Myths and Legends of China

Page: 182

Two Tribes at War

In early times the Chief of a Chinese tribe (another version says an Emperor of China) was at war with the Chief of another tribe who came to attack his territory from the west. The Western Chief so badly defeated the Chinese army that none of the generals or soldiers could be induced to renew hostilities and endeavour to drive the enemy back to his own country. This distressed the Chinese Chief very much. As a last resort he issued a proclamation promising his daughter in marriage to anyone who would bring him the head of his enemy, the Chief of the West.

The Chief’s Promise

The people in the palace talked much of this promise made by the Chief, and their conversation was listened to by a fine large white dog belonging to one of the generals. This dog, having pondered the matter well, waited until Page 421midnight and then stole over to the tent of the enemy Chief. The latter, as well as his guard, was asleep; or, if the guard was not, the dog succeeded in avoiding him in the darkness. Entering the tent, the dog gnawed through the Chief’s neck and carried his head off in his mouth. At dawn he placed it at the Chinese Chief’s feet, and waited for his reward. The Chief was soon able to verify the fact that his enemy had been slain, for the headless body had caused so much consternation in the hostile army that it had already begun to retreat from Chinese territory.

A Strange Contract

The dog then reminded the Chief of his promise, and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “But how,” said the Chief, “can I possibly marry my daughter to a dog?” “Well,” replied the dog, “will you agree to her marrying me if I change myself into a man?” This seemed a safe promise to make, and the Chief agreed. The dog then stipulated that he should be placed under a large bell and that no one should move it or look into it for a space of 280 days.

The Chiefs Curiosity

This was done, and for 279 days the bell remained unmoved, but on the 280th day the Chief could restrain his curiosity no longer, and tilting up the bell saw that the dog had changed into a man all except his head, the last day being required to complete the transformation. However, the spell was now broken, and the result was a man with a dog’s head. Since it was the Chief’s fault that, through his over-inquisitiveness, the dog could not become altogether a man, he was obliged to keep his promise, and Page 422the wedding duly took place, the bridegroom’s head being veiled for the occasion by a red mantilla.

The Origin of a Custom

Unfortunately the fruit of the union took more after their father than their mother, and though comely of limb had exceedingly ugly features.2 They were therefore obliged to continue to wear the head-covering adopted by their father at the marriage ceremony, and this became so much an integral part of the tribal costume that not only has it been worn ever since by their descendants, but a change of headgear has become synonymous with a change of husbands or a divorce. One account says that at the original bridal ceremony the bride wore the red mantilla to prevent her seeing her husband’s ugly features, and that is why the headdress is worn by the women and not by the men, or more generally by the former than the latter, though others say that it was originally worn by the ugly children of both sexes.