Episode 180: Family Destiny

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Today we will tell a story that always reminds me of Oedipus from Greek mythology. The story is from the book YiYuan 异苑, a book of collections of stories about the supernatural from the Southern Dynasty 南朝, around the 5th century.

It says, during the Jin dynasty 晋代, around the 3rd century, in the place called LeAn 乐安, there was a family of Peng 彭. The family had been hunting for generations as their jobs. One day, the father and the son went to hunting in the mountains. Suddenly, the father fell off on the ground and became a white deer. The son was shocked and didn’t know what happened but crying. The white deer jumped around and ran away into the woods.


Since then, the son never hunted again. Maybe he was traumatized but I think the main reason is that he didn’t want to hunt and hurt the white deer that was his father. The son had a son. So the grandson hunted and one day, he shot a white deer. Between the deer horns, there was a Taoism symbol along with the name and date of birth of his grandfather. The grandson realized he killed his “grandfather” and burned his bows and never hunted since then.

In Tibet, some people don’t eat fish because there is water cremation. This is more extreme. The father turned into a deer right in front of the son. The son tried his whole life to not to hunt but the father was eventually still killed his descendant. I don’t know what it means exactly and people may have different understandings. Maybe it can be simply explained as destiny. Maybe it can be explained from the perspective of psychoanalysis as how Sigmund Freud interpreted Oedipus from Greek mythology about the sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex or even grandparent in this story. Maybe it is about the old will eventually replaced by the new. This leaves you to think about it.



异苑 YiYuan

Episode 106: Debt Collector

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When we talk about debt collectors, we would think of somebody whom we owe money to. In Chinese culture, in a lot of ancient literature, you can see sometimes the parents call their children debt collectors since children are a huge investment that you probably can hardly get paid back financially especially. It is believed that children were the debt collectors from the last life that parents need to pay back in this life. Today we will tell two stories about how parents are paying back to their “debt collectors” and both of the stories are from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异from the Qing dynasty 清朝.

The first story says there was an accountant working for a prestigious family. Over the years, the accountant had a good fortune himself. One day he had a weird dream that a person came to him and said, “you own me 40000 bucks. Pay me back as soon as possible.” The accountant didn’t have a chance to talk in the dream that the person walked into his home.

When he woke up, his wife gave birth to a son. The accountant was thinking perhaps his son was that person in the dream that asked him for money. He accepted the fate that he would pay back the money by using it for his son. So he put away the money 40000 bucks just for his son’s expenses.

When his son was around 3 or 4 years old, the accountant found that there was only 700 bucks left. The nanny came with his son and the accountant joked with his son saying, “your 40000 bucks is almost used up. What are you going to do?” After the words, his 3 year old son’s face changed and suddenly died. The accountant buried his son and used up all the rest of the money.

The author commented that in the old time, there were old people who have no kids asked help from the monk, the monk answered, “you don’t own other people’s money and nobody owes you money. How can you have kids?”

The second story will be another example of the monk’s words. It is even weirder and scarier. It says there was a man called Liu XiChuan 柳西川 from the place JiaoZhou 胶州. He had a son in his 40s. Mr. Liu spoiled his son so much that he would do anything for him. Of course, the son became an bad behavior person when he grew up. He lived a luxurious life with his dad’s money and spent all the savings.


Later, the son got sick. He told his father if he ate the donkeys he raised, he would get better. Mr. Liu didn’t want to kill the donkeys. The son curved his father and became more ill. Mr. Liu didn’t have choice but killed the fattest donkey to feed his son. The son only took one bite and didn’t want to eat at all. Plus, his became more ill and died not too long after that.


Three or four years later, a group of people from Mr. Liu’s village visited Mountain Tai 泰山. When they were climbing the mountain, they saw a man riding a donkey who looked exactly like Mr. Liu’s died son. The man saw them and bowed and asked how they were doing. The villagers were all shocked however nobody dared to asked him about his death. They just asked him, “what are you doing here?” Mr. Liu’s son replied, “nothing much just wondering around.” He asked which hotel the villagers lived and promised to meet them the next day to catch up and then he left with the donkey.


The villagers were confused but waited for him the next day. Mr. Liu’s son visited as expected with his donkey. He laughed and talked with the villagers. Some people said, “your father missed you every day. Why don’t you go back and visit him?” Mr’ Liu’s son asked surprisingly, “who’s my father?” The villagers said, “Liu XiChuan, your father.” Mr. Liu’ son stopped laughing and after a while, he said, “if he missed me, please let him know that I will be here in this hotel waiting for him on April 7th.” After the words, he left.


The villagers were more confused and told Mr. Liu the whole story when they went back to the village. Mr. Liu couldn’t believe his son was still alive and cried.


On April 7th, he arrived at the hotel. He told the owner of the hotel the reason he was there. The owner suggested, “I saw the man the other day when he talked about you. He looked pretty cruel and could be up to no good. I think you should be careful.” Mr. Liu cried and didn’t want to believe his son would hurt him. The owner said, “if you want, you can hide in the closet first just in case. You can still come out to meet him if everything is fine.” So Mr. Liu listened to the owner and hid in the closet.

After a while, the son came and asked the owner of the hotel, “did Mr. Liu come?” The owner said, “no.” The son started cursing.


The owner asked, “why are you saying those words to your father?” The son answered, “how can he be my father?! I used to trust him and had a business together with him. But he betrayed me and had all of my money and never paid me back. This time I have to kill him. He is not my father!” Following the words, he left the hotel.


