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)
Four 9-Tailed Fox-Spirits(in their true form)
Nighttime in a roadside inn
somewhere in mythological China.
All the characters are in the exact
same places as before.
[Jinggu runs out into the rain to look for him.]
Here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
I think I’d better tell her everything, don’t you?
Yes, I think you’d better.
[Jinggu returns, dripping.]
You’re all wet.
He’s not your son, is he?
We had a son, madam, once. But – but he was stolen when he was only six months old.
Who left Huli Jing with you, then?
We found him, madam, deep in the woods, sleeping between the roots of a tree.
I find that hard to believe. Usually these sorts of things only happen in fairy tales, of the cheaper variety.
And yet it happened on the very day that we lost our baby. And the mystery has never been solved.
JINGGU [off in her own world]
I’m told that most women go and find a match-maker to arrange these sorts of things, but since I don’t see one lurking in the shadows just now, if Huli Jing calls you mother and father then I would like you to be my in-laws when I marry him!
But … but my lady, are you thinking clearly?
I know, I know. “Traditions must be observed,” and all that nonsense. I’m sure that you think a bold – yet charmingly pretty – wu-shaman of the Court, such as myself, might make an unsuitable daughter-in-law for you, especially in your doddering old age –
Madam hasn’t drunken too much wine, has she?
No, no, it can’t be the wine. Fermented yak spit isn’t that alcoholic!
I’ve never thought more clearly than now – wait, did you just say “yak spit”? Odd, I thought it tasted familiar. Anyway, where was I?
For once I do not remember what madam was attempting to say.
Something about marrying our spooky, under-age son?
Indeed! Thank you, father-in-law! I ask you for Huli Jing’s hand, and it’s his hand I’m thinking of, no one else’s. I want that hand to lead me to Court, to bed, even to death.
NIU [trying to be tactful]
One can’t have two beaus, though, madam. You can’t take that many men to bed.
Well, there isn’t a law about it yet – [Suddenly realizing what she has just said.] O, damn, I guess there is. Boy, do I hate Confucianism. Anyway, who else are you thinking about?
Um, Lord Tsu Tia-Chua, my lady?
JINGGU [perking up]
O! Do you know Tsu Tia-Chua, too? What a stroke of luck! Well, obviously, if we both know about that man’s many failures then you can understand exactly why I need to marry Huli Jing!
But … your ladyship has spent time telling us how perfect he is.
Ah, a passing whim. Yes, yes, I might have gone on about him, and apart from his dreadful posture and a slight tendency to froth at the mouth I’m sure any country yokel would think that he is indeed perfect.
QUI [a bit scandalized]
But my lady, it’s wrong!
Wrong? Look here, Innkeeper Niu, so-called mother-in-law, just answer me a plain question. Once upon a time there was a shaman who set out to look for the one thing in this world that wasn’t stale, flat and unprofitable. Suddenly, in the deep, dark woods she met a boy called Huli Jing. He pulled curious mirrors from the thin air. He tasted her essence and not only was he the most beautiful boy that she had ever seen in her life, but she felt that he was everything gay and sentimental and courageous. She felt that he could do things for her that no other man ever could, talk to the animals, just imagine it, or fly like one of those winged squirrel-things, or climb the tallest tree to pull celestial daisy-chains down from the heavens – I’ve always wanted one of those. And … having seen and felt all that, she bowed deeply to tradition and rode off home to marry a pot-bellied, sour-mouthed crank called Tsu Tia-Chua? Now, tell me, what is that shaman’s name?
That’s not exactly fair.
I asked you a question. The whole world would consider her an idiot, wouldn’t they?
But madam, you’re engaged already.
My dear Qui, you don’t seriously imagine that I’d ever marry Tsu Tia-Chua now that I know Huli Jing? Everyday there are brides who wake up after their wedding night loathing the hayseed boy who just took their most precious-precious – wait, isn’t it odd that we’re still calling virginity “precious,” yes?
My lady, next you’ll be saying that “binding girl’s feet so that they can’t walk” is odd as well.
Pfff. These new fads will never last.
Niu, tell madam!
Yes, please do! If you have any just cause why I won’t make the most loveliest of daughter-in-laws for you, let me hear it!
Er, my lady, you say that you want to marry our child, Huli Jing. It’s, um, a great honor for us, but, you see, we can’t give you what – what isn’t ours. [To Qui.] That was good, wasn’t it?
Then you must know who his parents are!
