A Snake in the Skin 皮中有蛇

‘Hua Tuo’s Unofficial Biography’ relates: There was a woman from Langya who developed a sore on her right thigh, which tickled but didn’t hurt, recovering but then growing further. Tuo said: “One ought to obtain a dog the colour of rice husk and drag it with horses, exchanging when wearied, for fifty li; decapitate it and smear the blood on the itchy spot, which will then [improve].” This advice was followed. Immediately a snake was seen moving in her skin; placing an iron needle along its length they drew it out – it was perhaps three feet long – and seven days later she had quite recovered.

Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志, 2.228 (Tale 408):

皮中有蛇

《華佗別傳》曰:琅琊有女子,右股上有瘡,癢而不痛,愈而復作。佗曰:「當得稻穅色犬擊馬,頓走出五十里,斷頭取血,塗癢處方可。」乃從之。須臾有蛇在皮中動,以鐵針橫〔貫〕據明刻本補。引出,長三尺許,七日頓愈。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

A much earlier version is found in the Soushenji (translated by Kenneth J. Dewoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr.):

Hua T’o Cures an Ulcer with a Dog and Two Horses (3,69)

Hua T’o (T. Yuan-hua) of the state of P’ei was also known as Hua Fu. Liu Hsün of Lang-ya, Grand Protector of Ho-nei, had a daughter who was about twenty. Her feet troubled her, and on the inside of her left thigh she had tumor [sic] that, though it did not pain her, itched. The tumor would be inactive for several weeks and then would suddenly break out. This went on for seven or eight years until finally Lu Hsün received T’o and asked him to examine her.

“This is easily cured,” said Hua T’o. “Prepare a brown dog, the color of rice chaff, and have two sound horses procured.” Hua T’o then tied a rope to the dog’s neck, and the horse was made to drag the dog at a gallop. When the first horse was exhausted he was exchanged for the other until at least thirty li had been covered. By then the dog could no longer walk, so a man was detailed to drag it until a total of fifty li had been traveled.

The girl was then drugged. When she was comfortable and unconscious, the dog’s belly, at a place near the hind leg, was opened with a great knife. This wound was placed two or three inches from the site of the girl’s ulcer, and a serpentine creature was observed coming forth from it. An iron awl was thrust through the serpent’s head parallel to the girl’s leg. The thing wriggled beneath the girl’s skin for some time but eventually grew still and was drawn out.

The creature was about three feet long and was clearly a snake. However, though it had eye sockets, it had no eyeballs and its scales faced forward.

Salve was later spread on the ulcer, and the girl was cured in seven days.[1]

Another, abbreviated, version of this is found in Tale 323 in the Tang-era collection Du Yi Zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), collated by Li Rong 李冗:

In the realm of Wei there was a woman who was extremely beautiful, but had remained unmarried for a long time, because she often suffered a sore on her right knee that wept pus without cease. Encountering Hua Tuo on the road, her father questioned him about it. Tuo said: “Have someone ride a horse, pulling along a chestnut-coloured dog, and gallop for thirty li. Return, sever and hang up the dog’s right foot.” Presently, a red snake emerged from the sore and [66] entered the dog’s paw. Her illness was then cured.[2]

This version was picked up and included in the tenth-century compilation Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), where it is combined with another story of Hua Tuo’s expertise:

Hua Tuo 華佗

Hua Tuo of Wei was a skilled physician. Once, the prefectural commander became very ill. Tuo encountered him, and the commander ordered him to perform a diagnosis and treatment, but Tuo withdrew, addressing his son: “The cause of the gentleman’s illness is unusual. There is an accumulation of blood in the chest. He should be made very angry, so that it can be spat out. Then he will be able to expel the malady. Otherwise there is no chance for life. His son can speak in full about his father’s entire life’s transgressions. I withdraw and pass the responsibility to you.” The son said: “If a cure can be effected, what should not be said?” Then he detailed all his father’s misdeeds and mistakes, telling all to Tuo. Tuo therefore composed and left a letter scolding the man. The father grew extremely angry, dispatching clerks to arrest Tuo, but Tuo did not come back. He then vomited more than a sheng (about a litre) of black blood. His illness was then cured. Moreover, there was a woman who was extremely beautiful, but had remained unmarried for a long time, because she often suffered a sore on her right knee that wept pus without cease. Encountering Hua Tuo on the road, her father questioned him about it. Tuo said: “Have someone ride a horse, pulling along a chestnut-coloured dog, and galloping for thirty li. Return, cook and sever the dog’s right foot, then attach it to the sore.” Presently, a red snake emerged from the sore and [66] entered the dog’s paw. Her illness was then cured.[3]

