox the girl’s features were unchanged. When the king Chou Hsin caught sight of her he was greatly pleased and she won exceptional favour with him. He would drink wine with her and take his pleasure with her and he ceased to care about the government of the land.

His faithful servants who dared to contradict him were cruelly tortured to death. They were made to embrace red hot stoves or to walk along narrow greased poles across ditches of blazing fires. In his depravity he no longer knew any bounds to his profligacy. He built a tower which reached up to the stars, he had lakes dug and filled with wine, and he had meat hung up in the forests. Boys and girls were made to chase each other naked, before the eyes of the king and his wife. One day they were sitting on top of their tower and saw two men, one old and the other young, fording a river. The young man’s steps were slow and anxious and he was shivering with the cold, whereas the old man strode out boldly apparently unaware of the cold. The king was astonished hut his wife said: ‘This is entirely natural. The old one was born at a time when his parents were still young and that is why he has frill marrow in his bones and does not feel the cold. But the young man, born of his parents in their old age, was not equipped with sufficient vigour and that is why his bones are hollow and he feels the cold.’ The two were summoned and it was found that the matter of their birth was as Ta Chi had said. But not satisfied with this she had their legs slashed open in order to examine the marrow in their bones. In this manner she committed a thousand cruel deeds.

One day, when the king was reproached by his uncle. Bei Gan, a man universally revered for his wisdom, Ta Chi said: ‘l have heard it said that saints and sages have seven openings in their heart. Tear out his heart and let us see whether he is a saint!’

In this manner the tyrant alienated his own relations. The sage Bei Gan, however, was subsequently installed as the god of wealth. One of the most loyal servants of the ruler was Huang Fei-hu. He had no equal in wisdom and courage and had earned much renown in war. He urged the ruler not to listen to Ta Chi because he would ruin himself. For that reason, Ta Chi hated him deep in her heart. On New Year’s Day it was the custom for all the servants of the ruler to call on him with their wives to convey their good wishes. Huang Fei-hu’s wife was especially beautiful. Ta Chi therefore hatched a plot. She led her up the summit of the star tower there to be presented to the king. Secretly, however, she inflamed the king’s desire for the woman. Yet the woman resisted all temptations and eventually burst into tears. Thereupon the tyrant grew angry and dragged her by her hair to the edge of the tower and thrust her down from the top so that she was smashed to pieces. When Huang Fei-bu heard about this he was seized with fury; he mounted his five-coloured divine bull which could cover a thousand miles in a day and indignantly left the city. He joined the Emperor Wu who was fighting against the tyrant. But he succumbed to the power of a sorcerer whose wife was familiar with the art of pulling out the sun’s rays and turning them into magic needles. She possessed seven times seven such needles and aimed them at the eyes of her husband’s enemies. Once they were blinded, her husband then killed them. In this manner Huang Fei-hu lost his life.

When the Emperor Wu had killed the tyrant Chou Hsin and conquered his empire, Huang Fei-hu was proclaimed god of the Great Mountain with power to judge between good and evil, reward and punishment, and life and death for humans, and with power over the ten princes of hell.