DAVID LAN PHAM, F.A.B.I.

 

THE WATER RAIL

 


          The water rail is a bird with a long beck living in the reedy and swampy areas. The scientific name of the water rail is Rallus aquaticus Family: Rallidae.

The Vietnamese call it ‘chim do quyen’, ‘do vu’, ‘chim quoc quoc’, ‘ga nuoc mo dai’.

The French call it Rale d’eau; Spanish: Rascon europeo; Japanese: Yo- roppakuira; Chinese: Xi fang yang ji.

Here we have two stories about the water rail (Chim Do Quyen) in the Vietnamese popular tales and in Chinese etymology.

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Nhan and Quoc were two intimate friends. They were poor. They lived together. They loved and helped each other as if they were blood brothers.

Nhan was married to a lady from a rich family. He had a cozy life while his friend Quoc remained poor. He was unlucky in the triennial contest to get a good job to improve his life. Nhan suffered a lot, seeing his friend in his misery. He convinced his wife to let his friend live in their house. His wife accepted his proposal reluctantly. Nhan was happy to take care of his friend as he did in the past. But his wife didn’t share this moral happiness with him. She asked her husband whether he owned debt to Quoc in the past life. That is why her husband paid for the debt by letting his ‘creditor’ live in his house and by serving him every day. Nhan told his wife not to repeat this non-sense separating him from his friend.

Their conversation was heard by Quoc, who left Nhan’s house in the very morning. Quoc didn’t know where to go? He had no family, no relatives, no friends except for Nhan. Exhausted for lack of food he died in the forest.

Nhan spent time looking for his friend Quoc. Where to find him? He walked without knowing the destination. He came into the forest. Centennial trees hid the sun. He was lost in the botanical world without finding the exit. Walking in the forest he continually called “Quoc! Quoc!”, his friend’s name. All the trees were plunged into an horrible silence. Nhan was sent to despair. He died of starvation (in some tales he was devoured by the tiger). His soul infiltrated in the water rail to keep on calling “Quoc!”, “Quoc!”
 

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In China the water rail was believed to be the soul of the King of the Shu Han after the fall of this kingdom in 263 AD.

Great poet Nguyen Du wrote:

Ay hon Thuc De hay minh Do Quyen?

Is that the soul of Shu Di (1) (Thuc De) or the body of the water rail?

(1) Shu Di (Thuc De): Emperor of the Shu Han kingdom.

In the Three- Empire time China was divided into:

1. The Wei kingdom in the North (Nguy)

2. The Wu kingdom in the East (Ngo)

3. The Shu Han kingdom in the West (Thuc Han)

The Shu Han dynasty lasted 42 years with two Kings:

a. Liu Bei (King: 221- 223 AD) (Luu Bi)

b. Liu Shan (King: 223- 263) (Luu Thien)

Liu San (Luu Thien born 207- 271 AD) became King when he was 16 years old. He died in Loyang (Lac Duong), capital of the Wei in 271 AD, 08 years after the fall of the Shu Han kingdom. He was granted the title of Duke by the Wei after his Shu Han kingdom was lost to the Wei.

Two daughters of Zhang Fei (Truong Phi) were King Liu Shan’s wives. The King had two good advisors such as Zhuge Liang (Gia Cat Luong) and Jiang Wan (Tuong Uyen). The death of those advisors marked the inevitable decadence of the Shu Han kingdom.

From 245 on, the most influential official at the Court was the corrupt eunuch Huang Hao. It was said King Liu Shan died in Loyang (Lac Duong), missing his Shu Han kingdom. His soul was that of the water rail of which the sound of the crow is “Quoc! Quoc!” (nation; country).

 

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The first tale insists on faithfully intimate friendship. The Vietnamese used to say:

When people are rich they change their friends
When people are honorable they change their wives.

Nhan didn’t follow this life rule although his wife was from a wealthy family. He called “Quoc! Quoc!” simply because his friend’s name was Quoc. He never forgot his miserable friend. It was a rare exception in our life on Earth.

The second tale looks historical and political.

Owning a kingdom, King Liu Shan didn’t cherish it. Loving flattery he listened to the corrupt eunuch to lose the kingdom to the Wei. The sound ‘Quoc! Quoc!” in the second tale is the melancholic remorseful one from the King missing his lost country.

 

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In the Vietnamese language Do Quyen has two meanings:

1. The water rail (Scientific name: Rallus aquaticus Family: Rallidae

 

Countries

Common Names

VietNam

Do quyen; do vu; ga nuoc mo dai; chim quoc quoc

UK

Water rail

France

rale d’eau

China

Xi fang yang ji

Spain

Rascon europeo

Japan

Yoroppakuira


2. The azalea flower (Scientific name: Rhododendron occidentale Family: Ericaceae

 

 

Countries

Common Names

VietNam

Do quyen

UK

Azalea

France

Azalee

China

Yingshanhong

Spain

Azalea

Japan

Tsutsuji


The azalea flowers are beautiful. They are pink, red, yellow, white.

The leaves, nectar, flowers of Rhododendron are poisonous to animals and humans. Toxin can cause very low blood pressure and irregular heart rhyms. Honey made by bees sucking the nectar of the azalea flowers is poisonous, too. It is called mad honey.

Extract from The Vietnamese Popular Tales by David Lan Pham (Pham Dinh Lan)


 


Trang Phạm Đěnh Lân

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