Episode 117: Well God

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There are Six Households Deities in Chinese mythology. We have talked about five of them Kitchen God (Ep 26), two Door Gods (Ep 11) and Lord of the Soil and Ground (Ep 68) and Toilet Goddess (Ep 111). Today we will talk about the last one – Well God.

It is said some of the earliest evidence of water wells are located in China. Archaelogical evidence and texts prove that the prehistoric Chinese had the skills of digging water wells as early as 6000 to 7000 years ago.


In Chinese mythology, there is a man called Yi 益 that is credited with the invention of digging wells from the prehistorical time. There are some different gods related with wells people worship in different parts of China. However, today we mainly talk about JingQuanTongZi 井泉童子 from the Six Households Deities. He is mostly worshipped in the southeastern coast of China. Jing means wells, quan means springs and tongzi means kids. So the Water Well God looks like a young boy.


In the book ZiJingWen 责井文 from the Song dynasty 宋朝 between the year 960 ~ 1279, it says, one summer drought lasted for months, all the wells were dry. One man started the blame the wells. At night, he had a dream where he saw a boy covered by dirt and his lips were chapped. The boy said, “I am the Well God .Who makes your pots and clothes clean? Who makes your writing brushes wet that you can write? Who fills your wine glass that you can enjoy under the moonlight? I have been helping you for so long. Now you are blaming me. ”


Worshiping Well Gods was popular for centuries in China. During the Qing dynasty 清朝, in the place SuZhou 苏州, on the new year’s eve in lunar calendar, people would put the idol of the Well God in a sieve made of bamboo and covered it with something. Then place it in on the edge of a well. This ritual means the well is closed for now and nobody could get water. This lasted for a few days until the third or the fifth day of the new year, there was ceremonies of “opening the well” including sacrifice food. It is a way to represent the gratitude of the well over the whole year.



责井文 ZiJingWen

Episode 116: Three – Season People

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Today we will talk about a story which was popular in the hometown of Confucius however I am not sure it is really related to Confucius 孔子 and I think it is made up by people because it is not written in the book Analects 论语, which is a collection of sayings and ideas of Confucius and his contemporaries written during the year 475 ~ 221 BC.

For people who don’t know about Confucius, he was a Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher between the year 551 to 479 BC from the Spring and Autumn period. His theory known as Confucianism emphasized morality of social relationships. He is one of the most important people in shaping Chinese, Asian and human history.

Hope this story can help you not be bothered by certain things and people in the new year.

One morning, one of Confucius’ students ZiGong 子贡was sweeping the floor in the yard. Somebody knocked on the door and asked, “are you Confucius? ” ZiGong replied, “what do you want to get help with?”

“I want to ask a question about time”

“I know the answer”

“How many seasons are there in a year?”

“Four seasons” ZiGong said.

“No! There are three seasons.”

They both were sure about their opinions for a while until Confucius came out.

ZiGong came up and let Confucius to give the answer.

Confucius didn’t say anything at first and then after a while he said , “there are three seasons in a year. ”

The visitor was glad and left the house with a smile.


ZiGong asked Confucius ,”how many seasons are there exactly in a year?” Confucius replied, “four seasons.” ZiGong was confused.

Confucius explained, “now is different from a moment ago. Did you see that man that wearing green? He was a cricket spirit. Crickets are born in the spring and die in the fall. They never see the winter. If you talk about seasons with him, your discussion wouldn’t end in another three days. ” ZiGong nodded.

Although this is a myth and probably has nothing to do with Confucius, there is a saying from the book ZhuangZiJiShi 庄子集释 from the year 476 ~ 221 BC that there is no need to talk about ice with a summer bug 夏虫不可语 冰.


I think everyone is a summer bug in certain scenarios and if we know and understand more about people that we communicate with, the communication would be more efficient. And if we stand from other people’s shoes, we would understand, respect, and tolerant others more. Everything is relative because we are all three- seasoned people.



论语 Analects

庄子集释 ZhuangZiJiShi

Episode 115: Chinese Cinderella

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Everyone knows about the story Cinderella and besides Disney most people probably know it from the German story called Aschenputtel from Brother Grimm published in 1812. There is a story in Chinese mythology from the 9th century almost 90% similar to the Cinderella. Today we will talk about this version.

