Human-Flesh Wontons 人肉餛飩

In the gengyin year of the Shaoding era (1230), the grain in the areas belonging to Ruizhou in Jiangxi ripened empty, and there was hunger and famine among the populace. Troublemakers in the affected region slaughtered cattle for market, but recklessly sold human flesh mixed and stuffed into it. The starved populace gathered ‘like spokes at a hub’, and it sold out with great speed; of what was left behind the beef was the majority. Therefore the people all looked to find the truth; they were arrested and taken to the government office, where they confessed one by one. When the officials thought about [73] the hubbub and chaos they made, they secretly decided they didn’t dare to impose the mandatory death penalty. On the basis of their confession, and as a person’s body does not contain much meat – there is only a little more than one-and-a-half strings of coins in weight that can be sliced off the buttocks and legs. Taking so many bodies, how can this be borne?

In the Jiading era (1208-24), the gengzi year,[1] Lin’an suffered a great drought, and the harvest failed. By the Liushui Bridge outside the city walls there were similarly deceitful types who killed people and picked off their flesh to make wonton, baozi dumplings and the like. In the spring of the xinchou year (either 1181 or 1241), this became especially serious; among the meat was skin tattooed with a recognisable pattern, although nobody dared to say so. All who bought meat had first to ask, “Is this polished-rice-pork? Or is it rice-husk-pork?” ‘Polished-rice-pork’ was human flesh; ‘rice-husk-pork’ was true pork. This matter later became the beginning of the Liu (i.e., Song) decline.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.73-74 (Tale 127):

人肉餛飩

紹定庚寅,江西瑞州管下禾稼秀而不實,民間飢荒。屬地頑民屠牛為市,浪賣人肉雜而為餡,飢民輻輳,發賣盛行,而牛肉多有存者。以故人皆物色得實,緝捕到官,一一招伏。官司慮 [73] 此聲旁達,暗行予決,不敢明正典刑。據其供吐,人之一身苦無多肉,僅有臀腿亂削之餘有淨肉一緡半重。所得寧幾,何忍哉!

嘉定庚子,臨安大旱,歲飢。城外溜水橋亦騙死人剔其肉為餛飩包子之屬。辛丑春尤甚,其中間有花繡之皮,稍可辨認,人無敢言。凡買肉者必先問:「買米猪?買糠猪?」米猪則人肉也,糠猪則真猪也,後因劉自事始敗。

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).

[1] This is an impossible date: the 37th cyclical year should be either 1240 or 1180; neither fit the regnal era specified.

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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).

The Kaifeng Water Monster 開封水怪

Under the Song, during the Xuanhe era (1119-25), when someone arose from their bed in front of a tea shop and wiped down the couch, they noticed something crouching beside them like a dog; looking again in the bright light of dawn, it turned out to be a dragon. The person cried out loudly and fell to the ground. A short distance from the tea shop stood a workshop for military equipment. A group of soldiers from the workshop took away the dragon and ate it, but didn’t dare to report the matter. People in the capital all drew pictures to transmit and appreciate the sight; its body was only six or seven chi in length (about 2m), as [74] they have been painted for generations: the dragon’s scales being grey-black, its head like that of a donkey, its cheeks like those of a fish, the colour of its head a true green, with a horned brow, a very long back, splitting into two segments at the end; its voice was like that of a cow. A night later, at the fifth watch (about 4am), a red cloud came from the northwest and covered dozens of circuits, reaching towards heaven, crossing into the Purple Palace and the Great Bear; looking up, the stars all seemed to be separated by red gauze. When the sun rose it split with a tearing noise, which later became very great. This happened over several following evenings, the noise growing, its shaking lasting a long time and becoming extremely strong, with red clouds spreading from the northwest for tens of thousands of circuits, two clouds of black and white passing from the northwest to the northeast, the noise continuing without end, finally stopping at dawn. Several days later, water flooded into the capital, rising to more than ten zhang (33m). Diviners said that in bingwu the omens matched those of the fall of the Northern Qi (550-77), and later the nature of this matter became extremely clear.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.73-74 (Tale 129):

開封水怪

宋宣和間,開封縣前茶肆人晨起拭牀榻,睹若有大犬蹲其旁,質明視之,龍也。其人驚呼仆地。茶肆適與軍器作坊近,為作坊兵衆取而食之,不敢以聞。都人皆圖畫傳玩,身僅六七尺,若 [74] 世所繪,龍鱗蒼黑,驢首而兩頰如魚,頭色正綠,頂有角,坐極長,其際始分兩䏢,有聲如牛。越一夕五鼓,西北有赤氣數十道近天,犯紫宮北斗,仰視星皆若隔絳紗。方起時折裂一聲,然後大發。後數夕又作,聲益大,震且久,其發尤甚,而赤氣自西北數十萬道,中有黑白二氣自西北而由東北,其聲不絕,迨曉乃止。後數日,水犯都城,高十餘丈。占者謂丙午及北齊末占同,後事驗亦甚明也。

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).

