Episode 199: Are You A Ghost?

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Today we will talk about a story of who is the ghost. The story is from the book ErShiLu 耳食录 from the Qing dynasty 清朝 around the 18th century.

In the book, it says, in the place called YunYang 云阳, there was a forest where it was believed that many ghosts and spirits wondering around and scare people away even during the day time.

One day, a strong young man let’s call him Mr. A walked passed the forest. He was so scared to encounter a ghost. Suddenly, another young man let’s call him Mr. B started to chase after him. Mr. A was so afraid and shouted, “ghosts! Ghosts” as he was running away. However, he was tripped over by grass and almost hurt his feet. Meanwhile, Mr. B caught him and helped him get up. He said, “don’t be scared.” Mr. A didn’t hear what he said and start punching him thinking he was a ghost. Mr. B then shouted, “ghost! Ghosts!” and fought back.

While they were fighting, a man wearing headband came and asked what they were fight for. Mr. A and Mr. B both pointed the other and said, “ghost! Ghost!” The man with headband smiled and said, “you are both tricked. There are no ghosts.” Mr. A and Mr. B explained themselves what happened and apologized. Then Mr. A and Mr. B said, “now we have three people. Let’s be companions and walked together. We won’t be scared this time.”

They didn’t walk very far when they heard the man with headband laughed behind them, “you guys are so magnanimous! You aren’t afraid a ugly man like me. ” Mr. A and Mr. B turned around and saw the man with headband became a giant and half black and half white. Both of them crawled on the ground and yelled again, “ghosts! Ghosts!” Then the ghost disappeared.





耳食录 ErShiLu

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 150: Tiger’s Ghosts

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Today we will talk about a kind of ghost in Chinese mythology who works for the tigers. The name of the ghost is 伥Chang.

In the book Taiping Guangji 太平广记, a collection of stories complied in the early Song dynasty 宋朝 around the 10th century, it says Chang are the ghosts that were eaten by tigers and they work for the tigers. It kind of similar to zombies or vampires that when you are killed by them, you become them. The difference is that Chang are not tigers but help the tigers to hurt more people.


In the book KuiCheZhi 睽车 志from the Song dynasty 宋朝, around the 12th century, it says, before the tiger arrived, the ghosts Chang would arrive first and broke hunter’s traps. The solution is to put plums on the ground since the ghosts Chang like to eat sour food and forget their missions. In this way, the tiger can be caught.

There are many stories about the ghosts Chang in Chinese mythology and when I was a kid I always felt creeped out of them. We will tell a couple of these stories.

The first story is from the book YiWenZongLu 异闻总录. It says, during the reign of Temur Khan in the Yuan dynasty 元朝, around the 13th century, there was a doctor from the province Jiangxi called Lin Xingke 林行可. Since he was a very skillful doctor, people always invited him to their him for appointments. One night, an old lady asked him to come with her for an appointment, Dr. Lin followed the old lady for miles and came to a forest. The old lady said, “please wait here for a moment. I will go and tell the patient to meet with you.” Dr. Lin was confused and thought, “who would live in the forests?” Under the dim moonlight, he barely could see the old lady but he saw her walking into a tomb in the woods and disappeared. Dr. Lin was more confused and started to worry. Coincidentally there was a temple not far away, he ran into the temple and closed the gate. Meanwhile, he saw the old lady came out with a tiger. They walked around and looked for him. The old lady sighed and said, “what a pity. I have been planning this for three years but you ran away.” Dr.Lin was too scared too breathe and waited in the temple until the sunrise. After that, he refused any appointments in other people’s houses.


The second story is the nightmare of my childhood and it is from the book JianChanBiJi 廛笔记 from the Qing dynasty 清朝 around the 19th century. It says, there was an old man. His wife, first son and daughter in law were eaten by tigers one by one. One night, his second son had a dream that his past mother told him there was gold under a tree on the mountain. He should go to dig the gold out and wouldn’t worry about money for the rest of his life. Later they found out his mother became a ghost Chang after being killed by the tiger and she was helping the tiger to trick the son to go to the place so the tiger could eat him although it was her son. Luckily, the son survived and the tiger was caught by the father. The mother regretted afterwards and went to the hell to work for the King of hell.




