Episode 166: Ghosts’ Methods

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Some people believe the existence of ghosts and some people are afraid of ghosts. Today we will tell a story about the three tricks of ghosts usually use and maybe after it you won’t be scared away by them.

The story is 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 dyansty 清朝 published in 1788.

The story says Lord CaiWei 蔡魏公 always told people ghosts only have three tricks : the first is seducing people; the second is blocking people; the third is scaring people. People asked, “what does that mean?”

Lord Caiwei said, “for example, my cousin Mr. Lv 吕. One day he was walking on the street during the night. He saw a beautiful woman with make up walking really fast with a rope in her hands. The woman saw Mr. Lv and hid among the trees along the road.


However her rope left on the road. Mr. Lv picked up the rope and smelt it. It smelt weird and he realized the woman was a ghost who died by hanging herself. ” This is the first trick – confusing people. Mr. Lv put the rope in his pocket and kept walking. The woman walked out of the trees and blocked his way. If he walked to the left, she blocked her on the left and if he walked to the right, she blocked him on the right. This is the second trick – blocking people. Mr Lv didn’t care and walked straightforward.


The woman shouted and transformed to a long hair bloody ghost with her tough hanging out of her mouth and jumped towards him. Mr. Lv smiled and said, “you already did two of your tricks – seducing and blocking me. Now you are just trying to scare me away. I am not afraid you. What else can you do? ”


The ghost transformed back to a woman and knelled down in front of him, “I used to live in the city and after an argument with my husband I hung up. Today I heard a woman is having a conflict her husband and I am on my way to replace her so I can reincarnate. Now you got my rope I can’t reincarnate any more. Please help me sir. ” Mr. Lv asked “how can I help you?” The woman replied, “please read the Buddhism reincarnation script.” Mr. Lv read loudly, “what a beautiful world. No limit. Come and go. Why bother to find a replacement. If you want to go, why not just leave.” The ghost heard and understood something and disappeared.



子不语 What The Master Would Not Discuss

Episode 154: Nie Xiaoqian – part2

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Today we will continue one of most famous stories from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异 from the Qing dynasty 清朝 published in 1740. The name of the story is Nie Xiaoqian 聂小倩, which has been adapted into numerous films and TV series.

Last time we talked about a man called Ning Caichen stayed in an abandoned temple on his way to Imperial Exam and during the night a young girl walked into his room.


Ning Caichen was shocked and asked her what she was doing here. The girl replied, “I can’t fall asleep and would like to share a bed with you.” What a simple and straightforward excuse. What would you do then with the straightforward request from a beautiful young girl at the middle of the night? Ning Caichen replied seriously, “you should prevent rumors. ” The first thing he said was to tell her not to do something she would regret for her life. “I don’t want to have rumors too. If we aren’t principled, we would dishonor ourselves.” The girl replied, “nobody would know.” Ning Caichen shouted, “go away now! Otherwise, I would call the person living in the room next door.” The girl looked afraid and walked away. As soon as she walked out of door, she walked back and put down some gold. Ning Caichen threw the gold out of the yard and said, “the filthy money would stain my pocket!” The girl was embarrassed and left. She said to herself, “what a man with a heart of stone!”


The next morning, Ning Caichen heard there was a person staying in the east room died. There was a small hole on one of his feet like being stabbed by a drill with traces of blodd around it. Nobody knew what happened. The next day, his assistant died the same way. Ning Caichen asked Yan Chixia, who said it looked like they were killed by some evil spirits.

