Episode 152: LuoSha Bird

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We have talked about Guhuo Bird 姑获鸟 ,a kind of evil bird in Chinese mythology in our episode 27. Today we will talk about another evil bird in Chinese mythology called LuoSha Bird 罗刹鸟.

The word LuoSha 罗刹 comes from the word Rakshasa, which is rākṣasa in Sanskrit word. It is a mythological being in Hindu mythology and later was incorporated into Buddhism. Rakshasas are mostly ugly, fierce-looking creatures that eat people.

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In Chinese mythology, there is a kind of evil bird called LuoSha Bird that eat people’s eyes. It is said they were formed by the energy of corpse, which was probably based on the origin of Rakshasa that they are believed to have been created from the breath of Brahma, the creator god when he was asleep in Hindu mythology. Both LuoSha bird and Rakshasa were filled with blood lust when they were created. LuoSha Bird in Chinese mythology looks like a grey crane with white beak and claws. It is also believed that LuoSha Bird can transform into beautiful women to hunt for the food, which was probably based on Hindu mythology as well that there are female Rakshasas and they can be in human form.

 

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There are many stories about the bird and today we will talk one story. In 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, it says during the reign of Emperor YongZheng 雍正, between the year 1722 ~ 1735, in the capital a royal family was having a wedding. The bride’s family was also prestigious, while living outside the gate of ShaHe 沙河. After the bride got on the litter, a kind of vehicle carried by people, they started head to the groom’s family. On the way, they passed a cemetery, a weird wind came from the tombs and stayed around the litter for a while. People couldn’t open their eyes because sand and dirt were blown in the air. After a while, the wind stopped and they kept walking until they arrived.

They put down the litter in the middle of the hallway, and the maids served the bride to walk out of the litter. Surprisingly, there was another bride walking out of the litter and stood next to the the bride. People were amazed to see the two brides wearing the exact same clothes and accessories and couldn’t tell any differences. They looked the faces underneath the veil, they were exactly the same as well. Nobody could explain the reason.

The groom was happy because he could marry two women now. The wedding ceremony went on as usual. At night, the groom couldn’t wait to spend the first night with two wives looking the same. Suddenly, people heard a scream from the newly married room. At first, they thought maybe the two brides were jealous of each other and were fighting and later they knocked on the door, however, nobody answered. The families worried and broke in, there was blood everywhere. The groom was lying on the floor and one bride was lying on the bed. The second bride disappeared.

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People lit up more candles and looked around, a huge bird standing on the ceiling. Everyone tried to find some tools to hit the bird while the bird escaped from the door. Some of the people checked the groom and the bride, both of their eyes were gone. Luckily the couple survived in the end.

 

Mentioned:

子不语What The Master Would Not Discuss

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mentioned:

山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

孙氏瑞应图 SunShiRuiYingTu

尚书 ShangShu

Episode 136: Nine-tailed Fox Spirits

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Today we will talk about the beautiful and mysterious nine-tailed fox spirits 九尾狐. There are numerous fox spirits 狐狸精 in Chinese mythology and the nine-tailed fox spirits is the most known. What’s the impression of the nine-tailed fox spirit in your mind? We will finally talk about how the concept of the nine-tailed fox spirits evolved through the history.

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The earliest text about nine-tailed fox spirits is from the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC. The book actually mentioned the nine-tailed fox spirits in a few chapters. For example, in the chapter NanShanJing 南山经, it says, “There is a kind of beast living on the Land of QingQiu 青丘. The beast resembles a fox with nine tails. It makes a sound like a baby and eats men. Whoever eats the beast will be protected against poison. “ It is believed that the nine-tailed fox spirits lived in the place called QingQiu, which means Green Hills and although it eats human, human eat it can get protected. The historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝 noted the book that, “the nine-tailed fox spirit is an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace. ”

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In the book Master Lv’s Spring and Autumn Annals 吕氏春秋, an Chinese classic text complied around 239 BC, there is a story about Yu the Great, who was a legendary ruler in ancient China around the Great flood time around the year 2000BC. The story says once Yu the Great passed the place TuShan 涂山 and said, “there should be an omen of me getting married.” Then there he heard the song from a local girl who claimed to be a white nine-tailed fox and was interested in having a family with Yu the Great. Later they got married and had the son Qi 启. In this story, nine-tailed fox not only represents fertility but also royalty.

During the Han dynasty especially the Eastern Han dynasty, which is between the year 25 ~220, the idea of heavenly prophecy was popular especially in the politics. Nine-tailed tails was symbolize as a beneficial god and even more emphasized as an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace with the wise king. From the stone carvings during the Han dynasty, we could find the image of nine-tailed foxes on the side of Queen Mother of the West 西王母. We have talked about Queen Mother of the West in Ep74, please check it out if you want to know about her. In the stone carvings, the Queen Mother of the West is always in the center with a dragon and a tiger on her two sides and a toad underneath. A nine-tailed fox is in the corner. Sometimes the fox has six, seven or eight tails. So far it seems the nine-tailed fox is still a holy spirit.

