Episode 211: Ancient Chinese Jokes 8 – Flatter And Humbleness

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Laugh is a world language. People from different cultures all have jokes and today we will continue the series in our podcast about ancient Chinese jokes and hope you can laugh or smile about it.

One of the most famous book of jokes is called XiaoFu 笑府 by the author Feng Menglong 冯梦龙, who was a Chinese writer and poet of the Ming dynasty, between the year 1574 ~ 1646. Today we will tell two jokes about flatter and being humble.

 

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The first joke says, two people met on the road. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person B accidentally fell on the slippery rainy ground. Person A helped him get up and said, “the way you fell was so graceful. Nobody else could do it.” Person B replied, “thank you! I am not as good felling on the ground as you are.”

The second joke is always about two people. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person A asked, “what’s your last name?” Person B was being humble, “no no. I am too naive and young to deserve a last name.” Person A said, “everyone has a last name.” Person B said, “the most tiny unremarkable last name of all. ” “What is it?” “Zhang” Person B finally replied. Person A said, “oh so your dad’s last name is also Zhang?” Person B said, “yes also Zhang.” Person A said, “wonderful! Wonderful! What an coincidence that the whole family all have the last name Zhang! ”

 

Mentioned:

笑府 XiaoFu

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Mentioned:

论语 Analects

庄子集释 ZhuangZiJiShi

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?

Mentioned:

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

 

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.

Episode 59: Madame White Snake — part1

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Since it is around the DuanWu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival 端午节, it is the time to tell the story of Madame White Snake or The Legend of the White Snake 白蛇传. If you want to know the reason, you need to finish the whole story. We will answer this question in the end of the story, which will take four episodes to talk about. It is considered as one of China’s Four Great Love stories. We already talked about two other stories in our podcast which are Lady Meng Jiang who cried down the Great Wall and The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid. This story still can be found in today’s Chinese operas, films and TV shows.

From the name of the story, you probably guess that it is a story about a snake lady. Like we mentioned before, snake is always related with beautiful mostly evil female in Chinese mythology kind of like Medusa in Greek mythology. This story evolved through time and definitely showed how Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism affected China.

Stories with white snake ladies could be found in a lot of books before Madame White Snake. The earliest one, some people say, might be from a story in the book LiHuang 李黄from Tang Dynasty 唐朝, recorded in the book TaipingGuangJi 太平广记 from Song Dynasty 宋朝. The earliest story was about a scholar seduced by beautiful women which turned out to be snakes. And the man was haunted by them and died in a horrible way. Those beautiful but lethal snakes are kind of like the role of siren in the western culture. The sexim idea was conveyed in the story that women are troubles, especially the attractive ones. Even in the real history, some women were blamed as the reason of the end of a dynasty even it wasn’t the truth.

In the Song Dynasty 宋朝, the story changed a little in the book 夷坚 志. This time, the story is about a guy married a girl who never let him see her body when she was taking a shower. After ten years since they got married, the husband couldn’t control himself but peeped one day after getting too much booze. What he saw was a huge white serpent in the bathtub. He ran away horror. Although his wife told him that she would never hurt him and they were back to their normal life, in the end, the husband still died of depression due to his concern and suspicion.It is kind of like the story lady in the picture we talked before. You can check Episode 19 if you never heard about it.

The real origin of the story is from the book XiHuSanTaJi 西湖三塔记. However, the more completed and interesting story was written by Feng Menglong 冯梦龙 in the book Stories to Caution the World 警世通言 from the Ming Dynasty 明朝 published in the year 1624.

During Song Dynasty 宋朝, there was a official named Li Ren 李仁 in Hangzhou. His wife had a a brother called Xu Xuan 许宣, a 22 year old young man, lived with them in the same house. This is our main character. His past parents used to own a pharmacy and Xu Xuan was in charge of the businesses after they both pasted away. It was close to the time of Qing Ming Festival, we talked about this festival in our podcast episode 38. It is the day of death when people go to the cemetery to visit their past ancestors. Xu Xuan was out shopping candles and joss paper and went to the temple. After all the errands, he was wondering around when it started raining. Qing Ming Festival is on the beginning of April which is the raining season. So Xu Xuan got on a boat to go home.

When the boat just left the deck, he heard a voice from the bank, “please let us on board”. It was from a lady with white dress trying to catch the boat. Next to her was her maid who was wearing blue dress. So the boat went back and the two ladies were able to get on board. At this moment, Xu Xuan had the chance to take look at the lady wearing white dress closely. He had never seen such a beautiful woman before, even her maid was pretty as well. The Madame White Snake addressed that she was a widow and she was visiting her past husband cemetery during Qing Ming Festival. She thanked him for waiting for them on the boat and she was sorry that she forgot to bring any money when she rushed out this morning. But she invited Xu Xuan for a cup of tea at her place if he came to visit and would pay back the ferry fee. Since it was getting late, they said goodbye to each other and left.

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It was still raining.When Xu Xuan passed a store owned by his friend, he borrowed an umbrella and headed home. While he heard somebody was calling him, it was that Madame White Snake he met earlier again. She was dodging the rain under a roof and waiting for her maid to get an umbrella from home. Xu Xuan offered the umbrella to her and said he would visit her the next day to get back the umbrella. The Madame White Snake thanked him. That night, Xu Xuan was thinking about the Madame White Snake all night and could’t fall asleep. He was in love.

The next morning, he got up really early and couldn’t focus on doing anything but thinking about the lady. Following the address, he found the neighborhood. He asked people about the Madame White Snake, nobody knew about it. Until he saw the blue dress lady walking towards him. Followed her, he was at a mansion with red curtains and paintings by famous artists on the wall. The Madame White Snake invited him for tea and then three shots of liquor. The lady said, “please come back tomorrow to get back the umbrella” So Xu Xuan went back home.

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The next day, Xu Xuan came back. She prepared another three shots of liquor and started to confess her love for Xu Xuan. She said it was a love at first sight. She wanted to be with him as a married couple forever. Xu Xuan was flattered and you know it was love at first sight for him too. However, he wasn’t rich. He told the truth to the Madame White Snake that he didn’t have enough money to marry her. The lady said, “you don’t have to worry about money. I have savings.” Accordingly, she asked her blue dress maid to get some money to Xu Xuan along with his umbrella. It probably sounds normal today that the Madame White Snake offered the money. However, it wasn’t easy for a woman to do at that time of China. She would be definitely considered as an advanced feminist.

In ancient China, and I would say it is still common today that if a couple plan to get married, it is the groom’s family pay for the wedding and also probably a new house and some money for the newly married couple. In the west, I know in some countries including the U.S it is the bride’s family to pay for the wedding. It can be a huge amount of money for a man’s family to provide for the marriage and sometimes a burden for the family. A man’s parents may spend most of their savings of the whole life.

For Xu Xuan, as a young man, he didn’t have much savings himself and he didn’t have any parents but a sister. We mentioned a little culture background in our episode 53 & 54 that extended family usually live together in China and since Xu Xuan lived with his elder sister and brother in law, they as the elders in the households, had the responsibilities to pay for the wedding. The gesture the Madame White Snake expressed her thought that “I don’t care about the traditional customs. I love you and want to be with you. If you don’t have enough money, I would pay for the wedding and everything you need to convince your family.”

What will happen? We will continue in our episode.

Mentioned:

端午节 DuanWu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival

白蛇传 Madame White Snake or The Legend of the White Snake

太平广记 TaipingGuangJi

西湖三塔记 XiHuSanTaJi

警世通言 Stories to Caution the World