Tag Archives: Taiwan

Taiwanese story: Chang E and the Elixirs of Immortality

Nationality: Taiwanese
Primary Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin
Age: 76
Occupation: Retired, former teacher
Residence: Taipei, Taiwan
Performance Date: 24 March 2024

Tags: Taiwan, story, chang e, immortality, moon, mid autumn festival

Text:

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman named Chang E. She was the wife of Hou Yi, a legendary warrior and archer who had shot down 9 suns in another story beforehand. As a reward for shooting down the suns and ridding the world of eternal heat, the gods gave him 2 elixirs of immortality. Hou Yi wanted to take the elixirs together with his wife so both of them could become immortal, so he put the two elixirs at his house and entrusted them to his wife. As Hou Yi left to deal with other business one night, one of his apprentices heard of the elixirs, and, out of jealousy and anger, snuck into his house to steal them for himself. Chang e was inside the house and saw what the apprentice was trying to do, so after a bit of a scuffle, Chang e, in a last ditch effort fueled by fear and adrenaline, drank both of the elixirs at the same time. Hou Yi returned to his house just as this happened, and ran to see his wife float up towards the moon. Unable to reach his wife in time, Hou Yi mourned the loss of his wife on the moon, and later made a habit of bringing out moon cakes and other food that she loved, in remembrance of Chang e and to let her know that he was still looking out for her.

Context:

C. is a born and raised Taiwanese citizen, and has told her fair share of stories to her children and grandchildren alike. This story is one of the most famous and commonly known stories in Taiwan and most other East Asian countries, and told me this story alongside the story of Hou Yi due to their interconnection.

Analysis:

Along with the story of Hou Yi, this is one of the oldest stories in Chinese (and thus Asian) folklore, so a couple of details are changed depending on the version. Details like the type of food/drink the immortality elixirs were, Chang e’s motivation, the aftermath of Chang e going to the moon, whether a rabbit was involved, and more all vary with different retellings. Overall, this is a good example of a common story with various differences being made by various different storytellers over time, and how a story becomes a festival/tradition due to the eating of moon cakes and such during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Taiwanese story: Hou Yi and the 10 Suns

Nationality: Taiwanese
Primary Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin
Age: 76
Occupation: Retired, former teacher
Residence: Taipei, Taiwan
Performance Date: 24 March 2024

Tags: hou yi, taiwan, suns, origin, tradition, archer

Text:

Once upon a time, there were 10 suns in the sky. One day, they decided to all come out at the same time. The land was scorching and the people were on the brink of death from the heat, so they asked a legendary warrior, Hou Yi, to go and do something about the suns. Hou Yi was a great warrior and archer, but even he saw the difficulty of shooting down 10 celestial entities. He pondered upon how to deal with the suns for some time, and one day, Hou Yi looked down and saw a puddle of water reflecting the 10 suns. Hou Yi then shot arrows at the reflections of 9 suns inside the puddle, causing the real 9 suns in the sky to disappear, leaving only 1 sun so that humanity wouldn’t have an endless night. Thus, that is how and why there is 1 sun in the sky today.

Context:

C. is a born and raised Taiwanese citizen, and has told her fair share of stories to her children and grandchildren alike. This story is one of the most famous and commonly known stories in Taiwan and most other East Asian countries, and C. was even surprised when I asked her to tell it again for this class since she knew I had heard it multiple times.

Analysis:

Being one of the oldest stories in Chinese (and thus Asian) folklore, there are a myriad of different details and versions of the story that contest the sequence of events. Some versions include the Jade Emperor being the one to appoint Hou Yi, others include the rooster as the reason the last sun comes back up, and a plethora of other changes/additions. Overall, this is a good example of a common story with various differences being made by various different storytellers over time.

Taiwanese festival: Dragon Boat Festival

Nationality: Taiwanese
Primary Language: Taiwanese, Mandarin
Age: 46
Occupation: Branch Manager
Residence: Taipei, Taiwan
Performance Date: 19 April 2024

Tags: Taiwan, dragon, boat, rice cakes, summer

Text:

The Dragonboat Festival is a holiday that happens on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Lunar Calendar, which equates to around the summer solstice for non-Lunar calendars. The story behind it is that there once was a wise advisor who failed to convince his king that a great enemy would destroy their land, causing him to commit suicide by drowning himself in a river. The people were so saddened by his death that they made rice dumplings wrapped in leaves called ‘Zong Zi’ and threw them in the river to let the fish eat those instead of the advisor’s dead body. Nowadays, we eat ‘Zong Zi’ to remember him, and to celebrate the summer festivities. The epynomous dragonboat races take place around the rivers, and since it’s around the time of the summer solstice, the earth’s position is at the perfect place to allow eggs to stand up on their own when placed on a flat surface, so people often go to their homes or outside and attempt it.

