Zhou Chu Eradicates the Three Scourges (周處除三害)

This is a folktale about the origins of Zhou Chu (周處) a famous Chinese general. I heard it from a Chinese international student (T.C.) currently studying in Stanford.


“When Zhou Chu was a young man, he was a really violent and unruly person. He terrified the villagers in his hometown so much that he was known as one of the ‘three scourges’ to them alongside a tiger and a dragon. One day, a villager taunted him and suggested that he tried killing the tiger and the dragon even though they were stronger than him. Zhou Chu was arrogant and so he agreed. He went to fight them and the battle took two days. When he returned to the village he saw the villagers celebrating the deaths of the ‘two scourges’, and he realized that he himself was the third scourge. He never really realized just how deeply his actions had impacted his hometown and wanted to redeem himself, so he went to two famous generals, Lu Ji and Lu Yun, for advice. From them he learned how to be a better person and became a general himself and earned the admiration of the people in his town.”


“I learned this tale in middle school. In Chinese schools, you’re required to learn a lot of ancient texts and stories for Chinese literature class, and in some cases, you have to memorize them. The amount of stories that you have to learn and memorize is so tedious and long that it often feels insufferable, but I remember liking this story a lot because it really humanized Zhou Chu. Usually these generals are so heroic and larger-than-life that it’s hard to believe that they were people, but Zhou Chu’s imperfect background (even though dragons are not real) made him feel more relatable and likable.”


I think there’s a lot of stories about heroic figures (kings, generals, gods, etc.) who started off as malevolent or incompetent people and matured into admirable role models. As seen from the stories of King Alfred and Daquwanga that I recorded previously, it seems that this story structure exists across a variety of different cultures and has universal appeal. Maybe the fact that such larger-than-life figures come from ordinary and imperfect backgrounds make them seem even more awe inspiring. I thought this story structure was pretty similar to the hero’s journey because the hero starts off as an ordinary person in the ordinary world before they are irreversibly changed by an inciting event. Often, these protagonists have to mature like how Zhou Chu did to rise to the occasion and become heroes.