Sunday, October 10, 2010

Li Ji Slays the Snake

Li Ji vs giant serpent
The tale Li Ji Slays the Snake (a more literal translation of the title is Li Ji Cuts Down the Snake) appears in "In Search of the Supernatural", a collection of ancient folk legends compiled by Chinese historian Gan Bao (?-336 CE).

Translation of original text:

In the Minzhong region of Eastern Yue, there was a Yong Mountain spanning a few dozen li. On its northwestern face was a crevice, in which dwelt a large snake about 15 to 18 meters long and more than 10 spans in girth. The natives were accustomed to fearing it. Many of Dongzhi County's governors and the mayors of its cities had been killed by it.

People sacrificed oxen and sheep to the snake, but received no respite. The serpent appeared in dreams to people and revealed to witches and wizards that it wanted to eat girls of about 12-13 years of age. The county governor and his district officials were troubled by this. But the severity of the snake problem persisted. Together, they procured a house-born slave or the daughter of a criminal, keeping the girl until the 8th month, at which time they delivered the sacrificial victim to the mouth of the snake's cave. The snake would come forth and devour the victim.

This went on year after year, until 9 girls had been sacrificed. There came a time when they sought a sacrificial victim in preparation for the annual event, but failed to find a candidate. In the Jiangle District lived a Li Dan who had 6 daughters and no sons. His youngest daughter was named Ji.

She wanted to answer the summons for the snake sacrifice. Her parents refused to consider it. Ji said, "You, my parents, have no luck. You have only 6 daughters and no sons, as good as having no children. I have done nothing for you, I cannot support you. I consume your food and clothing for nought. My life provides no benefit. It is better to die young. If you sell me, you can at least get a little money for your support. Would that not be a good thing?"

Her loving parents cherished her and absolutely would hear no more of it. Ji was unstoppable; she secretly left on her own. Ji asked for a good sword and a snake-hunting dog. On the first day of the eighth month, she sat in the temple, sword in hand and dog in tow. First, she soaked several stones of rice cakes with honeyed toasted cereal and placed them at the entrance of the cave. The snake emerged. Its head was as large as a grain bin, its eyes as half-yard-long mirrors. It smelled the fragrance of the rice cakes and began eating the cakes first.

Ji released the dog, which seized the serpent with its teeth. Attacking from behind, Ji inflicted numerous deep wounds on the snake. The snake, mad with pain, lurched out of the cave into the temple court where it died. Ji entered the cave and saw the bones of the 9 girls. She carried them all out, chiding, "You were all weak and timid, and thus were eaten by the serpent. How sad and pitiful!" Then the girl Ji walked home at a leisurely pace.

Upon learning of this, the King of Yue engaged Ji as his queen. He appointed her father as chief of Jiangle District and honored her mother and older sisters with gifts. From henceforth there were no more demons and evil creatures in Dongzhi. People sing of Li Ji's exploits even to the present day.

This translation is copyrighted by Wolfberry Studio LLC. Please do not repost or reprint without permission.

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