Chinese Folktales

9. Yang Erh-Lang

ONCE upon a time the second daughter of the lord of heaven descended to earth and there lived secretly with a mortal human named Yang. When she returned to heaven she gave birth to a son. The lord of heaven was very angry at this desecration of heaven. He banished her to earth and covered her with the Wu Yi mountain. But their son, by name of Erh-lang, the grandson of the lord of heaven, was exceedingly gifted by nature. By the time he grew to manhood he had learnt the secret art of performing eight times nine transformations. He could make himself invisible or assume whatever shape among birds and beasts, grasses and trees, snakes and fishes he chose. He also knew how to drain the sea and move mountains. Thus he came to the Wu Yi mountain and rescued his mother. He took her on his back and carried her of. They halted on a ledge of rock.

The mother said: ‘l am very thirsty.’

Erh-lang descended into the valley to fetch water and before long he was back again. But his mother was no longer where he had left her. He looked for her everywhere and then found her skin and bones lying on the rock and a few traces of blood. At that time, of course, there were still ten suns in the sky and they shone and burnt like fire. Although the daughter of heaven was of divine nature, because she had fallen and bore the stain of having given birth, she had lost her magic powers. Moreover, she had been so long in the darkness beneath the mountain that, suddenly facing the sunlight, she was consumed by the suns’ blinding glare.

As Erh-lang reflected upon his mother’s sad end his heart ached. He lifted two mountains upon his shoulders and pursued the suns and crushed them dead with the mountains. Whenever he had crushed a sun disc he would pick up a new mountain. Thus he had already killed nine of the ten suns. Only one was left. As Erh-lang was pursuing it relentlessly it hid in despair under the leaves of the purslane. Erh-lang searched for it in vain. But there was an earthworm nearby which betrayed the sun’s hiding place by saying: ‘There it is! There it is!

Erh-lang was about to seize it when suddenly a messenger descended from heaven with a command from the lord of heaven: ‘Heaven, air and earth need sunshine. You must leave one sun in the sky so that all creatures may live. But since you rescued your mother and proved yourself a good son you shall be made a god and be my bodyguard in the highest hall of heaven, watching over good and evil in the world of humans, and with power over devils and demons.’ When Erh-lang had received this command he ascended to heaven.

Then the sun’s disc reappeared from among the leaves of the purslane and out of gratitude to it granted it the gift of ready growth and immunity to sunshine. To this day one can see minute white pearls on its leaves: they are what is left of the sunshine which remained clinging to them from that time when the sun hid among its leaves. The earthworm, however, which had betrayed the sun, is pursued by it whenever it ventures out of the earth and dried out as a punishment.

Erh-lang has been venerated as a god ever since. He has oblique sharp-cut eyebrows and in his hand is a three pronged two-edged sword. By his side stand two servants with a falcon and a hound, for Erh-lang is a great hunts-man. The falcon is the falcon of the gods and the hound is the hound of heaven. Whenever animals achieve magic powers or when demons harass humans Erh-lang tames them with his falcon and his hound.

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