Context:

C was born and raised in Taiwan, and has traveled the world various times due to her work and studies. She regularly participates in Taiwanese and Asian festivities with friends and family. She has been said to be quite good at the egg-standing activity during the Dragonboat festivals, and has participated in a smaller version of the dragonboat races.

Analysis:

Interestingly enough, even though the festival is named the ‘Dragonboat Festival’, the origin didn’t actually start with dragonboats or races, though I suppose it would be weirder to call it the ‘Rice Dumpling festival’. The mandarin name of the festival is ‘Duan Wu Jie’, literally “dual five festival”, but perhaps the name wouldn’t make sense in english due to the different ways of tracking time. This is an example of how globalization makes its way into tradition and festival, giving new names and meaning to already-existing festivities.

Dragon Boat Festival

Text:

JK: Dragon Boat Festival, an Asian festival, you can see it in Taiwan, in China, in a lot of different places. I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese calendar, so around June for us. It’s about this guy called Qu Yuan who was the Prime Minister and known for his wisdom but there’s a story where he was correct about something he told the king, but his enemies convinced the king to kill him. So the king did not believe him and the kingdom fell to ruin. Qu Yuan committed suicide by falling into a river. The villagers were so upset, they wanted to make sure his body wasn’t eaten by fish. So they dropped wrapped “zongzi” into the river so the fish would eat that instead. So now the Dragon Boat Festival exists because there are a lot of Dragon Boats and races across the river. So we eat the zongzi as a way of remembering Qu Yuan and thanking him for his wisdom and his service.

It’s near the summer equinox and you can also balance eggs on the floor. 

Context:

JK’s family is from Taiwan, he grew up celebrating this festival every year. He has participated in eating zongzi and balancing eggs for the Dragon Boat Festival. 

Analysis:

Festivals surrounding other folklore are fairly common. In this case, the festival is surrounding the legend of Qu Yuan. Similarly to other festivals around the world, the Dragon Boat Festival honors a historical event through ritualistic storytelling. It also involved communal activities designed to foster a sense of community and cultural identity through the use of culturally significant objects like zongzi and dragon boats. Its practice of honoring historical events and culture bears similarities to the Japanese Obon Festival, a vibrant festival celebrating deceased ancestors similar to the Day of the Dead in Latin America. Another example is the Korean Dano Festival that involves cultural foods similar to zongzi in the form of rice cakes.

Tomb Sweeping Day: Annual Family Gravesite Ritual

Nationality: American / Taiwanese
Language(s) spoken: Chinese Mandarin, English
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA / Taipei, Taiwan

Text

Every year, MC and their family go to visit their paternal grandfather’s grave, usually on his birthday and on a holiday in April called Qing ming jie. The whole family goes, including MC, their parents, their siblings, their grandma, their cousins, etc. First, the family enters a main building, where there’s a plaque with their grandpa’s name and statues of the gods. The family pays their respects to both, praying for peace and protection. They light incense and leave offerings, sometimes for the gods and sometimes for the family members. There are also tables where you can leave flowers. Then, they go up a mountain to visit the gravesite. It’s located in a building eventually meant to hold the remains of everyone in their family. Inside, they clean the grave of MC’s grandpa, pray, make offerings, and leave fruit, wine, and flowers, as well as burn incense. Then, they sit together at a pavilion, talk, and eat food. After that, they read out a poetic prayer three times in front of a pot that represents the earth god. Then they go speak to their grandpa in their head, sharing whatever they like, and ask them for protection and good fortune.

Context

MC has been participating in this tradition for as long as they can remember. For them, it’s not extremely sad, as they never knew their grandpa. It is a bit sad, though, because they know their dad and grandma are really sad during this tradition. But it’s also something to look forward to. MC gets to enjoy nice food and spend time with their cousins, which is fun. They think it’s really cool that they get to connect with their grandpa even though they never met him. They described the offerings for their grandpa as a kind of care package for him; he can get those things even in the afterlife.

Analysis

This family (and cultural) tradition reminds me of Valk’s article “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate,” especially its description of what ghosts mean to people. In it, he talks about how adults like “friendly ghost” stories in which people in the afterlife can help those still alive or connect with them in some way. MC’s family tradition isn’t necessarily about ghosts, but it undoubtedly represents a desire to connect with those who have passed on. By offering up food, wine, and flowers to their deceased relative, MC’s family shows their belief that those no longer alive can still interact with them and their lives. This cultural tradition also represents a value of respect for the dead. By visiting their relative, paying their respects, and cleaning his grave multiple times a year, MC’s family shows that they still love and care for MC’s grandpa, even though he’s no longer with them. Finally, this tradition shows an immense value of family. The fact that everyone in MC’s family is buried in the same gravesite house shows that they want to be together even after death, and the way that their deceased grandfather brings together all alive family members further demonstrates dedication to staying close. Overall, this tradition represents a belief in the spirit world, as well as strong family ties.