Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Fox and the Hare in Winter

The Hare is able to support himself even in the coldest winter. He is satisfied with the buds he finds in hedges and shrubs.

One cold winter, the hare me the fox. Surprised, the fox asked the hare, "How fine and well fed you look! What are you living on these days? I am so hungry and I cannot find anything to eat."

The hare replied, "I have been living on eggs of late."

"On eggs! How on earth do you get them?" the fox wondered.

The hare answered, "This is what I do. There are women coming along here with basketfuls of eggs that they are taking to market. When I see a woman coming, I let myself fall flat on the ground before her, as if I were wounded by a shot. Then the woman puts her basket down in order to catch me and to take me to the market. Just as she thinks she had caught me, I stagger on for about ten steps and let myself fall to the ground again. I repeat this several times, until I am far away from the basket. Then I hurry back to the basket and carry it into the wood, and there I have enough food for a whole week."

The fox replied, "I like that. Wouldn’t you help me get some eggs, too, in these hard times?"

"With great pleasure," replied the hare, "if you will be kind enough to let me have my share."

As agreed, they took their positions behind a bush on the road. The fox got a basketful of eggs in the described manner, and he hurried into the wood with it. The hare followed him in order to get his share. When he reached him, the fox had divided up the eggs into several little piles. The hare asked him with astonishment, "Why so many shares?"

Pointing to the different piles, the fox replied, "This one is for my father; this one for my mother; the other one is for my brother and my sister and the last one is mine."

"And where is my share?" asked the hare in surprise.

"There is nothing left for you," was the answer. Too weak to punish the fox, the hare left angrily. But decided to watch for a chance to pay back the fox.

After some time, the hare and the fox met again. It was very cold, and the earth was covered with snow. Again the fox wondered at the hare’s prosperous look, since he himself was suffering terribly from hunger. Thus he asked, "What are you living on now?"

"On fish," the hare replied.

"Please," said the fox, "couldn’t you let me have some as well to appease my hunger?"

The hare answered, "I shall help you once more. Not far from here by the castle, there is a fishpond. The inhabitants have made a hole in the ice in order to catch fish. In the evening I go there; I stand on the ice and put my little tail into the hole, and after some time, I draw it out and there are plenty of fish hanging on it."

"Well," replied the fox, "this sounds all right to me. With my long tail, I should be able to catch a lot."

The hare said, "You will find me at the fishpond tonight."

At night they met at the appointed place, and the hare said, "Sit down by the hole, put your tail into the water, and remain like this until I come back. I shall go over to the garden to eat some cabbage."

The hare went away, and the fox remained there patiently, happily thinking of appeasing his gnawing hunger. After a while he tried pulling and found that his tail was getting heavy. But he continued to sit there, just as the hare had told him to do.

It was a long time before the hare came back and asked, "How are things going?"

The fox replied, "You have been away for a very long time. I have tried once, but my tail is so heavy that you will have to help me get it out."

The hare said, "Pull hard!"

But the fox could not get it out. He pulled as hard as he could, but the tail was frozen fast in the ice.

Now the hare approached with a stick, hit him over the head, crying, "This one is for my father; this one is for my mother; this one is for my brother and my sister; and the last one is for me!" He knocked him on the head from the right side and from the left, until the fox fell down dead.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

King of the Nine Mountains

There was a man surnamed Li living in T'sao Chou. He possessed the greatest wealth in town. Behind his mansion, he had an empty lot which was going to waste. One day, an old man came to him and offered to rent the property with one hundred pieces of gold. Li refused on the ground that the lot had no house on it.

The old man said "Please accept the money and don't worry about the rest." Li didn't understand, but he accepted the money just to see what would happen. After several days, the old man came to him and said "I already moved in, but we're so busy setting up our new household that we neglected good manners. Today, my children shall prepare a banquet for you, the landlord. We hope you will grace us with your presence."

Li went to the lot and, to his surprise,discovered a brand new mansion there. As he entered, he saw that the inside was lavishly decorated and furnished. Jugs of wine lined the walkways and the scents of good tea wafted from the kitchen. As the banquet began, he was toasted by the old man. The wine tasted of the finest vintage.

