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 153: Nie Xiaoqian – part1

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Today we will talk about 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.


In the book, it says there was a young man from Zhejiang 浙江 province named Ning Caichen 宁采臣. He was a straightforward, generous and principled. These three words are important and his personalities changed his life. He always says to people, “I would never have a second woman. ” So he was married and even though it was normal in the ancient China to have more than one concubines, he didn’t have want the desire to have another woman in his life.


Once, he went to the place called Jinhua 金华 and took a rest in a temple in the suburb. The temple was gorgeous however there were weeds growing widely in the yard and it seemed like there weren’t people for a long time. On the west and east sides, there were rooms for monks of which the doors were closed. There was a small house in the south. The lock looked new. There were bamboos growing in the corner of the yard. Wide lotus flowers covered the whole pool. Ning Caichen really enjoyed the quiet there and decided to stay there since it was the time before the Imperial Examination that all the hotels were expansive.

About the sunset, another person came into the temple and tried to get inside the house in the south. Ning Caichen made a bow and told him that he was thinking of staying here as well. The person replied, “there isn’t an owner here. I am like you just to stay here a few days. If you would like to stay here too, that would be great! ” Ning Caichen was glad and found some straw and put them on the ground as his bed.


That night, the moon was bright. Ning Caichen chatted with the other person in the hallway. The other person said, “My last name is Yan 燕 and my first name is ChiXia 赤霞.” Ning Caichen thought he might be going to attend the exam like me although his accent doesn’t sound locale. “Where are you from?” The other person replied sincerely , “I am from the ShaanXi 陕西 province.” It was getting dark and they didn’t have much to talk about, so they both went to bed.

Ning Caichen found it was hard to fall asleep in the new place. He heard someone was talking from the north of the room. He got off the bed and hid under the window. He saw a small yard outside the wall where a lady in her 40s and an old lady in dark red with a silver comb in her hair were talking. The mid-aged lady asked, “why is Xiaoqian 小倩 still not here?” The old lady replied, “almost here!” The mid-aged lady asked, “does she have some problems with you grandma?” “I haven’t heard about it.” The old woman replied.

The mid-aged lady said, “that young lady isn’t easy to get along with!” While they were talking, here came a young lady around 17~18 years old. It seemed like she was beautiful. I like the writer’s word here. Like mentioned at the beginning, Ning Caichen was a principled man who would keep a distance with female. The text says he saw a girl however he didn’t look closely due to principles and manners so she seemed like a beautiful girl. The old lady smiled and said, “you little demon. You came so quietly that thank god we didn’t say anything bad about you. You are so beautiful as walking from a painting. If I am a man, I would be bewitched by you.” The girl replied, “grandma if you don’t accomplish me who would praise me?” They kept talking something. Ning Caichen though they were the neighbors living next to the temple and went to bed. After a while, the yard was finally quiet. When he was about to fall asleep, he felt someone walking into the room. He immediately sit up, it was the young girl he just saw.


We will continue the story in our next episode.




Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio


Episode 151: Flying Heads

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In many Sci-Fi and fantasy films, there are creatures that their heads can be separated from the body and move around. Today we will talk about some stories about flying heads in Chinese mythology.


In the book Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 酉阳杂 俎, a book of Chinese and foreign legends and hearsay on natural phenomena, anecdotes and tales from the Tang dynasty 唐朝, around the 9th century, it says in the region of Lingnan 岭南, south of China, where the minorities lived, many people’s heads can fly away from their bodies. The day before the head would fly away, you can see a ring on the neck looking like the person is wearing a red rope. If this happens, the family need to stay up the whole night for the person. Guess the reason? They need to stand by because when the head flies back to the body, they could help to make sure the head lands on the right spot.


On the night, the person would feel dizzy like being sick, then wings would grow from the head. The head would fly away. The head usually fly to the bank to hunt for some crabs or earthworms and fly back before the sunrise. The family can help to put the head back. Not too long after the person would wake up. The person wouldn’t feel much different than waking up from a sleep but just feel really full in the stomach.

There are other books mentioned those people with flying heads. In the book In Search of the Scared 搜神记, a compilation of legends, short stories about Chinese gods, ghosts and other supernatural phenomena from the Jin dynasty 晋代, around the year 350, it says during the period of Three Kingdom, which is between the year 220 to 280, a general called Zhu Huan 朱桓 from the Kingdom Wu 吴国 has a maid. The maid was weird because her head disappeared at night every once a while. Zhu Huan was curious and observed the maid at night for a while. One night, he saw the maid went to bed and her head slowly left the body. The ears were like wings. The head flying out of the room from the windows sometimes through the dog holes and fly back before the sunrise.


One day, Zhu Huan just wanted to have some fun so when he waited until the head flew away, he covered the neck with the bed sheet. Before the sunrise, the head flew back and tried to land on the neck, it tried several times and fell on the ground. The face turned to pale and the body became cold. It seemed like the person was dying. Zhuan Huan removed the cover immediately and the head struggled to fly back to the head. Zhuan Huan always killed the maid by playing the prank on her. Not too long, he felt sorry and let the maid go home.

In the book ShiYiLu 拾遗录from the Jin dynasty 晋代 around the 4th century, there was a funny story about those flying heads. During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han 汉武帝, between the 157 BC ~ 87 BC, some people from the Kingdom YinChi 因墀 could separate their heads from the body. A man wanted to show off his skill, he told his head to fly to the south sea, the left hand fly to the east sea and the right hand fly to the west sea. After a day, the head flew back and landed on the neck. People asked, “wow! Very impressive! But where the hands are? ” The man signed, “oops! They were blown away by the wind. Since there aren’t eyes on the hands, they got lost.”




酉阳杂 俎 Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang

搜神记 In Search of the Scared

拾遗录 ShiYiLu


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 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