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Say It Right Series

Are Chinese sheep really ghosts?

Posted by Tal March 12, 2010 in the Group General Discussion.

Recently I've been reading an interesting Chinese folk tale: 宋定伯卖鬼 - Sòng Dìng Bó mài guǐ - Sòng Dìng Bó sells a ghost.

It's a funny little story actually, good practice for Chinese study, and there are some quirky (to a western mind anyway) features which perhaps tell us some things about China and the Chinese world view.

At the beginning we hear:
鬼常常害人  -  guǐ cháng cháng hài rén - (ghosts often cause trouble to people) and

老百姓都怕鬼  -  lǎobǎixìng dōu pà guǐ - (common folk fear ghosts.)

And then interestingly we then learn that 鬼怕恶人  -  guǐ pà èrén  -  ghosts fear a villain! If you're bold and 厉害, the ghosts won't dare make trouble for you!

The hero of the story, the redoubtable 宋定伯, a guy with a love of learning and the martial arts, goes to visit a friend who lives outside his city wall. He enjoys himself and stays late. The friend advises him to stay over, because the road home has a reputation for being haunted by ghosts, but of course 宋定伯 will have none of this, and starts for home in the dark night.

Of course it's not long before our hero does encounter a ghost, but not a clever one, because he thinks 宋定伯 might be a ghost. 宋定伯 has fun pretending to be a ghost, and even learns what ghosts are most afraid of: having people spit in their faces! Now you know why Chinese people love doing that so much!

Finally, with dawn breaking, the ghost is keen to be off, (seems like Chinese ghosts, just like their western cousins, prefer the dark night to the light of day.) But 宋定伯 holds on to it and won't let it go, and then... *roll of drums*... the ghost turns into... a sheep!!

宋定伯 is no fool, he knows it might turn back into a ghost, so he spits in its face and takes it to market and sells it.

Now children, what do we learn from this story?


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