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Since Tang dynasty 唐朝 between the year 618~ 907, the holy royal fox spirit started become more popular among the normal people. They are not just for the king but they started to appear in folklore. People started to worship fox spirits in villages. The famous poet from the Tang dynasty Bai Juyi 白居易 wrote an article in which he compared Daji 妲己 and Baosi 褒姒 with fox spirits. Daji is from around the 1000 BC. Baosi is from around 700 BC. They were both the consort and concubine of two kings and their stories are both known as the classic examples of how a beauty causes the downfall of a dynasty in Chinese culture. We will talk about their stories in our future episodes. But clearly here, they are considered as the negative influences on the kings and the fox spirits started to change.

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In the Song dynasty 宋朝 between the year 960 ~ 1279, nine-tailed foxes were almost totally became the evil spirits that seduce people based on the article we just talked about. This is when Japanese and Korean heard about the fox spirits and became Kitsune in Japanese mythology and Kumiho in Korean mythology. In English the word Huli jing 狐狸精 from Chinese in just used as fox spirits.

One of most known mythical story of nine-tailed fox is from the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义from the Ming dynasty 明朝 in the 16th century. The story confirmed that Daji is an evil nine-tailed fox spirit in a beautiful woman’s form. The king Shangzhou 商纣 王didn’t do anything wrong but was just seduced and haunted by her.

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At last, during Qing dynasty 清朝, the last dynasty in ancient China, the book Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异 published in 1740 emerged and it contains many stories about fox spirits and they all have different characteristics like human. And there are male fox spirits, old fox spirits and kid fox spirits in the book. They can be malevolent and can be lovely. Most the female fox spirits in the book are smart, brave and would sacrifice for the loved ones.

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Until today, people still love the stories of fox spirits and the image is a fox spirit becomes more complicated and interesting. Like the word Huli Jing 狐狸精 in modern Chinese has been a negative word to refer to a woman who is good at flirting with men and interfere other people’s relationships. However, today maybe some women probably wouldn’t offended being called as a Huli Jing. Women can be whoever they want to be if they choose to be. Good at flirting and being extremely attractive is not so bad, right? Because we know the downfall of a dynasty is not caused by a woman and if the man is seduced, he should be responsible for it.

 

Mentioned:

山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

吕氏春秋 Master Lv’s Spring and Autumn Annals

封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

聊斋志异 Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio

Episode 132: The Real Foodie

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It’s interesting to see today that on social media people like to tag themselves as foodies and loving food and eating becomes a cool thing to be proud of considering in the western culture and the eastern culture, gluttony is considered as a sin. Today we will talk about a real Foodie, a mythical creature in Chinese mythology called TaoTie 饕餮. In modern Chinese or more precisely in the modern language in Beijing, LaoTao 老饕 means foodie in a positive way, which is interesting because TaoTie is an greedy and cruel mythical creature in Chinese mythology.

We have mentioned it once in our episode 89 – nine sons of the dragon that in some myths it is one of dragon’s sons, which is questionable. Because in the book Spring and Autumn Annals 春秋, an ancient Chinese chronicle covering from year 722 BC to 481 BC likely complied in the 4th century BC, it says, TaoTie is the son from the family JinYun 缙云 not the dragon. JinYun is one of the oldest last name in China. In the book ZuoZhuan左传, an ancient Chinese narrative history as a commentary on the book Spring and Autumn Annals from the late 4th century BC , it also says TaoTie the family Jinyun has a shameful son that over indulges food and drinks. Moreover, he likes money. He extorts money and enjoys a luxurious life. For him, there isn’t word called more. He doesn’t have a compassion for the poor or the people who are in need. So people call him TaoTie, as one of “four evil creatures” along with other three evils HunDun 混沌, QiongQi 穷奇 and TaoWu 梼杌.

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In the book ShenYiJing 神异经, a book from the Han dynasty 汉代, it says, there is a hairy person from the southwest wearing a pig on the head. He was greedy and evil. He loves collecting money and treasures but never uses them and robbed other people food and possessions.

From these texts, it seems like TaoTie was orginally a person or at least based on a person.

In the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经 from the 4th century BC, it says, there is a mountain called GouWu 钩吾山 which is famous for the jade on the mountain and cooper under the mountain. There is a creature live in the mountain has a goat body and human face. Its eyes grow under its armpit. It has teeth of a tiger and hands of a person. Its voice sounds like a bady. This creature is called PaoXiao 狍鸮 and eats human. The historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋代 noted this part of the text and said this greedy creature is called TaoTie. I am sure if he mixed up two different creatures or not and it seems they both sound like some greedy creatures.

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In the 2016 fantasy movie The Great Wall 长城, although I don’t recommend the movie, there was an evil monster in it which was supposed to be based on TaoTie. If you are interested, go ahead and check it out.

