Episode 111: Toilet Goddess

Click here to listen

Most people probably have heard about gods who are in charge of people’s desires like wealth, peace, love and beauty or god who are in charge of the nature like seas, the sun, the moon. Today we will talk about the Goddess of Toilet in Chinese mythology.

Don’t be that surprised. We have talked about Kitchen God (Ep 26) Door Gods (Ep 11) and Lord of the Soil and Ground (Ep 68). They are all belong to the Six Households Deities in Chinese mythology. Since there are two Door Gods, the other two are Toilet Goddess which we are going to talk about today and Well God that we will talk about in the future. Influenced by Chinese culture, there are those household deities in Japanese mythology as well although the figures of the deities and stories are different.

The name of the Toilet Goddess is ZiGu 紫姑. The worshiping of Toilet Goddess can be traced back to the Six Dynasties 六朝, between the year 220 to 589. It was really popular during the Tang dynasty 唐朝 and Song dynasty 宋朝.

厕神1

In the book GuJinTuShuJiCheng 古今图书 集成from the Qing dynasty, it says ZiGu is from the place called LaiYang 莱阳. Her original name was He Mei 何媚. She was a concubine of a man called Li Jing 李景. Li Jing’s wife was jealous of He Mei and murdered her in the toilet. The Heaven Gods pitied her death and assigned her as the Toilet Goddess after death. People call her San Gu 三姑.

In the book MengXiBiTan 梦溪笔谈from the Song dynasty, it says it was an old tradition that people worship the God of Toilet on the night of 15th of the first month in the lunar calendar when she was murdered. People call her ZiGu 紫姑.

厕神3

In the book DiJingJingWuLue 帝京景物略 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, on the night of 15th of the first month in the lunar calendar, women make dolls with grass and paint the face and make dresses using handkerchiefs for the doll and call her GuNiang 姑娘. Two girls would hold the doll and worship her with horse crap and sing songs. There are different ceremonies in different places and a lot of them involve decorating a broom with jewelry and flowers like dressing up the Toilet Goddess. Because brooms were usually placed in the toilet.

厕神2

It is always only the women worshiping Toilet Goddess. Because the purpose is to wish the girls in the family meet a great husband and not get murdered like ZiGu. In the book YiYuan 异苑 from the Southern dynasty, it says ZiGu can predict the future so weirdly Toilet Goddess is also related to fortunetelling.

 

Mentioned:

古今图书集成 GuJinTuShuJiCheng

梦溪笔谈 MengXiBiTan

帝京景物略 DiJingJingWuLue

异苑 YiYuan

Episode 105: Chinese Four Great Beauties 4 – Yang YuHuan

Click here to listen

In Chinese history, there are four women considered as the Four Great Beauties. They are XiShi 西施, Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君, DiaoChan 貂蝉 and Yang YuHuan 杨玉环. They are known for their beauty and they are remembered also due to their influences over the emperors.

There is a idiom to describe how beautiful each of them was. It is called 沉鱼 落雁闭月羞花 meaning the beauty can make the fish sink, birds fall, the moon eclipse and flowers be ashamed.

Today we will talk about the beauty Yang YuHuan whose beauty was so entrancing that the flowers would be shameful. Since she was the most beloved consort of Emperor XuanZong of Tang 唐玄宗, people always called her Yang GuiFei 杨贵妃, Imperial Consort Yang.

杨玉环1

Yang YuHuan was born in the year 719 during the Tang dynasty 唐朝, in the reign of Emperor XuanZong. Her father was a official and had four daughters. In the year 733, when Yang YuHuang was 14 years old, she married to Li Mao 李瑁, one of the sons of the Emperor XuanZong and one of his consorts Consort Wu 武惠妃. Emperor XuanZong loved Consort Wu a lot and after her death in the year 737, he lived in depression of the lost. None of any other consorts could make him happy again.

In the book JiuTangShu 旧唐书, it says, when Yang YuHuan met the Emperor XuanZong, who was her father in law, she was a Taoist nun with a tonsured nameTaiZhen 太真 and didn’t mention at all she was the wife of the son of the emperor. Because the Emperor XuanZong fell in love with Yang YuHuan, his daughter in law.

A woman married to both the father and the son was and is accepted in some parts of the world and time period but not that time of China. Not too say it was related to the emperor and his son. That’s why it is not recorded in the official history book. In the book XinTangShu 新唐书, it says Yang YuHuan was staying in the palace as a Taoist nun invited by the Queen Dou 窦太后, mother of the emperor for the purpose of praying. So nobody knows when Yang YuHuan got secularized.

