Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (1)

South Sea Butterfly (aka Hundred Illusions Butterfly)

Physical Description:

A huge butterfly that still weighs about 80g after its massive wingspans are cut off

Lore:

It is said that sailors of South Sea had once encountered something as massive as a sail that fluttered by and hit the sails on their ship. They hit this thing with a heavy object and it fell down in a scattered form. The sailors took a take at it and found that it was a massive butterfly. They cut its wings and weighed it and found that it was about 80g. They consumed its meat and found it to be delicious.

Alternatively, it was said that it was a species of butterflies native to the Sea Market (as in half of the term for ‘ mirage’ in Chinese) and its shape was ever changing. Hence its other name- the Hundred Illusions Butterfly.


Wang Yu Fish (Wang Yu means Lord’s leftover) aka Wu’s Leftover

Physical Description:

A fish that has only half of its body intact from head to tail.

Lore:

According to legends, the Lord of the Wu region (around the Jiang Nan province in modern days) had only eaten half of a fish dish and discarded the leftovers into the waters, which then turned into the species of Wang Yu Fish.

There are stories of how when there is a leak in a pond, a Wang Yu Fish could not go with the flow of water and lay dying. Someone shone a mirror in front of it and seeing its own reflection in the mirror, the fish thought it was whole again (or there were two of them) and it was able to go along with the reflection.


Lu Shu

Physical Description:

A horse-like creature whose head is white, with tiger-like stripes on its body and a red tail.

Special Properties:

Its call is like folklore music. Wearing its skin improves fertility.


Qu

Physical Description:

A fish shaped like a cow, has a snake-like tail and wings growing under the ribs.

Special Properties:

Its call is that of yaks. Its meat is a preventative measure against boils.

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (3)

Li Tree

Physical Description:
A tree with square leaves and yellow flowers that sprouts tiny floss on their petals.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears are fist-sized. Consuming them will greatly improve one’s memory, might even make someone attain photographic memory.


Zhi Chu

Physical Description:
A plant that looks like okra except that it has red flowers.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears are like Chinese honey locust with a hard husk outside. Consuming them has a similar effect to drinking Red Bull or other strong energy drinks.


Du Heng

Physical Description:
A plant that looks like spinach and has a stink.


Special Properties:
Putting this grass onto a horse can make it run faster. Consuming it can also heal abnormal growths in the neck area.


Yao Grass

Physical Description:
A plant with vibrant growth of leaves, yellow leaves and fruits resembling the dodder plant.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears would make you more attractive or likeable.


Lore:
Yan Di (a legendary figure in the prehistoric age who invented farming and herbal medicine, reputedly a minotaur) has a beautiful daughter who passed away before she was married (i.e. young). Her spirit arrived at the Gu Yao Mountain and became the Yao Grass.


Wang shu he

Physical Description:
A large lotus-like plant that is about 1.3m tall and has up to four flowers growing up of each stem.


Special Properties:
Its leaves are curled up in days and only uncurl at nights. Specifically, they only uncurl at the appearance of the moon.


Lore:
Reputedly, they are the tribute paid by a kingdom to the south of ancient China.

Beliefs about Numbers in Ancient China

I decided to write a post about a Chinese fun fact today and having no ideas, I Goggled it. What caught my eyes was number superstition. So today I am going to trace back the beliefs about numbers (or rather single digits since I want to limit the scope of this post) in ancient China:

One: there is no superstition around this number per se, but it was regarded as the ‘mother of all creatures’ due to the section in the famous Taoist text by the philosopher Lao Zi which gave a theory of how the world was born which said ‘The Way gave birth to One, One gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three, Three gave birth to Everything.”

Two: online sources would say this is considered a lucky number in Chinese due to the saying “good things come in twos.” I’ve traced back this idiom back to a modern biography about a late Qing or Manchurian dynasty merchant/government official. Therefore, I conclude that there is no superstition around the number 2 per se. 

Three: as far as I can make out, ancient Chinese seem to use three in an abstract rather than concrete sense such that three is often a synonym for many. 

Four: I think this is more modern superstition as opposed to coming from ancient times and it’s probably more prevalent in Hong Kong (well, I cannot really speak for mainland China, I was born in Shanghai but I only spent my pre-primary school years there and I only started remembering things at the age of 5). In essence, four and death sounds a bit similar in Chinese. 

