Author Archives: Xingyu Chen


This friend of mine contributed the story of Nvwa, which she learned from her grandmother when she was young. This is also a well-known lore in China. 


Nvwa is a goddess in the lore that created every creature on earth. It is said that she created seventy different creatures on each day when the world was first formed. One day, Nvwa walked on the boundless land and suddenly felt very lonely. She felt like she should add something more to the earth to make it more lively. She kept walking and thinking what else should she create. When she stopped by a pond, she bowed down and saw her own reflection in the water. She finally realized, this world’s got all kinds of creations, but none of those are like herself. Why not create one that resemble herself?

She took some mud by her side and added some water, starting to play with it till it appeared to be a baby-like thing. She put it on the ground, and as soon as the thing touched the ground, it gained live and began to call her mom. That “mom” pleased Nvwa a lot. She looked at her clever creature and gave it a name, “human”. She was satisfied with her work, so she kept making those little human, and those little human kept her company and she was no longer lonely. She kept working, and working, and wanted to make enough humans to be all over the world. This huge work load though, exhausted Nvwa long before she achieved her goal. At last, she came up with the idea of dividing these humans into male and female. Male and female will pair up, and they will be in charge of reproducing other humans. In this way, Nvwa doesn’t even need to worry about human’s extinction brought by death. Therefore, human prospered and spread all over the world.


The lore that Nvwa created human race was indeed well-known in China, though the version I heard was a little different. In the version I heard, Nvwa used a branch to deep in the mixture of mud and water, then span it. The spattered mud would become humans. Other than that, things are pretty much the same. This lore reminded me of Genesis in Bible, of how God created all the animals and humans — both Nvwa and God chose to make human to look like them. Also, humans are the very last creation they made. There are other myths that describe Nvwa to have a upper human body and a snake tail (kind of like mermaid).

Japanese spirit

My friend who took Japanese Literature last semester contributed this story, since one of the chapters was all about Japanese folktales. This sad story is the first tale comes to her mind, but was only because she misunderstood the plot for the first time reading it and that cost her quite a lot points in midterm. She also was a bit unsatisfied that the man in the story did not receive enough punishment for what he did. 


One day, a poor man who lived in Capital learned that a friend he knew was appointed to be the governor of a province far away. He went to the friend and explained his situation, hoping he could get any job available. The friend did offer him a spot on court. This man has a young wife and they were so in love that were inseparable, even though they live in poverty. However, now the man decided to leave his wife for someone new, a richer one who would provide him for the trip and even come with him to the new job to take care of him. Throughout years, though the man missed his first wife dearly, he never went back to visit her until his friend’s term ended.

Upon arrival at the Capital, the man rushed to his old house, found the front gate open and directly went in. The house seemed to be old and ruined. It seemed like no one lived in there for a long time. Nevertheless, he found his wife lying in the house all alone, just like she was in the old days. She saw him came in and greeted him with joy but with no anger. The man told her how he missed her and how he would never leave her again. She looked extremely happy. They laid in each others arm and went to sleep.

In the morning, the sunlight woke the man up. In horror he found a corpse died long ago. In his arm it was not his wife but dried skin over dead bones. He bursted into neighbor’s house and demanded where’s the woman lived next door. The neighbor told him, ever since her husband left her, she was so hurt that she became very sick. Since she was too poor to have anyone take care of her, she quickly passed away, and there was no one there to collect her body. People are afraid to go near that house again because they thought it’s haunted. The man was in deep regret.


I wonder how this story ties to the famous Japanese ghost story Hone-onna. It sounds a lot like Hone-onna’s origin, I’m not sure. Hone-onna means “bone-lady”. In the legend, Hone-onna disguises herself as a gorgeous lady but is actually a skeleton.  She seduces men but only to kill them later. How the story ends does not fit the characteristics of Hone-onma though.

Qixi Festival

This friend of mine heard I was finding people to collect folklore and decided to help. He came up with several origins of traditional Chinese festivals. For this particular festival, he learned it from both the literature teacher and geography teacher in China. The two teachers had different focus on the story — the literature teacher mentioned it when studying a poem that referenced the story, while the geography teacher used a astronomical phenomena to explain the possible origin of this tale.


For story telling purpose, I changed the name of male protagonist, Niulang [meaning Cowherd in Chinese], to Altair; the name of the female protagonist, Zhinv [meaning “Weaver girl”] to Vega.

In ancient time, there lived an orphan named Altair. He was poor and had nothing except for his cow. That cow was extremely old and one day, it eventually died. That night, Altair dreamed of the cow. The cow told him to wear its skin on the day July 7th, and the skin will help him ascends to heaven. In heaven there is a river, the daughters of the Queen of heaven are having a bath there that day. The one that dresses in green would be his wife. The cow instructed Altair to hide near by, wait till they get in the water, grab her clothes and run home. Once the girl follows him to his house, she would never leave him.