After a couple days, one night, the girl came back to Ning Caichen’s room again. She said, “I have seen so many people but on one is as upright as you. You have the virtues of a saint and I can’t deceive you anymore. My name is Xiaoqian and my last name is Nie Xiaoqian. I died when I was 18 and was buried near the temple. I have been controlled by some evil monster and sent to seduce people and kill them when they gave into my charms. This is not my intentions. Now there are not many people in the temple, they are coming for you. ” Ning Caishen was scared and asked her to save him. Xiaoqian suggested, “ stay with Mr. Yan and you will be fine.” Ning Caishen asked the reason. Xiaoqian said, “he is something else. I can’t get close to him.” Ning Caishen asked, “how do you seduce and kill people?” “When I make out with them, I would stab their feet with a drill and collect their blood for the monster or trick them with gold which is actually the bone of demons. Once the person takes the gold, it will deprive him hearts and guts.” explained Xiaoqian. Ning Canchen thanked her for the honesty and asked her when he should be prepared for the monster. Xiaoqian replied, “tomorrow night.” Before she left, she started to cry, “I have no one but you. You are such a upright man who saves the ones needed help. If you can collect my bones and buried in a quite cemetery, I will never forget you.” Ning Canchen confirmed the location she wanted to be buried. Xiaoqian said, “under the aspen tree where there is a crow nest. ”


The next day, Ning Canchen was afraid Mr. Yan would leave the temple and invited to him early for dinner and asked him to stay for the night. Mr. Yan said he liked to be alone and quiet. Ning Canchen didn’t care and moved his luggage to his room. Mr. Yan finally agreed and said, “I know you are a real man and admire you. However, please don’t open my box for reasons I can’t tell. Otherwise, bad things would happen to both of us.” Mr. Yan put his luggage near the windows and went to bed. While Mr. Yan was in deep sleep, the poor Ning Caichen had no way to fall asleep. Around midnight, he saw there are shadows outside the window. The shadow moved towards the window and looked inside. Ning Canchen was too frightened to breathe. He was about the wake up Mr. Yan when suddenly a bright object flew out of the box and cut through the stone window frame, shooting towards the shadow. Mr. Yan wake up and checked his box. He took out something and checked and smelt under the moonlight and then wrapped it before putting it back to his box. Ning Caichen heard him talking to himself ,“ how dare that big old monster bread my box.” Ning Caichen was amazed and told Mr. Yan what he saw. Mr. Yan said, “I am a swordsman. If it wasn’t for the stone window frame, the monster would be dead by now. The monster must be hurt pretty bad now.” Ning Caichen asked, “what is in your box?” Mr. Yan said, “a sword. It smells like demon now.”


The next morning, Ning found some blood outside the windows. He walked north and found many tombs around. As Xiaoqian said, he found an aspen tree with a crow nest. He dug out her bones from the grave and planned to take them back home.

On the day he left the temple, Mr. Yan came to see him with an old sword bag to protect him in the future. Ning Caichen expressed his wish to learn to use sword with him, Mr. Yan said, “you are an honest and upright man which would make a great swordsman. But I can tell you will have a peaceful life not a life of mine.”



聊斋志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 84 : Mid-Autumn Festival – Goddess Of The Moon

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It is almost the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节and for me it is one of the most romantic Chinese festivals because all the interesting myths about it. We will use two episodes to share them with you.

Mid-Autumn Festival is on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon at night and this year it will be on the September 24th . Some researchers think the festival was originally for celebration of the harvest in the fall. Some historians think the festival was originally for the worship of the moon which was recorded in the book LiJi 礼记 since the Spring and Autumn period. The festival started from the early Tang dynasty 唐朝 when the Emperor XuanZong of Tang 唐玄宗 held formal celebrations in the palace. The festival was as important as the Spring Festival 春节, the Chinese new year since the Ming dynasty 明朝.

Today the festival is mainly about moon worship, moon gazing and family get together. I think moon gazing is the most romantic thing to do in the world and the second is star gazing. Anyways, moon gazing started from the palace among the scholars and then became popular with normal people. There are countless poems in the Chinese history about the moon and it used to be part of the Mid-Autumn Festivals traditions to write poems about the moon in the ancient time. While moon gazing, of course we need something to snack on. YueBing 月饼, moon cakes , a round desert with stuffings like salted egg yolk , bean paste is the traditional food on the festival and it goes so well with a cup of tea. Of course there are more flavors nowadays including ice cream. Fruits and nuts are always great for worship the moon and to eat ourselves. And then we are ready for the moon gazing. This is when people start to talk about stories and myths about the moon.