Five: Except for its relation to the Five Elements or Wu Xing, a geomancy/Feng shui concept from the I Ching or Book of Changes, a text for fortune telling, this number does not have much meaning

Six: There was an ancient text that related the sixth of June on the Chinese calendar to smoothness and so six was considered a lucky number 

Seven: I can’t really track down why this number would be considered lucky. I personally can see why it would considered unlucky, though: July according to the Chinese calendar contains the Ghost Festival and accordingly, July is considered the Ghost Month

Eight: Apparently, why this is considered lucky actually has a root in ancient times. This surprised me- I thought it was like 4, based upon similarity of its sound to a verb in Cantonese which means attaining a fortune. But apparently, its roots comes from Taoism in which eight represents wholeness and completeness given that its founding text, the Book of Changes, is based upon eight trigrams and the eight cardinal directions also represents the whole universe in Taoism spatial conception. 

Nine: This is a number traditionally associated with the Emperor, partly because it is the highest single digit. In particular, ancient China was conceptualised as Nine Provinces (Chiu Chou), the Emperor wears a robe featuring a dragon with nine-toed claws whereas his brother and cousins can only wear robes featuring dragons with claws that have less toes than nine etc. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (5)- Fu Hao

Who is she:

  • A woman whose surname or first name was Hao (Fu is some kind of prestigious title) who was one of the sixty-odd wives to Wu Ding, the Emperor of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC)
  • The first known female military commander in Chinese history, also a politician and overseer of rites/fortune telling ceremonies (a very important aspect of the Shang era, all big decisions were made in consultation with fortune telling)
  • Has one son and one daughter surviving her 

Notable Life Events:

  • Commanded the first recorded ambush in Chinese history
  • Was married to three of her husbands’ ancestors in death to fulfill his wish for her to be taken care well in the nether realms
  • Cause of death unknown: might have been due to the difficult birth of her daughter or during battle or due to a battle wound

Why is she remarkable:

  • Other than being the first female military commander, Fu Hao is potentially the one with most power amongst all well-known ancient Chinese female generals. To my not-quite-extensive knowledge, she was the only one with her own claims to territory. That was partly her era, when power was not yet centralised in the hands of the Emperor, when it was common that nobles or feudal lords were granted separate territory that they largely ran autonomically. 
  • Amongst the well-known Court women passed down in Chinese history (i.e wives and concubines to emperors), I believe she is the only one with a claim for military prowess. My sources seem to indicate that is not true of her particular era though since one of the other wives to her husband apparently also led armies but seemed to be less capable or not completed as key victories as Fu Hao. 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

With the scant information on her (which is understandable given the era she came from), I’m not getting much of a sense on her personality. All I can say is that she certainly seemed to have a lot of initiative both from the particular era she came from and her own capabilities. She also seemed to have a harmonious relation with her husband given the importance of the roles she was given when she was alive and how she was treated after her death. Overall, she seems like a good protagonist to drop into a historical fiction/fantasy story. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (2)

I usually run my Remarkable Women in ancient China (RWAC) series this month but I didn’t want a break in between the Mythical Flora series so I decided to move back the RWAC post to next month.

Face Tree

Physical Description:

A tree with branches that sprout peach-like fruits with human faces

 Lore:

Another lifeform classified as Yao (see Lore section for Shadow Wood)


Leaning Mulberry

Physical Description:

Made up of two large mulberry trees that lean towards and support each other.

Lore:

The place where Xi He’s chariot containing one of Three Legged Crows rose to the sky from (see Three Legged Crow entry in [7438|Good Omen Chinese Mythical Lifeforms])


Construction Wood

Physical Description:

A tree without any off-shoots, with interweaving branches and roots at the top and bottom respectively. Its leaves are like nets and of an indigo colour. Its branches are violet and much like old-fashioned TV antennas found on rooftops*. Its flowers are black, its fruits yellow and olive-shaped. The whole tree has a shape akin to a cow. Its barks peel off easily.

*The actual text makes the comparison to a certain type of tree but I can’t find the English translation for this specific type of tree so I just substitute it with what the tree reminds me of upon finding out what the tree mentioned actually looks like

Lore:

It was said that these trees grow on the shore of what is now known as the Black River that flows past the Gan Su province and Inner Mongolia. According to legends, Construction Wood was used by Huang Ti to construct a ladder that connects Heaven to the mortal realm that deities use to ascend to Heaven.


Yan Wood

Physical Description:

A tree that bears apple-like fruits that are edible once its skin turns red. 


