Ep 216: Singing Through Times

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Today will tell a story about a singing girl from the book XuanGuaiLu 玄怪录 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝, around the 8th century.

In the book, it says in the year 821, duke Tian Hongzheng 田弘正 was killed in a battle in the place called ZhenYang 镇阳. At that time, there was a guest called Wang Tai 王泰 in his house. Wang Tai heard about the battle and tried to head to the south. The battle was still going on, so he hide during the day and traveled at nights.

When he was in the region of XinDu 信都, which is in the HeiBei province 河北 today, a yellow dog came to follow him. After a short time, the dog asked Wang Tai, “this is a dangerous path. Why are you walking here at night?” Wang Tai silenced for a while and told the dog the truth, “there are battles in ZhenYang. ” The dog said, “now you meet me, it is your luck. My name is JieFei 捷飞. Let me serve you and you won’t need to worry.” Wang Tai thought, “if bad things are conducted in this world, there will be people blame or revenge on him. If bad things are conducted in the afterlife, there will be ghosts to revenge. I have never done anything bad, why would I be revenged or harmed. I am not even afraid of gods, why do I need to worry about this dog? If anything happens, I can get through with my righteousness.” so he agreed to let the dog to serve him.

The dog suddenly transformed into a person and bowed to him. “I am so honoured to serve you. However, I am a slow walker, please let your servant be my donkey temporarily. So I can ride the donkey to follow you.” Wang Tai and his servant were both riding horses. He was surprised of the request but still let his servant to get off the horse. That servant just walked a few steps and became a donkey. The dog person jumped on the donkey. Wang Tai was scared but he could do nothing and comforted himself that he never done anything bad.

They rode for ten miles. Suddenly on the left of the road, a huge person followed along. The person had a big head compared to his body and his eyes were red and long beard. The big head lifted his eyebrows and smiled and said to the dog person, “JieFei why are you serving a person?” The dog person said, “this is my duty.” and the dog person turned to Wang Tai, “sir don’t be scared.” The big head looked down and left. After a few miles, a person with many eyes followed them and asked, “JieFei why are you serving a person?” The dog replied the same thing. The many-eyed left.

The JieFei dog told Wang Tai, “those two creatures like to eat people. Now they left, we have nothing to worry about. There will be a house owned by Mr. Liu 刘. He is not poor and we can take a rest there.”

Not too long, they were in front of a mansion. The dog knocked at the gate. An old man in his 70s opened the door. The old man looked pretty healthy and strong. He saw the dog person and said, “wow JieFei it’s you! Why brings you here?” The dog said, “I was traveling in the place YiZhou 翼州. On my way back, I accidentally met this sir, who only traveled at night because of the battle in ZhenYang. We are really tired and hope we could stay here for a rest.” The old man said, “why not?” He bowed to Wang Tai and welcomed them into the mansion. They were offered all kinds of dishes, snacks and fruits. The horse and the donkey which was transformed from the servant also got fed with grass.

The dog said, “thank you for the food. It would be better if we have something to drink.” The old man said, “you don’t need the ask. I already asked people to prepare the wine cups.” As they were talking, a young servant came out with a well-made wine set. After a few rounds of drinking, JieFei dog said, “wine is not something to drink silently. We need some music.” The old man said, “the girls in this remote places are not good enough to treat you.” So he called a singing girl called Zhang Chongnu 张宠奴, who was a beautiful woman in her 30s. She didn’t look like she wanted to be there. When Wang Tai asked her to sing, she sang. While she refused when the old man asked.




The dog suggested, “maybe the reason ChongNu doesn’t want to sing is that she doesn’t have other people to sing along. There is a girl called Hua Yan 花眼 nearby who is good at singing. Why don’t we invite her to come?” The old man let people to invite the girl Hua Yan, who was around 17 years old. Her clothes looked a little bit old and the color faded a little. After another few rounds of drinking, the old man asked Hua Yan to sing, she sang. When he asked ChongNu to sing, she still refused. She looked aggrieved and it seemed like she wanted to complain.

