On the third day of the Lunar New Year, the Taiwanese say, the mice welcome their brides. Every year, people retire to bed early on this night so as not to disturb the mice. This folk tradition is said to have originated in a children’s tale popular on the island.
According to this story, a long time ago, at the base of a fence on a certain farm, there was a mouse village. The chief of this village had a beautiful daughter. As the young mouse maiden came of age, many suitors came to propose marriage. This flood of seemingly good fortune, however, troubled the chief and his daughter. Faced with an overwhelming number of proposals, they were not sure how best to respond.
Eventually, they decided that on a chosen, auspicious day, the maiden would stand atop a balcony on the farmer’s fence and she would toss a bouquet of Hydrangea flowers out to the assembly of suitors. Whosoever succeeded in catching the bouquet would be named the bridegroom.
And so, on the chosen day, a large crowd gathered at the base of the farmer’s fence. The maiden ascended the balcony. The youngsters in the crowd eagerly awaited the bouquet’s flight. However, at the very moment the flowers were tossed, the assembly was suddenly ambushed by a large black cat. In an instant, the auspicious gathering became chaos.
In the ensuing mayhem, the chief’s daughter was knocked from the balcony. She was fortunate, however, as she was caught by a mouse named Alang and they scurried off to safety. In the wake of the attack, the cat left the village devastated and traumatized.
That night, the chief had a horrible nightmare. In it, there was yet another attack and his beloved daughter was kidnapped by the cat. When the chief awoke from this horrible nightmare, he was drenched in nervous, cold sweat.
He thought to himself, “For my daughter’s sake, I must find her a husband who is more powerful than the cat—in fact, I should find her the strongest husband in the world to keep her safe.”
But just who might this be, the chief did not know. As he puzzled over this conundrum, the sun began to rise and its warm rays shone upon his face. Then it dawned on him that the sun was the most powerful. Its light shone upon all and without its life-giving warmth, nothing could grow. Realizing this, the chief became excited and hurried out of his hut.
As the chief departed from his home, he caught the attention of Alang—the mouse who had saved the maiden—as he happened to be working in nearby fields. Curious, Alang set down his rake and followed quietly behind the chief.
After a long trek, the chief, at last, stood atop a tall hill that brought him close to the sun. He asked the sun if it was the most powerful thing in the world. The sun, hearing this question, became proud and began to gloat. It radiated an immense amount of energy and said, “Of course I am. Who can resist my light and warmth?”
The chief, wiping away his sweat, began to ask if the sun would marry his daughter, but scarcely had he begun to speak when a dark cloud drifted in front of the sun, blocking out the fireball completely.
Seeing this, the chief asked if the cloud was, in fact, the most powerful in the world. And the cloud replied, “Of course I am, only I am capable of resisting even the power of the sun.”
But before the cloud could finish what it was saying, a powerful gust of wind blew through the area and the dark cloud was dispersed.
Seeing this, the chief once again repeated his question, this time to the wind. To which the wind replied, “Nobody is more powerful than I am. I can disperse the clouds. I make people lose their hats. I can even send you all the way home without so much as lifting a finger.”
As the wind said this, it began, once again, to blow. The current picked the chief high up into the air and sent him gliding back towards his little hut. But scarcely had the chief begun to enjoy this thrilling means of transportation when he smacked hard against a solid brick wall.
The chief fell hard upon the ground. Somewhat dazed, he looked up at the wall and asked, “Oh, great wall, are you the strongest and most powerful in the world? I am in search of a strong bridegroom for my beloved daughter so that she may live in safety and happiness.”
Hearing this, the wall stood tall and said, “Of course I am, nothing can get past me…”
But before it could finish, a small hole opened in the wall, out of which the mouse Alang poked his head.
Then the wall, quite embarrassed, said, “Well, nothing except little mice.”
Seeing this, the chief smiled. He realized that although his kind was small, the mice were, in fact, no weaker than the bigger things in the world. Pleased with having learned this invaluable lesson, the chief turned to the mouse and named him the bridegroom.
And so, on the third day of the Lunar New Year, the chief’s daughter boarded a beautiful bridal sedan fashioned from a farmer’s sandal and was welcomed at the house of her betrothed, the mouse Alang.
The above story is one of the favourites among Taiwan’s children and similar tales exist throughout the Far East. A Japanese version was notably translated into English and published in 1904 by the Scottish collector of fairy tales, Andrew Lang, in his popular “coloured” fairy books. Another tale similar to this one is that of The Stonecutter from Japanese and Chinese folklore, which is also featured in Lang’s collections.
These traditional East Asian stories have been noted by western readers to bear intriguing resemblances to the popular German fairy tale, The Fisherman and His Wife, which was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.