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truly I think I have caught the devil himself. Look in and judge.' The

stranger looked, and remarked that he thought it boded no good

Meantime the worm remained in the well till it outgrew so oonflned a hidiug
place. It then emerged and betook itself by day to the river, and by night to a
neighbouring hill round whose base it would twine itself ; while it continued to
grow so fast that it soon could encircle the hill three times. The monster now
became the terror of the whole country side, &c." The feat of arms by which
this '' Lambton Worm " was finally killed has been before alluded to. But the
coincidence between the Chinese and English legend, in other respects, seemed
worth additional notice.

Some of my readers may perchance be interested to learn that the original
home of the mermaid (Ch. sea-woman J^ -^ hai nil) is almost within sight of
the room in which these notes are being written. The only specimen of a
veritable mermaid I ever saw was Bamum's celebrated purchase from Japan,
which, so far as could be judged, consisted of a monkey's body most artistically
joined .to a fish's tail. But the author of a work entitled Y%teh chung chieh
wen, or ** Jottings on the South of China," compiled in 1801, narrates how a
man of the district of Sin-an (locally Sin^on) captured a mermaid on the shore
of Ta-yii-shan or Namtao Island. << Her features and limbs were in all respects
human, except that her body was covered with fine hair of many beautiful
colours. The fisherman took home his prize and married her, though she was



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SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING THE POWERS OF NATURE. 115

unable to talk and could only smile. She however learned to wear olqthes like
ordinary mortals. When the fisherman died the sea-maiden was sent back
to the spot where she was first found, and she disappeared beneath the wayes."
The narrator quaintly adds, ** This testifies that a man-fish does no injury to
human beings," and he moreover informs us that these creatures are frequently
to be found near Ttl-shan and the Ladrone Island — so that any adventurous
Hongkong canoeist may still have a chance of making a novel acquaintance.
Another case recorded by the same writer speaks of a mermaid of more
conventional form than the lady already noticed. << The Cabinet Councillor Cha
Tao being despatched on a mission to Corea, and l3ring at anchor in his ship at
a bay upon the coast, saw a woman stretched upon the beach, with her face
upwards, her hair short and streaming loose, and with webbed feet and hands.
He recognised this being as a mermaid (or man fish) and gave orders that she
should be carried to the sea. This being done, the creature clasped her hands
with an expression of loving gratitude and sank beneath the waters.'*

The Straits of Hainan are regarded by the Chinese as the chief habitat of
monstrous fishes of strange shape, ruled over by the God of the waters, a sort
of Chinese Neptune. And it is quite possible that the opening of the principal
port of the island to foreign trade may (on the ground that nearly all sudi
legends have a faint substratum of truth) reveal to the eyes of the naturalist
new and undreamt-of inhabitants of the deep. It is but a few years since
the ridicule excited by M. Victor Hugo's ''devil fish" has given way to a
sober recognition of the fact that the octopus of real life is a monster but little
differing from the fanciful sketch given of his congener. And he would now-a-
days be rash who ventured to assert that the Chinese have less ground for
asserting the existence of very real monsters to our eyes than is possessed by
the hardy fishermen of the coasts of Northern Europe.



XI.— SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING THE POWERS

OF NATURE.

The beliefs to be noticed under this head are such as those f amiUar with
Asiatic ways of thought would expect to find. The sun, moon, and stars,
thunder and lightning, wind, water, and fire are each supposed to exist and
exercise their powers under the directions of partictdax deities or spirits. Aj
with ourselves, the moon enjoys amongst the Chinese a preeminence in regard to
the numerous traditions related of her inhabitants. There is an Old Man of
the Moon, a Cbddess, a Lunar Frog, a Toad, a H^are &c., and each myth bears
more or less resemblance to legends handed down to us from our own f orefathers^
The sun, though in a less degree, is the object of similar beliefs. Planetary or
stellar influences are devoutly believed in, stars being, as amongst the ancient



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no THE FOLK-LORE OF CHINA.

"Westerns, the embodiments or homes of heroes or demons. So too with oosmical
phenomena. Being unable to realize that these occur in accordance with natural
laws laid down by an all-powerful Creator, the Chinese are naturally thrown
back upon the pagan idea of numerous supernatural directors. That their legends
regarding such matters are, however puerile, so strikingly free from aught that
is obscene or (when mythology is in question) unnatural, is creditable to the
purity of the popular creeds.