Altair did what the cow told, and did come to the river of heaven on July 7th. He hided in the bushes and waited till the girl in green went into the water, grabbed her clothes and ran all the way home just as he was told. That girl did followed him to his place, demanded for her clothes back and asked why did he do that. Altair answered that he wanted to marry her, and coaxed her by praising how the earth is much better than heaven. The girl was persuaded, plus Altair himself was quite handsome himself, she agreed to marry him. She stayed on earth and started a family, weaving every day to make a living. People called her Vega.

Years had passed, Vega and Altair had a son and a daughter. One day, when Altair was working in the field, the King of heaven sent an army and captured Vega home. When Altair was back, there’re only his kids crying on the bed but Vega was no where to be found. He immediately realized what happened, put on the skin of the cow and went after Vega. When he almost caught up the army, the Queen of heaven was irritated. She pulled out her hairpin and drew a river between Altair and Vega, so that Altair could not come to rescue her. Both of them were crying so hard that the magpies heard what happened. They were moved by their love and decided to help. Hundreds of magpies linked themselves to one another and formed a bird bridge, so that Altair and Vega could step on the bridge to say goodbye. The Queen was also touched by them, so she announced that Altair and Vega could meet on this magpie bridge once a year, on every July 7th.

Thus, July 7th became a festival to celebrate the reunion of Altair and Vega and their love. On this day, girls would do needleworks, praying to be as skillful at this as Vega, as well as praying for their love.


According to my friend‘s geography teacher, every year of this time, the Vega star rises to the highest, and the closest and the brightest star next to it is the Altair star, though they would still be divided by the galaxy. Later in August, the Vega star will head towards West and Altair star will rise to the highest point, as if the Altair is trying to chase Vega. Whether this is how this folklore came to be, or if it’s after the folklore came out people found two stars resemble them and named the stars Niulang and Zhinv, we’ll never know.

How Pangu formed the world

My mom shared this folklore on how the world was formed. This story was a traditional Chinese mythical story that is passed down generation to generation. She first heard about the story from her father. We interviewed in Chinese so the following is only rough translation of what she shared.


In ancient times, sky and earth were linked together, and the universe was all chaos. There was a giant called Pangu, sleeping in this chaos for over eighteen thousand years. One day, Pangu was suddenly awake. When he opened his eyes, all he could see was endless darkness, so he smashed at the darkness with his axe, making a huge sound. After it’s all quiet again, all the chaos slowly separate themselves from each other. Those that are light and clear ascended to become the sky, and those that are heavy and turbid descended to become earth.

Fearing the sky and the earth would link together again, Pangu used his head to shore up the sky, and used his feet to hold off the earth. Every day, the sky ascends miles up, and Pangu would grow higher simultaneously. Countless years past, the sky and earth finally were stable, and Pangu was so exhausted that he collapsed on the ground.

As he collapsed, his body had great changes. His breathes became the winds of the four seasons and the floating clouds; his sounds became the thunders; his eyes became the sun and the moon; his four limbs became East, West, South, and North polars; his skin became the vast lands; his blood became the running rivers; his sweats became the rains that give life.


This is a typical Chinese myth story where it explains how the world comes to be, and where the land the wind the rivers come from. I first heard this story from my grandmother (my father’s mother) and there is not a lot difference between the version my mom told and the version I heard from my grandmother. I asked some of my friends and it turned out each version is not much different. This is an interesting observation given many of the other folklore have various versions that are more or less different from one another.

Recipe for Coughing

I caught a cold and was coughing violently throughout the week. The cough drops from the pharmacy were not working. When I was iMessaging my mom, she sent me a recipe that’s suppose to stop coughing. My mom said when she was young, her mother would make this thing that’s supposed to help her with her coughing. As she recalled, the recipe actually worked for her. We were chatting in Chinese so the following is only rough translation. 


Mom: How’s your cold?

Me: Everything else is fine… Except I feel like I’m coughing out my lungs 🙁

Mom: You’re still coughing?? Didn’t I told you to get something from pharmacy?

Me: I did, the cough drops were not working. I think I’m having bronchitis again.

Mom: You should go get some prescription medicine not cough drops.

Me: I know, I need to make appointment first though, and it’s Friday…

Mom: Try some boiled pears with crystal sugar; or you could try egg pudding boiled with crystal sugar and some oil.

Me: ???

Mom: Beat one raw egg, stir it with some crystal sugar and a little bit soy oil. Do not add any water. Put them in a bowl and steam it. Eat it every night before sleep. This is the recipe your grandmother used to make when we [she and her brothers] were coughing. Try it, I hope this helps.

Me: Where can I get soy oil though… 

Mom: If you can’t find soy oil you can use olive oil instead, I think.

Mom: Try it, and drink more warm water!!


I personally didn’t think this recipe would work, because logic tells me egg and crystal sugar with soy or olive oil would not help my coughing in any way. I did try the recipe though, because the coughing made me desperate. My coughing did get better days later, but since I also got prescription drugs on Monday, I’ll never know if it’s the recipe or the doctor’s drugs… or the placebo effect.