Thursday, March 5, 2015

Finding A Replacement Body (找替身)

Perhaps it is unique to Chinese ghost culture that a ghost of untimely and violent death must first find a replacement body before it can be reborn as a human again. This type of ghost is known as vengeful ghost (厉鬼). There are many folk beliefs concerning these vengeful ghosts:

Some folk belief that a vengeful water ghost can transformed into a small fish, a log or someone drowning in a lake. Believers also think that vengeful ghosts cannot recognize their relatives in human world.

Let us talk about hung ghosts (吊死鬼) as this may be the most common form of ghost that one would come about now and in the past.

Old Chinese believe that only a female hung ghost can seek replacement while the male ones are not permitted. This is because the male ghost is too barbarous and they tend to bully the female ghost. So the Indra Bodhisattva (韦陀菩萨) has forbidden the male hung ghosts to seek replacement bodies.

Below are two stories concerning female hung ghosts seeking replacement bodies:

Story 1

Mr. A returned home at midnight, he met a young woman and this woman asked him: “Where is the house of Mr. A?”

Mr. A heard the question but he purposely asked the woman:
“What is the relationship between you and him?”

The lady replied:
“I am his relative and tonight I am going to his house.”

Mr. A understood that he has just saw a ghost, but due to his curiosity; he still managed to tell the woman his address. The lady thanked Mr. A and then parted with him. Mr. A quickly took a shortcut and reached his house.

Mr. A’s wife saw her husband, she want to get intimate and she cooked a bowl of noodles for her hubby.

Mr. A took up a pair of chopsticks and stirred the noodles. Surprisingly he found much wok coal and hence Mr. A concluded that the hung ghost has entered his house! So he tried to flirt with his wife and said:
“Now I don’t feel like to eat, let’s go to bed early.”

Mr. A put the bowl of noodles in the kitchen and pulled his wife’s to the bedroom.

Mrs. A was bewildered to his hubby’s behaviour and asked:
“Is it because of the noodles doesn’t suit your taste or you think I am trying to poison you?”

Mr. A smiled and said:
“No, no. It is not that. I only want to sleep early.”

Mrs. A picked on the fact that her hubby refused to eat her noodles and kept on with her interrogations. But Mr. A tried every effort to avoid confronting with his wife and he only countered with some intimate talk.

After some tug of war, it was soon dawn. With the cockadoodledoo of a chicken, the female hung ghost gave a shriek and left the house.

Story 2:

A scholar was staying at his relative’s house. One night he saw a beautiful young lady passing through his room and then entered the house. When she passed the scholar’s room, she suddenly squat down and seemed to hide something.

The scholar waited until the lady went into the house, he came out to investigate and he found a ring similar to a bracelet. So he picked up the ring and slipped it into his I Ching texts.

Suddenly crying and cursing voice of a lady came from the house:

“Did you pick up my stuff? Please don’t play pranks with me. I want my thing!”

The scholar:
“Tell me the reason why you come into the house at night?”

The lady:
“Can you return my stuff?”

The scholar:

Suddenly the lady showed her ghostly appearance and charged towards the scholar.

The scholar laughed and took up his ink brush and painted his face then asked:
“What do you think of me now?”

The lady saw that this scholar is not afraid of her, she return to her peaceful form and said:
“To tell you the truth, I am a hung ghost. Please return my bracelet!”

The scholar:
“What is the purpose of the bracelet?”

The lady:
“When a person hangs himself, he would feel confused. His would see the hang loop as a small window and outside of the window would be beautiful scenery. So he would stretch his head outside the window to enjoy. And at this point, he would realise that he couldn’t breathe. He would then try to use his hands to free his neck. At this point, I would use my bracelet to bind his hands until this person kick the bucket. You would find the buttock of a person died by hanging would have the sign of green and black haemorrhoid spots. This is due to the fact that when the person is having difficulties to breathe and that his hands could not extend; he would use his hands to beat against his buttock…”

The scholar:
“I am not convinced still. The bracelet is so small, how can it be used to bind the hands of a man?”

The lady:
“The bracelet can expand or contract as needed…”

At this point, the chicken crowed and the lady ghost gave a loud shriek and gone with the wind.

After the ghost is gone, the scholar opened up his I Ching and found the bracelet has become a coal ring.

This is the reason why people would break coal ring on a wok when a wok is being cleaned.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Concerning Ghost Talk (鬼话连篇)

The topics of ghosts are very intriguing and interesting to talk about especially when one has nothing to do after the dinner, or something to talk about after a reunion dinner. We have so far only touched upon the soul of a still living, before I move on to the ghost in literatures further; let’s touch upon some definitions of ghosts according to folklore.

So are there really any ghosts around? Folks believe there are indeed. No one dares to show ghosts any disrespects because once someone has offended these spirits, he/she may be in a lot of troubles.

How does a ghost really look like?

A person who has seen a ghost said that a ghost takes the shape of an ordinary human being, except that it has no legs; also a ghost can become invisible as it wishes. Ghosts are also believed to possess colour:

·         Grey ones are common dead souls.
·         Green ones are of more vengeful ones.
·         Black ones are normally harmful ones.
·         Red ones also said to be of more powerful types…

Ghosts are most active during the night. Night time to a ghost is as if day time to us, the living human. Normally ghosts are invisible to common folks except for those who have psychic eyes or the 3rd eye if one wishes to call it. It is also a common belief that a small child can also see ghosts due to his/her naïve nature.

