Myths and Legends of China, by Edward T.C. Werner, , at sacred-texts.com
The Shan hai ching, or Hill and River Classic, contains descriptions of some curious people supposed to inhabit the regions on the maps represented on the nine tripod vases of the Great Yü, first emperor of the Hsia dynasty.
The pygmies inhabit many mountainous regions of the Empire, but are few in number. They are less than nine inches high, but are well formed. They live in thatched houses that resemble ants’ nests. When they walk out they go in companies of from six to ten, joining hands in a line for mutual protection against birds that might carry them away, or other creatures that might attack them. Their tone of voice is too low to be distinguished by an ordinary human ear. They occupy themselves in working in wood, gold, silver, and precious stones, but a small proportion are tillers of the soil. They wear clothes of a red colour. The sexes are distinguishable by a slight beard on the men, and long tresses on the women, the latter in some cases reaching four to five inches in length. Their heads are unduly large, being quite out of proportion to their small bodies. A husband and wife usually go about hand in hand. A Hakka charcoal-burner once found three of the children playing in his tobacco-box. He kept them there, and afterward, when he was showing them to a friend, he laughed so that drops of saliva flew from his mouth and shot two of them dead. He then begged his friend to take the third and put it in a p. 387 place of safety before he should laugh again. His friend attempted to lift it from the box, but it died on being touched.
In the Country of the Giants the people are fifty feet in height. Their footprints are six feet in length. Their teeth are like those of a saw. Their finger-nails present the appearance of hooked claws, while their diet consists wholly of uncooked animal food. Their eyebrows are of such length as to protrude from the front of the carts in which they ride, large though it is necessary for these vehicles to be. Their bodies are covered with long black hair resembling that of the bear. They live to the advanced age of eighteen thousand years. Though cannibals, they never eat members of their own tribe, confining their indulgence in human flesh chiefly to enemies taken in battle. Their country extends some thousands of miles along certain mountain ranges in North-eastern Asia, in the passes of which they have strong iron gates, easy to close, but difficult to open; hence, though their neighbours maintain large standing armies, they have thus far never been conquered.
The Headless People inhabit the Long Sheep range, to which their ancestors were banished in the remote past for an offence against the gods. One of the said ancestors had entered into a controversy with the rulers of the heavens, and they in their anger had transformed his two breasts into eyes and his navel into a mouth, removed his head, leaving him without nose and ears, thus cutting him off from smell and sound, and banished him to the p. 388 Long Sheep Mountains, where with a shield and axe, the only weapons vouchsafed to the people of the Headless Country, he and his posterity were compelled to defend themselves from their enemies and provide their subsistence. This, however, does not in the least seem to have affected their tempers, as their bodies are wreathed in perpetual smiles, except when they flourish their warlike weapons on the approach of an enemy. They are not without understanding, because, according to Chinese notions of physiology, “their bellies are full of wisdom.”
In the Mountains of the Sun and Moon, which are in the Centre of the Great Waste, are the people who have mo arms, but whose legs instead grow out of their shoulders. They pick flowers with their toes. They bow by raising the body horizontal with the shoulders, thus turning the face to the ground.
The Long-armed People are about thirty feet high, their arms reaching from the shoulders to the ground. Once when a company of explorers was passing through the country which borders on the Eastern Sea they inquired of an old man if he knew whether or not there were people dwelling beyond the waters. He replied that a cloth garment, in fashion and texture not unlike that of a Chinese coat, with sleeves thirty feet in length, had been found in the sea. The explorers fitted out an expedition, and the discovery of the Long-armed Country was the result.
The natives subsist for the most part on fish, which they p. 389 obtain by wading in the water, and taking the fish with their hands instead of with hooks or nets.
The arms of the Long-legged People are of a normal length, the legs are developed to a length corresponding to that of the arms of the Long-armed People.
The country of the latter borders on that of the Long-legs. The habits and food of the two are similar. The difference in their physical structure makes them of mutual assistance, those with the long arms being able to take the shellfish of the shallow waters, while those with the long legs take the surface fish from the deeper localities; thus the two gather a harvest otherwise unobtainable.
A little to the east of the Country of the Long-legs are to be found the One-eyed People. They have but one eye, rather larger than the ordinary human eye, placed in the centre of the forehead, directly above the nose. Other clans or families have but one arm and one leg, some having a right arm and left leg, others a left arm and right leg, while still others have both on the same side, and go in pairs, like shoes. Another species not only has but one arm and one leg, but is of such fashion as to have but one eye, one nostril, and beard on but one side of the face, there being as it were rights and lefts, the two in reality being one, for it is in this way that they pair. The Long-eared People resemble Chinese in all except their ears. They live in the far West among mountains and in caves. Their pendant, flabby ears extend to the ground, and would impede their feet in walking if they did not support them on their hands. They are sensitive to the faintest sound. Still another people in this region are distinguished by having six toes on each foot. p. 390
The Feathered People are very tall, and are covered with fluffy down. They have wings in place of arms, and can fly short distances. On the points of the wings are claws, which serve as hands. Their noses are like beaks. Gentle and timid, they do not leave their own country. They have good voices, and like to sing ballads. If one wishes to visit this people he must go far to the south-east and then inquire. There is also the Land of the People with Three Faces, who live in the centre of the Great Waste and never die; the Land of the Three-heads, east of the K’un-lun Mountains; the Three-body Country, the inhabitants of which have one head with three bodies, three arms and but two legs; and yet another where the people have square heads, broad shoulders, and three legs, and the stones on the land are all gold and jade.
Another community is said to be composed of people who have holes through their chests. They can be carried about on a pole put through the orifice, or may be comfortably hung upon a peg. They sometimes string themselves on a rope, and thus walk out in file. They are harmless people, and eat snakes that they kill with bows and arrows, and they are very long-lived.
The Women’s Kingdom, the country inhabited exclusively by women, is said to be surrounded by a sea of less density than ordinary water, so that ships sink on approaching the shores. It has been reached only by p. 391 boats carried thither in whirlwinds, and but few of those wrecked on its rocks have survived and returned to tell of its wonders. The women have houses, gardens, and shops. Instead of money they use gems, perforated and strung like beads. They reproduce their kind by sleeping where the south wind blows upon them.