Zhu Yu

Physical Description:

A lump of grass with similar shape to Chinese leek or Chinse chives that sprouts a few flowers of indigo colour

 Special Properties:

It will fill the stomach but only when pulled freshly from the soil.

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (1)

Shadow Wood

Physical Description:

A tree distinguishable because in the day-time, each of its leaves has one hundred of the Chinese character that means “shadow” on it while at night its flowers will shine like stars. This tree will only bear fruit every 10 000 years. Its fruits are as large as a melon, with a green skin and black seeds.

Special Properties:

Consuming the fruit of this tree will cause the body to become lighter (could also be interpreted as a bonus to speed and jumping abilities)

Lore:

Reputedly one of the fauna or flora that have taken on sentience (or at least become different in some way) from being ancient and/or having absorbed (or possibly developed on their own) a certain amount of “essence” of nature. In Chinese, such life forms are referred to as “Yao Jing” where Yao refers to anything and everything out of the common and Jing can be translated to “essence”.

Translation Quirk:

At first, I thought each leave of the Shadow Wood has 100 shadows rather than having 100 Chinese characters of the word “shadow” on it. In Chinese, usually a word is composed of at least 2 characters. For the term “shadow”, it is far more common for it to be represented by 2 Chinese characters, the first already meaning “shadow” on its own and the second one meaning “son” on its own but when used in combination with other characters is really more of a “space filler”. In addition, the character that means “son” and the character that means “word” in Chinese are quite similar in form. 

Golden Ivy Moss (aka Nightglow Moss)

Physical Description:

An egg-shaped moss of a golden colour

Special Properties:

It will glow when put in water.

Lore:

A gift from a foreign country to China during the Jin Dynasty (the Dynasty straight after the Period of the Three Kingdoms)

Ivy Bloom

Physical Description:

A spinach-like plant, whose flowers can take on five different colour depending on the time of the day. In particular, its flowers are purple in the morning, green at noon, yellow in the afternoons, indigo near sunset and red at night.

Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese String Instruments (Guqin) (3)

Now, the last of this series:

  1. Pillar Circler

Appearance & Characteristics:

Its name came from a story published in a famous ancient text: a renowned female singer from the Han region in the Zhou dynasty who was travelling to the Qi kingdom but ran out of money half way and so had to resort to singing on the street to beg for money. Her melancholy sword circled in the air like the call of a swallow. Moreover, it was said that her voice still circled and reverberated among the pillars within houses three days after she had left. Thus, this instrument had a strong echo.

Lore:

When this instrument was actually constructed is unknown. However, legend says that it was brought to the Lord of the Chu kingdom (known as Chu Zhuang Wang, that’s not his actual name but a title, Wang is the Chinese character for a feudal lord) as a tribute by a person named Hua Yuan. It was said that Chu Zhuang Wang received the Pillar Circler, he was totally immersed in the beautiful music it produced. There was once when he didn’t go to court for seven consecutive days and forgot all about the affairs of the kingdom. His wife got really worried and said to him, “Lord, you are too immersed in music! In the past, Lord Xia Jie loved to hear Mei Xi playing the Se (another string instrument that have 50, 25 or 23 strings). Similarly, Lord Zhou lost the kingdom to decadent music. Now, Lord you are so immersed in the music produced by the Pillar Circler so as to not go to court for seven days. Do you also want to forfeit your kingdom and your life?” That made Chu Zhuang Wang think. In the end, he decide to heed his wife’s advice. So he ordered the Pillar Circler to be broken up by iron hammers and this highly sought after instrument became history.

  1. Horn-bell

Appearance & Characteristics:

The timbre from this instrument is very grand, like the long note from a horn or the ringing of a temple bell (that is usually as tall and wide as one man), such that music produced from it would vibrate strongly in audiences’ ears.

Lore:

Made in the Zhou dynasty, *Bo Ya (a skilled player of the guqin who was renowned because the story about him and his friend created the Chinese term for a friend who has a keen appreciation for one’s talents zhi yin which literally means “know music/sound”) had once owned it. It subsequently fell into the hands of Qi Yuan Gong, the virtuous Lord of the Qi Kingdom during the period of the Spring and Autumn Warring States. He was a man who had great musical talents and had quite a collection of high quality guqins. Among these, he especially treasured Horn-bell. He had once asked his retainers to knock on the horns of oxen and sing accompaniments while he used the Horn-bell to perform. It was said that the effect was very poignant and the servants who were serving on the side all ended up in tears.

Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese Broadswords and Knives (Dao) (2)

The broadsword that I’m describing today has really dramatic and awesome lore.

 

No. 7: Cold Moon

Appearance & Construction:

Forged by Madam Xu of the Warring States period before the Qin Dynasty.

 

Lore:

There is a very grand lore surrounding this blade. Specifically, it goes as follows:

Madam Xu was originally a scholar and she often sung songs to the moon. One night, a ferocious wind suddenly arose. The whole sky first became dark with heavy overcast and then became framed in a halo of red, with the moon surrounded by comets. Then a single loud thunder sounded, followed by a pillar of golden light rushing to break up the thick clouds and then rushing back down to ground again. This downward motion of the golden light caused a big reverberation that made Madam Xu unconscious. When she woke up again, the sky was clear and the moon’s light shone clear for thousands of miles, accompanied by starlight interspersed here and there. Everything appeared as if the dramatic scene she had just witnessed never happened. And then she heard an otherworldly call from amidst the winds. So she walked in the opposite direction of the winds. It was a summer’s night and supposed to be very hot and yet it was really chilly. Madam Xu walked into a forest and deep within it, she saw a terrifying sight. All of the trees in a radius of ten miles had been hacked to pieces and in the midst stood not really a simple fallen meteor but almost a blade completely formed that emanated a strong coldness. Struggling against such cold, Madam Xu pulled the blade free and saw that it was crystalline throughout and showed an ethereal beauty under the moonlight. The blade was still very chilly to the touch and upon closer observation, it was shaped like a new moon. Thus Madam Xu named the blade Cold Moon.

 

Placing this blade within her abode, Madam Xu suddenly had the urge to learn the craft of forging broadswords and set out to do so. Moreover, Madam Xu had quite the knack for it and learnt very fast. Then Madam spent ten full days and nights in her house forging Cold Moon into completion, not partaking of any food but merely subsisting on water. When Madam Xu emerged after the ten days, her friends observed that she had a haggard look and all her hair had become silvery white but her eyes shone bright. And the blade in her hands shone with a fierce light that was terrifying to behold. It was said that the smith who had taught Madam Xu the business of crafting had originally wanted to test his own broadsword against Cold Moon but he could not even get it out of the scabbard. For Cold Moon was the king among broadswords and no broadsword would dare to match against it.

 

Soon the reputation of the Cold Moon had travelled far and wide and alerted the Lord of the Zhao Kingdom (State). So he sent an emissary with ten thousand gold to purchase the Cold Moon. However, Madam Xu refused, saying that the blade is not of this realm and should not be handled by a mortal. Feeling insulted, the Lord of Zhao sent out assassins to get the blade and kill Madam Xu. That night, one hundred and twenty assassins laid siege to Madam Xu but she held out strong wielding Cold Moon. Specifically, it was said that all who were injured by the blade would have their blood frozen and their tendons and bones broken. Yet, at the end, Madam Xu’s stamina ran out and she killed herself with the blade. When the Lord of Zhao attained this blade, he continuously experienced nightmares and heard Madam Xu wailing whenever a cold wind blew. His royal concubines and sons all died from sicknesses. So he placed the blade under a three-footed instrument called Ding (originally one used for cooking but subsequently became used for ceremonial purposes only) to forcefully contain the hatred housed in the blade. Yet, the Zhao State still perished within a year. After the unsuccessful assassination of the founder of the Qin dynasty by Jing Ke using Cold Moon, this blade fell into the hands of Qin Shi Huang (the Beginning Emperor of Qin) and he became the only one who could ‘tame’ the blade. After the demise of the Qin dynasty, however, the whereabouts of this blade became lost.

 

 

Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese Broadswords and Knives (Dao) (1)

Another of my Chinese lore posts and this time it would stretch across a number of posts. Pictures for some of the “weapons” in this submission can be seen at http://baike.baidu.com/view/795444.htm. What’s available are for no 4 up to no 9. Same as usual, I’m starting with no. 10 and working backwards to no. 1.

No. 10: Pao Din’s Cooking Knife

Appearance & Construction:

An ordinary cooking knife in both appearance and construction, with an iron rectangular blade attached to a wooden handle. Such a knife is an all-purpose cooking knife that can be used to cut, dice and pound meat into minces and paste form for making meatballs.