During daytime, ghosts are said to be resting under tree shades, at toilet, in a dark corner, in an empty house, under a bridge or in its tomb.

There is an exception however; this exception is to a hung ghost (吊死鬼). It is believed that a hung ghost still possesses 30% of Yang energy, so it can even active during the day. But those people who can see ghosts are said to be in pretty bad luck. As a Chinese folk saying goes:

When one sees a ghost, he/she would have 3 years’ bad luck.

In Chinese folk belief, ghosts are said to be afraid of:

·         The Sun
·         I Ching
·         Voices of people reading books
·         Sounds of left palm striking
·         Branch of palm tree
·         Tea leafs and salt
·         Fish nets
·         Fire crackers
·         Talismans
·         Etc.

There are many types of ghosts in Chinese folk belief:

When a person is drowned, his/her soul is believed to be transformed to a ‘water ghost’, if a person hung him/herself; then he/she shall become a ‘hung ghost’. Another type of ghost is the ‘walking dead’ (僵尸) made popular by Hong Kong movies in the 70's and 80's.

What can a ghost do?

I supposed this is a stupid question to ask. But ghosts can cause a person to fall sick and bad luck to say the least. In a more severe matter, ghosts can also take the lives of people either through mental suggestions, or in more violent case such as the walking dead; it can kill and turn a living person into another walking dead. A ghost can also cause a person to lose his/her way in the wilderness amongst other feasts.

So, how to deal with ghosts?

Follow me to Magic SEA and there are many methods described in the blog.

Last but not least, please sit tight and join me into the world of Chinese ghosts... and the Japanese ghosts too...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Comparison Of Two Peony Lanterns

From two stories, first the Chinese Peony Lantern (牡丹灯记) and then the Botan Doro (牡丹燈); we can see how stories are changed to suit cultural preferences:

The beginning of the Chinese version was set to the last day of Chinese Lunar New Year, while the Japanese version, the beginning of the scene was set on Buddhist Ulambata festival; this is also the ‘ghost month’ for the Chinese.

The original Chinese Peony Lantern only slightly touched the scene when the skeleton was having intimacy act with Qiao as:

“A skeleton sits beside Qiao under a lamp…”

But the Japanese version has deliberately exploited on enhancing the fear factor:

“… Her face colour is iron green and she is without anything below her waist. Her skinny and rocky hands tightly embraced Ogiwara’s neck…”

The Japanese version has deliberately omitted the last part of Chinese version:

“On the command of Iron Crown, the heavenly messengers used iron chain to tie up the vengeful ghosts and then whipped them. After a few rounds of torturing and scolding; the ghosts were sent to the hell.”

Well, come and think of it, the above would indeed be an anticlimax to any ghost stories. Maybe this is why the Japanese writer has opted to omit the above part. It may also be due to heavy influence of Buddhism over Taoism in Japan.

This can also be seen from the use of Taoist talismans in the Chinese version, but that was changed to gold Buddha statue.

I am also of particular interest to different endings of two similar stories:

·         The ghosts in Chinese version were sent to hell, end of story.
·         The ghosts in Japanese version are still at large until today…

In short, Maybe I can conclude in this way:

Chinese are more reluctant to let harmful spirits at large so drastic actions must be taken to punish all trouble makers. The sooner the daily business return to normal the better it is.  However Japanese can endure and coexist with harmful spirits around them; or it may just be the author’s technique to leave some leeway to writhe Part I, II, III etc. of Peony Lanterns… Why not? Since the evil is still not dead and while the money is good!

Whatever case that may be, please enjoy two Peony Lanterns of different flavour!


Botan Doro (牡丹灯笼)

The Botan Doro (牡丹灯笼)

The Japanese version of Peony Lantern is known as Botan Doro (牡丹灯笼). The story of Botan Doro is almost similar to the original Chinese Peony Lantern (牡丹灯记). For literature comparison and the subsequent comparison purposes; let us run through the Botan Doro story authored by San'yūtei Enchō ( 三遊亭 1839-1900):

Today is the 13th day of 7th Lunar Month. It is the first day of Obon Festivals (盂兰盆会). Samurai Ogiwara Shinnojo had just performed offering to the deceased and after he has tidied himself, he picked up his seat and went to the corridor. After lighting mosquito coil, Ogiwara Shinnojo rested while looked into the moon on his top. Suddenly he heard the “khatak khatak” noise of clogs approaching.

Two ladies were seen moving towards the sumarai. One about 30 years old has a big round hair bun moving with gracious posture. Her hand was holding the then popular peony lantern. Following her was a young lady about 17 or 18 years old, she was having a tall fashionable high hair bun and wearing light yellowish green colour kimono with long sleeves and she had a silk kimono belt casually tied on her waist.

While Ogiwara Shinnojo was looking at the ladies under moonlight, he thought the young lady looked like the daughter of a samurai Iijima named Otsuyu. As Ogiwara was still deep in his thought, the ladies already approached him and said:

“Isn’t it incredible? Ogiwara.”