Situated to the north of the Plain of Great Joy, the Land of the Flying Cart joins the Country of the One-armed People on the south-west and that of the Three-bodied People on the south-east. The inhabitants have but one arm, and an additional eye of large size in the centre of the forehead, making three eyes in all. Their carts, though wheeled, do not run along the ground, but chase each other in mid-air as gracefully as a flock of swallows. The vehicles have a kind of winged framework at each end, and the one-armed occupants, each grasping a flag, talk and laugh one to another in great glee during what might be called their aerial recreation were it not for the fact that it seems to be their sole occupation.
A curious legend is told regarding a solitary, weird figure which stands out, rudely weatherworn, from a hill-top in the pass called Shao-hsing Gorge, Canton Province. This point of the pass is called Lung-mên, or Dragon’s Mouth, and the hill the Husband-expecting Hill. The figure itself, which is called the Expectant Wife, resembles that of a woman. Her bent head and figure down to the waist are very lifelike.
The story, widely known in this and the neighbouring province, runs as follows. Centuries ago a certain poor p. 392 woman was left by her husband, who went on a journey into Kwangsi, close by, but in those days considered a wild and distant region, full of dangers. He promised to return in three years. The time went slowly and sadly past, for she dearly loved her lord, but no husband appeared. He, ungrateful and unfaithful spouse, had fallen in love with a fair one in Kwangsi, a sorceress or witch, who threw a spell over him and charmed him to his destruction, turning him at length into stone. To this day his figure may be seen standing near a cave close by the river which is known by the name of the Detained Man Cave.
The wife, broken by grief at her husband’s failure to return, was likewise turned into a stone, and it is said that a supernatural power will one day bring the couple to life again and reward the ever-faithful wife. The legend receives entire credence from the simple boatmen sad country people.
The wild beasts of the mountain have a king. He is a wild man, with long, thick locks, fiery red in colour, and his body is covered with hair. He is very strong: with a single blow of his huge fist, he can break large rocks to pieces; he also can pull up the trees of the forest by the root. His flesh is as hard as iron and is invulnerable to the thrusts of knife, spear, or sword. He rides upon a tiger when he leaves his home; he rules over the wolves, leopards, and tigers, and governs all their affairs. Many other wild men, like him in appearance, live in these mountains, but on account of his great strength he alone is king. These wild men kill and eat all human beings they meet, and other hill tribes live in terror of meeting p. 393 them. Indeed, who of all these mountain people would have been left alive had not some men, more crafty than their fellows, devised a means of overpowering these fierce savages?
This is the method referred to: On leaving his home the herb-gatherer of the mountains arms himself with two large hollow bamboo tubes which he slips over his wrists and arms; he also carries a jar of very strong wine. When he meets one of the wild men he stands still and allows the giant to grasp him by the arm. As the giant holds him fast, as he supposes, in his firm grasp, he quietly and slowly withdraws one arm from the bamboo cuff, and, taking the pot of wine from the other hand, quickly pours it down the throat of the stooping giant, whose mouth is wide open with immoderate laughter at the thought of having captured a victim so easily. The potent draught of wine acts at once, causing the victim to drop to the ground in a dead sleep, whereupon the herb-gatherer either dispatches him summarily with a thrust through the heart, or leaves the drunken tyrant to sleep off the effect of his draught, while he returns again to his work of collecting the health-restoring herbs. In this way have the numbers of these wild men become less and less, until at the present time but few remain.
The people on Ô-mei Shan tell of a wonderful kind of snake that is said to live there. Part of its life is spent among the branches of the trees; if by chance it falls to the ground it breaks up into two or more pieces. These separate segments later on come together again and unite.
Many other marvellous and interesting tales are related of this mountain and its inhabitants. p. 394
In every province of China there is a legend relating to the casting of the great bell swung in the bell tower of the chief city. These legends are curiously identical in almost every detail. The following is the one current in Peking.
It was in the reign of Yung Lo, the third monarch of the Ming dynasty, that Peking first became the capital of China. Till that period the ‘Son of Heaven’ had held his Court at Nanking, and Peking had been of comparatively little note. Now, however, on being honoured by the ‘Sacred Presence,’ stately buildings arose in all directions for the accommodation of the Emperor and his courtiers. Clever men from all parts of the Empire were attracted to the capital, and such as possessed talent were sure of lucrative employment. About this time the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower were built; both of them as ‘look-out’ and ‘alarm’ towers. The Drum Tower was furnished with a monster drum, which it still possesses, of such a size that the thunder of its tones might be heard all over the city, the sound being almost enough to waken the dead.
The Bell Tower had been completed some time before attempts were made to cast a bell proportionate to the size of the building. At length Yung Lo ordered Kuan Yu, a mandarin of the second grade, who was skilled in casting guns, to cast a bell the sound of which should be heard, on the least alarm, in every part of the city. Kuan Yu at once commenced the undertaking. He secured the services of a great number of experienced workmen, and collected immense quantities of material. Months passed, and at length it was announced to the Emperor that everything was ready for the casting. A day was p. 395 appointed; the Emperor, surrounded by a crowd of courtiers, and preceded by the Court musicians, went to witness the ceremony. At a given signal, and to the crash of music, the melted metal rushed into the mould prepared for it. The Emperor and his Court then retired, leaving Kuan Yu and his subordinates to await the cooling of the metal, which would tell of failure or success. At length the metal was sufficiently cool to detach the mould from it. Kuan Yu, in breathless trepidation, hastened to inspect it, but to his mortification and grief discovered it to be honeycombed in many places. The circumstance was reported to the Emperor, who was naturally vexed at the expenditure of so much time, labour, and money with so unsatisfactory a result. However, he ordered Kuan Yu to try again.
The mandarin hastened to obey, and, thinking the failure of the first attempt must have resulted from some oversight or omission on his part, he watched every detail with redoubled care and attention, fully determined that no neglect or remissness should mar the success of this second casting.