In the year 745, Yang YuHuan’s first husband, the son the emperor married a new wife. After a month, she was officially the consert of the Emperor XuanZong and she was the favorite woman of the emperor and was treated as the queen. That year, Yang YuHuan was 27 years old and Emperor XuanZong was 61 years old.

杨玉环6

In the ancient China, if the consort was favored by the emperor, her family would have a huge benefit as well. Yang YuHuan’s parents, sisters, uncles and cousins were either given high positions or ranks and titles. The family of Yang became one of the most prestigious families at that time.

Yang YuHuan herself of course got whatever she liked. There was a famous poem by poet DuMu 杜牧 from the Tang dynasty says, “一骑红尘 妃子笑,无人知是荔枝来”, which means the consort smiles when she saw the horse coming and nobody knows it is the delivery of lychees for her. It is believed that Yang YuHuan loved to eat lychee which grows in tropical areas like south China . However, the capital ChangAn 长安 was in the north. So the emperor ordered people to deliver the freshest lychees with the fastest horses whose riders took shifts day and night non stop from LingNan 岭南 to ChangAn. Even today, it takes 3 hours to fly between these two cities not to say at that time by horse.

She had conflicts with the emperor and was dismissed twice. However, she was invited back by the emperor both of times cause he couldn’t live without her. So why was she the favorite of the emperor? She was for sure a beauty that there are tons of poems about her beauty and her dance. But she was not a skinny type like the aesthetics today especially in Asia. In the Tang dynasty, it is easy to tell from the paintings that women with a little fat were considered as beautiful. And Yang YuHuan had such kind of curvy feminine figure and her skin was said to be smooth and white. It is believed she liked to take showers in the hot spring. Actually today if you visit XiAn, you can go to hot springs and take a spa where Yang YuHuan used to bath.

杨玉环2

As it says good things come to an end. Yang YuHuan’s cousin Yang GuoZhong 杨国忠 was the chancellor at that time who liked to gamble. The government was corrupted. Plus, the whole Yang’s family had been doing whatever they wanted for a while, which angered other officials. In the year 755, provoked by the chancellor Yang GuoZhong, three officials rebelled and marched the troops toward the capital. Emperor XuanZong, along with Yang YuHuan and Yang GuoZong fled the next year.

On the way leaving the capital, the soldiers protested and requested the emperor to kill Yang GuoZhong who caused the disaster. As his cousin, Yang YuHuan, was urged to be put to death as well even the emperor initially declined. She was 37 years old that year.

There are variations of how she was killed and if she was killed. Some version say she was hung in a Buddhist temple and some version say she died by being forced to swallow a gold. But some version say she was hid and didn’t get killed. Some version say she ran to Japan and was taken care of by the queen of Japan. In Japan, some people say she lived in Kyoto for 30 years and died in her 60s. There is even a tomb in Japan and some Japanese claimed to be the descendants of Yang YuHuan including the famous actress Momoe Yamaguchi.

Her story is retold and is popular in Japan. It is said it was the source of inspiration for the classical Japanese novel The Tale of Genji. In China, the most well-known literature is the long poem Chang Hen Ge 长恨歌, meaning Song of Everlasting Sorrow written by poet Bai JuYi 白居易 about the love of the emperor and grief at her death.

杨玉环7

Mentioned:

旧唐书 JiuTangShu

新唐书 XinTangShu

长恨歌 Song of Everlasting Sorrow

 

Episode 97: YingNing The laughing girl – part 4

Click here to listen

Today we will finish our story about Ying Ning , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异.

Last time, we talked about YingNing went back home with Wang ZiFu and their figured out YingNing was a fox spirit’s daughter from Mr. Wu.

Wang ZiFu’ s mother let her share a room with her daughter, she started her life in Wang’s family and took her part of duties of family. Her knitted better than any women. She laughed a lot but nobody had any problems with it and everyone liked her.

婴宁6

Wang ZiFu’s mother fixed a date for Ying Ning and Wang ZiFu’s wedding although she still felt suspicious about her being the daughter of a fox spirit. She tried to check YingNing’s shadow under the sun and found nothing weird.

On the wedding day, Ying Ning dressed up in all the finery of a bride. She laughed so hard that she was unable to kneel down and she was excused by people. Wang ZiFu sometimes thought his wife was too silly that would not keep the secrets between them, but she never indulged in gossip.

Whenever Wang ZiFu’s mother was in trouble or bad mood, YingNing could always make her feel better with her laugh. The servants came to ask her for help when they made some mistakes and tried not to get punishment. YingNing had a great interest in flowers. She collected all kinds of species from people she knew and even secretly pawned her jewels to buy them. After a few months the whole place was planted with flowers.