“Oh, is that you Oyone? Why did you come?”

“Indeed. It is unexpected. I thought you are dead!”

“Ha! It is the matter of fact that I heard you have kicked your bucket!”

“It is all nonsense! No such thing! Do come in please!”

So, both of the ladies entered the house.

Otsuyu was the daughter of Iijima and Oyone was his maid.

After Otsuyu’s mother has died, her stepmother seized all their properties and Otsuyu could not live with her stepmother, so she moved to a village in Honjo Yanagi Island (本所柳岛) to start her new life.

Ogiwara was once there helping a physician named Yamamoto Shinbun, so he knew Otsuyu. Otsuyu apparently has a crush with Ogiwara but since their last encounter they have not met since until the death of Otsuyu at first, and three days later, Oyone also died.

Ogiwara heard the sad news from Yamamoto and since then he had always think of Otsuyu every day in sadness. Since then, Oyone would carry her peony lantern leading Otsuyu to Ogiwara’s house every day after dark.

So flirtatious sounds of would come out from the house of the still single Ogiwara during night time. This situation has attracted the attention of Ogiwara’s neighbour named Bankura. So Bankura peeped through Ogiwara’s window and saw the most horrible scene since he was born. So the panic stricken Bankura quickly rushed to Haku Okina Dō Isamu Dō (白翁堂勇斋) to tell what he has just seen to a fortune teller. The fortune teller said:

“That should not be an ordinary lady… She is as thin as her skeleton and skin. She has tall hair bun with her hairs on her temples dropped to her forehead, her face colour is iron green and she is without anything below her waist. Her skinny and rocky hands tightly embraced Ogiwara’s neck but he was still in extreme pleasure…”

After Haku Okina Do heard what Bankura has just told him, he went to see Ogiwara and inform him. Ogiwara immediately went to Shinbanzuiin (新幡随院) to visit the grave of Otsuyu and Oyone. And he found the peony lantern was put beside both graves.

Upon the advice by Ryōseki Oshō (良石和尚), Ogiwara begged for a gold Swara Samudra Tathagatah statue (海音如来) and some talismans to stop those vengeful ghosts. That had stopped the ghosts of Otsuyu and Oyone for two nights but Bankura was bribed by the ghosts with money and he subsequently stole the gold statue. As expected, Ogiwara was tortured to dead by the ghosts.

After Haku Okina Do heard the news, he hastily rushed to Ogiwara’s place and there he saw a pitiful scene: Ogiwara’s body still gritting his teeth with a skeleton tightly embraced his neck with shin bones scattering all over the place.

Other Sources:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Original Chinese Peony Lantern (原本牡丹灯记)

The historically true and beautiful Lake Centre Temple of Moon Lake ( 月湖湖心寺).

The Peony Lantern story was a work compiled in China during Ming Dynasty but the tale was made popular in Japan. There are many sources online concerning the Japanese versions already, so I would just translate the original Chinese version here:

Lanterns would be hung up for display for 5 days starting on the 15th day of 1st Lunar Month (the last day of Chinese New Year) in east side of Zhejiang Province. Many ladies and gentlemen in the town would come out to enjoy these beautiful lanterns and for sightseeing.

It was in 1360AD, a widower named Qiao () stayed under the mountain range of Zhenming (镇明岭). Qiao’s wife just passed away and he was alone and bored so he did not go out to seek fun; he only leaned on his door and stared at passerby.

After 3am on the 15th day, two ladies passed by Qiao’s front door. The lady who walked in front leading the way was a maid who was holding a peony lantern while the lady at the maid’s back was a lady of stunning beauty.

Qiao was very much attracted by the beauty of the lady so he could not help himself but to strike a conversation with the ladies and he subsequently invited the ladies to spend a night in his house.

The young lady told Qiao that her name was Fu Liqing (符丽卿) and that she was a widow; hence she stayed with the maid named Jinlian (金莲) on the west side of the lake.

Since then the young widow visited Qiao after dark everyday and she would leave at dawn. After a fortnight lapsed, Qiao’s neighbour who was an old man got suspicious and he dug a small on the wall to peep into Qiao’s house. To the old man’s horror, he saw a human skeleton was sitting beside Qiao under an oil lamp.

After day break, the old man interrogated Qiao but Qiao was reluctant to reveal the truth. So the old man said to Qiao:

“Human being is formed by extreme abundance of Yang energy; while ghosts are formed by dark and filthy Ying energy. Now that you are sleeping with ghosts and you still do not realize what you have put yourself into. Once you have exhausted all of your Yang energy, disaster shall entail; then you would also lose your small life!”

After hearing what the old man has said, Qiao started to feel afraid and he told the old man the truth.

And then Qiao went to the west side of the lake to investigate and to his horror, he found an old coffin in the Lake Centre Temple ( 湖心寺). There is an inscription on the coffin: "The coffin of Liqing". A peony lantern was hanging in front of the coffin and just under the lantern was a paper manikin of a maid. Its back is written with two words "jinlian".

The panic stricken Qiao crawled back to see his old neighbour and the later advised Qiao to visit a Taoist, Master Wei in Xuan Miao Temple (玄妙观). Master Wei gave Qiao two pieces talismans: one piece to be pasted on the front door and the other on the bed.

