Chinese Folktales

41. The Land of the Ogres

ONCE there lived in Annam a man whose name was Siu and who sailed the seas as a merchant. One day he was driven off course by a great storm and came to a distant coast. ragged mountains rose on it, covered with luxuriant vegetation. Then he caught sight of what looked like human habitations on land. He took with him some food and disembarked. No sooner had he got among the mountains than he saw the openings of caves on both sides, one next to the other, like beehives. The merchant stopped and looked into one of these holes. There were two ogres inside, with teeth like spears. Their eyes were like fiery lamps. With their claws they were tearing a stag apart and devouring it raw. The merchant was terrified and wanted to escape. But the ogres had already spotted him. They caught him and drew him into their cave. The two creatures talked together in animal sounds. They tore the clothes off his body and wanted to devour him. Then he hurriedly produced bread and dried meat from his satchel and offered it to them. They shared it, ate it all up and seemed to like it. They searched his satchel, but he gestured with his hand to indicate that he had no more.

Then he said: ‘Let me go! Aboard my ship I have pots and pans, vinegar and spices. With these I could cook fine meals for you.’

But the ogres did not understand what he was saying and were still angry. He therefore tried to make them understand by gestures, and eventually they seemed to get his meaning a little. They followed him to his ship,

and he brought his cooking utensils back to the cave, gathered firewood, lit a fire and cooked the remains of the Stag. When it was done he gave it to them to eat. The two creatures devoured it with great pleasure. They then left the cave but closed the opening with a large boulder. After a little while they returned with another stag they had caught. The merchant skinned it, got fresh water, washed the meat and cooked several cauldrons full of it. Suddenly a whole herd of ogres came in and devoured the meat. They seemed to enjoy it. They all pointed to the cauldron which seemed to them too small. After three or four days one of the ogres returned with a huge cauldron on his back, and from then onwards this was regularly

The ogres now all crowded around the merchant, bringing him Wolves and antelopes which he had to cook for them and whenever the meat was ready they called out to him to join them.

Thus several weeks passed and gradually they became so familiar with him that they allowed him to move about freely. The merchant after a while learnt to distinguish the noises they uttered and to understand them. Indeed, before very long he learnt to speak the ogre language himself. This quite delighted the ogres. They brought a young female along for the merchant to marry. But he was afraid of her and dared not come close. But the ogre girl took him by force to be her husband and had much pleasure from him. She gave him precious things and fruit to allure him and gradually they came to be fond of each other like husband and wife

One day all the ogres rose very early and placed necklaces of gleaming pearls round their necks. They ordered the merchant to cook a large quantity of meat. He asked his wife what was happening.

‘Today is a great feast,’ she said. ‘We have invited the great king to eat with us.’

And turning to the other ogres she said ‘The merchant has no pearl necklace.’

Thereupon all the ogres gave her five pearls apiece and she herself added ten so that he had over fifty pearls. She threaded them and hung the chain round his neck. Each of these pearls were worth several hundred plummet- weights of silver.

The merchant then boiled the meat and with the whole herd left the cave to welcome the great king. They entered a vast cave in the middle of which was a large boulder which was smooth and flat like a table. All round were stone seats; the place of honour was covered with a leopard skin, the others all had stag skins on them. Several dozen ogres were sitting in the cave in orderly rows. Abruptly a great storm arose, raising the dust, and a monster came in who resembled the ogres in shape. The ogres all stood up in great excitement to welcome him. The great king ran into the rave, sat down legs apart and looked around with large keen eyes. Then the whole herd followed him into the cave. They lined up on both sides of him, looked up to him and crossed their arms on their chests to express their respect.

The great king nodded his head, looked at them and asked: ‘Is everybody present from the Wo Mei Mountain? ‘

Yes, they all said.

Then he caught sight of the merchant and asked:

‘And where does he come from?’

His wife answered for him and they all praised his cooking skill. A few of the ogres brought in cooked meat and spread it out on the table. The great king ate his fill and,

With his mouth still full, praised the food and commanded that this dish was always to be served to him.

He then glanced at the merchant and asked: ‘Why is your necklace so short?’

With these words he took ten pearls from his own necklace, and these were large and round like rifle bullets. His wife quickly accepted them for him and hung them round his neck. The merchant crossed his arms and thanked the king in ogre language. Thereupon the great king left again, riding away through the air on the storm.

