Episode 149: The Five Gentlemen With One Eye

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Today we will talk about a kind of ghost in Chinese mythology called The Five Gentlemen with One Eye 一目五先生 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.


We actually mentioned this book a few times but in Chinese name. The title of the book is appealing in which the master refers to Confucius. Because in the book Analects 论语, it says “Confucius did not speak of strange events, violence, riots and supernatural things.”, yet this book is about the supernaturals.

In the book, it says, there were a group of five ghosts in Zhejiang Province 浙江, of whom four were blind and only one had one eye. All relying on this one eye, the ghosts were able to see, so they were called “The Five gentlemen with One Eye.” A pandemic struck one year in the region and the five ghosts decided to take advantage of this. They always waited until people were in deep sleep and draw their noses close to sniff them. Maybe it is like sucking people’s souls. If one ghost sniffed the person, he or she would be ill. And if all five ghosts sniffed a person, he or she would die. Since four of the ghosts were totally blind, they were always aimlessly wandered around. They staggered about and all they did was to wait for the one-eyed ghost to give orders and they would comply.

There was a Mr. Qian 钱 once stayed in an inn. At night, everyone fell asleep except him. Suddenly, the candlelight went dim and he saw the five ghosts jumped into the room. The four blind ghosts were about to sniff one guest, the ghost with one eye said, “that is a very kind man. We can’t hurt him.” The four blind ghosts were about to sniff another person, but the one-eyed ghost said, “that is a very lucky man. We can’t hurt him.” Then the four blind ghosts asked, “sir please tell us who can we eat? ” The one-eyed ghost pointed two people and said, “they are neither kind nor evil, lucky or unlucky. Why not eat them? ” The five ghosts went ahead and sniffed them. In a moment, the breathe of the two people grew weaker while the belly of the five ghosts grew bigger.


Some people say this story is a sarcasm of the Doctrine of the Mean 中庸, which is a doctrine of Confucianism. Zhong means towards to neither one way or another and yong means unchanging. Part of Zhongyong is about maintaining balance and harmony and otherwise it for sure affects people’s behaviors and ways of thinking like people should obey order and follow the principles. The negative side is just like the story shows most people don’t have their own judgement like having no eyes wondering in the world and accept and follow what other people tell them to do.



子不语 What The Master Would Not Discuss

Episode 148: White Tiger

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We have talked about many mythical creatures in our podcast that most of them are from people’s imagination. Today we will talk about an animal in Chinese mythology that also exists in the real world- whiter tiger 白虎.


The real whiter tiger is a pigmentation variant of Bengal tiger from India. In the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经 from the 4th century BC, on the mountain Yu 盂山, there were many white tigers. In the book SunShiRuiYingTu 孙氏瑞应图 from the Southern dynasty , between the year 420 ~ 589, it mentions that the white tiger is a sign of good omen. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝, the fierce white tiger started represents army and appear on flags in the army and names of places where battles took place. They can be seen as the mythical god of wars. In the history, there are a few famous generals are believed to be the reincarnation of the white tiger.


Why people worship white tigers? Some historians think it is from the worshiping of stars. In the book ShangShu 尚书, a book from around 5th century BC recorded history from the prehistoric times, it says the star Mao 昴 is in the constellation of white tiger. This is related to a complex topic Twenty-Eight Mansions 二十八星宿, part of the Chinese constellations system. We need a whole episode to talk about it. I will give a general introduction here that it is similar to the zodiacal constellations in Western astronomy. Ancient Chinese astronomers divided the sky into four regions with four symbols and four mythical animal. They are Azure Dragon 青龙on the east, Black Tortoise 玄武 on the north, White Tiger on the west and Vermilion bird 朱雀 on the south. Each part contains seven mansions, which in total making of 28 mansions which is based on the cycle of 27.3 days of the moon orbiting the earth. White tiger is one of the four symbols. It is on the west.


Some historians think the worshiping of white tiger started with the people of Qiang 羌族,a Tibeto-Burman group along China’s northwestern frontier. Today, some other minority groups in China including the Yi people 彝族, Bai people 白族, Buyi people 布依族 and Tujia people 土家族 still claim to be the descendants of Whiter Tiger.




山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

孙氏瑞应图 SunShiRuiYingTu

尚书 ShangShu

Episode 147: Sunbathe Books

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In many countries in the world including Asia and Europe, people still dry their clothes under the sun. Although in the U.S., most people dry their clothes with laundry dryer due to its convenience and some laws. In the ancient time, before the washing machine and dryer were invented, people use the sun as a “natural sanitizer.”

In ancient China, people not only dried their clothes under the sun but also books as a way of maintenance and protection. I am talking about after the paper is invented. Because before the paper was invented, Chines people used Bamboo and wooden slips 简牍 for writing documents and there were other ways to protect them including waxing and sealing with mud.

Paper-making was documented in China during the Eastern Han period, between 2 ~ 220 CE attributed to Cai Lun 蔡伦and spread to Islamic world then Europe. After paper was invented, paper books came out. How to protect them especially bookworms were a huge problem. Chinese people had this idea to give books a sunbathe to prevent bookworms and these tradition has been around for more than 2000 years. In the book SiMinYueLing 四民月令, it says on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar, put books and clothes under the sun to prevent worms. During the Song dynasty 宋朝, this tradition became a get together of scholars. They put out their books under the sun and talk about poems and articles just like a book club.


Today we will tell an anecdotes from the book A New Account of the Tales of the World 世说新语, complied and edited during the year 420 ~ 479 of the Northern and Southern dynasties 南北朝. The book has more than 1000 historical mostly fictional anecdotes of people lived in the Han dynasty 汉朝and Wei-Jin periods 魏晋.

