Content created: 2014-05-21
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A common theme, both in Daoism and in Chinese popular tales, is that things are not what they appear to be. There are many stories in which animals disguise themselves as humans, or in which drawings, folded paper figures, or various small objects are mistaken for living things —often monsters— only to retreat into their innocuous inanimate format in the cold light of the following morning. The ability to create and animate such "monsters" is often associated with traditions of Daoist exoticism and/or with the "black arts."
The following story is fairly typical of the general logic involved.
Dou Buji was the nephew of a meritorious minister serving the emperor Gaozu of the Tang dynasty [reign 12a-1]. He was appointed captain of the imperial guard, and when he grew old he retired to his native place, Taiyuan, in Shanxi province. He built a home in the Yangqu district north of the city. That is where I met him.
In his youth, Buji was a daring and courageous man and was involved with countless adventures. He often collected a dozen or so friends for cock fights or hunts with dogs, and he was willing to bet tens of thousands of qian in games of chance.
A few lǐ northeast of Taiyuan there appeared from time to time (usually at night or on rainy days) a demon some twenty feet tall, which sometimes blocked the road. Some people who encountered it instantly died of fright. One of Buji’s friends proposed a bet: “Let’s award five thousand qián to whoever is brave enough to go and shoot the demon with a bow and arrow.”
The other boys kept quiet at this, but Buji volunteered for the deed, and when night came, he headed out.
The others consulted with each other: “If he hides outside of town and then lies to us that he hit the demon with an arrow in the night, how will we know he is lying? We need to follow him secretly and watch.”
When Buji reached the place where the demon was usually seen, it was just coming out of its lair. Buji gave chase and shot an arrow at it. The demon ran away with the arrow sticking in it, but Buji ran after it and shot again and again, although it was now too dark to see his target. Finally, hit with three arrows, the demon collapsed at the foot of a bluff.
Buji returned to town, and his friends rushed to meet him, laughing. “We were afraid that perhaps you would hide somewhere and then trick us,” they said. “So we secretly followed you and now we know how brave you are, and how skillful.” With that they awarded the money to him, although by the time they were all done with their celebratory drinking, the money had all been used up.
The next day they went to look at the place at the foot of the bluff where the demon had been shot. There they found a dummy made of willow branches like the dummies sometimes used in funeral processions. (In the capital, such figures are made of bamboo, but there is no bamboo near Taiyuan, so willow branches are substituted.) Beside it were the three arrows.
From then on the demon never appeared again to block the road, and Buji became famous far and wide for his courage.
He retired at the age of seventy-something, but his courage never diminished.
Source: Rumored Stories by NIU Su (Tang dynasty)
I am unable to locate the Chinese original of this story. It is here retold from an Esperanto translation in pages 24-25 of the following compilation of ghost-buster stories from various periods. That volume identifies the source of this story only as Rumored Stories by NIU Su (Tang dynasty)
- 1961 Rakontoj pri fantom-spitantoj. (Kompilita de la Literatura Instituto de la Ĉina Akademio de Sciencoj.) Tr. by Pandiŝo and L. Ko. Chinese title: 不怕鬼的故事. Beijing: Ĉina Esperanto-Ligo.
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