Supernatural tales bewitch Laoshan
IDLE men who think only of sex, should not pick up unknown young girls in the street, says Pu Songling.
I met the old master raconteur on a visit to Laoshan, a popular forested hilly park outside Qingdao city in north-east China.
It was a cold autumn afternoon when I sat on the stone bench to hear the cautionary tale he told me about a certain Wang from Taiyuan city, an idle fellow who spent most of his time trying to pick up girls.
Wang was rich and did not need to do a lick of honest work because his dead papa left him a small fortune. He would wander the streets hoping to meet someone naive and innocent, and seduce her.
So, early one morning, as Wang was out walking, he did meet such a girl, about 16 and very beautiful. He immediately greeted her and, after some chit-chat, suggested they go to his house for some recreational activities.
Strangely, she seemed only too pleased to follow him.
"Now, you know, I know, and every mother's son knows, that no well-brought-up girl would willingly follow a strange man home," said Master Pu.
Hmm, I thought, something bad is definitely going to happen to dirty old Wang.
"When they arrived, Wang took the girl into his private study, an empty house with its own front courtyard that was set apart from the other buildings in the large residence.
"That night and several more nights, he stayed there with the girl, ravishing her delicate, jade-smooth body from sunset to sunrise, without his wife or servants knowing anything.
"But his good time didn't last," said Master Pu, with a chuckle.
"Wang went out one morning to the marketplace and ran into a Taoist priest who stared at his face and told Wang he was bewitched by some strange female.
"Wang, of course, didn't believe what the priest said. He couldn't imagine that such a sweet, young thing could cast an evil spell on him.
"When he returned home, he saw that the outer door of his study was barred and he could not enter. He found a hole in the wall where he barely managed to squeeze through and got into the courtyard. But the inner door was also locked.
"Now he really felt uneasy. Creeping stealthily up to a window, he peeped through and saw the most horrifying sight of his life - a green-faced monster with big jagged teeth was leaning over what looked like the skin of an entire female human body, spread on his bed.
"The monster had a paintbrush in its hand and was using it to touch up the skin in lifelike colour. When the painting was done, it threw down the brush, lifted the skin, shook it like a cloak and wrap itself in it. Instantly, the green monster was transformed into Wang's pretty girlfriend."
I jumped in fright. "Master Pu Songling," I cried, "tell me you're simply making this story up!"
Mr Pu smiled. I looked around the now deserted courtyard which just an hour ago was thronged with flag-waving tourist groups.
The daylight was fading, the overhanging tree branches looked like twisted limbs and the blue shadows were creeping up on me. I recalled reading that Mr Pu had his own studio hut somewhere in this forest where he used to spend many long nights writing about strange encounters with spirits and other denizens from the supernatural realm.
"I think I've got to go," I said, as I stood up to gather my camera bag and put on my woollen coat. "Goodbye."
"Don't you want to know what happened to Wang?" Master Pu asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Another day," I replied. "My grandma told me that when it gets dark, I shouldn't be listening to scary tales, especially from strangers."
I was inspired to imagine the above encounter with the famed storyteller during a recent trip to Laoshan.
Tales aside, the place is a charming spot for a day tour.
If you are in the port city of Qingdao, go early in the morning to Laoshan, when the sun is bright and the place bustling with life.
Join the crowd of pious visitors burning incense and seeking God's favour in one of the many picturesque Taoist temples nestled in serene gardens.
Stroll along the leafy paths, and contemplate the ancient trees and the hillside covered with emerald tea bushes.
But don't linger after dark when it gets chilly.
Pu Songling (1640-1715) was the author of Painted Skin and more than 500 other Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.
Most of his stories were written during his stay in Laoshan, which in ancient times was said to be inhabited by
Taoist immortals, spirits, fox spirits
(in the guise of beautiful women)
and other supernatural beings.