He saw and heard many men, women and children, maybe more than a hundred in total, living in the mansion. He then knew they could not be ordinary human beings, but fox spirits. As he returned from the banquet, he returned with death in his heart. He bought sulfur and other flammable material from the city market and, with the help of his servants, secretly placed them all around the new mansion.

When he was finished, he ignited it. The fire blazed and sent black smoke upward toward the heavens like a black and evil mushroom. The smell of burning flesh and the screams of the dying filled the senses. When the fire died, he and his servants went into the wreckage. There they found the charred bodies of hundreds of dead foxes. While he was inspecting the carnage, the old man entered the mansion. The old man's face was contorted with grief and anger. He said "I have never wronged you. I gave you hundreds pieces of gold in good faith. That is not a niggardy amount of money. How can you bury your conscience and slaughter us! I must avenge the cruel deaths of my family." Then the old man left. Li thought the old man would just try some supernatural tricks on his family, such as throwing bricks at his house, but years passed and nothing happened.

Then tens of thousands of bandits gathered in a nearby mountain. The local officials could not gather enough forces to suppress them. Li worried about the safety of his large family as well as his rather large fortune. Then an astrologer who called himself the Old Man of Southern Mountain arrived at the town. The astrologer became famous because he seemed to know everything and everything he predicted came true. Li invited the astrologer to his home and asked his future fortunes.

The astrologer stood up from his seat in respect and said "This is the true emperor!" Li was both afraid and astonished. Then he accused the astrologer of lying. The astrologer said "Since ancient times, all the dynasties are founded by emperors who came from common birth. Who among them are born emperor?" Li began to believe him.

The astrologer offered to became Li's military advisor and asked him to prepare armor and weapons. Li worried that no one will follow him. The astrologer said "I will go into the mountains and speak for the true emperor. I shall tell them of your grand destiny and the bandits will surely follow you." Li became glad and sent the astrologer along. Li than began to prepare as the astrologer instructed.

The astrologer returned a few days later and said "Your great prestige, plus my tongue have convinced all the bandits to follow you." Li looked outside and saw thousands ready to follow him, so he made the astrologer into his chief advisor. He then made a great banner, proclaiming his own imperial status.

He then fortified his positions in the mountains and the sound of his name shook the neighboring prefectures. When the prefecture sent an army against, Li's army, the astrologer led the defense and easily destroyed the small government army. The prefecturl magistrate became sorely afraid and asked for help from the principality magistrate. The principality magistrate dispatched a larger and better equipped army.

That army went into an ambush prepared by the astrologer and was again destroyed. The prestige of Li became great and his army swelled. He then styled himself the King of Nine Mountains. The astrologer told Li that the army needed horses. He told Li of a caravan transporting imperial horses from the capital. Li ambushed the caravan and took all the horses. His prestige swelled still more and so did his pride.

Li now gave the astrologer the title of Lord Protector. As for himself, he believed that he would soon wear the dragon robe. The provincial governor was very alarmed by his robbery of the imperial horses. He received reinforcement from the imperial government. He divided his army into six columns and attacked Tsao Chou.

The banner of the imperial army filled the mountain valleys around the King's fortress. The King of Nine Mountains became afraid and asked the astrologer for more advise, but his subordinates could not find the astrologer.

The great king looked down on his enemies and said "I never realized how powerful the imperial government is." Soon, his fortress was broken and he was captured.

Because he commited the crime of attempted usurpation as well as banditry, Li and his entire family were executed. It was only then he realized that the astrologer was the old fox he betrayed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Cat and the Mouse

The cat and the mouse played in the malt-house.

The cat bit the mouse's tail off.

"Pray, puss, give me my tail."

"No," says the cat, "I'll not give you your tail, till you go to the cow, and fetch me some milk."

First she leapt, and then she ran,
Till she came to the cow, and thus began:

"Pray, cow, give me milk, that I may give cat milk, that cat may give me my own tail again."

"No," said the cow, I will give you no milk, till you go to the farmer and get me some hay."

First she leapt, and then she ran,
Till she came to the farmer, and thus began:

"Pray, farmer, give me hay, that I may give cow hay, that cow may give me milk, that I may give cat milk, that cat may give me my own tail again."

"No," says the farmer, I'll give you no hay, till you go to the butcher and fetch me some meat."

