Traditional Chinese Tales with a Twist
The Mouse Bride*
It was a long, long time ago, when the Jade Emperor was selecting which animals would be part of the Chinese Zodiac. Early in the morning, when the the Emperor was to take applications for positions in the Zodiac, the cat said he would like to sleep in a bit, so he asked his good friend the mouse to put in his application. The mouse promised to do so. But when the mouse came before the Jade Emperor, not one mention was made of a cat-application. Other domestic animals–the ox, the sheep, the horse, the pig, the dog, and even the chicken–got their applications in and were selected. The cat was nowhere in the lineup. Instead, the mouse, who had substituted himself in place of the cat, became number one among the twelve Zodiac animals.
Thereafter, cats became the sworn enemies of mice. They would catch them whenever the chance was there. They declared that every year, on the 10th day after New Year’s, that is Spring Festival, the mice had to give a plump young bride to the cats. The wedding was to be held at night. The mouse bride would ride in a sedan made from an embroidered shoe. What happened to the mouse bride after she was married to the cat-groom nobody knew. No mice ever saw her again. There was a rumor that these brides were eaten as part of the wedding ceremony. Mice have shuddered ever since at the mention of this wedding, and cold is not the shudder-factor.
Ball-of-Yarn was a plump mouse. Her classmates often tried to scare her. “If you eat any more, you will be married off to a big old cat!” But Ball-of-Yarn just liked to eat. She liked not just sweet things, but fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, and bugs too–umm, yummy! Ball-of-Yarn liked June bugs very much; they tasted like peanuts. But it’s not easy to catch June bugs. It requires time and patience. Ball-of-Yarn practiced a lot, so she had become an expert. She also discovered that hemp seeds were very delicious, except if you eat too much you get dizzy and fall asleep. So if she found hemp seeds, she stored them to later eat a little bit at a time.
After New Year’s, a meeting of the mice was called. The elders, including a school principal, chatted while they drank coffee. The discussion went like this.
“Any changes to the marrying of the bride this year?”
“Nope, nothing we can do about it.”
“Then we will just have to marry off one of the kids.”
“Who should we pick then?”
“Have to pick the fattest. If we don’t, the cats won’t let us get away with it. If she’s not a fat one, the cats might say, ‘This one doesn’t count, we want another.’ Then we are in trouble.”
“Yep. She must be fat.”
“Let’s pick Ball-of-Yarn then, she is sort of fat.”
“Alright, it will be Ball-of-Yarn then. Let’s notify her. Tell her to dress up.”
The principal was given the job of notifying Ball-of-Yarn.
All her classmates cried, because everyone loved Ball-of-Yarn. Ball-of-Yarn said, “Don’t cry now, I am not dead yet. Let’s think of a way to save me.”
“What can we do? Send the cats a toy Mickey Mouse?”
“That won’t do, cats will see it’s a fake right away, then they will give us trouble.”
“Send them a dead mouse?”
“Where can we find a dead mouse? They are all eaten by the weasels.”
“In that case, let’s send them a weasel?”
“You got water in your brain or what? Weasels eat mice for a living. How can we get a weasel onto the bridal sedan? As soon as she sees you, without saying anything, she will have your throat. You won’t even have time to say: ‘Hello, Weasel.’ As soon as you begin to say the “H” you are dead.”
“Even if you can find a weasel, she will not sit still in the sedan chair and allow us to carry her to marry a cat! She would definitely eat all the mice carrying the sedan chair on the way!”
Ball-of-Yarn said, “I know what. I will first feed the weasel some hemp seeds. After that she will become dizzy and once she becomes dizzy, she will no longer be dangerous to us. Then we get her into the sedan chair, carry her to the cats, and put her down and run. If the cats find out it’s a weasel, they might think that the weasel ate the bride on the way, so they won’t blame us. That’s because cats also know that we could not possibly put a weasel in a sedan chair.”
Her classmates asked, “How are you going to feed the weasel hemp seeds? Come baby weasel, have some hemp seeds?”
“Don’t worry yourselves with that, I have my way.”
Ball-of-Yarn went back home and got out all her stored hemp seeds. And she got out all her stored June bugs. She mixed the two together with honey, and made a large cake. While the weasel was sleeping during the day, she placed the cake right outside the weasel’s nest, which was a hole in the ground. The whole afternoon Ball-of-Yarn kept watch behind some tall grass. In the evening, the weasel woke up. She came out of her hole and stretched. She saw a big cake. She sniffed it: umm, smells good; she licked it, umm, tastes sweet. The weasel thought, “Not bad. Today a cake fell from heaven. It must be my birthday. Happy, Happy birthday!” So she ate the whole cake.
After she ate the cake, the terrain around her nest changed. Usually there was one clump of dried tall grass to the left of her nest-hole, now there were two; usually there were two trees to the right of the hole, now there were four. She looked at her nest, and it turned into two as well.
The weasel smiled, “Aha, that’s funny, I now own two nests.”
She staggered to the tree but couldn’t go any farther. She fell down with her four paws in the air, like a heap of mud.
