It may seem normal for a tiger to eat humans. However, whether a tiger eats a man is actually determined by whether he is a man of virtues.
Legend has it that tigers actually do not eat humans. They only devour beasts. People who are eaten by them are the beasts among humans. There are also stories about tigers repaying kindness.
This Chinese folk tale, which allows us to see tigers in a new light, was originally told by a person who had first-hand experience with a tiger.
There was an old woman named Madam Zhang who hired another old woman named Madam Zhang to cook for her. The old cook hailed from Fangshan and lived in the Western Hills.
The old cook told a story about a man with the surname Li from her hometown who wanted a job away from home to support his family.
Li had never been away from home. Soon after he set off, he lost his way. Night had fallen, and he was on a mountain. He was not sure which way to go, so he decided to sit under a tree and wait until morning before finding his way again.
All of a sudden, someone charged out of the forest, followed by three or four others. They were ferocious, well-built beings. Having grown up in the countryside, Li had heard elders talk about the Mountain God as well as demons. He knew these beings were not humans. As there was no way he could run away from them, he bowed to them on his knees and told them about his plight.
The leader of the group said to Li: “Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you. I’m the Divine Tiger in charge of tigers. I’m here today to allocate food to them. They will devour a person in a short while. Keep the clothes of the dead person after the tigers are gone, and you will be able to provide for yourself.”
The Divine Tiger hid Li in an inconspicuous spot and told him not to make a sound.
Then the Divine Tiger gave a loud cry, and tigers jumped out of bushes one after another to gather in a spacious area. The Divine Tiger was giving instructions to the tigers. Li could not understand the language he used. The tigers went away after that, leaving only one tiger crouching in a bush.
After a while, a man with a carrying pole on his shoulders passed by the forest. The tiger pounced on him but then turned around and walked away.
A woman came along soon after that. The same tiger pounced on her and ate her up in no time. The Divine Tiger went over to pick up the woman’s clothing, including a few taels of silver. The Divine Tiger handed the money to Li and explained to him why tigers ate only certain people.
The Divine Tiger said: “Actually, tigers do not eat humans. They eat only beasts. Those who are devoured are the beasts in human form. People who have a conscience have a halo over their heads, which tigers avoid. Wicked people have no halo above them and are no different from beasts. So tigers have no misgivings about eating them.”
The Divine Tiger went on to tell Li about the two people who passed by the forest. “The first man might have been a fiend, but when he got hold of food, he would give it to his widowed sister-in-law and fatherless nephews. The halo over his head was rather small. The tiger did not see it at first; that was why it pounced on him.
“The woman who came along abandoned her husband and daughter to run away with another man. She also abused the man’s son and stole his money to give to her ex-husband’s daughter. The money was the taels of silver found on her. There was no longer any halo over her head due to her wicked deeds. Seeing that she was no longer human, the tiger devoured her.”
The Divine Tiger went on to explain why he was willing to help Li. “You ran into me not because you pleaded with me on your knees but because you have treated your stepmother well. The halo above your head is over a foot high. That is why I summoned a tiger to help you. Do more good deeds, and you’ll be rewarded with more good fortune.”
The Divine Tiger gave Li directions to go home. It took Li a day and a night to reach home.
Li related the whole story in detail to the old cook’s father, as they were relatives. He also shared the story with other people to remind them to refrain from doing evil.
There are also many stories about tigers repaying kindness in the folklore. A village called Loyal Tiger Ditch in Jidong (now Hebei Province) still tells a story about a loyal tiger to this day.
Legend has it that during the Liao Dynasty (907–1125), there was a widow and her son. The mother weaved and did laundry to bring up her young son, Wang Yi. They could barely make ends meet. When Wang Yi was bigger, he worked as a woodcutter to support his mother.
One day when he was cutting wood, he ran into a tiger. He was terrified, but the tiger had no intention of devouring him. Instead, it kept showing Wang Yi its mouth. It was as if it needed some sort of help.
Wang Yi took a closer look and saw a bone sticking out in the tiger’s mouth. Wang Yi pulled the bone with all his might and got it out. The tiger was saved.
From then on, it often hunted animals for Wang Yi. The latter would eat some and sell the rest in exchange for rice and necessities. Life became better.