Stories of Rat Demons (China)
From: Supernatural Tales from Around the World.
Author: Terri Hardin
ISBN: 1 - 56619-643-4
The position of the rat in Chinese demon-lore is rather significant. Like the fox and the monkey, it is notorious for assuming the human shape to commit adultery with men and for embracing Buddhist religious life with purposes not always deceitful. Should it wish to bewitch women for immoral purposes, it may do so without assuming human shape, as the following legend shows.
In recent times there lived a man, who had a 10 year old daughter. One morning she went missing. A year elapsed without any trace of her, though the family heard from time to time the wailing of a baby that seemed to come from under the house. They turned up the ground and discovered a hole, gradually increasing in depth and width, and more than a chang in length and breadth. Here they found the girl sitting with a baby in her arms and a bald rat as large as a bushel beside her. She saw them enter without recognizing her superiors, from which the parents concluded that she was under the demonish influence of that rat. They slew the beast, whereupon the girl burst into bitter weeping. "He is my husband!" she cried. "Why do they murder him!" As they killed the child also, her lamentations were unceasing, and ere they could cure her, she died.
Folklore also allows whole packs of rats, either in other animal forms or as men, to haunt human dwellings and settlements, or swarm out of, or dive into, cracks and apertures; and it represents such apparitions as omens of evil. Tales on this topic are numerous, likely due to the frequent occurrence of rats in human dwellings, where daily they disturb the sleep and dreams of man. The following tale may characterize their position as harbingers or causes of evil.
In the last year of the T'ien Pao period (AD 755) the Censor Pih Hang was govenor of Wei-cheu, when this region fell into the power of the insurgent Ngan Luh-shan. He was just contriving the necessary strategems to reduce his enemy to submission and had not yet marched out, when he saw to his surprise, several hundred pygmies, five to six inches in size, standing about and gambling in his courtyard. He and his family beat them to death. Next morning, quite a troop of such dwarfs, all lamenting and dressed in white mourning outfits, took away the corpses in funeral cars and coffins with quite as much care as it is observed at the funerals of the gentry. They then made a grave in the courtyard, and after the burial, disappeared into a hole in the southern wall. In great fear and wonder, Pih Hang opened the grave and found an old rat in it. He boiled water and poured it into the hole, and kept on digging it up. After a while, he found several hundred dead rats. Some ten days afterward his whole family was killed because he had not been victorious in the defeat of his enemies.
Of rats infesting the public roads as well-armed highwaymen, we hear the following legend. In the first year of the Wan-sui period (A.D. 695) the roads to Ch'ang-ngan were infested by a gang of robbers, who concealed themselves in the daytime and operated during the night. Every now and again, itinerant strangers were murdered without a trace of the perpetuators being discovered the next day, which disheartened the people so much that they darned not set out in the morning, even though inns might be reached in the evening.
When the matter reached the ears of a certain Taoist doctor who lodged at an inn, he said to the crowd, "To be sure, these are no men. They must be specters." In the dead of night, he proved himself with an antique looking glass, and took his post by the roadside to look out for them.
All of a sudden, a troop of young men appeared, fully armed. "Who stands there by the road?" they shouted with one voice at the Taoist. "Do not you care for your life?"
But the doctor let his mirror shine upon them, with the result that they flung down weapons and shields, and ran off. For some five or seven miles, the doctor pursued them with spells and formulas, until they all ran into a big hole. He kept watch over it until morning came and then, returning to the inn, summoned the people to dig up the hole. It was found to contain over a hundred big rats, which as they swarmed out were slain to the last. The evil was thereby ended.
Rats may also haunt human dwellings in the shape of other animals. Li Lin-fu, a high magnate of the 8th century, was unwell. In the morning he rose, washed, dressed, and intending to repair to the court, ordered his men to bring the letter bag he was wont to use. Feeling it was heavier than usual, he opened it and out sprang two rats, which on reaching the floor, changed immediately into gray dogs. WIth ferocious eyes and showing their teeth, these beasts regarded him. He seized his bow and shot at them, at which point they vanished. Lin-fu was so deeply impressed with this incident that he died ere a month had passed.