Getting many times of rejection, the old man felt guilty and said, “I often invite you to sing. You never refuse. Today we have young guests, you immediately refuse me.” ChongNu stood up and said, “I was singing for Liu Kun 刘琨. (Liu Kun was a politican during the Jin dynasty 晋代, lived between the year 270 ~ 318. And this story happens in the year 871.). After Liu Kun was killed, I am singing to this old wild fox!” After the words, all the lights were gone. The whole room was in darkness. Wang Tai slowly looked out of the window and it was even brighter outside. So he crawled out of the house.

When he was out, he looked back, there was no mansion but a huge tomb. His horse was tied on a pine tree and his old servant stood at the gate. It was a full moon. Wang Tai asked his servant, “what happened to you?” The servant said, “I had a dream that I turned into a donkey and was rode by someone. Later, I ate grass with the horse.”

Wang Tai traced back the path he came, after ten miles, the sun rose. He saw a farmer in the field and asked, “do you know there is some tomb nearby?” The farmer said, “within 10 miles, there is the tomb of Zhang Chongnu, the singing Geisha of the official Liu Kun from the Jin dynasty.” Wang Tai released that was where he was last night. He rode for another few miles, and saw a skeleton with two holes on it, which looked like another pair of eyes. He thought this must be the other singing girl Hua Yan. But he didn’t find about the two creatures that eat people.



玄怪录 XuanGuaiLu


Episode 215: Clipping Fortune

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As growing up, I often heard the words ”do like this” or “don’t do like that” because this is the tradition or because the old generations said so. I respect cultures and traditions not all though and for a culture lasted for thousands of years, I feel like asking the questions when and how this so-called tradition started and why we need to follow them. Everything is built on stories and you can decide what to believe or not.

Maybe it sounds a little serious to start with. Let’s talk about a tradition in Chinese folklore and you would told by the old generations that “don’t clip nails at night.” Today we will talk about where the saying is from.




In the book BeiHuLu 北户录 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 from around the year 871, it says the kind of birds Xiu Liu (一声,二声) 鸺鹠, which is called pygmy owls in English never show up during the day while their sight is extremely well during the nights. If people clip nails and the nails fall on the ground, the pygmy owls would pick them up at nights. The pygmy owls could tell fortune by checking the nails. If it shows bad luck, the owls would howl.




In the book from the same dynasty, it says pygmy owls appear during nights and like to eat nails to tell fortune. If bad things would happen, they would haul on the roof. That’s why people buried the nails after clipping to avoid this.

Nowadays, only the saying that do not clip nails at nights stays and forget why.



北户录 BeiHuLu

岭表录异 LingBiaoLuYi

Episode 213 :The Year Of Disasters

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It is just the February of the year 2020 but it seems has been a long time. A lot of things happened including the corona virus outbreak in China. It is always painful to see people suffer no matter where and no matter how in this world.

There is a so called curse that Chinese people talk about that the year of GengZi 庚子 is always hard to get through. Disasters will happen caused by nature or human every 60 years. Unfortunately, this year is the year of GengZi.

GengZi is a term from GanZhi 干支 or sexagenary cycle that we mentioned in Ep 207, a cycle of 60 terms, used for reckoning time in China. The 60 terms is a combination of a heavenly stem 天干 and a earthly branch 地支. There are ten heavenly stems: jia 甲 yi 乙 bing 丙 ding 丁 wu 戊 ji 己 geng 庚 xin辛 ren 壬 gui癸. There are 12 earthly branches: zi 子 chou 丑 yin 寅 mao卯 chen辰 si巳 wu午 wei未 shen申 you酉 xu戌 hai亥. The first term JiaZi 甲子 combines the first heavenly stem and the first earthly branch. The second term YiChou 乙丑 combines the second stem and and second branch and so on. The year with the same 干支 happens every 60 years.




This year 2020 is the year of 庚子 and in FengShui 风水, it is not a lucky sign. This year China is suffer from the corona virus.




60 years ago, during the year 1959 ~1961, the Great Chinese Famine happened and estimates of deaths due to starvation range in the tens of millions. This is most due to the Great Leap Forward campaign contributed to Mao Zedong.

