China: How the River God’s Wedding Was Broken Off

This story is part of the Chinese Fairy Tales unit. Story source: The Chinese Fairy Book, ed. by R. Wilhelm and translated by Frederick H. Martens (1921).

How the River God’s Wedding Was Broken Off

AT the time of the seven empires there lived a man by the name of Si-Men Bau who was a governor on the Yellow River. In this district the river-god was held in high honor. The sorcerers and witches who dwelt there said: “Every year the river-god looks for a bride who must be selected from among the people. If she be not found, then wind and rain will not come at the proper seasons, and there will be scanty crops and floods!”

And then, when a girl came of age in some wealthy family, the sorcerers would say that she should be selected. Whereupon her parents, who wished to protect their daughter, would bribe them with large sums of money to look for some one else, till the sorcerers would give in and order the rich folk to share the expense of buying some poor girl to be cast into the river. The remainder of the money they would keep for themselves as their profit on the transaction. But whoever would not pay, their daughter was chosen to be the bride of the river-god and was forced to accept the wedding gifts which the sorcerers brought her. The people of the district chafed grievously under this custom.

Now when Si-Men entered into office, he heard of this evil custom. He had the sorcerers come before him and said: “See to it that you let me know when the day of the river-god’s wedding comes, for I myself wish to be present to honor the god! This will please him, and in return he will shower blessings on my people.” With that he dismissed them. And the sorcerers were full of praise for his piety.

So when the day arrived, they gave him notice. Si-Men dressed himself in his robes of ceremony, entered his chariot, and drove to the river in festival procession. The elders of the people, as well as the sorcerers and the witches were all there. And from far and near men, women and children had flocked together in order to see the show. The sorcerers placed the river-bride on a couch and adorned her with her bridal jewels, and kettledrums, snaredrums and merry airs vied with each other in joyful sound.

They were about to thrust the couch into the stream, and the girl’s parents said farewell to her amid tears. But Si-Men bade them wait and said: “Do not be in such a hurry! I have appeared in person to escort the bride; hence everything must be done solemnly and in order. First someone must go to the river-god’s castle and let him know that he may come himself and fetch his bride.”

And with these words he looked at a witch and said: “You may go!” The witch hesitated, but he ordered his servants to seize her and thrust her into the stream.

After that, about an hour went by.

“That woman did not understand her business,” continued Si-Men, “or else she would have been back long ago!” And with that he looked at one of the sorcerers and added: “Do you go and do better!” The sorcerer paled with fear, but Si-Men had him seized and cast into the river.

Again, half-an-hour went by.

Then Si-Men pretended to be uneasy. “Both of them have made a botch of their errand,” said he, “and are causing the bride to wait in vain!” Once more he looked at a sorcerer and said: “Do you go and hunt them up!” But the sorcerer flung himself on the ground and begged for mercy. And all the rest of the sorcerers and witches knelt to him in a row and pleaded for grace. And they took an oath that they would never again seek a bride for the river-god.

Then Si-Men held his hand and sent the girl back to her home, and the evil custom was at an end forever.




(700 words)







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