Oct 262011
 

Traditional Chinese Tales with a Twist

My Friend the Weasel*

Weasel says Happy New Year to Chicken

In the old city there is a large courtyard where many families live. In it there is also a family of weasels. In the courtyard is a small boy. His name is Zhang Dalong. When the school teacher asked students to write an essay titled, “My Friend ____,” Dalong wrote, “My Friend the Weasel.” Although his essay merely pointed out that weasels were expert rat killers and hence friends of the people, Dalong found that he had become notorious. Teachers from other classes would point at him behind his back and whisper to each other, “That’s the boy, the ‘friend’ of the weasel. Isn’t he funny.”

Actually most people living in a large courtyard have seen weasels, but they may not be familiar with them, and certainly not as friends. Why then did Dalong become a friend to a weasel? It’s because this weasel had turned into a genie.

A weasel must practice many years to become a genie and that means magic is involved. How do they practice? One, is to learn to harness their inner energy, that is, to practice qigong. Once they have mastered qigong, they are able to treat diseases in others, or conversely, make people sick. The second is to practice human speech. Once that is mastered, they are able to talk to humans. And finally, some weasels practice morphing into human shapes, usually into a beautiful woman. After that she will try to find a man to marry. The weasel that Dalong befriended had successfully practiced the first two skills. She knew how to use her inner energy to make people a little bit mentally sick and she could also talk to people. But she hadn’t yet turned into a beautiful woman. She was now obsessed with this third magical trick.

This weasel was not stupid: she wouldn’t talk to just anyone she met. She was selective. When she saw that Dalong did not harm small animals and looked like a good kid, she decided to talk to him. And after they had talked to each other a few times, they became friends.

Do you think I look like a pretty girl?
Do you think I look like a pretty girl?

One day during winter vacation, the weasel, who was sitting on a wall, saw Dalong coming out of the public toilet in the neighborhood. She asked, “Dalong, what’s up?” She sat there, posing as a beauty sunning herself on the beach. “Do you think I look like a pretty girl?” Dalong was not particularly interested in pretty girls, and actually thought the furry weasel looked better than all the girls in his class. He said, “No.”

Dalong, a bit embarrassed, switched the topic. He said, “My dad says there is a developer here who wants to demolish our houses and move all of us out. If that happens, you won’t be able to live here very long either.”

Weasel was confused, “How can a developer demolish your house? If he likes to demolish houses, shouldn’t he be demolishing his own?”

Dalong was a bit surprised at how little the weasel understood and noted, “The land we live on belongs to the state. The developer has negotiated with the state to chase us away, and that way he gets the space to build new houses. Then he sells the new houses to rich people. Although the land still belongs to the state, after all this demolition and rebuilding, houses worth 1 yuan now will be worth 100 yuan later. So the developer makes a lot of money.”

“What if you don’t agree?” Weasel was still puzzled.

Dalong continued to educate Weasel, “The developer says there will be lots of money paid to us, so many families have agreed to move.”

“Do you want to move?” Weasel sounded sympathetic.

“No way. I’ve been living here since I was small. My school is here, my friends are all here. If we move, our only option is to move to a high-rise building in the suburbs. I will never see small animals like you anymore. My Dad is also unwilling to move, because he works in the supermarket here. He says if we move, he may never find a job that suits him.”

Weasel finally put two and two together, “Hmm. I just gave birth to a litter of babies that must wait three months before they can become independent. If our nest is demolished now, my babies will not survive. What shall we do?”

As she talked, she once again steered the conversation back to her objective and posed as a pretty girl looking over her shoulder, “Don’t you think I look like a pretty girl?”

Dalong replied impatiently, “No, you don’t.” Again, Dalong turned the conversation back to what concerned him, “This weekend the developer will come and have a meeting with our courtyard. If more than half of the families agree to move, we will have to move. We must think of a way to stop him from demolishing our old homes.”

Both Weasel and Dalong were worried. But Weasel had to go and catch rats to feed her babies and Dalong had to go to a winter vacation catch-up class. They decided to discuss the situation in the evening.

When it got dark, Dalong hurriedly finished his supper, then went into his family courtyard. He stepped onto the supporting wall next to the public toilet and from there up the roof. He walked lightly, with bent back, across the roof of the Wang family home, then the roof of the Jin family home, and came to a roof surface that was under the branch of a big tree. Down below lived old man Bai. He was hard of hearing and couldn’t hear anybody on his roof. Dalong sat down. This was where he and Weasel usually met in summer. On winter nights they only met here on momentous occasions.

