Episode 179: Time Traveler

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Compared to the English word “time traveler”, I prefer the ancient Chinese word LanKeRen, 烂柯人, which means the person whose wooden axe handle is rotted. Today we will talk about the story of the word.


The story is from the book ShuYiJi 述异记from the Southern Dynasty 南朝, which is between the year 420 ~ 479. It says, there was a peasant called Wang Zhi 王质 from Jin dynasty 晋代, between the year 265 ~420 cut woods in the mountains. He walked to the Mountain ShiShi 石室山 and saw a few kids playing Go, a Chinese ancient board game,a few kids were singing. Wang Zhi walked closely to see what was going on. A kid came to him and gave him something looking like a date pit. Wang Zhi ate it and didn’t feel hungry any more. After not too long, the kid came back and asked, “why are you still here?” Wang Zhi looked around, and found the wooden handle of his axe was totally rotted. When he went back home, nobody from his time was still alive.


There are some similar stories from different books. One of the stories is from the book YiYuan 异苑, a book of collections of stories about the supernatural from the same dynasty, around the 5th century. It says, once there was a person riding a horse in the mountains and found two old people playing ChuPu 樗蒲, a ancient Chinese board game from the Eastern Han dynasty, between the year 25~ 220. I don’t think most Chinese people know this game today maybe due to the the forbidden law during the Song dynasty. But it is still popular in Korean today.


Anyways, the person stopped and watched the two old men playing the game. Not after too long, he looked around and saw his whip is rotten and the horse became skeleton. He went back home, his families and friends all past away. He was too devastated and pasted out.



The first story seemed make more sense like the person ate something that made him survive from starvation throughout the years of time travel. But the second story makes me think more that the person went back home and nobody he knew alive anymore that he pasted out. Time changed,things changed but his feelings didn’t change.



异苑 YiYuan

述异记 ShuYiJi


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