In the third year of the T’ien-shou reign period [690-692], Chang Yi, a native of Ch’ing-ho [in Hopeh Province] took up residence in Heng-chou [present-day Heng-yang County, Hunan Province] because of his official duties. He was a mild-mannered man with only a small circle of acquaintances. He had two daughters, but no sons. The older daughter died at an early age, but the younger one, Ch‘ien-niang, was the epitome of virtue blessed with beauty.
Chang Yi’s nephew from T’ai-yüan [in Shansi Province] Wang Chou was intelligent and handsome even as a child. Chang thought so highly of his nephew that he was often heard saying, “Someday I will give Ch’ien-niang to him in marriage.”
After they grew up, Chou and Ch’ien-niang constantly longed for each other--even in their dreams. No one in their families knew of this, so when one of Chang’s colleagues, an appointee to the Ministry of Personnel, asked for his daughter’s hand, Chang gave his consent.
When the girl heard about this she became dejected. Chou felt deeply offended. He asked for permission to go to the capital, claiming that he had been transferred to a government post there. Chang tried to stop him, but seeing that he could not be dissuaded, he finally saw him off with lavish gifts. Suppressing his resentment and sorrow, Chou said goodbye and boarded a boat. By sunset he reached the mountains several li away. Still awake at midnight, Chou suddenly heard footsteps--someone was running on the riverbank and soon arrived at his boat. Chou asked who it was. It was Ch’ ien-niang; she had run after him in her bare feet. Chou was beside himself with wonder and delight. He took hold of her hand and asked how she had managed to come.
“Even in my dreams I couldn’t stop thinking of you and your affection for me,” she replied, weeping. “I was about to be forced to marry someone else, and knowing that your feelings for me had not changed, I decided to give up my life for you. It is for this reason that I have run away from home.”
Chou was overjoyed since this was more than he had even hoped for. He hid Ch’ien-niang in the boat and sailed on the rest of the night. Making two day’s journey in one, they were able to reach Shu [approximately present-day Szechwan Province] in a matter of a few months.
They lived there for five years. During that time Ch’ien-niang gave birth to two sons. Although she did not write to her parents, she often thought of them. One day she spoke to Chou and broke down in tears, “Because I could not be unfaithful to you, I followed you in spite of my filial obligations. I haven’t seen my parents for five years. In all the world how could there be a daughter as disrespectful as I’ve been?”
Chou was moved and he comforted her, “Don’t worry. We’re going back.” With that they left for Heng-chou.
When they arrived, Chou first went alone to Chang’s home to apologize for eloping with his daughter.
“What nonsense are you talking about?” Chang asked, “Ch’ien-niang has been lying sick in her room for years.”
“But she is in the boat at this very moment!” Chou insisted.
Chang was astounded and sent one of his servants to see if it was true. Ch’ien-niang was indeed inside the boat. She appeared healthy and cheerful, and asked the servant about her parents. But the astonished servant ran to report back to Chang.
When the girl in the room heard this report, she happily rose from her bed, put on some make-up, and changed her clothes. She smiled but did not say a word as she walked out to greet the other girl. As soon as they met, their bodies became one, and their two sets of clothes fused together.
Ch’ien-niang’s family kept this affair a secret because it was so bizarre. Only a few relatives knew about it.
Chou and Ch’ieng-niang died forty years later. Their two sons passed the civil service examination after going through the local selection process. One became a deputy magistrate and the other the sheriff of a subprefecture.
In my youth I, Hsüan-yu, often heard this story. It has many versions, and some people say that it is pure fantasy. Near the end of the Ta-li reign period [766-780] I happened to meet Chang Chung-kuei,1 Prefect of Lai-wu [in Shantung Province], who informed me of the events recounted here. Chang Yi was Chung-kuei’s grand uncle2 and that enabled him to know all the details of this story, so I wrote down what he said.
(Wang, p. 49; Hsü, pp. 22-24; Chang, pp. 13-15; TPKC, 358.4)
Tr. Cordell D. K. Yee
Note: Reference to the “historical source” at the end of the story will become a generic convention of T’ang ch’uan-ch’i.
This is the source for the Yüan play Ch’ien-nü li hun (The Soul of Ch’ien-nü Leaves Its Body) by Cheng Kuang-tzu (fl. 1294), and it also influences the portrayal of the heroine’s dream, death, and revival found in T’ang Hsien-tzu’s (1550-1617) play, The Peony Pavilion (Mu-tan t’ing). “The Golden Phoenix Hairpin” by Ch’ü Yu (1341-1427) (Ma and Lau, pp. 400-403) is an narrative elaboration of this story in the classical language. Cf. “P’ang A” (44), and editor’s note to the entry.
1 The second character of the prefect’s name is problematic; kuei is chosen according to the Yü-ch’u chih version; see Chang, pp. 14 and 238.--Ed.
2 Most version have “uncle” for “grand uncle;” amendment here is made according to the yü-ch’u chih version; cf. Chang, p. 238.--Ed.
Old Woman Feng was the wife of a miser from a village in the prefecture of Lu Chiang [in modern Anhwei Province]. Destitute, widowed, and childless, she was both scorned and ignored by the other villagers.
In the fourth year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820], the areas of Huai and Ch’u [roughly modern Honan and Hupei Provinces] experienced a disastrous harvest. Old Woman Feng went to Shu [in modern Anhwei, west of Lu-chiang] in search of food, passing the Grazing Calf Villa on the way. As evening fell, a rainstorm arose, so she stopped beneath a mulberry tree. Suddenly she noticed a single hut at the edge of the road, with lanterns all ablaze. She approached it, hoping to find refuge for the night. There she saw a young woman, slightly over twenty years old, of lovely countenance and beautiful attire. Holding a child of about three years of age, she was leaning against the gate and weeping sadly. As the old woman went closer, she also noticed an elderly man and woman sitting on a couch. Their manner was mournful and subdued, and they spoke in whispers. It appeared as though they were demanding something from the young woman, in a rather menacing manner. Seeing Old Woman Feng approach, the two gave up and left without a word.
The young woman eventually stopped weeping. She went inside and prepared some food, tidied the couch, and invited Old Woman Feng in to eat and rest. The old woman asked her about herself. The young woman strarted to cry again and explained, “The father of this child is my husband. Tomorrow he is going to take another wife.”
“Who were those two old folks? What business do they have with you that made them so angry?” Old Woman Feng questioned. “They are my parents-in-law. Now that their son is to take another wife, they wanted me to hand over my baskets and chest, scissors and knives, and sacrificial implements to the new bride. I was unwilling to part with these things, so they are displeased with me.”
“And where is your former husband?” Old Woman Feng continued.
“I am the daughter of Liang Ch’ien, the magistrate of Huai-yin [in modern Kiangsu Province]. Through my marriage I have been in the Tung family for seven years. I had two boys and one girl. Both boys have stayed with their father, and the girl is this child here. My husband is Tung Chiang, whose home is in the town up ahead. He is a deputy official in Ts’о County1 and is quite wealthy.” Even as she spoke, the young woman could not control her sobs.
Old Woman Feng found nothing suspicious in her tale, and having tasted good food and found a comfortable room after being hungry, weary, and cold for so long, she fell silent. The young woman wept until dawn.
Then Old Woman Feng took her leave, and after traveling for twenty li, arrived at T’ung-ch’eng County [in Anhwei]. In the eastern section of the county was a great mansion, with screens and curtains extended, and a feast of lamb and wild goose prepared. The people bustling about told her that there was going to be a wedding celebration in the official’s family that night. She asked who the bridegroom was to be, and Tung Chiang was the answer!
“Tung has a wife. How does he come to marry again?” the old woman asked.
“Tung’s wife and daughter have passed away,” the villagers replied.
Old Woman Feng protested, “Last night I was caught in the rain, and stayed overnight in the home of Tung’s wife, the former Miss Liang. How can you say she is dead?”
The villagers asked her where this had taken place, and on hearing her answer, said it was the site of Miss Liang’s grave. They asked her about the appearance of the two old people, and said that they were the late father and mother of Tung Chiang. As Tung Chiang was from Shu-chou, the villagers were able to provide these details about him.
When someone informed Tung Chiang of what Old Woman Feng had reported, he accused her of spreading superstitious and malicious rumors, and had her driven off under military guard. When she told the villagers about it, they all gave a deep sigh for her. That night Tung’s wedding took place.
In the fifth month of the summer of the sixth year of Yüan-ho, I, Li Kung-tso, a deputy official of Chiang-huai [the area between the Yangtze and Huai Rivers] was dispatched to the capital. On returning to Han-nan [in Hupeh Province], I met up with Kao Yüeh of Po-hai [in Shantung Province], Chao Tsan of T’ien-shui [in Kansu Province], and Yü Wen-ting of Honan at a post house. At night we swapped tales of the macabre, each of us speaking of that which he had seen or heard. Kao Yüeh recounted these events, and that is how I came to record them.
(Wang, p. 98; Hsü, pp. 132-35; IWC, 38; TPKC, 343.2)
Tr. Laurie Scheffler
Note: The old theme of “the dead retain their sentience” is here invested with human pathos, and the tale becomes a moving testimony against the brevity of the living’s memories of the dead.
1 There are two possibilities as to which county this refers to. One is located southwest of Yung-ti Prefecture, Honan Province. The other (the same character, but pronounced “Tsan”) is north of Kuang-hua Prefecture, Hupei.
“Red” Li was one who wandered the lakes and rivers.1 He once said, “I am good at writing poetry similar to that of “White” Li [Li Po, 701-762]. Therefore he gave himself the name “Red” Li.
He paid a visit to Hsüan-chou [modern Hsüan-ch’eng in Anhwei Province] where the local people gave him lodgings. After several days a friend of his who was related to him by marriage came to join Li at his lodgings. Red was just then speaking to a woman and his friend teased him about this. Red replied, “She proposed to me--I am going to marry her.” The friend was astonished and said, “You, sir, have a wife in good health and your own mother is still alive.2 How could this take place? Can it be that you are suffering some malady or delusion?”
The friend then took some “cinnabar snow”3 to feed him but Red refused to eat it. Presently the woman came back and spoke with Red. Then she took a scarf and began to strangle him. Red helped her himself, using both hands, until his tongue hung completely out. His friend called out and saved him. The woman let the scarf loose and ran off. “Have you no manners?!” Red said to his friend angrily. “I was going to be with my wife. Why did you do that?”
He then went to the window, wrote a letter, rolled it up and sealed it. He wrote another letter and sealed it in the regular manner. When finished, he went to the privy. He stayed there a long time. His friend followed him and saw Red embracing the toilet-jar. He was cackling and, with a glance to each side, was just about to stick his head down into it. The friend entered and dragged him out upside down. Again Red replied in great furor, “I had already entered the hall and faced my wife. Her appearance can’t be matched anywhere in the world. The decorations of her hall are grand, ornate, and richly beautiful, and an air of pepper and orchids arises there in profusion.4 Looking back at your world it is like a privy to me, while the residence of my wife can’t be distinguished from the Heavenly Emperor’s residence in the Celestial City. Why then do you keep pestering me so?”
Only then did his friend know that what Red had encountered was none other than a privy spirit. He gathered the servants and they agreed on a plan: They must immediately get away from this privy. They traveled ten miles away to spend the night. During the night Red again went to the privy. After some time, they followed him and found that he had gone in again. They lifted him out, washing off the filth, and kept watch around him until dawn. Then they left for another county. The county officials were in the midst of a banquet when they arrived. Red paid his respects to them, showing no sign of his previous strange behavior. As the wine was going around, his friend hardly had a chance to speak before he noticed that Red had already left. He hurried after him. Red had entered the privy and raised up the bench to block the door so that no one else could get in. His friend called out and told the others the situation. They dismantled the walls and entered. Half of Red’s face had already sunk down into the excrement. Again they brought him out and washed him.
The county officials then summoned a shaman who was skilled in exorcism to guard Red. Red’s appearance was normal. Midway through the night those who were guarding him tired and fell asleep. When they awoke, they called to him and went to look for him. They saw his feet outside the privy. Red had been dead for some time. They could only take his corpse and return it to his home. When they read the letters he had written, they found that they were farewells to his mother and wife. His words were like those of a normal human being.
Mr. Liu (Tsung-yüan) comments: “The Biography of ‘Red’ Li” is no falsehood. Was it his sick psyche which caused this? Or was there indeed a privy spirit? Red’s reputation is known throughout the rivers and lakes. In the beginning he was a scholar, no different from any other man. Once deluded by a supernatural being, he became like this, rejecting the world as a cesspool and seeing a cesspool as the Celestial City of the Heavenly Emperor. The significance of these ideas is clear. The present generation knows only to laugh at Red’s delusion. When they reach the point that they must decide what is right or wrong, what to take and what to give, what to face and what to turn their backs on, there are few who would not be like Red. Those who would take the trouble to regulate themselves so as not to be moved by desire or profit are to be congratulated! How can people find the time to laugh at Red?
(Liu Tsung-yüan chi [Collected Works of Liu Tsung-yüan], ed. Wu Wen-chih et al. 4 vols. [Peking: Chung-hua shu-chü, 1979], vol. 2, 17, pp. 481-83.)
Tr. William H. Nienhauser, Jr.
Translator’s Note: That “Red’’ Li (Li Ch’ih) was a real person is highly questionable. Su Shih (1037-1101) claimed to have seen his poetry--which he did not view as in any way reminiscent of Li Po’s verse--but there is no other record of Red’s corpus. More likely he is an allegorical character created by Liu Tsung-yüan to bemoan his having been deceived by the wiles of Wang Shu-wen (as Lin Shu [1852-1924] has argued); cf. Chang Shih-chao, Liu-wen chih-yao (A Guide to Liu [Tsung-yüan]’s Prose) 3 vols. (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chü, 1971), vol. 1, 17, pp. 550-52.
The privy goddess is an old folk tradition known as “K’eng San-ku” (Third Aunt of the Pit). (I am grateful to Professor Wu Pai-t’ao of Nanjing University for this information.)
1 Those who “wander the lakes and rivers” are usually considered outside of normal conventions and have generally rejected the world in some way.
2 Mothers were usually in charge of marriage arrangements. And of course such behavior by Red could hardly be considered filial.
3 A Taoist concoction which served as a medicine as well as a drug of immortality and an aphrodisiac.
4 The fragrance of pepper and orchids was considered an aphrodisiac, and was infused in various manners into the walls of the harem or the boudoir.
There are some dreams that people have which are different from the ordinary kind. There are those in which one person dreams about going someplace and another person encounters him in the dream. There are those in which one person is doing something and another person dreams about it. There are also those in which two people dream the same dream.
During the time of Empress Wu (r. 684-704), Liu Yu-ch’iu1 was serving as an adjutant in Ch’ao-i (in modern Shensi Province). He was often sent out as an envoy and on one occasion did not return until late in the night.
When he was a little more than ten li from his home, he passed by the courtyard of a Buddhist hall. He could hear sounds of singing and laughter and general frivolity from within the temple. The wall to the temple was not very high and was broken in places, so he was able to see everything inside. When Liu bent down to peek in, he saw more than ten men and women sitting around a table enjoying a feast together. He saw that his wife was seated among them, talking and laughing.
At first Liu was dumbfounded and could not think of any way to explain this. He watched for a long time, convinced that his wife should not be there, yet he could not tear himself away. He scrutinized her appearance and behavior closely, but there was no doubt that she was his wife. He decided to go and investigate, but the gate to the temple was closed and he could not get inside. He grabbed a piece of tile to throw at the party, hitting a big wine jar and a washing jug, both of which shattered under the blow. Immediately all of the guests scattered and disappeared. Liu climbed the wall and went in. He and his followers could see that not a soul was in the hallway, and the entrance to the temple was closed as before. Liu’s astonishment grew greater and greater, and finally he got on his horse and galloped back home.
When he got to his house his wife had just gone to sleep. Hearing Liu come in, she got up and, after exchanging news of what happened while they were apart, his wife laughed and said, “I just had a dream that I was on an outing to a temple with more than ten people, none of whom I knew, and we were eating together in the hall. Someone threw a broken tile from outside, upsetting all the cups and dishes, and just then I woke up.” Liu also told her everything that he had seen.
This is what is called one person dreaming about going someplace and another person encountering him in reality.
In the fourth year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820] Yüan Wei-chih of Honan,2 who was serving as Examining Censor, was sent abroad on a mission to southern Szechwan.
Some ten days later my elder brother Lo-t’ien,3 Li Shao-chih of Lung-hsi [in modern Kansu Province], and I were on an outing together to Ch’ü-chiang [i.e., Crooked River]. We got to the compound of the Tz’u-en Temple,4 visited all of the quarters, and lingered there for a long time. After it had grown dark, we went together to Shao-chih’s house in the Hsiu-hsing Li district5 where we ordered some wine, toasted each other and had an extremely enjoyable time drinking together. My brother put down his cup for a while and said, “Wei-chih must be at Liang-chou [modern Chao-hua County, Szechwan] by now.” He asked for a brush and wrote a poem on the wall of the room. It goes as follows:
Spring comes; I have no way to break my springtime melancholy.
In my drunkenness, I break off flowers and stems to make wine tallies.6
Suddenly I think of an old friend who has gone far away.
I count the days of his trip: today he must be in Liang-chou.
It was then the twenty-first of the month. About a fortnight later an envoy from Liang-chou arrived and we received a letter from Wei-chih. At the end of the letter there was a postscript with a poem entitled “Poem Recording a Dream.” It reads:
I dreamt you and your brother were at the head of the Ch’ü-chiang Canal,
And I followed you also into the Temple of Benevolent Kindness.
My subordinate officials ordered someone to saddle up the horses;
When I awoke I was in the ancient city of Liang-chou.
The day and month of this poem were exactly the same as those of the poem written on the wall after the excursion to the temple.
This is what is called a dream in which one person is doing something and another person dreams about it.
During the Chen-yüan reign period [785-805] Tou Chih from Fu Feng and Wei Hsün from the capital were traveling together from Po [in modern Honan Province] to Ch’in [in modern Shensi Province]. On their way they spent the night in an inn at T’ung-kuan Pass [in modern Shansi Province].
Tou dreamt that when they arrived at Flowery Peak Temple they saw a tall, dark shamaness, wearing an azure skirt and a white chemise. She greeted them on the road and bowed to them, and asked that she be allowed to pray to the gods on their behalf. Tou could not extract himself, so he let her have her way. He asked her name, and she replied that she was from the Chao clan.
Upon awakening, he told Wei Hsün about his dream. On the following day, as they approached the temple, they saw a shamaness approach and greet them. Her appearance and dress were just as in the dream. He told Wei, “That dream has been borne out.” Then he ordered his attendants to look inside his bags and take out two strings of cash to give to her.
The shamaness clapped her hands and burst out laughing loudly. She said to her associates, “This is just like what I dreamt.”
Wei was surprised and asked her about this. She answered, “Last night I dreamt of two people coming from the east. One of them, a short one with a beard, agreed to have offerings and prayers made, and I received two strings of cash from him. This morning I told this to my colleagues and now it has come true.”
Tou then asked the shamaness her family name and her associates said, “She is of the Chao clan.” From start to finish the two dreams matched up perfectly.
This is what is called two people dreaming the same dream.
I, Hsing-chien, say, “In the Ch’un-ch’iu (Spring and Autumn Annals) and books of philosophy and history many dreams have been mentioned, but they have yet to record these three types of dreams. The dreams that people in the world dream indeed must be innumerable, but they have yet to list these three kinds of dreams. Are they just coincidental, or are they caused by some law of predetermination? That is something I cannot answer. I have written these down in detail so as to keep them as a record.
(Wang, pp. 108-09; Hsü, pp. 160-65; SF 4.23b-24b)
Tr. Madeline Spring
Note: The first dream is most striking for the breakdown of the boundary between reality and dream in a material sense. For some later examples of a similar motif, see “Ku-tu Hsia-shu” in Ho-tung chi (Wang, pp. 110-11) and “Chang-shen” in Chuan-i chi (Wang, pp. 111-12); see “Scholar Chang” (Ma and Lau, pp. 439-40). With regard to the second dream, see also Meng Ch’i’s (fl. 886) Pen-shih shih (Poems with a Background Story), chüan 5; this story may have been invented to provide a “context” for the poems cited in it. Most of the characters mentioned in these dreams are historical figures.
“Feng-yang shih-jen” of LCCI, 2.16, combines all three types of dream in one tale.
1 For his official biographies, see Chiu T’ang shu 97, pp. 3039ff. and Hsin T’ang shu 121, pp. 4327ff.--Ed.
2 Yüan Chen (779-831).--Ed.
3 Po (or Pai) Chü-i (772-846).--Ed.
4 Constructed in 648 by order of Emperor Kao-tsung (then heir apparent) for the repose of his mother’s soul. It was located near Ch’ü-chiang Lake.--Ed.
5 Located on the eastern side of Ch’ang-an, not far from Ch’ü-chiang.--Ed.
6 For keeping count of the number of cups drained.
Li Chang-wu, styled Li Fei, came from a family from Chung-shan [in modern Ting County, Hopeh]. He was very clever and quick at learning everything from the time of his birth. He was also well lettered, and had achieved a high level of accomplishment in composition. Although he held a lofty opinion of himself because of his moral standards, he disdained to put on an air of refinement. But, having a handsome visage, he had a pleasant effect on all who met him.
He was best of friends with Ts’ui Hsin from Ch’ing-ho [in modern Hopeh]. Hsin was also a gentleman of refinement, who in particular had a large collection of antique objects. Because of Chang-wu’s quickness and intelligence, Hsin often called on him for discussion and debate. On those occasions, Chang-wu was always able to plumb deep secrets and search out hidden origins. His contemporaries compared him to Chang Hua1 of the Chin [265-419].
In the third year of the Chen-yüan reign period [785-804], Ts’ui Hsin was transferred to Hua-chou [in modern Honan at the city of Cheng-chou] as assistant magistrate, where Chang-wu paid him a visit from Ch’ang-an. After a few days, while he was out strolling along a street in the northern part of the city he saw an extremely beautiful woman. Using a ploy to excuse himself, he said to Hsin, “I must visit with some relatives outside of the county.” He then went on to take apartments in the home of this fair woman. The master of the house was named Wang, and this was his son’s wife. Chang-wu was delighted with her and they engaged in a secret affair. He stayed there for over a month, spending upwards of thirty thousand, the girl’s contribution doubling that amount. Their two hearts became coupled in harmony and their happiness was complete.
Not long after, some business came up and Chang-wu was called back to Ch’ang-an. Tenderly they took leave of one another. Chang-wu gave her a bolt of silk depicting “mandarin ducks with necks entwined” in its weave, and presented a poem which went:
The duck and drake silk,
Who knows with how many threads2 it’s woven?
After parting, when we seek to be entwined in love,
We will long for the time before we parted.
The girl gave him in return one white jade finger-ring and also presented him with a poem which went:
Twisting the finger-ring, thinking of the other;
Seeing the ring will strengthen your thoughts of me.
I wish you forever to fondle it,
Following the ring around without end.
Chang-wu had a servant named Yang Kuo. The son’s wife gave him a thousand in cash as a reward for his diligence in serving his master.
They parted and eight or nine years went by. Chang-wu’s home was in Ch’ang-an, so he had no means of communicating with her. In the eleventh year of the Chen-yüan reign period, since his friend Chang Yüan-tsung lived in Hsia-kuei County [neighboring Hua-chou], Chang-wu again went from the capital to visit Yüan. Struck with thoughts of former joys, he turned his carriage across the Wei River to ask after the girl. It was dark when he got to Hua-chou. He planned to stay at the Wang family’s rooming house, but when he got to the gate it was desolate, lacking all trace of activity. There were only benches outside for guests. Chang-wu could only imagine that they had passed away, or had given up their trade for farming and moved to the country. Or perhaps they had simply been invited to some relatives’ for a gathering from which they had yet to return. So he rested for a moment at their gate, thinking of looking for other lodgings. Then he saw a woman, their neighbor to the east, and went over to speak to her.
“The elders of the Wang family have gathered up all their affairs and set out traveling. The son’s wife has been dead for two whole years,” she said.