After awhile Weasel came by. Dalong said, “Have you thought of a way? Since you can talk to me and therefore know magic, can’t you change the developer’s mind? Maybe you could just simply put a spell on him, or something, and finish him off?”

Weasel was impatient, “I don’t have that kind of magic. What I do think is that we should ask Tudiye, the Lord of Earth, for help. The Lord of Earth is very powerful. He can summon wind and rain, earthquakes, landslides, and even mudslides. It shouldn’t be a problem for him to deal with a developer.”

Dalong was intrigued, “Where can we find the Lord of Earth? There are no signs of his Earth Temple around here. Do you know where one is?”

“There’s an Earth Temple nearby–it’s a bit small, though, so you may not know about it.”

“Where? I’ve been all over this neighborhood and I’ve never seen an Earth Temple.”

“That old foreigner’s yard, have you been there?”

“Oh, that yard. Okay, so I haven’t been there, just looked in. That old foreigner looks like a witch: white hair, long nose. She scares the hell out of me. Are you saying the Earth Temple is in her yard?”

It took awhile for Dalong to mull over Weasel’s pronouncement, then he proclaimed, “You can’t be right. As I said, we looked down into that yard from up on the wall, and apart from her house, it only has a deep garden, full of flowers and grass. There are no temples there.”

Don't you think I look like a lovely old lady?
Don’t you think I look like a lovely old lady?

Weasel said, “Earth Temples are small, not large buildings like you would imagine. It is in the very back of her yard. I’ve been there.”

Weasel then picked up a stick and posed as an old lady and crooned, “Don’t you think I look like a lovely old lady?”

“No, no, NO!” Dalong was a bit agitated that these sorts of questions kept coming at him. He again switched back to the topic at hand: “If there is a temple there, then you go and talk to the Lord of Earth? Ask him to finish off the developer?”

“Not me. The Lord of Earth doesn’t like me.”

“Why?”

“I once ate offerings that were presented to him. Normally I catch rats, but that day I was really hungry because no rats were to be found. I saw a chicken leg on his offering table, plus some sweet melon peel. I ate all of it. After that, Tudiye has been after me. If I went to ask him for help, he would definitely not grant my request and probably put me to death.”

“Huh. Does that foreign old lady know there’s an Earth Temple in her yard? Will she allow outsiders to go and burn incense there?”

“I don’t know about that. Probably not. Nobody goes there to burn incense.”

“Who makes the offerings then?”

“The old lady herself, of course.”

“Now you’re really confusing me. If the old lady doesn’t know there is an Earth Temple there, how can she be making offerings to Tudiye?”

“It’s her compost bin, silly! That’s where she dumps her leftovers every day.”

“What? How can an Earth Temple be a compost bin?”

“You really don’t get it, do you.” Weasel said somewhat smugly. “You know they say ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways’. You’re a kid, so of course you don’t understand. Look. What is a compost bin for? It’s for producing fertile soil. What is the Lord of Earth in charge of? He is in charge of soil. When the soil is fertile, everything grows. I bet you think the compost bin is dirty, don’t you? But the Lord of Earth doesn’t think so. The Lord of Earth is not the same as other deities. He doesn’t like to live in big, grand buildings.”

“So he lives in a garbage dump, eh? And then he gets himself stinking at the same time?” Dalong laughed.

Weasel said sarcastically, “I tell you something but you don’ believe me. I’m going rat hunting.” She got up and was about to leave but thought of something else. “If you do go and see the Lord of Earth, you have to get inside his temple. He’s not going to come out to see you. Also, don’t forget to take some offerings. The best would be horse dung. But if you don’t have that, the dregs from making sesame paste will do just fine.”

Dalong started to get agitated, “How do I get into that yard? I don’t know that old witch.”

“That, is your problem. I don’t know her either. But she doesn’t look like a bad person. Now, go home! It’s cold! See you later!” Weasel ran off.

Dalong returned home to look for his mom. He found her in the kitchen. “Mom, looks like you’re not finished with your housekeeping yet? Let me help you by washing the dishes.”

do we have horse dung in our house?
do we have horse dung in our house?

Mother said, “Ho ho, why are you so eager to do some chores today? You must want something, no?”

Dalong asked sheepishly, “Mom, do we have horse dung in our house?”

Dalong’s mother laughed, “Are you kidding? We don’t keep horses here. Where do you think we’re going to get horse dung, then? We only have yours!”

“Mom!” Dalong was taken aback. But he persisted, “Then do we have some sesame dregs?”

