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Episode 64: Old Man Of The South Pole

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Santa Clause is the old man of the North Pole and today we are going to talk about the Old Man of the South Pole, NanJiXianWeng 南极仙翁 in Chinese Mythology. This Taoist god is a deification of Canopus, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina. So the south pole in the name is not the south pole we talk about today. He is the god of longevity in Chinese mythology, so we also him ShouXing 寿星, the star of longevity.

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NanJiXianWeng or ShouXing is usually depicted as an old man with a long white beard with a deer or a red-crowned crane by side. The most special look about him is that he has a huge forehead with a bump on it. Some people say because it looks like the forehead of a red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck and longevity in Chinese mythology. He usually holds a peach on one hand and a peach wood cane on the other hand. We have talked about a few times that peaches represents longevity in Taoism and Chinese mythology. The reason he is holding a cane for one reason of course is that old people usually use canes.

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For another reason is that in the book HanShu 汉书, it says in Han Dynasty the Emperor HanMing held a huge banquet between the year 28 ~ 75. The guests were anyone who were older than 70 years, poor or rich all over the country. After the banquet, he gave each of them wine, meat, rice and a delicate cane as gift. There was a carved streptopelia, a bird in the dove family on top of the cane. In 1958,archaeologists discovered the streptopelia part of a cane in a tomb from the Han Dynasty. Since it was painted, it still looked new after 1800 years. The intention was to encourage everyone to respect the elders. Like we talked about in our podcast before, respecting the elders is a huge part in Confucianism and it also correlates being respect for your teachers and your emperor. So this banquet in a way had a political purpose. Anyways I don’t disagree respecting the elders , teachers or emperor. But I agree being respectful to everyone.

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Actually in history, there were some other banquets held by emperors for the elders including Emperor QianLong 乾隆 in the Qing Dynasty 清朝. He invited more than 6000 thousands people older than 60 years old to his 74 year birthday. Celebration of birthdays weren’t a tradition in ancient China since birthday is related to the pains and suffers of one’s mother especially in the ancient time, women had large chances ended up losing their lives when giving birth. Until the Ming Dynasty 明朝and Qing Dynasty 清朝, it was getting popular to celebrate birthdays for old people.

Today ShouXing does’t convey much political or religious meanings, he is popular in regular people’s households.

Mentioned:

南极仙翁 NanJiXianWeng / Old Man of the South Pole

寿星 ShouXing/ Star of Longevity

汉书 HanShu

Episode 63: Chinese Hopping Vampires

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When we talk about vampires, we might think about they can just show up from no where in the middle of the night and disappear in a blink of an eye. Today we are going talk about the Hopping Vampires in Chinese mythology and folklore, yes those vampires are hopping around.

In Chinese, those creatures are called JiangShi 僵尸. It was interesting that the Chinese translation of the word “zombies” is also JiangShi. So for a long period of time I thought zombies was a concept from the west not realizing it was actually a Chinese term. In English, some people call JiangShi Hopping Vampires instead of Hopping Zombies, maybe due to more similarities between JiangShi and Vampires.

Jiang means stiff, and Shi means corpse. Today the typical image of JiangShi are those stiff corpse wearing official garments from the Qing Dynasty 清朝 hopping around with their arms out stretched. This is actually from a series of Hong Kong movies called JiangShi DaoZhang 僵尸道长 in the 90s. The movies are so popular and this image of JiangShi become a popular culture icon. You can see people today dress up like that in Hollyween in Asia. The idea is probably related to in Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty before the modern China, the officials were viewed as bloodthirsty creatures with little regard for humanity.

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Aside from the movies, JiangShi can be found in the earlier books. In the book YueWeiCaoTangBiJi 阅微草堂笔记 from the Qing Dynasty 清朝, it descried JiangShi as a creature covered by white hair with red eyes, long curled fingers. Their teeth stick outside of their month like sharp blades. When they breath, you can smell blood. JiangShi has names like YiShi 移尸,ZouYing 走影 and ZouShi 走尸, all meaning moving corpse. In the book ZiBuYu 子不语, it mentioned different types of JiangShi including ZiJiang 紫僵, meaning purple stiff corpse, BaiJiang 白僵, white stiff corpse, LvJiang绿僵, green stiff corpse, MaoJiang 毛僵, hairy stiff corpse and so on. There is a story in the book XuZiBuYu 续子不语, it says there was a mine worker buried under the mine and after decades or hundreds of years, he became a dried corpse. So the earliest versions about JiangShi is more similar to mummies, just as the named indicated stiff corpse that not rotten.

