Chinese Folktales


  1. Flesh and blood divided by a woman’s words. From oral tradition. ‘Roc’ is in Chinese Pyong. Cf. Chuang-tzu, I, i: ‘Nothing but yellow and White things’. The short one does not realize that it is gold and silver.
  2. Child of good fortune and the of fortune. From oral tradition. The dragon is the symbol of the ruler; New Year is the Chief Chinese festival. Which young and Old celebrate for a whole week.
  3. The nine-headed bird. From oral tradition. The nine-bird is a well-known apparition, rather like Our bogeyman. The broken hairpin and other broken pieces of small jewellery divided between lovers are a common motif. The fish is the son of a dragon; dragons, here and frequently elsewhere, are sea-gods, like the Indian Nagarajas. Gourd flasks are a common magic talisman in China; they are also used to confine spirits which then have to serve the owner.
  4. The animals’ cave. From tradition. 5. The fox and the tiger. From oral tradition. A widespread story, though in China animal tales are rare: 5-8 are four examples.
  5. The tiger’s bait. From oral tradition.
  6. The fox and the raven. From oral tradition. This is probably the fable from Aesop in a Chinese version. The reference to the ‘wisdom of is from the Tao-te-ching: ‘Who knows his brightness and still dwells in darkness. ‘Master Chung’ was the most faithful pupil of Kuan-tse, renowned for his piety. The raven was known in China as the ‘pious bird’ because it was said that the young birds would bring up again the food they had eaten in order to feed the Old birds.
  7. Why the dog and e cat are oral tradition. 205
  8. Yang Erlh-Lang. From the Feng-Shen and the Hsi-yu Chi. Yang Erlh-lang is a huntsman, always depicted with a falcon and hound. The of Heaven, literally ‘the hound that bites the gods’ is similar to Indra’s hound. The god also appears as the tamer of the spirits of ‘Plum Mountain’ (cf. full version of story in FongShén). The idea that there were originally ten suns in the sky was also current in the reign of Emperor Yu: in this version the marksman was Hou I or I; here the suns are not shot with arrows but crushed with mountains, in a way of the stories of titans. The cricket’s song is taken in China for the earrhworrn’s voice.
  9. NO Chia. Sources: Feng-Shên, the eldest daughter of the lord of heaven’ the lord of heaven had nine daughters, who dwelt in the nine heavens: in the Feng Shên Yang Yi, Yin is said to be the surname of NO Chia’s mother. Li Ching, the pagoda-bearing king of heaven may perhaps be traced back to the god of thunder and lightning, Indra. The pagoda might then be a misinterpretation of the bolt Vadira. In this case No Chia could he a personification of thunder; compare the Hindu myth in Which Vadirapani is persecuted by his youngest brother. The ‘golden armlet’ is the wheel of Chakra and the ‘Great One’ (Tai I) the condition of all things before the division into masculine and feminine.

The ‘triton’ is the Chinese Ya Chia or Indian Yakscha; the ‘dragon’s tendon’ rneans the spinal marrow, since nerves and sinews were not sharply distinguished. ‘NO Chia’s mother sent him out of the way’: another disaster follows this. when he kills the priestess of the stone god on Skull Mountain with a magic arrow fired at random. This episode is omitted here. ‘Three spirits and nine souls’ man has three spirits, usudly shown above his head. and nine animal souls. ‘ That day No Chia had been away in spirit’. The image of the god is only the god’s residence, which he can occupy or leave at pleasure. At prayer times he must be summoned by bells and incense. If the god is absent the image is only a piece of or painting: hence the apparently disrespectful behaviour of the Chinese When they showed their temples to foreigners.

Bu Hsien, the Bodhisattva on a lion, is the Indian Saman-tabhadra, one of the four great Bodhisattvas of the Tantra school; ‘Wen Chiu’, the Bodhisattva on the golden-haired mountain lion, is the Indian Mandjusri. The Buddha of Glowing Light, Yan Jung Kiu Fu, is the Indian Dipamkara. ‘Black magic’: in the Feng Shên Yang Yi three branches of the of Hung Kiun are described Tsai Kau, practising black magic, and supporting Chon Hsin, led by Tung Tien Yien Chou; Chan Yian, from Which a follower of Lao-tse will abstains, while Yuan Chi Tien Sun (‘the first origin’) is practised by his pupils in their battles.

‘Fire-dates: dates or pastilles of the elixir of life.

