Today I will tell a story called theft of peach from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志 异. Compared to other ghost and strange stories in the book or in general, you might not think it is scary. But I don’t know for some reason when I read it when I was around 10 years old, I had goosebumps.
It is based on the author’s real experiences of watching a magic show on the streets. In the book it says, when I was young and one time I went to the city JiNan 济南 to attend examinations. It was around the time of the Spring Festival, the Chinese lunar new year. On the night of the new year’s eve, all the merchants would put up banners and there were parade that people played drums walking all the way to the local government and . My friends and I went on the streets to have some fun.
It was crowded in the government building that night and there sat four officials wearing red robes face to face on the west and east side. Since I was young, I didn’t know who they were. It was loud in the room with people’s talking and laughing and drums and music going on. Suddenly, my attention was attracted by a man leading a boy with messy hair carrying a pole on his shoulders, walked up to the stage. He said something but I couldn’t here because of the noises in the room. I saw there were some discussions between the officials and the performers. The performer said he could invert the order of the nature. In the end they decided he would putting up a show about getting peaches.
The man took off his coat and laid it on his bamboo box and started his show. He pretended he didn’t know what to do and said, “the officials gave me a tough task. Now the ice is not yet thaw. Where can I get peaches?” The boy who came together with him said, “dad you already promised them. We need to get peaches anyway” The man said, “I thought it through. There are no peaches during winter in this world but there are peaches in the garden of WangMuNiangNiang 王母娘娘. It is like spring there all year around. But we have to get to the heaven.” WangMuNiangNiang, Queen Mother of the West is a Taoist goddess in Chinese mythology living in the heaven. His son asked,”are there stairs to the heaven we can get up there” “I have a way” upon that the man took out a cord around tens of feet in length from his bamboo box. He picked one end of the cord and threw it into the air where it seemed like it was caught by something. Then the rope kept going up higher until the end of the rope was up in the clouds and only a short part was left in his hands.
He explained to his son that he was clumsy due to his age and it would be better if the boy could go up instead. The boy took over the rope and complained that, “this rope is too thin to bear my weight. If I fell from it in the middle of climbing up to the heaven, I would die for sure.” His dad persuaded him that, “If the peaches are obtained, we would get rewarded with hundreds ounces of gold and I can pick a beautiful wife for you. ” The son finally grabbed the rope and swarmed up like a spider on its web. Not too long, the boy was out of sight in the clouds. After a while, down fell a peach as big as a bowl which delighted the father. He handed the peach to the officials who had no idea it was real or not.
Just then down came the rope, the father screamed ,”oh crap! Someone cut the rope. What is my boy going to do now?” After another minute, down fell something else. Guess what is it. It was the son’s head. The father cried holding the head, “it must be the guardians of the garden in the heaven caught my son when he was stealing the peach. I lost my son forever.” Upon that, his son’s arms, legs and body all came down from the sky.
The father gathered every piece and put them in the box and said, “I only have that one son who following me everywhere. I obeyed my promise and how cruel the fate it is for him. I must leave and bury him” He approached the officials, keeled down and said, “gentlemen please help me to pay for his funeral and I will be grateful for you” The officials watching the whole show in shock and amazement all put out money for him. He collected the good amount of money and went back to the stage. He tabbed the box and said, “BaBaer , come out and thank every gentlemen.” That messy hair boy himself jumped out of the box and bowed to the officials.
This magic trick that people climb up a rope in the air is said originally from India since the 19th century. It is called Indian rope trick if you want to find more about it. You can still find people doing the trick in India today。
You can also find it the movie Thief of Baghdad, a super fun and cool movie from 1924.
聊斋 志 异Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
王母娘娘 WangMuNiangNiang / Queen Mother of the West
Indian rope trick
Thief of Baghdad