“Path of Immortality”: Commentary on a Short Story of Chinese Fox Spirits

“Path of Immortality” was a story made out of the idea of combining a bunch of themes of Chinese stories, such as the ones found in Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, with my own current-day themes. One of the most common themes was that the main character was in some way foolish, and then supernatural things would take place to teach him of his ways. This was a very big, driving factor in “Path of Immortality,” as I wanted the human main character to be a bit dim-witted but good-natured, and the fox spirits, usually painted as antagonists, to be more or less harmless.

One of my main goals was to take all of my research about Chinese fox spirits and meld them together to make one, coherent myth. Pretty consistent details relating to Chinese fox spirits include their mischievous natures and tendency to take on human forms. Although not always malignant, fox spirits of legends usually try to seduce humans. This could lead to sickness or even death. In more innocent stories, fox spirits may try to marry humans to lead a normal human life, and have somewhat normal half-fox children. But in my research, I found some even more obscure myths. One of them was that foxes can only become human by wearing human skulls (Issendai). Another is that foxes can take on human form when they reach the age of 50 (Kang). And then when a fox becomes a hundred years old, it gains the ability to become a beautiful female, or an adult male.

Another branch in my fox spirit research is how fox spirits achieve immortality, which is obviously a big theme of my story, given the title. It’s said that foxes desire to become celestial foxes, who are white or golden with many tails (Issendai). It’s said that one way of achieving this is to study diligently to gather spiritual essences as scholars. But there are also those that who seek to “entice men and deplete them of their sexual energies” and that these foxes are “taking shortcuts to achieve their goal quickly.” Although this source does not state exactly what “energies” the foxes need, I extrapolated it mean “yang” as described in Daoism, as in many stories of fox spirits, it’s said that foxes take yang from their victims, such as in the story of “Lotus Fragrance” (Pu). It’s also said that those who take this shortcut broke the Code of Heaven, and couldn’t actually ascend to the celestial realms (Issendai). These two paths ended up being the starting point for my story.

Since there are multiple ways people told stories about fox spirits, I made three separate fox characters so I could get the majority of them in one story. First was the most typical fox, the beautiful fox woman that slept with men to steal their yang energy. Second was the uncommon fox, the scholar who studies diligently to make it to heaven. To make it even more unlikely, I made this character male, while the majority of fox spirits are female. Last I wanted a more innocent fox spirit, the youngest one that wanted to protect her family and meant well, which was not altogether uncommon in fox spirit myths, “Lotus Fragrance” being a good example. I made the three of them an odd batch of siblings, and the story focusing on how they interact with a random traveler. Although the traveler is quite naive and too curious than is good for him, he ends up learning a lot from the youngest fox.

The youngest fox doesn’t have a direct plan to get to heaven, but is more worried about protecting her family and surviving, which is more or less the third way my sources talked about achieving immortality — surviving an exceptionally long time. It’s said that “when a fox is a thousand years old, it ascends to heaven and becomes a celestial fox” (Kang). This ended up being the biggest factor in her character as she stood between the two methods of her siblings, and ended inspiring the traveler to find meaning in his own life as well.

Bibliography

Guanzhong, Luo, and Feng Menglong. The Sorcerer’s Revolt. Trans. Nathan Sturman. N.p.: Silk Pagoda, 2008. Print.

Issendai. “Huli Jing – The Chinese Fox.” Huli Jing – The Chinese Fox. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

Kang, Xiaofei. The Cult of the Fox: Power, Gender, and Popular Religion in Late Imperial and Modern China. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. Print.

Nepstad, Peter. “Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits.” The Illuminated Lantern. N.p., 1 Sept. 2000. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

Pu, Songling, and John Minford. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Werner, Edward T. C. “Chapter XV: Fox Legends.” Myths & Legends of China. London: Harrap, 1922. N. pag. Print.

Zeitlin, Judith T. Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature. Place of Publication Not Identified: Univ Of Hawai’i, 2016. 17-47, 207, 211, 217. Print.

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