[1] Gan Bao, Kenneth J. Dewoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr. (trans), In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), p.41. Soushenji 3.41:

華陀

沛國華陀,字元化,一名旉。瑯邪劉勳為河內太守,有女年幾二十,苦脚左膝裏有瘡,癢而不痛。瘡愈,數十日復發。如此七八年。迎佗使視。佗曰:「是易治之。」當得稻糠黃色犬一頭,好馬二匹,以繩繫犬頸,使走馬牽犬,馬極輒易。計馬走三十餘里,犬不能行。復令步人拖曳,計向五十里。乃以藥飲女,女卽安卧,不知人。因取大刀,斷犬腹近後脚之前。以所斷之處向瘡口,令二三寸停之。須臾,有若蛇者從瘡中出,便以鐵椎橫貫蛇頭。蛇在皮中動摇良久,須臾不動,乃牽出,長三尺許,純是蛇,但有眼處,而無瞳子,又逆鱗耳。以膏散著瘡中,七日愈。

[2] Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories) in Du yi zhi, Xuanshi Zhi 獨異志,宣室志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories, Stories from the Chamber of Dissemination), edited by Zhang Yongqin 张永钦 and Hou Zhiming 侯志明 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), pp. 65-66:

魏國有女子,極美麗,踰時不嫁,以右膝上常患一瘡,膿水不絕。遇華陀過,其父問之。陀曰:「使人乘馬,牽一栗色犬,走三十里。歸而截犬右足挂之。」俄頃,一赤蛇從瘡出而 [66] 入犬足,其疾遂愈。

[3] Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), 218.1664-65:

魏華佗善醫。嘗有郡守病甚。佗過之。郡守令佗診候。佗退。謂其子曰。使君病有異於常。積瘀血在腹中。當極怒嘔血。卽能去疾。不爾無生矣。子能盡言家君平昔之愆。吾疏而責之。其子曰。若獲愈。何謂不言。於是具以父從來所為乖誤者。盡示佗。佗留書責罵之。父大怒。發吏捕佗。佗不至。遂嘔黑血升餘。其疾乃平。又有女子極美麗。過時不嫁。以右膝上常患一瘡。膿水不絕。華陀過。其父問之。陀曰。使人乘馬。牽一栗色狗走三十里。歸而熱截右足。挂瘡上。俄有一赤蛇從瘡出。而入犬足中。其疾遂平。出獨異志

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The ‘Horse-Headed Maiden’ 馬頭娘子

Long ago in Shu lived the Can Cong Emperor. Also, in the time of the Gao Xin Emperor, there lived a Lady Can; her family name is not known. When her father was robbed by some people, leaving only the horse on which she rode, she felt for her father and his inability to find food. Her mother therefore made an oath before the multitude: “If someone returns her father, they will be married to this girl.” The horse, hearing this speech, leapt up in alarm and shook itself with great haste, snapping its hobble and setting off. After several days the father was then able to ride back on the horse. From then on the horse neighed and neighed and would not accept the bit. The girl’s mother told her father about her oath, and he said: “Oaths to people are not promises to horses. How can a person be married to a different species? Having been able to solve our difficulties, its merit is indeed great, but the words of this oath cannot be put into practice.” The horse then bolted. The father grew angry and wanted to kill it, and when it ran further away, he shot it dead, drying its skin in the courtyard. The skin then kicked itself upright, wrapping up the girl and flying away. For ten nights the skin perched up a mulberry tree, and the girl transformed into a silkworm, eating mulberry leaves, making silk cocoons for human clothes and bedding. One day, the silkworm girl climbed the clouds and rose the horse, addressing her parents: “The Most High, because I did not neglect righteousness in either body or soul, has appointed me immortal attendant to the Nine Palaces. There is no return, but I will always cherish your memory.” It is customary in Shu that all Daoist temples sculpt a female figure draped in a horse skin, calling it the ‘Horse-head Maiden’, as a way of making offerings for silk production.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.76 (Tale 133):