  1. The of heaven. Tian Hou or Tien Fe Niang Niang, the Queen of Heaven, is a goddess of seafarers honoured by Taoists and once worshipped in almost all coastal towns. Local sagas are found in her legends relating to the province Fukien. She an officially recognized divinity under the Manchu dynasty.
  2. Nü Wa. Sources: Li-chi, Feng Shen, etc. Fu Hsi is the ‘life-giving breath’. Nü Wa was originally masculine, but the name. as with many early surnames, was written with feminine character and gradually led to the personification being thought of as feminine.

Gung Gung, the water spirit, is reminiscent of the BabyIonian Tiamat, although there is no question of a borrowing. A similar story describes how Nü Wa sent the fire-god, Chou Yung, to conquer Gung Gung.

The story of the revenge of the goddess on Chou Hsin appears in the Feng-Shên Chou Hsin was the last emperor of the Yin dynasty, deposed by King Wu of the house of Chou.

The ‘Mountain of Imperfection’ is in Chinese Bu Chou Shan.

The transformation of the nine-tailed fox into Ta Chi comes from the Feng-shén. The habit of foxes of turning themselves into beautiful girls in order to lure men to their doom is a common theme of stories about foxes. Bei Gan is the god of wealth.

  1. Confucius. The stories collected here show how Confucius’ personality stubbornly resisted all attempts to build myths around him; only his supernatural knowledge could be turned into a legendary subject.

The unicorn of Chinese myth, or ch’i-lin, is not unlike the mythical beasts of Western legend. It is the king of the four spiritual creatures (the others being tortoise, dragon and feng-hwang or phoenix), and is revered for its mild nature and goodness. The rock crystal or water crystal. as son of which Confucius is described, implies his relationship to the dark lord of the north whose element is Water (and Wisdom). The Great Mountain or Tai Shan is the holy mountain of Shan- rung, the god of which Huang Fe-hu became. Wu is a state in the south of ancient China on the Yangtse river. Chou was a half-barbarian state to the south of Wu. “The great Yü was the mythical ruler who first controlled the flow of rivers. Of the Rise and Fall of Empires, one of the five classic books, was ascribed to Confucius himself, or at least its essential historical content.

Shih-huang Ti: the famous burner of books and reorganiser of China c. 220 B.C.

The Han dynasty followed the Ch’in dynasty from c. 200 B.C. to 9 A.D.

  1. The god of war. Source: San-kuo Chih. The god of war, Kuan Yü. is a historical personality from the period of the Three Kingdoms. which allied themselves to the later Han dynasty c. 250 A.D. Liu Bei founded the Little Han dynasty in Szechuan, helped by kuan Yü and Chang Fe. Tsau Tsau founded the kingdom of We and the third was the kingdom of Wu. Kuan Yü became in the course of time one of the most popular figures in Chinese saga, both god of war and saviour at same time. The conversation of the monk With the god Kuan in the clouds derives from the Buddhist teaching of Because Kuan Yü has men—even though his motives were good—he must himself suffer the effects of his deeds, even as a god.
  2. Haloes. Source: Oral tradition. The master of heaven, Tien Chi on the Lung Hu Shan, is the so-called Taoist pope.
  3. Lao-Tse. The story of his birth is related to that told about Buddha. His white hairs at birth are an explanation of the name Lao-tzu, which can mean either ‘old master’ or ‘old child’.

The Taoists like to emphasize Iao-tse’s journey to the west before Buddha’s birth, Buddha being only a reincarnation of Lao-tse, according to many of them. The guardian of the Han- Yu pass is called Yuan Yin Hsi in Lieh-tzu and Chuang-tzu.

On his connection with the Tao-te-ching, see the introduction to that book where the story is told at greater length. 17. The priest of Lau Shan. Source: Lau Shan: mountains in the Kiau-Chou district, famous since ancient times as the residence of the immortals.

  1. The mean peasant. Source: ‘Taoist in the original is here translated as ‘priest’.
  2. A punishment for disbelief. Source: cf. Shên-Chien, where the disciples are called brothers. Wei Bei-yang, in the Han period, was one of the founders of Taoist alchemy.
  3. Morning Sky. Source: cf. Shên-Chien. Morning Sky’s mother is, according to one tradition, the third daughter of the lord of heaven. Morning Sky (Tung Fang So) is an incarnation of the wood-star or star of the Great Year (Jupiter). The father king of the east is one of the five elders, representative of ne rd chestnuts, like the Ere-dates, are divine fruit and confer immortality. The dark heaven is the north heaven.

Morning Sky could play the flute beautifully. Flute playing was one of the particular magic practices of the Taoists.

Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty was one of the princes particularly interested in magic, and reigned from 180-144 B.C. The three-legged crane in the sun is the counterpart of the three-legged rain-toad in the moon.