Lore:

Pao Din (which is not his actual name but is a term that just means “a cook whose surname is Din”) is renowned for his skill at killing a cow and dissecting it into various parts for cooking. In particular, it was said that he had attained his own Tao (refer to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao for more details on this concept) in dissecting a cow. Specifically, he would always cut a cow at the empty gaps between tendon and flesh so that the blade of his cutting knife would meet no resistance. Consequently, while normal cooks have to change their cutting knives every few years, the blade of his knife never even gets to be honed. Also, there is an idiom directly evolved from this that is used to describe how someone could fulfil a particular task with ease. It is called You Ren You Yu which basically refers to the fact that the blade he wields can flit in and out of a whole cow with ease (The first character is the same character as swim but here it refers to the movement of the blade, Ren is the character for the cutting edge of the blade, You Yu means more than sufficient/adequate).

Overall, this knife is the only blade among the top 10 that are not married by human blood. In actual fact, it is a symbol of the Taoist Pathway of Nourishing Lives (Yang Sheng Zi Tao) that espouses the view that the commitment to drifting with the currents and passivity (i.e. letting everything naturally evolve by themselves) is the only way to attain the state of “You Ren You Yu”.

No. 9: the Tang Broadsword

Lore:

A name that encompass four different classes of broadswords that have standard use in the army, it has become a very renowned ‘brand’ for Chinese broadswords in modern days. However, there is no record of any broadswords that go by such a name in actual history but such types of broadswords were roughly created some time during the period spanning from Western Han to the Tang dynasty. Specifically, it was said to come about from the attempt of smiths and soldiers in seeking to redesign blade heads to combine the characteristics of a longsword with the Western Han Ring Sword.

No. 8: The Kun Wu Broadsword

Appearance & Construction:

Named for being constructed from the material mined from Mt. Kun Wu.

Lore:

It was said that on Mt. Kun Wu grew a special type of flame-red copper. Moreover, the legend says that a blade made out of such copper is able to cut through jade.

Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese String Instruments (Guqin) (2)

Continuing from last time, here’s the next snippet and the last one of this series will be posted this Friday/Thursday.

  1. Scorched Tail

Appearance & Characteristics:

Made from a scorched block of wood from a Chinese parasol tree, its name is derived from the fact that the tail of this instrument shows visible scorch marks.

Lore: Crafted by the scholar and musician Cai Yong of the late Han/Three Kingdoms era from a block of scorched wood he discovered during his wanderings/fleeing across the land to avoid military unrest. Specifically, he found that the block of wood has a unique sound and carefully crafted a guqin out of this piece of wood. Much to his expectations, the instrument that came about had an extradordinary ‘voice’.

Three hundred years later, the Emperor of a short-lived dynasty who held this instrument in his hands asked a famous musician of that time to perform for him using the Scorched Tail. After playing for five days, this musician composed a song titled the Song of Vexation on the spot and presented it to the Emperor as a gift.

  1. Green Silk/Elegance

Appearance & Characteristics:

There is carved onto this instrument four Chinese characters that mean the “essence of Tong and Zi” that imply that this instrument combines the best properties of an instrument made from the Tong (probably Chinese parasol) and Zi (catalpa ovata) trees.

Lore:

Gifted to the famous scholar Sima Xiang Ru of the Han dynasty by the noble Liang Wang (Lord of the Liang region) for composing a beautiful verse for him titled the Jade-like Verse (Ru Yu Fu). In particular, Xiang Ru was already a skilled player. With the Green Silk in his possession, both himself and the instrument reached their height of fame, so much that the name Green Silk became used as a generic term to refer to an instrument of high quality/a renowned instrument.

Moreover, this instrument also played an important role in the love story of Xiang Ru and his wife Wen Jun, which was not just romantic but famous because it had a *‘happy ending’. The basic story goes as follows: Xiang Ru was a very talented scholar that was quite well known but poor. One day when he was invited to the house of a rich merchant who was appreciative of his talents. There was a party going on and he was asked to perform with the Green Silk Knowing that the merchant’s daughter, who had quite a reputation for being talented at both literature and music and also happened to admire himself, Xiang Ru took the opportunity to declare his love for her through performing the love song Feng Qiu Huang (Male Phoenix courting Female Phoenix). The result was that Wen Jun eloped with him and they eventually became a happy married couple.

Note: Recently, I’ve found that there’s more to the love story and it isn’t as happy an ending. Specifically, after becoming a court official, Xiang Ru had apparently thought of dumping Wen Jun and/or taking a concubine. While this did not eventually come to happen and the two of them stuck together to the end, I think most who found out about this latter development would feel somewhat cheated of this actual ending.