太平广记 Taiping Guangji

睽车志 KuiCheZhi

异闻总录 YiWenZongLu

趼廛笔记 JianChanBiJi

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 76 : Ghost Festival

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It is almost the time of the Ghost Festival and today we will talk about this special day in China. We talked about the Day of Death in our podcast before and it is a little similar to but not quite the same to Ghost Festival. If you want to know more about the Day of Death, please check our episode 38.

The main difference between Day of Death and Ghost Festival for me is that I feel like most ceremonies are held during the day on the Day of Death however most ceremonies held during the night on the Ghost Festival. So when I think of Day of Death, I would think about picnic on a refreshing spring day visiting the cemetery. However when I think of the Ghost Festival, I think about some scary ghosts wondering on the streets during night time.


Ghost Festival 鬼节, is also called ZhongYuan Festival 中元节in Taoism and YuLanPenHui 盂兰 盆会in Buddhism, which is on the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. This year it will be on August 25th.

There are different origins about the festival due to the influences of folklore, Taoism and Buddhism. In the folklore, there are two reasons to have a festival on the 15th of the seven month in the lunar calendar. First, it is the end of the summer and the start of the harvest season when it is the time to sacrifice and worship the land. Second, the 15th of month is usually the full month and the moon is a sacred sign in the ancient time.



In Taoism, the festival is called ZhongYuan Festival. Zhong means middle. Yuan means basic or the top. There are three officials in Taoism called SanGuanDaDi 三官大帝 which are TianGuan 天官, the official of heaven, DiGuan 地官, the official of the ground, ShuiGuan 水官, the official of the water. DiGuan is in the middle who is in charge of pardoning sins. The origin of ZhongYuan Festival is said on the birthday of DiGuan, the official of the ground. On this day, the ghost gate in the underworld is open. We talked about the underworld and ghost gate in our episode 12 you can check it if you are interested. The ghosts and spirits have this day to come out to our world and it is kind of like in the movie Coco. If the spirits have families alive, they can visit them.


In Buddhism, the festival is called YuLanPenHui which is from the Sanskrit word Ullambana from the Ullambana Sutra. Ullambana means being hung upside down in sanskirt meaning the pains in life is like we are hung upside down on the tree. In the sutra, it says Mulian asked the Buddha to relieve the suffering of his past mom as a hungry ghost. His mom had been greedy with money and after death, she was at the realm of the Hungry Ghosts that they could not eat. The Buddha informed him that food offered to the community of monks at the time of their return from the summer retreat will benefit 7 generations of his ancestors. Mulian raised his mom to reincarnate to human by giving food and robes to 500 monks.

Since the Buddhism story is about filial piety which is an important part in Chinese culture including Taoism and Confucianism, the rituals of the festival includes descendants burning incenses, preparing food offerings, burning joss paper for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Different from the Day of the Death, instead of going to the cemeteries, people would burn joss paper just on the streets because the spirits are visiting us. The ceremonies are usually held in the afternoon or at night when the ghosts are released.


Think about how scary it is for a kid thinking about spirits and ghosts are wondering on the streets. I remember after school on the Ghost Festival, I could see a lot of people just burning joss paper on the streets maybe talking to the spirit and the name of their ancestors so they can find families and receive the money. Grow ups would warn us that do not wonder around on the streets that day after school since we would be likely encounter ghosts. Shops closed early that they want to empty the streets for the ghosts. There are some taboos like don’t look back that day if somebody call you or pat on your shoulders. Pat your shoulders, exhale and rub your shoes before you enter home just in case you are haunted by some bad spirits on your body.

Another traditions on the Ghost Festival is float water lanterns usually in the shape of lotus flower on water to direct the spirits and ancestors back to the underworld.



鬼节 Ghost Festival

中元节 ZhongYuan Festival

盂兰 盆会 YuLanPenHui

Ullambana Sutra