After going into more detail, she said, “My surname is Yang, the sixth born. I am the wife of their eastern neighbor.”
Eventually she asked, “What is the gentleman’s surname?”
Chang-wu informed her.
“Did you have a servant by the name of Yang? Yang Kuo--wasn’t it?” she inquired again.
He said he did. This caused her to burst into tears, saying, “Since my marriage, I have been in this neighborhood for five years. I was close to Madame Wang. She would often say, ‘My husband’s residence is really like an official post station. I’ve seen a lot of men pass through. Many tried to flirt with me, and they would always be throwing their money around--giving me sweet talk and strong vows. But I would never be moved. Then some years ago there was a refined Mr. Li who stayed for a while in our house. When I first saw him, I lost myself to him unwittingly. Afterwards I secretly served by his pillow and mat, and truly experienced blissful love. Now I have already been parted with him for several years. With my longing heart I have been able neither to eat all day nor sleep all night. I have been led all over by my husband, so I would not be able to see him even if he were to return. Since I cannot trust the others in my family, I ask you to seek his identity by appearance and name if he should come. If he comes close to the description, I bid you serve him respectfully and reveal to him my feelings. If there is a servant by the name of Yang Kuo, then it surely is he.’
“Before two or three years had passed, as the girl lay ill on her death bed, she reiterated her commission, saying, ‘I am of a humble position, but I was fortunate enough to receive the gentleman’s affection. I have long yearned for him, and now I have become ill. It is doubtful that I will be cured. About my former request: if by chance he should come here I wish you to convey my grief held even in death and the remorse of this eternal parting. Beg him to stop here so that our spirits may meet in the world of shadows.’ ”
Chang-wu then entreated the woman to open the gate. He ordered his servants to buy fodder and foodstuffs. Just as he was about to lay out his bedroll, a woman carrying a broom came out of the house to sweep the ground. She was unknown even to the neighbor’s wife. The report from one of Chang-wu’s servants was that she said she was someone from the house. He then pressed her with questions himself.
“The dead woman of the Wang family feels the depth of your love,” she said slowly in reply. “She would like to meet with you, but she was afraid that the living would be frightened, so she sent me ahead to let you know.”
“This is exactly the reason I have come here,” replied Chang-wu. “Even though the light and the dark are two different roads and men are properly afraid, feelings of longing get through. Of this I really have no doubt.” His statement finished, the woman carrying the broom departed joyfully. Presently, she opened the door, not to be seen again.
Food and drink were prepared and the sacrifices brought out. After taking the meal by himself, Chang-wu went to bed. At about the second watch [9-11 p.m.] the light which was to the southeast of the bed suddenly flickered. This occurred two or three times. Chang-wu knew something strange was taking place. He ordered the candle moved to the further end of the wall, the southeast corner of the room, whereupon he heard a stirring in the northern corner. What seemed like a human form gradually appeared. As the form advanced five or six paces, one could make out its face and see its clothes. It was the wife of the proprietor’s son. There was nothing different from her previous appearance; only her movements seemed lighter and quicker and her voice softer and clearer.
Chang-wu got down from the bed and took her in his arms. It was truly the joy of a lifetime.
“Ever since I have been on the register of the dead I’ve forgotten all of my relations,” she said. “But my heart is tied to you as it was before.”
Ch’ang-wu made love to her with extra tenderness, and nothing seemed different; only she would constantly ask someone to look for the Morning Star. When it appeared, she would be able to linger no longer, but would have to leave. Between their moments of love, she commended the neighbor woman, Yang-shih, saying with gratitude, “Without this person, who would have conveyed my deep grief?”
When it came to the fifth watch [3-5 a.m.] someone said it was time for her to return. The girl tearfully got down from the bed and went out the gate arm in arm with Chang-wu. They gazed up at the Milky Way and she began to sob in her grief. She went back into the house where she unfastened an embroidered purse which was on the sash of her skirt. From the bag she took an object and presented it to Chang-wu. The object had the blue-green color of the heavens; its substance was hard and fine. It was cold like jade and shaped like a small leaf. Chang-wu didn’t recognize it. The girl said, “This is called the Mo-ho jewel. It comes from the Mystery Garden of the К’un-lun Mountains and is not come by easily even there. I was recently lolling on the Western Summit with the Lady Goddess of Jade City when I saw this thing on top of a mound of jewels. I was enchanted and asked her about it. The Lady Goddess then took it and gave it to me, saying, ‘Each time immortals of the Celestial Caves find this gem, they all consider it glorious.’ Since you are acquainted with esoteric ways and have a knowledge of fine things, I present it to you. You must cherish it forever. There is nothing like it in the human world.”
Then she presented him with a poem which went:
The Milky Way is already sloping down;
The spirits have to make their crossing.
I wish you to return and embrace me once more.
Till the end of heaven we will hereafter be parted.
Chang-wu took a white jade jeweled hairpin to requite her and matched her poem with a reply which went:
It is destiny that the obscure and the clear be separate;
Who can say if there will ever be a fair reunion?
I bid you farewell, for parted we must be.
Yet I lament: for what place are you bound?
They clung to each other and wept for a while. Then the girl presented another poem:
Before when we parted, we longed for another meeting;
Now when we part it will be until the end of heaven.
The new sorrow together with the old grieving,
Are forever bound in the reaches of the deep underworld.
Chang-wu answered her:
Another meeting cannot be expected, forever and ever;
By our former grief we have aready sought each other out.
Along the road of our parting there will be no travel or news.
By what means shall I convey my heart’s love?
Their hearts spoken and their parting complete, she crossed over to the northwest corner. She took a few steps and turned around again to look at him.
“Master Li, don’t suppress your thoughts of this person from the underworld,” she said, wiping away her tears. Then she stood transfixed in her sobs again.
But seeing that the sky was about to lighten, she hastened to the corner, and that was the last she was seen. The empty room was left with a vacant feeling; only the cold lamp flickered, nearly burning out.
Chang-wu hurriedly packed and left Hsia-kuei Prefecture to return to Wu-ting village in Ch’ang-an. The prefect of Hsia-kuei and a certain Chang Yüan-tsung drank wine and feasted with him. After they had all had a fair amount of drink, Chang-wu, caught up in his own thoughts, composed a poem to commemorate the events. The poem went:
As the rivers do not flow back west, nor does the moon remain full,
They cause a man to lament upon the ancient city wall;
In the desolate morning light we shall part at the forked road,
Not knowing how many years will pass before we meet again.
Having chanted the poem, he parted with the prefect and other officials. He traveled for a few miles alone and along the way started to compose and chant poems again to vent his feelings. He suddenly heard a sigh of appreciation in the air. It was a tone strained with melancholy. He listened more carefully. It was none other than the wife of Mr. Wang’s son.
“In the world of darkness we have our alotted area of movement,” she was heard saying. “After we part from this time, there will never be a day when there can be intercourse. I knew of your caring thoughts, and so I braved the guards of the underworld to come from afar and bid you farewell. Take care of yourself always.” Chang-wu felt for her even more than before.
When he got back to Ch’ang-an he spoke of all this with his comrade in the study of the Tao, Li Tsu of Lung-hsi [in modern Kansu]. Li was moved by the sincerity of his feelings and composed a poem:
The pebbles have sunk into the vastness of the ocean,3
The man with the sword is parted by the breadth of the heavens.4
You know there will be no day of reunion;
The sorrow of a torn heart; the sadness of the setting sun.
Chang-wu by now was working for the provincial governor at Tung-p’ing [modern Yün-cheng in Shantung]. Making use of his leisure, he asked a jeweler to look at the Mo-ho gem he had received. The jeweler knew nothing about it and dared not cut it. Later he was sent to Ta-liang [i.e., K’ai-feng, in modern Honan] on a mission, where he again called upon a jeweler, who this time was able to make something of it. Following its natural shape, he cut it into the likeness of a dentate oak leaf. Whenever he was sent to the capital, he kept this jewel close to his breast.
Once he was on a street in the eastern part of the city when he chanced to see a Buddhist monk of foreign origin who suddenly approached his horse and bowed.
“The gentleman has a precious gem upon his breast,” he said. “Might I beg to see it?”
He led Li to a quiet spot where it was brought out for inspection. The monk turned it over for a bit and said, “This is a most precious thing which comes from Heaven. It is not to be found in the world of men.”
Whenever Chang-wu passed through Hua-chou, he called on Yang-shih. He does so to this day.
(Wang, pp. 56-58; Hsü, pp. 90-97; Chang, pp. 39-44; IWC, 22; TPKC, 340.3)
Tr. Rick Harrington
Note: See Introduction, Sec. V, for a discussion of the use of early CK motifs in this tale. The many poems inserted in the story suggest, among other things, that the display of literary skills was very much on the author’s mind when he composed the piece.
1 Author of Po-wu chihy known for his erudition; see “Chang Hua and the Fox” (24).
2 “Threads” of silk puns with “longing’ in Chinese.
3 An allusion to a story about the daughter of the mythic emperor Yen-ti who was drowned in the Eastern Sea. She was transformed into a bird which daily carries sticks and stones attempting to fill that ocean. See Shan-hai ching, chüan 3, s.v. “Northern Mountains.”
4 An allusion to Kan Chiang and Mo Yeh, the sword makers who forged a pair of swords for the King of Wu. Kan Chiang was killed by the king when he presented only one of the pair upon their completion. See entry (11).--Ed.
The “Lament from the Hsiang River” tells of events rare and wondrous, things never before written of by scholars. But sentimental people are often over-indulgent. Here I wish to give a general account, just to write of what is true and nothing more. My friend Wei Ao is fond of writing Yüeh-fu; I have followed his lead and expanded upon it, in response to his recitation.1
Sometime during the Ch’uei-kung reign period [685-689] of Empress Wu, the imperial presence was residing in the Shang-yang Temple in Loyang. One morning the Imperial Scholar Cheng set off from the Bronze Camel District and that night crossed over the Lo River bridge under a bright moon. As he did so he heard a most mournful crying coming from beneath the bridge. The scholar dismounted and followed the sound to its source, where he found a very lovely young lady. Shyly covering her face with her long sleeve, she said, “I am an orphan raised by my elder brother, but his wife is hateful and is always making trouble for me. Today I decided to jump into the river. I cannot help momentarily lamenting my own misery.”
“Would you be able instead to come home with me?” asked the scholar.
“I will serve you even as your maid and servant,” she replied.
Thus she went to live with Cheng, and came to be called the River Maid of the Fan.
She could recite from memory the Ch’u Songs such as the “Nine Songs,” “Summoning the Soul,” and the “Nine Arguments.” Also, she would often recite her own lines of lament modeled on tunes of this style. Her composition was uncommonly beautiful--no one of the time was her match. In this style she came to write the “Poem on the Play of Sunlight:”
The flowers are so luxurious, so brilliant at this time.
Having planted seeds of fragrant and green shoots,
She now harvests the redolent flowers.
She builds her abode with magnolia petals and lives among the calyxes;
In the inner chamber she secretly adorns herself.
With the pretty coyness of youth
She holds up the thin mist as a veil.
Intoxicated with the diffused light,
Her gaze lingers over the endless span of waves and shore.
She is happy all day, contented through the night,
Her dancing like swaying willow branches, alluring in motion swift or slow.
Her face flushes; she sings of the flourishing flora.
The gauze-like ripples glitter, the water weeds swing and swirl.
Cheng was rather poor, and once the River Maid took a length of light silk from a small basket and gave it to Cheng to sell. A foreigner paid a thousand cash for it.
And so they lived for several years until Cheng was going to take a trip to Ch’ang-an again. That night she told the scholar, “I am a concubine of the dragon of the Hsiang River. I was banished from the Dragon Palace for an offence, and so came to marry you. My time has come to an end, and I may not stay with you any longer. I want to say goodbye,” wherupon they embraced and the tears fell. The scholar tried to keep her but was unable, and she was gone.
More than ten years passed when an elder brother of Cheng was made Censor of Yüeh-chou [in modern Hunan]. As it happened to be the shang-ssu festival,2 the whole clan went on an outing. They climbed to the Yüeh-yang Tower located in the city of Yüeh-yang on the banks of the Yangtze River. They set out a feast, and looked out north toward O-chu Isle.
As everyone was enjoying the music, Cheng was seized by sadness and recited,
My feelings have no bounds, forlorn like the expanse of the waves.
Remembering those happy moments, my thoughts roam amidst the three rivers of the Hsiang. . .
Even before he had finished, a painted boat came floating down the river. In its center was a decorated tower, about a hundred feet tall; on it could be seen curtains, railings, and painted ornaments. From the parted curtains there emerged musicians playing strings, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. They were all as beautiful as fairies, their clothes colorful like misty rainbows, with expansive, trailing sleeves and skirts.
From among them, one stood up and began to dance. Wearing a frown, sorrowful, and a little resentful, the dancer looked like the River Maid. Now singing while she danced, he heard,
Winding upstream against blue mountains, I come to the bend of the Yangtze,
Traversing the waves of the Hsiang River, with its soft green watery skirts.
My feelings for you are suppressed like furled lotus leaves;
If we don’t return together, what will I do?
Her dance finished, she folded her arms and stared distantly at Cheng. Within the tower everyone else was looking and enjoying her dance. But after a while, wind and waves crashed in fury, and the boat was lost to sight.
I heard this story in the thirteenth year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820] from my friends. Having added all the poems, I have named the story “Lament from the Hsiang River,” to match it with “Longing amidst Misty Waters” by Nan Chao-ssu.3
(Wang, pp. 157-58; Hsü, pp. 244-51; IWC, 24; Shen Ya-chih, Shen Hsia-hsien wen-chi, 2.1a-2a; TPKC 298.5)
Tr. Michael Broschat
Note: The lyricism that permeates this piece makes it representative of those T’ang tales which are intent on capturing moods and atmosphere rather than telling a story. The incorporation of poems often contributes to the creation of lyric moods.
1 Wei’s work is not extant.--Ed.
2 Originally a spring festival of cleansing by bathing in the river, held on the shang-ssu day of the third month. In the Six Dynasties, the date was changed to the third day of the third month, and part of the festivity was to drink wine on the river banks. By the T’ang this had become the day for the Spring Outing; cf. “Lu Ch’ung” (22), n. 2.--Ed.
3 The style name of Nan Tso (fl. 828). The work mentioned here is no longer extant, but the story is preserved in Lü-ch’uang hsin-hua (New Tales from within the Green Window, compiled during the Southern Sung). It tells of the romantic encounter between a student by the name of Hsieh and a nymph. Ch’in Kuan’s (1049-1100) poem titled “Yen-chung yüan” (Lament from amidst the Mist) may be related to the same subject.--Ed.
During the Ta-li reign period [766-779] Li Yi,1 a native of Lung-hsi [present-day Wu-wei County, Kansu Province], earned the chin-shih degree (Doctor of Letters) at the age of twenty. In the sixth month of the following year, while awaiting further testing on magisterial subjects by the Ministry of Personnel, he went to Ch’ang-an. There he found lodgings in the Hsin-ch’ang quarter.
Li came from an eminent family, and even as a child, he had displayed intellectual ability and literary talent. His elegant verses were acknowledged as unsurpassed. Even established literary masters were unanimous in their praise of him. Li held himself in high esteem and longed to find a mate worthy of his talent. He searched extensively among courtesans, but for a long time enjoyed no success.
In Ch’ang-an there was a matchmaker named Pao Shih-i-niang.2 She had once been a bondmaid in the household of the late Prince Consort Hsüeh, but she had redeemed her contract and had been married for more than ten years. She was a gifted speaker, tactful as well as accommodating. There was hardly a family of consequence she had not visited. Those who enlisted her aid always met with success, and for this reason she was considered a leader in her profession. Li once confided his desire to her, and since he had not been sparing in his gifts to her, she felt obliged to help him.
One afternoon a few months later, Li was relaxing in the southern pavilion of his lodgings when he suddenly heard someone knocking urgently at the gate. Upon learning that Pao Shih-i-niang had come, he straightened his clothes and went out to greet her.
“Madame Pao, what brought you here today so suddenly?” he asked.
“Have you been having beautiful dreams?”3 Pao asked with a smile. “You should be, since a goddess has been banished to earth who thinks nothing of money and property, but values only charm and wit. A beauty like her would be the perfect match for you, Shih-lang.”4
At this Li jumped for joy, his spirits were sent soaring. He took hold of Pao’s hand, and bowed and thanked her, “If she is really what you have said, I will serve her for the rest of my life. Even meeting death, I would have no regrets.”
He then asked for the girl’s name and address. Pao told him everything about her, “She is the youngest daughter of the late Prince Huo.5 Her style name is Hsiao-yü. The prince was extremely fond of her. Her mother, whose name was Ching-ch’ih, was the prince’s favorite maid. After the prince’s death, her brothers no longer considered her part of the family because of her lowly origin on her mother’s side. They just gave the girl and her mother some money and sent them away. Her family name has since been changed to Cheng, so hardly anyone knows that she is the daughter of a prince. In all my life I’ve never seen one with her charm and beauty, not to mention her cultivated sensibility and refined manners. She is also well-versed in music and literature.
“Yesterday the girl’s mother asked me to find a suitable young man for her daughter, and I told her all about you. She recognized your name and was extremely pleased.
“She and her daughter live on Old Temple Lane in the Sheng-yeh quarter of town. Their house is located right at the entry to the lane, and has a gate for horse carriages. I’ve already made an appointment for you to see them tomorrow at noon. When you arrive at the head of the lane, just look for a maid named Cassia.”
After Pao left, Li prepared for the visit. He sent his page, Autumn Goose, out to borrow a black horse and golden bridle from his cousin Shang, a military administrator in the capital district.
That evening Li washed his clothes, took a bath, and made himself presentable. He was so excited that he could not sleep at all. At dawn he put on a hat and examined himself in the mirror, worrying about his appearance. He paced back and forth anxiously until it was about noon. Then he called for his horse and rode swiftly to Sheng-yeh.
At the appointed place he saw a maid standing there waiting for him.
“Aren’t you Li Shih-lang?” she asked.
Li dismounted and told her to take the horse to the stable. Then he hurried inside the gate and bolted it. He saw Pao coming out to meet him.
“What kind of young man are you, barging in like this?” she teased.
While they were still bantering with each other, Pao led Li through an inner gate into a courtyard. In the courtyard there were four cherry trees along with a parrot in a cage which hung in the northwest corner. When the parrot saw Li, it squawked, “Someone is coming! Lower the curtain!” Li was reserved and timid by nature. When he heard the parrot talk, he was so startled that he dared not go any further. While he hesitated, Pao led Ching-ch’ih down the steps to greet him.
Ching-ch’ih invited him inside where they sat facing each other. Although she was more than forty years old, she was still a captivating beauty; her voice was seductive and her smile infectious.
“I have heard of your talent and wit,” she said to Li. “Now that I have seen how handsome and elegant you are, I know that your reputation is well-deserved. My daughter may not be well-educated, but at least she is not too ugly. She would be a good match for a gentleman like you. Pao Shih-i-niang has often suggested this to me, and now I would like to offer my daughter to you in marriage.”
Li thanked her, “This is more than a lowly, slow-witted man like me would dare hope for. If you do make me your choice, I will consider it a great honor for the rest of my life.”
Food and wine were ordered, and Hsiao-yü was asked to come out from the eastern chamber. Li greeted her with a bow, feeling as if the entire room had been transformed into a bower of jade and jasper trees bathing each other with light--so bright and dazzling were her glances. She sat down beside her mother, who said to her, “Li Shih-lang is the author of the lines you like so much,
When the breeze stirs the bamboo and blows open the curtain,
I imagine it is my lover who comes.6
Isn’t one look at him better than a whole day of reciting his poems to yourself?”
Hsiao-yü lowered her head, smiling, and whispered, “His appearance surpasses his reputation.7 Such a man surely needs such looks to match his talent.”
Li rose and bowed, saying, “The young lady admires talent, and I adore beauty. Our virtues match well, for beauty and talent are thus united.”
The mother and her daughter glanced at each other and broke into laughter.
After several rounds of wine Li stood up and asked Hsiao-yü to sing. At first she was unwilling, but then her mother prevailed on her to sing a few songs in her clear, resonant voice.
It was already dusk when the feast broke up. Pao led Li to the western chamber to rest. It was secluded in a courtyard and richly decorated with elegant curtains. Pao told the two maids Cassia and Washing Sand to take off his boots and belt.
Before long Hsiao-yü entered. She spoke in a gentle, alluring manner, and even as she took off her silk robe, she comported herself with grace. Then they lowered the bed curtain, laid their heads on the pillow, and gave themselves up completely to their passion. Li felt that the meetings on Mount Wu and the Lo River8 could not surpass this experience.
At midnight, however, Hsiao-yü looked at Li and suddenly began to weep.
“Since I am a courtesan, I know I am no match for you,” she said. “You love me now for my beauty. I am afraid that when my beauty fades, your affection will shift to someone else. I will then be a vine with no support, a fan thrown out in autumn. That is why I cannot help feeling sad at the height of our joy.”
When he heard this, Li was moved. He cradled her head in his arm and comforted her, “Today I have fulfilled my life’s dream. Even if my bones were crushed to powder and my body torn to pieces, I swear that I would never leave you. How can you say such a thing? Please get me a piece of silk so that I may put my oath in writing.”
Hsiao-yü stopped crying. She had her maid Cherry raise the bed curtain and hold a candle while she gave Li a brush and inkstone. When not playing music, Hsiao-yü enjoyed poetry and calligraphy. Her chestful of brushes and inkstones had all come from the prince’s household. She brought out an embroidered bag and then pulled out a three-foot length of white silk with black lines. She gave this product of Yüeh9 to Li to write on.
Li had a quick mind and dashed off a pledge as soon as he took up the brush. He said his love was as high as a mountain and as deep as a river, his faithfulness as constant as the sun and moon. Every line was so sincere and earnest that it would have moved anyone who read the pledge. After he finished writing, Hsiao-yü had the pledge stored inside a jeweled box.
From then on they lived in perfect harmony like a pair of kingfishers frolicking in the clouds. They were together day and night like this for two years.
In the spring of their third year together, Li passed the examinations held by the Ministry of Personnel and was appointed Registrar of Cheng-hsien [present-day Cheng-chou, Honan Province]. In the fourth month, just before setting out for his post, he also planned a visit to his parents in the Eastern Capital, Loyang.10 At his departure many of his friends and relatives from Ch’ang-an attended his farewell banquet.
It was the time of year when signs of spring still remain as the splendor of summer begins to show itself. After the party was over Li and Hsiao-yü became preoccupied with thoughts of separation.
“With your talent and reputation you will win many admirers,” Hsiao-yü said to Li. “A host of people will seek marriage with you. Since your parents are still living and you do not have a wife, you will certainly find a good match on this trip. Your pledge to me will become but empty words. Nevertheless I do have one small favor to ask of you. Would you be so kind as to listen to it?”
“What have I done to offend you? How can you speak like this?” Li said in disbelief. “Please tell me your wish and I will gladly listen.”
“I am just eighteen and you are but twenty-two,” Hsiao-yü said. “You still have eight years before you reach the age for marriage. I would like to have your love just for those years in exchange for a lifetime’s happiness. After that it still would not be too late for you to select a bride from a noble family and live with her in contentment and harmony like the union between Ch’in and Chin.11 I would then renounce this world, cut my hair, and put on the nun’s habit. This would fulfill my life’s wish.”
Ashamed and touched, Li could not hold back his tears.
“By the light of the sun I promised to be faithful to you even in death,” he said. “I am only afraid that even if we spend the rest of our lives together, that still would not be long enough to satisfy my love. Why would I dare think of anyone else? Please do not doubt my sincerity--just try to live your life as usual and wait for my return. By the eighth month I will return to Hua-chou [present-day Cheng County, Shensi] and send someone to fetch you. We shall see each other again before long.”
Several days later Li took his leave and headed east. Within ten days of assuming his post he asked for leave to go to Loyang to visit his parents. Before he reached home, his mother had arranged for him to marry a cousin of his, Miss Lu. Since his mother was strict and stubborn, Li, although reluctant, did not dare reject the proposal. He paid a visit to Miss Lu’s parents to thank them for their daughter’s hand and to set a date for the ceremony.