Well, madam, there’s no question of genitor, that’s the whole trouble with Huli Jing. If we hadn’t adopted him, he’d have found someway to live and grow up just the same. He’s never needed our hugs and kisses, and besides, once the trees start moaning you can’t keep him in the house. I don’t know, I suppose wild spirits have a sort of understanding with Nature, you know, by instinct, or maybe Huli Jing’s own blood is bound up in all this great, green horror that’s outside, somehow. But there’s powers about that boy, no doubt of it!
So … I must go and ask if Nature will object to me marrying Huli Jing? But Nature didn’t object to your adopting him. Why all this coyness?
Coyness? We don’t keep him on a leash and chain, madam.
We don’t even know if he’ll ever come back once he’s had a tandy. Plenty of times he’s disappeared, and we’ve thought we’d never see him again; we’ve looked everywhere, there’s not been a trace of him. He’s never wanted any other clothes, any toys or anything; so when he goes, he leaves nothing behind. It’s as if he’d never been here in the first place – as if we’d dreamed of him. That’s all he is, a dream. There’s no Huli Jing, really. [To Qui.] Do you believe in him, father?
I believe you’re starting to talk nonsense, mother. Our son is a bit odd, but he’s still our son, with the Forest’s blessing, of course.
Let’s forget it, shall we? About Huli Jing – I’m beginning to wonder myself – perhaps you’re right. I’m in a dream like yourselves.
NIU [as if mesmerized]
Of course, I remember seeing him, all right, our little Huli Jing! I remember his voice and the way he laughed, I can still see him throwing your rabbit out the window, a good half-pound of bunny; but I won’t be surprised if he never comes back now, not with someone hungry for him and all we see of the scamp will be a few little forest storms and queer little twigs, and his only signs of affection will be in the leaves scraping against the window on nights like tonight …
Please forgive us, madam. The yak spit has gone to my wife’s head!
Head? Pfff, if only! It was the night that we lost him – the night that we found him. The build-up. The bursting moment. My eyelids quivered –
I think we ought to go to bed now, madam, if you don’t mind!
And the moaning! The trees keep moaning, night and day!
Er, she’s tired out, that’s her trouble. Come along, now, mother-dear! We’ll talk about Huli Jing tomorrow.
Ah, if only he comes back!
[Niu and Qui exit.]
JINGGU [looking about the dark room]
Well, whether he does or not, I’m going to wait.
[Jinggu settles back in the chair by the fire. Slowly the back wall of the inn becomes transparent, forming an invisible screen, and the first 9-Tailed Fox appears.]
9-TAILED FOX #1
Shaman, mama shaman, take me!
9-TAILED FOX #1 [pressing itself up against the screen]
I beg your pardon?
9-TAILED FOX #1
Kiss me, mama shaman!
Kiss you? For all the celestial powers, why?
9-TAILED FOX #1 [beginning to undress]
Shall I come to you naked, mother?
Do whatever you want; it’s none of my affair.
9-TAILED FOX #1
Do you want me on top of you, or should I take you from behind?
[Huli Jing appears through the door, waving away the Fox-Spirit as if it were smoke.]
HULI JING [highly irritated]
O, you’re so stupid! If you knew how silly you looked!
[9-TAILED FOX #1 disappears.]
JINGGU [jumping up and taking Huli Jing in her arms]
My darling Huli Jing! What is going on?
O, it’s one of those jealous neighbors I told you about. They can’t bear you loving me so they’re trying to steal you away. They’re saying that anything other-worldly can seduce you.
I don’t know about other worlds, I like the one we’re in now —
[9-TAILED FOX #2 appears, splaying out its legs and lifting up its robes to its knees.]
9-TAILED FOX #2
Don’t force my legs open! Don’t touch me!
JINGGU [completely aghast]
Is it a demon? What is it talking about?
9-TAILED FOX #2
Don’t touch me, mama shaman! I’m not that sort of toy.
Toy? Are all your neighbors slightly deranged?
They think that if seduction fails, the quickest way is playing innocent. They say mortals all fall for the same tricks.
9-TAILED FOX #2
Don’t put your mouth down there, mama shaman! Don’t stroke my thighs!
I don’t really understand what’s going on. Why would anyone stand outside your window and make lewd comments like that at this time of night?
Why, indeed? O Jinggu, darling Jinggu, never let go of me. Look at that silly fool! — All right, you’ve lost too! You can go now!
[9-TAILED FOX #2 vanishes and 9-TAILED FOX #3 rises up to take its place.]
Great googly moogly, another one!
O, no, this is getting boring! Only two are supposed to come at a time!
Let it stay. It seems to want to say something.
No, make it go away! It’s the Song of the Fox Lovers. No mortal can resist it. O, please …
Go on, wild thing from the wild woods.
9-TAILED FOX #3 [singing]
Mortal of breast and bone,
Do you not find what you see
Gorgeous? Both fore and aft,
In face and form? This I offer
To you … I offer to you …
O, very nice. Splendid.
What do you mean, “splendid?”
You know — childish seduction. Surely, your mountain demons have tempted you with far more?
JINGGU [scratching head]
Well, perhaps, but they were demons — oh, here’s the another one.
[9-TAILED FOX #4 appears next to 9-TAILED FOX #3.]
9-TAILED FOX #4 [singing]
Mortals are wicked,
All the forest know,
And they praise too well
And curse too freely.
And you, Jinggu, mother,
Do you really want a beast
Between your minor arcana
And labia majora?
Have you quite finished?
I don’t know why you’re getting upset, your neighbors in these parts seem to know an awful lot of folk-songs. If they’re going to this much trouble to give us a performance we might as well have the good manners as to listen.
But my kinfolk do this every time one of us falls in love with a mortal. I think it’s part of the small print in the contract.
Really, Huli Jing! You act like you know what’s about to happen.
HULI JING [crawling into Jinggu’s lap]
It’s not much fun, you know, hearing what other people think before they can even get the words out of their mouths. [To the writhing bodies pressed up to the screen.] Go away, do you hear? That’s quite enough!
9-TAILED FOX #2
You’re lost, Huli Jing! You’ve lost!
What have you lost?
9-TAILED FOX #3
Huli Jing has lost the bet! The mortal is holding you in her arms, Huli Jing, but she’s watching us. She’s kissing you, but she’s listening to us. The mortal will deceive you.
What nonsense! Don’t you know how mortals like to declare their love through 3rd person? Anyone can sing songs, but all that makes are fools into poets. That’s all you are: a poet, idiot!
9-TAILED FOX #4
You think mortal love will transform you? It’s not what lays between her legs, foolish pup. It’s her liver and you know it!
Jinggu will save me! Now go away.
9-TAILED FOX #1
We can tell your aunt, then, can’t we? That the pact still holds!
HULI JING [ignoring Jinggu]
Yes, you can! I’m done with bitterness and self-hatred! Tell my aunt and then tell all the salamanders and snakes and tree moss and frogs! Tell the whole world, for all I care!
9-TAILED FOX #3
You will never become mortal, little pup! Not like that.
What are they talking about?
Go on! Go and tell my aunt, I dare you!
9-TAILED FOX #4
She’ll know in a minute. You know what will happen once she knows.
I don’t care if she knows! Tell her that I hate her. I hate this world where I’m always alone and can’t be happy.
[All the 9-Tailed Foxes disappears.]
HULI JING [pulling Jinggu’s face close as if to kiss]
You won’t abandon me, will you Jinggu? There has to be a better way than what the pact says. Help me find it, darling and damn anyone who tries to get in the way.
[End of Act III]
The humor that I find with Jinggu is that she’s completely oblivious that Huli Jing is, in fact, an immortal spirit. Chinese mythology says that the fox is a shape-shifter, able to transform itself into beautiful forms in order to seduce unwary morals. The reason foxes do this are varied, but often it’s done so that they can become human themselves. When the fox is the hero in the story this is accomplished simply by having the mortal fall in love with it. When the fox is the villain then it needs to eat 100 livers to become human.
Actually there are numerous types of Chinese fox spirits; the huli jing (狐狸精), huxian (狐仙or fox immortal) and the jiuweihu (九尾狐 9-tailed fox). Huli Jing thus becomes a proper name and a noun, much like how Giraudoux used the word ondine for the heroine of his story as well as the race that she comes from.
As to how a 9-tailed fox-spirit might look up on stage that is open to debate. In doing research I’ve found that many manga artists simply draw fox-spirits as busty, half-naked women poised seductively in front of what appears to be a huge pea-cock fan of their fox tails, each one as long as the character’s own body. Not only does it look ridiculous but it begs the question of how anyone, immortal or mortal, could move quickly while carrying such a burden. “Quick as a fox” this ain’t. In Janáček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen, the soprano wears fox-like make-up and a rather unflattering fur bodysuit. Perhaps there is a happy medium, somewhere, of the two styles.