婴宁4

Behind the house there was a tree right next to the neighbor. YingNing always climbed up on the tree and played with her flowers and sometimes stick the flowers in her hair, for which Wang ZiFu’s mother rebuked her severely. One day, the neighbor’s son saw her and was enchanted by her beauty. YingNing didn’t try to hide but started to laught. The young man thought she was flirting with him and was much smitten with her. YingNing pointed at the wall between them and left. The young man thought YingNing meant they would have a secret date at the wall at night. So he presented at night and saw YingNing sure was there waiting for him. He was so horny and jumped onto her. The next moment he felt a deep pain in his lower body, he looked carefully, it was not YingNing but just a log of wood and he was stung by a scorpion. He died in the middle of the night.

His father sued Wang ZiFu of having a witch wife. The judge happened to be an admirer of Wang ZiFu’s talend and knew he was a noble man. Therefore, they got away any punishment. Wang ZiFu’s mother gave YingNing the last word, “I knew you would cause some troubles with your silly and naive personality. We are lucky this time. I can’t imagine if met another judge, how could your husband ever have the reputation and respect? ” This time, YingNing didn’t laugh and swore she would laugh no more. Wang ZiFu’s mother added, “everyone laughs but at the reasonable times.” However, from that moment, YingNing laughed no more even when people tried to make her though her expression was by no means sad.

One night, in front of her husband, YingNing cried. Wang ZiFu was confused. YingNing said, “I didn’t want to scare you before since we didn’t know each other for too long. Now you and your mother have been so kind to me and care about me, I will keep nothing from you. I am the daughter of a fox. When my mother went away, she asked the spirit of an old woman to take care of me with whom I grew up for over 10 years. I have no siblings and all I have now is you. Now my foster mother is lying on the hill alone and she has been depressed about it. If you could be so kind to bury her with her past husband Mr. Qin together her spirit may be at rest. ”

Wang ZiFu consented. On a selected date, the couple brought a coffin to the hill. YingNing pointed to a spot amidst the shrubs and there they dig out the old woman’s dead body. YingNing held the body and wet bitterly. Then they put the body in the coffin and buried it next to Mr. Qin’s tomb.

That night, Wang ZiFu had a dream that the old woman came to thank him. He told YingNing when he wake up. She said she saw her and was warned by her not to frighten him. He asked why she didn’t ask her to stay. YingNing replied, “she is a ghost and can’t be a good thing for her to stay too long around many alive people.” He asked about YingNing’s maid XiaoRong and she said XiaoRong was a fox spirit too. She was married now.

Since then, every year on QingMing Festival, the couple would go to visit Mr. Chin and YingNing’s foster mother’s tombs. YingNing gave birth to a son after a year who wasn’t afraid of strangers and laughed all the time just like his mother used to be.

婴宁3

In the end, the author commented the story, YingNing looks like an innocent and silly her that she laughs all the time. But think about the trick she did at the wall, who can compared with her? She was grateful for her foster mother, she stopped laughing but crying. My girl YingNing was trying to use her laugh to hide her real feelings. I heard there is a kind of plants called XiaoYiHu 笑矣乎, the name basically means laughing, when you smell it you would start laughing and can’t stop. If you plant this in the house, then even the silk tree. or orange day-lily can’t compare with it. Silk tree is called HeHuanHua 合欢 花 in Chinese, which literally means happy together. Orange day-lily is called WangYouCao in Chinese, which literally means forgetting the sadness. Not to say to flower JieYuHua 解语 花, full of pretentiousness. JieYuHua literally means understanding the words and it is a kind of mythical flower, which is supposed to understandable.

So the author used the names of different flowers to metaphor YingNing as the plant XiaoYiHu that her innocent and natural laugh was better than anything especially the people who know so well about social norms and following the strict rules.

In the book Strange Stories from A Chinese Studio, you can tell the author himself is a conflicted person that on one hand he pursued the main values of the society and one the other hand he values the natural spirits like YingNing.

 

Mentioned:

聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 96: YingNing The Laughing Girl – part 3

Click here to listen

Today we will continue our story about YingNing , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异.

Last time we talked about Wang ZiFu found the girl he fell in love with and was invited into the house to stay for a while

The next day Wang ZiFu went to the garden behind the house with a well-kept lawn and plenty of trees and flowers. There was an arbor consisting of three posts. Walking through the flowers, he heard some noise from the trees and looking up saw YingNing on it who at once burst out laughing and nearly fell off. “Don’t! Don’t! Be careful!” cried Wang ZiFu. YingNing tried to get down from the tree giggling all the time until when she was near the ground, she missed her hold and tumbled down with a run. This finally stopped her laugh. Wang ZiFu helped her to stand up and gently squeezed her hand. YingNing began to laugh again leaning against a tree.

