Lan Caihe: The Yin Yang God

October 16, 2010

A few months back, I saw the Call for Submissions for the Myths and Magic Anthology here at Dreamspinner Press. It was a note on Facebook, and I thought it sounded intriguing, but since I had such a heavy summer schedule, quickly forgot about it. I was practically weaned on Greek mythology, reading about Zeus and Athena and the rest of the Gods and Heroes before I ever moved on to Dick and Jane. In college, my major was history; my core studies were in Classical History.

When the idea came, it had nothing to do with Greece, but rather China. I’ve long been a practitioner of the Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Hsing I, but I’m not very well-versed in Chinese mythology. But I am familiar with the Eight Immortals of Taoism, and Lan Caihe immediately came to mind as the love interest of my story The Flower Boy.

When I mentioned this story idea to a friend who lives in Taiwan, she knew immediately who Lan Caihe is; she said her Taiwanese friends call Lan the Yin Yang god. It is not clearly known if Lan Caihe is male or female, or both. In art, he will take on one identity or the other, but is generally portrayed as vaguely androgynous. He is a rather charming and eccentric character who wears only one shoe, a belt of wood and frequently carries a woven basket on a hoe over his shoulder. She’s the deity of flower sellers and of beggars. In the summer, Lan wears winter clothing and in the winter, Lan wears light summer wear.

Lan was a bit of a puzzle to write, primarily because of the confusion over his/her sexual identity. Is he a she? She a he? Perhaps Lan is both. I eventually decided that Lan was who his hero needed him to be. It’s up to the reader to interpret Lan in the way that suits them best.

Excerpt: The Flower Boy by Belinda McBride

“Ni hao! Would you like to buy some flowers?”
He whirled at the sound of the musical voice, eyes wide with shock, and then with anger.
“This corner‟s taken!” He wasn‟t a particularly militant sort of man, but like a beggar, he‟d defend his patch of concrete to the death. Well, maybe not that far.
He blinked at the person who was approaching him down the concrete traffic divider, for truly, he wasn‟t certain if it was male or female. A blue knit cap was pulled down over black hair, with several long black braids escaping and hanging down his shoulders. He… or she… wore a pale blue tunic with a ratty wood-fiber belt hanging low on slender hips. A large yin yang pendant dangled from a jute cord around his neck. His shorts were loose and simple, baring pale, elegant legs. Oddly enough, he wore only one shoe, while the other grubby foot was bare. Philip shivered in sympathy, but he didn‟t seem affected by the cold winter weather.
He, Philip decided, for there was the hint of a package at the V of his legs. But then he looked at the face and changed his mind. Ivory skin and ruby lips and sparkling almond eyes spoke of femininity.
“I was asking if you wished to buy a flower.” Indeed, the youngperson carried a woven bamboo basket over his arm. It was loaded with all manner of wildflowers: daisies and chrysanthemums, poppies and sunflowers. All brought a smile to Philip‟s lips, and they made his roses look drab.
Frankly, the kid looked more destitute than he did. What could it hurt?
“How much?”
“One dollar per flower.”
He dug into his pocket and fished out the ten-dollar bill. “I‟ll buy one then. That Shasta daisy.”
The youth‟s ruby lips curved up into a smile. “I have no change.”
So it was all or nothing. Philip sighed. “What‟s your name?” The youth looked him in the eye with a guileless smile. He couldn‟t help but smile in response. Something about him made Philip simply feel good.
“I‟m Lan Caihe. But you can call me Lan.” He bowed slightly, clasping his hands together in front of his chest. Automatically, Philip bowed back. Some habits never died, not completely.
The name was vaguely familiar, but Philip didn‟t know enough Mandarin to translate. His mother would have known.
“Well, Lan, I hope your flowers bring me luck.” He handed Lan the money, extending it with both hands. He had rice in the cupboard and some broccoli in the freezer. He‟d put in a few hours at the florist, helping out for the upcoming spring weddings. He‟d make it to the end of the week, when his check arrived, and somehow he‟d get his share of the rent.
Lan formally accepted the money with both hands and carefully picked out a variety of flowers, handing them to Philip with a flourish. With a smile, Lan tucked the white daisy down into the center of the bouquet he held. It looked like a drop of snow against the vivid red background.
“Thank you, sir.”
The youth bowed slightly. “Philip.” His rosy lips turned up in an impish smile.

2 Responses to “Lan Caihe: The Yin Yang God”

  1. mikedg123 says:

    I also had a story suggested by a friend about a legend from Ancient China. The guy told me about the Old Man who apparently tied true lovers together by a ribbon between their ankles. The story I wrote eventually turned into ‘Cranes’.
    If you’d like to see it it can be found:
    Haven’t had a chance to read The Yin Yang God but I certainly will.

  2. Hey Michael, I just added an excerpt for the Flower Boy, totally forgot to do that! LOL! I’ll look for Cranes, it sounds lovely.


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