The lady ghost visited Qiao for two subsequent nights but it was barred from entering.

One month later, Qiao visited an old friend at night and he was drunk. He has forgotten the advice of the Taoist that he should not pass through the Lake Centre Temple; and he passed through the temple on his way home.

When Qiao reached the main gate of the temple, the maid Jinlian was already waiting for him. The maid subsequently led Qiao to see Fu Liqing. She scolded Qiao as fickle and said: “I hate you deeply, now it is my luck to see you again; I shall not let you go!” So she held Qiao’s hands and they went into the coffin together. The coffin cover automatically covered up. Qiao has thus met his doom.

Qiao’s old neighbour didn’t see Qiao return home, so he ventured out to search for Qiao and the old man finally found the corpse of Qiao hugging the skeleton of a lady in the Lake Centre Temple.

Villagers buried both of the dead bodies together outside of the west gate.

Since then, people would see Qiao and Liqing holding hands and strolling together during dark nights; with a maid holding a peony lantern led the way. Whoever saw these ghostly figures would fall into serious illness with extreme hot and coldness. If no food offerings made to the spirits, then those unfortunate folks would kaput.

Due to the intense frequency that the ghosts appeared in the city, city folks were living in extreme horror. So they raced to Xuan Miao Temple to see Master Wei. However, Master Wei said he was not powerful enough to go against the ghosts, so he recommended his own master: the Iron Crown Taoist (铁冠道人) who stayed on the Siming Mountain (四明山).

After people pleaded for many rounds, the Iron Crown finally agreed to descend the mountain. The Iron Crown built an altar the size of 10 square feet and he meditated in the centre of the altar. After that he burnt a few talismans to summon a few golden armoured heavenly messengers, each of them is more than 10 feet tall.

On the command of Iron Crown, the heavenly messengers used iron chain to tie up the vengeful ghosts and then whipped them. After a few rounds of torturing and scolding; the ghosts were sent to the hell.

I just want to add a side note that the Japanese version has omitted out the last italic portion for some reasons we shall explore in the next posting.

In case you are interested, the Japanese version can be found at:

A Ship Of Ghosts (一船鬼)

There are many such stories in Chinese ghost literatures throughout the years. Let’s first explore closest one first.

This first incident happened somewhere around 1875 during Qing Dynasty. A ship Lucky Star belonged to Shanghai Commercial Steamship Bureau sailed from Shanghai to Tianjin; unfortunately this ship sunk in the Northern Ocean which has caused the drowning of 63 passengers. This was a major sea disaster occurred during the late Qing period.

Other than specific literature documented this incident, there are also many notes concerning this incident. Below is one of many stories related to ghostly affairs; it is taken from “From The Notes Of A Common Cottage” (庸庵笔记) chapter 4: The Sinking Of Lucky Star Liner ( 福星轮船沉没):

A committee member named Kang who just boarded the ship and saw the passenger cabin already filled. There was no more space to place the luggage; further the faces of those passengers were all blurred without clear features. Since all of the passengers looked horrible and they weren’t looked like human beings; Kang approached the crowd and found that all were indeed human.

After pondering for a while, Kang decided to transfer his baggage back to his hotel room and waited for the next ship.

After the mishap, he felt he was lucky to be protected by his lucky star. He did wonder why only he saw that the ill fated ship was bearing a ship of ghosts and no one else had noticed the scene. Perhaps we can attribute that to it wasn’t Kang’s time yet to go.

Another sea disaster occurred on the 9th month of 1882 and this is described in the work “Ghost Talk With Tea” (醉茶志怪):

A person boarded a liner and he took a nap in a cabin and while he was entering his slumber land, he heard two voices in conversation:

A voice asked: “Is the number sufficient?”

Another voice answered: “Still lacks of two.”

The person suddenly realized that it was not a norm to take headcounts in a ship, perhaps it was ghostly messengers taking a death count? So he immediately disembarked the ship. And as the story goes, the ill fated ship met with a strong headwind and sunk.

If we go back further to history to the Southern Song Dynasty, in the 3rd month of 1163AD, a disaster happened in Xijin Ferry of Zhenjiang (镇江). At that time Gold Hill (金山) was in the center of the river. And Xijin Ferry was plying between Zhenjiang and Gold Hill. According to the story:

There were already 44 persons on board of the ferry and just as when the ferry was leaving the dock, a man holding a kid in his hand approached the ferry side. But the kid started to cry out loud and whatever method used to coax him, the kid would not stop yelling and crying.

The kid’s dad smacked his head and just as the kid said: “listen to me…” he suddenly fainted onto the floor. The dad panicked after he felt the boy’s body was frozen rock solid with chilled hands and feet.

The ferry certainly cannot wait for this father and son pair and that no one was willing to help them, so the ferry left them behind. As the ferry was approaching Gold Hill, a gust of strong wind blew towards the ferry and the ferry subsequently sunk.

As soon as the ferry sunk to the bottom of the river, the kid suddenly awoke from his seizure. Before the dad can ask, the kid said: “just now I saw the ferry was full of ghosts with horrible expressions, so I dare not go onboard. As I was speaking, a ghost suddenly muffled my mouth and I felt dizzy as if entering dream land, that all to it.”

