Episode 20: The Matchmaker

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It is almost the Valentine’s day! I hope people who are in relationships can spend a romantic day with your loved one and people who are single can find your loved one. Or you can show your love to yourself. I feel in Asian culture, people really believe in destiny especially in love life or maybe it is a universal thing. 

Today we are going to talk about the god of marriages and matchmaker in Chinese mythology. When we talk about matchmaker, what kind of image do you have? In my mind middle aged ladies are the group of people who are mostly interested in setting up blind dates. However, the god of marriages and matchmaker in Chinese mythology is an old guy. We call him YueXiaLaoRen月下老人 or YueLao月老 as simplified, which means the old man under the moon.

It was originally recorded in the book DingHunDian定婚店 from Tang Dynasty 唐朝. There was a guy from Tang Dynasty named WeiGu韦固, one day he visited the city of Song宋城 where he saw an old man sitting there and leaning on his bag while he was reading a book under the moon. Out of curiosity, WeiGu asked him what he was reading and the old man replied a book listing marriages. He then asked what is in his bag and the old man asked red cords for tying the feet of couples. Even if the couples were enemies or lived in different places, the red cord can make them into a great couple. So the couple can meet each other following the red cord.

月老2

Since WeiGu was single at that time, he asked the old man who would be his wife. That’s a risky question. Do you want to know who you would be married to if you have a chance? If it is not what you wanted what would you do? This was definitely what happened to WeiGu. He was told that his future wife would be the 3 year old daughter of the blind woman who was selling vegetables in the marketplace. She was not a pretty girl and from a low class family. WeiGu was not happy. He was actually very angry. He wanted to change his future so he did something cruel. He let his servant to kill the girl. They didn’t succeed and only hurt the girl’s eyebrow. For the next ten years or so, WeiGu joined the army in XiangZhou相州, the governor really liked him and gave his daughter in marriage with WeiGu. The governor’s daughter was a beauty however she always sticked a flower next to her eyebrows. And later he found out the flower was to cover a scar she got when she was a kid. Now you already guess his wife was the 3 year old girl he tried to kill. The governor adopted her when she was a kid. Since he married the daughter of the governor, WeiGu and his children had a wealthy life after all. Not sure if WeiGu ever told his wife the whole story before he died.

After that we have the god of marriages, an old guy with gray hair and beard however looks young. He usually holds the matchmaking book in his left hand and a cane in his right hand. There are still YueLao temples in China especially in Taiwan. Couples can go there to ask YueLao for a good marriage and singles can go there and ask YueLao for a relationship. You can get those red cords from the temples like it says in the myth.

It’s funny that in Greek mythology Cupid , as a naughty kid, is a love god, which makes sense that love is crazy and unexpected. Anyone can fall in love with anyone in any time. However, as a god in charge of marriages, an old wise guy may be a better choice.

Mentioned:

月下老人 YueXiaLaoRen/the old man under the moon

定婚店 DingHunDian

Episode 4: Dragon Gate

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If I am going to ask you one Chinese mythical animal, what is your first reaction? Of course the dragons. There are so many things and stories to say about dragons. Today I am going to tell two short stories about dragons that are most well-known. But don’t worry. We will get to know more in the future.

In the book TaiPingGuangJi 太平广记, a collection of stories compiled in the early Song dynasty the year 978, it says, the dragon gate was in the region of the east of Yellow River 黄河, Yu the Great , who is a legendary ruler in Xia Dynasty, from the year 2200- 2101 BC, known for his flood control, separated the mountain, and opened the so called dragon gate, a waterfall, which is one li long. Li is a ancient length unit, equls to around 400 ~ 500 meters or 1312 ~ 1640 feet. Yellow River flushed through the gate. Every late spring, there were yellow carps from seas and rivers swimming against the flow. As soon as they jumped over the dragon gate, they became dragons. It wasn’t easy. Only 72 carps out of thousands of thousands of carps could jump over the dragon gate every year. The process is a little dramatic. The moment a carp jumps over the gate, clouds and rains would follow it. Afterwards, fire from the sky would burn its tail and voila a carp is transformed into a dragon. The phrase carps jumping over the dragon gate 鲤鱼跳龙门 is to describe a person get a high ranking in the imperial examination which meant they would get a high position the government and work for the emperor in ancient China. We still use the phrase now when a person get into a famous college or a good job. From the scientific perspective, fish hurtle into the air to confuse a pursuer instead of trying to transform into dragons. In the story those fish were carps. Some people say because carps pronounced as LiYu鲤鱼. Li pronounced the same with the last name of the emperor in Tang Dynasty. Carps was popular pattern on decorations at that time too. For a certain time, carps were forbidden to hunt due to the same reason. You know Japanese art and culture was greatly influenced by China especially from Tang Dynasty. So you can find carp shaped wind socks, or koinobori in Japanese, flown in Japan to celebrate Children’s day and other holidays in the hope that children will grow up healthy and have a good future.

鲤鱼1

It seems like everyone likes dragons and wants to be dragons in China. People even try to conceive on certain days to have a baby born in the year of the dragon. Lord Ye 叶公 is no exception. In the book XinXuZaShi新序杂事written around year 200 BC, it says there was a person named ShenZhuLian沈诸梁, we call him Lord Ye because of his title and region he was in charge of . He lived in the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时期, which was a period in Chinese history from year 771 to 476 BC. Lord Ye was so found of dragons. You could find dragons on his drinking containers, his decorations and there were carved dragons on the beams, pillars, windows and roofs of his houses too. He was a fan of dragons like today people put posters of Justin Biber everyone on the wall. The real dragon from the sky knew about it and decided to fly down to Lord Ye’s place and visit. When the gaint dragon came, his head was in front of the window while his tail was wagging in the hallway. Lord Ye saw it and guess what? He was scared out of his wits and darted away. Be careful of what you are wishing for! I never understood this story when I was a kid. We were told the moral was Lord Ye doesn’t love the real dragon but things looked like dragons. What does that mean? When I grow up, I just began to realize the philosophy of this story. People always say be yourself and do what you love. It’s not a easy thing to find the thing you really love. There is a simple way to ask a couple quesitons to yourself to find out. First, if you can get all the benefits without doing certain things, will you still do it? Second, if you can do it without telling any body you did it , will you still do it?

叶公好龙

Mentioned:

太平广记TaiPingGuangJi

Yu the Great

鲤鱼跳龙门 carps jumping over the dragon gate

Song Dynasty

Xia Dynasty

Tang Dynasty

Li

新序杂事XinXuZaShi

春秋时期Spring and Autumn period

叶公 Lord Ye