Dr. 1). J. Macgowan, whose numerous contributions to our better knowledge
of Chinese matters have placed his readers under considerable obligations, fur-
nished an interesting mass of matter in this connection in an article read in
December 1858 before the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. In
his introductory remarks he thus accounts for the fulness of cosmical record for
which Chinese literature is remarkable: — "According to Chinese cosmogony,
man is so intimately identified with the powers of nature, being what they term
* a miniature heaven and earth,' that, in order to be conversant with the science
of civil government, one must study celestial and terrestrial phenomena, — as the
deviations from the course of nature are all more or less portentous of evil^
excepting a few, which are regarded as felicitous. Indeed, in high antiquity
they professed to have a revelation in a tabulated form, procured from the
carapace of a tortoise, by which those who observed the weather and seasons
might form oorrect opinions on the political aspect of the times. In the Shu-
King, under the section Hung-Fan or Great Plan, this doctrine is summarily
laid down thus : —

Seasonable rain, indicates Decorum.

Excessive bain, „ Dissoluteness.

Opportune fine weather, „ Good government.

Long-continued DROUGHT, „ Arroganx;c.

Moderate heat, „ Intelligence. •

Excessive heat, „ Indolence.

Moderate cold, „ Deliberation.

Extreue cold, „ Precipitation.

Seasonable wind, „ Perfection.

Continued tempest, „ Stupidity.

'* From these views, which have great influence on the minds of the Chinese, it
happens that a fuller account of subterranean action of meteorological wonders,
and the like, are foimd in their records, than among the annals of any other
people, anterior to the birth of meteorology as a science."

No doubt the explanation here given accounts for the attention paid by the
more educated classes to natural phenomona. But, as is usually the case,
popular belief has grafted upon an intelligible, if absurd, system numerous ad-
ditions. The superstitious peasantry trouble themselves but slightly about the
Boience of civil government but eagetly discuss portents which are believed to
affect their little world. And as my object is rather to deal with such supersti-
tions as they affect the vulgar, than as they influence the literati, I content my-
self with this mere glance at the profounder system involved in watching
oosmical phenomona and pursue the humbler branch of the subject comprehended
under the term "foUc-lore;" though it is probable that I shall here transgress the



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SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING THE POWERS OF NATURE. 117

boundaries of my subject, inasmuch as sucb beliefs are too closely connected with
native mythology to enable a strict line to be drawn between the two.

The Chinese ** Old Man in the Moon '' is known as Yue-lao and is reputed to
hold in his hands the power of predestining the marriages of mortals — so that
marriages if not, according to the native idea, exactly made in heaven, are made
somewhere beyond the bounds of earth. He is supposed to tie together the
future husband and wife with an invisible silken cord which never parts so long
as life exists. Readers of Mr. Baring-Gould's " Curious Myths " will remember
the various legends attaching to the Man in the Moon, none of which however
endow him with any power over sublunary affairs. The parallel between an
English and Chinese superstition regarding the Queen or Goddess of the Moon
is closer. This still exists in parts of Lancashire and is the basis of numerous
legends in China. Regarding these latter I cannot do better than quote the
remarks made by Mr. W. F. Mayers,* though, as will be observed, he does not
notice the Lancashire superstition. Hp says: — ''No one can compare the
Chinese legend with the popular European belief in the * Man in the Moon,' as
sketched, for instance, in Mr^ Baring-Gould's 'Curious Myths of the Middle
Ages' (First Series, p. 179), without feeling convinced of the certainty that the
Chinese superstition and the English nursery tale are both derived from kindred
parentage, and are linked in this relationship by numerous subsidiary ties.
The idea, says Mr. Gould, of placing ' animals in the two great luminaries of
heaven is very ancient and ... a relic of a primeval superstition of the Aryan
race.' A tree, an old man, and a hare, are, as Mr. Gould shews in various
passages, the inhabitants assigned to the moon in Indian fable ; whilst the
curious notion that the human recluse condemned to an abode in the lunar
regions owes his transportation thither to an act of theft or of sacrilege is a
well-known concomitant of the story in all lands. In all the range of Chinese
mythology there is, perhaps, no stranger instance of identity with the traditions
that have taken root in Europe than in the case of the legends relating the
moon ; and, luckily, it is not difficult to trace the origin of the Chinese belief in
this particular instance. The celebrated Lin Ngan, author (in part at least) of
the writings known as Hwai Nan Tsze, is well known to have been the patron of
travelled philosophers, tmder whose guidance he studied and pursued the cabalis-
tic practices which eventually betrayed him to his death; and the famous
astronomer Chang HSng was avowedly a disciple of Lidian teachers. That the
writings derived from two such hands are found giving currency to an Indian
fable is, therefore, not surprising ; and there seems to be ground for suspicion
that the name Chang Ngo, (or, as the dictionaries assert more properly Heng-
ngo) appearing in their treatises may be the corrupt representation of some
Hindoo sound, rather than connected, as the writer quoted above suggests, with
the doubtful titie of an office obscurely mentioned in times long anterior to the
dates at which they wrote. The statement given by Chang Hdng is to the effect
that ' How I 1^ ^,f the fabled inventor of arrows in the days of Tao and
Bhun, obtained the drug of immortality from Si Wang Mu (the fairy " Royal
*N.d:Q.<mC,d J., Vol. III., p. 128.



