Friday, 16 March 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--The Leopard (China, 1914)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week I want to start looking at variations on Little Red Riding Hood from other cultures or countries. The Chinese folktale The Leopard was published in 1914 in Chinesische Volksmärchen (Chinese Folktales.)

I have no doubt it was passed down orally for many generations, but this is the first recorded version of this tale I have come across. It was collected and published by Richard Wilhelm who was a German theologian and missionary who lived in China for 25 years, became fluent in spoken and written Chinese, and grew to love and admire the Chinese people. According to Wikipedia, he is best remembered for his translations of philosophical works from Chinese into German that in turn have been translated into other major languages of the world, including English.

It is unusual in that the villainous animal is not a wolf, but a leopard (as the title suggests), although I have seen a different translation which called him a panther, but the story was the same.

It is also unusual in that the leopard disguises himself as the mother rather than grandmother. Interestingly, the mother was on her way to visit the grandmother, so there is a grandmother in the story. Alas, the mother and younger brother are eaten on their way to visit Grandmother, which is why the leopard returns to the house in the guise of the mother to try to eat the remaining children. However, he hadn’t counted on the cleverness and bravery of the daughters. With the help of local merchants, the girls plan a series of booby traps (weirdly reminiscent of the film Home Alone) and attack the beast when he returns the following evening.

It also contains the curious lesson: Never let a leopard comb your hair. 
                      Image result for leopard china

The Leopard

Once upon a time, there was a widow who had two daughters and a little son.
 One day the mother said to her daughters: "Just you take care of the house! I will go to Grandmother with your little brother."

      The daughters promised to do so. Thereupon the mother set off. Along the way she met with a leopard who asked where she was going.

      She said: "I am going to my mother with my child."

      "Wouldn't you like to take a rest?" the leopard asked.

      "No," she said, "it is late already, and the road to my mother is far."

      But the leopard kept on talking to her, and finally she gave in and sat down along the side of the road.

      "Let me comb your hair a bit," said the leopard.

      So the woman let the leopard comb her hair. As he was combing her hair with his claws, 
he ripped of a piece of skin and devoured it.

      "Stop it!" the woman shrieked, "That way of combing hurts!"

      But the leopard ripped off an even bigger piece of her skin. As the woman was about to shout for help, the leopard grabbed her and devoured her. Then he turned to her little son and also bit him to death. He got dressed in the clothes of the woman and put the child's bones which he had not eaten yet in her basket.

      Thus he went to the woman's house, where the two daughters were, and he called at the door: "Open the door, daughters! Your mother has come."

      They looked through the chink of the door and said: "Our mother does not have such big eyes."

      Then the leopard said: "I was at Grandmother's and saw how her chickens laid eggs; I was so happy that my eyes have become big."

      "Our mother does not have such spots on her face."

      "Grandmother did not have a bed, so I had to sleep on peas; these have pressed into my face."

      "Our mother does not have such big feet."

      "Nonsense! That's because of the long walk. Now open the door!"

      Then the daughters said to one another: "She must be our mother," and opened the door. 

But when the leopard entered, they saw it was not their mother after all.

      In the evening, when the daughters were already in bed, the leopard gnawed at the little 
boy's bones which he had taken along.

      Then the daughters asked: "Mother, what are you eating?"

      "I am eating beets*," replied the leopard.
 Then the daughters said: "Mother, give us a bit of your beets too! We are so hungry."

      "No," replied the leopard, "I will not give you anything. Be quiet and go to sleep!"

      But the daughters kept on begging until the false mother gave them a little finger. Then the girls saw that it was their little brother's finger, and they said to one another: "Let's run away quick, otherwise she will eat us too."

      So they ran out of the house, climbed into a big tree that stood in the yard, and called to the false mother: "Come outside! We can see the neighbour's son celebrating his marriage." 

However, it was in the middle of the night.

      Then the mother came outside, and when she saw them sitting in the tree, she called angrily: "But I cannot climb!"

      Then they said: "Sit down in a basket and throw the rope up to us so we can pull you up!"

      The mother did as she was told. But as the basket was halfway, they swinged [sic]it to and fro and made it bump against the tree. Then the false mother had to change back into a leopard again, in order not to fall down. The leopard jumped out of the basket and went away.
Gradually it became morning. The daughters climbed down, sat down in front of their door and cried for their mother. Then a seller of needles passed by and asked what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then the seller of needles gave them some needles and said: "Stick them into the cushion on the chair, with the sharp ends turned up." The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a catcher of scorpions passed by and asked the girls what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then he gave them a scorpion and said: "Put it behind the hearth in the kitchen!" The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a seller of eggs passed by and asked what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then he gave them an egg and said: "Put it in the ashes underneath the hearth!" The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a tortoise merchant passed by, and they told their story again. Then he gave them a tortoise and said: "Put it in the water jar in the yard!"

      Then a man who sold cudgels passed by and asked what they were crying for. They told him their sad story. Then he gave them two wooden cudgels and said: "Hang these above the gate door!" The girls thanked him and did as they were told.

      When it became evening, the leopard came to their house. He sat down on the chair in the room, but the needles in the cushion stabbed him. Then he went into the kitchen to make a fire in order to see what had stabbed him, but his hand got stung by the scorpion. And when he finally had lighted the fire, the egg burst and got into his eyes, and blinded one of his eyes. Then he walked into the yard and put his hand in the water jar to cool it down. Then the tortoise bit off his hand. In great pain he ran out of the gate door into the street, when the wooden cudgels fell down on his head and beat him to death.

*In the translation entitled The Panther, it was turnips rather than beets.

Stay tuned next week for another  story from China entitled Grandmother Wolf. 

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