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There are myths and forklore about how it happens varying from the chemicals in the soil are not ideal for organic to grow, which is relatively scientific to the corpse is controlled by evil spirit or corpse get qi 气 or life force from the alive. The myth about JiangShi sucks human’s blood is again from the Hong Kong movies which was adopted from the western vampires.

Like garlic is the weapon to defeat vampires, there are ways to defeat or scare away JiangShi as well. In the book BenCaoGangMu 本草纲 目, it mentions JiangShi is scared of mirrors. In the book JingChuSuiShiJi 荆楚岁时记., it mentions using peach wood can draw off any evil spirits. Other methods includes sunlight, burning the corpse, blood from black hair dogs and eating sticky rice on the funeral day.

Some people say that the origin of this whole idea of moving corpse is from the folk practice called GanShi 赶尸, transporting a corpse over a long distance in XiangXi 湘西, a region in the south China. The families of the dead, who died in a another place other than their hometown would hire a Taoist priest to bring the corpse back home. This practice happens at night and the priest rings a bell to notify their presence. The corpses would to be set uptight in single file and tied to long bamboo rods on the sides. Two men carry the ends of the bamboo. When they walk, the bamboo flexed up and down and the corpses seem like hopping.

Mentioned:

僵尸 JiangShi /Chinese hopping vampires

阅微草堂笔记 YueWeiCaoTangBiJi

子不语 ZiBuYu

续子不语 XuZiBuYu

本草纲 目 BenCaoGangMu

荆楚岁时记. JingChuSuiShiJi

Episode 62: Madame White Snake — part 4

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Xu Xuan thought about the last words from Madame White Snake, “you got suspicious, I will let the whole city be flooded and everyone would suffer.” and couldn’t find a way. He was standing on the bridge and planned to committee suicide. When he heard somebody calling him. It was FaHai, the abbot. He gave Xu Xuan a bowl and asked him to cover on his wife’s head with a hard push. Xu Xuan arrived home and saw Madame White Snake sitting in the room murmuring, “I don’t know who are provoking the distrust between me and my husband.” Xu Xuan walked behind her slowly and boom! with all his strength. FaHai arrived at the same time and wailed incantations. Afterwards, he opened the bowl, Madame White Snake was as small as around 20 cm and crawled on the ground.

FaHai asked, “who are you exactly?” Madame White Snake said, “I was a serpent. I came to the West Lake on a rainy day and encountered Xu Xuan. I fell in love and got married with him. I know this is forbidden but I never harm anyone. Please forgive me.” I don’t know the full explanation, but in Chinese mythology, the love between a human and a spirit is a sin. I guess it is against the Confucianism that it is not the “right” match. It is one of the reasons that why homosexual marriages is still forbidden in China. FaHai asked, “who is Qing Qing?” “Qing Qing is the green fish in West Lake after thousands of years of practice. We met and became accompanies. ”

FaHai sealed the bowl with a piece of cloth teared from his clothes and imprisoned Madame White Snake and Qing Qing under Leifeng Pagoda 雷峰塔 by the West Lake forever. FaHai left with a poem to warn people in the world not to be bewitched by lust.

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Hangzhou, Suzhou where the story took place and West Lake and Leifeng Pagoda all really exist until today. There are statues of Madame White Snake, Qing Qing and Xu Xuan along the West Lake if you visit there today.

This is the end of this story. However, there are a lot of variations.

One version adds a sequel that Madame White Snake gave birth to a baby before she was imprisoned by FaHai named Xu Rulin 许儒林. Years later, he got a high ranking in the imperial examinations. Returning home to visit his mother at Leifeng Pagoda, Madame White Snake was freed and reunited with her family. The childbirth part tried to depict Madame White Snake more like a human instead of a spirit and about the imperial examinations part I would say at ancient time people still thought only a honor could save the whole family.