First she leapt, and then she ran,
Till she came to the butcher, and thus began:

"Pray, butcher, give me meat, that I may give farmer meat, that farmer may give me hay, that I may give cow hay, that cow may give me milk, that I may give cat milk, that cat may give me my own tail again."

"No," says the butcher, "I'll give you no meat, till you go the baker and fetch me some bread."

First she leapt, and then she ran,
Till she came to the baker, and thus began:

Pray, baker, give me bread, that I may give butcher bread, that butcher may give me meat, that I may give farmer meat, that farmer may give me hay, that I may give cow hay, that cow may give me milk, that I may give cat milk, that cat may give me my own tail again."

"Yes," says the baker, I'll give you some bread,
But if you eat my meal, I'll cut off your head.

Then the baker gave mouse bread, and mouse gave butcher bread, and butcher gave mouse meat, and mouse gave farmer meat, and farmer gave mouse hay, and mouse gave cow hay, and cow gave mouse milk, and mouse gave cat milk, and cat gave mouse her own tail again!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Thousand-Days Liquor

Di Xi, who lived in Zhongshan, could make a liquor one cup of which was enough to get one drunk for a thousand days. There lived in the same prefecture a man called Liu Xuanshi, who, being a heavy drinker, went to Di to ask for it. "This brew is not yet ready," said Di. "I dare not give any to you." "Just one cup, please," Liu insisted, "though it is not yet ready." Because he said this, Di could not help giving him a cup, which he finished. "Wonderful!" he said. "Do give me some more." But Di said, "Please return home now and come on another day. The one cup you have drunk will make you sleep for a thousand days." So Liu left, the colour of his face having somewhat changed. As soon as he reached home, he apparently died of intoxication. His family believed he was dead, cried and buried him.

Three years later, Di said to himself, "It is time Liu woke up. I had better go and ask about him." He went to Liu's home and asked, "Is Mr. Liu in?" Surprised, Liu's people said, "He died a long time ago. The mourning for him is already over." It was now Di's turn to be surprised. "The liquor I made was so strong that he would sleep for a thousand days after drinking a cup of it," he said. "He ought to wake up today." He urged them to open the grave and break the coffin to have a look.

There was the smell of sweat on the grave. When it was opened, they saw Liu opening his eyes and mouth and heard him drawling, "How happy it is to be drunk!" Then he asked Di, "What did you brew to make me so drunk that I've woken up only today, How high is the sun now?" All those around the grave laughed. The smell of liquor from Liu's mouth got into their nostrils and put them all into a drunken sleep for three months.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Salt Peddler and the White Fox

Long, long ago, there was a salt peddler who was very poor. One day, as he had been doing everyday, he left his house early in the morning with a sackful of salt on his back. He travelled from one village to another, peddling salt to the villagers. After his last visit for the day to a remote village, he headed for home. He was virtually dragging his feet due to exhaustion from the day's work. He was still far away from his home when dusk settled in. It became completely dark in the middle of a rugged mountain with the dense growth of brushes and trees. Overwhelmed by fatigue and darkness, he could proceed any longer; so, he looked around to find some shelter for the night.

After a while, a huge rock caught his eye, He managed to reach the rock, whose top could be seen against the night sky. He put down his empty A-frame back carrier. He then noticed a cave-like hollow spot at a corner of the underside of the rock. The cave was large enough for him to crawl into and stretch himself; so, he settled in for the night. His eyelids became heavier and heavier. He was about to fall asleep, when he heard a strange sound. He became wide awake. So frightened was he that his hair stood on end. "What could it be?" With both jaws pressed against each other and holding his breath, he peered into the dark. He could not see anything unusual. He stuck out his head slightly. He could hear the sound more distictly. it was a faint voice of a woman.

Since it was unmistakably a human voice, he felt a little relieved. "But, what is she doing at this time of the night and in this rugged mounatin?" Curious, he crawled out of the cave to look around. However, he could not see a woman or anything else unusual. So, he came back to his shelter and lay down, hoping to sleep.

