This folk tale was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Much of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from the mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.
During one of our telephone sessions, he mentioned the following story his mother had once told him in Chinese. I’m paraphrasing and translating it here to the best of my memory:
“Your grandmother once told me this story about tending cattle. There’s a big rat-like creature…um, a weasel. Yes, a weasel. It attacks big and small animals. So, back in the day, “cow” boys, who tend the cattle, would take the cattle into the mountains to graze and then bring them back after they’ve had their share of grass. And the weasel though it wants to eat the cattle… can’t–they are much too big. So the weasels, being as sneaky and clever as they are, would come around to the back of the cow and plunge its claws into the cow’s behind. Reaching in, the weasels would pull out the cow’s intestines and tie it to a tree. Feeling pain, the cow would run forward which would cause more of its intestines to be pulled out which would result in more pain which would result in the cow running faster. The cow would run and run until it collapsed…which is when the weasel comes and eats the cow. While I don’t really believe that weasels are able to do this, parents often tell their children this folk tale as to scare them into standing more alert and being more prudent when they are tending the cattle. This way, the children will be ready when real dangers, such as mountain wolves, appear.”
As we can see from what my father said, the implicit moral of this folk tale is to be extra prudent when tending the cattle. We can confirm it as a folk tale because it is not a story to be taken seriously. Although the tale is set in the real world, my father reiterates that no one actually believe weasels have the ability to hunt cattle like the tale depicts. Interestingly, the main character of this folk tale is a weasel. In his description of the weasel, my father describes the weasel as a sneaky and clever creature, but more sneaky than clever. This suggests that the weasel is the trickster character, similar to the fox in Western folklore, in Chinese folk tales.
I, the collector myself, have heard another folk tale featuring the weasel as this sort of trickster character. In this one, a chicken invites a weasel to dinner during Chinese New Year only to find himself the dinner of the weasel. I believe this attribution of the trickster character to the weasel is due to its small size, agile capabilities and carnivorous nature.