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118 THE FOLK-LORE OF CHINA.

Mother^* of the West) ; and Chang-Ngo (his wife) having stolen it, fled to the
moon) and became the frog — CJum-chu — ^which is seen there.' The later
fabulists have adhered to this story and amplified its details, as for instanoe, in
the Ktcang^ki a pleasing story of a subsequent reunion between How I and hi»
wife is told ; but in general the myth has been handed down unaltered, and the
lady Chang-ngo is still pointed out among the shadows in the surface of the
moon. In its etymological bearings, the legend is well worthy of further
investigation." With this conclusion all readers will agree. As regards the
legend concerning the hare, it is purely of Indian origin, having been introduced
into China with Buddhism. Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, is related
to have been a hare in one of the earliest stages of his existence, living in friend-
ship with a fox and an ape. Indra having sought their hospitality the fox
and ape procured him food, but the hare could find nothing. Sooner than be
inhospitable the hare cast itself into a fire in order to become food for his
guest, in reward for which Indra transported him to the moon.* The lunar
hare, as Mr. Mayers notes in his ** Manual," is said to squat at the foot of
** the cassia tree of the moon" (J^ FJ^ ^) pounding drugs for the Genii (Art.
Ewei ;|^ § 300.) A vulgar superstition asserts that the hare conceives by
looking at the moon, bringing forth her young from the mouth.

The influence exerted by the moon on tides is recognised by the Chinese — a
noteworthy fact in view of the strenuous denials of there being any basis of
scientific truth in a belief shared by every Western sailor. The moon is, in
China, the embodiment of the Yin or female principle influencing darkness, the
female sex, the earth,- water, &c. &c. A trace of a similar belief is to be found
in the Isle of Skye. The Skye correspondent of a home Journal writes: —
** During the fortnight commencing on the 24th of June, when the moon was
orescent, no real Skyeman would stack his peats for any consideration, believing
that imless stacked under a waning moon the peats will give neither light nor
heat when burned. * A power of smoke ' is all that can be expected from peats
stacked under a crescent moon. In Skye the crescent is called *• fas,' and the
wane 'tarradh,' and under these^two terms the moon not only exercises great
influence over peats, but also over many other things. In some parts of the
High-lands, sheep, pigs and cows are only killed in the *fas,' as meat made in
the 'tarradh' is supposed to be good for nothing but 'shrinking' when in the
pot." Native Chinese records aver that on the 18th day of the 6th moon, 1590,
snow fell one summer night from the midst of the moon. The flakes were like
fine willow flowers or shreds of silk.

If we except the somewhat bold speculations of certain modem religionists
who place the hereafter within the flery orb forming the centre of our system,
European legend and belief have but little to say about the sun. The Chinese
however have not failed to assign it as the dwelling-place of mysterious beings,
one account making it the residence of a spirit named Tuh /, while others

* CurUnM Myths of the Middle Age$, EiteVs Handbook of Chinese Buddhism,
let Series, p. 191. Mayers' Chinese Art. Sakehi,
Readers* Manual, pp. 95, 219, 288.