Some versions have an epic fight between Madame White Snake and the abbot FaHai in the end before Madame White Snake was lost and imprisoned. It is another classical and dramatic plot in today’s version.

Now I am going to answer the question why do we need to talk about this story during DuanWu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival 端午节. One variation of this story has a plot that Xu Xuan didn’t believe his wife was a snake spirit until he was told by FaHai to let her drink a kind of liquor called XiongHuangJiu 雄黄酒 , a kind of alcohol traditionally consumed on the Dragon Boat Festival to prevent diseases and evil spirits. Of course, Madame White Snake transformed into a huge white serpent after drinking. The scene of Madame White Snake got drunk and transformed into a snake was a classic plot in the story. Xu Xuan scared to death, literally died. Madame White Snake tried to save him by risking her own life to steal a magic herb and brought Xu Xuan back to life. It is the turning point when the couple really were honest to each other and bounded together. That’s the main difference probably between the original story and the variation that Xu Xuan really fell in love and trusted his wife instead of being suspicious the whole time and was with his wife out of lust and money.

However, today’s Chinese people, more affected by the TV shows and movies based on the this story, have a different understanding of the story. Firstly name wise, Xu Xian 许仙 instead of Xu Xian 许宣 is the name widely known today. Qing Qing , the green clothes maid is known as Xiao Qing 小青. Secondly, Qing Qing is known as a green colored snake spirit today instead of a fish spirit in the original story. Thirdly, in the original story, FaHai the abbot was a good guy who helped Xu Xuan to escape from Madame White Snake. Today people regard FaHai as an obstacle who tried to separate the loving couple.

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I do like the modern variations in TV series and movies better because Madame White Snake is more brave for love instead of just being an attractive woman who tried to seduce a man. And the character of Xu Xuan is also more complicated instead of just being a suspicious coward. Although I still like Madame White Snake far more better than Xu Xuan.

If you like this story, definitely check those videos and I would put some links in our website and social media. Just a reminder you probably would cry.

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Movie :

青蛇 Green Snake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBjycaw5ulk

白蛇传说 The Sorcerer and the White Snake

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asBCGCbS8LI

TV show:

新白娘子传奇 New Legend of Madame White Snake 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2162790/

Episode 61: Madame White Snake – part 3

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Today we will continue our story of Madame White Snake.

Xu Xuan used Madame White Snake’s money opened his business – a pharmacy as he used to do. Since he was a honest man, he had a lot of customers. One day he was working in the store, a monk stopped by for alms. I don’t know if you know about this kind of behaviors in Buddhism. The giving and receiving of alms is not the same as charity, it creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities. Monks periodically do alms with eating bowls in some places. Anyway, this monk was requesting money to buy incense for a Buddhism ceremony on the 7th day of the 7th month in the Temple Jin Shan 金山寺 where he was from. Xu Xuan gave him a piece of high quality incense he owned. Madame White Snake saw it and complained, “you wasted such a great piece of incense for that bald guy. He is probably going to exchange it with some meat and liquor.” You know monks are forbidden to eat meat or drink alcohol. From the words of Madame White Snake, she definitely didn’t like monks or didn’t care about Buddha. Xu Xuan said, “I gave him with my sincere heart. It would be his sin if he did some disgraceful.”

On the 7th of the 7th month, the day the monk said when the ceremony held in Temple Jin Shan, there were more people on the streets than usual. Xu Xuan’s assistant said, “remember you gave the alms for the temple? Why don’t we visit there today?” Madame White Snake said, “why are you going to the temple?” Xu Xuan said, “I have never been there and also I recently gave the alms there.” Madame White Snake replied, “fine. But please promise me three things. First, don’t visit the abbot. Abbot is the head of an abbey of monks. Second, don’t talk to monks. Third. Don’t stay there too long. Otherwise, I would go to find you.” Xu Xuan agreed and dressed up.

Xu Xuan and his assistant left for the Buddhism ceremony in the Temple JinShan. They burned incense as an offering to the Buddha and walked around in the temple. Along with the crowd, they came to the door of the abbot FaHai 法海, the head of the abbey of monks. Xu Xuan released his wife made him to promise not to see the abbot and stopped. However, persuaded by his assistant he still went in the room with the crowd.