Mr. Liu heard every single word in the closet and sweated so much. He was afraid to come out of the closet until the owner of the hotel told him to. After that, he ran back to his village and never wanted to mention his died son.



聊斋志异 Strange Stories from A Chinese Studio

Episode 104: Lotus Lantern – part 4

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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

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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 97: YingNing The laughing girl – part 4

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Today we will finish our story about Ying Ning , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异.

Last time, we talked about YingNing went back home with Wang ZiFu and their figured out YingNing was a fox spirit’s daughter from Mr. Wu.

Wang ZiFu’ s mother let her share a room with her daughter, she started her life in Wang’s family and took her part of duties of family. Her knitted better than any women. She laughed a lot but nobody had any problems with it and everyone liked her.


Wang ZiFu’s mother fixed a date for Ying Ning and Wang ZiFu’s wedding although she still felt suspicious about her being the daughter of a fox spirit. She tried to check YingNing’s shadow under the sun and found nothing weird.

On the wedding day, Ying Ning dressed up in all the finery of a bride. She laughed so hard that she was unable to kneel down and she was excused by people. Wang ZiFu sometimes thought his wife was too silly that would not keep the secrets between them, but she never indulged in gossip.

Whenever Wang ZiFu’s mother was in trouble or bad mood, YingNing could always make her feel better with her laugh. The servants came to ask her for help when they made some mistakes and tried not to get punishment. YingNing had a great interest in flowers. She collected all kinds of species from people she knew and even secretly pawned her jewels to buy them. After a few months the whole place was planted with flowers.


Behind the house there was a tree right next to the neighbor. YingNing always climbed up on the tree and played with her flowers and sometimes stick the flowers in her hair, for which Wang ZiFu’s mother rebuked her severely. One day, the neighbor’s son saw her and was enchanted by her beauty. YingNing didn’t try to hide but started to laught. The young man thought she was flirting with him and was much smitten with her. YingNing pointed at the wall between them and left. The young man thought YingNing meant they would have a secret date at the wall at night. So he presented at night and saw YingNing sure was there waiting for him. He was so horny and jumped onto her. The next moment he felt a deep pain in his lower body, he looked carefully, it was not YingNing but just a log of wood and he was stung by a scorpion. He died in the middle of the night.

His father sued Wang ZiFu of having a witch wife. The judge happened to be an admirer of Wang ZiFu’s talend and knew he was a noble man. Therefore, they got away any punishment. Wang ZiFu’s mother gave YingNing the last word, “I knew you would cause some troubles with your silly and naive personality. We are lucky this time. I can’t imagine if met another judge, how could your husband ever have the reputation and respect? ” This time, YingNing didn’t laugh and swore she would laugh no more. Wang ZiFu’s mother added, “everyone laughs but at the reasonable times.” However, from that moment, YingNing laughed no more even when people tried to make her though her expression was by no means sad.

One night, in front of her husband, YingNing cried. Wang ZiFu was confused. YingNing said, “I didn’t want to scare you before since we didn’t know each other for too long. Now you and your mother have been so kind to me and care about me, I will keep nothing from you. I am the daughter of a fox. When my mother went away, she asked the spirit of an old woman to take care of me with whom I grew up for over 10 years. I have no siblings and all I have now is you. Now my foster mother is lying on the hill alone and she has been depressed about it. If you could be so kind to bury her with her past husband Mr. Qin together her spirit may be at rest. ”

Wang ZiFu consented. On a selected date, the couple brought a coffin to the hill. YingNing pointed to a spot amidst the shrubs and there they dig out the old woman’s dead body. YingNing held the body and wet bitterly. Then they put the body in the coffin and buried it next to Mr. Qin’s tomb.

That night, Wang ZiFu had a dream that the old woman came to thank him. He told YingNing when he wake up. She said she saw her and was warned by her not to frighten him. He asked why she didn’t ask her to stay. YingNing replied, “she is a ghost and can’t be a good thing for her to stay too long around many alive people.” He asked about YingNing’s maid XiaoRong and she said XiaoRong was a fox spirit too. She was married now.

Since then, every year on QingMing Festival, the couple would go to visit Mr. Chin and YingNing’s foster mother’s tombs. YingNing gave birth to a son after a year who wasn’t afraid of strangers and laughed all the time just like his mother used to be.


In the end, the author commented the story, YingNing looks like an innocent and silly her that she laughs all the time. But think about the trick she did at the wall, who can compared with her? She was grateful for her foster mother, she stopped laughing but crying. My girl YingNing was trying to use her laugh to hide her real feelings. I heard there is a kind of plants called XiaoYiHu 笑矣乎, the name basically means laughing, when you smell it you would start laughing and can’t stop. If you plant this in the house, then even the silk tree. or orange day-lily can’t compare with it. Silk tree is called HeHuanHua 合欢 花 in Chinese, which literally means happy together. Orange day-lily is called WangYouCao in Chinese, which literally means forgetting the sadness. Not to say to flower JieYuHua 解语 花, full of pretentiousness. JieYuHua literally means understanding the words and it is a kind of mythical flower, which is supposed to understandable.

So the author used the names of different flowers to metaphor YingNing as the plant XiaoYiHu that her innocent and natural laugh was better than anything especially the people who know so well about social norms and following the strict rules.

In the book Strange Stories from A Chinese Studio, you can tell the author himself is a conflicted person that on one hand he pursued the main values of the society and one the other hand he values the natural spirits like YingNing.



聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio