Episode 179: Time Traveler

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Compared to the English word “time traveler”, I prefer the ancient Chinese word LanKeRen, 烂柯人, which means the person whose wooden axe handle is rotted. Today we will talk about the story of the word.


The story is from the book ShuYiJi 述异记from the Southern Dynasty 南朝, which is between the year 420 ~ 479. It says, there was a peasant called Wang Zhi 王质 from Jin dynasty 晋代, between the year 265 ~420 cut woods in the mountains. He walked to the Mountain ShiShi 石室山 and saw a few kids playing Go, a Chinese ancient board game,a few kids were singing. Wang Zhi walked closely to see what was going on. A kid came to him and gave him something looking like a date pit. Wang Zhi ate it and didn’t feel hungry any more. After not too long, the kid came back and asked, “why are you still here?” Wang Zhi looked around, and found the wooden handle of his axe was totally rotted. When he went back home, nobody from his time was still alive.


There are some similar stories from different books. One of the stories is from the book YiYuan 异苑, a book of collections of stories about the supernatural from the same dynasty, around the 5th century. It says, once there was a person riding a horse in the mountains and found two old people playing ChuPu 樗蒲, a ancient Chinese board game from the Eastern Han dynasty, between the year 25~ 220. I don’t think most Chinese people know this game today maybe due to the the forbidden law during the Song dynasty. But it is still popular in Korean today.


Anyways, the person stopped and watched the two old men playing the game. Not after too long, he looked around and saw his whip is rotten and the horse became skeleton. He went back home, his families and friends all past away. He was too devastated and pasted out.



The first story seemed make more sense like the person ate something that made him survive from starvation throughout the years of time travel. But the second story makes me think more that the person went back home and nobody he knew alive anymore that he pasted out. Time changed,things changed but his feelings didn’t change.



异苑 YiYuan

述异记 ShuYiJi


Episode 178: Eel Hair

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Today we will tell a kind of disturbing story. Please feel free to skip this episode if you have vermiphobia or if you are eating.

This story is from the the book YiYuan 异苑, a collections of stories about the supernatural from the Southern dynasty 南朝 between the year 420 ~ 589. It says in the year 409, a person took a boat from Guangzhou 广州, a city in the southern China and when the boat pasted by Jiangxi 江西, a place in the southeastern China, many people died of plague. When the boat pasted Caizhou 蔡州, a place in the south central China, the plague ended but people found the dead people’s hair became eels.




In the place Zhenxi 镇西, a place in the southwestern China, people found a coffin near a river. They saw some eels on the coffin and opened it to see what is in it. The dead people’s hair became eels. Some people said, if the dead people were washed by the water used to wash millet, the hair would become eels. Some people said, a person ate eels a lot where alive, and after he died, his coffin was filled with eels.

This disturbing story isn’t not from nowhere. First, to be more precise, it is not eels in the story. It is swamp eels or Asian swamp eels in the story. They look similar to eels and they are freshwater fish that are omnivore. It is normal that they eat dead bodies of animals including the corpse in the coffin. But instead of thinking the eels went into coffins, people came up with the myth that they were the hair of the dead.




In some places, there is a even more disturbing urban myth and I don’t know where and when it is from. Since swamp eels is in Chinese and some other Asian cuisine, they are farmed in rice fields. But this myth says there are people stole dead body to raise swamp eels. They put the body in the coffin and drilled a small hole on the top. They put some tiny eels in the coffin and leave the coffin the water. So they eels would grow by eating the dead body until they are too big to get out of the hole. Then it’s time to open the coffin and now you have a whole coffin of eels to eat. What a way!



异苑 YiYuan

Episode 177: Remote Nations Of The World 6 – Kingdom Of Long Beard

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It has been a while since the last time we talked about the remote nations of the world. Today will be the sixth episode of this series of stories.

The story today is from the book Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 酉阳杂俎 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 around the 9th century. The story says, in the year 701, a scholar got on a ship with the a group of government officials to the Kingdom XinLuo 新罗, which was a kingdom on the Korean island. On the way, the ship got lost and landed on a small island. Everyone on the island had long beard and called their land the Kingdom of Long Beard 长须国.




The language they spoke wasn’t much different what people spoke during the Tang dynasty and the kingdom was pretty prosperous. The buildings and clothes were a little different. The scholar walked around on the island and everyone was really respectful.

One day, tens of horses and carts stopped at the hotel the scholar stayed and he was informed that the king would like to meet with him. He was a little anxious but still followed them for two days to a magnificent palace. He was welcomed by the king and even offered the marriage of a princess. The princess was really beautiful but the only thing was that she also had long and thick beard like everyone else in the kingdom.



The scholar became one of the royal family. He got a high position in the palace and a lot money. The only thing that bothered him was his bearded wife. Time flies! The scholar lived in the kingdom for more than 10 years and had three kids. One day, when the scholar visited his father in law, the king, and saw him and other ministers all looked sorrowful. The king wept and explained, “our country is in danger. Nobody but you can save us.” The scholar said, “I would sacrifice my life to save the country.”




The king asked people prepared the ship and sent two people to go with the scholar and said, “please visit the dragon king in the Sea and tell him the Kingdom of Long beard on the tenth island in the third region of the East Sea 东海 is in danger. Our kingdom is too tiny. Please don’t give up until they agreed to help.” The king held the scholar’s hands for so long before letting him go.

The scholar got on the ship. Not too long, the ship landed on the coast. The sand on the coast was made of treasures. He didn’t stop or was afraid but walked to see the dragon king directly. The dragon king couldn’t believe that a human came here and met with him. The scholar repeated everything he was told. The dragon king immediately asked people to see what was going on in the kingdom. After a while, a servant came back and replied, “there isn’t such a kingdom in our region of the sea.” The scholar begged the dragon king to search more and repeated the exact location again. After a meal’s time, the servant was back and said, “the shrimps from this island are feast for your Majesty. They were sent here the day before. ” The dragon king laughed, “oh I see. My dear guest was bewitched by those shrimps. Although I am the dragon king, but I can’t eat whatever I want. But today for your sake, I can eat less. ”

The scholar was taken to tens of iron pots as large as a room and they are all filled with shrimps. In one of the pots, there were five or six huge red shrimps with the size of a human’s arm. They jumped around when they saw the scholar like asking for help. “This is the shrimp king.” The scholar was told. His memories all came back of the past 10 years on the island and started to weep.

The dragon king freed the shrimps from the pot of the shrimp king and asked two people to sent the scholar back to the Tang dynasty. After a night, he was back to his hometown and the two people transformed to two dragons and flew away.



酉阳杂俎 Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang


Episode 175: Ancient Chinese Jokes 5 – Dedicated Readers

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Laugh is a world language. People from different cultures all have jokes and today we will start a new series in our podcast about ancient Chinese jokes and hope you can laugh or smile about it.

Before I start the story, I need to explain the two people mentioned in the story. First is a person called Che Yin 车胤, a minister from the Eastern Jin dynasty 东晋, around the year 333~ 401. The most famous anecdote of him is that he was from a poor family that they could even hardly pay for candles at night. However, he loved reading and what he did was to catch fire flies and wrapped them into a cloth so he could read at night.




Another person is called Sun Kang 孙康, from the similar time period, around the 4th century. His situation was similar to Che Yin that he wanted to read at night but with no money to pay for candles. He found out that snow can reflect light. He would rather read outside in a freezing winter night.




Both of these two people were the models of learning knowledge in Chinese culture that they weren’t limited by their life conditions and later became famous scholar.

Today we will tell a joke from the book XiaoFu 笑府 by the author Feng Menglong 冯梦龙, who was a Chinese writer and poet of the Ming dynasty, between the year 1574 ~ 1646. In the book, it says, Sun Kang visited Che Yin during the day and he wasn’t at home. The family replied, “oh he is out catching fireflies. ” Another day, Che Yin visited Sun Kang during the day and saw him standing in the yard. When he was asked why he wasn’t reading, Sun Kang replied, “it doesn’t look like it would snow today.”





笑府 XiaoFu


Episode 174: Neck Stretcher

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Today we will talk about a spirit in Chinese mythology. The story is from the book BaoPuZi 抱朴子, a Taoism classic from the Easter Jin dynasty 东晋, between the year 317 to the year 420.

In the book, it says, a person named Zhuang Yiyuan 庄怡园 once saw a hunter in the north China. The hunter’s neck was stabilized by wood planks. Zhuang Yiyuan was curious and asked the hunter what happened to his neck. This is what the hunter said, “earlier today my brother and I went for hunting. We ride our horses to an empty field in the middle of nowhere when somebody suddenly appeared in front of our horses. He was around 1 meter tall, around 3 feet 2 inches with grey beard and a headscarf. The creature made a bow to us. My brother asked, “who are you?” The creature shook his head without responding. He blew air to the horses which made the horse shocked and stopped moving forward. My brother got angry and took out his bow and arrow. The creature ran away while my brother chased behind.


After a while, my brother still didn’t come back. I was worried and looked for him. I found my brother lying under a tree. His neck became really long maybe was a meter or longer. No matter how much I shouted and shook him, he didn’t move at all. Oh crap! I was thinking. Before I could take a second to think about what was going on, the creature jumped out of the woods and blew air to me. My neck felt itchy and I scratched and scratched as my neck grew longer and longer like a snake. I jumped onto my horse and ran away. Now I am using these wood planks to support my long neck.” Some people say this 1 meter tall creature is the spirits from the water and woods in the field. The only way to be not harmed by them is to call their names.

I am not sure the meaning behind the story. But I always think of this story when the season changes, I sometimes get allergies of some plants or bug bites in the nature. When I start sneezing or scratching my skin, I am worried to have a neck body parts like a snake.



抱朴子 BaoPuZi