The abbot named FaHai looks like a monk with years of practice. Compared to the previous monk Xu Xuan met, FaHai is much more powerful. The moment he saw Xu Xuan, he asked his helper to bring him. However, the helper lost Xu Xuan in the crowd. The abbot left the room to find Xu Xuan. At that moment a lot of people were all waiting for boats outside the temple to leave including Xu Xuan and his assistant. A boat was coming at a full speed. When Xu Xuan was wondering how can a boat be so fast, he saw Madame White Snake and Qing Qing on the boat and shouted to him to get on board. Xu Xuan heard somebody’s harsh voice from his back, “what are you doing here you beast” It was the FaHai the abbot. “How dare you to harm the living creatures in this world.” Madame White Snake and Qing Qing tipped over the boat and disappeared. You might wonder why Madame White Snake didn’t confront FaHai like last time with a monk. Because FaHai is more powerful. She knew she wasn’t a match for him. Xu Xuan knelt down and thanked FaHai for saving his life.

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Xu Xuan arrived home and didn’t see Madame White Snake and Qing Qing. This time he was sure that they are bad spirits. He decided to pack everything and go back to HangZhou 杭州, his home town and visited his sister and brother in law. His brother in law complained that, “why didn’t you tell us you got married? A couple of days ago, a lady with her maid came here and addressed herself as your wife and they are waiting for you here.” Xu Xuan was shocked to see Madame White Snake and Qing Qing again. He knelt down and begged Madame White Snake, “I don’t know who are you are what are you. But please bear my life.” Madame White Snake said, “what are you talking about? We have been married couple for a while. I never did anything to hurt you and don’t own you. I am treating you with my whole heart while you are suspicious and trust other people. To be honest, I will make my final words today: if you trust me everything will be fine. If, however, you got suspicious, I will let the whole city be flooded and everyone would suffer.” Xu Xuan was trembling and couldn’t make a sound. Qing Qing tried to make him feel less worried, “Madame loves you very much. Because you are not only good looking but also have a good heart. You don’t have to worry about anything as long as you two get along.”

Xu Xuan’s sister and brother in law heard the sound of the couple’s argument and after Madame White Snake fell asleep talked with him. He eventually told them everything happened since he met the Madame White Snake. They looked through the window, on the bed, a huge huge white serpent was sleeping on the bed.

What will happen? You will find out in our next episode, which is finally the end of this story.

Episode 60: Madame White Snake — part 2

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Today we will continue our story of Madame White Snake. Last time we talked about how Madame White Snake and Xu Xuan met and fell in love. Madame White Snake offered money for their wedding.

Xu Xuan accepted the money. Who not? A beautiful woman wanted to marry him not to say she was rich. To convince his sister, he gave the money from Madame White Snake and told her that it was his savings and he was thinking about marrying a girl with it. Hope his sister would support. His sister showed the money to her husband. He shouted, “Oh crap! We are going to all die.”

Why? He explained to his wife that, “I heard a few days ago, the official bank lost some money where nobody could find any signs of breaking in. Now the government is looking for the thief all over the town. The number printed on the lost money are exact the same with those money! We are having troubles.”

Not surprisingly, after a couple of days, Xu Xuan was arrested and beaten. He confessed everything that how he met the Madame White Snake and the money was from her. He was escorted to the the house of the Madame White Snake. Unlike a mansion Xu Xuan visited before, it was an old abandoned house with garbage around and a bamboo blocking the gate. The neighbors saw the sheriff investing this abandoned house, saying that, “we never heard about the so called Madame White Snake. The family lived here all died 5~6 years ago. Now it seems like is haunted and nobody dared to step inside except a maniac sometimes sing at the gate a couple days ago.” The sheriff let people help clear the gate. A stinky smell came out. Xu Xuan was too shock to move. An impulsive guy called Wang Er 王二 in the crowd lead the way into the house. Everywhere was covered by dust, When they walked upstairs, opening the bedroom door, a beautiful woman wearing white dress siting on the bed. The crowd were terrified to walk any closer. Somebody shouted, “no offense but we don’t know if you are a goddess or a ghost. We are here to ask you help with the case about Xu Xuan.” The lady didn’t move or talk. The same impulsive guy who led everyone in the house shouted, “why are there any people brave enough to check out? Bring me some alcohol, I will catch her.” He gulped a bottle of liquor and threw the empty bottle towards the bed. Boom! The lady disappeared but a pile of shinning money left on the bed. After counted, it was all the money lost from the government bank. The sheriff called the end of the case and Xu Xuan was sentenced to penal labor for a period of time in another city called SuZhou 苏州.