After months of labour the mould was again prepared, and the metal poured into it, but again with the same result. Kuan Yu was distracted, not only at the loss of his reputation, but at the certain loss of the Emperor’s favour. Yung Lo, when he heard of this second failure, was very wroth, and at once ordered Kuan Yu into his presence, and told him he would give him a third and last trial, and if he did not succeed this time he would behead him. Kuan Yu went home in a despairing state of mind, asking himself what crime he or any of his ancestors could have committed to have justified this calamity. p. 396
Now Kuan Yu had an only daughter, about sixteen years of age, and, having no sons, the whole of his love was centred in this girl, for he had hopes of perpetuating his name and fame through her marriage with some deserving young nobleman. Truly she was worthy of being loved. She had “almond-shaped eyes, like the autumn waves, which, sparkling and dancing in the sun, seem to leap up in very joy and wantonness to kiss the fragrant reeds that grow upon the rivers’ banks, yet of such limpid transparency that one’s form could be seen in their liquid depths as if reflected in a mirror. These were surrounded by long silken lashes—now drooping in coy modesty, anon rising in youthful gaiety and disclosing the laughing eyes but just before concealed beneath them. Eyebrows like the willow leaf; cheeks of snowy whiteness, yet tinged with the gentlest colouring of the rose; teeth like pearls of the finest water were seen peeping from between half-open lips, so luscious and juicy that they resembled two cherries; hair of the jettiest blackness and of the silkiest texture. Her form was such as poets love to describe and painters limn; there was grace and ease in every movement; she appeared to glide rather than walk, so light was she of foot. Add to her other charms that she was skilful in verse-making, excellent in embroidery, and unequalled in the execution of her household duties, and we have but a faint description of Ko-ai, the beautiful daughter of Kuan Yu.”
Well might the father be proud of and love his beautiful child, and she returned his love with all the ardour of her affectionate nature; often cheering him with her innocent gaiety when he returned from his daily vocations wearied or vexed. Seeing him now return with despair depicted in his countenance, she tenderly inquired the cause, not p. 397 without hope of being the means of alleviating it. When her father told her of his failures, and of the Emperor’s threat, she exclaimed: “Oh, my father, be comforted! Heaven will not always be thus unrelenting. Are we not told that ‘out of evil cometh good’? These two failures will but enhance the glory of your eventual success, for success this time must crown your efforts. I am only a girl, and cannot assist you but with my prayers; these I will daily and hourly offer up for your success; and the prayers of a daughter for a loved parent must be heard.” Somewhat soothed by the endearments of Ko-ai, Kuan Yu again devoted himself to his task with redoubled energy, Ko-ai meanwhile constantly praying for him in his absence, and ministering to his wants when he returned home. One day it occurred to the maiden to go to a celebrated astrologer to ascertain the cause of these failures, and to ask what means could be taken to prevent a recurrence of them. She thus learned that the next casting would also be a disappointment if the blood of a maiden were not mixed with the ingredients. She returned home full of horror at this information, yet inwardly resolving to immolate herself rather than allow her father to fail. The day for the casting at length came, and Ko-ai requested her father to allow her to witness the ceremony and “to exult in his success,” as she laughingly said. Kuan Yu gave his consent, and accompanied by several servants she went, taking up a position near the mould.
Everything was prepared as before. An immense concourse assembled to witness the third and final casting, which was to result either in honour or degradation and death for Kuan Yu. A dead silence prevailed through the vast assemblage as the melted metal once more rushed p. 398 to its destination; this was broken by a shriek, and a cry, “For my father!” and Ko-ai was seen to throw herself headlong into the seething, hissing metal. One of her servants attempted to seize her while in the act of plunging into the boiling fluid, but succeeded only in grasping one of her shoes, which came off in his hand. The father was frantic, and had to be kept by force from following her example; he was taken home a raving maniac. The prediction of the astrologer was fulfilled, for, on uncovering the bell after it had cooled, it was found to be perfect, but not a vestige of Ko-ai was to be seen; the blood of a maiden had indeed been infused with the ingredients.
After a time the bell was suspended by order of the Emperor, and expectation was at its height to hear it rung for the first time. The Emperor himself was present. The bell was struck, and far and near was heard the deep tone of its sonorous boom. This indeed was a triumph! Here was a bell surpassing in size and sound any other that had ever been cast! But—and the surrounding multitudes were horror-struck as they listened—the heavy boom of the bell was followed by a low wailing sound like the agonized cry of a woman, and the word hsieh (shoe) was distinctly heard. To this day the bell, each time it is rung, after every boom appears to utter the word ‘hsieh,’ and people when they hear it shudder and say, “There’s poor Ko-ai’s voice calling for her shoe.”
The reign of Ch’ung Chêng, the last monarch of the Ming dynasty, was much troubled both by internal broils and by wars. He was constantly threatened by Tartar hordes from without, though these were generally beaten back by the celebrated general Wu San-kuei, and the country was p. 399 perpetually in a state of anarchy and confusion, being overrun by bands of marauding rebels; indeed, so bold did these become under a chief named Li Tzŭ-ch’êng that they actually marched on the capital with the avowed intention of placing their leader on the Dragon Throne. Ch’ung Chêng, on the reception of this startling news, with no one that he could trust in such an emergency (for Wu San-kuei was absent on an expedition against the Tartars), was at his wits’ end. The insurgents were almost in sight of Peking, and at any moment might arrive. Rebellion threatened in the city itself. If he went out boldly to attack the oncoming rebels his own troops might go over to the enemy, or deliver him into their hands; if he stayed in the city the people would naturally attribute it to pusillanimity, and probably open the gates to the rebels.
In this strait he resolved to go to the San Kuan Miao, an imperial temple situated near the Ch’ao-yang Mên, and inquire of the gods as to what he should do, and decide his fate by ‘drawing the slip.’ If he drew a long slip, this would be a good omen, and he would boldly march out to meet the rebels, confident of victory; if a middle length one, he would remain quietly in the palace and passively await whatever might happen; but if he should unfortunately draw a short one he would take his own life rather than suffer death at the hands of the rebels.
Upon arrival at the temple, in the presence of the high officers of his Court, the sacrifices were offered up, and the incense burnt, previous to drawing the slip on which hung the destiny of an empire, while Ch’ung Chêng himself remained on his knees in prayer. At the conclusion of the sacrificial ceremony the tube containing the bamboo fortune-telling sticks was placed in the Emperor’s hand p. 400 by one of the priests. His courtiers and the attendant priests stood round in breathless suspense, watching him as he swayed the tube to and fro; at length one fell to the ground; there was dead silence as it was raised by a priest and handed to the Emperor. It was a short one! Dismay fell on every one present, no one daring to break the painful, horrible silence. After a pause the Emperor, with a cry of mingled rage and despair, dashed the slip to the ground, exclaiming: “May this temple built by my ancestors evermore be accursed! Henceforward may every suppliant be denied what he entreats, as I have been! Those who come in sorrow, may that sorrow be doubled; in happiness, may that happiness be changed to misery; in hope, may they meet despair; in health, sickness; in the pride of life and strength, death! I, Ch’ung Chêng, the last of the Mings, curse it!”