  1. King Mu of Chou. Sources: Lie-tzu, Mu t’ien-tzu Chuan, Shên Chien, etc. King Mu of Chou ruled from 1001 to 946 B.C. His name is linked with the tales of the marvelous journeys into the distant lands of the west, particularly to the mother queen (Si Wang Mu). Si Wang Mu was originally the name of a tribe, whose characters meant literally ‘mother queen of the west’, which opened the way for myth-making around this goddess, who is Often compared to Juno. The peaches of immortality the apples of the Hesperides. 22. Old Chiang. Cf. Shên Chien. In Chinese custom, which coincides with that of other oriental peoples, a broker was always regarded as necessary between the two families before a marriage could be arranged. Elderly women used to do this as profession.
  2. The kindly magician. Cf. Tang Tai Tsung Shu, Shên Chien. Copper pieces: The Old Chinese copper coins with a hole in the centre were strung together 500 or 1,000 at a time, a string being worth 2s. A million would be worth between £100 and £200, though the value of money in ancient China than today.

Persian bazaar: In the period there Was a lively trade with the west, and Persian bazaars were by no means unusual in the capital, in Shen-Hsi. Herb oven: a kettle on a tripod in which the elixir of life Was brewed; the fairies, the dragon and the tiger (the latter being constellations) relate to this. The master required conditional perseverance in order to create the elixir, and Tu Chih-chun owed it to him for his kindness to him.

The Prince of Hell, Yan Wang or Yan Lo Wang, is the Indian Yama. There are ten princes of hell, of whom the fifth is the most feared and powerful.

Obduracy: Literally, ‘his crime is concealment’. This is a characteristic of Yin, the dark, feminine principle, and the effect of this attitude leads to his rebirth as a woman.

Pinpricks: acupuncture as a treatment for illness.

The purple flames coming out of the oven represent love which Tu Chih-chun has failed to conquer; he has subdued all other feelings, but love in its highest form of motherly love, remains. The goal of Taoist teaching, as in Buddhism, is the complete destruction of all feelings. 24. HOW Mu Lien got his mother out of hell. Source: oral tradition.

  1. The flower Spirits (Cf. Tang Tai Tsung Shu). Salix: The names of the flower spirits are used as surnames in China; they are akin to those of the flowers themselves but do not exactly correspond. The play on words is imitated in translation by using Latin names.

The zephyr aunts: the aunts are called “Fong’ in the original, which in a different script means ‘wind’.

  1. The Spirit of the Wulien mountain: The tale comes from Tsu-tsong, to the west cf Kiaucbou Bay. Wei To is the Sanskrit Veda, a fabulous Bodhisattva who led the armies of the four kings of heaven. His image with drawn ‘Ford is placed at the entrance of all Buddhist temples. In China he often has a club resembling a thunderbolt instead of the sword, probably due to a confusion between him and Vaisramana.
  2. The spirit of the Horse: Source as 47.
  3. The little dog. Source: Liaochai.
  4. The dragon hibernation. The dragon, chief among scaly creatures and insects, is said by the Chinese to hibernate. It becomes very small when it does SO; but at the first breath of spring. it rises to the clouds again in a flash.

The dragon IS symbol of the atmosphere is the basis of the idea.

  1. The spirits of the Yellow River. Source: tradition. In place of the old river god Ho Be, popular superstition substituted the Tai Wang. When the railway bridge Was over the Yellow River, these spirits seriously delayed work.

‘The dammer’: Human sacrifices were also common Whenever a bridge was built. Such episodes, otherwise rare in China, occurred frequently on the Yellow River.

‘Spirit tablet’: Divine images first appeared in China with the arrival Of Buddhism. The tradition, preserved by Confucians and in ancestor-worship, regarded a small wooden tablet inscribed with the spirits name as the spirit’s place. Plays as part of worship were found in ancient as well as China.

Tsining is a local capital on the Imperial canal near the Yellow River.

  1. Help in need. ‘Chou Pao accepted responsibility’: The local official is responsible for his district in the same way as the emperor is responsible for the whole kingdom. Since extraordinary natural events are a punishment from heaven, there must be a human fault as their cause. This train of thought is akin to the belief that disputes among the gods of the air lead to misfortune, as in the present case; for if men are truly virtuous, the spirits are hindered from such disturbances.

‘Gongs and drums sounded at the same time’: Literally, drums sounded the advance, cymbals the retreat; to both at once would confuse the enemy army.