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TaoTie is a motif on ritual bronze vessels since way back in Chinese history from the Shang 商朝 ans Zhou dynasty 周朝, which is around 1600 BC. The design usually consists of a symmetrical zoomorphic mask with a pair of eyes , brows, ears, and a nose, a mouth and a chin.

Although this design probably wasn’t called TaoTie 3000 or 4000 years ago at that time, in the book LvShiChunQiu吕氏春秋, a Chinese classic text compiled around 239 BC during the Qin dynasty 秦朝, it says, the pattern of TaoTie is found on the bronzes from the Zhou dynasty. TaoTie only has a head but no body. When it east people, it does not swallow them but harms them. So at least since 239 BC, people started call this kind of motif as TaoTie.

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What does TaoTie really look like? What does this motif mean?

The modern Chinese scholar Li Zehou 李泽 厚commented, “it is hard to explain what is implied in this, as so many myths concerning the TaoTie have been lost, but the indication that it eats people accords fully with its cruel, fearful countenance. To alien clans and tribes, it symbolized fear and force, to its own clan or tribe, it was a symbol of protection. This religious concept, this dual nature, was crystallized in its strange, hideous features. What appears so savage today had a historical, rational quality in its time. ”

 

Mentioned:

春秋 Spring and Autumn Annals

左传 ZuoZhuan

神异经 ShenYiJing

山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

吕氏春秋 LvShiChunQiu

Episode 87– God With A Third Eye

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We talked about the Heavenly Dog in our last episode. In Chinese mythology, people sometimes  get confused about the Heavenly Dog with another holy dog called XiaoTianQuan 哮天犬, Howling Celestial Dog . Maybe due to they are both furious mythical dog living in the heaven. Today we are going to talk about the owner of XiaoTianQuan. His name is ErLangShen 二郎神. ErLang means the second boy. Shen means god.

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ErLangShen is a god with a third eye and is a folk god related with hydrology and agriculture. He is well-known maybe also due to some famous myths about him including his epic fight with the Monkey King in the book Journey to the West 西游记,which we will talk about in the future.

There are a few variations about who he is. Some historians think the origin of worshiping ErLangShen was based on the governor LiBing 李冰 and his son who contributed to the constructions of the irrigation system DuanJiangYan 都江堰 that also prevented flooding the region of ChengDu Plain 成都平原 . This is backed to Warring States period about the year 250 BC. Local people built temples dedicated to the Two Kings Temple to honor them.

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In the book Journey to the West , he is the nephew of the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝, the second son of the Jade Emperor’s sister YaoJi 瑶姬. His father is a normal person whose last name is Yang 杨. That’s why his name is ErLang Shen. There are some interesting stories about ErLangShen saved his mom that we can talk in the future.

The most popular version of ErLangShen is based on the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义 , a 16th century Chinese novels in gods and demons during the Ming dynasty 明朝. The stories is set from Shang dynasty 商朝 to Zhou dynasty 周朝, around 1046 BC ~ 256 BC. A lot of stories we talk about are and will be from this book so we will mention it in the future.

In the book Investiture of the Gods, it says ErLanShen’s name is Yang Jian 杨戬. He is depicted as a Chinese warrior. Different from Journey to the west, he is the second son of Jade Emperor’s brother instead of his sister. He is the apprentice of YuDingZhenRen 玉鼎真人, a Taoist immortal. He was a general working for JiangZiYa 姜子牙, a Chinese noble helping King Wu 武王of Zhou dynasty 周朝 overthrow the Shang dynasty 商朝. JiangZiYa has a lot of interesting stories that we can talk about in the future. So far you can see ErLangShen is in a lot of stories. Today we are just giving some general information about him.

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His is usually depicted as a noble and powerful warrior god that vanquishes demons and monsters and who embodies justice. He has enormous strength and is capable of 72 transformations like the monkey king. His weapon is a three-pointed spear with double-edged saber 三尖两刃枪. His best companion is his faithful dog Howling Celestial Dog 哮天犬 that has the ability to attack and subdue demons. In the book Investiture of the Gods , it is a white dog with a thin waist however for some reasons, in most pictures you see today they appear to be black. Now we are finally talking about his third eye on his forehead, “the Eye of Heaven” 天眼. It differentiate truth from lies and sees through deceptions and disguises. It can also fire highly destructive energy blasts of power that destroy anything it hits like a laser gun. If you have seen the Japanese cartoon Dragon Ball, and know the character Tien Shinhan who is based on ErlangShen, you will understand more about what I was talking about.

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Mentioned:

哮天犬 Howling Celestial Dog

西游记 Journey to the West

李冰 LiBing

都江堰 DuanJiangYan

成都平原 ChengDu Plain

玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

瑶姬 YaoJi

封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

杨戬 Yang Jian

玉鼎真人 YuDingZhenRen

姜子牙 JiangZiYa

King Wu 武王of Zhou dynasty 周朝

Tien Shinhan

Dragon Ball