The Lu family was a very prominent one. Anyone who asked to marry one of their daughters had to pay a million in cash as a betrothal gift, or else the proposal would not be accepted. Because his family was poor, Li had to borrow the money. He used excuses to take leave from office to see friends and relatives in distant places, traveling between the Huai and Yangtze rivers from autumn till summer. Li realized that he had broken his promise to call for Hsiao-yü. But hoping that she would give up on him, he sent her no messages and told his friends not to disclose his whereabouts.
After Li failed to return as promised, Hsiao-yü made several inquiries as to what had happened to him. But the excuses and evasions she received in reply differed each day. She frequently resorted to consulting mediums and diviners. After more than a year of anguish and anxiety her health deteriorated and she fell ill in her lonely chamber.
Her faith never wavered even though Li had not sent her a single letter. She gave presents to his friends and relatives so that they might tell her some news. She pressed on with her search so hard that her financial resources were nearly exhausted. As a result she often had her maid secretly sell some of the clothes and jewels in her trunk. Most of these were sold in the western marketplace through a pawnshop owned by Hou Ching-hsien.
Once she told her maid Washing Sand to take an amethyst hairpin to Ching-hsien’s shop. On the way Washing Sand met an old imperial jeweler. When he saw what she held in her hand, he stepped forward to take a closer look.
“I was the one who made this hairpin,” he said. “I was ordered to make it shortly before Prince Huo’s daughter pinned her hair up for the first time.12 Since I was rewarded with ten thousand in cash, I have never forgotten it. Who are you and how did you come to have this pin?”
“My young mistress is none other than Prince Huo’s daughter,” Washing Sand said. “Separated from her family, she has entrusted herself to the wrong person. The man to whom she has promised herself left for the Eastern Capital and has since sent her no word. This has made her so upset that she has been ill for almost two years. She told me to sell this so that she would be able to pay people who might help her find out what has happened to him.”
The jeweler wept bitterly. “How can children from noble families suffer such a fate?” he lamented. “Although my life is nearly at end, when I see such changes in fortune, I cannot help feeling sad.”
He then led the maid into Princess Yen-huang’s13 mansion and told her Hsiao-yü’s story. The princess was so touched that for a long while she could only sigh. She gave the maid one hundred and twenty thousand in cash to provide for her mistress.
By this time Li had raised enough money for the betrothal gift and had returned to Cheng-hsien. The girl to whom he was engaged lived in Ch’ang-an, and in the twelfth month Li again asked for leave to go there for his wedding ceremony. He rented a secluded house and tried to keep its location a secret.
Li had a younger cousin named Ts’ui Yün-ming, who held the ming-ching (Doctor of the Classics) degree. He was extremely kindhearted and in the past had often accompanied Li to Hsiao-yü’s place. There he had shared in their festivity, drinking and chatting with them.
Now whenever he heard any news about Li, he faithfully reported it to Hsiao-yü. Since Hsiao-yü had often supplied him with food and clothing, Ts’ui felt indebted to her. So when Li arrived in the city Ts’ui told her about it.
Hsiao-yü sighed resentfully, “How could this be?”
She asked her friends and relatives to urge Li to visit her. He knew that she had become seriously ill because he had broken his promise. But he felt so ashamed that he could not bring himself to go see her. To avoid visitors who came on Hsiao-yü’s behalf, he left his lodgings at dawn and returned in the evening.
Meanwhile Hsiao-yü wept day and night, neglecting even to eat or sleep. She longed to see him just once, but never had the opportunity. She was so beset by anxiety and resentment that her illness grew worse, confining her to bed.
Quite a few people in Ch’ang-an came to know of Hsiao-yü’s plight. Those romantic by nature were moved by Hsiao-yü’s love; those who were righteous and chivalric resented Li’s unfaithfulness.
It was already the third month of the year, when many people went on spring outings; Li and several friends went to the Ch’ung-ching Templet14 look at peonies. They strolled in the western hallway and took turns reciting poetry. Among Li’s companions that day was his close friend Wei Hsia-ch’ing, a native of the capital. He said to Li, “The scenery is so beautiful--the grass and trees are so luxuriant. Isn’t it a pity that Hsiao-yü has to languish alone in her chamber? You really are a cold-hearted man to be able to abandon her. A man shouldn’t be like this. You ought to reconsider your behavior.”
While Wei Hsia-Ch’ing was lamenting and scolding his friend, a knight-errant suddenly appeared, wearing a light yellow tunic and wielding a bow and arrow. He looked handsome and dashing, and was splendidly attired. A northern barbarian boy with closely cropped hair attended him. They walked behind Li and Wei and overheard their conversation. The knight-errant suddenly stepped forward and bowed before Li.
“Aren’t you Li Shih-lang?” the knight-errant asked. “I am originally from Shantung; my family is related to the northern barbarians by marriage. Although I have no literary talent, I enjoy meeting with accomplished men of letters. I admire your brilliance and have long hoped to meet you. It is really fortunate that I have come upon you today. My humble abode is not far from here. There I will entertain you with song and music. Eight or nine dancing girls and more than ten fine horses will be yours to enjoy. My only wish is that you honor me with your presence.”
Li’s companions were all pleased by this, and the entire party rode off with the knight-errant. They quickly passed through several sections of town before arriving at the Sheng-yeh quarter. Li noticed that they were near Hsiao-yü’s home and did not wish to go any further. So he made up an excuse and tried to turn his horse around. But the knight-errant pulled on the reins and led his horse back the other way.
“How can you turn back on me when my home is just a few feet away?” he said.
While they were arguing back and forth they came to the lane where Hsiao-yü lived. Li panicked and whipped his horse in an effort to turn back. But the knight-errant ordered his servants to practically carry Li through the door. He then told them to bolt the gate and shouted, “Li Shih-lang has arrived!” At this the entire household was caught by surprise and rejoiced so loudly that it was heard outside.
The night before, Hsiao-yü had dreamed that a man wearing a yellow coat carried Li to her bedside and told her to take off her shoes. Startled, she awoke and told her mother about her dream. Hsiao-yü interpreted the dream herself, “ ‘Shoes’ must mean harmony.15 This implies that a man and wife will be reunited. But “taking off one’s shoes” must symbolize separation. There will be a meeting and a parting, but the parting will be for good. This means that I shall see him again, but that I will die soon after.”
Early in the morning she asked her mother to fix her hair. Her mother took no stock in her daughter’s dream, supposing that Hsiao-yü had been sick for so long that she was having delusions. But because she insisted, her mother decided to humor her and comb her hair. Just when her mother finished, Li was announced.
Hsiao-yü had become so weak that she needed help just to turn over in bed. But when she heard that Li had come she suddenly got up by herself, changed her clothes and went out as if aided by a supernatural power. When she saw Li she could barely control her anger--she gave him an icy stare without saying a word.
She was so frail and delicate that it seemed she could hardly stand the strain. Then she broke down into violent sobbing and occasionally would turn her tear-covered face to look at Li. Looking at her now and thinking of the past affair, everyone present at the scene was moved to tears.
After a short while a feast consisting of dozens of courses was brought in from outside to the surprise of everyone there. No one knew where it all had come from, but soon it was learned that the food had been sent compliments of the knight-errant.
After the food had been placed on a table everyone sat down to eat. Hsiao-yü turned away from Li, but looked sideways at him for a long time. Then she raised her cup and poured the wine on the ground.
“I am a girl who has suffered such a miserable fate,” she said. “And you are a man who is so unfaithful. Though I am still young and fair, I will die of regret and sorrow. Though my mother is still living, I will be unable to care for her. Neither will I be able to enjoy silk clothes or gay music again. The sorrow of my death is all your doing. Li Yi, Li Yi, I now take leave of you forever. After I die my ghost will haunt you. Your wives and concubines will know no peace.”
She reached out with her left hand to hold Li’s arm. Then she threw her cup to the ground and with a long wail she died.
Her mother picked up her body and placed it in Li’s arms, telling him to call her name and revive her. But Hsiao-yü did not come back to life.
Li put on mourning clothes and wailed bitterly day and night. The night before the burial he suddenly saw Hsiao-yü in the funeral curtain. She looked as charming and alluring as she had in life. She wore a pomegranate-red skirt, a purple jacket, and a red and green cloak. She leaned against the curtain, her hand holding her embroidered sash. She looked at Li and said, “Since you are taking the trouble to attend my funeral, it seems that you still have some feelings for me. How can I help feeling grieved in the other world?”
After this she vanished.
The next day Hsiao-yü was buried at Yü-su-Yüan16 near Ch’ang-an. Li mourned at her gravesite and then returned home.
A little more than a month later he was married to Miss Lu. Whenever he thought about his past, he felt depressed. In the fifth month of the year he and Miss Lu went to Cheng-hsien together.
One night, ten days after their arrival, Li had just gone to sleep with his wife when he suddenly heard a rustling sound outside his bed curtain. Startled, he looked around and saw a handsome young man in his twenties, partially hidden by the curtain, beckoning to his wife. Li leapt out of bed and chased the youth several times around the bed. But the young man suddenly disappeared.
After this Li was always filled with suspicion and jealousy. Between him and his wife there was no peace. Some of his close friends tried to convice him that he was wrong, and he felt a little relieved.
About ten days later, however, he came home and found his wife playing her lute on the their bed. Suddenly an inlaid box made of rhinoceros horn was tossed in through the door. It landed on his wife’s lap. It was little more than an inch in diameter and was wrapped with a silk ribbon tied into a love knot.17 Li opened the box, looked inside and found two love seeds,18 a kowtow bug,19 an aphrodisiac,20 and some donkey love charms.21 Li flew into a rage, roaring like a tiger, and beat his wife with the lute, demanding that she admit her guilt. His wife, herself, however, was unable to explain what had happened.
After this he beat her even more violently and treated her with even greater cruelty. Finally he went to court and divorced her.
Once his wife had left, Li began sleeping with his maids and concubines. But he became suspicious of them too, and even killed some of them out of jealousy.
He once went to Kuang-ling [present-day Yang-chou, Kiangsu Province] where he procured a well-known courtesan named Ying Shih-i-niang. She was an alluring beauty, and Li was enchanted by her. But whenever they sat down together, he would admonish her, “I once bought a certain courtesan at a certain place. But she had such-and-such an affair, so I killed her in such-and-such a way.”
He spoke to her like this every day to frighten her into maintaining her faithfulness. Whenever he left home he would confine Ying to her bed by covering her with a washtub sealed on all four sides, and upon his return he would inspect the tub carefully before letting her out.
He also kept an extremely sharp dagger. He often told his maids, “This is made of Ko-hsi steel from Hsin-chou.22 It is especially good for cutting off the heads of unfaithful women.”
Li never met a woman without becoming suspicious of her. He was married three times, and all of the marriages turned out the same.
(Wang, pp. 77-82; Hsü, pp. 98-111; Chang, pp. 45-54; TPKC, 487)
Tr. Cordell D. K. Yee
Note: Some of the stylistic features we see in this piece-- detailed physical descriptions, descriptions of socio-economic realities, and the use of direct discourse--will also characterize the realism of vernacular hua-pen fiction. But for the supernatural elements introduced at end, this is a perfect ch’uап-ch’i work in the realist vein.
The inclusion of supernatural elements in an otherwise realistic piece also serves as an example for the practice of many hua-реn, such as “Ts’ui-tai-shao sheng-ssu yüan-chia” (CSTY, 8) (“Artisan Ts’ui and His Ghost Wife,” Ma and Lau, pp. 252-63) and “Tu-shih niang nu-ch’en pai-pao-hsiang” (“Tu Shih-niang Sinks the Jewel Box in Anger,” Ma and Lau, pp. 146-59), and others. Ghosts in these stories probably should be appreciated more as metaphors than as reality--they are eloquent manifestations of undying human passions.
The plot of T’ang Hsien-tzu’s play Tzu-ch’ai chi (The Purple Hairpin) is based on this story.
1 Li Yi (748-827) earned the chin-shih degree in 769 and later served in a variety of official posts. According to his biographies in the T’ang dynastic histories, his literary reputation at one time equaled that of the poet Li Ho (791-817). In addition to his poetry he was famous for his cruelty to women--excessive jealousy became know as “Li Yi’s sickness.” His reputed friend Wei Hsia-ch’ing (fl. late eighth to early ninth centuries), who held several official posts, appears as a minor character later in the story.
2 Literally “eleventh lady,” used here as a proper name.
3 This sentence literally means “Has Su Ku-tzu had a beautiful dream?” It is believed to have been a proverb popular during the T’ang. Its origin is unknown. Pao Shih-i-niang implies that Li should have had a dream presaging his introduction to a desirable mate.
4 Literally “tenth young master,” used here as a proper name.
5 Li Yüan-kuei, Emperor Kao-tsu’s (r. 618-626) fourteenth son.
6 These lines are similar to those composed by Ts’ui Ying-ying in Yüan Chen’s (779-831) “Ying-ying chuan” (The Story of Ying-ying): “I await the moon in the western chamber,/Where the breeze comes through the half-opened door./Sweeping the wall the flower shadows move;/I imagine it is my lover who comes.” (James R. Hightower, tr. “The Story of Ying-ying,” in Ma and Lau, p. 140). “Ying-ying chuan” bears some resemblance to “Huo Hsiao-yü.” Ts’ui Ying-ying, like Huo Hsiao-yü, is abandoned by her lover. But Ying-ying’s lover, Chang, claims he does so to preserve his integrity.
7 Read wen ming pu-ju chien mien for chien mien pu-ju wen ming.--Ed.
8 “Mount Wu” is an allusion to Prince Hsiang of Ch’u’s (r. 651-618 B. C.) meeting with a goddess on top of Mount Kao-t’ang. The goddess said she lived on Mount Wu. This encounter is described in Sung Yü’s (fl. third century B. C.) “Kao-t’ang fu” (Rhapsody on Mount Kao-t’ang). “Lo River” is an allusion to the poet Ts’ao Chih’s (192-232) dream that he met the goddess of the Lo. Ts’ao Chih wrote his “Lo-shen fu” (Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Lo) to commemorate his dream.
9 An area famous for its silk products, located in present-day Chekiang Province.
10 The city which served as the capital of China at various times, it was located twenty li northwest of present-day Loyang County in Honan. Cheng-hsien was just a short distance east of Loyang.
11 Two states during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-468 B.C.) which were bound by marriage ties.
12 At the age of fifteen girls had their hair pinned up in a ceremony marking their coming of age.
13 Kao-kuo, Emperor Su-tsung’s (r. 756-763) daughter.
14 Located in the Ching-an quarter of central Ch’ang-an.
15 The Chinese characters for “shoe” and “harmony” are homophones, both being pronounced /hsieh/.
16 A burial ground located south of Ch’ang-an.
17 Brocade ribbons were tied into elaborate knots and used to convey one’s love.
18Hung-tou or red beans, used to express thought of love.
19 Also known as the “jumping rice bug.” When touched it strikes its head to the ground. It was believed to have aphrodisiacal properties.
20 The exact nature of this aphrodisiac, fa-sha-tzu, is unknown.
21 Newborn donkeys were believed to have a meat-like object called a mei in their mouths. If a woman wore one, she would become more attractive.
22 Present-day Shang-jao in Kiangsi. Ko-hsi is a stream whose source is near Shang-jao. Hsin-chou was once known for its steel.
Twenty li east of Ching-chou was the old city of Hsüeh-chü,1 in one corner of which lay the Pool of the Good Woman, which covered several square miles. Reeds and rushes grew there in a profusion of dark green, and old trees growing around it contributed to a feeling of loneliness and desolation. The water of the pool was clear and blue, too deep for anyone ever to measure. In it one often saw strange water creatures. The local people had erected a shrine at the edge of the pool dedicated to the Spirit of Ninth Lady. Burning incense at the shrine in times of yearly drought or heavy rain was sure to effect relief. Some two hundred li west of this pond, north of the village of Ch’ao-na,2 lived a water spirit named after its location--the Spirit of Ch’ao-na. The efficacy of his miraculous responses to the people’s prayers was regarded as being next only to that of the Good Woman.
In the fifth year of the Ch’ien-fu reign period [874-79], when the city of Hsüeh-chü was under the rule of the Military Governor Chou Pao,3 beginning in the fifth month,4 countless cloud masses arose from the two pools in the shape of wondrous mountain peaks and beautiful women, and of rats and tigers. Forceful winds arose which tore roofs from houses and uprooted trees. They were accompanied by great peals of thunder and bolts of lightning. These phenomena would last for several minutes at a time and then cease. Many people were injured, and much of the standing crop was damaged. Chou Pao blamed himself for this natural disturbance, thinking that his government was inadequate, and that the disaster and inauspicious omens were the reproaches of unseen spirits.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, during a break from the official affairs of the day, Chou began to feel woozy and wanted to take a nap. He loosened his clothing and lay down. Before he was quite asleep he saw a warrior before him, helmeted and armed, standing below the steps of the hall, halberd in hand.
“A female guest has come to call,” said the warrior. “She wishes an audience with you; I have come for your orders.”
“Who are you?” asked Chou Pao.
“I am your gatekeeper, in your service for many years now,” replied the warrior.
Chou was about to look into this a bit more, but saw two black-clad servant girls ascend the steps and kneel before him.
“Ninth Lady has come from her rural residence,” they said, “to seek an audience with you. She has sent us, her attendants, to make the announcement to you, sir.”
“I am not acquainted with Ninth Lady,” replied Chou, “nor is she a relative of mine. How dare I receive her on such short notice. . .”
But before he could finish speaking, auspicious mists and fine rain appeared, and the air was permeated with an extraordinary fragrance. Suddenly, there descended out of thin air a young woman of about seventeen or eighteen. Her garments were unadorned and plain in color, and her person was most refined and attractive. She stopped in the courtyard outside. Her features and deportment were beautiful and elegant, without comparison in this world. With her were some ten or so attendants all freshly garbed, like ladies-in-waiting to a princess. Moving with a graceful dignity, she slowly approached the spot where Chou had been sleeping. He was about to withdraw, out of politeness, and wait inside until she should make her intentions known to him, when the attendants hurried forward to stop him.
“Because of your high sense of justice,” they said, “the princess thought she could confide in you her innermost thoughts. She would like to tell you of the great wrong done to her. Can you bear not to save her from her predicament?”
Chou immediately asked her to ascend the steps to the hall. The rite of greeting between the guest and the host was most solemn and respectful. As she took her seat on the dais, an auspicious mist filled the air and a purplish haze spread over the courtyard. Her head was lowered in a reserved manner, and she had the expression of someone who was troubled. Chou, ordering sweet wine poured and delicacies set out, treated her with great respect.
Suddenly she drew back her sleeves, got up from the mat, and slowly began, “For these many years that I have lived in the outskirts of this city, you have supplied me most comfortably with food and drink; I’m truly in your debt. Although I live a solitary life and am unable to repay you, I shall never forget your kindness. The generosity you have extended to a widow makes me feel even more indebted to you. But since the visible and the invisible take different paths, your movements and mine do not coincide, and I have never come to call on you. Now, due to the urgency of my situation and the dictates of the circumstances, I can no longer hide myself and remain silent. If you would allow me the liberty, I shall dare to expose my feelings.”
“I do wish to hear your story,” replied Chou, “And I particularly hope to know your family background. If there is anything I ought to do, how would I dare to use the difference between our two worlds as an excuse. ‘A Gentleman will sacrifice even himself for the sake of Humaneness’--that would be an act of great resolve. To step even into ‘burning flames and boiling water’ in order to rectify an injustice--that is my principle.”
“My family lineage stems from Mao County in K’uai-chi,”5 she replied. “The clan made its home in a pool off the eastern ocean, and our homestead and the ancestral graves there represent more than one hundred generations. But finally the family came upon unpropitious times, and disaster fell upon our house. Over five hundred of the clan members were burnt to death in a holocaust that was master-minded by a man named Yü, and the succession of the clan was nearly brought to an end.6 Those who escaped bore a deep rancor against this enemy; but they could only hide themselves in a far away mountain cave, unable to avenge themselves and right the wrong.
“During the T’ien-chien reign period [502-520] of the Liang dynasty, Emperor Wu, who had a fondness for strange objects, decided to send someone to the Dragon Palace in the Withered Mulberry Isles to obtain rare treasures. He devised a plan to win the favor of the Lord of Tung-t’ing’s seventh daughter, the Master Treasurer for the palace, with roast swallows and other wondrous delicacies.7 It was learned that Yü P’i-lo, a descendant of our family enemy, had earlier quit his post as White River Gentleman in Mao County, and now wished to answer the summons of Emperor Wu for this mission. He harbored evil intentions, and with such a commission he would have been able to use the pretext of seeking treasure to enter the Dragon Palace and destroy our entire clan. Owing to the percipience of Lord Chieh,8 it became known that Yü requested the mission for strictly personal reasons, and wanted only to trample upon innocent victims. Realizing that this would in fact result in disaster both for Yü and for the imperial mission itself, Lord Chieh spoke of the situation to Emperor Wu, who then prevented him from going. In his place the emperor sent Lo Tzu-ch’un of Ou-Yüeh in Lo-li County, Ho-p’u Commandery [in modern Kwangtung Province].
“My own ancestors, who were ashamed of living so close to their enemy, and wary of the possible peril, left to avoid the danger, and moved to An Village in Chen-ning County of Hsin-p’ing Commandery.9 They covered all traces of their existence by changing both their surnames and given names. Clearing brambles and boring out caves, they built their homes there. Our ancestors became like the Нu and Yüeh tribes of the border regions. For the last three generations we have lived in this area. My ancestor was first made Ling-ying Chün, Lord of Miraculous Responses, and shortly thereafter received the title Ying-ling Hou, Divine Sage Marquis. Later, because of the effective succor extended by the hidden spirit, and because of his merit and grace which reached to all the common people, he was enfeoffed as P’u-chi Wang, Salvation King. His power and charity affected others, and he was respected by all at the time. I am the ninth daughter of that king.
“When I was fifteen I was married to a younger son of the Stone Dragon of Hsiang Commandery [covering parts of modern Kwangtung and Kwangsi Provinces]. My husband was by nature hot-tempered, and was then at an age when one is wont to act impulsively. Neither the law nor his stern father could curb him. He was cruel in his dealngs with people, and cared nothing for the rites and received teachings. Before a year was out, he was struck by Heaven’s punishment--our lineage was blighted and our descendants cut off; his deeds were removed from the books, and his name stricken from the register. In this I alone was left unharmed.
“My parents then ordered me to marry again, but I would not give in. Kings and lords came to make offers, and carriages followed one another in a steady stream. But, sincerely resolved, I would rather have mutilated myself than yield. My parents were angry at my determination and sent me away to live in isolation in this area. I have had no news of them for thirty-six years now. Though I have yet to gain their understanding and win back their love, I am most content to have lived here, away from the crowd.
“Recently, the little dragon of Ch’ao-na, because his youngest brother has not yet married, has been secretly trying to arrange our marriage. With sweet words and generous gifts, he insisted on bringing about the match, even after my blunt refusal. Although I might die and be reduced to nothing, I will never accept this proposal. Therefore, Ch’ao-na went to work on my father and tried to arrange the matter through him. His plan was to send his youngest brother to live in the western part of my parents’ royal domain, where he could bribe my father in hopes of eventually contracting this marriage. Since my father knew that I would not be persuaded, he told Ch’ao-na to set his forces against me. I armed my domestic guards, some fifty men in number, and led them out to fight on a plain in the outskirts of the city. Outmatched in number, thrice we fought and thrice we were defeated. My troops were exhausted and there were no reserve forces on which to draw. I was just about to gather up the remainder of the defeated and scattered troops to make a last ditch effort, when I thought about the ‘roaring waters of Chin-yang’ and the ‘blazing fires in the palace of T’ai-ch’eng:’10 if I were to be captured, I would be disgraced by an insubordinate knave. Then, in the netherworld, I would not be able to face the son of the Stone Dragon, my husband.
“As the Shih-ching poem says:
Floating there, the cypress boat,
In the middle of the river.