We will start with story of the goddess of the moon today. Her name was originally HengE 姮娥 due to the name of the Emperor Liu Heng 刘恒 in the Han dynasty 汉朝, she was known as ChangE 嫦娥 after than. Just try to explain here, on the contrary of the western culture that people like to give the names of their kids with their own names or their ancestors’ names, in China, people actually try to avoid use the same characters in the names of their ancestors or the emperor out of respect. In the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经, it says ChangXi 常羲 and Di Jun 帝俊, of of the ancient supreme deities had 12 moons as children.


In the book ShiJing 诗经, it says, ChangE is the daughter of ChangXi and DiJun. DiJun had a minister called HouYi 后羿 that we mentioned in our episode 3, who shot down nine suns leaving one left. HouYi is also regarded as a god of archery. DiJun’s daughter ChangE married to HouYi.

In the book HuaiNaiZi 淮南子 from the Han dynasty 汉朝, it says, HouYi got the elixir of life from Queen Mother of the West 西王母. You can check out episode 74 about Queen Mother of the West if you want to know more about her. HouYi didn’t consume the elixir right away and ChangE stole the elixir of life and consumed it when her husband wasn’t at home and flew to the moon. So she wanted to be immortal however she didn’t know she would have to fly to the moon afterwards and was forced to be separated from her husband and be alone forever.


In the book ChuXueJi 初学记from the Tang dynasty, it says, after ChangE flew to the moon, she became a toad and the spirit of the moon. This also is mentioned in other books. Why did she become a toad. Some people say because the surface of the moon looks like the skin of a toad. Some people say it is a punishment for ChangE of stealing the elixir of life.


But probably most people didn’t want to accept the end of the story that a beautiful woman became a toad and that’s the god of the moon. There were more stories coming up and are more widely known today. We will talk about them in our next episode.


山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

诗经 ShiJing

淮南子 HuaiNaiZi

礼记 LiJi

初学记 ChuXueJi

唐玄宗 Emperor XuanZong of Tang

常羲 ChangXi

帝俊 DiJun

后羿 HouYi

西王母 Queen Mother of the West

Episode 81 : The Assassin Lady Nie — part 3

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In our last episode, we talked about Nie YinNiang and her husband was on the way to assassinate Liu ChangYi and changed their mind after seeing him and started work for him. We will finish our story today.

After one month or so since Nie YinNiang and her husband worked for Liu ChangYithey informed Liu ChangYi that, “our previous leader who assigned us to kill you doesn’t know what happened after we left. He will surely to send other people to assassinate you. Please cut some your hair and put it in a red silk bag. I will send it to my old leader to tell him the truth.”

In the middle of the night, Nie YinNiang came back and told Liu ChangYi , “I sent out the red bag. I am sure he would send JingJiangEr 精精儿 to kill me and you tomorrow night. I will deal with him. Don’ worry.” Liu ChangYi like always didn’t show any fear.

The next night, the house was lit up as day. In the middle of the night, people saw two flags a red and a white fighting with each other. After a while, a person fell on the ground with the body and head detached. Nie YingNiang came up and claimed that she killed JingJingEr. She liquefied the dead body as she was taught and nothing was left.


Nie YinNiang told Liu ChangYI, “after two day, Tian Ji An would send KongKongEr 空空儿 to kill us. KongKongEr is so fast that I can hardly catch him. It’s a gamble this time. You need to wear a jade around your neck and put blanket on you when you sleep that night. I will ambush near you”

The night after two days, Liu ChangYi lied on the bed and closed his eyes. In the middle of the night, he heard a loud sound Bang on his neck. Nie YingNiang came up and comforted him , “you are safe now. KongKongEr is like an eagle that I only had one change. He was ashamed of his failure and flew away.” She then checked the jade on the neck, there was a deep crack from a dagger. Liu ChangYi awarded the couple for saving his life.