Without another word he retired, followed by his courtiers, proceeded at once to the palace, and went straight to the apartments of the Empress. The next morning he and his Empress were found suspended from a tree on Prospect Hill. “In their death they were not divided.” The scenes that followed; how the rebels took possession of the city and were driven out again by the Chinese general, assisted by the Tartars; how the Tartars finally succeeded in establishing the Manchu dynasty, are all matters of history. The words used by the Emperor at the temple were prophetic; he was the last of the Mings. The tree on which the monarch of a mighty Empire closed his career and brought the Ming dynasty to an end was ordered to be surrounded with chains; it still exists, and is still in chains. Upward of two hundred and seventy years have passed since that time, yet the temple is standing as of old; but the halls that at p. 401 one time were crowded with worshippers are now silent, no one ever venturing to worship there; it is the resort of the fox and the bat, and people at night pass it shudderingly—“It is the cursed temple!”
An interesting story is told of a lady named Ch’ên, who was a Buddhist nun celebrated for her virtue and austerity. Between the years 1628 and 1643 she left her nunnery near Wei-hai city and set out on a long journey for the purpose of collecting subscriptions for casting a new image of the Buddha. She wandered through Shantung and Chihli and finally reached Peking, and there—subscription-book in hand—she stationed herself at the great south gate in order to take toll from those who wished to lay up for themselves treasures in the Western Heaven. The first passer-by who took any notice of her was an amiable maniac. His dress was made of coloured shreds and patches, and his general appearance was wild and uncouth. “Whither away, nun?” he asked. She explained that she was collecting subscriptions for the casting of a great image of Buddha, and had come all the way from Shantung. “Throughout my life,” remarked the madman, “I was ever a generous giver.” So, taking the nun’s subscription-book, he headed a page with his own name (in very large characters) and the amount subscribed. The amount in question was two cash, equivalent to a small fraction of a farthing. He then handed over the two small coins and went on his way.
In course of time the nun returned to Wei-hai-wei with her subscriptions, and the work of casting the image was duly begun. When the time had come for the process of smelting, it was observed that the copper remained p. 402 hard and intractable. Again and again the furnace was fed with fuel, but the shapeless mass of metal remained firm as a rock. The head workman, who was a man of wide experience, volunteered an explanation of the mystery. “An offering of great value must be missing,” he said. “Let the collection-book be examined so that it may be seen whose subscription has been withheld.” The nun, who was standing by, immediately produced the madman’s money, which on account of its minute value she had not taken the trouble to hand over. “There is one cash,” she said, “and there is another. Certainly the offering of these must have been an act of the highest merit, and the giver must be a holy man who will some day attain Buddhahood.” As she said this she threw the two cash into the midst of the cauldron. Great bubbles rose and burst, the metal melted and ran like the sap from a tree, limpid as flowing water, and in a few moments the work was accomplished and the new Buddha successfully cast.
The following story of the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa of Yen Ch’êng (Salt City) is told by Helena von Poseck in the East of Asia Magazine, vol. iii (1904), pp. 169–171. This legend is also related of several other cities in China.
The Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa is, as already noted, the tutelary god of a city, his position in the unseen world answering to that of a chih hsien, or district magistrate, among men, if the city under his care be a hsien; but if the city hold the rank of a fu, it has (or used to have until recently) two Ch’êng-huang P’u-sas, one a prefect, and the other a district magistrate. One part of his duty consists of sending small demons to carry off the spirits of the dying, of which spirits he afterward acts as ruler and p. 403 judge. He is supposed to exercise special care over the k’u kuei, or spirits which have no descendants to worship and offer sacrifices to them, and on the occasion of the Seventh Month Festival he is carried round the city in his chair to maintain order among them, while the people offer food to them, and burn paper money for their benefit. He is also carried in procession at the Ch’ing Ming Festival, and on the first day of the tenth month.
The Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa of the city of Yen Ch’êng is in the extremely unfortunate predicament of having no skin to his face, which fact is thus accounted for:
Once upon a time there lived at Yen Ch’êng an orphan boy who was brought up by his uncle and aunt. He was just entering upon his teens when his aunt lost a gold hairpin, and accused him of having stolen it. The boy, whose conscience was clear in the matter, thought of a plan by which his innocence might be proved.
“Let us go to-morrow to Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa’s temple,” he said, “and I will there swear an oath before the god, so that he may manifest my innocence.”
They accordingly repaired to the temple, and the boy, solemnly addressing the idol, said:
“If I have taken my aunt’s gold pin, may my foot twist, and may I fall as I go out of your temple door!”
Alas for the poor suppliant! As he stepped over the threshold his foot twisted, and he fell to the ground. Of course, everybody was firmly convinced of his guilt, and what could the poor boy say when his own appeal to the god thus turned against him?
After such a proof of his depravity his aunt had no room in her house for her orphan nephew, neither did he himself wish to stay with people who suspected him of theft. So he left the home which had sheltered him for p. 404 years, and wandered out alone into the cold hard world. Many a hardship did he encounter, but with rare pluck he persevered in his studies, and at the age of twenty odd years became a mandarin.
In course of time our hero returned to Yen Ch’êng to visit his uncle and aunt. While there he betook himself to the temple of the deity who had dealt so hardly with him, and prayed for a revelation as to the whereabouts of the lost hairpin. He slept that night in the temple, and was rewarded by a vision in which the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa told him that the pin would be found under the floor of his aunt’s house.
He hastened back, and informed his relatives, who took up the boards in the place indicated, and lo! there lay the long-lost pin! The women of the house then remembered that the pin had been used in pasting together the various layers of the soles of shoes, and, when night came, had been carelessly left on the table. No doubt rats, attracted by the smell of the paste which clung to it, had carried it off to their domains under the floor.
The young mandarin joyfully returned to the temple, and offered sacrifices by way of thanksgiving to the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa for bringing his innocence to light, but he could not refrain from addressing to him what one is disposed to consider a well-merited reproach.