The above stories have some similarities with a posting in Magic SEA concerning “faces of death”:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Acts Of God (天灾人祸)

The Chinese believe that small disasters for example a plane crash or a ship sank may be masterminded by the Hell King, but disasters of a larger scale such as flood, tsunami, earthquake, epidemic etc. must be the work of higher god. In this case, it may be the god-in-charge, the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝).

In the West, Jehovah once said something like the below words:

“I shall remove the human, animals, insects and birds that fly in the air from the surface of this earth… Look! I shall make the water flood flow over the land and destroy everything under the sky. Every living soul shall perish.” (Except Noah and everything on his ark of course)

So we can see that major disasters are in the hands of the God (in the West) and god (in Chinese).

There are two strategies that the Jade Emperor or God can cause massive deaths, the first strategy is called “enticing the crowd into a valley of death”. Let us review a story from Southern Song Dynasty:

The tide in the River Qiantang (钱塘江) is at its peak on the 18th day of the 8th Lunar Month every year. This scene can be touted as one of the strange scene in this world. It was the custom of Lingan (临安) at that time (and it is still now) for a crowd of people to congregate on the banks on the river to look at the coming of tides.

During 1342AD, two days before the tide gazing festival, people who stayed beside the river heard voices of a person said:

“About a few hundred people will die at the bridge this year; they are those who are not filial and lustful folks. You should send someone to remind those whose names are in the list but do not attend this function, however if those names are not in the list; then please do so and chase them away.”

What followed after that were sounds of a group of people seconded the voice.

The one who heard the voice though scared but he didn’t mention what he heard to others.

On the second night, there are further residents heard voices cautioned:

“Please do not stand on the bridge tomorrow as the bridge will collapse.”

Soon it was on the 18th day, before the approaching of the tide; many people already filled the bridge. Those who were warned by the strange dream stayed at a far to observe and they did advised their relatives to step down from the bridge but many scorned them as superstitious.

Suddenly the tidal wave rushed to the bridge with an unusually huge turbulent that has smashed the river banks and the bridge. The bridge collapsed and a few hundreds of spectators drowned.

The second strategy is “to move the land of death into the crowd”. For example: airplane crashes, ships sinks, fire, war, famine, epidemic etc. Let’s take famous tsunami cases for instance:

During 1767AD a tsunami happned in Haitang, Zhejiang (浙江) and taken the lives of a few thousands of people. Further on the spring of 1772AD a record mentioned that “the god ordered Heavenly King Deng (邓天君) to investigate Haitang (海塘) disasters”.

On the 7th Lunar Month of that year, the tidal wave besiege Zhejiang and causing dams to collapse and drowned hundred thousands of human and cattle.

Perhaps that was Heavenly King Deng’s hardwork for 4 months. In case you are not aware, Deng belongs to one of the member of Taoist thunder gods.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Money Matters (有钱能使鬼推磨)

I have said the below Chinese proverb in MagicSEA blog:

If Hell King wants a person to die at 3am, who dares to keep him till 5am?

Perhaps I have exaggerated the power of the Hell King and belittled the abilities of those low ranking hell officials. The fact is that during the process of soul arresting, those messengers are in fact holds some degrees of freedom. When these folks play the card right, then who says 5am; a person can even lives for 5 months more would not be a problem too. He/she can even escape the grasp of those horrible ghostly messengers!

Of course, it is not free to enjoy this favor and that it also goes beyond who knows who in that matter. Everything boils down to ‘money’! Even in the underworld: uniquely the Chinese underworld.

Another old Chinese proverb sounds like:

One should not enter a court empty handed.

Regardless if one is the prosecutor or defendant; money matters. In the matter of power and money trade, too little money spent is useless too. One only needs to fill the stomach of those hell officials, and then they will release the dead soul and let him/her return to life. That’s all to it.

In a story told in “The After Note Of Spiritual Search” (授神后记)

Mr. Lee from Xiangyang (襄阳) suffered from epidemic and died. His father and wife stayed beside his sickbed. At midnight, Mr. Lee suddenly sat up and grabbed her arm. He then took off his wife’s gold armlet.

Mr. Lee’s father also helped and after some struggle, the armlet was finally off. Mr. Lee held the armlet in his hand and murmured some words and kicked his bucket again. His wife figured that there must be a sequel to this strange happening. So she kept her watch over her hubby’s body.

As it was expected, when day breaks, Mr. Lee’s heart slowly turned warm and slowly he regain consciousness.

After woke up, Mr. Lee said that he was arrested by a hell messenger and that he saw his companion gave a gold necklace to the messenger and then his companion was released. So he thought of his wife’s gold armlet and after some discussion with the messenger, he was let go to get the armlet. This explained the incident of the grabbing of armlet at night.

Even though the gold armlet was given to the messenger, the gold armlet still remained in the mortal world. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lee dare not wear the armlet and rather buried it underground.

In another story described in “I Am Not Talking” (子不语):

A lady was disturbed by a vengeful ghost and her hubby took a machete to chop the ghost and subsequently hurt its right forehead. And he further took his rifle and shot the ghost’s arm. However, the ghost was very fierce and it vowed to take the lady’s life.