After a few years, Liu ChangYi was assigned by the emperor to move to the capital. Nie YinNiang didn’t want to move there and said, “from now on I would travel around and visit and learn from the great sages. Don’t worry about me. Just give my husband a job. ” Liu ChangYi did what Nie YinNiang wanted and left.

After that, nobody knew where Nie YinNiang went until after Liu ChangYi’s death, she traveled to the capitol and cried at his tomb.


During the reign of WenZong of Teng 唐文宗, around the year 836 to the year 840, Liu ChangYi’s son LiuZong 刘纵became the governor in LinZhou 陵州 and accidentally ran into NieYinNiang one day. She looked exactly like years ago riding the same white donkey. They were glad to meet each other again.


Nie YinNiang said, “you will have a disaster here. You shouldn’t stay here” and gave LiuZhong a pill. “Don’t accept the position and go back to LuoYang. My pill can only help you for a year.” LiuZong offered some premium silk as gift for Nie YinNiang but she didn’t accept and left. LiuZong didn’t care about Nie YinNIang’s words and still accepted the official position offer. After one year, he died at LinZhou. Nobody heard about Nie YinNiang after that.

Episode 78 : The New Ghost

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Today we are going to tell a story about a newly died ghost trying to make a living. It is from the book called 幽明录 YouMingLu from the Southern dynasty 南朝 between the year 420 ~ 479.

In the book, it says there was once a newly died ghost that was super skinny. He met a ghost who was his friend that died twenty years earlier. This old ghost looked much fatter that him. The fat ghost who died earlier asked the skinny newly died ghost, “what happened to you? Why do you look like this now?”

The newly died ghost replied, “because I don’t have enough food to eat. I bet you know the tricks to get food. Please teach me.” The fat ghost said, “easy peasy. All you need to do is to scare people at their houses and they would offer you food.”

The newly died ghost came to a family on the east side of a village. The family believed in Buddhism. The ghost saw a millstone in the room and started to grind wheat. The owner of the house saw a ghost grinding wheat, instead of getting startled, he told his children, “the Buddha is so generous and sent a ghost to help our family.” Upon this, he brought more wheat and put on the millstone for the ghost to grind. The newly died ghost worked hours grinding wheat and was so exhausted. He left and complained to the fat ghost, “why are you lying to me?” The fat ghost said,“try another family. Trust me next time will work.”

The newly died ghost came to another family on the east side of a village. The family believed in Taoism. This time the ghost saw another millstone at the gate and started to husk grains. The owner of the house saw a ghost husking grains, instead of getting startled, he told his family, “this ghost was helping the other family grind wheat and today he is helping us. Bring more grains here for him.” The newly died ghost again worked hours until sunset and was so exhausted. He left and complained to the fat ghost, “why are you lying to me? I worked two days in a row without getting any food. ”

The fat ghost said,” sorry bro. It is so unlucky that these two families are either believed in Buddhism or Taoism. They aren’t afraid of ghosts or spirits. Try some other family.”

The newly died ghost came to another family on the third day. There was a bamboo pole at the gate. The ghost came inside and same a group of women eating at the windows. In the yard there was white dog whereupon the ghost held the dog up and walked in the air. The family were so shocked and brought a wizard to help them. The wizard said, “it is a ghost who is asking for food. You need to kill the dog and prepare food, wine to sacrifice in the yard. ” This time, the newly died ghost had a great feast. From then on, he never got hungry thanks to his ghost friend’s advice.

There is a saying in Chinese based on this story is YouQianNengShiGuiTuiMo 有钱 能使鬼推磨, which literally means money can make ghosts grinding wheat or in English there is a similar meaning money makes the mare go.



YouMingLu 幽明录