“You made me fall down,” he said, “and so led people to think I was guilty, and now you accept my gifts. Aren’t you ashamed to do such a thing? You have no face!”
As he uttered the words all the plaster fell from the face of the idol, and was smashed into fragments.
From that day forward the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa of Yen Ch’êng has had no skin on his face. People have p. 405 tried to patch up the disfigured countenance, but in vain: the plaster always falls off, and the face remains skinless.
Some try to defend the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa by saying that he was not at home on the day when his temple was visited by the accused boy and his relatives, and that one of the little demons employed by him in carrying off dead people’s spirits out of sheer mischief perpetrated a practical joke on the poor boy.
In that case it is certainly hard that his skin should so persistently testify against him by refusing to remain on his face!
In the city of Ta-yeh Hsien, Hupei, there is a large sheet of water known as the Liang-ti Lake. The people of the district give the following account of its origin:
About five hundred years ago, during the Ming dynasty, there was no lake where the broad waters now spread. A flourishing hsien city stood in the centre of a populous country. The city was noted for its wickedness, but amid the wicked population dwelt one righteous woman, a strict vegetarian and a follower of all good works. In a vision of the night it was revealed to her that the city and neighbourhood would be destroyed by water, and the sign promised was that when the stone lions in front of the yamên wept tears of blood, then destruction was near at hand. Like Jonah at Nineveh, the woman, known to-day simply as Niang-tzŭ, walked up and down the streets of the city, warning all of the coming calamity. She was laughed at and looked upon as mad by the careless people. A pork-butcher in the town, a noted wag, took some pig’s blood and sprinkled it round the eyes of the stone lions. This had the desired effect, for when Niang-tzŭ saw the blood p. 406 she fled from the city amid the jeers and laughter of the inhabitants. Before many hours had passed, however, the face of the sky darkened, a mighty earthquake shook the country-side, there was a great subsidence of the earth’s surface, and the waters of the Yangtzŭ River flowed into the hollow, burying the city and villages out of sight. But a spot of ground on which the good woman stood, after escaping from the doomed city, remained at its normal level, and it stands to-day in the midst of the lake, an island called Niang-tzŭ, a place at which boats anchor at night, or to which they fly for shelter from the storms that sweep the lake. They are saved to-day because of one good woman helped by the gods so long ago.
As a proof of the truth of the above story, it is asserted that on clear days traces of the buried city may be seen, while occasionally a fisherman casting his net hauls up some household utensil or relic of bygone days.
If the Miao have no written records, they have many legends in verse, which they learn to repeat and sing. The Hei Miao (or Black Miao, so called from their dark chocolate-coloured clothes) treasure poetical legends of the Creation and of a deluge. These are composed in lines of five syllables, in stanzas of unequal length, one interrogative and one responsive. They are sung or recited by two persons or two groups at feasts and festivals, often by a group of youths and a group of maidens. The legend of the Creation commences:
Who made Heaven and earth?
Who made insects?
Who made men?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don’t know.
Heavenly King made Heaven and earth,
Ziene made insects,
Ziene made men and demons,
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?
How made Heaven and earth?
How made insects?
How made men and demons?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don’t know.
Heavenly King was intelligent,
Spat a lot of spittle into his hand,
Clapped his hands with a noise,
Produced Heaven and earth,
Tall grass made insects,
Stories made men and demons,
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?
The legend proceeds to state how and by whom the heavens were propped up and how the sun was made and fixed in its place, but the continuation is exceedingly silly.
The legend of the Flood is another very silly composition, but it is interesting to note that it tells of a great deluge. It commences:
Who came to the bad disposition,
To send fire and burn the hill?
Who came to the bad disposition,
To send water and destroy the earth?
I who sing don’t know.
Zie did. Zie was of bad disposition,
Zie sent fire and burned the hill;
Thunder did. Thunder was of bad disposition,
Thunder sent water and destroyed the earth.
Why don’t you know?
In this story of the flood only two persons were saved in a large bottle gourd used as a boat, and these were p. 408 A Zie and his sister. After the flood the brother wished his sister to become his wife, but she objected to this as not being proper. At length she proposed that one should take the upper and one the nether millstone, and going to opposite hills should set the stones rolling to the valley between. If these should be found in the valley properly adjusted one above the other she would be his wife, but not if they came to rest apart. The young man, considering it unlikely that two stones thus rolled down from opposite hills would be found in the valley one upon another, while pretending to accept the test suggested, secretly placed two other stones in the valley one upon the other. The stones rolled from the hills were lost in the tall wild grass, and on descending into the valley A Zie called his sister to come and see the stones he had placed. She, however, was not satisfied, and suggested as another test that each should take a knife from a double sheath and, going again to the opposite hill-tops, hurl them into the valley below. If both these knives were found in the sheath in the valley she would marry him, but if the knives were found apart they would live apart. Again the brother surreptitiously placed two knives in the sheath, and, the experiment ending as A Zie wished, his sister became his wife. They had one child, a misshapen thing without arms or legs, which A Zie in great anger killed and cut to pieces. He threw the pieces all over the hill, and next morning, on awaking, he found these pieces transformed into men and women; thus the earth was repeopled.
The dawn of Chinese romantic literature must be ascribed to the period between the eighth and tenth centuries of our era, when the cultivation of the liberal p. 409 arts received encouragement at the hands of sovereigns who had reunited the Empire under the sway of a single ruler, and whose conquests and distant embassies attracted representatives from every Asiatic nation to their splendid Court. It was during this period that the vast bulk of Indian literature was successfully attacked by a host of Buddhist translators, and that the alchemists and mechanicians of Central Asia, Persia, and the Byzantine Empire introduced their varied acquirements to the knowledge of the Chinese. With the flow of new learning which thus gained admittance to qualify the frigid and monotonous cultivation of the ancient classics and their commentators, there came also an impetus to indulgence in the licence of imagination in which it is impossible to mistake the influence of Western minds. While the Sanskrit fables, on the one hand, passed into a Chinese dress, and contributed to the colouring of the popular mythology, the legends which circulated from mouth to mouth in the lively Arabian bazaars found, in like manner, an echo in the heart of China. Side by side with the mechanical efforts of rhythmical composition which constitute the national ideal of poetry there began, during the middle period of the T’ang dynasty (A.D. 618–907), to grow up a class of romantic tales in which the kinship of ideas with those that distinguish the products of Arabian genius is too marked to be ignored. The invisible world appears suddenly to open before the Chinese eye; the relations of the sexes overstep for a moment the chilling limit imposed by the traditions of Confucian decorum; a certain degree of freedom and geniality is, in a word, for the first time and only for a brief interval infused into the intellectual expression of a nation hitherto closely cramped in the bonds of a narrow pedantry. It p. 410 was at this period that the drama began to flourish, and the germs of the modern novelist’s art made their first appearance. Among the works of imagination dating from the period in question which have come down to the present day there is perhaps none which better illustrates the effect of an exotic fancy upon the sober and methodical authorship of the Chinese, or which has left a more enduring mark upon the language, than the little tale which is given in translation in the following pages.