Wang ZiFu waited until she finished laughing and then took the flower out of his sleeve. “It is dead. Why are you still keeping it?” asked YingNing. “You dropped it on the Lantern Festival so I keep it. ” “What is the point of keeping it?” asked YingNing. “To show my love that I will never forget. Since the first time we met, I have a love sickness and thought I would die. It is my luck to meet you again, I pray you have pity on me.” “It is a piece of cake.I am your cousin. If you need flowers, I will tell the servants get a whole basket full of flowers when you leave.” YingNing replied. “Did you not understand what I said?” Wang ZiFu asked. “I don’t care about flowers but the person who picked the flower.” “Of course” answered she, “everybody cares about their relatives.” Wang ZiFu said, “I wasn’t talking about the ordinary relations but the love between husband and wife.” “What’s the difference?” asked YingNing. “Husband and wife sleep together at night.” YingNing lowered her head and thought for a while said, “I am used to sleep with strangers.” Wang ZiFu saw a maid walking towards to them and slipped away.

Later, they all met in the old woman’s room. The old woman asked, “where did you go?” YingNing replied, “we were talking in the garden. ” The old woman said, “the dinner has been ready for a while. I can’t think what you had to say all this while.” YingNing said, “my cousin said he wanted to sleep with me.” Wang ZiFu was so ashamed and made her a sign to her to be quite so she smiled and said no more. It is lucky that the old woman was a little deaf and didn’t catch the words. Wang ZiFu whispered to YingNing , “our conversation is private and is not supposed to tell others.” YingNing said, “I never hold any secrets from my mother, besides, what harm can there be talking about sleeping together?” Wang ZiFu sighed and thought YingNing was such a naive and innocent girl. He didn’t know what to do the let her understand.

After dinner, the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family came to find him. Because his mother couldn’t find him after he left in the village and they remember this location Mr.Wu mentioned. Wang ZiFu told the old woman and begged her to let him bring YingNing to go back with him. “I have had the idea in my head for a long time. But I am too old to travel. If you will take care of my girl and introduce to her to her aunt, it would be wonderful. ”

 

婴宁15

 

So she called YingNing who came up laughing as usual. Whereupon the old woman commented, “what makes you always laugh? You would be a perfect girl if you stop being that silly. You cousin wants to talk you to visit the families. Go ahead and get ready.” The old woman provided refreshment for the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family and told YingNing that her aunt was quite well enough off to maintain her, she had better stay there for a while and study the basic principles and books. So she could marry to a good husband in the future with the help of her aunt.

So off they left, when they reached the brow of the hill, they looked back and could still see the old woman leaning against the door gazing towards the north. When they arrived home, his mother was surprised to see such a good-looking girl and asked him who she was. Wang ZiFu told her YingNing was his cousin, the daughter of his aunt’s. “It was all made up by Mr. Wu. He was lying to you about the location and your cousin. ” cried his mother, “I had a sister married to the Qin’s family but she died many years ago. She can’t be still alive ” she asked about the details about what the old woman looked like and was obliged to acknowledged the identity.

 

婴宁5

 

When she was wondering how she could be still living, Mr. Wu came to visit. YingNing retired within. Mr. Wu was lost in astonishment as well after hearing the whole story. He thought for a while and asked, “is the young lady’s name YingNing?” Wang ZiFu confirmed him and asked how he knew. “Mr. Qin was bewitched by a fox spirit after his wife’s death and subsequently died. The fox had a daughter named YingNing. Even after Mr. Qin’s death, the fox spirit frequently came back to visit. The families invited the Taoist priest to exorcise it. The fox then left with her daughter YingNing. Now here she is.” While they were talking, peals of laughter were heard from within. Wang ZiFu’s mother remarked what a silly and innocent girl she was. Mr. Wu asked to be introduced and YingNing came out with a bow. Then she ran back into the room and burst out laughing again. Everyone was amused by her laugh.

Mr. Wu suggested he would go to visit YingNing’s family and find out more about the story and plus he could arrange the marriage. Like some stories we talked about before, this time he came to the same location, there weren’t any houses just some flowers scattered on the hills. He remembered Mr. Qin had buried not too far, but he couldn’t find the grave either.

