Episode 104: Lotus Lantern – part 4

Click here to listen

Today we will continue the story about a brave boy who cleaved the mountain to save his mother. Last time we talked about SanShengNiang gave birth to a boy named ChenXiang and was raised by her husband and his new wife. ChenXiang found out his mother and mission at the age of 11.

The poor kid walked nobody knew how long to find the way to the Mountain Hua. He was lucky that he met an old Taoist priest on the way who had some magic powers. ChenXiang told him his story and couldn’t stop crying. The Taoist priest laughed and said, “you are the child of SanShengNiang.” and looked at him closely.

He said, “it’s not the time for revenge yet. Follow me to the Mountain TianTai 天台山 for now and learn some skills before you mission.” ChenXiang bowed and became his principle. Although ChenXiang was a kid, he was half god half human. He learned everything so fast and after three years, he could control wind and the rain, ride clouds and all the skills.

One day, he came to practice and saw some bread in shape of tiger and ox and ate all of them. He was still hungry so he ate 72 peaches from the garden. He felt so ward and jumped into the spring to take a shower. When he came out of the water, he saw a dead body on the water. His master told him, “it’s your physical body. Now you are already an immortal. What you ate just now made you have the power of tigers and ox and you can transform into 72 different forms. Here is a gold ax for you. You are ready to save your mom.”

ChenXiang thanked his master. He rode a cloud and in a second he arrived at the Mountain Hua where her mom was prisoned under. He didn’t know that and searched everywhere. He was worried and shouted, “where are you mom?” He heard a reply from deep down, “my son I am in the Cave of Dark Clouds under the mountain. There are guardians at the cave and I can’t move cause I am locked. ” ChenXiang was frustrated and picked up his gold ax and planned to cleave the mountain into half.


The Lord of the Land and Soil who was in charge got scared and led him to the cave. It was dark and wet underground. After walking for a while, ChenXiang finally saw a woman under the rocks. He kneed down and cried out mother non-stop. He handed SanShengNiang the letter she wrote when he was born and the mother and the son finally reunited after ten years.

ChenXiang told SanShengNiang how he killed the kid and his father and brother were both in jail to cover for him and how he learned form his master. As he was talking, he felt more hate about his uncle who prisoned his mother and caused all these life tragedies. He couldn’t wait to fight with him. SanShengNiang was worried about her son and told him his uncle was a powerful god. ChenXiang wasn’t scared at all and broke the chains on his mother with his gold ax.

ChenXiang asked his mother to escape with him. However, the Lord of the Soil and Land begged him that if ErLangShen found out that SanShengNiang disappeared he would be in trouble. ChenXiang decided to meet with ErLangShen himself.

He flew to the air and looked down. There are many temples on the Mountain Hua and he didn’t know which temple was for ErLangShen. When he was frustrated, he heard a sound of the bell from a temple. Here it was. ChenXiang saw clearly there were words saying the Temple for ErLangShen. He was filled with hatred and burned the temple.


ErLangShen came back and saw the ruins of his temple and asked his followers and found out his nephew was here earlier. The first thing he did was to check if SanShengNiang was still in the cave. SanShengNiang lied to ErLangShen that after ChenXiang was born, she just put the baby outside the cave and didn’t know who raised him. At that moment, ChenXiang shouted, “watch out if you are going to hurt my mother. ” He walked towards ErLangShen and bowed, “uncle, it’s your nephew ChenXiang.” ErLangShen saw the angry kid and started the fight with no doubt. ChenXiang picked up his gold ax and fought back.

ChenXiang was powerful enough to compete with ErLangShen. After several rounds of fight, they still couldn’t find the winner. There were immortals coming to help ChenXiang and gods coming to help ErLangShen. It became a massive war. Until the Jade Emperor assigned TaiBaiJingXing to gave the order to stop the war and the armistice was declared.


ChenXiang finally cleaved the mountain and freed his mother. He went back home and also freed his father and brother. Finally the family reunited.