Another 60 years ago, in the year 1900, the Siege of the the International Legations occurred in Being, the capital of the Qing dynasty 清朝. The Eight-Nation Alliance includes British Empire, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, United States, Italy and Austria- Hungary joined by Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. These great powers had forced China to allow the import of opium later causing widespread addiction, defeated China in wars, asserted a right to promote Christianity and imposed unequal treaties.




Another 60 years ago, between the year 1839 ~1842, the First Opium War happened, which was a series a military fought between the Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China. The war ended in the signing of China’s first unequal treaty, the Treaty of Nanking 南京条约.




A lot of things have happened in other parts of the world as well. In 1900, there was the Indian famine that affected millions of people. The second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and the South African Republic. A varieties of strikes went on in the Europe and U.S. In 1960, the year of Africa of the independence of 17 African nations. The same year, the most powerful earthquake in recorded history, magnitude 9.5 struck Chile.

Maybe for some of you who are listening, these all sound far from your life or sounds like words from history book. This year just begins and there will be another 60 years and another in the future. Anything can happen anywhere. Is this curse of year of GengZi real? Maybe. We can’t control the natural disasters but we could try to reduce disasters caused by us including wars, massacre, tyranny, pollution. No matter where you are and who you are, wish you all can get through life and have the faith to live.

Episode 212: Chicken Master

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Today we will tell a story from the book called YouMingLu 幽明录 from the Southern dynasty 南朝 between the year 420 ~ 479. It is written by the same author named Liu Yiqing 刘义庆of the book A New Account of the Talks of the World 世说 新语 that we also talked about before. I found it interesting the latter book is about historical mostly fictional anecdotes of people lived in the Han dynasty 汉朝 and Wei-Jin periods 魏晋, while the first book contains stories of a total different world of absurd that build on the real. And the whole book of YouMingLu is lost. We can only find some pieces from the book from quotations from other books, which makes it more absurd.

We have talked about a few stories from this book like the swapping feet story from episode 203 and the big cricket story from episode 204.

Today we will talk about a story about chicken master. In the book, it says, there was an official named Song Chuzong 宋处宗 who bought a rooster that crowed. Zong Chuzong loved it so much and raised it as a pet. He put the cage right next to his window and talked with rooster. Day after day, the rooster could talk and have conversations with Song Zhuzong. They talked everyday from day to night about Taoism, and debate on philosophy and the universe. Thanks to the rooster, Song Chuzong’s talking and debating skills improved a lot.




There is a Chinese word not used very often today called JiTan 鸡谈, literally means chicken talk or TanJi 谈鸡, talking chicken, which refer to people that are inspiring in terms of wisdom. Since during the Wei-Jin periods 魏晋 where the story took place, Qingtan 清谈, meaning witty conversations or debates about metaphysics, philosophy and Taoism were popular especially among the scholars. This happened between the rooster and the person. So the words JiTan 鸡谈 chicken talk or TanJi 谈鸡 also refer to those kinds of conversations like Qingtan.




I found this story really interesting that I don’t know what the original intentions of the author. The person was improved and inspired by the rooster instead of the other way around. He taught the rooster to talk, but got much more from the rooster.



幽明录 YouMingLu

世说新语 A New Account of the Talks of the World

Episode 211: Ancient Chinese Jokes 8 – Flatter And Humbleness

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

One of the most famous book of jokes is called 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. Today we will tell two jokes about flatter and being humble.




The first joke says, two people met on the road. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person B accidentally fell on the slippery rainy ground. Person A helped him get up and said, “the way you fell was so graceful. Nobody else could do it.” Person B replied, “thank you! I am not as good felling on the ground as you are.”

The second joke is always about two people. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person A asked, “what’s your last name?” Person B was being humble, “no no. I am too naive and young to deserve a last name.” Person A said, “everyone has a last name.” Person B said, “the most tiny unremarkable last name of all. ” “What is it?” “Zhang” Person B finally replied. Person A said, “oh so your dad’s last name is also Zhang?” Person B said, “yes also Zhang.” Person A said, “wonderful! Wonderful! What an coincidence that the whole family all have the last name Zhang! ”



笑府 XiaoFu