馬頭娘子

蜀之先有蠶叢帝。又高辛時蜀有蠶女,不知姓氏,父為人所掠,惟所乘馬在。女念父不食。其母因誓於衆曰:「有得父還者,以此女嫁之。」馬聞其言,驚躍振迅,絕其物絆而去,數日父乃乘馬而歸。自此馬嘶鳴不肯齕。母以誓衆之言告父,父曰:「誓於人不誓於馬,安有人而偶非類乎?能脫我之難,功亦大矣!【所誓之言,不可行也。】(上八字據元刻本補。)」馬跑,父怒欲殺之,馬愈跑,父射殺之,曝其皮於庭。皮蹶然而起,卷女飛去。旬日皮寢棲於桑上,女化為蠶,食桑葉,吐絲成繭,以衣被於人間。一日,蠶女乘雲駕此馬,謂父母曰:「太上以我身心不忘義,授以九宮(「宮」原作「公」,據元刻本改。)仙嬪矣,無復憶念也。」蜀之風俗,宮觀諸處塑女像披馬皮,謂之「馬頭娘」,以祈蠶焉。

 

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

This tale again involves the line between human and animal natures. The somewhat incoherent state of the Huhai telling, especially when compared to the Soushenji version, is notable. So is the Huhai version’s shift of responsibility and sympathy between parents (including the addition of the mother) and daughter. The more coherent, much earlier version in the Soushenji (abbreviated slightly- the last section of cross-references to horses and silk is omitted):

Gan Bao, Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J.L. Crump, Jr. (trans), In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp. 165-66:

Horse into Silkworm (14,350)

There is an old story which tells that in ancient times a man went on a long journey leaving no one at home save his daughter and a stallion which she had reared herself. Living in straitened circumstances and in a secluded place, she missed her father so much that she said to the stallion in jest: “If you find my father and bring him back for me, I’ll marry you!”

Immediately on hearing these words, that horse broke its tether and galloped off to where her father was. When the latter saw the horse, he was surprised and pleased and took him by the halter to mount him. The horse kept gazing back in the direction from whence he had come, whinnying in distress.

“Nothing has happened to this horse to make him behave so strangely. I wonder if things are not well at home?”

With that he mounted in haste and rode back. He began to take special care of the horse, which had shown such intelligence; he offered it extra fodder, which the horse refused to eat. However, every time the stallion saw the man’s daughter moving about, it would become excited and animated and rear and paw the earth. This happened many times and made the man so curious that he questioned his daughter in secret. She told him what she had said to the horse, adding, “This must be the reason.”

“Never speak of it again,” cried he, “for it will bring shame upon our family!” And you had best not go on and out as you were wont to do.” So saying, he secretly took his crossbow, slew the beast, skinned it, and hung the hide in his courtyard.

When he went a-journeying again, his daughter and a neighbor girl were playing with the hide. The daughter kicked it, crying, “You were nothing but a beast of burden, yet you thought to wed a human! You brought this death upon yourself, so you should feel no resentment!”

As she spoke, the hide rose up, wrapped itself around the daughter and galloped off. The neighbor girl was so frightened she could not lift a hand to help her friend, but fled and told the girl’s father. He returned to seek traces of the pair, but they had already disappeared.

[166]

After several days the girl and the horsehide were found bound together among the limbs of a tree where they had become a silkworm spinning itself a cocoon. This cocoon was large in diameter and length– very different from the ordinary kind. The women of the neighborhood gathered this kind of chrysalis and reared the worms to gain many times the profit they turned before.

Because of this story, people named the tree on which the girl and the horsehide were found, the sang tree [mulberry] because sang means lost. Everyone now cultivates this kind of tree, and the silkworm of today is descended from that first ancient cocoon.