Some of the versions have a big part about the magic lotus lantern which was belong to SanShengNiang and ErLangShen stole it. That’s why most of the modern TV shows and movies used it as the name of the story.

There is another popular version of the story that the main character is not ChenXiang but ErLangShen. ErLangShen cleaved the mountain and saved his mother.

Episode 103: Lotus Lantern – part 3

Click here to listen

Today we will continue the story about a brave boy who cleaved the mountain to save his mother. Last time we talked about SanShengNiang helped LiuXi get successful and even agreed that he could marry the daughter of the prime minister. However, herself was punished and prison by her brother ErLangShen when she was pregnant.

LiuXi had no idea what had happened to his wife. After getting married with the daughter of the prime minister, they left to the city LuoYang that he would start his new job. On their way, they arrived at Mountain Hua, LiuXi remembered SanShengNiang and missed her so much. He brought some servants with him and climbed to the top of the Mountain Hua. When they arrived the temple of SanShengNiang, everything was destroyed and ruined. He couldn’t help and crying, “SanShengNiang, I never forget our days together and everything I have now is because of you. I am here to meet with you but it is so devastating to see everything is falling apart.”

The Lord of the Soil and Ground 土地神 heard the crying and guessed it must be SanShengNiang’s husband LiuXi. We talked about the lord of the soil and land in our episode 68, a local deity in charge of a region and a community. The Lord of Soil and Ground always knows everything happened in his area. He went to see the prison SanShengNiang and told her, “your husband is here to see you. Now he is crying on the mountain and said he would rather die just to see you.” SanShengNiang heard the words and started crying. The Lord of Soil and Ground said, “I can unlock you for a while and lend you some wind that you can at least say a few words to your husband.”

SanShengNiang thanked the Lord of the Soil and Ground and left with the wind. LiuXi already left. She caught them before the horses. LiuXi noticed the horse stopped and heard crying sound in the wind and shouted, “are you an evil or a ghost? What do you want? I can help.”

SanShengNiang started to talk through the wind, “I am not an evil or a ghost but your wife. You can only hear me but can’t see me. I am in trouble now and prison in the Cave of Dark Clouds 黑云洞 under the Mountain Hua by my brother because our secret marriage. I am pregnant now and it is a torture in the cave. After giving birth, I would sent the baby to you and please take good care of the child. Now you have a new wife she is a great lady that she would be the perfect stepmom. All I wish for is that when the child grows up to save me and then we can meet that day. ” Everyone cried. She continued, “it is a long journey for you to travel to LuoNiang. I have lotus lanterns to guide you and help you draw off ghosts and evil spirits.” After that, the wind disappeared and so did the sound.

LiuXi and the whole group kept their journey. They went through mountains, rivers and whenever they met evil spirits, a red lotus lantern would appear and the light scared away all the ghosts until they arrived their destination. This made LiuXi feel more grateful and sorrow for SanShengNiang.



SanShengNiang went back to the cave and felt contractions. Not too long, she gave birth to a cute little boy. She named the kid ChengXiang 沉香, meaning the agarwood. Now you know where the name is from. She hoped one day the kid would revenge for her and free her out of the cave. She wrote a letter and asked the Lord of the Soil and Land for help to send the baby along with a letter to her husband LiuXi.

LiuXi and his new wife was in their garden one day, and saw an old man walking from the clouds. The old man handed them a baby and a letter writing the name of the baby and her wishes. LiuXi felt sorrow again about the situation of SanShengNiang.

Not too long after that day, LiuXi’s new wife had a baby too and named him LiuGe 秋哥. The two brothers got along pretty well. One year, ChengXiang was ten years old and QiuGe was eight. They were sent to school together. There was a kid in school from a prestigious family and always bullied others. One day, he laughed at ChenXiang had no mother. ChenXiang and QiuGe fought back and in the end, ChenXiang killed the boy.

The family didn’t know what to do with the threat from the dead kid’s family. LiuXi’s new wife was grateful for everything SanShengNiang did for them and also wanted to keep the promise of raising ChenXiang well and let him revenge one day. So she made a cruel decision that she let her own kid QiuGe to cover for ChenXiang. QiuGe was willing to help his brother as well and he was sent to prison to redeem his brother’s fault after hearing the story of SanShengNiang from his mom.