Ball-of-Yarn saw that the time had come, so she ran to summon all her classmates. Some of them carried the weasel’s front paws, some the hind legs, and a couple grabbed the tail. In this way they got her into the wedding sedan. The sedan was not long enough, so the weasel’s tail could be seen trailing behind. Ball-of-Yarn pointed out that this situation was no good, as the mice carrying the sedan chair might be frightened by it. With a bit of pushing and shoving, they managed to stuff the tail inside the sedan.
At the appointed time, the ceremony of sending off the bride started. Some mice played bugles, some waved flags, and some just hung around for fun. Normally eight mice carried the sedan chair, but that evening they somehow couldn’t do it, so they had sixteen mice carry it. As she was being carried, the weasel sensed it was like riding the waves, and she had a dream. She dreamt that she had become a bride, with flowers and a ribbon around her neck. She felt so beautiful.
When the sedan chair passed over the bridge and came into the realm of the cats, the mice put it down and fled. Only the bride was left behind.
After awhile, a small tomcat came forward. This year’s tribute mouse bride had been assigned to this small tom. This was because he was a bit slow and could never catch mice himself. His mother had noted to the king of the cats, “My son, White-Face, has not eaten a mouse for a long time now. He is so deficient in vitamins and minerals that he has a problem sleeping now. Please assign the tribute mouse to him.” The king of cats agreed, “OK, I’ll do this just for you.”
The mother of the little tom said to her son, “Don’t you let that mouse run away. There is only one tribute mouse a year. First, you must reach in and grab her through the window of the sedan chair. After that, you open the door-curtain of the sedan. When you have opened the curtain, you first bite her throat, and then think of other things. Don’t ever let her out alive to play. If you play with her, she will flee, and you won’t be able to catch her.”
White-Face said, “Mom! You never let me play! Just let me be, ok?!”
When White-Face came to the bridal sedan, he heard the bride inside dreamily say, “Brother groom, brother groom, do you think I am pretty?” White-Face said, “You are pretty!” He then jumped onto the sedan and held the bride inside.
The weasel said, “My, groom, you are strong! But don’t poke me. Draw your claws back!” White-Face drew his sharp claws back, and used one paw to open up the curtain to let in some light.
The weasel took a look and saw two large white cat faces in front of him.
The weasel said, “Wow, two grooms. No wonder you are so heavy. You two are quite handsome too, so white and clean looking.”
White-Face said, “Come out and play with me!”
Weasel said, “Good! I love to play games. Shall we play hide and seek or hopscotch?”
White-Face said, “Let’s play cat-catches-mice!”
Weasel said, “Great! I will be the cat, and the two of you are finished!”
White-Face said, “No, I am the cat. You are the mouse!”
Weasel said, “Then I won’t play with you. You want me to be a mouse? No way!”
“Alright, alright, you get your way this time. You be the cat and I will be the mouse. Think you can catch me? This is a game, no real biting allowed, OK?”
In the beginning, the weasel thought she was playing with two white grooms. She felt a bit unsteady on her feet and just couldn’t catch up with “them”. After awhile, the weasel found one groom missing. There was only one left, and no matter how she looked at it, it looked like a cat! She was puzzled, “That’s not right. Cats are bigger than weasels. What am I chasing a cat for? Since when are cats and weasels playmates?!!” So she stopped chasing the cat. White-Face saw that the bride was no longer chasing him, so he turned around to chase her. The weasel saw trouble coming. She passed wind, not your average kind, but loud and stinking. Then she shot into the grass. The odor just about knocked White-face down. Since he could no longer find the bride, he went home, dejected and disappointed.
White-Face’s mother asked, “Did you eat the mouse?” White-Face said, “I don’t like mice. They stink!”
On the opposite bank, the mice that had sent off the bride were long gone. They had gone their separate ways to look for food. But the night was still young. Ball-of-Yarn knew she had to wait until summer to catch more June bugs, and until Fall to find more hemp seeds. But winter had its edible goodies. Although New Year’s was just over, perhaps some sunflower seeds and peanuts had been left lying around by people celebrating the festival.
The worship of mice or the celebration of the mouse wedding after New Year’s, is an ancient custom all around China. The exact dates and customs are different in different parts of the country. In some places, on the day of the celebration, people light candles and spread good food in the corners of rooms. They go to bed early and stay out of sight so that the mouse wedding can occur without any impediments.
The Chinese have historically been an agricultural people and the relationship between humans and mice has been strong. Behind this custom, there are factors of mice-worship, and some believe mice are somehow related to the origin of humans. There are some factors symbolizing strong fertility. There are also factors where the loathing of mice includes a frustration at the inability to do anything about them. In this case, people hope they will no longer suffer from mice by “marrying them off.” Others take one day a year to celebrate the wedding in exchange for a whole year of peaceful coexistence, hoping to reduce the harm mice can cause.
The story of the mice marrying off one of their daughters, who then gets eaten by the cats, is folklore born from the custom of mice worship. The story has many versions. In one version, as seen in our story, cats lose their position within the twelve Zodiac animals because of mouse treachery. In another version, the mouse stole grain and was caught by the cat, so the mouse was destined to be eaten by cat. One version says that mice wanted to marry their daughter to their most dangerous enemy, namely the cat, in exchange for peace.