Tag Archives: Taiwanese folktale

虎姑婆 Grandaunt Tiger: A Taiwanese Bedtime Story

Context: Informant is a mother with two daughters. She was telling this story as a bedtime story to the younger daughter. This is a traditional bedtime story for Taiwanese people. The story is normally told when the child is refusing to go to bed. Since it’s a has a scary plot in it, the child will usually get scared and then complied.

Informant: Once upon a time, there was a tiger who wished to become human through magical practices, which involves eating human children. One day, the tiger heard that a mom left the home to visit the sick grandma, leaving the house with only two kids. Before she left, the mom reminded the kids that they should not open the door for anyone other than her. The tiger saw this as an opportunity, but he needed to figure out a plan to trick the children to open the door for him. He used his magic power to transform into an old woman. He knocked the door and yelled, “Open the door. Your mom asked me to come take care of your guys.” The kids responded through the door, “Mom said not to open the door for anyone.” “But I’m old and walked so far to come here. Please let me in to rest and drink some water.” The kids opened the door for the old woman. As the old woman was resting in a chair, the kids asked more about who she is and where she is more. The old woman, played by the tiger, answered with her hoarse voice, “I’m your distance relative. Your mom told me to come take care of you two while she is away to visit your grandma.” Hearing what she said, the kids let down their guard; they thought no stranger would know about their grandma being sick. They invited the old woman to stay the night. At night, when everyone was asleep, one of the kid heard an unusual noise. Crackling noise coming from the other side of the bedroom. Through the shadow projected on the wall, the kid discovered the scariest thing. The old woman was eating the other kid. She ran out of the bedroom and climb all the way up on the nearby tree. The tiger noticed the kid was gone, hurrying out to chase her down. The kid was stuck in the tree with a tiger pacing around underneath; fortunately, the tiger don’t know how to climb a tree. The kid came up with a plan to get herself out of danger. She said to the tiger, “Eat me raw is too plain. How about you heat up a pot of hot oil and carry it here? I will jump in the pot and you can enjoy the tasty fried meat afterwards. I promise I won’t runaway while you are heating the oil” The tiger couldn’t resist the idea of the delicious food he could get, so he went in the kitchen and brought out a big pot of hot oil. The kid was still on the tree. She asked the tiger to use a rope and hang the pot all the way up where she was so that she could jump in the pot herself. The tiger found a rope and hung the pot up onto the tree. The kid said,”Now close your eyes and imagine the delicious meat while I get into the pot.” The tiger close his eyes. The kid dumped the whole pot of hot oil onto the tiger. The tiger screamed in pain and died beneath the tree. The kid slowly climbed down the tree, walked out the front yard, and found her mom who just got back home.

The story can also be found in Southeast China where most of the Taiwanese came from. The story is classified as AT333, same as Little Red Riding Hood. There are numerous variations of the story. In some, the kid was offered a piece of her siblings to eat. Sometimes the older kid was eaten, and other times the younger one. The genders of the two children also vary from version to version. The gender of the tiger is unknown, but usually portrayed with deeper voice and more male-like manner. The tale was meant to terrorize the kid to go to bed, but many times it causes the kid to be too scared to full asleep. The parent usually would say something along the line with “If you don’t sleep right now, Grandaunt Tiger will come and eat you.” However, that is exactly why the kid got eaten in the story: they went to bed and the tiger ate one of them. The contradiction is interesting and seemingly illogical. One possible explanation is that because the parent is present in these situation, they will protect the kid. It is more like “I will let bad things happen to you if you don’t do what I say.” The story of Grandaunt Tiger is adapted into traditional Taiwanese puppet show and there is a lullaby evolved from the story also named Grandaunt Tiger. The lyric attached below:

好久好久的故事 是媽媽告訴我
在好深好深的夜裡 會有虎姑婆
愛哭的孩子不要哭 他會咬你的小耳朵
不睡的孩子趕快睡 他會咬你小指頭
還記得還記得 瞇著眼睛說
虎姑婆別咬我 乖乖的孩子睡著囉

The story from long, long time ago. My mom told me
In the deep deep night, there will be Grandaunt Tiger/
Baby who cries do not cry. He will bite your little ear
Baby who don’t sleep quickly goes to sleep. He will bite your little pinky.
Still remember. Still remember. Squinting my eyes and say
“Grandaunt Tiger don’t bite me. This good kid is already falling asleep.”