After QiuGe got arrested, ChenXiang finally was told about his real mother and everything happened before his birth. He was only a 11 year old kid and how could he take this dramatic change in his life. While he was digesting everything, the servant came in a rush shouted, “the death kid’s family figured out ChenXiang is the real murderer and came to catch him!” ChenXiang ran away from the home with the help of the family. However, his father LiuXi was arrested for hiding ChenXiang.

All of the sudden, the 11 year kid from a wealthy family with loving parents and brother became homeless and on the escape as well as a mission of revenge for his birth mother he never saw before.

We will continue our story in our next episode.

Episode 102: Lotus lantern – part 2

Click here to listen

Today we will continue the story about a brave boy who cleaved the mountain to save his mother. Last time we talked about a man called LiuXi 刘熙 fell in love with the goddess SanShengNiang 三圣娘 and SanShengNiang found out they were destined for marriage right before she was about to kill him.

SanShengNiang started to think about how to set up the marriage between her and LiuXi. Her brother is ErLangShen 二郎神, the god with a third eye we talked about in our episode 87. She knew ErLangShen wouldn’t agree with the marriage and would stop them. So she needed to hide from him about this marriage.

She set up a mansion like magic on the way of LiuXi and waited for him to stop by. LiuXi kept walking and it was getting dark. He needed to find a place to spend the night. There he saw a mansion in front of him and decided to try their luck.

When he approached the house, he saw an old man sleeping at the gate. LiuXi bowed and asked the old man if he could stay there for a night. The old man invited him inside and they had a great conversation over the tea. The old man said, “I have a daughter and you are single. If you don’t mind, I would like to set the marriage of you two. After the wedding, you can still go to attend the exam in the capital.” LiuXi thought, “it is still a while before the exam. It is a great chance to get married.” He replied, “if you like me so much, I can hardly say no to your offer.”

Following the words, a beautiful young lady well dressed came to meet him. LiuXi thought, “this girl looks so familiar but I can’t think of when I saw her. ” They got married soon and had great time together.

After a couple of months of newly married life, LiuXi thought of the exam and talked with his wife that he needed to leave soon. He would definitely come back for her after he got a good ranking and a position in the government. SanShengNiang said, “you have things you need to do. But I have some gifts for you. ”

She brought a writing brush made of dragon hair, a gold box for ink and a sword. She also handed him some agarwood incense. Whenever LiuXi had troubles, he could light the incense that SanShengNiang could trace the smell to find and help him. They made a promise to meet again at the Mountain Hua. The day LiuXi left, the couple cried and said farewell.

With the sorrow inside, LiuXi couldn’t even enjoy the scenery on the journey. SenShengNiang went back to her temple and missed her husband all day long especially she found out she was pregnant. She worried more to tell this whole thing to her brother ErLangShen that she secretly married some human and was going to have his kid.

LiuXi attended the exam and waited for the result. Unfortunately, he used up all the money he brought. He had no choice but to sell the sword SanShengNiang gave him. When he was selling the sword in the market, a general came by and saw it. He was surprised and questioned LiuXi, “I remember this sword is to worship the goddess SanShengNiang by the emperor. How did you get it?” LiuXi told the truth, “SanShengNiang and I got married and she gave this to me as a gift.” “Bullshit! SanShengNiang is a goddess and you are just a normal human being. How can you get married with her? You must stole it. Arrest him!” LiuXi shouted, “I am telling the truth.” The general said, “you will understand what truth is after you get beaten.” LiuXi was heavily beaten that he had to comprised and said, “I would rather say I stole the sword.” The beat stopped but he was sent to prison.