This story is about a scholar called Hao Long 郝隆 from the Easter Jin dynasty东晋, who is famous for his knowledge and humor. It says, on the 7th day of the 7th month when people take their clothes and books under the sun except Hao Long. He was having a sunbathe himself lying on his back. People asked him what’s going on. He replied, “I am sunbathing books.”




四民月令 SiMinYueLing

世说 新语A New Account of the Tales of the World

Episode 146: How To Give Birth?

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When I was a kid, I was always wondering where I was born and I am sure most people have the same experiences. In China, since sex including birth giving is a serious topic that parents usually don’t teach children. There are many weird but popular respouses out there that parents can use in China like “we found you in a garbage can.” or “you are given as a gift when we pay the phone bills.” or something closer to the truth that “I pooped you out.” or “you jumped out of my belly.”

These sayings sound bazaar however they happen in many mythological stories. Today we will tell two stories about bazaar ways of giving birth and interestingly you can find similar stories in Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom Athena was born from the head of her father Zeus. There is a similar story in Chinese mythology. In the book YiYuan 异苑, a book of collections of stories about the supernatural from the Southern dynasty 南朝, around the 420 ~ 589, it says during the reign of Emperor of An of Jin 晋安帝, between the year 405 ~ 419, there was a man called Li Xuan 李宣 from the place called WeiXing 魏兴. His wife Mrs. Fan 樊 was pregnant and she still didn’t give birth when the expected delivery date past. Instead, on her forehead appeared a wound where a baby came through.


In Greek mythology, the god of wine and fertility Dionysus was born from his mortal mother. There is a similar story in Chinese mythology from the same book YiYuan. It says, during reign of Wendi of Song 宋文帝 between the year 424 to 453, there was a man called Wu Piao 武漂 from the kingdom of Pei 沛国. His wife Mrs. Lin 林 deceased caused by diseases while still being pregnant. At that time, it was a taboo in that region to place a pregnant woman in the coffin and to avoid so the boobs of the women needed to be removed. It is for sure a devastating thing that a woman die while being pregnant but I don’t know why her boobs needed to be removed. Maybe people were worrying about messing up with the reincarnation? The mother of the diseased Mrs Lin were crying on her dead body and said, “god pity my poor daughter and don’t let her body be apart after death.” Shortly, the face of the deceased Mrs. Lin moved and looked embarrassed and also angry. Maybe she heard what her poor mother’s wish and knew what would happen to her body. People came up and held her up, after a while, a baby was born then the dead body fell back to the ground. This is such a heartbroken story. I wonder if the baby is alive or not.


I saw a news a few years ago. There is a woman in Portugal whose brain had been dead for almost 4 months and gave birth to a healthy baby.


异苑 YiYuan

Episode 145: The Civet Cat For Crown Prince – part 2

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Today we will continue the story The Civet Cat For Crown Prince.


After six years, the crown prince, son of Consort Liu died of diseases. The emperor had no son and heiress again. He selected the son from his younger brother the Eighth Prince to succeed himself. And this son was actually his own son with Consort Li who was almost got killed years ago and became the new crown prince.

Consort Liu was still the queen and this new crown prince was raised by her although she had no idea that this kid was the one she always tried to kill although she was surprised to see the kid kind of looked like the Emperor.

Until one day, the seven year old crown prince was wondering in the place with Chen Lin who saved him and gave him to the the brother of Emperor years ago. When they passed Lenggong and encountered his real mother Consort Li. Chen Lin told him about the story of Consort Li without telling him that’s his real mother however he told Qin Feng 秦凤, who served Consort Li in the palace. For some reason, the crown prince felt extremly connected and couldn’t help crying. Chen Lin worried and dragged the crown price away.

When he went back to told Consort Liu his adventure, Consort Liu began to suspect that the infant had survived years ago and this crown prince in front of her was the kid.

Consort Li, after seeing the crown prince, she was hinted that kid was his son from Qin Feng. She felt waking up from a life-long nightmare and gratefully prayed every night. This was known by Consort Liu and she had a great excuse to let Consort Li disappeared forever. She told the Emperor, “I heard Consort Li is praying every night and she must be cursing your majesty with all her anger.” The emperor heard with no hesitation, that he gave the order of forced suicide to Consort Li.

There was a servant in the place named Yu Zhong 余忠 who knew all the story about Consort Li and coincidentally he looked like her. He volunteered to die for her. He exchanged clothes with Consort Li and suicides on the white silk. On the same night, the palace was caught on fire which was set by the order of Consort Liu just to make sure Consort Li and other people who knew to truth would never bother her in the future.

Consort Li safely escaped from the palace. With years of collecting evidence with the help of Justice Bao, they finally went back to the palace and let the mother and son meet. The son was already 25 years ago and became the Emperor Renzong of Song. The Emperor Renzong eventually accepted his mother and let Justice Bao decide how to punish Consort Liu and her helper Guo Huai.


This is an interesting part. Justice Bao caught Guo Huai and tortured him to conmit his crime. However nothing came out of his mouth. They tricked him get a little bit drunk and during the night, Justic Bao dressed up as Yama, Lord of hell to play on Guo Huai’s fear of guilt. If you want to know more about Yama or Yanluo 阎罗, check out episode 12 The Underworld. Guo Huai really thought he was judged by the Lord of hell since there were people dressing up like ghosts. He confessed all the crime and got punished as he deserved and so did Consort Liu.



The Three Heroes and Five Gallants 三侠五义