Gan Bao 干寶, Soushenji 搜神記 (In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 14.172-73 (350):

舊說,太古之時,有大人遠征,家無餘人,唯有一女。牡馬一匹,女親養之。窮居幽處,思念其父,乃戲馬曰:「爾能為我迎得父還,吾將嫁汝。」馬既承此言,乃絕韁而去,徑至父所。父見馬驚喜,因取而乘之。馬望所自來,悲鳴不已。父曰:「此馬無事如此,我家得無有姑乎?」亟乘以歸。為畜生有非常之情,故厚加芻養。馬不肯食。每見女出入,輒喜怒奮擊。如此非一。父怪之,密以問女。女具以告父,必為是姑。父曰:「勿言,恐辱家門。且莫出入。」於是伏弩射殺之,暴皮于庭。父行,女與鄰女於皮所戲,以足蹙之曰:「汝是畜 [173] 生,而欲取人為婦耶?招此屠剥,如何自苦?」言未及竟,馬皮蹷然而起,卷女以行。隣女忙怕,不敢救之。走告其父。父還,求索,已出失之。後經數日,得於大樹枝間,女及馬皮,盡化為蠶,而績於樹上。其蠒綸理厚大,異於常蠶。鄰婦取而養之,其收數倍。因名其樹曰「桑」。桑者,喪也。由斯百姓競種之,今世所養是也。言桑蠶者,是古蠶之餘類也。

Another version of the story can also be found here: https://widowcranky.com/2017/11/19/chinese-unicorn-artist-unknown/, described as ‘the silkworm girl’. The tale is analysed in detail in Miller, Alan L., ‘The Woman Who Married a Horse: Five Ways of Looking at a Chinese Folktale’, Asian Folklore Studies, 54 (1995): 275-305 (available via JSTOR here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1178945).

A Choking Patient Spits a Snake 病噎吐蛇

When Hua Tuo (d. 208 CE) was on the road, he saw a patient who, suffering a choking illness, although keen on eating and drinking was quite unable. His family carried him on a cart, wishing to consult the physician. Tuo heard his moans and groans, stopped the cart to inspect him, and addressed him, saying: “Just there by the road there is a pastry house; take three sheng (c. 3 litres) of their strong vinegar made from garlic and leek and drink this down; the illness should then clear itself up.” Having done as Tuo said, he stood and spat out a snake, suspending it from the side of the cart, and wishing to go to Tuo. Tuo having gone out and not yet returned, a small child playing before his gate greeted him, saying: “The guest’s carriage having that thing hung on the side, he must have encountered our gentleman.” The guest coming forward and entering Tuo’s walls, he saw such snakes hung up in their dozens.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.229 (Tale 411):

病噎吐蛇

華佗行道,見一人病噎,嗜食而不能,家人車載,欲往就醫。佗聞其呻吟,駐車往視,語之曰:「向來道旁有賣餅家,蒜虀大酢,從取三升飲之,病自當瘥。」即如佗言,立吐蛇一條,懸之車邊,欲造佗。佗尚未還,佗家小兒戲門前,迎見曰:「客車邊有物,必是逢我公也。」疾者前,入佗壁,見懸此蛇以十數。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

Compare to the shorter, much earlier version in the Soushenji:

Gan Bao, Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J.L. Crump, Jr. (trans), In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), p.41:

“Hua T’o Treats a Sufferer with Vinegar (3,70)

Once, while Hua T’o was traveling he saw a man who suffered difficulty with swallowing. He could not get down what he ate, so his family had put him in their cart to take him to a physician. Hua T’o heard his strangled groans, dismounted from his carriage, and went to inspect the man. Then he addressed the family: “You passed a cake shop on the side of the road back there, and they make strong vinegar from the fermentation of garlic and leeks,” said T’o. “Go you now, purchase three measures of that fluid, and force the patient to drink it. This should cure the disorder.”

They did as he instructed, and the man immediately spat up a serpent.”

 

Gan Bao 干寶, Soushenji 搜神記 (In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 3.41-42:

佗嘗行道,見一人病咽,嗜食不得下。家人車載,欲往就醫。佗聞其呻吟聲,駐車往 [42] 視,語之曰:「向來道邊,有賣餅家蒜虀大酢,從取三升飲之,病自當去。」即如佗言,立吐蛇一枚。