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SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING THE POWERS OF NATURE. 119

allege that a three-legged bird of supematoral attributes is its ruling demon.
The sun rules the masculine principle and is supposed to be the offspring of a
female named Hi Ho. * Other popular Buddhistic legends allege the names of
the solar genius to be — Su-li-ye ^^ fff^ ^ or Su-mo ^ J^. We must
turn to the fire-worshippers of Persia or Mejdoo, to the worshippers of Baal or
the sun-worshippers of Phoenicia for precise analogies in this direction. Dr. Eitto
concludes that the latter worshipped not the sun itself but an astral spirit
residing in it. The most singular fact in connection with the Chinese beliefs
is, after all, their compatibility with an absence of any extended system of
Sun-worship, though that luminary is adored as Tai-yang-U'Chun — ^the '^ Sun
ruler " who presides over the soul of man.

The identification of the stars and planets with the dwelling places of heroic
or supernatural beings prevails extensively in China. These superstitions are
mostly Taoistic and strongly resemble those of the Hindoos. The Divine Tor-
^^ ^$ ^^ Shen-ktoai is said to be the embodiment of the star <<Tao
Ewong " in Ursa Major. The Spirit of the legendary prince Chih^yu to* "^
is supposed to inhabit the planet Mars. YtA-hwang-ti is assigned to the
pure Jade stone palace in the T*ai-wei tract of stars. T^ien'hwang-ta-U, who *
rules the poles, and regulates heaven, earth and man, is said to reside in
the pole star. Hsing^chu, the ^'Lord of the stars'' resides in a star near
the pole known by his name; while the spirit of the South pole has a
similar celestial residence. As already noted, Ewan-Ti, the God of War,
is alleged to have made himself visible, on occasions of dire political distress,
within a brilliant star. Numerous examples of this sort might be adduced,
but the foregoing may suffice. The constellations, by the way, are in
Chinese almanacks formed into arbitrary figures as in Western astronomy,
while, as is natural, the Chinaman actually associates the monster thus designed
with the stars' forming its supposed outline. Persons bom under certain
constellations are (in accordance with European Astrology) liable to good or
evil luck. Apropos of this I came across a curious work from Madrasf a
short time since, in which the rules for building a house in compliance
witii stellcur infiuences closely resemble similar beliefs in China. — *^ Having
selected a site, the frontage must be divided into nine equal parts, five being
assigned to the right and three to the left, the fourth division being reserved
for the door-way. The enumeration begins on the left and thus the fourth
section is in the mansion of Mercury. The occupant of such a house may
become as wealthy as Eubem. A person born under Gemini, Cancer or Leo,
must build his house on a line stretching east and west, the entrance being
placed easterly. A person bom under Virgo, Libra, or Scorpio, must build on
a line running north and south, the door-way being southerly. One bom under
Sagittarius, Capricorn, or Aquarius must build west and east, placing the
' entrance westerly. If bom under Pisces, Aries or the Twins, he must build
south and north, the door being placed northerly. A family occupying a
house built contrary to these rules will be ruined."

* Chimte Rtaden' Manualf p. 75. t Percival's Tamil Proverbs,



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120 THE FOLK-LORE OF CHINA.

Some of the popular beliefs regarding appearances in the heavens have
been alluded to under Portents and Auguries, but I may here add a word
or two to the details already gi^en. The appearance of ships, troops, &c. in
the sky is of course deemed supernatural, Chinese science being as yet unac-
quainted with the causes of the mirage. Several well-authenticated stories of
such phenomena are on record, one at Kung-shan having been visible for a
whole day. That part of the sea on Hangchau Bay which lies near Kiahing
often, says Dr. Macgowan, exhibits this illusion, it is more frequently seen
from the opposite side. **Sea Market'' is the general term by which the
mirage is designated, and it is noted as occurring at different points of the coast
from Canton to bhantimg. It can easily be believed that such an apparent
miracle, in view of two contending armies, would suffice to turn the scale of
victory on the side of those expecting reinforcements. Amongst other phenomena
recorded in China is the appearance of a hen without feet sitting on the sun !
Parhelia, or mock suns, have frequently been seen, and the concurrence of their
manifestation with important state events has of course tended to justify a
popular belief in their portentous qualities. A well-known story published
only a few years since, in one of the foreign papers, relates how the Chang-
ning rebels 'besieged one of the cities in the Yangtsze valley, and how
the magistrate having first offered prayer in the temple of Tien-kung, led the
troops against them and completely defeated them. The rebel prisoners all
stated that when the battle commenced they saw a large flag in the heavens
with the characters Tien QQ on it, and in the rear of the flag a host of
ghostly soldiers flying through the air, smiting the rebels as they passed, and
scaring them out of their wits. Thus the city was saved. The success was
fully attributed to divine interposition, and the story is gratefully recounted
by the people to the present time. A memorial was drawn up by the
local gentry, and presented to the district magistrate with the request that the
Throne should be petitioned to confer a higher title on Tien-kung. Such a
request being in accordance with Chinese custom, it was of course granted.

The absurd stories told of meteors are endless. In the native Eeclords,
the most extraordinary phenomena are alleged to have been observed. A
shooting star from w^hioh fell fish (A.D. 519), a meteor which after lying
where it fell for some days suddenly moved of itself (A.D. 1561), and a
formless body a» large as a house which bounded over the dykes near
Yuling into the sea, furrowing the ground as it went (A.D. 1782), are duly
recorded, with a host of ordinary ipaeteorites, as having alarmed the neigbour-
hood in which they appeared. **In the year 1348, a star as large as a
bowl, of a white and slightly azure colour, with a tail about 50 feet long,
lightened the sky, with a rumbling noise flew from the North-east, and entered
the midst of the moon, the moon then looking as a reversed tile, — ue. upright."
The Chinese are not of course much worse (if so bad) in regard to sucll
matters than the people of the West, and equally curious records exist
amongst ourselves. As was observed in the introductory chapter the distinction
between the superstitions of the Middle Kingdom and those of Europe lies rather



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SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING THE POWERS OF NATURE. 121

ia the more widely accorded credulity to alleged marvels amongst the former
than in any actual difference of belief.

Thunder apd lightning are, of course, in China the manifestations of super-
natural anger. * The god of Thunder in China (Lui-tsz) corresponds to the Indian
Vajrapaxu, and is a well-known Buddhist deity, worshipped like his numerous
companions as a stellar god, and occupying in popular belief a position not
unlike, though less important than, that of the Scandinavian Thor.f The con-
nection between lightning and fire in all known mythologies is equally obvious
in China. But we miss the Promethean legend so widely known im the West.
Here the God of Fire wields indeed the lightning, but only to cause the con-
flagrations which satiate his vengeance. He is, in fact, a very everyday deity,
destitute of the enormous powers wielded by his representatives elsewhere.
The popular idea of his attributes is well illustrated by the following legend,
kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. G. M. H. Playfair (of H. M. Consular
service in China) as having been related to him during his residence in
Peking: —

** The temples of the God of Fire are numerous in Peking, as is natural in a
city built for the most part of very combustible materials. The idols repre-
senting the god are, with one exception, decked with red beards, typifying by
their colour the element under kis control. The exceptional god has a white
beard, and ' thereby hangs a tale.'

'< A hundred years i^o the Chinese Imperial revenue was in much better
case than it is now. At that time they had not yet come into collision with
Western powers, and the word * indemnity ' had not, so far, found a place in
their vocabulary ; internal rebellions were checked as soon as they broke out,
and, in one word, Kien Lung was in less embarrassed circumstances than
Ewang Hsu ; he had more money to spend, and did lay out a good dtol in the



* Lei-chao, (thunder district) is a long
monntaiDoas poninsula in CflBton province
opposite the island of Hainan, and is
celebrated thronghoat China for several
myths respecting its tbander-storms, which
doubtless reverberate through the alpine
^ regions of that latitude in a manner which
awakens awe and superstition. Standard
EncjolopsBdias, quoting from various au-
thors on the subject, inform us, that after
thunder-storms black stones are found
emitting light and a sonorous sound on
being struck. At times, also, hatchet-
shaped things are picked up which are
useful amulets. The fields are often fur-
rowed by thunder as if they had been
ploughed. In a temple consecrated to the
" Thunder Duke,'' the people annually
place a drum, drawn thither on a carriage
purposely constructed, which it is sup-
posed he beats during a stohn ; and it is
said that since a drum covered with paper
has been substituted for one covered with
leather, the peals of thunder have been



less severe. Formerly the drum was
placed on the top of a mountain, and a boy
left there as an attendant on the thunderer


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Online LibraryNicholas Belfield DennysThe folk-lore of China → online text (page 17 of 23)