Drooping there, his two tufts of hair,
Surely he is my mate!
To death I swear there will be no other!
Oh Mother, oh Heaven,
Such unrelenting pressure.11
This is the oath of the widow of the heir of Wei. There is also the poem:
Who says rats have no teeth?
Who else ate through my wall?
Who says you have no family?
Who else presses suit against me?
But though you sue me, never will I obey you!12
This means that when Duke Shao was in power, degenerate and disruptive customs waned, and the teaching of chastity and sincerity was strengthened; therefore brutes and bullies could not violate chaste women.
“Now your teachings, my lord, have not only spread among the human world, but have penetrated to that of the spirits, and serve as a model for both the past and present. Your instructions on chastity emulate those of Duke Shao! If I could only hope to make use of your reserve forces for a short time in order to squelch that overbearing bully and preserve my chastity, you would not only help me keep my oath of constancy, but would also make manifest your intentions of helping those in distress. I am most sincere and earnest, and hope you will help me accomplish this.”
Although Chou Pao approved of this in his heart, he was taken aback by her eloquence and wished to put her off with an excuse in order to observe her reply.
“Troubles have increased on the borders,” he said, “and the dust of battle may be seen in the distance. Our territory is being invaded by the enemy on the western border--already more than thirty counties have fallen. The imperial court is discussing the matter of raising troops to recover the lands. Day and night I await orders and dare not relax. If not today, then tomorrow, the campaign will begin. Though I share your anger and indignation, I do not now have the opportunity to do as you request.”
“In the past,” she replied, “King Chao of Ch’u [r. 515-489 B.C.] considered the mountain ranges of Fang-ch’eng as his city walls, and the Han River but a pond within his territory.13 All the lands of the Ching and Man tribes were in his possession. With the wealth bequeathed by his family, he made alliances with other powerful states and received help within from’the three loyal ministers.’l4 But as soon as the Wu troops attacked, the whole country fled like startled birds and vanished like dispersing clouds. There was no time to defend the city; all took flight as fast as running rabbits. The jade insignia of the state was carried off, the ancestral temple flattened, and the power of the great state could not protect even the buried bones of its previous kings.15 When Shen Pao-hsü sought troops from the state of Ch’in to help, he shed tears of blood over all the Ch’in court and howled for seven days, not ceasing day or night. Duke Ai-kung of Ch’in took pity on his plight and finally sent troops to restore Ch’u and rout Wu. Only in this way was an endangered state preserved.
“The Mi family16 had a very strong state during the Spring and Autumn period, but Shen Pao-hsü was a grandee of a weakened land. Their arrows spent, the troops decimated, he humbled himself and presented his entreaties without reservation, and with such earnestness that he eventually moved the powerful state of Ch’in. In comparison I am even more helpless, being just a woman. My parents have rebuked me for my chastity, and a bullying ruffian has tried to take advantage of me, a powerless widow. How could such dire need not affect the heart of any humane person?”
“Your ancestors were from the realm of the spirit, Ninth Lady,” said Chou Pao, “and your own family branch represents a distinguished line. You live among the wind and clouds, while we mortals wriggle on the ground in ignorance, most certainly under your control. How is it then that you have become weakened before mortals and have gotten into this kind of predicament?”
“The reputation of my clan,” she replied, “is known all over the world. The residents of P’eng-li [a lake in modern Kiangsi Province] and Tung-t’ing, for example, are my maternal grand uncles, and those of the Ling and Lo Rivers [both in southeastern Kwangsi] are my cousins. Counting all sorts of relatives, close and distant, we make up over a hundred clans. All live scattered among the old states of Wu and Yüeh, each with its own land. At the eight rivers around Hsien-ching17 in the north, half of them are relatives of our line.
“If I were to dispatch an emissary with a short message to P’eng-li and Tung-t’ing, summoning the Ling River and the Lo River as well, they would lead the light troops of Wei-yang,18 and command the crack army of the eight rivers. Summoning the god of the Yellow River, Feng Yi, and enlisting the great canyon spirit, Chü Ling, they would drum up the great waves of Tzu-hsü,19 and agitate the monsterous spirits of Yang Hou.20 Driving on Lieh Ch’üeh21 and ordering on Feng Lung,22 they would raise violent winds and churn up vicious tides. There would be men advancing by a hundred different routes at once, six armies on the march. Success would come with one battle and the puny dragon Ch’ao-na would be smashed into smithereens. Then the thousand miles of the Ching river would become nothing but a dirty ditch. What I say could be realized--there is no doubt about it.
“Not long ago, the Lord of Ching-yang23 and my granduncle Tung-t’ing, who had been related by marriage for years, had a falling out over a problem in a marriage between the two families. It resulted in the abandonment of Tung-t’ing’s daughter by her husband. This so enraged another of my grand uncles, Ch’ien-t’ang,24 that in a fit of anger he destroyed many lives and damaged the crops with tumultuous waters. The pathetic creature of the Ching River was also killed.25 Even today the wheel ruts and horses’ tracks left during the battle are still present on the banks of the Ching, and historical records are still extant--there is no question but that it happened.
“Now I have been implicated by Heaven in the affair of my husband’s clan, and have not yet received pardon from the gods. Therefore, I have tried to avoid notice by retiring from sight. That is also the reason for my enduring this plight. If then you, sir, should not understand my true feelings and decide to excuse yourself with the demands of other affairs, what I have just recounted will be repeated. I shall not try to avoid reproach by the gods.”
Chou Pao then acceded to her request. They drank up the last cup of wine and cleared away the food. She bowed twice and left.
Chou did not awaken until late afternoon. What he had seen and heard in the dream was still as vivid as reality. The next day he ordered fifteen hundred troops to be stationed by the temple next to the pool. On the seventh day of the month, while it was still dark outside, the cocks began to crow and Chou Pao prepared to get up. Suddenly there appeared before his curtain a person who had walked through the tapestry curtains, and who appeared to be a toilet attendant. He called out to her for light, but there was no reply. In a harsh voice he reproved her, but she replied, “There is a distinction between the dark and the light. Please do not threaten me with a lamp.”
Chou Pao realized then that there was something strange about her. He fell silent and held his breath. Finally he addressed her, “You are Ninth Lady, I presume?”
“I am a servant of Ninth Lady. Yesterday you kindly sent your troops to rescue us from danger. But because there is a difference between the affairs of the visible and those of the invisible, they cannot be utilized. If you are able to honor the original agreement, we hope that you will rethink this matter.”
Presently the gauze window brightened, and as he watched silently, with eyes fixed, she disappeared from sight. He considered the situation for quite some time before it dawned upon him. Quickly summoning the scribe, he commanded him to select some five hundred cavalry and fifteen hundred infantry from the ranks of fallen soldiers. From among these he chose one Sheriff Meng Yüan to act as Commanding Officer, and transferred them all to the control of the spirit of the Pond of the Good Woman.
On the eleventh he withdrew the troops which he had stationed at the temple. Then, right in front of his outer office, and for no apparent reason, an armored soldier fell to the ground, his mouth moving and his eyes blinking. He did not respond to questions, but neither did he appear to be dying. They placed him in the outer corridor, and he finally came to at daylight. A man was sent to question him.
“At first I saw a man,” he answered. “He was wearing a black garment and came from the east. He greeted me politely and said, ‘The princess has received a great kindness from your master, the Prime Minister, to prevent her ruin. But unfortunately it was not completely sincere. We would like to rely on your great intelligence to convey a message from the spirit world. Please do not refuse, but do your best for us.’
“I was in a hurry to find an excuse to refuse, but he grabbed me by the sleeve, and I fell down unconscious. Soon I awoke and found that I was walking in the company of the black-clad figure, close upon his heel, and then suddenly we arrived at the temple. With repeated calls and quick steps we arrived before a curtain from behind which the princess addressed me,26 saying, ‘The other day your master took pity on my isolation and danger, and that is why you were stationed in this area. Marching up and down the road, you must be tired.
“ ‘We are honored with another loan of soldiers from your master and are deeply satisfied with his sincerity. We can see that the troops and mounts are spirited and strong, their armor and weapons sharp and ready. It is only that Sheriff Meng Yüan has little ability and a low position, and he lacks a knowledge of strategy. On the ninth of this month a mounted force of more than three thousand attacked my borders. I sent Meng Yüan to lead the newly arrived troops to lure them on, and then attack them on the plain. His ambush preparations were not thorough and he was defeated by the invading troops. I truly need a capable officer. Would you quickly return and relay this message?’ With that she spoke no more. I took my leave, feeling dizzy as if drunk. That’s all I remember.”
Chou examined the story and found that it coincided with his own dream. Wanting to take care of this business once and for all, he decided to send Cheng Ch’eng-fu, the Commander of Chih-sheng Pass27 to replace Meng Yüan. During the evening office hours on the thirteenth of that month, incense was burned and wine offered on the drilling field behind the office complex, and Chou Pao formally requested Ninth Lady to accept the candidate. On the sixteenth, the command staff of Chih-sheng Pass sent a report that “at midnight on the thirteenth just past the Commander of the Pass died suddenly.” Chou was surprised, and with a sigh sent a man to see about it as quickly as possible. Reaching the pass, he found that Cheng was indeed dead. Only his heart and back were not yet cold, and the body, awaiting burial in the summer months, did not decompose. His family found it most strange.
Then suddenly one night a fierce, cold wind blew up sand and set stones rolling, tore roofs from houses and uprooted trees. Standing grain and new shoots were bent to the ground. The wind stopped in the morning, but then clouds and fog covered everything, and did not disperse for several days. One evening there was a sudden clap of thunder, resounding as if the heavens were being ripped asunder. Just at that moment Ch’eng-fu was heard moaning inside the coffin, so the family tore open the casket to examine him. After a long while he regained consciousness. That night relatives and neighbors gathered at the house. Their grief gave way to happiness when, after two days, he had fully recovered.
When his family inquired what had happened, he said, “At first I saw a man wearing a purple sash riding a black horse, followed by some ten people. At the door he dismounted and told me to come near. After a ceremonious greeting he handed me a missive he had been holding in his hands, and said, ‘The princess “had a dream of obtaining an effective minister,”28 whereby she knew that you possess great talent for leadership. She wishes to follow the custom established at Nan-yang,29 by seeking to exterminate a clan foe. She has sent me to present this gift in order to extend her respects to you, and hopes that you will help us rebuild our state. She hopes that you will not insist on her “making three trips” before assenting to help us.’
“I did not have time to respond, except to say that I did not deserve her esteem. In the midst of polite exchanges, the presents were already being displayed below the steps: saddled horses, arms, brocade, articles of enjoyment, and a quiver and bow case, all laid out in the courtyard. I was not allowed to decline, so I bowed twice and accepted them. Then they urged me to mount a chariot which was drawn by an extraordinarily handsome steed, freshly caparisoned, with a tidy and dignified driver. In no time we had driven more than a hundred miles. Over three hundred armored cavalry came to meet us as escorts, with equipage fit for a great general, and I was more than satisfied. Before long we could make out a great city in the distance with high crenelated walls and deep moats. I was confused as to where we were. We set up tents on the outskirts of the city, where music was played and a feast set out. When the banquet was over we entered the city. Crowds lined the streets like walls, and runners rushed to and fro with messages. The gates through which we passed were innumerable. We reached a place which looked like a government office. Aides bade me dismount and change clothes, after which I went in to see the princess. She relayed instructions that we were to meet as host and guest. Since I had accepted the assignment as well as the equipment for service, I thought I was her subject, so I protested and entered with my uniform on. She agreed to a protocol lower than that between host and guest, but again ordered me to remove my arms, as a sign of special regard for me.
“I took off my weapons, and went in deferentially with small, quick steps. I saw the princess seated in the hall. After paying my respects in the manner of a subject to his lord, I was called to ascend the platform. I again bowed twice and then went up the west side. Several dozen court ladies--their faces powdered red, their eyes lined with black whorls, their hair coiled upon their heads like dragons and phoenixes--stood in waiting. Another several dozen were plucking stringed instruments and playing flutes, all in profusely flowery and amazing costumes. There were others--with golden girdles and trailing purple robes, ornamented sashes and glimmering hairpins--who scurried back and forth. Many more with light furs and great belts, with white jade around their waists, waited below the dais.
“She then gave orders to five or six female guests, each having more than ten attendants, who entered in close file, one after the other. I held my hands together in front of me as a gesture of respect, not daring to bow. After they were seated, several deputy officers were also ordered to sit down. Music began and wine was called in. As it was poured, the princess drew back her sleeves, raised her cup and was about to speak about the reason for her invitation, when suddenly we heard signal fires being lit on all sides and voices calling out, ‘Ten thousand of Ch’ao-na’s bandit troops attacked at dawn today. They destroyed our defensive fortifications and have just crossed our borders. They are pushing in from all directions--beacon fires are burning everywhere. Please send out troops to reinforce us!’
“Those seated looked at each other and paled. The women did not wait to take leave of each other but hastened away unceremoniously. I followed the officers and descended the steps to give thanks and then stood at attention to await orders. The princess came up to the balustrade and addressed me, ‘I have received your master, the Prime Minister’s extraordinary favor,’ she said. ‘He has taken pity on the fact that I am alone, and has repeatedly sent troops to rescue me from difficulties. Since our vehicles and armor are inadequate, we need to rely on strategy. He has not abandoned me in my insufficiency and has sent you to assist us in just such an emergency. I hope that you will not use the fact that this place is hidden and remote as an excuse, but will lend us your help where we are most in need.’
“Then she gave me two more battle horses, a suit of gold armor, banners and flags, the standard and axe (emblems of authority), and many other treasured articles. They filled the courtyard as well as the eyes, and could not be counted. Two palace ladies presented me with the insignia of Commanding Officer, together with sumptuous gifts. I saluted them and departed. Then I summoned the various officers and took command of the troops; voices sounded and resounded.
“That night we left the city. Repeated scoutings always brought back the same information: the enemy strength was steadily increasing! I was familiar with the hills and streams of the area, and with the terrain in general. The whole area was desolate. We set out that night for a point about a hundred li from the city, where I divided the troops and placed them in a number of strategic spots. I made clear the rewards and punishments involved, and harangued the three armies. Then I set up three ambush sites and waited for the enemy. Just as the sky grew light, the preparations were finished. The enemy was over-confident from its previous successes and advanced carelessly, still thinking that our troops were under the command of Meng yüan. I personally led the light cavalry and watched them from on high. We saw the dust rising all around us; their formations were ordered and strict. I sent the light troops first to provoke an attack, appearing weak in order to draw them on. Then I supplemented them with men bearing short swords who steadily withdrew while keeping the enemy engaged. The sound of metal and leather resounded in the air and sent shock waves through the ground. I led my troops away, pretending defeat, and the enemy responded with an all-out forward thrust with their best troops. At the sound of the rolling drums, the troops in ambush arose together. The battle raged over an area of ten miles--we closed in on them from all directions. Their army was totally routed and the dead lay like vines upon the ground. They fought as they ran, and the ruffian Ch’ao-na managed to slip through the mesh of blades, though those who escorted him could not have numbered more than ten. I selected thirty cavalrymen on swift horses to pursue him, and finally deposited him alive under the commanding flag.
“From all of this, blood and flesh dyed the grass and bushes, and fat and grease oozed over the plain. The stink of flesh permeated the air, and recovered weapons were piled like mountains. The enemy leader was hurried to the princess by light cart. She ascended the Pavilion of Northern Pacification to accept him, while officials and all the people of the state gathered together. When taken to the front of the pavilion and accused of violating the rules of decency, Ch’ao-na replied, ‘I deserve death,’ and with that would not utter another word. She ordered him taken under guard to the marketplace for execution by quartering. But as this was about to be carried out, a messenger from the king arrived in a carriage, bearing an urgent order to pardon the criminal. The message said, ‘The crime of Ch’ao-na is my crime. You may pardon him to lessen my guilt.’ The princess was overjoyed to hear from her parents again and addressed the officers, ‘Ch’ao-na’s irresponsible actions were at my father’s instigation. We shall pardon him today, also at my father’s command. My former refusal to obey was because of my vow of chastity. It would not be right for me to be defiant again.’
“So she ordered his bonds undone and sent one mounted soldier to escort him home. Before he reached Ch’ao-na, however, he died on the road, overcome by shame.
“As for me, I was greatly rewarded for my success against the enemy. Soon, with proper ceremony, I was made Great General of Pacification, with an income of thirteen thousand households in the north. In addition I was given noble housing, carriages and horses, precious objects, clothes, servants, parks and gardens, a residence in the capital, banners, and armor. Then she rewarded the other generals; their gifts were inferior.
“The next day there was a large banquet with only five or six invited guests. The six or seven ladies I saw before came to sit with us. They were so beautiful, truly captivating. We drank happily all night.
“When the wine first arrived, the princess raised her cup and said, ‘My misfortune is that I was widowed very young. Heaven has bestowed upon me my constancy, and I did not follow my strict father’s orders. I have lived in seclusion here for thirty-six years, where, distraught and disheartened, I had yet to find respite from my distress. I was threatened by a neighborhood bully and was very nearly ruined. If not for your master, the Prime Minister’s extraordinary favor, and, General, your brave martial prowess, I would have been made “a silent widow of the Marquis of Hsi, forced into marriage”30 and become the prisoner of Ch’ao-na. Such kindness and enduring favor I will never forget!’
“Then she picked up a jewel-studded drinking vessel and had someone present it to ‘General Cheng.’ I stepped back from the mat and drank after bowing twice. At this time I began to feel like going home, and since this was a reasonable and sincere request, she gave permission for a month’s leave. When the feast ended, I left the palace.
“The next day, after a grateful leave-taking, I assembled some thirty men under my command and returned along the road by which I had come. I heard only chickens and dogs in the places we passed. It was quite mournful. Soon we reached home where we saw my family all crying. The casket was set up with a canopy solemnly arranged over it. One of my men told me to get into the casket through a crack. I was about to go forward when I was lifted up by those around me. Suddenly I heard a clap of thunder, then, awakening, I became conscious.”
From this time on, Cheng Ch’eng-fu disengaged himself from the management of his family’s estate, and entrusted the future affairs entirely to his wife and sons. Sure enough, at the end of a month he passed away without an illness. Just before his sudden death, he said to his relatives, “Formerly, I was employed for my military strategies, and I performed my duty among the ranks. Although less than spectacular, my service did have some results. But having the misfortune to be slandered, I was assigned to my present position and became frustrated in my ambitions. A man of aspiration ought to stir up great winds, push aside great waves, lift great mountains for cracking eggs, and channel the eastern ocean to douse a firefly. He ought to arouse within himself a fierce, combative spirit, as in hawks and hounds, to act for people in righting wrongs. Soon I shall be given such opportunities, and it will not be long before I am parted from you.”
On the thirteenth of that month, a traveler set off very early from the city of Hsüeh-chü and traveled for some ten li before dawn broke. Suddenly he saw the dust of vehicles rise in front of him, together with banners of brilliant colors and several hundred armored men and horses. One man, surrounded by the others, appeared stately and regal. Taking a closer look, he found that it was Cheng Ch’eng-fu. The traveler was caught by surprise and stood still beside the road watching the procession. It passed before his eyes like wind and clouds towards the Pool of the Good Woman. In a brief moment it had disappeared completely.
(Hsü, pp. 343-363; TPKC, 492)
Tr. Michael Broschat and S. Y. Kao
Note: See Introduction, Sec. V, for a discussion of this story.
The long passages of speech studded with parallelisms and literary allusions are occasions for the author/character to vaunt rhetorical skills and argumentative eloquence. Chou Pao himself calls attention to this at one point in the story. This is a feature that characterizes many T’ang ch’uan-ch’i.
1 Ching-chou is located on the Ching River in the eastern part of modern Kansu Province. Hsüeh-chü was the Captain of Chin-ch’eng (modern Kao-lan County, Kansu) during the last years of the Sui dynasty (605-618.) He took control of Lung-hsi (eastern portion of modern Kansu) and proclaimed himself Hegemon of Western Ch’in, making Lang-ch’ou his capital. He was defeated and killed by the T’ang forces in Emperor Kao-tsu’s (r. 618-626) time. The “city of Hsüeh-chü” apparently refers to a locale once under his control.
2 In modern Kansu, further up river from Ching-ch’uan, at Ρ’ing-liang.
3 A native of Lu-lung (modern Hopeh), Chou was the Military Governor of Ching-yüan (modern Kansu and Ning-hsia) during the reign of Emperor Wu-tsung (r. 841-846). He was made Prime Minister in 882, and later, Prince of Ju-nan.
4 The fifth 1unar month is considered unlucky. See Derk Bodde, Festivals in Classical China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), esp. pp. 308-14.
5 Near modern Ning-po, Chekiang Province, but closer to the ocean.
6 The dragon lore to which Ninth Lady refers here is based on a legend recorded in the “Liang ssu-kung chi” (Legends of the Four Wise Men of the Liang Dynasty). Fragments of this work are preserved in TPKC 81 and 418.9, and Shuo-fu 113 of the 120-chüan edition. The TPKC 81 fragment contains allusions to the holocaust engendered by Yü P’i-lo’s ancestor and Yü’s own attempt to prosecute the Tung-t’ing dragons in the time of Emperor Wu of Liang (r. 503-549).
7 Dragons were said to have a weakness for roast swallows.
8 One of the “four wise men;” his name is given as Wan Chieh. See TPKC, 81.4.
9 In modern Shensi Province, further down the Ching River from Ching-ch’uan, and closer to Hsi-an.
10 “Chin-yang” refers to the attack on the Viscount of Chao at Chin-yang (south of modern T’ai-yüan, Shensi) by the Duke of Chih and the Viscounts of Han and Chao, all vassals of Chin, in the Spring and Autumn period. During this attack, the water from the Chin River was diverted to flood the city. “T’ai-ch’eng” refers to the attack on Emperor Wu of Liang at T’ai-ch’eng (modern Nanking) by the rebellious general Han-ching who set fire to the imperial palace.
11 Mao #45. According to Wei Hung’s preface, this poem expresses the resistance of Kung-chiang, the widow of Kung-po, against her parents1 pressure to remarry after her husband’s death. The translation of the last line follows Chu Hsi’s reading.
12 Mao #17. The preface explains this poem as a chaste girl’s rebuke of a suitor who tries to force her into marriage by pressuring her with a court suit.
13 The expressions, “the ranges of Fang-ch’eng as the city wall” and “the Han River but a pond within his territory,” occur as descriptions of the immensity of the state of Ch’u in the Tso-chuan. The story of the conquest of Ch’u by Wu Tzu-hsü and its subsequent restoration by Shen Pao-hsü can be found in Shih-chi, “Ch’u shih-chia,” and Tso-chuan Ting-kung 4,5; cf. Crump, J., Chan-kuo ts’e (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 232-35.
14 Ch’üeh Wan, Yang-ling Chung, and Chin Ch’eng, who were killed by the Ch’u Prime Minister Tzu-ch’ang in 515 B.C., the year after King Chao acceded to the throne (see Tso-chuan Chao-kung 27).
15 After taking Ch’u, the victorious general, Wu Tzu-hsü, whose father and brother had been killed by King P’ing of Ch’u (King Chao’s father), had his corpse exhumed and flogged.
16 The name of the ruling house of Ch’u.
17 Also called Hsien-yang; in modern Shensi, near Hsi-an. The eight rivers are: Ching, Wei, Pa, Ch’an, Lao, Chüeh, Ρ’an, and Hao.
18 Modern Yang-chou city, in Kiangsu Province, near the mouth of the Yangtze, here designating the entire area of Wu and Yüeh.
19 Wu Tzu-hsü (d. 484 B.C.), a minister of the state of Wu who led the attack on Ch’u (see n. 14 above). He was later killed by the king of Wu, Fu-ch’a, and his body, according to one account, was thrown into the Yangtze River, where he became the god of the tidal bore.