The merchant had lived with his wife for four years when she bore him triplets—two boys and a girl. They all had human shape and were unlike their mother. One day the merchant was alone in his home when a female came in from another cave and tried to seduce him. But he resisted her. The ogre woman grew angry and grabbed him by the arm. Just then his wife returned and the two women began to fight fiercely. Eventually the merchant’s wife bit one of the other woman’s ears off and after that she left. From then onwards the merchant’s wife always guarded her husband and never left him for a moment.

Another three years passed and the children were learning to speak. The merchant also taught them human language. They grew up and became so strong that they ran up and down the mountains as though on level ground.

One day the wife had gone out with one of the boys and the girl and stayed away half the day. The north wind was blowing strongly and there arose in the merchant’s heart a longing for his old country. He took his son by his hand and led him to the sea shore. There his old ship was still riding at anchor. He boarded it with his son and after a day and a night returned to Annam.

When he got back he found that his first wife had meanwhile married another man. He produced two of his pearls and exchanged them for such a quantity of gold that he was able to keep an elegant house. He gave his son the name of Panther. When he was fourteen he was so strong that he could lift thirty hundredweight. But he was rough and fond of quarrels. The general of Annam, amazed at his bravery, appointed him a colonel and he so distinguished himself in the crushing of a rebellion that he was made an under-general at the age of eighteen.

About that time another merchant was likewise driven by a gale to the island of Wo Mei.

When he stepped on land he caught sight of a young man who asked him curiously: ‘Are you not from the Middle Kingdom?’

The merchant related how he had been driven off course and the young man led him to a small cave in a hidden valley. There he produced Stag meat and chatted to the man. He told him that his father had also come from Annam and it turned out that the two merchants were old acquaintances.

‘We must wait for the north wind to rise again,’ said the young man, ‘then I Will come and see you off. I will also ask to give my regards to my father and elder brother.’

‘Why don’t you came along yourself and join your father?’ asked the merchant.

‘My mother is not from the Middle Kingdom,’ replied the young man. ‘She is different in speech and appearance, and therefore I cannot leave.’

One day soon afterwards the north wind sprang up powerfully and the young man went and saw the merchant off on his ship and asked him in parting not to forget his message.

When the merchant reached Annam he went to the palace of Panther, the under-general, and told him of his experience.

When panther heard him speak of his brother he sobbed bitterly. He took leave and, accompanied by two soldiers, sailed out on the sea. Suddenly a typhoon sprang up which whipped the waves till they splashed up to the sky. The ship capsized and Panther fell into the sea. But at once he was seized by a creature and dragged to a beach which seemed inhabited. The creature which had grabbed him looked just like an ogre. Panther therefore addressed it in ogre language. Amazed, the ogre asked him who he was and he told him his whole story.

The ogre was delighted. ‘Wo Mei is my old home,’ he said. ‘It is eight thousand miles away from here. This is the land of the venomous dragons.’

The ogre got a ship and made Panther board it. The ogre then pushed the ship in front of him through the water, so that it cleaved the waves like an arrow. After one night a coastline emerged in the north. There was a young man standing on the beach, looking out to sea. Panther recognized him as his brother. Then he turned to thank the ogre who had brought him there but he had disappeared. Panther now asked about his mother and sister and was told that they were both well. He wanted to go with his brother, but his brother asked him to wait and went off alone. After a short while he returned with his mother and sister. When they saw Panther they both cried with emotion. Panther now asked them to accompany him back to Annam.

But his mother said: ‘l am afraid that if I went with you the humans would mock me for my appearance.’

‘I am a high officer,’ replied Panther. ‘The people would not dare offend you.’

So they all went on board together. A favourable wind filled the sails and they moved over the sea as swift as an arrow. On the third day they reached land. But all the people they encountered ran away in horror. Panther took off his coat and divided it among the three so that they could cover themselves.

When they got home and the saw her husband again, she chided him for not telling her about returning home. The relations who called to welcome the master’s wife did so trembling in fear. panther now advised his mother to learn the language of the Middle Kingdom, to dress herself in silks and get used to human food. She consented, but both mother and daughter had men’s clothes made for them. Panther’s brother and sister gradually turned whiter in the face and soon came to look like the people of the Middle Kingdom. brother was called Leopard and his sister Ogrechild. Both were of extraordinary strength.

