Author Archives: Yunqian Hsu

The Legend of the Fenzhong Temple

Context: the collector interviewed the informant (as GL) for legends in Beijing. The informant is a USC student from Beijing. The informant answered in English.

 

Main piece: There was a bell in the Fenzhong Temple in Beijing. Different people would hear different sounds when the bell rang. It was like the bell was talking to them.

 

GL: Have you ever heard of the Fenzhong Temple?

Collector: No.

GL: So Fenzhong stands for “minute”(分钟) in Chinese. The Fenzhong Temple is a very famous temple in the city of Beijing. There is a legend that in the 20th century, when people who worked in the temple rang the bell, everybody around the temple would hear a different sound. People were saying that the bell was saying something.

For example, if a kid has just finished school and then hear the bell, he would hear something like “school is finished”. When it is time to sleep, people would hear the bell saying “it’s time to go to bed”.

Collector: Have you ever heard the bell? Is it still there?

GL: I never heard of it by myself. The bell is still there, but it’s more like a tourist site now. It’s no longer a real temple.

Collector: So how did you learn this story?

GL: I think I heard of it from friends. Because I live in Beijing, you know, so people are telling this story.

Collector: From your peers or parents?

GL: From my peers, probably.

Collector: Do you think it’s real?

GL: It’s definitely not real, come on. But I think it’s a good story to tell kids.

Collector: Have you visited the temple?

GL: I haven’t visited the temple, but I used to take a tutor class around that place. I’ve never been inside the temple.

Collector: Do you think young kids in Beijing nowadays still believe in this?

GL: I don’t think they do. It’s more like a legend. I don’t think people really believe in this.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

This legend makes me think about the relationship between actual existence of a subject and the legend(s) of it. If the bell in that temple is still being rung today, the legend is much less likely to exist and continued to be passed down, as it is (almost) impossible for a bell to talk to people. The legend thrives on the fact that the subject does not exist anymore so the truth of the subject can no longer be testified. Also, the legend can serve as a tool to attract tourists to the place.

What Trees Not To Plant in Your Yard

Context:

The collector interviewed the informant for Chinese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector. She lives in Shanghai. She learned some of the following folk beliefs about twenty years ago from a seller, when she was buying trees for a new house she bought. Another time she learned the superstition about peach tree because she saw her new neighbors cutting down a peach tree in their front yard and asked them why.

 

Main piece:

  • Peach tree

Peach trees should not be planted in front of the house.

The first reason is related to a Chinese folk speech: 桃花运 (In Pinyin: Táo Huā Yùn, Literally: Peach Flower Luck), which means good luck of encountering love relationships. If people in the family frequently see peach flowers as they step out the door, that might bring extramarital affairs to this family, which should be avoided.

Another reason is that in Chinese folklores, weapons or charms made of peach wood are used as tools in exorcism. So peach wood is considered to be related with evil things and people don’t want them to grow near their house.

 

  • Mulberry tree

Mulberry trees should not be planted in front of the house. The Chinese name for mulberry tree is 桑树 (In Pinyin: Sāng Shù, literally: Mulberry Tree) . Meanwhile, another character with the same pronunciation, 丧 (In Pinyin: Sāng), means funerals and mourning. Thus it is not a good sign to plant mulberry trees in front of one’s house.

 

  • Willow tree

Willow trees should not be planted in the back yard. Because willow trees do not bear fruits, willow trees in the back yard are believed to signify a family without offspring. Also, because willow trees often appear in Chinese grave yards (Collector’s note: which the informant doesn’t know why), they seem ominous.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

There are a lot of Chinese folk beliefs based on homophony or puns, probably because there are numerous Chinese characters with the same pronunciation. The belief about mulberry trees is a very good example. Chinese people also care a lot about arrangement, decoration and surroundings of their home.

Even though people do not necessarily believe in any cause-and-effect relation stated in these folk beliefs, they always think it’s better not to violate these taboos.

The folk belief about peach trees might count as a meta-folklore because it is derived from a folk speech and belief in magic.

Direction of knots on clothing

Context: The informant is the kendo teacher in a kendo club that the collector joins. Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art and sport. Players use bamboo swords and protective armors. The informant and the collector were at a club party. The collector asked the informant about folk beliefs in Kendo. The informant is Japanese American. He has practiced kendo for thirty years.