As the last resort the lady’s father wrote a letter and lodged an ‘official complaint’ to the city god temple.

At night, the lady dreamed that two underworld messengers came to her and asked her to go to the hearing. In addition both of the messengers asked the lady for some money and said:

“We shall guarantee that you shall win this law suit. However, you must burn 2,000 pieces of tin ingots to thank us. You should not criticize us for asking too much. In underworld, the price is only 97 silver 20 ounces; the rest is for bribing officials above and below us on your behalf.”

To tell you the truth, bribery such as the above with a stipulated price can be treated as a win-win situation. The worse case is that those folks dare not say that they wanted bribes, but after some torturing; only they express their intention of wanting money. That is what I call unethical!

A Messenger Needs To Eat Too (鬼差也要吃饭)

Chinese generally believe that since the job of a hell messenger is to arrest living soul when a person’s time has arrived; and that a person would do all he/she can to escape death; then it is of utmost important to give these ghostly messengers feasts not only during their visits; but also a consistent food and wine offerings also in order. That is if you know what is good for you because:

There is practically no food in the underworld except on the bank of “River of No Return” (奈何桥) where some tree barks and roots can be consumed. So the only hope for these ghostly messengers to have a good meal is when they are sent out to arrest some living souls. We can try to imagine what would happen when the messengers came with full hope but returned empty handed correct? Yup. The poor soul who follows these hunger stricken messengers would be tortured on their way to see Hell King. So providing these messengers with sumptuous foods and money and the dead soul would suffer less.

It is actually too late just to make offerings to these ghostly messengers when they come to visit a person who has just kicked his bucket. So it is good also to establish good PR with other spirits in the vicinity as well. Such as the local god, the earth god, the city gods and whatever gods that one can think of must be fed with sumptuous food offerings.

I remembered some blog visitor only offered some sweets to the spirits and I can assure you that this will not do as those spirits are spirit of status and ranks, not the kids! So if one knows what is good for him/her, at least he/she would make offerings of 3 meats: pork, fish and chicken at least occasionally to these spirits so that they will look after the soul of deceased when the time comes.

Please remember one thing:

It is whom you know in the underworld that counts; not what you know!

Before it is too late, one should start making offerings starting from now or he/she would have to beg for the mercies of those spirits in the underworld. If you are still not convenience, then follow me to the underworld and have a look yourself!

Friday, February 27, 2015

This Is How People Kick The Bucket (勾魂)

There are many methods how a messenger of hell takes away one’s life:

A record from Eastern Jin (东晋) 400AD mentioned that:

“A person died in 400AD and came back to life after 3 days. He said someone has used some red clay to seal his nose and drag him to the gate of the heaven.”

Since there is only one record concerning the use of red clay, I would think that the above method is just too outdated and hence only being used by prankster spirits of later years to make fun of unwary night travelers. Of course, these low lever spirits only make use of whatever mud, sludge or clay they can find and not limited to red clay alone.

Another method and more reasonable way to take life away is through the use of “breath taking bag” (抽气袋). According to “Strange Tales” (述异记) from Liang Dynasty (502-557AD):

“Ghostly messenger takes a bag to chase after its target and within a few days the person will die.”

Likewise a work “Assort Works Of Western Sun” ( 西阳杂俎) from Tang Dynasty (618-907AD):

A family in Changan (长安) with a sick person whose sickness worsen and his family members invited monks to perform blessing ceremony. His wife and children accompanied him beside the sickbed. One night, someone saw a tall shadow went into the house and they thought it was a thief. So the household gave chase and the shadow suddenly jumped into a big earth urn.

Some family members boiled a big bowl of hot water and poured it into the urn. To their surprised, there was no one in the urn but a bag floating on the surface of the water.

At this instant, a disembodied voice was heard:

“Please return the bag to me; I shall take other’s life to replace your love one!”

On hearing the voice, someone grabbed the air and thrown into the air and the sick was subsequently recovered.

Again, the above method is still too troublesome, so another direct method is to use a piece of cloth to suffocate the person. Also another work from Tang Dynasty titled “The Vast Strange Stories” (广异记):

“A person was chased by a ghostly messenger with a piece of white linen. When the ghost approached him, it wrapped the linen over the person’s head and soon the person kicked the bucket.”

Yet in another work “The Retribution Of Underworld” (冥报记) mentioned that the ghostly messenger used a baton, rope and bag to assault its target.

Lee was assaulted and then being dragged to the hell. Because he could recite Buddhist sutras and he was allowed to return home. But before he was allowed to leave, he had to pay a sum of money to three ghostly messengers. The three spirits said to Lee:

“Three of us were the ones who had assaulted you: one tied you with red rope, one use baton to strike your head and one used the bag to catch your soul.”

Apparently the above description has made the impartial hell folks as if highway robbers, fees even need to be paid after they have made a mistake! This is not the hell's problem, but it is the person’s extreme bad luck. I supposed the person should be grateful as he was a Buddhist and it is worthwhile to pay to celebrate his release.

I am sure a very unique method of Chinese ghostly messengers to get to a soul is through the use of ‘poison’. Can you imagine if a god of death resorts to the use of poison in other part of the world?

The use of poison by ghostly messenger is described in “Telling Stories Of The Room” (宣室志):

Liu stayed in the same room with his helper. One day he went out and met a person in purple clothing. The person took out 10 or so green color pills and put them in a bowl and then told Liu: “I am from other world. I am ordered to bring you in and you should consume these pills. Please don’t tell anyone or there will be troubles!”

I think I will stop here for if I continue on, you may raise many funny questions why Chinese ghostly messengers would do such a thing just to catch a soul. Maybe the western way is much simpler: the god of death only brings a large sickle for all jobs.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

It Is All In The Family (佛教与阴府)

The Buddhism has changed Chinese ghost culture considerably too with the introduction of hell and the concept of underworld. Let me put it in a much simpler comparison:

In the West, God and Satan oppose each other. However, it is fair to say that in Buddhism, the hell and Buddhism are all in a family. It is more appropriate to put it as the hell is a subsidiary of Buddhism as whoever not only does good deeds; if he/she is also a Buddhist shall be saved from the torment of hell. Although the Buddha and bodhisattvas are very compassionate, they would turn their heads to those who are not Buddhists. So, without the fear of hell, no one would embrace Buddhism and no one would vow to be born in Pure Land!

The most noticeable influence of Buddhism to ghost culture is the belief of karma: good deeds give rise to good karma; bad deeds give rise to bad karma. We can find many such stories being passed down from the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) for the purpose of attracting more folks of that time to embrace Buddhism.

One of the most extreme types of ghost story relate to the soul of a still living person being trial and tortured in hell. According to the narration of a work titled “Retribution Of Hell” ( 冥报记) dated from early Tang Dynasty:

A person named Xie was pronounced dead after a long illness but he became alive again after 4 days. Mr. Xie then said: “The news of the deceased of a person shall be foretold 3 years before his/her death in the underworld.”

Basically these types of stories are the same. I would categorize them into two categories:

1.      Someone has done extremely bad deeds in the dark and that he/she has escaped the punishment in the court of law, then the Hell King would send someone to arrest his/her soul and being beaten 500 times by an iron bar on his/her buttock. When this person’s soul returned to the mortal world, his/her buttock would be as if being sliced open.
2.      Some bad people’s soul is forever imprisoned in the hell, even though his/her physical body is still alive, his/her soul would be under constant torture in the hell. Hence this person’s physical body would always be under unspeakable pain.

In order to enhance and to increase the faith of followers, there are many stories told of the cruelty of hell. According to the work of a Tang writer titled “Entering Underworld” (通幽记):

A person known as Huang was arrested by mistake by messengers of hell. By right his soul should be released immediately. But since his aunty was someone of influence in the underworld, his aunty ordered a monk to bring Huang around the hell to hang around. Perhaps this aunty wanted to warn Huang of being good. Everything was fine until Huang accidentally entered an inflamed black castle and saw countless of souls being stripped off their skins and that these souls were drained off their blood. Some of the soul bodies were seen being minced by machetes. Sounds of yelling and swearing filled the atmosphere… to make the story short: it was indeed ‘hell’!

As Mr. Huang was rushing out of the castle, he saw a door gushing with flames at his north. That was the notorious “Hell of Bottomless” (无间地狱). At this time, Huang started to feel scared and begin to repent of his sins; he heard someone called his name. Then Huang saw a monk was sitting in a red hot iron bed whose head was pierced by a piece of iron nail; whose blood oozed until the ground.

When Huang looked further, the monk was an acquaintance. So he asked the monk why was he there. The monk replied: “It is all due to eating meat and drinking wine with you. I felt awfully sorry but now it is too late!”

After Huang’s soul returned to the mortal world, he went to visit the monk and the monk’s master told him that the monk had died of a bad sore on his head a few days ago…

Of course there are many similar stories as the above in the records. Most of these stories are about while the person’s soul is being tortured in hell, his body was yelling in pain in the human world. Almost all of the heroes of the stories are monks or Buddhists. I would have guessed that these stories were made up by Buddhists to supplement the teaching of Buddha. On the other hand, it also reflected that the stage of monks and Buddhists breaking precepts already at a worrisome level.

So when someone wanted to make up a story to prevent believers from breaking Buddhist precepts, they need to speed up the rate of karmic actions; the faster the bad karma befell a culprit, the better it is to scare naïve folks. Perhaps, people losing patience on waiting for karma fruits to ripen. No one has the patient to wait for a few life times to see a killer died of cancer; best if this killer can be gun down here and then. Don’t you think so too?

Temple Of Lost Souls (城隍庙)

There is one thing that needs mentioning: in many local customs, since Ming () and Qing Dynasty (清朝), whenever a person is said to have ‘lost’ his soul, he/she would need to visit the ‘temple of city god’ (城隍庙) to ‘reclaim’ his/her lost soul.