Even this Chinese version of Cinderella came centuries earlier than the version from Brother Grimm, it is still not the earliest version. According to Marian Rolte Cox, there are more than 340 variations of this story from all over the world including Europe and Asia. Some historians think since in the Chinese version of the story mentioned was from a person from GuangXi province 广西, in the southwest border of China, this story was likely from overseas. Especially there is a version from Africa that mentioned the ancient city Memphis, so some historians think the earliest version probably originated before the century.

Today we will talk about the Chinese version of Cinderella from the book 酉阳杂 俎 Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang from around the year 803~863 during the Tang dynasty 唐朝.

It says, long before the Qing dynasty 秦朝 and Han dynasty 汉朝, there was a community of cave-dwellers called WuDong 吴洞. The head of the community Mr. Wu had two wives. One of his wives died who had a daughter called YeXian 叶限.


She was a smart girl and was gifted in skills like panning gold. He loved the daughter very much until he died.


YeXian was raised by her stepmother who treated her poorly that she was ordered to cut woods in the dangerous forests or get water from the deep well.



One day, YeXian got a fish around 7 cm long with golden eyes and red scales. She kept it in a bowl of water. Day after day, the fish was too big for the bowl that she moved the fish to the pool. Whenever, she got extra food, she would feed it all to the fish. Every time YeXian walked passed the pool, the fish would stick the head out of the water which never happened to anyone else.


One day, the stepmother found out about the fish and tried to feed the fish however the fish still didn’t show up. She lied to YeXian that, “you worked so hard and must be tried. I made a new shirt for you. ” So she got YeXian’s old shirt. Then she ordered YeXian to get water from miles away. Wearing YeXian’s shirt with a sharp knife, the stepmother walked next to the pool and this time the fish thought it was YeXian and stuck head out of the water while the stepmother killed the fish. The fish was as long as 3 meters and the stepmother cooked the fish. The taste was so uniquely amazing. Then she buried the fish bone in the dunghill.


The next day, YeXian went to pool to check the fish and the fish didn’t come out to greet her. She felt worried and started to weep when someone wearing all white linen came from the sky and told her, “please don’t cry. Your fish was killed and eaten by your stepmother! The fish bone is buried in the dunghill. You can get the fish bone and hide in the room. If you ever need anything, just pray to it, it will fulfill all your wishes. ” YeXian followed the words and got gold and food whenever she wished for.



On a festival, the stepmother joined the celebration with her own daughters and forced YeXian to stay at home. YeXian waited at home for a while after her stepmother left, and put on gorgeous clothing made of feathers and golden shoes and joined the celebration as well. Her stepdaughter saw her at the party and told her stepmother that there was a girl looked like YeXian. Her Stepmother got suspicious as well. So YeXian left the party in a rush accidentally leaving behind a golden shoe. The golden shoe was picked up by a local peasant When her stepmother returned home from the party and found YeXian fell asleep under a tree. So She thought it was impossible that YeXian was in the party.


The community they lived was next to an island, on which there was a kingdom called TuoHan 陀汗. The kingdom has a strong army that they are in charge of many other islands. The person who picked up the golden shoe sold the shoe to someone in the kingdom TuoHan and in the end it went to the king.

The king first let people in the palace to try on the shoe and it was small even for the person with the smallest feet. Then he let every woman in his kingdom try on the shoe and nobody fit. The shoe was as light as a feather and doesn’t make any sound when you step on rocks. So in this version the shoe was a golden shoe instead of the well-known glass shoe. Some people think it might a mistake when it was translated from French to English. The shoe could be related to feathers cause in French it was made of vair meaning feathers and could be mistaken as verre meaning glass. The king arrested the man who sold the shoe and threatened him however he didn’t know where the shoe was from either.


The king thought maybe someonst the shoe and searched every house. In the end, they found YeXian and it perfectly fit her. YeXian put on her clothing made of feathers and golden shoes looking like a fairy. She told everything happened to her to the king. The king brought YeXian and the fish bone back to his kingdom and married YeXian as the queen. Of course, the stepmother and her daughters got punished by stoning. People buried them and called it “the Tomb of the Regretful Women ”.