The Nan k’o mêng, or Dream of the South Branch (as the title, literally translated, should read), is the work of a writer named Li Kung-tso, who, from an incidental mention of his own experiences in Kiangsi which appears in another of his tales, is ascertained to have lived at the beginning of the ninth century of our era. The nan k’o, or South Branch, is the portion of a huai tree (Sophora Japdonica, a tree well known in China, and somewhat resembling the American locust-tree) in which the adventures narrated in the story are supposed to have occurred; and from this narrative of a dream, recalling more than one of the incidents recounted in the Arabian Nights, the Chinese have borrowed a metaphor to enrich the vocabulary of their literature. The equivalent of our own phrase “the baseless fabric of a vision” is in Chinese nan k’o chih mêng—a dream of the south branch.
Ch’un-yü Fên, a native of Tung-p’ing, was by nature a gallant who had little regard for the proprieties of life, and whose principal enjoyment was found in indulgence in wine-bibbing in the society of boon-companions. At one time he held a commission in the army, but this he lost through his dissipated conduct, and from that time he p. 411 more than ever gave himself up to the pleasures of the wine-cup.
One day—it was in the ninth moon of the seventh year of Chêng Yüan (A.D. 791)—after drinking heavily with a party of friends under a wide-spreading old locust-tree near his house, he had to be carried to bed and there left to recover, his friends saying that they would leave him while they went to bathe their feet. The moment he laid down his head he fell into a deep slumber. In his dream appeared to him two men clothed in purple, who kneeling down informed him that they had been sent by their master the King of Huai-an (‘Locust-tree Peace’) to request his presence. Unconsciously he rose, and, arranging his dress, followed his visitors to the door, where he saw a varnished chariot drawn by a white horse. On each side were ranged seven attendants, by whom he was assisted to mount, whereupon the carriage drove off, and, going out of the garden gate, passed through a hole in the trunk of the locust-tree already spoken of. Filled with astonishment, but too much afraid to speak, Ch’un-yü noticed that he was passing by hills and rivers, trees and roads, but of quite a different kind from those he was accustomed to. A few miles brought them to the walls of a city, the approach to which was lined with men and vehicles, who fell back at once the moment the order was given. Over the gate of the city was a pavilion on which was written in gold letters “The Capital of Huai-an.” As he passed through, the guard turned out, and a mounted officer, shouting that the husband of the King’s daughter had arrived, showed him the way into a hall where he was to rest awhile. The room contained fruits and flowers of every description, and on the tables was laid out a profuse display of refreshments. p. 412
While Ch’un-yü still remained lost in astonishment, a cry was raised that the Prime Minister was coming. Ch’un-yü got up to meet him, and the two received each other with every demonstration of politeness.
The minister, looking at Ch’un-yü, said: “The King, my master, has brought you to this remote region in order to give his daughter in marriage to you.” “How could I, a poor useless wretch,” replied Ch’un-yü, “have ever aspired to such honour?” With these words both proceeded toward the audience-chamber, passing through a hall lined with soldiers, among whom, to his great joy and surprise, Ch’un-yü recognized an old friend of his former drinking days, to whom he did not, however, then venture to speak; and, following the Prime Minister, he was ushered into the King’s presence. The King, a man of noble bearing and imposing stature, was dressed in plain silk, a jewelled crown reposing on his head. Ch’un-yü was so awe-stricken that he was powerless even to look up, and the attendants on either side were obliged to remind him to make his prostrations. The King, addressing him, said: “Your father, small as my kingdom is, did not disdain to promise that you should marry my daughter.” Ch’un-yü could not utter a word; he merely lay prostrate on the ground. After a few moments he was taken back to his apartments, and he busied his thoughts in trying to discover what all this meant. “My father,” he said to himself, “fought on the northern frontier, and was taken prisoner; but whether his life was saved or not I don’t know. It may be that this affair was settled while he was in those distant regions.”
That same night preparations were made for the p. 413 marriage; and the rooms and passages were filled with damsels who passed and repassed, filling the air with the sound of their dancing and music. They surrounded Ch’un-yü and kept up a constant fire of witty remarks, while he sat there overcome by their grace and beauty, unable to say a word. “Do you remember,” said one of them, coming up to Ch’un-yü, “the other day when with the Lady Ling-chi I was listening to the service in the courtyard of a temple, and while I, with all the other girls, was sitting on the window step, you came up to us, talking nonsense, and trying to get up a flirtation? Don’t you remember how we tied a handkerchief on the stem of a bamboo?” Then she continued: “Another time at a temple, when I threw down two gold hairpins and an ivory box as an offering, you asked the priest to let you look at the things, and after admiring them for a long time you turned toward me, and said that neither the gifts nor the donor were of this world; and you wanted to know my name, and where I lived, but I wouldn’t tell you; and then you gazed on me so tenderly, and could not take your eyes off me. You remember this, without doubt?” “I have ever treasured the recollection in my heart; how could I possibly forget it?” was Ch’un-yü’s reply, whereat all the maidens exclaimed that they had never expected to see him in their midst on this joyful occasion.
At this moment three men came up to Ch’un-yü and stated that they had been appointed his ministers. He stepped up to one of them and asked him if his name was not Tzŭ-hua. “It is,” was the reply; whereupon Ch’un-yü, taking him by the hands, recalled to him their old friendship, and questioned him as to how he had found his way to this spot. He then proceeded to ask him if Chou-pien was also here. “He is,” replied the other, p. 414 “and holding very high office; he has often used his influence on my behalf.”
