HULI JING: the 9-tailed fox
[a reworking of Giraudoux’s Ondine]
Huli Jing, a 9-tailed fox-spirit.
Jinggu, a Wu-Shaman.
Niu and Qui (Huli Jing’s human parents)
The Voices of Male and Female Forest-Spirits; the Young Girl With No Eyes; Old Man With Ivy in His Hair (various forest-demons and gods)
Nighttime in a roadside inn
somewhere in mythological China.
All the characters are in the exact
same places as before.
And then that happened.
Lord Buddha knows, madam, he won’t listen to anyone whenever he gets into one of his moods. It’s always, “These damn mortals this” and “These damn mortals that” and “Wait until the Queen of the huli-jing hears about this” –
Fox demons, madam.
NIU [waving her hand in the air]
Superstitious nonsense, that’s what I call it.
Well, shut him up in his room and refuse to feed him.
He never eats food, at least not as far as we can tell. And no door seems to actually be able to hold him.
How curious. O well, I’m still hungry. Go and fricassee another rabbit, will you?
I’m afraid that was the last one.
O dear! But what about my hunger pains?
Pains, madam? We have got a salted trout, though. Qui will bring you that instead.
I’m very sorry that he annoyed you, madam.
He annoyed me because he spoke the truth. We shamans are as vain as peacocks … at least the male ones are. I guess that would make me as vain as a peahen. What does a peahen have to be vain about? [Shudders.] Nasty birds. Where was I?
O yes! You know, my good innkeeper, most of my colleagues think, at least I think that they think, that just because we can talk to gods and purify invisible things in the air, that somehow it makes us better than other people.
QUI [calling from the kitchen]
I can’t find the trout anywhere, Niu, dear.
[Sighing, Niu goes out to the kitchen. For a moment nothing happens, then Jinggu gets up and attempts to dry her robes by the fire, humming to herself, “I dropped the berry in a stream/ And caught a little silver trout.” Failing at that she raises the hems and attempts to dry her thighs. Silently Huli Jing enters and comes up behind her.]
HULI JING [whispering into Jinggu’s ear]
My name’s Huli Jing.
[Jinggu, startled, drops the hems and quickly tries to smooth down her robes.]
JINGGU [turning around, embarrassed]
O! It’s you! Yes, er, Huli Jing, did you say? Ah! That’s a very pretty name, er, for a boy. Someone was just saying something about a huli-something – now what was it?
You’re Jinggu and I’m Huli Jing. I think those are the loveliest names in the world, don’t you?
JINGGU [humoring and slightly condescending]
Ah! But what about Huli Jing and Jinggu?
O, no! Jinggu must come first, she’s the mortal, she’s got to go first. Mortals are the ones who believe in us, so they give all the orders. Huli Jing will simply walk a step behind Jinggu.
They do? He does?
HULI JING [clapping his hands excitedly]
Yes! And he doesn’t even speak.
Er, Huli Jing doesn’t speak? How on earth does he manage that magic?
HULI JING [giggling]
It’s no magic! Jinggu is always a step ahead of Huli Jing: at Court – in bed – into the grave. [Suddenly ridiculously serious, peering up into Jinggu’s face.] Jinggu has to die first; it’s the natural order of things. But don’t worry, Huli Jing hates to be alone. So he’ll kill himself, too.
What are you talking about? Who has to die?
Huli Jing’s beloved, of course. Isn’t that what is suppose to happen in all the great romances?
JINGGU [sitting back down at the table]
I’ve never understood why the younger generation thinks that dying is always somehow romantic. Staying alive is much harder and proof that you have something to stick around for.
O, don’t worry! Huli Jing’s beloved doesn’t die immediately, of course. That would be silly. Tell me that you love me!
Boy, I’ve only known you a few minutes, and here you are predicting that I’m going to die? I thought that we weren’t speaking, anyway, because of the rabbit.
Silly rabbit. Serves it right for being so trusting. It should have kept away from mortals if it didn’t want to be part of a sacrificial ceremony. That’s what shamans do, right? Sacrifice things? Even Huli Jing? I’m trusting too, aren’t I? Now you’ll sacrifice me just like the rabbit.
