The goldcrest.

Told by Wang Ming-ji.


The bird in this story is described as being considerably smaller than a sparrow. It is grey-brown and makes a nest suspended under the branch of a pine tree, a description which suggests that it was a goldcrest. The fox has the same reputation for slyness and cunning among the Miao as it has in Western countries, but in this story it is the victim of tricks played upon it by a cheeky little bird.

The small bells in the story were made of brass and were about the size and shape of a peanut shell. They made a tiny, tinkling sound, and were attached by braids to the collar of the Miao tribal gown. The point of the final section of the story depends on plays on words in Miao, which cannot be translated, though the following explanation may help. It will be remembered that in the Pinyin system of writing Chinese, as it has been adapted for writing Miao, a final letter is added to each word. This is not pronounced but simply marks the tone in which the word has to be spoken. Thus d is a high tone, k is a low even tone, while f is a low falling tone. The little bells are "hlid-hleuk", and are often called "hleuk-hleuk". To burn off dry grass is "hleud", and a big blaze is "hleud-hleuf", while the crackling sound of burning sticks is "hleuf-hleuf". So the fox was expecting to see one kind of "hleu", but was shown a very different kind. The sound written "hl" in Miao is the same as "ll" in Welsh.

Literal Transcription

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