 

Main piece:

In kendo, clothing is in traditional Japanese style. There are no buttons. All parts are tied around the body. When players are fastening their clothing, they should keep the knots (結び, In Roman: Musubi ) horizontal. The knots must not be vertical, because that is only for clothing of deceased people on their funerals, according to Japanese culture.

 

Collector’s thought:

It is probably common in customs that something about dead people is treated opposite from how it is supposed to be for living people. This may be an attempt to make a clear division between living people and the dead. An example of similar practices: in East Asian culture, for clothing that has two parts of collars, the collar on the left side should always be on the top for living people. Right collar on the top is only for dead people.

Witch in Georgia

Context: The collector is interviewing the informant for tales. The informant (as GL) is a Chinese USC student who went to high school in Georgia. His classmates told him this story in a history class, the content of which was related with witch hunts.

 

GL: The story happened when there was witch hunting.

Collector: In the US?

GL: Yeah probably. So there were too many hares and they ate up all the crops. So hunters wanted to hunt them down. There was one particular hare that was gigantic, very huge. And so they go consult the witch. They cannot catch the hare so they go to the witch for help. The witch is like, “Okay you guys should just go to this place to find it (the giant hare) and don’t let the giant black dog lose and just let it chase after the hare.” The hunters don’t know what that means. They keep that in mind and they find the giant hare. During the process (of pursuing the hare), a giant black dog jumps out of nowhere and takes a bite on the giant hare’s hind leg. The hare ran off. The giant black dog also ran off. The hunters went back to the witch and was like, “We found the hare, but sorry that we couldn’t keep track with the black dog coming out of nowhere.” But what they figured out was, you know, on the hip of the witch, there was a bite mark like where the dog bit the hare. I don’t remember what happened to the witch later. Sorry.

Collector: Do you think this story happens in Georgia?

GL: Yeah I guess so. You know, there was a time in the 17th or 18th century where there were witch trials and people were suspicious about witches causing misfortunes, you know.

Collector: Do you think people view the story as a legend or just a fairy tale?

GL: Apparently witches are not real. They were just unfortunate women accused as witches. I guess it has some sort of authenticity with it. Well it also can be completely made up by people.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

As the informant has mentioned, the legend is probably developed in the time of witch hunt. People of that period of time blamed natural factors that had negative impact on their daily production on witches and transferred their anger to innocent women. I think the tale is interesting, and it makes people remember the dark time of witch hunt.

God’s Tour

Context:

The collector interviewed the informant for Taiwanese folklores. The informant is the father of the collector. He was born and raised in a town by Kaohsiung, a city in the southern part of Taiwan.

 

Main piece:

绕境  In Pinyin: rào jìng

Literally: tour around the region

Rao Jing is the practice of a particular god enshrined in one shrine going out for a tour to visit other shrines or temples that enshrine the same god. The most common Rao Jing is Rao Jing of Mazu.

Taiwanese people, just like people living in other coastal regions in Southern China and some parts of Southeast Asia, have strong belief in the folk goddess Mazu. She is the major god who protects fishermen on the sea. There are countless shrines for Mazu in Taiwan.

Exchange activities are held among different shrines. When clergies in the shrines ask for the will of the goddess and it is revealed that she want to go on a tour, they will carry the goddess (the idol) outside to visit other Mazu shrines. The goddess usually visits multiple shrines during one tour.

When a guest god arrives at another shrine, the clergies at the local shrine and the believers living around the shrine prepare welcome banquets. Banquets are for the god and also for the people. The guest god will be worshiped by locals, and all the party accompanying the guest god will be served, including the clergies, the workers such as the bearers of the god’s litter (the chair vehicle) and the believers who follow the god from the original place.

 

The informant never participates such practice. He has only witnessed it.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

I witnessed once or twice such practice in my hometown when I was little, but I didn’t know the name of it until the informant (my father) told me this time. It is an interesting practice in folk religious system that facilitates communication between regional communities.

It is also important to note that in the vernacular religious system in Taiwan (or maybe say in Chinese culture), even though different shrines worship the same god, there is a distinction between the individuals of that particular god enshrined in different places.