20 A feudal lord who committed suicide by drowning in a river. His spirit became a river god.
21 A spirit associated with lightning.
22 A spirit controlling the clouds.
23 In modern Shensi, further down the Ching River from Hsin-p’ing; see n. 9.
24 The name of the Che-chiang river as it nears Hangkow in Chekiang Province.
25 The account of this feud between the Ching-yang and Tung-t’ing dragons, and Ch’ien-t’ang’s avenging of his niece’s wrong, is based on the story “Liu Yi chuan” (see TPKC, 419; for a translation see Ma and Lau, pp. 346-54).
26 As a low ranking male soldier, he is not allowed to present himself to the female commander face to face.
27 Also called Chih-fu Kuan, the Vanquishing Pass; located in Kansu. It was under the command of Chou Pao as Military Governor of Ching-yüan.
28 Literally, “a dream of the wind blowing clear the dust.” This refers to the Yellow Emperor’s dream that eventually led to his obtaining a prime minister to help him rule (see Shih-chi, 1, pp. 6-8).
29 A reference to the story that Liu Pei (162-223) went three times to the residence of Chu-ko Liang (181-234) in Nan-yang, modern Honan, to ask him to be his councillor.
30 A reference to Hai Kuei, a widow from the state of Hsi (annexed by Ch’u in 680 B.C.) who was taken captive by the victorious Ch’u conqueror to whom she refused to speak, even after bearing two children by him (see Tso-chuan, Chuang-kung 14).
During the K’ai-yüan reign period [713-756], there was a poor scholar who went to Ho-shuo [modern Hopeh] seeking officials who might reward him for his writing. Finding no one who was willing to assist him, he turned and set off toward Li-yang [in modern Honan, northeast of Chün County]. The sun had already set, and there was still a great distance ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a house at the side of the road, with quite a large frame and roof. As he would need a place to stay for the night, he went over and knocked at the gate. After a very long time, a servant came out. The traveler said, “It is late in the day, and I cannot reach my destination tonight. Would it be possible for me to stay over here in the servants’ quarters?”
The servant replied, “I shall go and ask the master of the house.” He went back inside the house, and soon the shuffling of shoes was heard. An elegantly dressed gentleman emerged. He had a noble bearing and looked quite handsome and dignified. He had the servant invite the traveler inside, where they exchanged greetings. He asked, “Have your travels been difficult? I have only a humble cottage, which is not suitable for someone of your station.”
The traveler secretly thought the man a bit strange, and wishing to be able to find out more about him, went with him into the main hall. The host was quite adept at discussing lofty topics. When he spoke of events following the Northern Ch’i dynasty [550-577] and Northern Chou dynasty [557-581], his descriptions were so vivid it seemed as if he had witnessed the events with his own eyes. The traveler asked him his name, to which he replied, “I am Hsün Chi-ho of Ying-ch’uan [in modern Honan, near Hsü-ch’ang municipality]. My ancestors held official posts here, which is how I came to live in this place.” He ordered wine and food to be set out, all of which were pure and fresh, but not very tasty.
After a while, the host ordered some bedding to be set up in the guest lodge. He invited the traveler to enter, and sent a maidservant to spend the night with him there. The traveler waited until they had become intimate with each other, and then asked her, “What official position does your master now hold?” She answered, “He is Chief Advisor to the River Spirit. You mustn’t tell anyone.”
Suddenly from outside they heard a cry of pain. Stealing a look out the window, the traveler saw his host sitting on a folding stool, surrounded by lanterns. A man stood before him, hair disheveled and completely naked. The attendants called out a whole flock of birds to peck at his eyes, so that his blood stained the ground. The host looked furious. “You still dare to abuse me?” he demanded.
The traveler asked, “Who is that man?” The maidservant responded, “Why should you want to know other people’s business?” After he pressed her for an answer, she explained, “That is the magistrate of Li-yang. He frequently goes hunting, and has often pursued his prey here, trespassing through our walled enclosure. That is why he is being punished.” The traveler made a mental note of this.
The next morning he looked about and saw only a large burial mound. On asking a passerby about it, he was told that it was the grave of the official Hsün.
When the traveler arrived at Li-yang, the magistrate declined to see him on account of an eye ailment. The traveler said, “I can heal it.” The magistrate rejoiced, and then invited him in, whereupon the traveler told him all that had transpired. “That’s true. I have been through that area,” said the magistrate. Then he secretly ordered the village officials to gather many thousands of bundles of firewood and pile them at the side of the grave. One day he had a group of assistants set fire to the wood and move the gravesite. His eyes then began to heal. He thanked the traveler generously, but did not tell him what he had done.
Later, the traveler returned to the original gravesite. There he saw a man with a scorched head and scalded face, dressed in tatters. He had been squatting among weeds and brambles, but now walked straight up to the traveler, who did not recognize him. The man said, “Don’t you remember staying at my house?” The traveler was astounded. “How did this happen?” he asked. The man answered, “Earlier, I was persecuted by the magistrate, but I know that this was not your intention. It was simply my own bad fate.”
The traveler was overcome with remorse for what he had done. He prepared a small feast for him and burned his old clothes as an offering to him.1 The ghost happily accepted these and disappeared.
(TPKCH I, pp. 342-45; TPKC, 333.1)
Tr. Laurie Scheffler
Note: A framing of new motifs and events within the old motif of “interaction between the living and the dead.”
1 Burning his clothes was a way of sending them into the spirit world, so the spirit would be properly clothed there.
Sometime during the T’ang dynasty, the prefect of Ch’ien-yang [in modern Shensi Province]--whose name has not been passed down--decided one day that he would exchange the life of a layman for the Buddhist faith. So he began to chant sutras and recite scriptures in great earnest, and at the end of little more than a month, multicolored clouds were seen to gather above his house.
He had a vision of a Boddhisattva astride a lion who appeared to him and proclaimed with a fanfare, “Your vows of faith and your pious endeavors are most noble and lofty. Supreme enlightenment will soon be within your reach. Stay firm in your faith and devote yourself whole-heartedly to the doctrines of the church. Beware of ever relaxing in your devotion and being defeated in your purpose!” With that, it flew into the air and disappeared from sight. The prefect then practiced meditation by shutting himself up in a room and abstaining from food for six or seven days. His family were very much worried; they feared that his insistence on starving himself would damage his health and shorten his life.
It happened that the Taoist priest Lo Kung-Yüan1 was on his way from Szechwan to the capital [Ch’ang-an], and his journey took him through the region of Mt. Lung [in modern Shensi], The prefect’s son consulted him about the cause of his father’s strange behavior. Kung-Yüan answered, laughing, “This is the working of the heavenly fox. But it can be taken care of quite easily.” So he wrote out some charms to effect a cure, and told the son to cast some of them into the well on the family compound. This being done, the door to the meditation room was opened, and they found his father, the prefect, totally emaciated from starvation. He was forced to swallow some of the written charms, and with that suddenly recovered his clarity of mind. From then on he never spoke of his desire to practice that religion again.
A few years later, he retired from office and returned to his native place. His home was in the countryside, with the wide plains stretching out for miles on end. One day, stick in hand, he was out on a leisurely walk when he saw in the distance a man with the look of nobility coming out of the mulberry grove from the south. Accompanied by over a dozen of attendants on horseback, the man had the appearance of a king followed by his entourage. To stay out of the way, the prefect went back to his house. But the horsemen soon stopped in front of the house and sent in a message, saying that a certain Liu Ch’eng would like to have an audience with him. The prefect was taken by surprise: as he did not recognize the name, what could be the reason for this man’s wanting to see him? Nevertheless, the prefect came out to greet him and invited him inside.
After being seated, the visitor turned to the prefect and said, “You do me a great honor in promising me this marriage. I dare not refuse and have come now as you asked.” Now, the prefect had a daughter, who, when he was in office, had been just ten years old, but by this time had already turned sixteen. He said, “I have never seen you before. How could there ever be such a marriage agreement?” Ch’eng replied, “If you do not agree to the marriage, it will not be difficult to bring you around.” He then stood up and put his hand to his mouth; suddenly the whole house shook and trembled violently. Water erupted from the well, mingling with the waste matter that flowed out of the privy; objects in the house flew all over. The prefect could do nothing but agree to the wedding proposal. The wedding was held the next day, preceded by the exchange of nuptial gifts. After the wedding, Ch’eng continued to live in the house. Because of the lavish wedding gifts and other wealth he brought along, the household was not particularly displeased by his presence.
Some time later the son of the prefect went on a trip to the capital, and while there, he sought out Kung-yüan to ask his advice on this matter. “The fox was capable of only the easiest kinds of tricks before,” said Kung-yüan, “but now he has mastered the art of casting spells and hexes with written charms; he probably has even surpassed me in it now. I don’t know what we can do!” However, Kung-Yüan soon yielded to the son’s persistent importuning, and memorialized the throne to ask permission to leave court for a time.
When the two of them returned to the prefect’s house, Kung-yüan ordered a platform erected about a dozen paces from the house. Walking stick in hand, Ch’eng came out of the house, walked right up to the platform, and started to rail at the old Taoist priest, demanding an explanation of what he had in mind, betraying not the least sign of fear or concern.
When the platform was completed, Kung-Yüan challenged Ch’eng to a duel. Ch’eng seated himself in front of the house, while Kung-Yüan sat on the platform. The latter gave the first blow and hit Ch’eng with an object which sent him tumbling onto the ground, unable to get up for some time. Then Ch’eng took his turn and returned the attack with an object of his own; Kung-Yüan took a fall, just as Ch’eng had before. Back and forth they took turns in the bout for several dozen rounds. Then Kung-Yüan suddenly said to his disciples, “Next round when he attacks, I shall make it appear that he has killed me. You are to act as though I were dead. Then I shall best him with the most divine of the magic arts.” So when Ch’eng struck again, Kung-Yüan fell and rolled over on the ground, and his disciples began to wail loudly. Delighted with having dealt his enemy a fatal blow, Ch’eng relaxed. Seizing the opportunity, Kung-Yüan sent out a spirit to attack him. Caught off guard, Ch’eng panicked and, finding himself quite exhausted, changed into an old fox. Having regained his posture, Kung-yüan used his sitting stool to capture the fox, and then bagged it in a big sack. He then returned to the capital by a government stagecoach.
When he showed the fox to Emperor Hsüan-tsung [r. 712-56], the emperor was rather amused. Kung-yüan respectfully clarified the matter by saying, “This is a heavenly fox, which must not be put to death. The appropriate way to deal with it is to banish it to the eastern frontier.” So he wrote out a charm and sent the fox into exile in Hsin-lo.2 The fox received the charm and flew off. To this day the natives of Hsin-lo still worship a deity by the name of Liu Ch’eng.
Tr. S. Y. Kao
Note: The rivalry between Buddhism and Taoism is again made the explicit subject here, with the former shown in an inferior light this time (cf. “Shu Li”  and “Ch’eng Tao-hui”  where Buddhism has the upper hand). Notice how the competition is now manifested in a form that is more physical than philosophical.
Emperor Hsüan-tsung in fact favored Taoism over Buddhism, although priests of both religions were invited to the imperial court and asked to debate the merits of their respective faiths.
1 A Taoist priest that Emperor Hsüan-tsung invited to his court. In a story about him given in TPKC 22.1 he is shown to be engaged, together with another Taoist, in a contest of magic with Chin-kang San-tsang (Vajramati), a renowned Buddhist monk, for the amusement of the emperor. His maigc is described as being more subtle and powerful than that of the Buddhist monk. Cf. “Lo Ssu-yüan” in Hsin T’ang shuy, 204, p. 5811.
2 A state in the southeastern part of Korea, under T’ang suzerainty during Hsüan-tsung’s reign.
In the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820], the daughter of Ch’i Τ’ui, governor of Jao-chou [in Kiangsi], was wed to a certain Mr. Li of Lung-hsi [in Kansu]. As Mr. Li was taking the chin-shih1 examination, his wife, now pregnant, was sent to her father’s house.
When the final month arrived, she was moved to a rear chamber in the eastern section of the house. That night, she dreamt of a man in impressive clothes and headwear who glared at her wrathfully. With one hand on his sword, he rebuked her, saying, “You shall not contaminate this room with your fetid filth! Move away quickly, or suffer the consequences!”
The following day, she told her father. Ch’i T’ui, who had always been an upright man, said, “I am the lord of this piece of land. What miscreant spirit dares to transgress against it?”
Several days later, as the girl was giving birth, she suddenly saw the man from her dream, who approached the bed curtain and beat her savagely. In a few moments she was dripping blood through her ears, nose, and eye sockets; she died shortly thereafter.
Her parents were grieved by their daughter’s untimely death, but despite their regrets, it was too late for remedy. They dispatched a courier to inform her husband, so that she could be taken for burial with the Li clan when he arrived. Meanwhile she was provisionally interred beside the official highway, slightly over ten miles northwest of the commandery.
Mr. Li, who was in the capital, had failed the examination. As he was about to return home, he received news of the death and went on his way to Jao-chou. By the time he arrived, his wife had already been dead for six months. Mr. Li was somewhat aware of the manner of her death, of her having been deprived of life in her prime. In the depths of his mourning he longed to redress the injustice.
The sun was setting as he approached the outer wall of the city. Suddenly he saw a woman in the wilderness who, from her looks and adornments, did not appear to be merely a rustic maiden. Li’s heart was stirred. He stopped his horse to get a closer look at her, but she disappeared amidst the trees and plants. Li dismounted to look for her. When he found her, he realized it was actually his wife. They wept when they saw each other.
His wife said, “Shed no more tears. It is my good fortune that I shall be able to live again. Long have I awaited your coming. My father in his uprightness does not believe in ghosts and spirits. I am but a woman and could not press my plaint alone. Now that we have seen each other, there is hope, although it is rather late.” Li said, “What can be done!” The girl replied, “Five li due north from here is Ρ’o-t’ing village, where there lives an old man surnamed T’ien who teaches the village children. He is the immortal magistrate of Chiu-hua Cave,2 though no one knows this. If you beseech him with utmost earnestness, we may yet hope to obtain his help.”
Li thereupon hastened to see Master T’ien, whom he greeted by walking towards him on his knees and repeatedly offering obeisance, saying, “A lowly mortal from this world presumes to seek help from the great immortal!” At the time the old man was lecturing to the village children on the Classics. Startled upon seeing Li’s obeisance, he hastened to stop him, and said, “I am but a wizened old derelict destined to die any day now. How is it that you say such things, sir?” Li repeatedly made obeisance and kowtowed without stopping. The old man became all the more uneasy, especially as Li stood before him from dawn to dusk, his hands folded in a gesture of respect, never taking a seat. The old man lowered his head for a long time, then said, “Since you are so earnest about it, I shall not evade you any more.” Mr. Li then kowtowed until blood showed and proceeded to tell him of his wife’s grievance.
The old man said, “Long have I known of this, but you did not initiate a charge earlier. As it is now, the lady has decayed, and it is too late to reclaim her. Just now I resisted your approach because I do not as yet have a plan. Nevertheless, I will try to settle this matter for you.”
He rose and left through the northern door. After he had walked a little more than a hundred paces, he stopped at a mulberry grove. He gave a long yodel and suddenly there appeared a large official’s edifice surrounded by turrets. The guards were richly garlanded with emblems of power after the fashion of kings. Master Τ’ien now appeared in a purple robe and sat at the bench, flanked by a retinue of officials in waiting.
A great summons for the deities of various regions was shouted forth. Shortly thereafter, there arrived over ten units of riders, each consisting of more than a hundred horsemen, galloping to the court. Their leaders each stood over ten feet in height, imposing in stature and countenance. They lined themselves up outside the door. Tidying their headgear and uniforms, they all appeared nervous and asked each other, “What could be the matter?”
Not long thereafter, the deities of Mount Lu, of the four sea-bound rivers,3 and of Lake P’eng-li, among others who had been summoned, made their entrance. Master Τ’ien said, “Lately the daughter of the governor of this province was killed by a violent spirit as she was giving birth to a baby. The matter is a grave injustice. Are you aware of it?” They all prostrated themselves to respond, “We are.” Again he asked, “Why has it not been brought for settlement before the court?” They all replied, “Penal cases must have their plaintiff. Since no one filed a complaint, there was no way to initiate the proceedings.” Someone asked, “Is the name of the miserable assailant known?” Someone else answered, “It is Wu Jui,4 prince of the P’o district [in Kiangsi] of the Western Han [206 B.C.-A.D. 25]. What is presently the governor’s residence was in the past Wu Jui’s dwelling place. To this day he perseveres in his bellicose ways, attacking and occupying territory and spreading his terror everywhere. The people are helpless before him.” Master T’ien said, “Seek him out.”
After a while, Wu Jui was brought bound. The master interrogated him, but he would not confess, whereupon it was ordered that Mrs. Li be sought out.
Much later, Li’s wife and Wu Jui were seen to be confronting each other in court. In the time that it takes to eat a meal, Wu Jui had submitted. He said, “It must be that she was in a weakened state after giving birth and that, upon seeing me, she died of fright. I did not mean to cause her death.” Master T’ien said, “Whether you kill someone by means of a stick or a sword, does it not amount to the same?” He then ordered that Wu Jui be handed over to the heavenly gendarmes for punishment.
Turning to Mrs. Li’s affair, he directed that her allotted life-span be looked up. Soon a clerk announced, “She was to have lived another thirty-two years. She would have given birth to four sons and three daughters.” The master said to the assembled officials, “Mrs. Li’s allotted life-span is long indeed. If she is not made to live again, justice will not be served. How do you see it?” An old official stepped forward and said, “In Yeh-hsia [in Hopeh], during the Eastern Chin [317-420], there was a man who suffered an untimely death, a case very similar to this one. A predecessor of yours, Lord Ko,5 decided to unite the souls to make up a body. He then returned him to the world of the living, where the man’s eating habits, speech, desires, and pursuits were all as they had been before. At the end of his life, however, there was no trace left of him.” Master T’ien said, “What does it mean ‘to unite the souls?’ ” The official said, “Living people have three heavenward-ascending souls and seven earthward-descending souls. When they die, their souls scatter and have nothing onto which they can hold. It is now possible to gather the souls to form a single body, which may be glued together with the resin used to repair the strings of a musical instrument. You, Your Excellency, may then release it onto the streets, and it will be exactly the same as the old body.”
Master T’ien approved. He turned towards Li’s wife and said, “Is it all right with you if we handle it this way?” Li’s wife replied, “Very much so!” A clerk then brought in seven or eight girls, all of them exactly like Li’s wife. They were huddled together, at which time a man carrying a bowl of unguent looking like malt gruel came up and applied it to the body of Li’s wife. Mrs. Li felt as though she had fallen from the sky onto the earth, and she stayed queasy for some time.
As the sun rose, all that had been visible during the night disappeared. There remained only Master T’ien along with Mr. and Mrs. Li, all in the mulberry grove. Master T’ien said to Mr. Li, “I have exerted myself on your behalf, and fortunately the matter has been accomplished. You may now take her back to see her relatives. Say only that she has been resuscitated, but be careful not to mention anything else. Henceforth I myself will not be seen again.”
Mr. Li then returned with his wife to the provincial capital. The entire household was astonished and would not believe them. Much later, however, they realized that she was truly alive. From this point on she bore several children, and there were many among her relatives who knew her story. They said, “She differed only in that her movements seemed lighter, not like those of ordinary people.”
(Wang, pp. 209-211; TPKC, 358.10; cf. TPKC, 44.1)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: Here is a kind of magic power possessed by a Taoist adept not seen in the stories from the Six Dynasties: the magician’s command over deities. Presented with verve, this manifestation of magic power is used as a frame for various other motifs, such as the rectification of an unjust death and the resuscitation of a dead person by the reassemblage of the “souls.” The fact that the tale is given in TPKC under the category “Thaumaturges and Immortals” also makes it clear that the show of magic power is to be taken as the subsuming motif.
For the names of the different hun (the aspiring souls) and the p’о (the base souls), and the Taoist concept of them, see Yün-chi ch’i-ch’ien, chüan (SPTK Ch’u-pien ed.), 54, “Hun shen,” pp. 375a-378c.
1 A doctorate of letters.
2 Chiu-hua is the name of a mountain range in Anhwei; it is celebrated for its associations with the various sects of both Buddhism and Taoism.
3 The Yangtze, Huang-ho, Huai, and Chi.
4 Wu Jui was Prefect of Po-yang under the Ch’in dynasty (221-207 B.C.). He later helped Liu Pang in his struggle against the Ch’in. Upon the establishment of the Han under Liu, he was enfeoffed as Prince of Ch’ang-sha, but his line lasted only four generations, after which the princedom was abolished.
5 Ko Hsüan (164-244), who studied the Tao with Tso Tz’u (see entry ) and was later deified by the Taoist church.--Ed.
Ts’en Shun of Ju-nan was styled Tzu-po. As a youth he was fond of studying and was well-read; in his adult years he was particularly keen on military craft. Wandering in Shan-chou [modern day Shensi], he was poor and had no home. A relative of his on his mother’s side by the name of Lu had a mountain residence which he was on the point of closing out. Shun asked to live there. Someone tried to dissuade him, but Shun said, “A person’s fate is ordained by heavenly decree. What is there to fear?” In the end he went to live there.
After a year had passed, Shun would often sit in his study all alone. Not even the members of his family were allowed to disturb him. Once, in the middle of the night, there came the sounds of war drums, one knows not whence. As soon as Shun stepped outside the house, the sound disappeared. He was pleased that he had controlled himself, for he took it to be a blessing from Shih Lo.1 He prayed to him, saying, “This must mean that the soldiers of the netherworld are helping me. If so, please let me know of the time when I will be rich and prosperous.”
Several nights later, he dreamt that a man wearing armor and helmet came before him and reported, “General Golden Elephant bids me speak with you, Mr. Ts’en. At night, there was a state of alarm in our military fortress, and much clamoring and wrangling was heard. You have honored us with your approval of our presence, and we dare not disobey your command. You have ample emoluments in store, and we hope you cherish your own future.
“Since you are a person of lofty plans, may we beseech you to lower yourself and extend a favor to our humble nation? Presently an enemy state has transgressed our ramparts, and we are seeking a worthy man to take the place of honor to guide us. Knowing of your virtuous reputation and ability, we wish you to lead us as we take up our banners and halberds.”
Shun thanked him, saying, “Bright and enlightened is the general. His troops are high-spirited and well disciplined. I am honored to receive his noble message, bestowed on such a lowly person as myself. But I shall readily put myself at his disposal, as a horse or dog would serve his master.” As the emissary left with this reply, Shun suddenly awoke, startled and quite beside himself. He sat up to ponder the significance of his dream.
Suddenly, drums and battle horns were heard all around, and their sound steadily intensified. Shun adjusted his head piece and stepped down from the bed. He bowed twice and prayed. In a short while, a wind blew in through the window, and the curtain fluttered and played about. Then, under the lantern, there suddenly appeared several hundred iron-clad horsemen galloping left and right, all just a few inches in height. They were well armored and carried swords and spears. They scattered about like so many stars. In the twinkling of an eye, cloudlike formations of troops gathered in from the four directions. Shun was frightened, but he composed himself and observed the events.
Shortly thereafter, a soldier brought him a letter, saying: “The general sends a message.” Shun accepted it and read:
Our country borders on the land of the Hsiung-nu.2 Continuous military campaigns have been conducted for many dozen years. Our generals are old, and our soldiers exhausted. Their bodies are frost-bitten and they sleep in their armour. Heaven itself sets up our mighty enemy; their power cannot be withstood. You, sir, have cultivated your virtue such that you may bring forth your accomplishments at a suitable time. Many times have we received good tidings from you, and hope to entrust ourselves to your gracious promise. But you, illustrious sir, are an official of the human world who will enjoy great prosperity in a sagely generation. How can our small state dare look to you for help? However, now the kingdom of T’ien-na has gathered its troops and joined forces in the northern mountain, and has set a date to launch their attack. The battle is planned for midnight. It is not sure that we will be able to destroy them. We remain in dread and fear.
Shun thanked the messenger. Then, lighting more lamps in his room, he sat down to watch the developments.
