by Unsettling Wonder
In honour of All Hallows’ Eve, here are three ghost stories from the Monguor, in northwestern China. Notice how strikingly different—and yet how eerily similar!—these are to European tales on similar motifs.
(And if these whet your imagination for more haunting stories, why not order a copy of our new issue? Changelings will go with these tales nicely, and make properly chilling reading for the long dark nights ahead.)
The Ghost Donkey
Some time ago the Du Family Village had a very powerful yinyang but, in time, he became very poor and didn’t have enough to eat. He had no money to buy anything. Finally, he decided to go to market, took out a ghost he had previously caught, put it in a bottle, and chanted an incantation which changed the ghost into a donkey.
By asking a very cheap price, he easily sold the donkey to a Hui man. When they had nearly concluded their transaction the yinyang said, “Don’t ever spit when you are around this donkey.” The Hui man promised he would not and led the donkey home, making sure he didn’t spit the whole way. He tied the donkey to a pole, took out a knife, and, as he was sharpening the knife, spit on the whetstone.
When he finished and prepared to kill the donkey, he found the donkey had vanished without a trace.
The Ghosts’ Revenge
A very powerful yinyang lived in the Wang Family Village. At that time, the present Zhaomuchuan Village was known as Zhaomuchuan Kingdom. The kingdom’s young prince came to see the yinyang and said, “My mother will die soon. I want to make her funeral magnificent, so please come to my home for the funeral whenever I send someone to call you.” The yinyang agreed.
Some time later as the yinyang slept late one night, someone knocked. He opened the door and found a young man standing in the darkness with a donkey. “The prince’s mother has died and he has sent me here to escort you there. Six other yinyang have come and only you are absent. Please, let’s go immediately,” the young man said.
The yinyang went, riding on the donkey, half asleep. They went on for a long while and then the young man said, “We have arrived,” and stopped in front of a very large courtyard. The yinyang looked over the wall and saw many strips of paper used by yinyang. The other yinyang were sitting and chanting. The yinyang dismounted, the young man urging all the while, “Uncle, go inside quickly. Go inside quickly.”
But yinyang have a custom when they travel at night. Before they enter a house they use a board inscribed with incantations and strike the upper part of the courtyard gateway. As soon as he hit the upper part with his board all the quietness disappeared, along with the large courtyard and house. All that remained were the Yellow River’s rumblings. If he had stepped inside the large courtyard just one more step he would have plunged down into the Yellow River.
People said that this happened because he had caught many ghosts who wished to punish him.
Some time ago a scholar visited his friend who offered him good food and liquor. That night the friend wanted the scholar to stay at his home, but the scholar insisted he should return to his own home. The friend warned, “There is a ghost in the valley that attacks people at night. No one dares go there.” The scholar refused to listen and left.
When he reached the valley he saw a large black shadow coming towards him, blocking his path. Suddenly recovering from his drunkenness he screamed out, “Mother!” for it really was a ghost. The ghost lunged and caught him, cackling in the darkness as it beat him. Suddenly the scholar gave the ghost a hard bite on his left hand. The ghost screamed in pain and gave the scholar a terrible blow to the temple. The scholar lost consciousness and sank to the earth.
The next day his family found him and carried him home. They also discovered that the scholar’s watch and 120 yuan the friend had returned had disappeared. News about the scholar meeting the ghost spread throughout the village. The scholar’s wife and mother were terrified and ran to the village shrine where they lit lamps and burned incense the entire day.
By coincidence, on their way home, they met an old Taoist priest who said he was travelling all over the world eliminating evil ghosts. The two invited him to the scholar’s home where he spent the night. The next morning he sat on the kang and ate delicious food the wife and mother prepared. When he finished eating and drinking it was noon. He wiped his mouth and stood in the courtyard wearing his large- sleeved clothing and holding a drum. He began to beat the drum while shouting, murmuring, and pointing to the sky and earth. It seemed he was searching for the ghost.
At this moment the scholar, who was lying unconscious in bed awoke, slowly got up, and observed the Taoist. Suddenly he became very happy, called his wife who was in the kitchen and told her to ask the brigade director to come. The director, bringing several policemen, came to their home. The policeman held up the Taoist’s hand, unwrapped a bandage, inspected the wound, and found two deep teeth marks.
This so-called Taoist was a prison fugitive who had come to these remote areas because notices of his escape had filled all the cities and many people were searching for him. He dressed as a ghost at night and, during the day, dressed as a Taoist in order to cheat local people. The police also found the scholar’s missing watch on the Taoist’s wrist. In his pockets was the missing 120 yuan. They also found money, bicycles, clothing, good food, and good liquor in the Taoist’s home. The police scolded him, handcuffed him, and took him to court to await punishment.
Translated by Hu Jun
From: Kevin Stuart and Limusishiden, editors. China’s Monguor Minority: Ethnography and Folktales. Sino-Platonic Papers 59 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1994), pp. 165-166, 175. http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp059_monguor_folktales.pdf. Available under a Creative Commons license.