On the third day of the Lunar New Year—the Taiwanese say—the mice welcome their brides.

Every year, people in Taiwan 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 among the Taiwanese people.

Note: The distinction between rats and mice is unclear in many East Asian languages. Some versions of this story have translated the title as The Rat’s Bride, instead.

Painting: The Espousal of the Rat’s Daughter (1910) by Warwick Goble
Painting: The Espousal of the Rat’s Daughter (1910) by Warwick Goble.
Similar stories are also known as The Husband of the Rat’s Daughter in East Asia.

A long, long time ago, at the base of a fence on a certain farm, there was a mouse village.

The chief of this mouse village had a beautiful daughter. As the young maiden came of age, many suitors came to propose marriage. This seemingly good fortune, however, deeply troubled the chief and his daughter. Faced with an overwhelming number of proposals, they were not sure how best to respond.

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. He who is lucky and skilled in catching the bouquet would be 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 that the flowers were tossed, the nest of mice was ambushed by a ferocious clowder of cats.

Chaos followed.

Picture: Cats hunting mice

In the ensuing mayhem, the chief’s daughter was knocked from the balcony. Luckily, she was caught by a mouse in the assembly named Ah-Lang and they scurried off to safety.

The village devastated and traumatized. That night, the chief had a horrible nightmare.

In it, another attack occurred and his beloved daughter was kidnapped by the cat. When the chief awoke from this horrible nightmare, he was drenched in cold sweat—his heart pounding.

“For my daughter’s sake,” the chief thought, “I must find her a husband who is more powerful than the cat—in fact—I ought to find her the strongest husband in the world to keep her safe.”

The next day, the chief set out from his home in search of a suitable bridegroom for his daughter.

He caught the attention of Ah-Lang—the mouse who had saved the maiden. Curious, Ah-Lang quietly followed the chief.

Photo: Sunset over landscape

After a long trek, the chief came to the top of a hill that brought him close to the sun and asked:

“Are you the most powerful being in the world?”

The sun, hearing this question, began to radiate brilliantly and said, “Of course I am. Who can resist my light and heat?”

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 in and dispersed the cloud.

Seeing this, the chief once again repeated his question. To which the wind replied, “None is more powerful than I am. I disperse the clouds. I cause people to lose their hats. I can even carry you all the way home with ease.”

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 just as he began to enjoy this thrilling ride, he smacked hard against a solid brick wall.

Photo: A little mouse

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 from the cat.”

Hearing this, the wall stood tall and said, “Of course I am, nothing gets past me…”

But before it could finish, a small hole opened un in the wall—out of which the mouse Ah-Lang poked his head.

Then the wall said with embarrassment, “…well, nothing except little, burrowing 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 this discovery, the chief turned to the mouse Ah-Lang 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 Ah-Lang.

Photo: Andrew Lang
Portrait of Andrew Lang, the Scottish poet and collector of fairy tales

The above story is a favourite among Taiwanese children and similar tales exist throughout the Far East.

Notably, a Japanese version was 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 the Scotsman’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.