An account of the same events is found in Anon., Xuanhe yishi 宣和遺事 [Neglected Events of the Proclaiming Harmony Regnal Period]. Dating it to the second year Xuanhe (1120), this places the incident within a series of disastrous portents, their meaning relating to the palace. The Xuanhe yishi version also, disappointingly, omits the discussion of painting traditions.

William O. Hennessey (tr.), Proclaiming Harmony, Michigan Papers in Chinese Studies, 41 (Ann Arbor, MI, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1991), pp. 41-42:

That summer, in the fifth month, a creature somewhat like a dragon appeared in front of a teashop in Kaifeng County. It was about six or seven feet long with blue black scales. It had a head like a donkey, but with fish-cheeks and a horn on top of its skull. It bellowed like an ox. As it happened, the shopkeeper was making up the beds that morning when he noticed something the size of a large dog beside him. When he looked closely, it was this dragon. He was so surprised he keeled over in fright. The teashop was situated very close to an arms manufactory, and when the wor­kers in the mill found out about the dragon they killed and ate it.

That night in the fifth watch, several score columns of crimson vapor rose to the sky in the northwest. When one looked up at the North Star, it was as if it were veiled in scarlet gauze. In the midst of it all were alternate streams of black and white vapor, from which emanated crackling sounds like thunder from time to time. Soon rain began to fall in torrents. The level of the river rose more than ten yards, seeping through the city walls and breaking down the dike on the Bian River. Although all the laborers available within the city were marshalled to help in the crisis, carrying straw and sandbags to stem the tide, they were unable to hold it back. Finally, Huizong called upon the executive of the Ministry of Revenue, Tang Lu, to take charge of the operations. In the morning, Lu went out on the river in a small dinghy to see what the flood was like so that it might be controlled. The emperor watched him from atop, a tower. When he [42] discovered it was Lu himself out on the waters, he wept. Several days later the waters leveled off and Lu went to see the emperor, who praised him highly. ‘The temples of Our ancestors are secure, thanks to your work,’ he said.

Lu responded, ‘Water is an element of the Yin class. Yin influences are ascendant and pervade even to the inner reaches of the city and palace. I pray Your Majesty will communicate directly with his ministers, sequester himself from feminine wiles and small-minded people, and heed well this warning from Heaven to make ready for the tribes.’ Huizong commended this memorial and accepted it.

Anon., Xinkan dasong xuanhe yishi 新刊大宋宣和遺事 (Neglected Events of the Proclaiming Harmony Regnal Period of the Great Song: A New Edition) (Shanghai: Gudian wenxue chubanshe, 1954), pp. 29-30:

夏,五月,有物若龍,長六七尺,蒼鱗黑色,驢首,兩頰如魚,頭色綠,頂有角,其聲如牛,見於開封縣茶肆前。時茶肆人早起拂拭床榻,見有物若大犬蹲其傍,熟視之,乃是龍也。其人吃驚,臥倒在地。茶肆與軍器作坊相近,遂被作坊軍人得知,殺龍而食之。是夕五鼓,西北有赤氣數十道衝天,仰視北斗星若隔絳紗,其中有間以白黑二炁,及時有折烈聲震如雷。未幾,霪雨大作,水高十餘丈,犯都城,已破汴堤,諸內侍役夫,擔草運土障之,不能禦。徽宗詔戶部侍郎唐恪治之。即日,恪乘小舟覽水之勢,而求所以導之。上登樓遙見,問之,乃恪也,為之出涕。數日,水平,恪入對,上勞之曰:「宗廟社稷獲安,卿之功也!」唐恪因回奏:「水乃陰類。陰炁之盛,以致犯城闕。願陛下垂意於馭臣,遠女寵,去小人,備夷狄,以益謹天戒。」徽 [30] 宗嘉納之。