In the prison, LiuXi remembered he had the agarwood incense from SanShengNiang and lit one to wish she would help him. SanShengNiang smell the incense in her temple and flew to the capitol to see the emperor. She told the emperor, “LiuXi is my husband and now he is suffering in the prison. I did give him the sword and now he is falsely accused. Free him and assign him the first place in the exam. And give him the position of the governor of the place LuoYang 洛阳. Otherwise, the whole palace would be in trouble.” The emperor said, “please don’t get mad at us your majesty. I will follow every words of yours. ” Then SanShengNiang left like wind.

The good luck hit LiuXi suddenly. He was freed and got the first place in the exam and became the governor of the big city LuoYang. Everything changed for him. There is more. The prime minister had a 18 year daughter called Wang GuiYing 王桂英, beautiful and smart. The prime minister was willing to give the marriage of his daughter to the man who got the first place in the exam. Just to mention something here. The ancient China was a polygamy society. LiuXi didn’t know what to do and lit another incense to ask help from SanShengNiang. She smell the incense and wrote a letter to his husband that he should not miss the chance. What a lucky guy!

What about SanShengNiang? Her belly was getting more notable and could hide no more from her brother ErLangShen. ErLangShen found out his sister secretly got married with a human and got pregnant. He was so raged and punished her by taking away her magic tools and prison her under the Mountain Hua.


We will continue our story in our next episode.

Episode 101: Lotus Lantern – part 1

Click here to listen

Today we will tell a story about a brave boy who cleaved the mountain to save his mother. It is one of the most well-known stories in many ancient plays and Chinese operas and is still popular in today’s TV shows and movies.

This kid’s name is ChenXiang 沉香, which means agarwood, a fragrant dark wood used in incense, perfume and medicine formed in the heartwood of various Asian evergreen trees when they become infected a fungus. It is popular in China but it is originally from India. It is an interesting name and you will find out where his name soon.

The earliest version of the story is from a couple of Chinese operas from the Yuan dynasty 元朝. However, those original plays don’t exist any more and the story we know today is from the texts in Ming dynasty 明朝 and Qing dynasty 清朝. There are different variations of the stories. Today I will talk about the version from the text ChenXiangBaoJuan 沉香宝卷 from the Qing dynasty 清朝.


It says this story happened in the Tang dynasty 唐朝. There was a scholar called LiuXi 刘锡 from the place YangZhou 扬州. Both of his parents passed away and he was poor but ambitious. He decided to attend another round of the Imperial Exam in the capital.

He traveled from his hometown to the capital. What a long journey! One day he arrived the Mountain Hua 华山. He heard there were many temples on the Mountain Hua and he entered one of the temples. This decision changed his whole life.

The temple he entered was for worshiping the goddess SanShengNiang 三圣娘 or SanShengMu 三圣母. LiuXi not only asked the goddess for a good ranking in the exam but also before he left he wrote a poem on the wall of the temple. The poem is for the goddess that he expressed his love for her.

The goddess SanShengNiang at that time wasn’t in the temple. She was attending the bouquet held by the Queen Mother of the West 王母娘娘, we talked before in our episode 74. However, she was informed by other gods in the temple and got ashamed and raged. I think the reason can be: first she was a goddess but he was just a human. Considering the hierarchy in the ancient China, this is not appropriate. Second, it was not very moral for men and women to flirt if they were not married. Not to say LiuXi wrote on the wall that everyone could see. It probably equals to sexual harassment today. Third, temples are holy places that should be maintained well. LiuXi just wrote on the wall which was a disrespectful behavior.

SanShengNiang felt insulted. She thought, who does he think he is? How could he express his feelings to me like this and wrote it on the wall? Since she was a goddess she had power to punish LiuXi. She asked the dragon king for help and borrowed storms. She asked the help from LeiGong 雷公, the Lord of Thunder and borrowed thunder and lightening. She asked the help from FengBo 风伯, the Lord of Winds and borrowed winds.

When LiuXi left the Mountain Hua and headed to the east, he saw clouds suddenly coming towards him and then followed the thunder and lightening. He ran to a tree for shelter. SanShengNiang saw him under the tree and thought it was the perfect timing to hit him with the lightening. At that moment , someone shouted, “wait! Wait!” It was TaiBaiJingXing 太白金星, a Taoist god which is defied of the star Venus. He is the envoy of the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝. We will talk about him in our future episodes.