“Oh, you want to plant some flowers, eh? That’s good. I bought a bag of sesame dregs sometime back, when I transplanted a rose. Go look under the bed to see if there is any left. But it’s not the right season for planting flowers.”

Dalong immediately went to his mother’s bedroom and crawled under the bed. He thought if he could find some sesame dregs, there would be some hope for his Lord of Earth adventure.

Dalong found half a bag of sesame dregs. His next challenge was how to get into that old witch’s yard? If he climbed down the wall, he could be caught and taken as a thief. That foreign old lady might very well have monitoring cameras in her yard. But, if he went the direct way and rang the doorbell that old lady would ask him what he wanted. Dalong mulled over what he might say and the outcomes:

“I’ve come to make offerings to the Lord of Earth?” She would surely say, “There is no Lord of Earth here.” Then she’d slam the door on him.

“I’ve come to admire your garden?” But then she might say, “My home is not a tourist attraction. On top of that, it’s winter now. There is no garden to admire” Then she’d slam the door.

“My kite has fallen into your yard, can you let me in to look for it?” But she would certainly go and look for it with me, and when no kite was found she would definitely see me out the door, slamming it behind me.

Dalong thought of numerous plans, but the result was the same: the old lady slammed the door on him. That night, he tossed and turned in bed, sleepless until just before daylight. At last he had a plan he thought was good to try. He finally fell asleep, a smile on his face.

Dalong woke up late, just in time for lunch. After a quick bowl of noodles, he took off with the half-bag of sesame dregs in his back pocket, a magnifying glass in his shirt pocket, and a flashlight in hand. Dalong plucked up his courage and approached the door of that old lady witch’s home. He rang the doorbell, his heart pounding fast. After a long time, the old lady came out, wearing a coat with collar pulled up but with one empty sleeve and an arm in a cast dangling by her side.

“What do you want?” she grumbled.

Dalong sounded like he was reciting an essay when he replied in a voice a bit too loud, “Hello, grandma! My name is Zhang Dalong and I live around here. My winter vacation homework requires an essay about how to make compost. I heard that you have a compost bin. Would you let me take a thorough look at it so that I could get a sense of what composting is all about.”

The old lady scrutinized Dalong for a long time, then smiled, “You should really have come in summer to see what composting is all about. In winter it’s cold and the temperature in a compost bin is low. That means the garbage thrown in there disintegrates more slowly. I didn’t put dry leaves in, as I’d normally do in autumn, because I recently broke my arm. So, there’s not a lot of compost in there.”

Dalong started to worry that his plan was going down the drain. But thankfully the old foreign witch continued, “That said, since you need to write your winter vacation essay and can’t wait till summer, you are welcome to come in and have a look. You kids that live in large cities are rarely interested in composting.”

Dalong was relieved and enquired politely, “Grandma, what happened to your arm?”

The old lady said, “After the first snow the alley got covered with ice. I slid, fell, and broke one of my bones.”

Dalong was sympathetic and finally lowered his voice out of essay-reciting mode, “You are alone, aren’t you? If you have anything you need help in, you can call on me.”

The old lady once again looked at him with suspicion, but eventually she smiled again and said, “Ha! You are so young. What do you think you can do to help me? But thank you anyway.”

this really is an Earth Temple!
this really is an Earth Temple!

The old lady led Dalong to the back yard and across the wintry garden. They passed tufts of dried long grass and blackened tree branches and finally got to the back of the garden. Under a tree that had lost all its leaves, was a wooden box about one cubic meter in size. The front boards of the box were presented in imitation style of a Chinese gate, with some black script crudely written there. A couplet had been inscribed vertically along the sides saying, “Marvelous is Mother Earth. ” “All creatures are born of her.” Horizontally along the top was one word, “Earth.”

Dalong was taken aback when he saw the inscriptions, and thought, “So, this really is an Earth Temple!” He asked, “Grandma, did you write this?”

“No, I can’t write Chinese very well. I had a friend write it up for me.”

Dalong asked, “Do you really believe this compost bin is an Earth Temple?”

The old lady cocked her head as she looked at Dalong and smiled mischievously, “Sure. Don’t you think that’s appropriate?”

The old lady lifted the lid of the compost bin with her unbroken arm. Dalong took a look up close. It was about half full of compost. The temperature coming to the top seemed to be around thirty degrees, warmer than Dalong’s home. The smell resembled an elephant house at the Zoo, not really stinking but smelly, no less. Dalong surmised that there were millions of small bugs and microbes in there, busy breaking down the leaves and leftover dishes into earth.

Dalong looked at the old lady and said, “Grandma, I’d like to jump in and take a careful look at what’s going on in there with my magnifying glass–you know, check out the microbes and bugs. Why not go inside your house so you don’t catch a chill out here. When I’m done I’ll come and tell you.”

The old lady thought about it, and said,, “You said just now that you wanted to help me. When you’re done observing, use this pitch fork to throw this pile of leaves into the bin? I have a broken bone, and can’t do it myself. But, I’ll pay you ten yuan for the work. Do you have the strength for an old lady’s job?”

Dalong brightened up at the idea of an extra ten yuan for what looked like simple work. He said, “No problemo.”

After the old lady retired inside, Dalong jumped into the compost bin and squatted down. He closed the lid on top of him. The inside of the lid was wet and slimy and Dalong made a face. He turned on his flashlight, took out the sesame dregs, and poured them in front of him. As he did so, he murmured, “Lord of Earth present your holiness! I have brought you sesame dregs! Lord of Earth please present your holiness!”

He said this twice but there was no response. Dalong thought out loud, “Oops, I forgot to ask Weasel if there was a secret password or something that could summon the Lord of Earth. And what on earth does the Lord of Earth look like. If he comes out perhaps I won’t recognize him?”

Dalong made a last ditch attempt, but this time shouted out, “Lord of Earth please present your holiness!” He did this several times, hoping his loud voice would make a difference. He wanted to shout louder but feared he would alert the neighbors.

this worm must be the Lord of Earth
this worm must be the Lord of Earth

After awhile a large worm came out of the compost. Dalong thought, this worm must be the Lord of Earth, because it was huge, with a head as large as a fist. He had the eyes of an old man, half open and half closed, and a mouth with a beard.

“Irritating little person! What are you calling me for? And quit shouting.”

“Lord of Earth, I brought you sesame dregs.”

“Humm, now that’s a good start, young man. Who told you to come here to look for me?”

“Weasel told me your holiness would be here.”

“Ha! That furry worm. If you can talk to her, she has become a genie, no doubt. She comes here to steal my chicken leg scraps. She sneaks in, thinking I don’t know! I know everything.”

“Lord of Earth, Weasel tells me that you have powerful magic. I need your help.”

“Aha! I knew it. Listen here, young man, you’re a human. I don’t like to interfere with anything human. On this earth, humans are the worst. Humans use cement and asphalt to cover good soil. It often took me thousands, even millions of years to get it right. But what do they do? They put stuff on top of it to suffocate me.”

Dalong was a bit taken aback at the sudden outburst from the Lord of Earth. He watched as that old worm’s beard started to twitch with every sentence he said. Dalong was a bit nervous as the Lord of Earth continued.

“They drain the land of water to kill me from thirst. You humans want to turn the earth into a place like the moon and mars. You like to live in places that have no life, not ANY life, left there. Well, you’re are welcome to move! Go to the moon; GO TO MARS! I’m not stopping you! ”

Dalong jumped back a bit at this outburst. But the Lord of Earth continued his diatribe, “You humans wreak havoc everywhere and the other animals suffer. If it hadn’t been for good humans like that old lady who lives out there, giving me offerings every day, and, er…, your sesame dregs on this occasion, well, I would have brought forth several volcano eruptions and exterminated you humans a long time ago.”

The Lord of Earth glowered at Dalong, who with some fear and trepidation squeaked out, “Lord of Earth, I’m just a kid. I’m willing to do more to protect the environment. But, like I said, I’m just a kid and I face some grownups who want to destroy the environment just to make money. ”

Dalong continued, “I came here today to seek your help. I want your help to stop a developer from destroying the environment. He wants to demolish our old houses and build high-rise buildings made of steel and cement. I want your help to stop him from cutting down large trees and covering the ground with cement and asphalt.”

“What kind of animal is this thing you call “developer”?”

“That’s also a kind of human being.”

The Lord of Earth’s beard starting twitching again, “Oh, you’re still talking about humans? Then, like I said, I won’t help you. You humans go and solve your own problems. Aren’t you supposed to be smart?! If you don’t have enough brain power, get that weasel to help you! She’s smart, quite cunning, actually. And tell her I haven’t forgotten that she stole the chicken bones the old lady threw in here!”

After his last outburst, the Lord of Earth shrank into the compost and disappeared.

Dalong climbed out of the compost bin very depressed. Then he remembered that there was still a pile of leaves waiting for him to put into the compost bin. This made him even more depressed.

The chore turned out not to be as easy as he thought. The large pitch fork provided by the old lady seemed to have plans of its own: either it would only take up a few leaves at once, or it would gather a huge pile too heavy for Dalong to lift. Dalong thought the fork must surely be a genie too. Perhaps everything in this yard had become a genie.

After a lot of sweat and dirt, Dalong finally finished his chore. He went to say goodbye to the old lady, who give him the ten yuan she had promised. This cheered Dalong up a bit. It was not a huge amount, but it was the first time he had made money on his own by helping out a neighbor!

I am a full-fledged genie now!
I am a full-fledged genie now!

After supper, Dalong went up to the roof of old man Bai, looking for Weasel. He waited awhile, but she didn’t come. Then, walking along the roof came a lady he had never seen before. Dalong thought it must be a relative of old man Bai. He was about to run away when the lady said, “Do you think I look like a pretty girl?”

Dalong took a closer look. The girl was indeed pretty and sort of resembled Weasel, in a strange sort of way. He looked more carefully and thought about it, “Yeah, you are a pretty girl.”

The lady was delighted and jumped up and down on the roof, which scared Dalong a lot. She said, “Dalong, look, it’s me, Weasel. I am a full-fledged genie now! In the past, when I morphed into human shape, nobody would comment on it. In each case, I still couldn’t count myself as a true genie. But just now you said, ‘You are a pretty girl.’ Don’t you know what that means? It means I am a full-fledged genie. It’s I can actually fool people into thinking I’m human. It means my powers are now much greater. Yay, yay, yay! Thank you, Dalong!” And Weasel-Lady jumped up and down some more.

Dalong relaxed a bit, then grumbled, “I still think the original you looks better. You look older in this form, like our English teacher. And aren’t you wearing clothes you stole from my mom? Don’t let her see you in them.”

Weasel said, “If you don’t like this form of me, I can change back. By the way, did you see the Lord of Earth?”

Dalong sighed, “I saw the Lord of Earth, but he won’t help us. He said that the two of us could solve this problem. What do you say?”

Weasel replied, “Okay, let’s muddle this through. You told me that if half of the families wouldn’t agree to demolishing their houses, the developer couldn’t proceed, right?”

“Correct. The problem is, many families have already agreed to move by now.”

Weasel-Lady fluttered her eyelashes coyly as she asked, “If they knew that the developer just wanted to get rich without the people here getting any benefit out of it, they wouldn’t agree, right?”

“Correct. But the developer promised to give each family a relocation fee that the government has made available. Oh, and quit doing that thing with your eyes!”

Weasel quit preening and said, “Sorry, I was just practicing my new powers. Anyway, I know what to do. If I attend this meeting, when the developer comes in I’ll jump into his body and get him to tell the truth.”

Dalong was startled at these new abilities Weasel had, but he didn’t object, “That would be great. People who attend the meeting are all residents here. I suggest you pretend to be the granddaughter of old man Bai that lives below. He never attends any of these meetings, so no one has seen her or even knows if he has a granddaughter.”

“Good! You get me a set of clothes that would suit his granddaughter, and borrow one of those things that takes pictures. We will take some pictures of this bad egg.”

On Saturday afternoon, the residents gathered in Mr. Wang’s living room and grabbed whatever seats were available. The Director of the Residents Committee and Officer Hao of the local police also attended. As people chatted, someone asked Weasel, “Are you from here? I’ve never seen you before.”

Weasel smiled sweetly and said, “Er, I’m representing my Grandpa Bai.”

Those nearby, after overhearing this, also smiled after giving her a good look and commented that Mr. Bai was really lucky having such a beautiful granddaughter. Just then, a man came into the room, reeking of alcohol, with a large gold tooth flashing periodically from his mouth as he sniggered at the crowd. Gold Tooth placed some documents on a table and coughed, “My name is Huang Jingui, President of the Xinxin Development Company.”

As soon as Gold Tooth entered the room, Dalong began videoing the meeting. After awhile, he put down his camera and looked at Weasel. She was staring at Gold Tooth. It looked like she was harnessing some sort of inner energy.

Gold Tooth started to look like he was feeling uncomfortable. Streaks of white and red started to crisscross his face. His neck was itchy, so he began to scratch it. He started coughing.

“People call me the Yellow Immortal,” he croaked.

People began laughing, thinking that he was joking. Everyone knew that “Yellow Immortal” was another name for weasels.

“Today I came to find out, uh, to find out, uh, how many chickens there are in this neighborhood.”

like a beast in man's clothing
like a beast in man’s clothing

Everybody laughed again, thinking that this man really knew how to work an audience. Dalong started videoing again.

But Gold Tooth didn’t laugh. Instead, he turned nasty, like a beast in man’s clothing. He stood on top of his chair, placed his two hands on the table. It looked like he was about to jump down onto neighbors sitting in front. “I came today, like a weasel bidding Happy New Year to chickens–with no kind intentions!”

“What’s this?” The whole room gasped and people sitting in the front row got up to move to the back.

“You bunch of chickens! How dare some of you refuse to move out of your homes. I’ll destroy all of you! Every single one! Not one household will be left when I’m done.

At this point the developer started to turn even redder and was starting to screech, “You think I’ll fairly distribute government relocation fees to you? Stop dreaming! Ha, ha, ha! I’ve already spent half that money in Macao casinos. That’s because I’ve got CLASS. You chickens don’t! I’ve gambled in Macao. Can any of you say the same?! I, the Yellow Immortal, have been there! I lost your money there. Now, that’s CLASS.

At this point he looked even more evil as he said, “You want to get paid for your places. Ha, think again! The new courtyard planned for just this one yard–I’ve already sold it. And that money is gone, too. Macao casinos are so classy, even when you lose money. So, there’s no way you can stay here! Refuse to move and I’ll bite your head off! Either you die, or I do!” Thereupon, the developer started to shake.

The neighbors at the meeting started to talk amongst themselves. Some murmured, “He must have a weasel-genie in him!” Others said, “He’s been jinxed!” All pointed out, “Now we see his true self.”

A few neighbors left their seats and looked up to see if a weasel was perched on a crossbeam of the house. Some went outside to see if a weasel was on the roof. Finally, the Director of the Residents Committee said, “Weasel or no weasel, this guy must be telling the truth. If he’s embezzled the government money allocated to us, it’s not the kind of thing a weasel could fabricate.”

The Direct looked over at Officer Hao and said, “Please arrest this man. Do you think we should take him to a mental hospital or the police station?”

There was a stir in the crowd as everybody talked at the same time. Finally, almost in unison, everyone said loudly, “Off to jail with him.”

Dalong’s father, who was among the crowd, helped Officer Hao grab the madman and the two escorted him to the police station, struggling all the way. The video Dalong made turned out to be important evidence when the case went to trial.

In this way the issue of relocation was resolved. During the remaining days of winter vacation Dalong took time to visit the foreign “witch” again. He helped her turn her compost. Dalong discovered this too was not an easy chore, even more tiring than using a pitch fork to throw leaves into the compost bin. It took him the better part of a day and much sweat. But he finished the job and earned twenty yuan this time. Weasel said Dalong should use the money to buy her full-fledged genie self a live chicken. After all, her babies were often hungry in winter.

Dalong, who by now knew all about Weasel’s tricks, just smiled and said, “How about I buy you some kitty food? A live chicken will just flap its wings and make a loud noise when you go to eat it. That would attract too much attention.”

Weasel said wistfully, “OK. But make sure the kitty-food is chicken-flavored.”

 

*Background:

Source of picture: http://www.hellomandarin.com/ilovechinese/forum/viewthread.php?tid=250

The Chinese have a long tradition of animism. Animals, plants, implements and stones have all been thought of as able to obtain magical powers and many have been worshipped. Among the commonly revered were five “immortals”: the fox, the weasel, the snake, the hedgehog, and the rat. Many people in the past had miniature temples in their courtyards worshipping these five immortals. This temple was called the House of the Immortals. Among the five, the weasel was, and still is, believed to have the power to make people mentally ill. The four other immortals have their own unique powers as well.

Weasels mainly eat mice and rats. Therefore, apart from highly urbanized places, in most of China, weasels live close to humans. There are many stories about these mysterious little animals, but as far as I know, nothing written has come down to us. A popular saying about the weasel is: ‘The weasel pays the chicken a New Year’s visit–with no kind intentions.’ Many contemporaries have written children’s stories to illustrate this saying.

The Lord of Earth, another figure in this story, is supposed to be a small and lowly divine being, in charge of the land. In the old days, every agricultural community had its own Earth Temple, where the Lord of Earth was worshipped. The Lord of Earth, or Tudiye, protected farmers’ crops, merchants’ trips, and also the security of graves. The birthday of the Lord of Earth is the 2nd day of the 2nd lunar month.