  1. The rejected princess. Source: Tang Tai Tsung Shu; ‘tending sheep’: sheep are frequently used as a symbol for Clouds. (Sheep and goats are indicated by the same word in Chinese.) Chientang: the place name gave its name to the god who ruled there.
  2. The fox hole. Source: folktale. The fox appears frequently in Chinese superstitions as a demon who can possess humans. A host of hysterical symptoms are attributed to the influence of foxes and Weasels, especially if these are of a temporary nature. This tale is a typical example of the way such a case is supposed to develop.
  3. fox fire. A similar story appears in Liao-chai. The fox prepares the elixir of life by letting his breath rise up to the moon and retrieving it. If anyone can steal it from him, they acquire supernatural powers.
  4. The fox and the thunder. Source: oral tradition. dragon, as embodiment of thunder and lightning, hates anything unclean. The fox tries to keep him off with the unclean piece of skirt, at the same time preventing him from rising into his own element, the air. 36. The kind fox and the wicked fox. Source: oral tradition. The fox was only recently honoured as a god in China, the belief coming from Manchuria, probably due to Manchurian or Japanese native traditions. The fox spirit is particularly partial to chickens and wine (as in 34). This tale illustrates the type of haunting in which foxes indulge and the confusion Which their exorcism requires.
  5. Great Father Hu. The name of the god is Tai San Ye ‘the great third father Hu’. He is the third of his brothers. The Sign for Hu is written as a surname, but pronounced Hu = fox. It would be disrespectful to call the god a fox, because foxes, despite their magic are despised. The Manchurian influence is evident in this tale. Temples to this fox-god were very popular in Shantung in the last years of the Manchu dynasty. The Emperor Hien Fong, consort of the Empress Tsi Hi, ruled from 1851 to 1862.
  6. The talking silver foxes: oral tradition. The word translated here as ‘silver fox’, Pi, is given as panther Elsewhere. The nature of this fabulous creature is somewhere between that of a fox and a panther. The old mother’ is the mother goddess of Tai Chen, but is also worshipped elsewhere, chiefly as a goddess who grants the birth of sons.

‘Picture of the Taoist pope’. Painted talismans of the Taoist pope, the so-called ‘master of heaven’ are particularly effective against all kinds of magic. Yuan Ti, the god of war, is also invoked as a saviour in all kinds of need.

  1. The Necromancer. The Source: The ghosts are summoned by a planchette, a very popular way of communicating with a ghost in China.
  2. Ghost stories. Source: oral tradition. Werewolf: in Chinese Hou, or sometimes mountain lion.
  3. The land of the ogres. Cf. Liao-chai. The ogres here are the original inhabitants of Ceylon, also called Rakshas, who appear as man-eating monsters in many tales.
  4. The girl who was abducted. Cf. Tsǔ Ssǔ. The ogre here is a Fe Tien Ya Cha or Yaksha.
  5. The flying ogre. Cf. Tang Tai Tsung Shu. The ogre is also a Yaksha.
  6. Black magic. Source: oral tradition. Realgar is supposed by the Chinese to be an antidote to poison and to have strengthening properties.
  7. The faithful girl. Source: oral tradition. A double marriage of the kind described was as unusual in China as in Europe. Concubines were not uncommon, but two first wives of equal rank were unknown.
  8. The painted Skin. Cf. ‘Lost people have no home’ : The ghost betrays its true condition by these words, and because the Young man does not turn it away, he falls into its power.

‘a substitute’: If the ghost could lure another man to his doom, it became free to be reborn.’

‘the temple of the green lord’: The green lord is the king father of the east.

The sect of the White Lotus. The Sect of the White Lotus was one of the revolutionary Chinese secret societies

Which regarded Tung Tien Yian Chou as its lord. See note to 10.

That is a mountain spirit’: the mountain spirit is an illusion created by the magician to escape from the soldiers.

  1. How three heroes died for the sake of two peaches. Cf. Tung Chou Li Yuo. Duke Ching of Tsi (East Shantung) was an older Contemporary of Confucius. The minister Yän Tse, supposed author of a book of philosophy, is the same man who hindered Confucius’ appointment to an official post in Tsi.
  2. Old dragon-beard. Cf. Tang Tai Tsung Shu. Yang Su died in 606 A.D.

Li Ching (571-649 is not connected with Li Ching No. 10.

Li Yuan (565,635 A.D.) founded the Tang dynasty. His famous son, to whom he owed his power, the ‘Prince of T’ang’, Was called Li Shi Ming. His father abdicated in his favour in 618. This tale is of course not historical.

  1. How Molo stole Rose-Rea. Cf. Tang Tai Tsung Shu. The story is similar to many Indian tales, as in the idea of the sign- language Which the hero does not understand but Which his companion interprets.