Sacrifice? Why, for all the celestial gods, would I sacrifice you?
Vanity? Pride? Love?
Didn’t your mysterious friend out there in the dark woods warn you away from love?
HULI JING [wrinkling his nose]
Pfff. She was talking nonsense.
It couldn’t have been a very long conversation, you were only gone for a few minutes.
I’m a very fast listener when I’m afraid.
You’re afraid of the woods?
I was afraid that you might leave me while I was gone. She said that you’ll betray me.
How could I betray you? I’ve only just met you.
How could you say that you loved me?
But you will. Still, she said that you weren’t beautiful, so if she can be wrong about that she can be wrong about other things, too.
There you go, flirting with older women. What about you, then? Should I tell you that you are handsome?
HULI JING [giggling]
O, that’s up to you … I’ll look be whatever you want me to be. I’ve always liked the word “handsome” and I’ve always liked the word “beautiful,” so either way is fine.
You are a very strange little boy. Did she say anything else?
She said if I kissed you, I’d be lost. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t even thinking of your lips – then.
JINGGU [startled, touches her lips with a finger]
Kiss me? Are you thinking about them now?
Desperately. But don’t worry, even though you’ll be kissed tonight I think it’s lovely to wait, that’s all. So that we’ll remember this time later – the time when you hadn’t kissed me.
My dear child –
[As Huli Jing’s fox-magic begins to work upon her Jinggu finds herself blushing and breathing harder, despite her best attempts otherwise.]
We’ll both remember the time when you hadn’t told me that you loved me, either. But you needn’t wait anymore. Come on, tell me. Here I am; my lips are so close to yours. Tell me.
JINGGU [blinking and trying to focus]
Do all boys your age act this way? I never know, I grew up with sisters.
Are all mortals as slow as you? I only want to do the right thing. Would you like it better if I sat in your lap? Then you could feel everything.
[Huli Jing climbs onto Jinggu’s lap and runs his hand inside her robes, fondling her.]
Look here, you’re mad! I’m old enough to be your aunt.
I already have an aunt and she is much older than you.
Then … I’ll be your younger, far prettier aunt.
[While Huli Jing kisses Jinggu’s neck and breasts an otherworldly male voice is heard outside the window.]
HULI JING [turning to the window]
Shut up! Nobody asked for your opinion!
JINGGU [gasping, her head swimming]
O! I, er, who are you talking to?
JINGGU [trying to disengage from Huli Jing, failing]
But … O! But I thought that this was the only house for miles?
There are spiteful gods everywhere. They’re jealous of me.
They’re … they’re delightful, these voices.
No, they’re not, it’s just my name that you think is delightful.
[The face of the Young Girl With No Eyes appears at the window.]
YOUNG GIRL WITH NO EYES
[The Young Girl vanishes.]
Is that the friend that you were talking about?
My aunt? No. [Shouting out to the woods.] You’re too late! I’m kissing her! She loves me!
[Huli Jing slides off Jinggu’s lap and disappears under her robes. The face of the Old Man appears at the window.]
HULI JING [muffled]
I can’t hear you!
[The Old Man vanishes.]
HULI JING [coming up for air, shouting over his shoulder]
Anyway, it’s too late, I tasted her essence and even you know what happens then!
[A noise from the kitchen doorway is heard. Jinggu stands, drunkenly trying to rearrange her robes, with some success.]
JINGGU [feeling just how much her cheeks are glowing]
O! I! My! Me! Your parents are coming –
[Huli Jing stands while Niu and Qui enter.]
Please, madam, I don’t know how to tell you, but we seem to have lost the trout!
HULI JING [carelessly]
Yes, I know, I hid it so that you’d leave us in peace. But it’s cooking now, even as we speak.
O, you wild boy!
HULI JING [giggling]
I haven’t wasted my time, either. Jinggu is going to marry me, my dear parents! The mystical Madam Jinggu, subduer of mountain demons and purifier of the Emperor’s essence, is going to marry me!
Stop talking nonsense and help your father.
HULI JING [spinning around on one foot]
That’s right. Give me the cloth, Father, I’m going to wait on Jinggu. From now on I am her servant and she is my lady and mistress.