One year, the king was kind of greedy and prayed to the fish bone, he got tons of gold. The next year, he prayed again and got nothing. The King buried the fish bone on the seaside and planned to pay for army in the future. However, only one night, the place was under the sea.



Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang 酉阳杂 俎

Episode 114: The Snail Girl

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In the ancient China, in the agriculture society, men worked in the fields and women stayed at home and took care of the households. In that case, men had strong need to have a wife to share the workload of daily life like cooking and raising the offspring. Today we will tell a famous Chinese folklore and you can say it is a daydream of a man.

In the book SouShenHouJi 搜神后记 from around the year 400, it says during the reign of Emperor An of Jin 晋安帝, there was a man named Xie Run 谢瑞. He was an orphan and was raised by the neighbors. When he was around 18 years old, he was still single. He worked hard from day to night vigorously in the fields. He was diligent and able.


One day, he found a huge snail outside and kept it in a jar at home. Since then, everyday when he came back home from work, he saw hot plates with delicious food on the table. At first he thought it might be the neighbors who brought the food and went to thank them. The neighbors said, “I think it is your wife cooked for you.”

The man was confused since he had no wife. So one day instead of going to work, he hid behind he fence and sneaked to the house to find out the truth. After a while, he saw a young lady walked out of the jar and started cooking. The man couldn’t wait but entered the house asked, “where are you from?” The young lady was panicked and tried to go back to the jar but was in vain.


She replied, “I am the lady from the white water 白水素女. The emperor of the heaven pitied you and let me to help you with cooking. Now you saw me I can no long stay here anymore. But you can keep the snail shell in your rice bag that your rice would never run out. ” The man begged her to stay but she couldn’t. Suddenly it started the rain, the snail girl flew away with the wind.

In some folklore, the man married the girl in the end because she came to help him because he saved her in their last lives.

There are temples for Snail Girl in some areas of the Province FuJian 福建 that she could protect sailors and fishermen. In Chinese today, people used the word “snail girl” 田螺姑娘 for people who takes care of cooking and other trolls in the households.



搜神后记 SouShenHouJi

Episode 113: Braying At A Funeral

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People always plan their weddings. But have you thought about what kind of funeral you want ? Today we will tell a short story about a funeral.

It is from the book A New Account of the Tales of the World 世说 新语, a book complied and edited during the Liu Song dynasty 刘宋 around the year 420 to 479. The book contains more than 1000 historical anecdotes of more than 600 people who lived in the Han dynasty and Wei-Jin 魏晋 periods. It is one of my favorite books and we have talked about some stories from it so far.


I especially like the stories about the scholars from the Wei-Jin period around the year 220 to 589. It was a time with messy economics and politics however art and philosophy were extremely popular since people were questioning Confucianism and instead, they pursued spiritual and physical freedom. In the book A New Account of the Tales of the World , there is even a whole chapter about those handsome and cool gentlemen during the time. We will definitely talk about them in the future.

Today’s story is about a man’s funeral. He is called Wang ZhongXuan 王仲宣 from the year 177 to 217, an official , scholar and poet during the late Eastern Han dynasty 东汉. He made a great contribution to the establishment of laws.


It says, Wang ZhongXuan had a hobby which was he liked donkeys’ braying- hee-haw. After his death, CaoPi 曹丕, King of Wei attended his funeral and told everyone, “Mr. Wang liked the braying of donkeys. We should do braying as the last farewell to him.” So at the funeral of one of the most important people of the region, everyone presented did a “ hee-haw.”


I don’t know if Wang ZhongXuan was happy or not if he knew that. I hope he liked it. I remembered when I read this story as a kid, I was thinking what a cheesy and inappropriate joke. Maybe because funerals for me and most Chinese people were a serious and heavy topic. Now I have a different thought. I feel touched by how other people respected the dead and would do the braying. Like the Mexicans say, life is a game. So why not have some fun at the funeral?


世说新语 A New Account of the Tales of the World