Exploring Fox Spirits

I wanted to dive a little deeper into the belief and understanding of fox spirits, but I didn’t simply want to do a research paper. One of my favorite texts from the Gods, Ghosts, Ancestors course was Pu Songling’s Strange Tales. So I thought to myself, “Why not mix my major in with my core project and write a few of my own tales?”

Using Pu’s work and my research for reference, I came up with three story ideas that explored both the traditional and the slightly unconventional aspects of fox spirits. They’re usually female entities that seduce men and attempt to deplete them of their yang energy. Like any spirit, there are both good ones and evil ones. I chose to focus my tales on the ones that were not-so-nice, simply because I felt like those would be the most fun to write.

Since I chose to write three, I figured I could write one with traditional conventions (female fox spirit seducing a man who is seemingly clueless), one that was a mix of traditional and unconventional (female fox spirit who seduces a man, but he catches on and follows her to her home), and one that was more modern (a male fox spirit attempting to seduce a woman). Even though I used Pu Songling as inspiration, I was careful not to mimic his voice entirely—though I still wanted to keep the same style in which he wrote his stories.

For my traditional tale, Zhang Fu and the Taxi Driver, I incorporated knowledge from the class, from Pu Songling, and from outside research. This story focused on Zhang Fu, a man in his mid-thirties whose wife was in the city (for two weeks) caring for his mother. He encountered a taxi driver, Wu Mei, who was the fox spirit that ultimately depleted his yang energy to replenish her yin.

This story has a theme of the number four, which (as we learned in class) is the number for death in Chinese culture. I made it subtle, intertwining it at various points in the story. I also drew on the idea of a “fox stench” that I found in my research. There was an incident/story recorded in which a woman taxi driver was said to be a fox spirit based on the way she smelled, leading families to examine young women for bodily differences before accepting them into their homes. At the end of my tale, the stench was identified by a Taoist priest whom Zhang’s wife brought home when she returned—drawing from knowledge learned in class and Pu Songling’s tale Painted Skin where a Taoist priest identified the demon and the man chose to ignore him.

My second story draws a little from Xiaofei’s Cult of the Fox and the idea that fox spirits are similar to ghosts in the way that they’re more active at night and burrow homes for themselves beneath the earth, especially in graves and abandoned houses. This story is a little more unconventional when comparing to Pu Songling’s tales because he never really gave the fox spirits a home. They were always coming and going at night, but we never followed them.

I made sure, with these stories, to create a good balance between outside research and Pu Songling’s work. I didn’t want to draw entirely from him and preferred to create my own tales based on the other information I learned about the behavior of fox spirits.

Below is an excerpt from Zhang Fu and the Taxi Driver.

“Master Zhang,” she spoke gently, almost as if she was afraid to talk too loud.

“Yes, Miss Wu?”

“When will your wife return from the city? The sun will set soon, and I don’t much care to travel home alone in the dark.” Miss Wu stood, walking to the cupboard where she’d seen Zhang pull a bowl from, and started setting the table for dinner.

“She won’t be back for a couple weeks,” Zhang said as he dished the rice into bowls. He set them on the table and sat, looking into Miss Wu’s eyes. “You’re welcome to stay the night with me, if that would make you comfortable.”

Miss Wu nodded and began to eat her meal. She spent the night in Zhang’s bed. The two slept together passionately, a night Zhang would regard as more passionate than he’d ever felt with his wife. That one night turned to two and the two turned to three. Miss Wu left on the fourth day, as energetic as ever, and Zhang slowly prepared to take another trip to the market. He waved as she drove away, feeling weak and drained. He turned to step back into his cottage and collapsed in the doorway.

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