NIU [trying to ignore her son]
Madam, I’ve got a bottle of Mongolian wine down in the cellar, and would be very happy to offer it to you, if you’ve no objection.
HULI JING [producing a curious mirror out of thin air]
A mirror, Madam Jinggu, to comb your hair before the meal?
Wherever did you get that mirror from, Huli Jing?
HULI JING [producing a curious bowl out of thin air]
Water for your hands, my lady and mistress?
What a superb bowl! Even the Empress would be jealous of that.
First time we’ve seen it, madam.
HULI JING [bowing]
You shall teach me all my duties, Madam Jinggu. I must be your servant every hour of the day and night.
That’ll be a task in itself, I sleep very soundly.
O, good! Tell me how to wake you.
Huli Jing! The chop sticks!
O, father, you set the table yourself. Madam Jinggu is teaching me how to wake her up. Let’s see [to Jinggu] pretend that you’re asleep …
[Sighing Qui exits.]
JINGGU [sniffing the air]
How can I, with this marvelous smell of food?
HULI JING [hovering over Jinggu’s shoulder, cooing and fussing]
Wake up, little Jinggu! Coo-coo-coo! Two kisses before the break of day! One for our love and one to send you on your way.
Don’t mind him, madam. It’s only baby talk. We spoil him too much.
[Qui enters, carrying a fish on a plate and a bottle of wine.]
He’s still a child. He gets fancies. They’re cute in their own way but they mean nothing.
Now this is what I call trout!
I shouldn’t have woken you up! Why would I wake up someone that I love? When you’re asleep you’re all mine. I like how that sounds! But when you open your eyes you belong to the whole world. Go back to sleep, my sweet Madam Jinggu … [begins singing] “The wind is quiet, the moon is bright/ My little baby, go to sleep tonight, Sleep, dreaming sweet dreams.”
JINGGU [being offered more trout]
Well, one more fin, if you please.
Strange, it doesn’t look like you want to be loved. It looks like you want to be stuffed.
NIU [rolling her eyes]
O, yes, with lines like that you’ll make a fine husband, scamp!
Any port in a storm, child.
Huli Jing, dear –
NIU [to Huli Jing]
If you’d just be quiet for a moment there’s something I’d like to say.
HULI JING [stamping his foot]
I will make a wonderful husband, too! I can be everything my lady and mistress loves, everything that she dreams me to be. I’ll be her satisfaction and humbleness, her breath, her sandals. I’ll be her weeping and laughter. The pillow under her head, the food on her plate …
Go on, darling, eat me instead!
Huli Jing, hush, your mother is trying to speak.
NIU [raising her glass]
My lady, as you are doing us the honor of spending the night under our roof –
HULI JING [whispering into Jinggu’s ear]
A hundred nights. A thousand nights.
… allow me to drink to the lord of your heart –
HULI JING [interrupting]
O, thank you, mother!
– To the most noble lord of the Court, your betrothed, the Lord Tsu Tia-Chua!
HULI JING [rising in panic, knocking the cup out of Jinggu’s hand]
What did she say? What did you say?
I’m only repeating what the lady shaman told me herself!
Then you’re confused! Who would ever call me Tsu Tia-Chua? It’s a terrible name!
She doesn’t mean you, dear.
Of course she does! I’m the lord of Jinggu’s heart. Everyone knows that!
The shaman is betrothed to Lord Tsu Tia-Chua and she’s going to marry him when she gets home. Isn’t that right, madam? Everyone knows that.
Then everyone are fools and liars.
Now see here, Huli Jing –
No! I’d rather see there. I’ve been betrayed already and my heart is still young! Wait, maybe you got it wrong. [To Jinggu.] Is there a Tsu Tia-Chua, yes or no?
Yes, there is. Or at any rate there was. No, he must still be alive, so there is.
Ha! It’s true what my auntie told me about these damn mortals! They ensnare you and entice you with their round hips and sharp nipples! They kiss your mouth until your lips bleed! They rub their fouled, earth-born hands all over your celestial flesh! And all that time they’re thinking about false men, cads and cuckolds called Tsu Tia-Chua!
My hands aren’t foul.