好久好久的故事 是媽媽告訴我
在好深好深的夜裡 會有虎姑婆
愛哭的孩子不要哭 他會咬你的小耳朵
不睡的孩子趕快睡 他會咬你小指頭
還記得還記得 瞇著眼睛說
虎姑婆別咬我 乖乖的孩子睡著囉

The Old Lady, and the Siblings

Background: This story was told to the informant by his parents.

Context: This tale was performed in the Architecture studio, for an audience of two, in
order to pass time while working on projects.

“So when kids don’t want to go to sleep in Taiwan, their parents tell this to them. A brother and a sister when their parents left for the night hear a knock on the door. An old woman comes in. At night the old woman eats one of the siblings. One night the old woman woke up and ate the brother. The sister hears the sound of chewing, so she woke up and asks the woman what she is eating. The old woman says, “Oh, I’m eating peanuts” and then she just throws the sister one of her brother’s fingers, “Oh, here’s a peanut”. The sister freaks out because of this, and says “Oh, I need to go pee” and then she goes outside and climbs a tree. The old woman comes out and says “I want to eat you too.” The sister tells the old lady “First I need a pot of hot water.” So the old lady takes the hot water outside, and brings it to the sister. The sister says, “Ok, Im going to jump.” The woman opens her mouth so that she can jump in, but the sister pours the hot water into her mouth instead. “

This tale is likely a cautionary one told by parents to convince their children not to trust strangers, and let them into their house. It also encourages creative thinking on the part of the sister to get out of a sticky situation.

The Story of Hǔ Gū Pó

[Translated from Mandarin Chinese]

Once upon a time, the hǔ gū pó (虎姑婆; a tiger spirit) lived atop a mountain. She wanted to become human, but the only way to do so was to eat children. From time to time she left her mountain to visit the village below, where she would sneak up on children from behind and eat them. After a while, the villagers discovered that wearing a mask on the backs of their heads would confuse the hǔ gū pó and prevent her from eating them. She was starting to look very human, but she still had a tiger’s tail to hide. With no more children to catch, the hǔ gū pó wandered down to the houses.

In one house lived a girl, her younger brother, and their parents, but the parents were out of town for the day. The tiger spirit tucked her tail within her pants and disguised herself as the children’s aunt.
“Your parents asked me to look after you today,” she said, and the children let her in.

In the middle of the night, the little girl woke up to a strange crunching sound.
“What are you eating?” she asked the hǔ gū pó.
“I am eating peanuts,” came the reply. “Would you like some?”
The hǔ gū pó handed over one of the little boy’s fingers.
Understanding that the tiger spirit had already eaten her brother, the little girl escaped from the house, pretending that she needed to use the bathroom.

The next morning the tiger spirit found the little girl hiding atop a tree.
“Come down,” the hǔ gū pó demanded, hungry.
“Fine,” the girl said. “But you should prepare a vat of boiling oil first, so I’ll taste better.”
The hǔ gū pó did just that.
“Now, hoist up the vat to me. I will cook myself and then jump into your mouth. Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
The tiger spirit did just that. The little girl poured the oil into the hǔ gū pó’s mouth and therefore killed her.

The story of hǔ gū pó is a well-known children’s folktale in Taiwan, and this is one of the many versions. It has been compared to the western tales of the Little Red Riding Hood, and “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats”. It has been adapted into a less violent nursery rhyme telling children to stop crying and to go to sleep. The informant (my father) had learned the story from his parents and in turn told it to me many times as a kid. 

When I first heard it, I did not think much of the plot points—upon retrospect, however, the story seemed unusually gruesome for a children’s tale. While “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats” has a similar premise, it is not as violent. The wolf deceives the goats and gobbles them up, but the youngest goat is able to cut open the wolf and save his siblings from its stomach, replacing the weight with rocks, which eventually drown the wolf. In the story of hǔ gū pó, the brother is not only eaten, but the sister receives the dismembered finger as food. She also kills the tiger spirit quite directly/actively. This may be a reflection on the differing cultural contexts of these two tales, in terms of ethics, etc.