Episode 167: Chinese Thumbelina

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Today we will talk about a fascinating and mysteries spirit in Chinese mythology. It is from the book What The Master Would Not Discuss 子不语, a collection of supernatural stories compiled by Yuan Mei 袁枚 during the Qing dynasty 清朝 published in 1788.




In the book, it says there was a Mr. Xie 谢 from the place called WuYuan 婺源. One morning, he heard some bird twitting in the forests and saw a bird looks like a parrot. When he took a closer look, he found it was a petite beautiful girl around 5 cun 寸. Cun is a unit of length in ancient China around 18 cm today. She was named and with no feathers or hair. Her body was as white as jade. This reminds of me the story Thumbelina by Danish Hans Christian Andersen published in 1835. I don’t know if he got inspiration from this story or not since this Chinese story published earlier. But I think he did inspiration from the some stories about miniature people like the famous Tom Thumb from English folklore published in 1621, which was earlier than this Chinese story.


The girl always looked depressed though. Mr. Xie took the girl home and she didn’t look frightened at all. Mr. Xie kept her in a cage and fed her. The girl talked a lot but no one could understand a word. After many days, she was accidentally got sunlight and dried out and died. Mr. Xie’s friend heard about it and said, “this creature is called Hua Po 花魄. ” Hua means flower. Po means the soul which does not leave the body after death. In Chinese culture, there is Hun 魂 and Po 魄. Hun is the soul which goes to heave and po which goes down to the earth with the body.


I am not sure why this creature since she seemed have nothing to do with the soul of flowers. Mr. Xie explained, “if there are more than three people hung themselves on the same tree, the energy of the death became the creature. You can still save her by watering her.” Mr. Xie did so and the tiny girl came back to life. Many people came to his house to see this fascinating scene. Mr. Xie didn’t want to get too much attention. So he decided to send the girl back to the tree. The moment he placed her on the tree, a huge bird flew there and took her away.




子不语 What The Master Would Not Discuss

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