As they were talking, Ch’un-yü was summoned to the palace, and as he passed within, a curtain in front of him was drawn aside, disclosing a young girl of about fourteen years of age. She was known as the Princess of the Golden Stem, and her dazzling beauty was well in keeping with her matchless grace.
The marriage was celebrated with all magnificence, and the young couple grew fonder from day to day. Their establishment was kept up in princely style, their principal amusement being the chase, the King himself frequently inviting Ch’un-yü to join him in hunting expeditions to the Tortoise-back Hill. As they were returning one day from one of these excursions, Ch’un-yü said to the King: “On my marriage day your Majesty told me that it was my father’s desire that I should espouse your daughter. My father was worsted in battle on the frontier, and for seventeen years we have had no news of him. If your Majesty knows his whereabouts, I would beg permission to go and see him.”
“Your father,” replied the King, “is frequently heard of; you may send him a letter; it is not necessary to go to him.” Accordingly a letter and some presents were got ready and sent, and in due time a reply was received, in which Ch’un-yü’s father asked many questions about his relations, his son’s occupation, but manifested no desire that the latter should come to him.
One day Ch’un-yü’s wife asked him if he would not like to hold office. His answer was to the effect that he had p. 415 always been a rolling stone, and had no experience of official affairs, but the Princess promised to give him her assistance, and found occasion to speak on the subject to her father. In consequence the King one day told Ch’un-yü that he was not satisfied with the state of affairs in the south of his territory, that the present governor was old and useless, and that he would be pleased if he would proceed thither. Ch’un-yü bowed to the King’s commands, and inwardly congratulated himself that such good fortune should have befallen a rover like him. He was supplied with a splendid outfit, and farewell entertainments were given in his honour.
Before leaving he acknowledged to the King that he had no great confidence in his own powers, and suggested that he should be allowed to take with him Chou-pien and Tzŭ-hua as commissioners of justice and finance. The King gave his consent, and issued the necessary instructions. The day of departure having arrived, both the King and the Queen came to see Ch’un-yü and his wife off, and to Ch’un-yü the King said: “The province of Nan-k’o is rich and fertile; and the inhabitants are brave and prosperous; it is by kindness that you must rule them.” To her daughter the Queen said: “Your husband is violent and fond of wine. The duty of a wife is to be kind and submissive. Act well toward him, and I shall have no anxiety. Nan-k’o, it is true, is not very far—only one day’s journey; still, in parting from you my tears will flow.” Ch’un-yü and his bride waved a farewell, and were whirled away toward their destination, reaching Nan-k’o the same evening.
Once settled in the place, Ch’un-yü set himself to become thoroughly acquainted with the manners and customs of the people, and to relieve distress. To Chou-pien and p. 416 Tzŭ-hua he confided all questions of administration, and in the course of twenty years a great improvement was to be noticed in the affairs of the province. The people showed their appreciation by erecting a monument to his honour, while the King conferred upon him an estate and the dignity of a title, and in recognition of their services promoted Chou-pien and Tzŭ-hua to very high posts. Ch’un-yü’s children also shared their father’s rewards; the two sons were given office, while the two daughters were betrothed to members of the royal family. There remained nothing which could add to his fame and greatness.
About this period the state of T’an-lo made an incursion on the province of Nan-k’o. The King at once commanded that Chou-pien should proceed at the head of 30,000 men to repel the enemy. Chou-pien, full of confidence, attacked the foe, but sustained a disastrous defeat, and, barely escaping with his life, returned to the capital, leaving the invaders to plunder the country and retire. Ch’un-yü threw Chou-pien into prison, and asked the King what punishment should be visited upon him. His Majesty granted Chou-pien his pardon; but that same month he died of disease.
A few days later Ch’un-yü’s wife also fell ill and died, whereupon he begged permission to resign his post and return to Court with his wife’s remains. This request was granted, and Tzŭ-hua was appointed in his stead. As Ch’un-yü, sad and dejected, was leaving the city with the funeral cortège, he found the road lined with people giving loud expression to their grief, and almost ready to prevent his taking his departure. p. 417
As he neared the capital the King and Queen, dressed in mourning, were awaiting the bier in tears. The Princess, after a posthumous title had been conferred upon her, was buried with great magnificence a few miles to the east of the city, while Ch’un-yü remained in the capital, living in such state, and gaining so much influence, that he excited the King’s jealousy; and when it was foretold, by means of signs in the heavens, that ruin threatened the kingdom, that its inhabitants would be swept away, and that this would be the work of an alien, the prophecy seemed to point to ambitious designs on the part of Ch’un-yü, and means were taken to keep him under restraint.
Ch’un-yü, conscious that he had faithfully filled a high office for many years, felt greatly grieved by these calumnies—a result which the King could not avoid noticing. He accordingly sent for Ch’un-yü, and said: “For more than twenty years we have been connexions, although my poor daughter, unfortunately, has not been spared to be a companion to you in old age. Her mother is now taking care of her children; your own home you have not seen for many years; return to see your friends; your children will be looked after, and in three years you will see them again.” “Is not this my home? Whither else am I to go?” was Ch’un-yü’s reply. “My friend,” the King said laughingly, “you are a human being; you don’t belong to this place.” At these words Ch’un-yü seemed to fall into a deep swoon, and he remained unconscious for some time, after which he began to recall some glimpses of the distant past. With tears in his eyes he begged that he might be allowed to return to his home, and, saying farewell, he departed. p. 418
Outside the palace he found the same two officials in purple clothes who had led the way so many years ago. A conveyance was also there, but this time it was a mere bullock-cart, with no outriders. He took the same road as before, and noticed the same hills and streams. The two officials were by no means imposing this time, and when he asked how far was his destination they continued to hum and whistle and paid no attention to him. At last they passed through an opening, and he recognized his own village, precisely as he had left it. The two officials desired him to get down and walk up the steps before him, where, much to his horror, he saw himself lying down in the porch. He was too much bedazed with terror to advance, but the two officials called out his name several times, and upon this he awoke. The servants were bustling about the house, and his two companions were still washing their feet. Everything was as he had left it, and the lifetime he had lived in his dream had occupied only a few moments. Calling out to his two friends, he made them follow him to the locust-tree, and pointed out the opening through which he had begun his journey in dream-land.
