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:

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