After the midnight hour, drums and battle horns were heard everywhere. Just before this, the rat’s hole in the lower portion of the eastern wall had turned into the gate of a fortress. There were enemy garrisons like mountains. After three alarums of the brass and drums, soldiers entered through four gates. Brandishing myriad pennons and riding like the wind, they formed rows on two sides. At the eastern wall was the army of T’ien-na. At the western wall was the army of the Golden Elephant. After they were each in formation, the military advisor stepped forward and said in verse:
Let the heavenly horse fly diagonally for three positions then stop;
Let the generals move crosswise and command the four directions.
The curtained chariots enter directly without hovering;
The spirit army in their order makes no precarious movements.
The king said, “Very well.”
Thereupon drums were beaten, and a single horse from each army strode forward, going diagonally for three feet then stopping. After another roll on the drums, a soldier from each side moved crosswise one foot. Another roll of the drums, and the chariots advanced. In this manner, the drums became steadily more excited, and more troops came out from each side. Arrows and stones were exchanged in disorder. Soon after this, the army of T’ien-na were defeated and put to rout. The dead and wounded lay scattered on the ground. Their king galloped southward in flight on a lone horse, while several hundred men headed towards the southwest corner where they took refuge.
Just before this, the king of Golden Elephant had seated himself on a mortar for grinding medicine which was in the southwest corner. Exactly at noon it was transformed into a fortress. His army was greatly enspirited and proceeded to gather its troops, while corpses were transported on carts across the field.
Shun observed all this from a crouching position. At this point, a horseman approached him and proclaimed, “Yin and Yang each have their place; he who comprehends this will prosper. Awe-inspiring in our heavenly power, our wind-like steeds mounting up in unison, we have been victorious in this first battle. What do you think of this, illustrious sir?” Shun said, “Your courage, general, reaches the bright sun. You rely on heaven’s own law and act only at the appropriate time. I have observed your divine transformations of strategies drawn from arcane texts. Your success pleases my beyond words.” The battle continued in this manner for several days, victory and defeat alternating between the two sides.
The countenance of the king was august, and his majestic deportment was without equal. He gave sumptuous feasts, and he brought for Ts’en Shun countless gems and treasures. Shun achieved glory in this, and all that he desired was provided. Later on he gradually came to isolate himself from his family and friends, never even stepping out of his room. His relatives were bewildered by this and could not ascertain the reason. Since Shun’s appearance became increasingly haggard, as if possessed by spirits, his relatives all realized that something was wrong. They inquired about this, but he would not answer. Eventually they managed to get him tipsy on strong wine, and in his drunkenness he let the truth slip out.
Thereupon they secretly prepared spades and shovels. When Shun came out to go to the privy, they confined him there, and started to dig in his room. After excavating eight or nine feet, they suddenly came upon a hollow space. It was an old tomb. In the tomb there was a brick altar on which there were several objects buried with the dead, as well as pieces of armor and helmets by the hundreds. In front there was a golden couch and a chess board upon which the horse pieces had been arrayed, all made of gold and copper. There, the affairs of the battle were fully displayed.
Only then did they realize that the words of the military advisor had referred to the movement of horses in a game of chess. They then set it afire and leveled the ground. Many were the treasures they obtained, all of them having been stored in the tomb. When Shun became aware of this he awoke with a start and vomited. From then on he was well provided for and contented with his life. And the house was never again haunted. The time was the first year of the Pao-ying reign period [762-763].
(Wang, pp. 207-08; TPKC, 369.7)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: The analogical operation that transforms the deployment on the chess board into “the affairs of battle” is, in a way, comparable to the mechanism of the mock-heroic. But here the literary process is effected without a parodie or comic intention. The battle can also be seen as a “blown-up” metaphor, the action being an enactment of a language initially employed in a different referential context for a different purpose. Cf. “Ts’ui Hsüan-wei” (83).
1 A barbarian chieftain of the Chieh tribe (one of the “Five Nomads,” or Wu-hu) who lived during the Chin dynasty (281-420). He had apparently been deified by this time.
2 Barbarian tribe which frequently invaded China in the Ch’in and Han dynasties.
As a young man, during the K’ai-yüan reign period [713-742], Kuo Yüan-chen, Duke of Tai-kuo,1 failed the civil service examinations and left Chin-chou [modern Lin-fen County, Shansi] to go to Fen-chou [modern Hsi County, Shansi]. Traveling by night, he lost his way in the dark. After a long time, he saw the light of lantern flames in the far distance. He took it to be a human dwelling place and crossed over to seek it out. After eight or ten li, he came upon a house; its gate and structure were lofty. Upon entering through the gate, he saw lanterns and candles flickering brilliantly in the corridor and the main hall, and sacrificial meats arranged as if it were a home with a daughter about to be married. Yet everything was silent and there was no one about. The duke tethered his horse before the western corridor and ascended the steps. He paced back and forth inside the hall, not knowing what sort of place it was. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a girl weeping in the eastern apartments of the main hall--a sobbing which would not stop.
“Who is that weeping in the hall?” asked the duke. “Are you a human being or a spirit? Why have things been arranged this way? And why are you weeping here alone?”
“In the local shrine of this village,” said a voice, “there is a Black General who can send down both adversity and good fortune upon the people. Every year he seeks a mate from among the villagers, so they must choose the fairest of all the virgins and wed her to him. Even though I am homely and unworthy, my father coveted the five hundred strings of cash, so he secretly had me chosen. This evening several of us village girls came here for a banquet. They made me drunk with wine and left me behind, locked in this room, to be married to the General. Today, my mother and father have abandoned me to die, so now I am very frightened and sad. Are you indeed a human being? If you can save me, I will be willing to wait on you as a servant for the rest of my life.”
The duke said in great anger, “When will he come?”
“During the second watch.”
“If I am to call myself a gentlemen, I must use all my resources to save you. If I do not succeed, I am willing to die in the attempt and be buried along with you, but I will never let you die an ignoble death at the hands of a lascivious spirit!”
The girl was somewhat reassured. The duke sat on the western steps, moving his horse north of the hall and ordering his servant to stand in front, as if he were a groomsman.
Not long thereafter, there appeared the brilliance of flames together with many horse-drawn carriages. Two purple-robed retainers entered the building and then went out again, saying, “The prime minister is here.” After a while two yellow-vested retainers likewise entered and came out again, also saying, “The prime minister is here.” The duke was delighted to hear that and thought to himself: I will be prime minister, and so it is certain that I shall overcome this evil spirit.
The general then descended slowly from his carriage, while his retainers informed him again of the situation. The general said, “Let us enter.” As he made his entrance, he was protected by spears and swords, bows and arrows, until he came to the eastern steps. The duke had his servant step forward and announce, “Bachelor of Arts Kuo salutes you.” Then they made obeisance in the form of a long bow with hands in front.
The general said, “How did the Scholar happen to come to this place?” Kuo said, “I heard the general was to be married this evening, so I wished to act as groomsman.”
The general was pleased and asked him to take a seat. They sat facing each other, speaking and laughing with great mirth. The duke had a sharp dagger in his bag with which he thought to stab the general. So he asked, “Has the General ever eaten venison before?” The general replied, “In these parts that is hard to come by.” The duke then said, “I happen to have some of that precious stuff with me, which I obtained from the imperial kitchens. I would like to slice it and offer it up to you.” The general was delighted.
So the duke rose to pick up the venison and the small dagger. Havng cut the meat, he placed it in a small dish and asked the general to help himself to it. Pleased, the general stretched out his hand to take some, not suspecting that anything might be amiss. The duke saw that he was not on his guard, so tossed the meat aside, snatched the general’s hand, and hacked it off at the wrist. The general shrieked in agony and ran off. Startled, his retainers fled behind him. The duke held onto the hand, took off his cloak, and wrapped it around the hand. He then directed his servants to go outside and have a look, but everything was still and there was no one to be seen.
The duke then opened the door and said to the weeping girl, “The general’s hand is here. If one follows the traces of his blood, one will note that he is bound to die ere long. Since you have been spared, you can come out and eat.”
The one who had been weeping came out. She was a very beautiful girl of seventeen or eighteen. She made obeisance to the duke, saying, “I pledge my service to you.” The duke made efforts to persuade her not to do this.
As soon as the sun came up, they opened the clothing wrap to look at the general’s hand and saw the hoof of a boar. Suddenly they heard the sound of weeping gradually approaching. It was the girl’s parents, along with her brothers and some village elders, who came bearing a coffin to gather up her corpse and prepare it for burial. When they saw the duke and the girl, both quite alive, they were surprised and made inquiries. The duke told them all that had transpired.
The village elders were angry that the duke had crippled their deity, and said, “The Black General is the guardian deity of this village. We have been worshipping him for a long time. We marry him to a girl every year, so that we may be saved from other mishaps. If this ceremony is delayed, he will torment us with wind, rain, thunder, and hail. To what avail have you, a stranger, wounded our deity? We have done nothing against you, yet you bring disaster upon us. We should kill you in order to appease the Black General. At the very least we shall have to take you before the magistrate.” They ordered some youths to seize the duke.
The latter retorted, “You are old in years, but you are inexperienced in human affairs. I am a reasonable man, so all of you listen to what I say. When deities offer their protection in accordance with a heavenly mandate, is it not the same as when the nobles of the land govern the nation by receiving the imperial mandate?”
To this they replied, “That is so.”
The duke continued, “If the nobles sought to satisfy their lusts among the people, would the emperor not be angry? If they were to torment and victimize the people, would the emperor not punish them? If what you call the general were a ‘worthy deity,’ how could he have the hooves of a boar? Heaven would not appoint a lustful demon-beast as a guardian spirit. A lustful demon-beast is a criminal both in heaven and on earth! Since it was out of justice that I sought to execute him, how could I have been wrong? There is not a single man with a sense of justice among you, so you have made your girls meet such a vile death at the hands of a demon-beast every year. The transgressions which you have accumulated have moved heaven itself! How can you know that heaven did not send me here to redress this disgrace? Heed my words, and I shall rid you of him, so that you will never again have to go through with this terrible wedding. What do you say?”
The villagers realized the truth of what they had heard and cheerfully exclaimed, “We are willing to follow your orders.”
The duke thereupon ordered several hundred men to accompany him in order to surround the general. All these men carried such implements as bows and arrows, swords, spears, shovels, and spades. They followed the trail of blood, and after only twenty li traced it into a large grave pit. They surrounded it and hacked away at it, and it soon became as large as the opening of a huge earthenware jug. The duke commanded that wood be gathered for a fire. They threw in the flaming branches to light up the inside of the pit. It was like a large room inside. There they saw a large boar, his front hoof missing, lying in a pool of blood. The boar charged through the smoke, but collapsed within the ring of men that fell upon him. The villagers rejoiced and congratulated each other. They collected money as recompense for the duke, but he would not accept it, saying, “I am doing this to rid you of an evil. I do not sell my services as a hunter.”
The girl who had been saved then bade farewell to her parents and relatives, saying, “I am very fortunate to be human, and a daughter who has never left her lady’s chamber, so that I am guilty of nothing for which I should be killed. Today, out of greed for five hundred strings of cash,2 you have attempted to marry me off to a demon-beast. You were cruel enough to lock me up and desert me. How can this be proper for a human being to do? If it had not been for the benevolence and courage of Mr. Kuo, I would be dead by now. I have died through my parents, and now I have been reborn through this gentleman. I would like to follow him, never again to think about my native village.” She then made obeisance in tears so that she might follow him. The duke tried many arguments in an attempt to dissuade her, but he could not stop her, so he took her in as a concubine.
She bore him several children. The uprightness of the duke was evidenced in the high offices to which they attained.
It is clear that the matter had been preordained. Even though the duke was a traveler in a distant land, and was confronted with an evil spirit, in the end he could not have been harmed.
(Wang, pp. 212-14; Chang, pp. 131-34; SF, 15.2b-4a)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: In addition to his moral and physical courage in confronting the demon, the hero here is also endowed with skills of persuasion that help him turn an adversive situation into a favorable one. The capacity of the T’ang tales to incorporate arguments is again manifested here.
In his official biography, the duke is said to have had a jen-hsia (chivalric) temperament in his young days. Here he may be considered an “anti-type” in the chih-kuai genre in that he uses his reason and will power to triumph over the supernatural (cf. “Li Chi” ). This is a situation that diverges from what is shown in stories like “Chang Hua” (24) where the laws of the supernatural are employed to overcome the supernatural itself.
1 For his official biographies, see Chiu T’ang shu 97, pp. 3042ff. and Hsin Τ’ang-shu 122, pp. 4360ff. This story takes place before his rise in officialdom; the title of the duke is used anachronistically.--Ed.
2 Read wu-pai-min for wu-pai-wan.--Ed.
Once towards the end of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-821], Chang Feng of Nan-yang [in modern Honan Province] stopped at the Inn of the Waylaying Mountain in Fu-t’ang County, Fukien Province, during his travels in Ling-piao [an area covering modern Fukien, Kwangtung and Kwangsi]. The sun was just about to set in a sky washed clean by a recent rain, and the vibrant colors of the surrounding mountains could still be seen beyond the rising mists. Staff in hand, he set off to see the scenery, but did not realize how far he had gone.
Unexpectedly he happened on a stretch of lovely jade-green grass which stretched out for more than one hundred paces. Nearby stood a small thicket. Taking off his clothes, Feng hung them on the trees and propped his walking stick against them. He threw himself onto the grass and rolled about. Reaching a peak of ecstatic frenzy, he trampled down the grass like a wild beast.
When he had had enough, he got up, only to find himself transformed into a brightly striped tiger. The sharpness of his claws and teeth, and the strength of his mighty chest made him feel like the lord of the jungle. So up he sprang, racing across mountains and gulleys as quickly as lightning.
Late that night he felt very hungry and, finding himself near a village, slackened his pace to a slow walk. But nowhere could he find a dog or pig, or a colt or calf, or any similar morsel to eat. He vaguely remembered that he was to capture Inspector Cheng of the Foochow [in modern Fukien] court, so he hid himself by the side of the road to wait.
Before long a man, who appeared to be an official sent to meet Inspector Cheng, approached on foot from the south. Seeing someone coming, he asked, “The Inspector from Foochow by the name of Cheng Fan plans to spend the night in the inn down the road. Can you tell me when he will arrive?”
“I am one of his servants sent to inquire about the arrangements for him,” said the man. “He will be along shortly.”
“Is he alone, or are there others coming with him?” inquired the official. “When I pay my respects I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“Of the three, he will be the one dressed in light green.”
Now all this time Feng had been eavesdropping on their conversation. The account could not have been more detailed if Feng had asked the questions himself. Knowing all this, Feng crouched down by the side of the road to wait.
Presently Cheng Fan appeared with a great retinue of servants. Dressed in a light-green robe, he was quite fat and proceeded in a very dignified manner. Just as he was passing by, Feng leapt upon him, grabbed him between his teeth, and ran off up the mountain. As it was not yet light, no one dared give chase. Feng then ate his fill, leaving behind the less tasty hair and entrails.
Walking all alone through the mountain forests, Feng said to himself, “I was a human. How can I enjoy being a tiger, confined to these deep, dark forests? I should find that stretch of grass and turn back into a man.”
Carefully retracing his steps he arrived there at sunset. His clothes were hanging as he had left them; his staff still stood against the tree. Even the rich green grass was just as before. Again he jumped onto the grass and rolled over and over, this way and that. Satisfied, he got up and found that he had regained his human form. He put his clothes back on, picked up his stick and went back. The whole affair had taken only one day.
Now when Feng’s servant first realized that he could not find Feng, he was very much alarmed. He made inquiries in the neighborhood and was told that Feng had gone off into the mountains, staff in hand. The servant searched for him along many paths, but there was no trace of him to be found. Seeing his master return, he was overjoyed and asked what had happened.
“I was looking for a mountain stream when I ran across a hermitage,” he lied. “I stopped to discuss Buddhism and didn’t notice how the time slipped away.”
“Today a tiger ate Inspector Cheng of Foochow not far from here. They have searched for his remains without finding a thing. The woods around here are full of wild animals. It’s better not to go out alone. When you didn’t return, I was distraught. But now I’m delighted to see that you’ve come back safe an sound.”
After this incident, Feng left to continue on his journey.
In the sixth year of the Yüan-ho reign period, he spent the night at a government inn in Huai-yang [in modern Honan]. The innkeeper there treated all of the guests to a feast. One of the guests took charge of the after-dinner entertainment and arranged a game. “We’ll take turns, and each of you must tell about something strange that has happened to you. If it is not strange enough, you’ll be penalized.”
When Feng’s turn came around, he told about his affair at Waylaying Mountain. Seated at the foot of the table was a chin-shih scholar named Cheng Hsia, the son of Inspector Cheng. Enraged by the story, he grabbed a knife to attack Feng in order to avenge his father. The other guests managed to keep him away from Feng, but Hsia would not be quieted, and took the case to the Prefectural Commandant. The commandant sent Hsia south to Huai-nan [encompassing modern Hupeh, Kiangsu, and Anhwei, south of the Huai River], ordering the ferryman not to allow him to recross the Huai River. Feng went west and changed his name to escape from Hsia.
Public opinion puts the case this way: “Learning of the murder of one’s father one must take action to avenge it. But this murder was committed unintentionally. If he insisted on killing Feng, Hsia would have to be penalized for his actions.” He therefore ran away, and never did avenge his father.
(Wang, pp. 218-19; cf. TPKC 429.5)
Tr. Douglas Wilkerson
Note: Here we re-encounter the “man-into-tiger” motif (cf. “Hsüeh Tao-hsün”  and “Huang Miao” ). This piece is marked by stylistic refinement in certain aspects of its representation of the motif. The attention paid to the description of the man-tiger’s inner state, a conscious reflection on the metamorphosis, is not seen in earlier versions.
The “public opinion” formula used at the end may be likened to the Appraisal (tsan) section in official historical biographies.
In the first year of the Ch’ien-yüan reign period [758-760] Hsüeh Wei held the position of Keeper of Documents in Ch’ing-ch’eng County [modern Kuan County] in Szechwan. At the same time Chou Ρ’ang was Assistant Magistrate, and Lei Chi and Ρ’ei Liao were military officers. In the autumn of that year, after being sick for a week, Hsüeh Wei suddenly lost consciousness. He lay still, as if dead, and made no response, even to shouts. However, the region around his heart remained slightly warm. His family was not willing to have him put into a coffin right away, but continued to hover around him and care for him.
After twenty days he suddenly let out a long sigh and sat up. Addressing those about him, he said, “How many days have I been out of the human world?”
“For twenty days,” they replied.
“Go take a peek at the officials and see if they aren’t eating minced fish. Tell them I have recovered, and that I have something very strange to tell them. Ask them all to stop eating and come hear me.”
A servant went and looked, and sure enough they were just about to eat some minced fish. He relayed what Wei had said, and they all stopped eating and came to him.
Wei said, “Did you order the yamen runner Chang Pi from the Judiciary Department to get a fish?”
“Yes, we did,” they replied.
Turning to Pi he asked, “The fishmonger Chao Kan had a huge carp but tried to give you a small one for the officials. You found the big one hidden among the reeds and carried it back. Just when you returned to the yamen, the officials of the Judiciary Department were sitting on the east side of the gate, and those of the Police Department on the west side, playing chess. As you came to the steps, Chou and Lei were gambling and Ρ’ei was eating peaches. You told about Kan’s hiding the big carp, and then Ρ’ei the Fifth ordered him whipped. You handed the fish over to the Cook Wang, who happily killed it. Is that right?”
Inquiring amongst themselves, they discovered that it was so. “But how did you know all of this?” they asked.
“The carp you killed was I!”
Startled, they said, “We want to hear all about it.”
“When I first became ill, the heat was so oppressive that I could hardly bear it. Then suddenly I felt so stifled that I forgot about my illness and set off on a hike to seek respite from the heat. I did not realize that I was dreaming. When I got out of the city my spirits soared. I felt like a caged bird or animal regaining its freedom, quite oblivious of myself.
“Gradually I worked my way up into the mountains. But climbing in the mountains made me feel even more stifled, so I went down to walk along the river bank. I could see that the stream and pools were deep and clear; the autumn colors they reflected were attractive. Not a ripple stirred the surface, which embraced the sky like a mirror.
“Suddenly I felt that I wanted to bathe. I pulled off my clothes there on the bank and jumped in. I’d played in the water when I was a child, but hadn’t been back in since coming of age. But now I felt completely at ease and at home, and very relaxed.
“I said, ‘Men don’t swim as quickly as fish. How can I ride a fish and move powerfully through the water?’
“A fish beside me replied, ‘I venture to say that you may not be willing, but if you are, it would be easy to swim like a real fish, and not just ride on one. I’ve got a plan for you.’ And with that he disappeared.
“Moments later a fish-headed man many feet in length came up to me, riding on the back of a small whale, followed by many dozen fish. Announcing Ho Po’s1 proclamation, he said, ‘Living in cities and roaming the waters--to float above and to be submerged: these are two different worlds. If one does not feel in his element here, he should never come down through the waves. Keeper of Documents Hsüeh, you desire to swim idly in the depths, and long for complete freedom and leisure. Taking delight in the vastness of the realm, you have come to embrace the clear rivers. Repelled by the feeling of being among the craggy mountains, you have thrown away your official’s hairpin in that illusory world. You will temporarily assume a scaled body; but remember that instantaneous change will not last forever. For the time being you will be a red carp in East Lake. But! If you turn over boats with great waves, you have transgressed in this unseen world; and if you let the bait entice you and ignore the slender hook, you will be harmed in the visible world above. Beware of losing your self-possession, to the shame of your kind. These are your constraints.’
“After hearing this, I looked at myself, only to find that I had already taken on a fish’s form. I immediately swam away, going wherever I pleased. Up to the waves and down to the depths of the lakes, there was nowhere I could not easily go. I jumped and coursed through all the great rivers and lakes. But as I was assigned to stay in East Lake, I returned there every evening.
“Suddenly I became very hungry but could not find anything to eat. A boat came by and I followed along behind it. Then I saw Chao Kan throw out a fishing line. The bait was very enticing, but in my heart I knew it was forbidden. Then suddenly it was right in front of my mouth.
“ ‘I’m a man,” I said, ‘Only temporarily turned into a fish. I can’t eat this or I’ll swallow the hook.’ Then I gave it up and went away.
“But in another instant the hunger became intense. I thought, ‘I am an official playing in the role of a fish. Even if I swallow the hook, how can Chao Kan kill me? He will certainly return me to the yamen.’ So I swallowed it.
“Chao Kan pulled in the line and out I came. Just before I landed in his hand, I called out, but Kan didn’t hear me. He put a string through my gills, and then tied me among the rushes.
“Soon Chang Pi came by and said, ‘Lieutenant Ρ’ei wants a fish--a big one.’
“ ‘I didn’t get any big ones,’ replied Chao, ‘But I have some small ones here weighing over ten catties all together.’
“ ‘The orders are to get a big one. How can I take the small ones?’
“Then Chang looked in the rushes, found me there, and picked me up. ‘I am the Keeper of Records in your yamen,’ I said, this time to Pi. ‘i’m swimming in these rivers in the form of a fish. Why did you not salute me to show proper respect?’
“Pi didn’t hear me. He just picked me up and walked off, and despite my steady stream of curses, he simply ignored me.
“Entering the yamen gate, I saw the officials sitting and playing chess. I shouted to them all, but not a single one answered. One said laughingly, ‘it’s frightening when a fish gets to be more than three or four catties.’
“We then went up the steps. Chou and Lei were in the midst of their gambling, and Ρ’ei was munching on peaches. All were pleased by the size of the fish, and they wanted to send it to the kitchen right away.
“Pi told of Kan hiding the big fish and trying to give him small ones to satisfy the requisition. Ρ’ei got angry and ordered him beaten.
“I said to all of you, ‘I am your colleague, and may be killed today. Ignoring my pleas, you do not let me go, but rush me off to my execution. Where is your humanity?’
“I shouted and I wept, but you three didn’t even turn a hair. You just handed me over to the mincemeat maker. Cook Wang, who was just sharpening a knife, was happy to see me and tossed me onto the table.
“Again I cried out, ‘Cook Wang! You’ve been my mincemeat maker for a long time. How can you kill me? Why don’t you attend to my words and relate them to the other officials?’