Wang ZiFu’s mother told YingNing what Mr. Wu found at her home, YingNing showed no signs of fear or alarm. Neither did she cry about she was alone now even when Wang ZiFu’s mother condole with her on no long having a home. She still laughed in a silly way.

If you want to find out what happens next, check out our next episode.

 

Mentioned:

聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 88: Chinese Four Great Beauties 2 – Wang ZhaoJun

Click here to listen

n Chinese history, there are four women considered as the Four Great Beauties. They are XiShi 西施, Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君, DiaoChan 貂蝉 and Yang YuHuan 杨玉环. They are known for their beauty and they are remembered also due to their influences over the emperors.

There is a idiom to describe how beautiful each of them was. It is called 沉鱼 落雁闭月羞花 meaning the beauty can make the fish sink, birds fall, the moon eclipse and flowers be ashamed.

Today we will talk about the beauty Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君 whose beauty was so entrancing that birds in flight would fall from the sky. Wang ZhaoJun’s original name was Wang Qiang 王嫱from the Western Han dynasty around the year 50 BC. She was born in the a village in the county called ZiGui 秭归. In the year 38 BC, she was selected as a maid to the imperial palace and left her hometown.

王昭君1

According to the custom in the palace, when the emperor chose a new wife, he would first look at all the candidates’s portraits first. Most of the qualified ladies in the palace were desperately to be chosen so they could be one of the concubines of the emperor, they bribed the painter at that time whose name was Mao YanShou 毛延寿 to draw a better portrait of themselves like Photoshop the selfies today. Wang ZhaoJun was a beauty, she didn’t care about bribing out of both her confidence and temperament that she thought bribing was ungraceful. As a result, the painter not only didn’t Photoshop for her but also poorly drew her portrait on purpose. This portrait made Wang ZhaoJun never been visited or seen by the emperor and she was remained as a palace lady in waiting.

王昭君3

In the year 33 BC, HuHanYe ChanYu 呼韩 邪单 于visited ChangAn 长安, the capitol of China at that time. ChanYu was the title of the nomadic supreme ruler of Inner Asia and then was superseded by the title Khagan. In Chinese , we call the nomadic people Xiongnu 匈奴, they lived in the north of China and migrated to central Asia. If you saw the Disney cartoon MuLan, the invaders in China in the movies were one of the nomadic groups.

HuHanYe ChanYu came to China as part of the tributary system between the Han which is the Chinese and Xiongnu, which is the nomadic people. To build allies and stop wars at that time, interracial marriages were one of the most important political means like a lot of places in the world. HuHanYe ChanYu requested to become an imperial son-in-law of the Chinese emperor Yuan of Han 汉元帝. Usually the emperor would offer one of his daughters, however, the emperor was unwilling to offer a real princess but a maid from the palace.

The idea of leaving their home country and the comfortable life in the place and marrying a ruler of a wild nomadic group in the freezing far Siberia was abhorrent to most of the young women in the palace. Wang ZhaoJun volunteered to marry the ChanYu as a sacrifice to the country. The emperor approval by looking at the portrait of her. On the day of leaving, the emperor finally saw how beautiful Wang ZhaoJun actually was and was even considering retracting his decision. But it was too late since he had an agreement with the ChanYu. He finally presented Wang ZhaoJun to him with regret.

王昭君4

HuHanYe ChanYu was so pleased to see such a beauty to his wife and in the history they married for three years and had one son before HuHanYe ChanYu died in the year 31 BC. Following the customs of the nomadic people, Wang ZhaoYun married to her past husband’s oldest son and lived with him for another 11 years and had two daughters before he died in the year 20 BC. Wang ZhaoJun passed away within the next two years. During the decades of years she was married, she made a huge contributions between the Hans and the Xiongnu that there weren’t any wars between them.

In the history recorded in the book HanShu 汉书, it only mentions that the Emperor Yuan of Han offered Wang ZhaoJun to HunHanYe ChanYu. However later in the book HouHanShu 后汉书, it says Wang ZhaoJun volunteered to marry to HunHanYe ChanYu and the emperor was amazed by her beauty. This is more based on the folklore that we talked about today.

The picture we see today of Wang ZhaoJun is often about a beautiful lady wearing a winter cape and was about to begin her new journey to the north on horseback with her musical instrument Pipa 琵琶. It says she started to play sorrowful melodies and a flock of geese heard the music and saw the beautiful ladies forgot to flap and fell on the ground.

王昭君2

She died far away from her home country at the age of 55. At that time, her two husbands already left before her. From the perspective of the history, she made contributions to the world peace. From the perspective of the personal fate, she was a tragedy.

Mentioned:

汉书 HanShu

后汉书 HouHanShu