TaiBaiJingXing asked, “why are you trying to kill that man?” SanShengNiang told him all. TaiBaiJingXing laughed and replied, “this man can not be killed by you. You and him have the destiny of marriage. ” SanShengNiang asked the reason. TaiBaiJingXing explained, “LiuXi was a Taoist priest in his previous life. He traveled far and helped the poor. He already built this fate with you in this life. If you don’t trust me, I can show you the the book listing marriages.” We talked about the book listing marriages in our episode 20 about YueLao 月老, the matchmaker. SanShengNiang checked the book and was still confused, “he is just a human. How can we match with each other?” TaiBaiJingXing replied, “it is the fate that nothing can be changed.”

SanShengNiang was convinced. She thought, the poem was rude and inappropriate but it did show his feelings for me. I shouldn’t turn him down. Plus, it is getting bored staying in the temple, it would be fun to live like a normal human. She told TaiBaiJingXing, “if this is my fate, I have nothing more to say.” TaiBaiJingXing said, “it is great!” and disappeared.

We will continue our story in the next episode.



沉香宝卷 ChenXiangBaoJuan

Episode 100: Chinese phoenix

Click here to listen

Today is our Episode 100! Thank you for all the listeners who like and support us all the way! What are we going to talk about today?

There is a phrase in Chinese called BaiNiaoChaoFeng 百鸟 朝凤, which means hundreds of birds worshiping the Chinese phoenix. It is from the book TaiPingYuLan 太平预览 from the Song dynasty 宋朝. In the book, it mentions a scene saw by people a Chinese phoenix followed by hundreds of birds while singing, which is a good omen.


Today we will talk about the mythical creature FengHuang 凤凰, Chinese phoenix. The Chinese translation of the Greek mythical creature phoenix is FengHuang and the English translation of the Chinese mythical creature FengHuang is Chinese phoenix. So they are similar, however, quite different.

First, phoenix is associated with the sun that obtains new life by arising from the ashes and dies in a show of flames. FengHuang however, the name Feng 凤 is from the character Feng 风 meaning wind and doesn’t reborn. One represents the worshiping of the sun fire and one represents the worshiping of wind.

Second, the Greek word phoenix derives the name of its purple-red hue that phoenix is the color of red and yellow. There are variations about the coloration of phoenix. FengHuang however is five-colored.

Third, phoenix is as similar in size to an eagle or even larger than ostrich. FengHuang however, according to the historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝, is around 6 chi 尺,which is about 180 cm pretty long but also light since it is based on the a peacock or a golden pheasant.

The image and meaning of FengHuang evolved through history. The earliest description is from the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC, it says there is a five-colored bird called HuangNiao 皇鸟, or LuanNiao 鸾鸟 or FengNiao 凤鸟. The bird is in a shape similar to a chicken. It eats and drinks, sings and dances. When it is seen, the world would be peaceful.


In the book ShuoWenJieZi 说文解字from the Eastern Han dynasty 东汉时期 around the 2nd century, it says, Feng is a holy bird. It represents the wind. It has the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish , the forehead of a stork, the “whiskers” (a handful of red feathers around the neck looking like whiskers) of a Mandarin duck, the pattern of a dragon, the back of a tortoise, the beak of a rooster, and the jaw of a swallow.


In the early times, FengHuang represented power sent from the heavens to the emperors and people used the word FengHuang to represent noble people or more accurately noble men in the ancient times. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. FengHuang likes to land on the Chinese parasol tree. That’s one reason Chinese people the parasol trees.

Since the Tang dynasty, the word has been more causally used. In the early times, Feng represents the male bird and Huang represents the female bird and has the meaning of love and couples. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝 , dragon started to represent royalty and the emperor. FengHuang was gradually feminized and used to represent empresses. The dragon-and-phoenix design is the symbol of harmony relationship between husband and wife.




太平预览 TaiPingYuLan

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi