The Yaksha Kingdom
The yaksha was a concept from India that came to China through the influence of Buddhism. The yaksha could be represented as a nature spirit or a type of demon. Here the term seems to be used to describe wild tribes living on islands in the oceans around China.
A man named Xu from Jiaozhou was sailing the sea as a merchant when suddenly he was blown away by a great wind. Upon opening his eyes, he had arrived at a place with deep mountains and wild grass. In the hope that they were inhabited, he moored his boat and climbed up, carrying dried provisions and cured meat.
As he climbed, he saw two cliffs, each dotted with cave entrances like honeycomb; inside were indistinct voices. Reaching a cave exterior, he stood still and took a peek in – inside there were two yakshas with rows of teeth like halberds, their eyes shining like twin lamps, tearing apart raw deer with their claws to eat.
Frightened out of his wits, Xu began to rush off in a panic, but the yakshas had already spotted him and stopped eating to catch and drag him in. The two creatures talked to each other, like birds or beasts jabbering, and vied to tear off Xu’s clothes, as if they wanted to gobble him up.
Terrified, Xu took the provisions out of his sack and also offered some dried beef to them. They each ate their share with great relish. They turned the sack inside out and Xu waved his hand to show there was none left. The yakshas became angry and grabbed him again. Xu pleaded with them, “Let me go. In my boat are a cauldron and a steamer. I can cook for you.”
The yakshas didn’t understand what he said and remained angry. Xu repeated his words with gestures and the yakshas seemed to slightly understand. They followed him to the boat and he took the utensils into the cave, where he gathered some sticks to light a fire and boiled up the remains of the deer, presenting it when it was cooked. The two creatures swallowed it in delight.
At night they blocked the doorway with a huge rock, seemingly afraid that Xu would escape. Xu bent his body to lie far away, deeply fearful that he wouldn’t be spared. At daybreak, the two creatures went out, again blocking the exit. After a short while, they brought in a deer and handed it over to Xu. Xu skinned its hide and, drawing running water from a place deep in the cave, cooked several potfuls.
Presently several yakshas arrived and the group gathered to gobble it all down. They pointed at the cauldron and seemed to be complaining it was too small. Three or four days later, one yaksha carried in a large cauldron that looked like it had been used by people. Thereupon the group of yakshas each delivered wolves and elk. When the food was cooked, they called Xu to eat together.
After a few days, the yakshas gradually became familiar with Xu, and when they went out no longer confined him, treating him like a family member. Xu slowly learnt to recognise the meaning of their noises and then could imitate the sounds to speak yaksha language. The yakshas were even more pleased and brought a female to be Xu’s wife. At first Xu was scared and didn’t dare to make advances; only when the female spread her thighs towards him did Xu mate with her. The female was utterly overjoyed. She always kept some meat to feed Xu and they were as harmonious as a loving couple.
One day, all the yakshas rose early and each of them hung a string of bright pearls from their necks. They went out in turns, as if expecting an honoured guest. They told Xu to cook extra meat. Xu asked the female about this and she said, “It’s the king’s birthday.” The female went out and told all of the yakshas, “My Xu has no necklace.”
All of them took off five pearls each and handed them to the female. The female also herself undid ten, which altogether made a total of fifty, and using wild ramie for a string, threaded them and hung them around Xu’s neck. Xu looked at them and one pearl was worth about a hundred and ten silver pieces.
Presently they all went out. When Xu had finished cooking the meat, the female came and invited him to go too, saying, “Meet our king.”
They came to a great cave several mu broad. In the centre was a rock, smooth and flat like a table; all around it were stone seats, one seat of honour covered with a leopard skin and the others all with deer skins. Twenty or thirty yakshas sitting in lines packed the cave.
After a short while, there was a great gale whipping up dust and they all ran out in a fluster. Xu saw a huge creature coming that was also like a yaksha in form; it charged into the cave and squatted down, staring round like a sea eagle. The crowd followed it in and stood in lines to the east and west, all looking up and making crosses with their two arms.