Yes, they are! I’ve tasted your essence and this is how you repay me? [Biting his own arm while making fox-like yip sounds.] I’m a mass of cuts and bruises. Look! [To his parents.] Look at my arm – she did that!
JINGGU [to the parents]
Your son seems a tad queer, and still –
“I can be everything my lady and mistress loves,” I said. “I’ll be her satisfaction and humbleness, her breath, her sandals,” I said. “I’ll be her weeping and laughter. The pillow under her head, the food on her plate,” I said. I said all that and all the time she had in her heart the love for this prattling mortal that she calls her betrothed!
My dear Huli Jing!
O, I hate you, I will piss you out of me!
Will you please listen –
O! I can see him from here, the prattling mortal, with his drooping mustache and ridiculous feet. Yes, and I can see him naked, with his plucked eyebrows and a cock no bigger than an eunuch’s!
NUI [slapping the table]
Shame on you for speaking so rudely in front of our guest!
Huli Jing, if you would just listen to me –
Don’t touch me! I’m going to go hibernate for a thousand years!
[Huli Jing opens the door. It’s pelting rain. The trees moan.]
JINGGU [rising, chop sticks in hand]
But I don’t love Tsu Tia-Chua anymore.
There, you see! Mortals betray mortals, even the ones that they claim to love. My poor parents are red-faced at your shameful conduct.
Don’t you believe him, my lady!
HULI JING [to Niu]
If you don’t send this horrible person away at this very moment I’ll never come back! [Pausing.] What did you just say?
I said, “I don’t love Lord Tsu Tia-Chua anymore.”
[Huli Jing vanishes into the night.]
[End of Act II]
In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests,
where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods.
– Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke (1997)
It’s odd how that, when telling a love story, it’s easy to attribute human emotions to non-human things.
When I began this project I originally thought of Huli Jing as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy; that is, one of those one-dimensional blokes whose only role is to patiently counter all of the heroine’s shyness/ stubbornness/ aggressiveness/ whatever-the-audience-feels-is-unattractive-in-women, at the same time while appreciating all her many quirks and helping her learn, “a very important lesson” about love.
Of course, since Huli Jing isn’t actually a “he” (yay, androgyny!) then “he” could also easily be defined by that other trope known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: a “bubbly, shallow creature that exists solely … to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” (AV CLUB, 2007). Perhaps the reason that I saw Huli Jing like this was because that was how the French playwright, Giraudoux, created the character that Huli Jing is based on: the water sprite, Ondine.
Though written in 1939, the character Ondine appears to fit the role of MPDG completely. She is both quirky and uninhibited; and, most importantly, she exists solely for the male protagonist’s (Hans) happiness. As with almost all MPDG stories, misogyny and traditional gender roles are the norm, which means you end up with lines like:
Hans. Yes. Ondine and Hans.
Ondine. Oh no. Hans first. He is the man. He commands. Ondine is the girl. She is always one step behind. She keeps quiet.
(Valency. Giraudoux: Four Play, 1958, page 186)
What the hell is a person suppose to do with lines like that? (Besides mock them, I mean) … which led me to think about how, in stories about love affairs between humans and non-humans (I’m thinking of every Irish folk story where a mortal is seduced by the Fey), they always end terribly, usually for the human but, regardless, everyone is miserable in the end.
On the other hand, if you substitute, “ghost lover,” with, “emotionally-stunted male,” then we’re in Rom-Com territory; where a successful woman, who just can’t find the love of a good man, is miserable until she stumbles upon the man-child of her dreams, which then allows for the customary misunderstandings and zaniness to ensue.
Except Huli Jing is neither a MPDG nor a MPDB. It’s fox-magic that we’re dealing with, and fox-spirits are, as E. T. C. Werner put it, “cunning, cautious, sceptical … and fond of playing pranks and tormenting mankind.” (Myths and Legends of China, 1922, page 371.) Indeed, Huli Jing casts a spell on Jinggu, and goe so far as to, “taste her essence,” because “his” motivations are far different than Ondine’s. Like all Trickster figures there is something both child-like and sinister in everything that they do. It is a complexity that Giraudoux’s nymph was never written with.