“The entrance of the village had a big millstone that the entire community shared. Every night, there would be a small, white thingy that people thought was a small white ghost, running around the millstone over and over again. And you can’t get close to it. I mean, if you get close to it, it would jump on you and start to tickle you. It would tickle you until you laughed to an extent that you couldn’t breathe anymore and died. My grandma said she saw it once, but she was not tickled by it. And after the Cultural Revolution, this little thing was gone forever.”
This legend was passed down from the informant’s grandma. The legend took place long before the Cultural Revolution in China. Our informant thinks it was the “Elimination of the Old Four” movement by the Chinese government at the time that had eliminated the ghost. The “Old Four” include old ideology, old culture, old tradition, and old customs. It was a time when many historical treasures were destroyed. The informant thinks that the villagers believed that the ghost belonged to the Old Four, so it was gone after the movement.
This is a great example of explaining personal experience or rationalizing it with existing legends. It’s a kind of belief enhanced by the informant’s grandma’s own sightings. Similar experiences around the village might have occurred, and added up to the formation of the ghost legend. Obviously, it’s an unwanted ghost. My interpretation of the tickling is that the ghost is small, probably a childlike figure. It’s not rational for a child to kill grown people, and laughing is often associated with children.
The “elimination of the old four” movement, or “除四旧” (pinyin: chú sì jiù), was a movement in China during the cultural revolution that caused a lot of historical antiques and culture to be destroyed. The “old four” refers to old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. The movement firmly grasped the idea that old and superstitious ideas, or anything counter-scientific, went against the principle of communism. This movement’s dogma provided the villagers of Shenyang with a spiritual tool to wash away what they feared in their collective past. The small ghost by the millstone might have been a troublesome existence in the lives of the villagers. In the context of the elimination of the old four, it was eliminated and washed away like all the other things deemed bad and counter to the Communist Party.