The salt peddler tried to forget everything and was ready to sleep, when he heard something, again. It sounded even more strange coming from somewhere above. He crawled quietly out of the cave, again, and looked up at the top of the rock. And he almost screamed! He saw a white fox, with her long tail drooping, sitting on top of the rock and grinding a human skull against the surface of the rock. The peddler was all but petrified at the frightful sight. But with all the courage he could muster, he crawled ever quietly toward a big tree nearby and watched every move of the fox behind it. The fox apparently did not notice him. She kept grinding the skull, occasionally turning it and apparently making it into some kind of container. After a while, the
fox was trying the skull container on her head and, when it did not fit well, she muttered with an irritated voice. She kept grinding and then tried it on, again. She repeated these several times, until finally she was satisfied. "Now, it fits! It's perfect." She wore the skull container and made several tumbling feats like an accomplished acrobat.

The whole scene gave the peddler icy chills in his spine. Though scared and shaking, he was staring at the fox so that he would not miss anything she did. After several more tumbling feats, the white fox suddenly disappeared and, instead, there stood a stooped old woman. Tidying up her hair, she talked to herself: "Oh, dear me, I'm a little late; they must be waiting for me anxiously." Then, she jumped down and started walking toward the village the peddler visited last that day.

The peddler soon became more curious than frightened, and decided to follow the old woman. Often he had to run to catch up with her. When the granny finally reached the village, she went straight into the house of the wealthiest in the village. "Here I am...finally!" When she announced her arrival, there was a commotion in the house, people dashing out to meet and greet her and asking why she was so late. The old woman seemed to know why she was expected there. She went straight into the room reserved for the housewife and her guests.

The peddler then approached the gate and asked for an overnight stay. Well known to the villagers, he was led to a male guest room across the women's living quarters. It was close to mid-night. The peddler lay down on the floor, trying to listen to every sound coming from the women's room across a small court yard. He could hear only indistinguishable noises. After a while, everything quieted down. Then, suddenly, there was a loud gong sound, followed by someone chanting incantations with intermittent interruptions by low, steady gong sounds. The peddler could swear that the chanting voice he heard was that of the old fox-woman. He sensed that something terribly wrong was going on in that room. "Without knowing the real identity of that old woman, they are letting her chant spells. The old fox must be cursing on someone, pretending to be exorcising some evil spirit," he thought. He felt he must do something about it. Just then, a farmhand of the house came into the room to sleep. "What's going on there? Is anybody ill?" asked the peddler. The farmhand casually said that because the old master of the household suddenly fell seriously ill, the family invited the granny, an old acquaintance who had the reputation of being the magic chanter in the vicinity, for her service. He hardly said that before he started snoring. Things were as the peddler had suspected. Except for occaslonal gong sounds, it was rather quiet. Perhaps, family members all fell asleep.

The salt peddler came out of the guest room and tiptoed across the court yard toward the women's quarters. The old woman's chanting was almost imperceptively low and mumbled. He stepped quietly up onto the wooden floor and sat in front of the paper-pasted sliding door of the room. Wetting his forefinger and gently pushed it through the paper door. Then he peeped into the room through the hole. All but the old woman were sleeping. The old fox-woman was still chanting spells with her eyes closed and with a gong stick in her right hand. The peddler listened carefully to her chantings in order to discern what was being said. "...this is mine, my feast... if this old stock ... Dies.... Die...die...hurry up and die! After you are dead, your soul, too, will be mine. Die! Die! Hurry up and go to hell! The sooner..., the better...." This old witch must be smiling, too, though the peddler could not see it.

The peddler felt indignation. It was upsetting to see the family members sleep without knowing what was really going on. He could not merely sit there doing nothing about it. He slipped down from the floor and went to a storage room. He came out with a wooden pestle and dashed into the family room. Everyone got up from sleep and looked at this mid-night intruder with a pestle in his hand. Without a single word, the peddler struck the old chanter hard on the head with the pestle. Everyone in the room jumped up and stepped aside, astonished and dumbfounded. And the old fox-woman fell flat with the barking sounds of a fox, and turned back into a white fox with a cracked human skull on its head. While all this was happening everyone in the whole house gathered in the room, looking at one another and at the blood-covered fox. The peddler then told them about what had happened since that evening in the mountain. "How horrible! It was close! The master would have died...."

Next morning, the old master recovered as suddenly as he had fallen ill. The salt peddler was richly rewarded by the master, and from that day on he lived happily without having to peddle salt any longer.