“But Cook Wang didn’t seem to hear. He held my neck firmly on the chopping board, and lopped off my head. As my head fell, I came back to my senses. And then I called you here.”
Evey one of the officials was amazed. They were awakened to a new sense of pity for all living things. For every one of them--Chao Kan when he caught the fish, Chang Pi when he picked it up, the minor officials playing chess, the three officials by the stairs, and Cook Wang as he was about to kill it--had seen the fish’s mouth move, but had not heard a thing.
From then on Wei’s three friends gave up minced fish, and never ate it again as long as they lived. Wei recovered and was never again troubled by illness. He was later promoted to Assistant Magistrate of Hua-yang [modern Hua-yang County, Szechwan], where he died.
(Wang, pp. 225-27; TPKC, 471.11)
Tr. Douglas Wilkerson
Note: This piece presents a metaphorphosis told for the explicit purpose of attempting to waken the reader to “a sense of pity for all living things.” A comparison with a similar story entitled “Chang Tsung” (TPKC, 132.16)--where the protagonist was turned into a fish, caught, and actually consumed by his friends, because of his own love for minced fish--may point up more clearly the Buddhist ideas of reincarnation and karmic retribution lying behind the present story.
The Taoist flavor seen especially in Ho Po’s proclamation, reveals a syncretic mixture of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs often found in T’ang literature.
Cf. “Chang Feng” (74); see also TPKC, 471.6-10 for other instances of “man-into-fish” transformations.
The hua-pen story “Hsüeh Lu-shih yü-fu cheng-hsien” (HSHY, 26) is a vernacular adaptation of this tale.
1 The god of the Yellow River.
Wei Ku of Tu-ling [in modern Kwangtung Province] was orphaned early. He hoped to get a wife while still young and tried many ways to find a mate, but in the end was never successful. In the the second year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-821], on his way to tour Ch’ing-ho [in modern Shantung Province], Ku stopped overnight at an inn south of Sung-ch’eng [modern Shang-ch’iu, Honan Province].
One of the guests at the inn mentioned the daughter of Ρ’an Fang, the former magistrate of Ch’ing-ho, as a possible match, and arranged for him to meet the matchmaker early the next morning at the gate of the Temple of Dragon Prosperity. Ku hoped eagerly for a wife. So he started out very early the next morning, and arrived at dawn while the moon was still shining brightly over the horizon. An old man was sitting on the steps leaning against a cloth bag and holding a book up to the moonlight as he perused it. Ku walked up closer to sneak a glance at the book, but he could not read the writing. It was neither the old spidery seal script, nor the modern standard script, nor was it the ancient “tadpole” style. It was not even Sanskrit. Puzzled, Ku asked, “Father, what sort of book are you reading? When I was young I studied hard and learned the scripts of the world. I’d say there aren’t any that I don’t know. I can even read Sanskrit from India. Yet I have never seen this kind of writing before. What is it?”
“This is not the writing of this world,” the old man laughed, “How could you have seen it before?”
“If not of this world, then what is it?”
“The script of the underworld.”
“How do inhabitants of the underworld come to be here?”
“It is you who started travelling too early, rather than that it is unnatural for me to be here,” the old man replied. “All of the officials from the underworld look after the affairs of men; can we who take care of these affairs remain in the dark? At this hour, some of those who travel along the road are men and some are ghosts. It is just that you cannot distinguish between the two.”
“If that is so, then of what are you in charge?” said Ku.
“I’m in charge of all the marriage contracts on earth.”
Delighted, Ku replied, “I was orphaned when young. For a long time now I’ve been searching for a mate so that I might continue the family line with many offspring. Over the last ten years I’ve tried many ways but have never been successful. I’ve arranged a meeting today to discuss the possibility of marrying the daughter of Magistrate Ρ’an. Will I succeed?”
“Not yet,” said the old man. “If the destinies do not match, you wouldn’t be successful even if you were to take off your cap and gown and ask for the hand of a gambler’s or a butcher’s daughter. How much more so in the case of a Provincial Adjutant? Your wife is just three years old. When she is seventeen she will join you.”
Then Ku asked, “What is in your bag?”
“Only red string,” said the man, “to bind the feet of husband and wife. At birth I use it to secretly tie them together. Though their families be enemies, though they be separated by the gulf between wealth and poverty, or even stationed at opposite corners of the empire--even in states as different as Wu and Ch’u; once bound with this string, they cannot avoid each other. Your foot has already been tied to hers. What good will courting others do?”
“Where is my wife then?” asked Ku. “What does her family do?”
“She’s the daughter of Old Lady Ch’en who sells vegetables north of the inn.”
“Can I see her?”
“Old Ch’en often brings her along. She sells vegetables in the market. You can come along with me and I’ll show her to you.”
It was already light, but the person Ku was expecting still had not come. The old man rolled up the scroll, picked up his bag, and set off. With Ku following behind, he entered the market place. Along came an old, one-eyed woman carrying a three year old girl. They appeared shabby and destitute.
Pointing, the old man said, “That is your wife.”
Ku was enraged, “Can I kill her?”
“She is destined to live on an endowment from heaven. Because of her son she will enjoy the position of a titled lady. How can you kill her?”
The old man then disappeared.
“That old devil’s crazy notion!” ranted Ku. “I’m the scion of a great house and will certainly take a proper wife. If I can’t have a proper marriage, then at least I’ll take a pretty and accomplished singing girl, or an outstanding beauty. How could I marry the lowly daughter of this old one-eyed woman?”
He sharpened a knife and handed it to his servant. “You have always taken care of my affairs. Can you kill this girl for me? I’ll give you ten thousand cash.”
“Surely,” answered the servant.
The next day the servant hid the knife in his sleeve and went into the marketplace. In the midst of the crowd he stabbed the girl and then ran off. The whole market was thrown into an uproar, and in the confusion Ku and the servant managed to get away.
“Did you get her or not,” asked Ku.
“I aimed for the heart, but unfortunately I struck her between the eyes.”
After this incident Ku made many attempts to find a wife, but was never able to.
Fourteen years later, out of appreciation for his late father, he was made Administrative Adjutant of Hsiang-chou [modern An-yang County, Honan]. The governor, Wang T’ai, assigned him to be the head of the Judiciary Department, to take charge of court cases and litigations. Impressed with his competence, Wang T’ai gave his daughter to him in marriage. She was about sixteen or seventeen and very fair. Ku was extremely delighted. But between her eyes she usually fixed a beauty mark. Even when she was taking a bath and during her leisure hours it never came off. This continued for about a year and puzzled Ku greatly. Then suddenly he remembered his servant telling him about striking the little girl between the eyes. Ku pressed his wife for an explanation.
In tears she replied, “I am the adopted child of the magistrate and not his natural daughter. My father used to be the magistrate of Sung-ch’eng. He died in office when I was still a babe-in-arms. My mother and brothers also died soon after. The only place I could live then was with my wet nurse, Mrs. Ch’en, in a village south of Sung-ch’eng. Since it was close to the inn, she sold vegetables there for a living.
“Mrs. Ch’en was very tender-hearted and couldn’t bear to leave me, even for a short time. When I was three she carried me into the marketplace where I was stabbed by a deranged bandit. The scar is still here, and that is why I cover it with a beauty mark. Seven or eight years ago my uncle took up office in Lu-lung [modern Lu-lung County, Hopeh], whereupon I was able to move in with him. Out of kindness he gave me to you in marriage as his daughter.”
“Did Mrs. Ch’en have just one eye,” asked Ku.
“But how could you know?”
“It was I that stabbed you.” He continued, “It is strange. It is fate.”
Then he proceded to explain everything to her, and thereafter treated her with even greater respect.
Somewhat later she bore him a son which they named K’un. He later became the Grand Warden of Yen-men [in modern Shansi], and she was enfoeffed as Dowager Lady of T’ai-yüan.
Thus we know that our secret fate is fixed and cannot be changed. When the magistrate of Sung-ch’eng heard of these events, he renamed the inn “The Inn of Betrothal.”1
(Wang, pp. 223-24; TPKC 159.1; cf. TPKC, 160.3)
Tr. Douglas Wilkerson
Note: Here is a story that is surely constructed for the purpose of illustrating the notion of predestination, its pattern of events being dictated mainly by that theme. It might be expected that in works with such an orientation, the choice of subject matter would not be particularly important, as the stories are bent solely on making a conceptual point. But the fact that the operation of predestination is often shown with certain “privileged” topics (such as the match in a marriage, and the course of one’s offical career; see, e.g.,  and ) seems, on the other hand, to suggest an obsession with these topics on the part of T’ang writers.
1 “Betrothal” literally means a “fixed or predetermined marriage."
Before Li Ching served in the T’ang court and was made Duke of Wei,1 he often hunted around Mount Huo [in modern Huo County, Shansi Province], and on these occasions would lodge and eat there. The elders of the mountain village were very much impressed with his extraordinary qualities, so they always treated him well. And as time went by, their hospitality grew ever more friendly.
One day Ching happened on a herd of deer and gave chase. As evening drew near he felt he should go back, but he could not bring himself to give up the chase. In the gloom he lost his way and had no idea how to return to the village. For some time he went about disconsolately, becoming more and more distressed. Straining his eyes in the dark, he finally caught a glimpse of lamplight and galloped toward it.
The light was coming from a great mansion with red lacquered gates and high roofs and walls. Only after he had knocked at the gate for a long while did a servant come out to ask him what he wanted. Ching told him that he had lost his way and asked if he could spend the night there. The man said to him, “The masters of the house have all gone away. Only the ladies are at home. It is impossible for you to spend the night here.”
“Please ask and see if there might not be some chance that I could stay here,” pleaded Ching.
So the servant went in and asked. When he returned he said, “At first the mistress was not willing to let you stay. But since it is dark and you have lost your way, she felt she couldn’t refuse you her hospitality.” He then invited Ching into the reception room. A moment later a maid came in to announce, “The mistress is coming.” Then in came the lady of the house, who was probably a bit over fifty, wearing a short white jacket over a blue skirt. She appeared refined and noble, as might be expected of a genteel lady in the home of one of the great nobles of the realm. Ching advanced and paid his respects. She returned his greetings, saying, “My sons are all away, so it is not really proper for me to allow you to remain here. However, it is now dark, and you have lost your way. If I didn’t let you stay here, where could I send you? But this house is in the midst of mountainous wilds, and my sons sometimes return late in the night and create quite a clamor. Please do not be startled if this should happen.” Ching replied that he would not be.
They then sat down to dinner, which was most tasty, except that there was an unusual preponderance of fish on the menu. After dinner the mistress went back to her chambers. Two maids brought in bedding and laid out beautiful mats and perfumed coverlets for Ching. On leaving, they closed the doors and locked them from the outside.
Left alone, Ching thought to himself, “What sort of creatures can these be that come in late at night and create a clamor out here in the wilds?” Too afraid to sleep, he remained sitting up in bed and listened for any strange sounds. Towards midnight he heard an urgent pounding on the gate and the sound of someone running to answer it. The messenger at the gate said, “I have an order from Heaven. Go tell your master that he must make it rain for seven li2 around this mountain, and that it must be done by the fifth watch [3-5 A.M.]. Do not delay. And don’t send down a deluge either!” The man who had answered the door took the order and went inside to present it to his mistress.
Ching then heard her say, “Heaven has ordered us to make rain, but neither of my sons has returned yet. I have no way to comply with the command, yet we will surely be punished if the rain does not fall in time. Even if I send a message to my sons, it will be too late, and the children and servants here cannot be entrusted with such responsibility. What am I to do?”
A little maid suggested, “I’ve just seen the guest in the reception room, and can tell that he is no ordinary person. Perhaps you could ask him to do it.” Delighted by this idea, the mistress went herself and knocked on the door of the room in which Ching was staying. “Are you asleep, sir? I would like to see you for a moment.”
“I will be right out,” answered Ching. He then descended the stairs at the front of the hall to meet her.
“This is not the home of ordinary people,” began the mistress, “but a dragon palace. My eldest son has gone to the Eastern Ocean to attend a wedding, and my younger son is away escorting his sister on a trip. I must comply with a command from Heaven and make rain. But my sons are a total of more than ten thousand li from here, and I cannot notify them in time. Nor can I find anyone else to do it for them. I wonder if I might trouble you to help us for a short time.”
“But I am just an ordinary man,” he replied. “I cannot ride on clouds, so how can I make rain for you? But if you can tell me how, I will gladly do as you ask.”
“There will be no problem if you do just as I tell you.” She ordered the major-domo to bring out the piebald horse and the rain vessel, which turned out to be a small vial. Tying this in front of the saddle, she said, “Don’t tug on the bit and bridle when you ride; give the horse free rein. When it begins to paw at the ground and neigh, then take one drop of water out of the vial, and put it on the horse’s mane. Be careful that you don’t pour out any more than that.”
Ching mounted the horse, which took off and rose into the air. Before long they were high up in the sky. Amazed by the speed and steadiness of the horse, Ching did not realize that he was already up in the clouds. The wind rushed past him as swiftly as an arrow, and thunder and lightning came from the hooves of the horse. At the spot where the horse pawed and reared, Ching hastily let a drop fall from the vial.
Presently the lightning stopped, the clouds parted, and there below him Ching saw the village in which he often lodged. “I have caused the people in this village so much trouble,” he thought to himself, “and feel vey much endebted for their kindness, yet I have no way to repay them. They have had no rain there for a long time, and the crops are about to wither. Since I now have the rain here in my hands, why should I be so grudging with it?” Since one drop was hardly enough to wet the ground, he shook out twenty drops. A moment later the rain stopped again and the horse returned home.
The mistress was in the reception room weeping when he returned. “How could you have disobeyed so grossly? You were told one drop, but you sent down twenty feet of rain! One drop from the vial is equivalent to a foot of rain on the ground. By midnight there were twenty feet of water standing in the lower parts of the village. How could anyone survive there? I have already been punished with eighty blows of the heavy rod.” She then bared her back, which was covered with bloody marks. “My sons will also be implicated in this affair. Oh, what am I to do?”
Ching was ashamed and terrified, and did not know what to say.
“You are just a mortal,” she continued, “and don’t understand the ways of clouds and rain. I really cannot blame you for your mistake. But I fear that when the masters return, something terrible will happen to you. You had best leave here quickly.
“Even so, I have put you to a great deal of trouble for which you have not yet been repaid. Living here in the mountains, I have nothing suitable to present to you. But I will offer you two slave girls. Take one or both, just as you please.”
She called for the two slave girls to come in. One came in from the eastern corridor: she was very pleasing to look at, and appeared to be quite good-natured. The other came in from the western corridor: she had a fiery temper and stood by the door defiantly.
“I am a hunter,” thought Ching. “I spend my time fighting against wild animals. If I take only one of these maids, and the pleasant one at that, they will think I am afraid.” So he replied to his hostess, “I dare not accept both of these girls, but since you are offering them to me, I will take the angry one.”
The mistress smiled and said, “Is that all you want?” He bowed and took his leave, the slave girl following him outside. A few paces from the gate he turned to look back, but the mansion had disappered. He then turned to ask the slave girl about this, but she was gone too. He found the road back and set off for the village by himself.
At dawn he caught sight of the village, but it was completely covered with water as far as the eye could see. A few branches on the larger trees could still be seen but there was not a soul in sight.
Subsequent to this he led his soldiers in a campaign against rival forces and border tribes.3 His fame spread over the whole empire, but he never did reach the office of Prime Minister. Surely this was because of the choice he made between the two slave girls. It is said that Prime Ministers come from east of the pass, while generals come from west of the pass.4 Is this not what the girls coming from east and west meant? These two slaves symbolized public servants. If he had taken both of them, he would have been both general and Prime Minister.
(Wang, pp. 228-30; TPKC, 418.14; TPKCH II, pp. 72-76)
Tr. Douglas Wilkerson
Translator’s Note: The enormous Chinese bureaucracy was divided into two parts, civil offices and military offices, and the holders of one type of office rarely held the other type. The terms used to designate these two branches (wen and wu, which correspond to hsiang and chiang, or Prime Minister and general, as mentioned in the story) were also associated with the attributes of decorum, learning, and refinement, on the one hand, and with braggodocio, martial skills, and a certain roughness, on the other. These two sets of characteristics are embodied by the two slave girls. The folk saying which is cited as the ostensible reason for Li Ching’s failure to become Prime Minister is not without foundation, for the states lying to the east of Han-ku Pass included Lu and Ch’i, the home of Confucius and the traditional seat of learning, while those west of the pass included Ch’in, the first state to unify China by military might, and condemned throughout Chinese history for its barbaric cruelty and infamous treatment of the Confucian tradtion. Li Ching’s choice of the slave girl from the west, made in order to maintain his pride and his image as a hunter, was certain evidence of his inability to fulfill the duties of Prime Minister.
Editor’s Note: The incident described in this story is included in Ch’u Jen-huo’s (c.1630-c.1705) Sui T’ang yen-i, ch. 3.
1 As field marshal for Li Shih-min, Li Ching (571-649) played a vital role in putting Li Shih-min on the throne of China. He became President of the Board of Justice, but was subsequently sent to the western border to fight against the Turks, giving the Chinese more control in Central Asia than ever before. Upon his return he was made Junior Vice President of the Department of State Affairs, and after another campaign in the west, was enfeoffed as Duke of Wei. He is the author of a military treatise, Li Wei-kung wen-tui (The Duke of Wei on Military Strategy). His official biogrpahies are in Chiu T’ang shu 67, pp. 2475ff. and Hsin T’ang shu 93, pp. 3811ff.
2 TPKC version reads “seventy li.”--Ed.
3 Li Ching was responsible for putting down the rebellion of Hsiao Hsien of Ching Chou and Fu Kung-to of Tan-yang. He also defeated the Turkish Khan Hsieh-li and the T’u-yü-hun, a Hsien-pei tribe living around Koko Nor.
4 Han-ku Pass, in the northeastern part of Hsin-an County, modern Honan.
Old Chang was an aged gardener in Liu-ho County, Yang-chou [in modern Kiangsu Province]. In his neighborhood lived a man named Wei Shu. During the T’ien-chien reign period [502-520] of the Liang dynasty Wei Shu had finished his term of service as an official in the regional capital of Yang-chou and came to live in Liu-ho. Wei’s eldest daughter by this time had come of age, so he sought out a local matchmaker, and instructed her to find a good match for his daughter.
Old Chang was delighted to hear of this. He waited for the matchmaker outside of Wei’s gate. When the matchmaker came out, Old Chang pressed her to come to his home, where he prepared wine and snacks for her. After a good part of the wine had been consumed, he said to the matchmaker, “I have heard that there is a girl in the Wei household who is ready to be married, and that they have asked you to find a good husband for her. Is this so?”
“Yes,” replied the matchmaker.
“It is true that I am not as strong as I used to be, but I can make a living with my gardening. Please ask for her hand in marriage on my behalf. If I should be successful in this request, I would reward you handsomely.” The matchmaker abused him soundly for such a notion and left.
Some days later he sent another invitation to the matchmaker. She responded, “Why don’t you consider what you are asking? What girl from a respectable family would want to marry an old gardener like you? It is true that the Weis are poor, but there are many fitting husbands from respectable families still to be found for this girl.1 Think of how preposterously ill-suited you are! How can I embarrass myself in front of the Wei family just for a cup of your wine?”
“Please put in just one word for me,” he insisted. “If it does no good, then I will resign myself to my fate.”
Unable to refuse his request, the matchmaker took the risk of bringing up his suit before Wei.
“You may think I am not well off,” shouted Wei angrily, “but who would have thought that you would be so impudent? Such a thing could never happen in this house! And who is this gardener, that he dares to come up with such a proposal? Of course the old man is not worth wasting my breath on, but how could you be so grossly indiscriminate?”
“I know I was wrong, sir,” pleaded the matchmaker, “but the old man forced me to ask. I really couldn’t do otherwise.”
“You tell him for me,” Wei snapped, “that if he can come up with five hundred strings of cash by tonight, then you may proceed with the match!”
The matchmaker left him and went to report to Old Chang. “Certainly,” replied Old Chang to the proposition, and before long a heavily laden cart arrived at the gate of the Wei household. Everyone in the house was astonished.
“I spoke only in jest!” said Wei. “If this old codger is just a gardener, how could he have come up with all of this? I made the proposal because I was sure he wouldn’t have the money, but here it is already. I wonder what I should do now.” He sent someone in to ask his daughter about the proposed match. Instead of getting upset, she said, “Surely this must be what is in store for me.” So Wei agreed to Old Chang’s proposal.
Old Chang married Wei’s daughter, but he kept on with his gardening. He continued to carry fertilizer, till the ground, and sell vegetables without interruption. And his new wife pitched in to do the washing and cooking wihout the slightest sign of embarrassment or shame. Her relatives despised this, but they were not able to stop her.
A few years passed, and some relatives and friends of Wei’s advised him, “While it is true that you are poor, there must be some other suitable families in the neighborhood who are also poor. How could you marry your daughter to an old gardener? And since you have decided to abandon her, why don’t you send them off somewhere further away?”
A few days later Wei prepared some wine and invited his daughter and Old Chang to come join him. After priming them with the wine, Wei hinted at the suggestion of his friends.
Old Chang stood up and said, “The reason I didn’t leave immediately was because I thought you might have wanted to have your daughter nearby. But as you are now pressing us to leave, there is nothing easier. I have a little land at the foot of Wang-wu Mountain [in modern Shensi Province, between Yang-ch’eng and Heng-ch’ü counties]. I’ll return there tomorrow.”
At dawn the next day he came to take leave of Wei. “If you should think of us in a few years, send my brother-in-law to visit us south of Heaven’s Altar Mountain [near modern Liu-ho County, Shensi].” Old Chang told his wife to mount the donkey and helped her with her sun hat. He then picked up his walking stick and left, following her. After that nothing more was heard from them.
Some years later, Hsü began to miss his daughter, and thought that, with her hair disheveled and her face smudged with dirt, he might not be able to recognize her any longer. He sent his son I-fang to visit her. Arriving at the southern part of Heaven’s Altar Mountain, I-fang met a K’un-lun slave2 ploughing the fields with an ox. “Does Old Chang live around here?” asked I-fang.
The slave threw down the switch he was carrying and bowed to I-fang, saying, “Why have you waited so long, Master? The village is not far from here. I will take you there.” And with that they went off together toward the east.
Crossing over a mountain they came to a river; after the river was another mountain--this went on more than ten times in succession. But the scenery changed gradually, and before long began to look unlike anything to be found in the realm of mortal men. Descending the last mountain, they suddenly espied on the northern bank of a river a great estate with vermilion doors and countless towers. All manner of flowers and trees grew there in profusion, surrounded by enchanting, misty clouds. Cranes and peacocks strolled about the grounds or flew here and there, while the sound of song and pipe in the distance enchanted the ears. Pointing toward this mansion, the K’un-lun slave said, “This is the Chang estate.”
I-fang’s astonishment was indescribable. When he reached the gate he was met by purple-clad servants who bowed and led him into the reception hall. The splendid appointments of the hall were such as I-fang had never before laid eyes on. An exotic perfume pervaded the house and filled the entire valley. With the approaching sound of tinkling jade sash ornaments, two maids appeared. “Master is coming,” they announced, and with that he saw a dozen gorgeous maids walking in pairs as if heading a procession. A man wearing a riding cap, and dressed in pearls and silk and silk-embroidered shoes, entered slowly behind them. A maid led I-fang up to pay his respects. The man was tall and appeared to be quite young--but on looking closely, I-fang realized that it was Old Chang!
“Toiling in the world is like being in the midst of a fire,” said Old Chang. “Before you have had time to cool yourself down, the flames of worldly care blaze and crackle again. There is not a moment of peace. How have you managed to live in a world like that? When your honorable sister has finished touching up her hair, she will receive you.” He then bowed and asked I-fang to be seated.
Before long a maid came in to announce, “Mistress has finished combing her hair.” She then took I-fang inside, where he saw his sister at the front of a great hall. The beams were made of fragrant woods; tortoise shell decorated the doors; the window frames were of jade, and the curtains bejeweled. All of the steps were as cool and as smooth as jade, but he could not tell what they were made from. The elegance of his sister’s attire was unlike anything he had ever seen. They exchanged greetings, but after she had asked about their parents, she seemed to have nothing more to say to him.