Panther did not like his brother to remain so uneducated and therefore arranged for him to study. Leopard was exceedingly gifted. He grasped the meaning of books upon first reading but had no inclination to become a scholar. Shooting and riding were what he liked best. so he made a great military career and eventually married the daughter of a highly respected official.

It was a long time, however, before Ogrechild found a husband because the men were all afraid of their mother-in-law. Eventually one of her brother’s subordinates lost his first wife, and agreed to marry Ogrechild. She could draw the string of the strongest bows and at a hundred paces could still hit the smallest bird. Her arrows never fell to the ground without having hit something. Whenever her husband went into battle she would accompany him, and the fact that he ended up as a general was largely due to her.

Leopard was a Field Marshal by the time he was thirty. His mother invariably accompanied him on his campaigns. Whenever a dangerous enemy appeared she put on armour and took up a knife to meet that enemy in place of her son. Among the enemies there was none who did not flee in terror. For her courage the emperor awarded her the title of ‘Greatest of Women’.

The history books always tell us that there are very few Ogres about. But if you reflect a moment you will find that they are not in the least unusual. In fact, every married man has one such little ogre at home.


TO the west of the old capital Loyang there was a derelict monastery. its grounds stood an enormous pagoda, several hundred floors high. At its top there Was still enough room for three or four persons.

In the neighbourhood there dwelt a beautiful girl. One day, in the heat of summer, she Was sitting in the courtyard to enjoy the breeze when suddenly a violent whirl-wind sprang up and carried her away. When she opened her eyes again she was at the top of the pagoda. By her side stood a young man in scholar’s clothes.

He was handsome and courteous and said to her: ‘Heaven has destined us for one another.’

He thereupon produced bread and wine and so they celebrated their wedding. After that he would go away during the day and return in the evening. Whenever he left he closed the openings of the pagoda with stones. He had, moreover, removed several treads of the staircase so that she could not leave her abode. When he returned he always brought Wine and food and shared these with the girl. He also gave her presents of facepaint and powder, clothes and skirts, and all kinds of baubles. He would say he had bought them in the market. He also hung up a carbuncle stone so that the pagoda was lit up brightly even at night. The girl had everything her heart desired and yet she was not happy.

Over the months the young man had become so used to her that one day as he left, he forgot to block the windows. The girl secretly watched him go and suddenly saw him change into an ogre with madder-red hair and coal-black face. His eyes protruded from their sockets and his mouth was like a dish of blood. Crooked fangs thrust out from his lips and pair of wings sprouted from his shoulders. Thus he flew down to the ground and instantly changed back into human shape.

The girl was gripped by horror and burst into tears. She looked down from her pagoda and caught sight of a wanderer down below. She called out to him, but the pagoda was so high that her voice did not reach him. She waved her hand, but the Wanderer did not 100k up. She could think of nothing else but to throw down her Old clothes, the ones she had worn when she was carried off. They fluttered down to the ground.

The wanderer picked up the clothes. Then he glanced up to the top of the pagoda and there spotted a minute figure Which resembled a girl—but he could not distinguish her features. He thought for a long while. Then suddenly he began to understand.

‘Surely,’ he thought to himself, ‘our neighbour’s daughter was carried off by a magic whirlwind. Could she be the person up there?’

He took the clothes and showed them to the girl’s parents. When they saw them the parents burst into tears.

Now the girl had a brother Who was stronger and braver than anyone far and wide. When he heard what had happened he took a heavy axe and walked up to the pagoda. There he hid in the grass and waited for What- ever was going to happen. The sun had just set when a young man appeared walking up the mountain. Suddenly he turned into an ogre, spread his wings and Was about to take Off. The brother flung his axe at him and struck his arm. The monster uttered a wild scream and made towards the western mountains. When the brother discovered that the pagoda could not be climbed alone he returned home and made arrangements with several neighbours. The following morning, they all returned and climbed the pagoda. Most of the steps were still quite well preserved, and the Ogre had destroyed only the top flight. With a ladder it was possible to climb to the top. The brother brought his sister down and got her home safely. And the ogre was never seen again.

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