The heroine of the Li family – A Chinese tale

ethnic china

The heroine of the Li family

The humid lowlands north of Mount Yong were once occupied by a gigantic python about three feet thick and 70 or 80 feet long. Its presence scared away the natives from the vicinity and caused unexpected deaths among local functionaries. Cows and lambs were sacrificed to no avail.

Then it was revealed through dreams and the prophecy of witches that virgin girls of about 12 years old were most desired by the snake. The authorities had no choice but to scrounge around for girls to please the python. They would usually opt for girls from criminal families or those who were born household slaves. Early in the eighth lunar month, the designated girl would be sent to the temple built outside the python’s cave where the sacrificial rites were held. The python used to come out at night and devour the poor girl. It went on like this year after year, until a total of nine girls had been sacrificed.

The eighth lunar month was approaching again, but this year officials had not yet been able to find a girl for the Occasion.

In Jiangle County there was a Li family with six daughters and no son. The youngest one, named Ji, resolved to offer herself, but her parents fought against the idea.

“There’s no sense in keeping me,» she argued with her parents. «What’s the use of having six daughters when you don’t have a son! Daughters are always married into other families. They can neither carry on the family line nor provide for you when you are old. It’s just a waste of food and money to raise daughters, and it doesn’t make much difference with one less. If I sell myself, at least I can get you some money. Isn’t that reasonable?»

Though her parents would not hear of it, she was persistent and finally had her way.

She asked the authorities for a sharp sword, a snake hound, honey, glutinous rice and wheat flour. She steamed the rice and baked the flour, and mixed them with honey into a huge sticky rice ball.

The day came. She and her huge rice ball were carried to the python’s cave. She placed the ball right outside the cave mouth and sat waiting in the temple with the sword on her lap and the hound beside her feet.

Deep into the night, the python emerged from its cave, its head as big as a fodder silo, its two eyes like king-size bronze mirrors. It caught the sweet smell of the rice ball and swallowed it at one gulp. Instantly, she let go of the leash. The hound pounced at the python while she hacked it from behind. The python squirmed out of the cave and lay dead.

She went into the cave and collected nine skeletons. “What a shame!» she said contemptuously. «You died because you didn’t have the guts to fight.» Then she strolled back to her village.

Her story reached the King of Yue who made her Queen, appointed her father magistrate of Jiangle County, and bestowed many gifts upon her mother and sisters.

Her story was passed down in song.

Published in Li Fang and other, Zhang Guangqian translation “Into the Porcelain Pillow- 101 tales from Records of the Taiping Era”. Foreign Languages Press. Beijing. 1998

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