I would have guessed that there are two reasons for that:

The first is that after Ming Dynasty, the temple of city god has transformed to be the local spirit hall (冥府). In the past, when a dead soul is being summoned by spirit hall, it would need to come face to face with the Lord of Hell (阎王). So, this city god temple has indirectly become the interim meeting place with the Lord of Hell. Hence, whatever this Hell King wants to do: either it is to summon a living soul for witness, or ‘voluntary’ workers; the orders are carried out by this city god. That explains why when a person lost his/her soul, he/she had better to go to the city god first in case his/her soul is indeed summoned by Hell King. In this case, by praying to the city god, the chances of getting back one’s soul intact would be high naturally.

Another reason is that a city god temple has the responsibility to protect the well beings of living souls of an area, so the temple would also keep all lost souls found by the guards of city god. It is believed that if a rich person has lost his/her soul, then his/her soul would be sent back by the assistants of the city god. However, a poor person would need to visit the temple personally to ‘reclaim’ his/her own lost soul. The reason is that the city god is too busy to take care of each and every common folks, so if the person is poor, he/she is on his/her own!

In old days, Chinese generally believed when a person dies, his/her soul would be led to the temple of city god and that this poor soul would be tie onto the pillars of the temple awaiting the judgement of the Hell King. It was a custom in the Northern China that when one dies, his/her relative would go to the city god temple to ‘temple reporting’ (报庙). In this ‘reporting’, the person would hold a piece of paper with the deceased’s name on it and then approach the city god idol. In front of the deity, he/she would burn 3 pieces of joss stick and then exit the temple and closed the door.

The person would then kneel down in front of the door and then he/she would knock the door with a piece of stone followed by calling the name. When this is done, the person goes back with the paper to perform further funeral services.

It is described in “The Balance Of Customs” (礼俗权衡):

It was a custom in Hebei (河北) to have the custom of 'temple reporting': before a deceased is put into a coffin, his next of kin would need to go to the city god temple with some joss papers and a bucket of water. After the joss papers are burnt, the water is poured onto the floor of the temple. And then the next of kin would cry out loud and return home.

There are many records about the temple of city god throughout the history. For example in “New Words From Cutting Lanterns” (剪灯新话):

In Jiangshu, Huishan Province (江苏会山), one night before Qingming (清明) festival, local folks would hold a street procession on behalf of the city god (城隍巡街) which normally ended with a ritual known as “collecting table ritual” (收台仪).

Again, the ritual can be subdivided into “collecting yang-table” (收阳台) and “collecting ying-table” (收阴台). In the yang-table ritual, a sick person’s name is called a loud. When some kind of response is obtained, then a bunch of firecracker is lit and the person’s soul is trapped inside a large pail. While the ying-table ritual refers to the collection of human remains from the wilderness and the bones are then kept under the table of the city god.

The belief of city god is most popular in mainland China and Taiwan though some temples of city god existed overseas too. Perhaps the worship of city god is due to reasons of faith and an act of making up to own ancestors; which too are another form of filial.

Whether or not if you believe in city god, next time when you are not feeling yourself; please check up your local city god temple. Perhaps your soul has been summoned by the Hell King for some ‘free’ services!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

He Who Employed By Hell (走无常)

No one can imagine that the underworld government will have ‘headcount’ shortage too as our mortal world. This is not a big problem to the King of Hell: he can always call living souls to his service and after the job is done, the soul is returned to its body intact. In case you wonder, such service is ‘voluntary’; i.e. this poor soul is treated as cheap labour and it is not ‘paid’ for his/her services. I am not sure if there is already a labour’s union in underworld now days though since most of such jobs are of temporary basis…

There are also differences in temporary position one would hold when he/she is in office. As the saying goes:


(A scholar turns into ape and crane, a common turns into worm.)

In another word, a scholar and person of status would become a judge (判官) but a common folk would have a job as messenger of hell. We shall just leave the gentlemen side for now and concentrate on the common folk.

Many classic literatures have talked about these messengers of hell, Mr. Luxun (鲁迅) has spent some length in explaining about these hell messengers in his work titled "Collecting Morning Flowers At Dusk” (朝花夕拾).

Although the descriptions of messenger from hell can be traced back to literature produced much earlier period, the phrase of ‘无常' (not permanent) only started to emerge during Northern Song (南宋) period.

The emergence of 'not permanent' started to flood Qing (清朝) ghost literatures and this is when the shape of this 'not permanent' has taken form amongst folk beliefs:

"He is wearing white linen robe ( 麻衣) and about 10 feet or so tall.”

After Song Dynasty however, folks believe the messenger of hell should be a pair: one wearing white linen robe and the other wearing black linen robe. Both of these ghostly brothers are wearing tall linen hats. The messenger in white is known as ‘the white not permanent’ (白无常) and the black one is known as the ‘black not permanent’ (黑无常). The later description is the black and white not permanents (黑白无常) that we are so familiar of today.

The earliest record of messenger of hell can be traced to a work titled “搜神记"(In Search Of Gods) from Jin Dynasty (晋朝):

The incident happened during the 3 Kingdoms (三国) period in Zhejiang (浙江).

The wife of Mr. Mashi (马势) would fall into deep sleep whenever people in her village were terminally ill. Not until these folks died that this lady could awaken from her long slumber. When she awoke from her sleep, she would tell people around her that it was her working that has caused the death of those people. At first no one believes her, but after this lady described in detailed of what has happened to the household of the deceased that the villagers started to believe her.