Monday, July 5, 2021

Love and dragons (Folktales of Chinese minorities 9. - Bai)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

Once again I could not find a whole book, so I gathered tales from many different volumes. The Bai live in Yunnan, numbering about two million people. They are surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of mountains and lakes, which does not only make the place popular with tourists but also colors local stories equally beautiful. Among other things, the Bai are known for cormorant fishing and dragon boat races.


Many of my ever-favorite folktales from China are actually Bai stories. For example, I have adored the legend of Wild Goose Lake for a long time. It is a story of friendship between a human girl and a dragon princess who share a love for singing, and work together to end a drought and bring water to the people. In the end they even move in together. Another favorite of mine is the Dragon carved from wood, in which a carpenter helps an entire village create a magical dragon to combat the evil monster that lives in their lake. It is a long, elaborate, and amazing story.

I also like the legend of Green Dragon Pond, in which a dragon befriends and old monk and they play chess together every day. However, the friendship comes to an end when the monk wants to see the dragon in his true (non-human) form. The same issue appeared in the legend about the Dragon King of Langchiung. A brave man sacrificed his life to kill an evil snake, and he was reborn as a dragon. Later on he befriended a scholar and helped him through various adventures; but when the scholar wanted to see his true form, the sight scared him to death. He became a deity as well, and people worship the two friends together. The legend of Erhai Lake also featured dragons: the battle of the Big Black Dragon and the Small Yellow Dragon ended with the victory of the latter, who was smaller, but also braver and smarter.
One of the most well-known Bai legends was about a princess named Awa who fell in love with a hunter. The lovers managed to elope together (with the help of some magic), but Awa's father retaliated against the hunter, and the story came to a tragic end. The princess died of grief and turned into a white cloud over Mt. Cangshan that brings wind, seeking her lost beloved among the waters of the lake below. The same story appeared in a beautifully illustrated version in this book, and also in the Yunnan collection.
Another beautiful yet tragic love story was the Spring of Butterflies from Dali. Here, lovers persecuted by a tyrant jumped into a bottomless lake together, and transformed into thousands of butterflies. Their death angered the people, who overthrew the tyrant later on. Luckily, not all love stories came to a tragic ending: the legend of the Phoenix fez also featured an evil king pursuing two lovers, but here the captured maiden managed to escape and reunite with her beloved. Her phoenix fez became a symbol of love and good luck.
Another beautiful lake legend was attached to Horse Washing Pond in Dali, in the same book as the butterfly spring. It was about a kind and brave young man who discovered the pond there heavenly winged horses came to bathe and drink. He dug a channel from the pond to end a drought, accepting the fate of turning into stone as punishment for his heroic act.


In one book I found a new legend about the origin of salt (I love those). This one was about a girl named Gunv who discovered the secret of salting food. However, her brother's spirit boar grew jealous and killed her; her spirit deer uncovered the crime, and Gunv became the Goddess of Salt.
There was also another legend about a rich man whose greed made his fields sink underwater. Justice here was served by a magic ox, summoned by a poor boy with a magic flute.

Who's next?
The Yi people

1 comment:

  1. Your picture of the two children is precious. I can almost hear them giggling. My favorite of your tales is the Spring of Butterflies. Would enjoy seeing a burst of a thousand butterflies.