Through bribery by Xu Xuan’s brother in law, Xu Xuan wasn’t sent to the prison but stayed at a hotel for the period of time in SuZhou. He missed Madame White Snake and wondered where she went. He also missed home. After almost half a year, a maid came to the hotel for Xu Xuan. Xu Xuan came out and saw Madame White Snake and her blue dress maid. He felt embarrassed and complained, “you know how much I suffered because the money you stole? Why did you go? Why do you just show up here now?” Madame White Snake said, “please don’t blame me. I will explain to you. Let’s talk inside.” Xu Xuan was panicked, he shouted, “you are a ghost. You are not welcome here.” I mean Xu Xuan missed her for sure and it is understandable that he was afraid and alert after all that bazaar experiences. She said, “how can I be a ghost if I have a shadow under the sun. I was blamed for what my past husband’s behavior. It was not my fault. I don’t want you misunderstand me. I will leave after I explain everything.” The host of the hotel invited her inside to talk with Xu Xuan.

Madame White Snake said, “my husband left me the money after he passed away and I offered it to you. I have no idea where the money is from.” Xu Xuan was suspicious and asked, “how do you explain your mansion became an abandoned house? How do you explain that you disappeared from the bed in front of the crowd?” She explained, “I already heard you were arrested because of the money. I was scared to be involved and I was hiding in my aunt’s house before the officials arrival. The neighbors were covering for me by saying the lies about the house. ” Xu Xuan seemed believed her and said, “you were safe however I was sentenced to prison.” Madame White Snake said, “I left the money on bed and assumed you would be fine. I didn’t expect they still thought you were guilty. Now I explained all and I will leave since it looks like we can’t get married anyway.” The host of the hotel saw this situations and tried to convince them to stay together. With the help of the host, they finally got married on the 11th day of the 11th month. They had a pleasant few months after the wedding.

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The next year, on the 15th of the second month, it was the day people visit the Buddha in the temple. Xu Xuan was curious and joined the crowd to the temple. A monk selling medicine and amulet saw him and said, “I can see a black cloud hovering your head. You must be haunted by some ghosts. It looks pretty serious. This two amulets can help. Burn one amulet during the midnight and put another one in your hear.” He thanked the monk and thought, “I am suspicious of my wife too. So now it is the fact.”

That night, after Madame White Snake and her maid Qing Qing went to bed, he put one amulet in his hair and when he was about to burn the other one, he heard a sigh from Madame White Snake, “you and I are married for a while. You still don’t feel close to me but to trust other people’s rumors about me. Look what you are doing now. Burning amulet during the midnight to harm me.” She grabbed the amulet and burned it herself. Nothing happened. She said, “what do you say? Am I a ghost?” Xu Xuan was a coward, he replied right away, “it was none of my business. There was a monk in the temple told me so.” Madame White Snake said, “show him to me tomorrow. I will see what kind of monk he is.”

The next day, after dressing up, Madame White Snake followed Xu Xuan to the temple where they saw a monk was surrounded by people who were waiting for the amulets. Madame White Snake walked straight to the monk and spoke loudly. “how ungraceful! A monk was talking some nonsense to my husband that I was a ghost.” The monk replied, “I am just doing the right way. Whatever the ghost is would reveal the real shape after eating my amulet.” Madame White Snake said, “fine. In front of everyone here who are the witness, I will eat your amulet now.” The monk then handed one to her. Nothing happened afterwards. The witnesses all said , “why would you say this lady a ghost?” Madame White Snake said, “I learned some tricks as a kid. Now I will try it with this monk.” Accordingly, she was murmuring something. People looked up, the monk was curled into a ball and floating in the air as somebody was holding him. “Thank you for everyone’s help.” She blew some air and the monk landed on the ground.

Xu Xuan was shocked the whole time. The couple’s life was back to normal. All the expenses of the household was from the Madame White Snake. They had another pleasant few months.

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What will happen? We will continue in our episode.