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13 November 2010 @ 09:20 pm
the chinese fox spirit  


this was part of the talk that i did on chinese fox spirits
on our Are There Faeries Outside Western Europe? panel
at sirens con in vail, colorado. i thought it'd be fun to share!


Much of Chinese folklore and mythology are stories shared in the oral tradition, told verbally between peers and family, passed down through generations.  Fantastic stories were often told of strange events involving ghosts, demons, dieties and fox-spirits. And although the stories remained essentially the same through the years, the motifs would evolve to address the social views or conflicts of that time period. Often the stories would be commentary on prostitution, homosexuality or the master-servant feudal relationships.

Fox-spirits were often portrayed as unfaithful "vixens", seductresses or whores. The western equivalent of a succubus. Stories have been told of real, unfaithful women, who use the ploy of being a fox-spirit to explain leaving and ending a relationship that no longer benefited them. In other instances, the female fox-spirit is romanticized, portrayed as beautiful and ethereal, unable to stay with the human man she had fallen in love with. In the end, the fox-spirit serves in whatever moral lesson the author wants to convey.

One of the most well known authors of strange tales is Pu Song Ling's Strange Tales of Liao Zhai. It is a collection of 491 tales and mostly stories about fox-fairies, flower spirits, ghosts and goblins. He started writing around age twenty, finished his first draft around age forty, then revised for another ten years, finally completing the manuscript when he was fifty.

Educated but poor, he used ghosts, fox-spirits and other supernatural beings to express his grief and frustrations about how things were in his society.  His tales spoke against feudal society, the corruption within the imperial examination system (which was how bureaucratic jobs were assigned throughout the country), and although love stories between humans and fox-spirits usually ended tragically, his were often happy, speaking against the feudal way of arranged marraiges. Pu encouraged people to choose their partners out of love, and praised the willingness to "die for love". In these love stories, the heroine was often a diety, a fox-fairie or flower nymph. Not only did these fantastic beings make his tales more interesting, it allowed the reader to sympathize with their plight as something less than human, therefore acceptable for them to sympathize.

Pu comments after each tale as "the recorder of marvels" to share a personal anecdote that relates to the story he told as well as the "moral lesson" behind it.



 
 
 
Skylark: foxcubskyewishes on November 14th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this bit of Folklore. I've long been interested in the Japanese fox spirit, or Kitsune. It seems they share many traits. Do Chinese fox spirits also have more than one tail?

There is a great novel by Kij Johnson called "The Fox Woman" based off Kitsune mythology. I'm not sure if it would count as YA, but I did read and love it as a teen.
patty1943patty1943 on November 14th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
I love that book, too.
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patty1943patty1943 on November 14th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
I'd like to read that book. Has it been translated into English?
I have a picture of a fox on my wall, wearing a cabbage leaf for a hat, standing on his hind legs and dancing. I think it is Japanese. I have loved it since I was little.
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patty1943patty1943 on November 14th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
I ordered Pu Song Ling's book from the library and yours from Amazon.
Really excited about yours. It sounds wonderful.
When I was younger I read a lot of
Chinese poetry in translation and The Dream Of The Red Chamber, which were about the only things available, so thanks for the info, and also the idea that more things might have been translated!
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timothypower on November 14th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
What do they do with all those tails? I know the Indian goddesses with all the arms represents wonderful power (think of all the things you could accomplish with multiple hands), but what do the tails do?
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Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on November 14th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
Indian "pari"
I love this post and learning about this fabulous fairy tradition! In India, we have the "pari" who are winged (two armed) creatures - dressed in saris and crowns of course, and for reasons I don't understand usually carrying flower garlands in their hands...

unfortunately pari is also a word sometimes used for sex workers... which I was reminded of when I just googled to see if I could provide a cool link about "pari" all I got was escort links - eek

-- Sayantani

I recently wrote a similar post wondering about vampires and other non Western monsters: http://storiesaregoodmedicine.blogspot.com/2010/10/no-vampires-please-were-hindu.html
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Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on November 17th, 2010 05:15 am (UTC)
Re: Indian "pari"
Hi Cindy and Nandini -

I never would think of the Apsara as fairies - but then again, am not surprised to learn of the links of Paris (and I'm sure many other folk/mythological traditions) outside of India - it's an old and heterogeneous place with a loong history of invaders, immigrants, trade... I agree, Cindy, the overlaps between mythological/cultural traditions are fascinating - and not only for the Greek/Romans/Egyptians!

In response to your question - I am writing, well, trying to get out there, two novels based on Indian traditions. One is a folktale based fantasy.

A long time ago, I published a book called "The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales" which was more a straight folktale book (in a folktale series). Now, MANY moons (and careers) later, I'm revisiting those beloved stories and Bengali folk characters...
(Anonymous) on November 15th, 2010 10:28 am (UTC)
This is fascinating. Thanks for posting!
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nandinibnandinib on November 15th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Fascinating post, Cindy! I didn't know about Asian fox spirits. The Indian Pari is actually borrowed from the Persian Pari BTW. In Indian mythology you have apsaras, celestial dancers in the court of Indra, the king of the elemental demi-gods. They're often sent to earth to tempt and distract mortals that become too powerful for Indra's peace of mind. And they show up in Thai and Cambodian art as well.
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nandinibnandinib on November 15th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Ahh, so you know all about apsaras then :-)! Thanks for the link. Shveta's wip sounds amazing.
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kikihamiltonkikihamilton on November 15th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Loved the article and the comments. I think it's fascinating to see the cross-over between cultures among myths and deities.
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ext_250406 on November 15th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
Huli jing!
Oh neat! Fox spirits are such an interesting icon. There is one superstition that a really, really ancient fox could actually gain the ability to turn into a woman. I found them a little sad -- part of them seems to want to be human, but can't. Very similar to the stories of goddesses and fairies who fall in love with humans.

I just ordered Pu Ling Song's book a week or so back. I can't wait for it to arrive!
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natalieag on November 17th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
Re: Huli jing!
Great post. I'm going to check out the book you mentioned. My daughter is adopted from China and I'm always interested in learning more about her culture. Glad there is an English version of the book.
lilacfield: holy maidenlilacfield on November 17th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)
I just read Pu Songling's book! Well, the John Minford translation, that is. The stories are very eye-opening, as well as the glossary and notes. Which translation did you order, Minford's or Herbert Giles?
laurenbjorkmanlaurenbjorkman on March 14th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
I was doing research on Fox spirits for Miss Fortune Cookie (just a minor detail in my story) and came across your thread! :-)

My character will play a fox spirit in an innocent childhood game. What young girl doesn't want to be incomparably beautiful, eh?

Thanks, Cindy, for posting this!