The big yaksha looked them over one by one, and asked, “Are all those of Womei Mountain here?” The crowd answered with a roar. Turning to look at Xu, it said, “Why has this come here?”
The female gave “Husband” as a reply and the others all praised his cooking. At once two or three yakshas rushed off to fetch the cooked meat and laid it on the table. The big yaksha scooped it up and ate its fill, highly commending the fine taste and demanding regular offerings. Then, looking at Xu, it said, “Why is his necklace so short?”
They all explained that he had just come and they weren’t prepared. The creature took off the string of pearls from its neck, removed ten pearls and handed them over. Each of them was as big as a fingertip and round like a pellet. The female hurriedly accepted them and threaded them for Xu. Xu also crossed his arms and spoke yaksha language in thanks. When the creature left, it trod on the wind and went as swiftly as flying. The others only then shared the leftover food and dispersed.
After four years or so, the female suddenly gave birth, producing two males and a female in one litter. All of them had human form, unlike their mother. The yakshas were all fond of the children, often playing and clapping together.
One day, they had all gone out to seize some food and only Xu was left sitting by himself. Suddenly a female from another cave came wanting to have sex with Xu, but Xu refused. The yaksha got angry and pounced on Xu, flattening him on the ground. Xu’s wife came in from outside, exploded with rage and fought with her, biting off her ear. Shortly the others also returned, released her and told her to leave. From then on the female always guarded Xu, never leaving his side.
After another three years, the children could all walk. Xu often taught them to use human language – gradually they could speak and, among their squawking, there were human airs. Although they were young, they would rush up the mountain like it was a level path, and there was deep affection between father and children.
One day, the female went out with one of the sons and the daughter and after half a day hadn’t returned. As a strong north wind sprang up, Xu sorrowfully thought of his hometown. Leading his son to the seashore, he saw his old boat was still there and made a plan to return home. The son wanted to tell his mother, but Xu stopped him. Father and son boarded the boat and in a day and a night had reached Jiaozhou.
Arriving home, his wife had already remarried. He removed two pearls and sold them for a profit of millions, making his family rich. His son took the name Biao (Tiger). At the age of fourteen or fifteen, he could lift a hundred jun [1.5 tons] and, being rough and rash, loved to fight. The Jiaozhou commander-in-chief saw him and was amazed, and employed him as a unit leader. Serving in border conflicts, he always achieved great merit and at eighteen became a lieutenant general.
At that time a merchant crossing the sea also encountered a wind and drifted to Womei. Just as he went ashore, he saw a young man who observed him with surprise. Realising he was Chinese, the young man asked him where he lived and the merchant told him. The young man pulled him into a small rock cave in a secluded valley, outside of which was all thick brambles, and warned him not to go out. He left for a brief time and came back carrying venison for the merchant to eat. He himself said, “My father also comes from Jiaozhou.”
The merchant asked about this and realised it was Xu, who the merchant had once got to know while travelling. So he said, “I’m his old friend. Now his son has become a lieutenant general.”
The young man didn’t understand this title. The merchant said, “This is a Chinese official title.”
Again he asked, “What does it mean to be an official?”
“Going out in a horse and carriage, returning to a great hall; the one above calling out and the many below obeying; observers looking with averted eyes and standing with averted feet: this is called being an official.”
The young man was extremely gratified. The merchant said, “Since your father is in Jiaozhou, why are you still lingering here?”
The young man told him the situation and, when the merchant encouraged him to return to the south, said, “I have also often had this idea, but my mother is not Chinese and her speech and appearance are quite different; and if my kind were to sense this, they would be sure to slaughter me. Hence I toss and turn.” He then went out, saying, “Wait for the north wind to rise and I’ll come to see you off. I’ll trouble you to carry a message to my father and brother.”
The merchant lay low in the cave for almost half a year. Sometimes he would peek out from among the brambles and would always see yakshas coming and going on the mountainside; terrified, he didn’t dare move a muscle. One day, the north wind whipped up and the young man suddenly arrived. He led the merchant to swiftly flee and urged him, “Don’t forget what we’ve said.”