An axe was sent for, and the interior of the trunk thrown open, whereupon a series of galleries was laid bare. At the root of the tree a mound of earth was discovered, in shape like a city, and swarming with ants. This was the capital of the kingdom in which he had lived in his dream. A terrace surrounded by a guard of ants was the residence of the King and Queen, two winged insects with red heads. Twenty feet or so along another gallery was found an old tortoise-shell covered with a thick growth of moss; it was the Tortoise-back Hill of the dream. In another direction was found a small mound of earth round p. 419 which was coiled a root in shape like a dragon’s tongue; it was the grave of the King’s daughter, Ch’un-yü’s wife in the vision. As he recalled each incident of the dream he was much affected at discovering its counterpart in this nest of ants, and he refused to allow his companions to disturb it further. They replaced everything as they had found it; but that night a storm of wind and rain came, and next morning not a vestige of the ants was to be seen. They had all disappeared, and here was the fulfilment of the warning in the dream, that the kingdom would be swept away.
At this time Ch’un-yü had not seen Chou-pien and Tzŭ-hua for some ten days. He sent a messenger to make inquiries about them, and the news he brought back was that Chou-pien was dead and Tzŭ-hua lying ill. The fleeting nature of man’s existence revealed itself to him as he recalled the greatness of these two men in the ant-world. From that day he became a reformed man; drink and dissipation were put aside. After three years had elapsed he died, thus giving effect to the promise of the ant-king that he should see his children once more at the end of three years.
The wave of conquest which swept from north to south in the earliest periods of Chinese history 1 left on its way, like small islands in the ocean, certain remnants of aboriginal tribes which survived and continued to exist despite the sustained hostile attitude of the flood of alien settlers around them. When stationed at Foochow p. 420 I saw the settlements of one of these tribes which lived in the mountainous country not very many miles inland from that place. They were those of the Jung tribe, the members of which wore on their heads a large and peculiar headgear constructed of bamboo splints resting on a peg inserted in the chignon at the back of the head, the weight of the structure in front being counterbalanced by a pad, serving as a weight, attached to the end of the splints, which projected as far down as the middle of the shoulders. This framework was covered by a mantilla of red cloth which, when not rolled up, concealed the whole head and face, The following legend, related to me on the spot, explains the origin of this unusual headdress.
In early times the Chief of a Chinese tribe (another version says an Emperor of China) was at war with the Chief of another tribe who came to attack his territory from the west. The Western Chief so badly defeated the Chinese army that none of the generals or soldiers could be induced to renew hostilities and endeavour to drive the enemy back to his own country. This distressed the Chinese Chief very much. As a last resort he issued a proclamation promising his daughter in marriage to anyone who would bring him the head of his enemy, the Chief of the West.
The people in the palace talked much of this promise made by the Chief, and their conversation was listened to by a fine large white dog belonging to one of the generals. This dog, having pondered the matter well, waited until p. 421 midnight and then stole over to the tent of the enemy Chief. The latter, as well as his guard, was asleep; or, if the guard was not, the dog succeeded in avoiding him in the darkness. Entering the tent, the dog gnawed through the Chief’s neck and carried his head off in his mouth. At dawn he placed it at the Chinese Chief’s feet, and waited for his reward. The Chief was soon able to verify the fact that his enemy had been slain, for the headless body had caused so much consternation in the hostile army that it had already begun to retreat from Chinese territory.
The dog then reminded the Chief of his promise, and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “But how,” said the Chief, “can I possibly marry my daughter to a dog?” “Well,” replied the dog, “will you agree to her marrying me if I change myself into a man?” This seemed a safe promise to make, and the Chief agreed. The dog then stipulated that he should be placed under a large bell and that no one should move it or look into it for a space of 280 days.
This was done, and for 279 days the bell remained unmoved, but on the 280th day the Chief could restrain his curiosity no longer, and tilting up the bell saw that the dog had changed into a man all except his head, the last day being required to complete the transformation. However, the spell was now broken, and the result was a man with a dog’s head. Since it was the Chief’s fault that, through his over-inquisitiveness, the dog could not become altogether a man, he was obliged to keep his promise, and p. 422 the wedding duly took place, the bridegroom’s head being veiled for the occasion by a red mantilla.
Unfortunately the fruit of the union took more after their father than their mother, and though comely of limb had exceedingly ugly features. 2 They were therefore obliged to continue to wear the head-covering adopted by their father at the marriage ceremony, and this became so much an integral part of the tribal costume that not only has it been worn ever since by their descendants, but a change of headgear has become synonymous with a change of husbands or a divorce. One account says that at the original bridal ceremony the bride wore the red mantilla to prevent her seeing her husband’s ugly features, and that is why the headdress is worn by the women and not by the men, or more generally by the former than the latter, though others say that it was originally worn by the ugly children of both sexes.
This legend explains the dog-worship of the Jung tribe, which now consists of four clans, with a separate surname (Lei, Chung, Lang, and Pan) to each, has a language of its own, and does not intermarry with the Foochow natives. At about the time of the old Chinese New Year (somewhere in February) they paint a large figure of a dog on a screen and worship it, saying it is their ancestor who was victorious over the Western invader. p. 423
If the greatness of nations is to be judged by the greatness of their myths (using the word ‘great’ in the sense of world-famous and of perennial influence), there would be few great nations, and China would not be one of them. As stated in an earlier chapter, the design has been to give an account of Chinese myth as it is, and not as it might have been under imaginary conditions. But for the Chinese philosophers we should in all probability have had more Chinese myths, but philosophy is unifying, and without it we might have had a break-up of China and perhaps no myths at all, or none specially belonging to China as a whole and separate independent nation. Had there been great, world-stirring myths there could hardly but have been also more wars, more cruelty, more wounding of the “heart that weeps and trembles,” more saturating of the earth with human blood. It is not a small thing to have conquered myth with philosophy, especially at a time when the Western world was still steeped in the grossest superstition. Therefore we may be thankful that the Chinese were and are a peace-loving, sober, agricultural, industrial, non-military, non-priest-ridden, literary, and philosophical people, and that we have instead of great myths a great people.
But if the real test of greatness is purity and justice, then Chinese myth must be placed among the greatest of all; for it is not obscene, and it is invariably just.
423:1 See Chapter I.
423:2 Compare the legend of the tailed Miao Tzŭ tribes named Yao, ‘mountain-dogs’ or ‘jackals,’ living on the mountain ranges in the north-west of Kuangtung Province, related in the Jih chi so chih.