The merchant promised. Then he placed some meat on the table and the merchant returned home. Carefully reaching Jiaozhou, he proceeded to the lieutenant general’s residence and fully described what he had seen. Hearing this, Biao felt sad and wanted to go and look for his brother. His father, anxious about the ocean swell, treacherous shallows and insurmountable perils, strongly forbade him. Biao beat his breast and cried bitterly, and his father couldn’t stop him.
So he informed the Jiaozhou commander-in-chief and took two soldiers with him to the coast. A headwind hindered the boat and they were tossed back and forth in the sea for half a month. Wherever they gazed was boundless ocean and they completely lost their bearings, with no way to distinguish north from south. All of a sudden, surging waves that reached the sky overturned their boat. Biao was cast into the sea and drifted along with the tide.
After a long time, he was dragged out by a creature – he had come to a place that actually had houses. Biao looked at it and the creature had the form of a yaksha, so Biao spoke yaksha language. The yaksha questioned him in surprise and so Biao told it where he was going. The yaksha said in delight, “Womei, that’s my native place. Forgive my rudeness! You’re eight thousand li off the old way. This route goes to the land of venomous dragons, not towards Womei.”
And so it sought out a boat to send Biao there. The yaksha pushed through the water like an arrow, in an instant passing a thousand li, and after one night they had already reached the northern coast. They saw a young man gazing far out to sea. Biao knew there were no people on the mountain and suspected it was his brother; getting close up, it really was his brother. So, weeping, he grasped his hand.
Subsequently he asked about his mother and sister and was told they were safe and sound. Biao wanted to go together, but his brother stopped him and hurried off at once. Biao turned to thank the yaksha, but it had already gone. Before long, his mother and sister both arrived and, seeing Biao, they all cried. Biao told them his idea. The mother said, “I’m afraid if we go we’ll be insulted by people.”
Biao said, “In China I’m highly honoured and ranked. People wouldn’t dare bully you.”
The plan to return was already decided, but unfortunately the headwind made crossing difficult. Just as mother and children paced up and down, suddenly they saw the canvas sail turning to the south, with a rustling sound. Biao said in joy, “Heaven is helping me!”
One after another they boarded the boat, the waves surging like arrows; in three days they reached the coast. People that saw them all fled, so Biao gave the three of them robes and trousers to wear. When they reached home and the mother yaksha saw Xu, she cursed him furiously, angry with him for not consulting her. Xu apologized profusely. When the servants paid their respects to the mistress of the house, there were none that didn’t tremble. Biao urged his mother to learn to speak Chinese, wear silken robes and get used to millet and pork, which she was very pleased to do.
Mother and daughter both wore men’s clothes, in the Manchu style. After a few months they could recognise some language, and the brother and sister also gradually became fair-skinned. The brother was named Bao (Panther), the daughter Ye’er (Night-Child), and both were strong and vigorous. Ashamed of their illiteracy, Biao taught his brother to read.
Bao was extremely intelligent and after one reading of the classics and histories could understand. Yet he didn’t wish to pursue a scholarly career; instead he learnt to draw a crossbow and gallop on headstrong horses. He passed the highest military exams and was engaged to the daughter of a junior officer.
Because Ye’er was of a foreign race, she wasn’t betrothed to anyone. It happened that a subordinate of Biao, a garrison commander named Yuan, lost his spouse, so she was forced to be his wife. Ye’er could fire a hundred dan bow and shoot a small bird at a hundred paces or more without fail. Whenever Yuan went on an expedition, Ye’er would always go too. He was promoted to major general, with half of his outstanding contribution coming from his wife’s part.
At the age of thirty, Bao was decorated as a general. His mother once followed him on an expedition south and, whenever they encountered a mighty foe, she would don armour and wield a spear to come to her son’s aid. Those who saw her would all steer clear. By imperial edict she was made a baron. Bao politely declined on his mother’s behalf and she was made a lady.
The Cryptohistorian says: A yaksha lady is something rarely heard of. However, considering it carefully, it’s not so rare: every home has a yaksha in the bedroom.