Shortly thereafter the food was brought in. All of the dishes were indescribably exquisite and delicious. After dinner I-fang was lodged in one of the inner rooms.
The next morning at dawn Old Chang and I-fang were sitting together. One of the maids entered and whispered something in Old Chang’s ear. He smiled and replied, “But we have a guest in the house. How can I be away all day?”
Turning to I-fang he said, “My sister wants to go to Ρ’eng-lai Mountain3 for a bit, and would like your honorable sister to go along as well. However, we will return before sundown. Please make yourself comfortable here.” Old Chang bowed and went out. In a moment rainbow-colored clouds appeared in the courtyard, and fabulous birds flew down to the sound of strings and pipes. Old Chang and the two women each mounted a phoenix, while a dozen or so servants mounted cranes. Steadily they rose up into the sky, heading due east. Looking after them until they disappeared, one could still faintly hear the sound of music. Left behind by himself, I-fang was waited on very attentively by the maids.
Towards evening the faint sound of reed pipes was heard, and the procession returned. Arriving in the courtyard, Old Chang and his wife greeted I-fang, “It must have been very lonely staying here by yourself. But this is the residence of divine immortals, and not a place to which ordinary mortals may come. It is your destiny that you have been allowed to come here, but you cannot remain here long. You must agree to leave tomorrow.”
The next day I-fang’s sister came to bid him farewell, and pressed him to relay her greetings to their parents. Old Chang said, “The human world is far from here, so letters will be of no use.” He then gave I-fang four hundred ounces of gold and an old staw hat saying, “If you run out of money, you can get ten million from Old Wang, the apothecary, in the northern section of Yang-chou. Take this hat as a pledge.” They took leave of one another, and again the К’un-lun slave showed I-fang the way. When they reached’ Heaven’s Altar, the К’un-lun slave bowed and left.
When I-fang returned home with the gold, his family were greatly surprised. After asking him about it, some believed he had encountered an immortal, some thought it was witchery, but none of them really understood what he had experienced.
The gold was spent in the course of five or six years. I-fang wanted to claim the money from Old Wang, but was afraid that Old Chang had lied to him. Someone said to him, “How can you claim the money with just a hat? You haven’t a single written word to prove what you say.” But when the financial difficulties became unbearable, his family forced him to go, saying, “Even if you don’t get the money, what harm is there in going?”
So I-fang set off for Yang-chou. Old Wang was in the shop selling medicine when I-fang came in. Stepping forward, I-fang asked him, “What is your name, old man?”
“I’m called Wang,” he replied.
‘Old Chang told me to come and get ten million in cash. I’ve brought this hat as a pledge.”
“I have the money here, but is this really the hat?”
“You can examine it yourself. Don’t you recognize it?”
Before Old Wang could answer, a young girl came out from behind the black shop-curtain and said, “Old Chang used to pass by here. He once asked me to sew up the crown of his hat, but at the time I had no black thread, so I sewed it up with red instead. I can recognize both the thread and the stitching.” She took the hat to examine it, and found it to be the same one which she had repaired. They then gave I-fang the money to take back with him. He was finally convinced that Old Chang really was an immortal.
The family again missed their daughter, so they sent I-fang back to Heaven’s Altar Mountain to find her. When he arrived, all he saw were innumerable mountains and rivers. The road which he had taken before was nowhere to be found. He met several woodcutters, but none of them knew where Old Chang lived either. Thoroughly disappointed, he made his way back home. The whole family resigned themselves to the fact that the ways of men and immortals are separate, and that they would never be able to see their daughter again. They also looked for Old Wang, but he was gone too.
Many years later, I-fang was passing through the northern shop district of Yang-chou again, when his eyes fell on the К’un-lun slave from Old Chang’s house. The slave approached him and said, “Well, sir, how is your family? Although Mistress cannot return home, she knows everything that goes on there, as if she were still serving you in person.” Reaching into his bosom, he took out ten catties of gold which he presented to I-fang, saying, “Mistress told me to give this to you. My master is inside this wineshop drinking with Old Wang. If you will sit here for a bit, I will go in and tell him you are here.”
I-fang sat there underneath the wineshop banner. The time dragged on toward evening, but still Old Chang did not appear. He then went in himself to take a look. The shop was filled with customers, but the two old men were not there, and the К’un-lun slave was nowhere to be seen either. I-fang pulled out the gold to examine it, and found that it was real; much amazed, he made his way home again. The gold was enough to buy food for many years. From then on no more was heard of Old Chang.
Tr. Douglas Wilkerson
Translator’s Note: Considering the fact that this tale was written at a time when social and political life in China was overwhelmingly dominated by a few aristocratic and wealthy families (the Weis among them), the marriage portrayed here can be seen as a biting parody of contemporary social conditions. Social reality is turned on its head when Old Chang turns out to have all that the Weis lack, and more.
Editor’s Note: This story also represents a new development of the Taoist sub-genre of chih-kuai. Acquisition of magic powers as symbolic of attaining a “transcendent state,” common in the Six Dynasties representation, is here replaced by the possesion of material wealth. With this change, the framing theme of “an immortal incognito” also becomes prominent in the Taoist tales of the T’ang and later eras (cf. “Wei Chao” , “Ch’ i Τ’sui’s Daughter” , and “The Man from Lu Mountain” ).
This piece is retold in a hua’pen entitled “Chang Ku-lao chung kua ch’li wen-nü” (KCHS, 33) (see “The Fairy’s Rescue” in Cyril Birch, tr., Stories from a Ming Collection [New York: Grove Press, 1958], pp. 173-98.)
1 The Wei family had been a very important family in north China, but by the time of this story they had moved south because of war and foreign invasion, and lost most of their property. Nevertheless, they still retained their respectability.
2 The К’un-lun were dark-skinned people believed to come from Southeast Asia or southern India. Many of these exotic people were made slaves in China during this time, and particularly during the subsequent T’ang dynasty; cf. “The К’un-lun Slave” (93).
3 The legendary home of immortals, located in the ocean to the east of China.
Li Tzu-mou was the seventh son of Prince Ts’ai of the T’ang. He was a strikingly stylish and talented man, and since he was quite musically inclined, he especially liked to play the flute. In all the world there was none to equal his ability.
According to an old custom in Chiang-ling [in modern Hupeh Province], colorful lanterns were set out on the evening of the first full moon of the first month of spring. At that time the gentlemen and ladies would crowd along the river in their canopied carriages where they could easily watch the events.
Tzu-mou was traveling to Ching-men [in Chiang-ling, on the southern bank of the Yangtze River] when he encountered these festivities. He remarked to the friends with him that if he were to play a tune on his flute, he could quiet the crowds and cause the tumult to subside. His traveling companions immediately approved of his proposal. So Tzu-mou climbed a tall building and started to play on a veranda which overlooked the crowd below. As soon as the clear notes were sounded, all the merriment came to a halt. People walking stopped in their tracks; those sitting down got up to listen. Not until a long time after the music had ceased did the crowd resume its clamour. Tzu-mou was confident of his abilities and pleased with himself.
Then suddenly an old man appeared. He came from a small boat below the building and was chanting a poem. His visage was distinguished and commanded respect. The words of his song were clear even at a great distance. Tzu-mou honored him with the guest’s seat and hastened forward to show his respect. The old man addressed Tzu-mou, saying, “Judging from your flute playing just now, you must be the descendant of a prince. Your skills are extremely advanced. What a pity that your instrument is so ordinary.”
“This flute of mine was given to me by the former emperor,” Tzu-mou replied. “If you refer to marvels of the spirit world, then I am ignorant. But as far as music is concerned, this is a perfect treasure. During my whole life I have seen over ten thousand flutes, but none of them could be compared with this one. You consider it common? There must be a reason.”
“I have been studying since I was small, and haven’t grown tired of it even in my old age,” the old man said. “I would not prize your flute very highly. If you do not believe me, I will play it for you.”
Tzu-mou gave the flute to him, whereupon the old man took a breath to play a few notes. As soon as the note sounded, the flute shattered. All those present were startled. None could make out who this person was. Tzu-mou kowtowed and entreated him to show him the real treasure. The old man responded, “You wouldn’t be able to play the one I own.”
He then sent a small boy to bring it from the boat. Tzu-mou took a close look and saw that it was made of white jade. The old man presented it to Tzu-mou, and asked him to play a tune. He played till his breath was nearly exhausted, but not the slightest sound could be heard. Tzu-mou was completely flustered, and he felt an even greater respect for this old man. The old man then taught him to play a little tune. Those present all felt chills run through their bones.
The old man then said, “Seeing your deep devotion to the art, I shall play a piece for you.” The pure notes were exceedingly moving as they flooded the air with reverberant harmonies. They seemed to exceed the normal range of the five notes and six registers. Before the piece was finished, a gust of wind billowed up and the waves began to roll. Clouds and rain obscured everything. In an instant it cleared up again, but the old man was nowhere to be found.
(TPKCH I, pp. 60-63; TPKC, 82.4)
Tr. Rick Harrington
Note: The rhetorical device of gradation (an increasing degree of intensity implied in a comparison of two or more units) and that of hyperbole (overstatement) are the techniques used here for the depiction of the art of flute playing (and the quality of the instrument). The supernatural, or rather the fantastic, presented in this piece thus, in fact, is an inevitable result of the combined application of these two devices.
The event described here belongs to a category of CK concerned with the “magic” of music and of objets d’art in general; cf. the playing of the zither in “Chi Chung-san” (32). Another renowned figure featured in legends of flute playing is Li Mo (see TPKC, 204.23-24).
During the T’ang dynasty [618-906], a captain of Yü-kan County [in modern Kiangsi Province] by the name of Wang Li traveled to the capital for reassignment. He rented rooms in the Ta-ning district. There had been some mistake in the documentation, and his orders were tabled by the officer in charge. So he wound up spending all his resources, and lost his servant and horse. Reduced to total poverty, he became quite haggard and often begged for his meals at a local Buddhist temple.
One day, while returning alone from the temple late in the evening, he saw a beautiful woman walking along the same road. She seemed to be following him--sometimes walking ahead, sometimes lagging behind--so he struck up a cordial conversation with her, and they found one another quite agreeable. He then invited her to his lodging, and there they enjoyed each other’s tender affections.
The next day she asked Li, “How has your life come to such miserable straits? I have quite enough to manage on, living here in the Ch’ung-j en district, so perhaps we could live together.” Li was quite pleased with her as a woman, and also found the offer of material help desirable, so he said, “My desperate situation has brought me almost to the gutter. I dared not hope for such concern as this. But how do you make your living?” She answered him, “I was the wife of a merchant. My husband has been dead for ten years, but I still have the old business in the commercial district. I go to the market place in the morning and make about three hundred cash by the time I come home in the evening. That is enough to get by on. Since you have yet to obtain your next appointment, and since your resources will not allow for travel now, if you did’t find me too common, you could stay with me while you wait for the winter allotment.
Li accepted her offer. He looked over her place and found it neither overly elegant nor too lowly. She even gave Li all the keys to the locks. Before she left in the morning, she would first prepare each day’s food for Li. When she returned she also brought rice, meat, money, and other goods and gave them all to Li. Never a day was she remiss in this. Wishing to lighten her work load, Li suggested that she hire or buy a servant. But she refused with a variety of excuses, and Li did not want to push her. After a year a son was born. Now she would return an extra time at midday in order to feed it.
After having lived with Li for two years, she returned one evening in an agitated state. She told Li, “I have an adversary who has done me wrong, and I have borne this deep injury for a long time. I have been watching for an opportunity for revenge, and today I have realized my wishes. Now I must leave the capital and leave you behind on your own. I bought this house for five hundred strings of cash.1 The deed in the wind screen. I now give it to you along with everything in it. I can’t take the baby away. Please take care of him, since he is your son also.” Having finished, she wiped away her tears and started off.
Li could not stop her; but when he looked into the leather bag she was carrying, he saw a man’s head! Li was shocked. The woman smiled and said, “Don’t be frightened or worried. This affair will not incriminate you.” She then lifted the bag and leapt over the wall. Her body moved like a bird in flight. Li opened the gate to see her off, but she had already vanished.
He was pacing about in the courtyard when suddenly he heard her return. Li opened the gate to receive her. She said, “I’m going to feed the baby again to soften the pain of leaving.” She cuddled the child, and then abruptly went off again, with only a wave for Li. He took the lantern back and lifted the bed screen. The child’s head was severed from its body. Li was aghast. That whole night he was unable to sleep.
He bought a horse and servant with the valuables which she had left him, and traveled to a nearby city to await the development of this affair. For a long time he heard no news at all.
That year Li got an appointment and sold the house to return to service. He never heard from her again.
(TPKCH I, pp. 67-70; TPKC 196.5)
Tr. Rick Harrington
Note: A story of the hsia category, this is one of the earliest examples to successfully utilize a controlled narrative point of view (i.e., a limited perspective, here that of the character Wang, as opposed to the omniscient one normally found in traditional Chinese narrative). The technique of holding back from the reader the character’s motives, for the purpose of creating suspense, is applied even more effectively in “Hsia nü” of LCCI (“The Lady Knight-Errant,” Ma and Lau, pp. 77-81). Lu Hsün also uses this traditional technique effectively in his “Medicine” (Yao).
1 A string is made up of one thousand cash.
Chin Yu-chang was a native of Ho-nei [modern Hopeh Province], but for five years he lived on Chung-t’iao Mountain in P’u-chou [in modern Shansi] as a hermit. In the mountain valley there was a girl who came daily to the nearby mountain stream with a pitcher to fetch water. She was extraordinarily beautiful. Observing her from his nearby study, Yu-chang’s heart was quite captivated by her. One day when the girl came to draw water, Yu-chang put on his slippers and walked over to the door to strike up a conversation with her.
“To whose family do you belong, my fair lady, that you come here to draw water so often?”
“The mountain steam does not have an owner,” smiled the girl. “Whoever needs water may draw from it. I come here every day for what we need. But I did not know that you live here; please forgive me if I have disturbed you. I live in the village nearby. My parents passed away when I was very young and, living with my aunt ever since, my life has been hard and afforded me no chance to rest. I don’t know what will become of me.”
“I take it you are not married then,” Yu-chang said. “Since I was just thinking of setting up a family, may we not find fulfillment in each other? I hope you will not reject my proposal.”
“If you do not think that I am too homely,” the girl replied, “how dare I go against your wishes. But we must wait until tonight, before I can obey your command.” When she finished speaking, she left with the water.
That night she did indeed come as she had promised. Yu-chang greeted her and took her to the bedroom; thereby they became man and wife. Their love and respect for each other grew deeper and deeper as the days went by. It was Yu-chang’s habit to sit up studying until midnight, and the girl always stayed up with him.
They spent half a year together like this. One night when Yu-chang was applying himself to the books as usual, his wife did not come to sit with him, but instead waited on him standing. When Yu-chang questioned her, she gave him an evasive answer. Yu-chang finally told her to go to bed.
“When you come to bed tonight,” his wife said, “please do not bring in the candle. I would be most grateful if you would do that for my sake.”
Later Yu-chang went to bed with the candle, and found under the cover, in his wife’s place, a skeleton of dry bones. He sighed for a long time, lost in his sad contemplations. He then covered the skeleton with the quilt again, and in an instant, it turned back into his wife.
“I am not a human,” she said with great agitation to Yu-chang. “I am the spirit of a skeleton from the south side of the mountain. On the north side, there is a Prince Unfading Light who is the master of all spirits. In the past I used to go and serve him once every month. But for the past half year, since I have been with you, I have not been to his place. Recently I was taken by his spirit lackeys and was dealt a hundred strokes with an iron rod. The torture was unbearable. Lately I have been hoping to effect a final transformation into human form, but you unexpectedly shone the light on me. Now the whole affair is exposed. You must not stay here any longer. Leave as quickly as possible, for in this mountain, everything has a spirit associated with it, and I fear that some of them might harm you.”
As she finished speaking, she was overcome with sorrow and her face covered with tears; then suddenly she could not be seen any more. Grief-striken, Yu-chang left the mountain.
Tr. S. Y. Kao
Note: The diversity of subject matter found in a ch’uan-ch’i collection, such as seen in this story and the two previous entries, is not uncommon in T’ang anthologies. This piece returns us to the usual CK subject matter; it shows a subtype of the “necromantic union” (cf. “Scholar T’an,” Ma and Lau, p. 387) combined with a new motif, the “evil master,” a motif to be developed further in “Nieh Hsiao-ch’ien” by P’u Sung-ling (LCCI, 2.7; see also Ma and Lau, pp. 404-409).
This piece seems to show a lack of care in presentation: many transitions are unprepared, and some of the crucial actions of the protagonist are left unexplained. All these seem to indicate that this is a condensed or truncated account of a more refined version. The emotive content of the situation, however, posseses an evocative power of its own which works in spite of the crude style of narration.
Toward the end of the Chen-Yüan reign period [785-804], Ch’eng-shih’s uncle was traveling from Hsin-an [modern Ch’ü County, Chekiang] to Loyang. He arrived at Kua-chou Isle [in the Yangtze River, in modern Chiang-tu County, Kiangsu], at dusk, and passed the night on board his boat. Deep in the night, as he was playing his lute, he thought he heard the sound of someone sighing outside of the boat. Each time he stopped playing, the sound disappeared. This happened four times before he finally loosened the strings of his lute and went to bed.
He dreamt of a woman in her early twenties, gaunt and dressed in tattered clothing. She stepped forward, bowed, and said, “My surname is Cheng and my given name is Ch’iung-lo; I come from Tan-t’u [a county in modern Kiangsu]. My parents died when I was very young, and I became the ward of a widowed sister-in-law. But unfortunately she too passed away and I came to Yang-tzu [a ford in Chiang-tu] to search for my aunt.
“One night when I was staying at an inn, a city official’s son named Wang Wei-chü got drunk and was about to rape me. I knew that there was no escape, so I tied my scarf around my neck and killed myself. He then stealthily sunk my body in the gully west of the fish market.
“The next night I appeared twice in the dreams of the Yang-tzu magistrate, Shih I-liu, but he paid me no heed and did nothing about the matter. Then I caused a ‘vapor of injustice’ to rise from the rock on the river, hoping that the omen of the inauspicious mist would result in someone sending in a report to the throne. But I have been harboring this bitter resentment for forty years, and there has been no one to wash it away.
“My parents were both very talented at playing the lute. When I chanced to hear the sound of your lute, sir--its enchanting tones filling the air with harmony--my heart was touched and my breast felt heavy with grief. I arrived here unaware of my own movements.”
Subsequently Ch’eng-shih’s uncle went to Wen Valley in Ho-ch’ing County [in modern Honan], north of the Lo River, to call on his brother-in-law, P’an Yüan-tse. Ever since his youth, Yüan-tse possessed magic powers. Ch’eng-shih’s uncle had only been staying with him for a few days when Yüan-tse suddenly asked him, “However did you come upon this spirit-woman who has been following you? Please allow me to drive her away!” With that, he set up a lantern and burned incense as he put his magic powers into action.
Within a short time, there came a rustling sound from behind the lantern. Yüan-tse said, “That means she wants paper and a brush.” He cast paper and brush into the shadow of the lantern, and within moments the paper quickly whirled down before the lantern.
When they took a look, they found that writing completely filled the scroll. She had written mostly in seven-character verse. The words were grievous and pained. Yüan-tse immediatedly ordered that they be recorded, saying that the writing of ghosts does not last long before dissolving into nothingness. By morning the paper looked as though it had been smeared with coal; not a single word remained legible.
Yüan-tse again commanded that some wine, dried meat, and paper money be set out, and he availed himself of the dimming light at dusk to burn them all in the road. A wind arose and whipped the ashes into an eddy, quickly lifting them several chang off the ground. At that point they could faintly hear the sound of someone weeping.
All two hundred sixty-two characters of the poem set forth her deep sense of injustice. Because their meaning is not entirely clear, they will not be given here. But four of the lines go like this:
The pain that fills my soul cannot be spoken;
And whom could I tell of a heart that is broken?
Spring gives birth to the myriad things, yet it never gives me new life,
But above all I am grieved that my youthful spirit has no one to turn to.
(YYTT, Hsü-chi, 3, pp. 190-91; TPKC, 341.7)
Tr. Paula Varsano
Note: This is essentially a “lyric” piece (cf. “Lament from the Hsiang River” ) combining two basic motifs: “the plaint of a wronged ghost” and “the zither playing” (cf. “Su О19] “] and “Chi Chung-san” ). The unresolved murder case and the injustice suffered by the spirit, though unsatisfactory in the narrative sense, seem to enhance the pathos of the story.
In the T’ien-pao reign period [742-756] of the T’ang dynasty, there was a recluse named Ts’ui Hsüan-wei who lived in the eastern part of Loyang. He was an adept in the Taoist arts and had been eating chrysanthemums and wild mushrooms for thirty years. Because he had run out of these herbs, he led his household servants to Mount Sung1 to pick mushrooms, returning home only after a year had passed. His house was empty, and wild brambles filled the courtyard.
It was a spring evening. The wind was cool and the moon bright, so he did not go to bed, but stayed in the courtyard. The servants were told not to disturb him unless there was a good reason. After the third watch, there appeared a girl with the looks of a housemaid who said, “Sir, you are back! I am accompanying a few girls to the Upper Eastern Gate of the city to the home of our aunt. May we rest here for a while?” Hsüan-wei gave his consent.
Presently the maid entered, leading more than ten persons. One of them wtih a green skirt stepped forward and said, “My surname is Yang.” Pointing to another person, she said, “She is Li,” and to still another, she continued, “She is T’ao.” Then pointing to a small woman clad in red, she said, “She is surnamed Shih, and called Ah Ts’o.”2 Each was attended by several maidservants. When the introductions were over, Hsüan-wei invited them to sit with him in the moonlight and asked them their reason for coming out. They answered, “We had been wanting to go to the house of Eighteenth Aunt Feng3 for may days, but since she said that she would come to see us herself, we did not go. This evening we decided to pay her a visit.”
Before everyone had sat down, there was an announcement at the gate, “Aunt Feng has arrived.” All were surprised and pleased and went to receive her. The one surnamed Yang said, “The master of this place is most kind. It is very pleasant to stay here awhile; surely no other place would be as nice.” Hsüan-wei also came out to meet the one surnamed. Feng, whom he found rather aloof in speech; her bearing had ‘the style and air of being in a grove.’4 They greeted each other and went inside. Every one of them was exquisite in appearance, and the courtyard grounds were suffused with a penetrating fragrance.
All assembled ordered wine to be brought in, and everyone went over in turn to offer wine to the aunt while singing a song. Hsüan-wei remembered the songs sung by two of them: one wearing a red skirt and the other dressed in white. The first sung this song:
Bright and clear, a jade face purer than the white snow,
Not to say, at such a time of the year, when you face the lucent moon;
Singing this song, I dare not complain against the spring wind;
I sigh only that all my splendor, unnoticed, will soon be scattered.
The other sung this:
Scarlet clothes, sprinkled with dew, swing and sway;
Rouge lightly applied, a bud appears all the more s lender.
I grieve that I will not retain my roseate face--
Yet I dare not complain that the spring wind lacks feeling.
Then it was Eighteenth Aunt Feng’s turn to offer drink. Moving about carelessly, she upset the jug and drenched Ah Ts’o’s clothes. Ah Ts’o grimaced angrily and said, “Everyone has made obeisance and pleaded with you, but it is not my nature to beg and plead.” She rose abruptly in anger and turned away. Eighteenth Aunt said, “The little girl has had too much to drink!”
Then they all stood up and took their leave outside the gate. Eighteenth Aunt Feng headed south, while all the others went towards the garden in the west and parted. Hsüan-wei seemed to see nothing strange in that.
The following night they came again and said, “We wish to go to Eighteenth Aunt’s place.” One among them, Ah Ts’o, said in anger, “What’s the use of trying to supplicate that old woman! If there are any problems, we can seek help from the recluse. May we, sir?” Ah Ts’o turned to Hsüan-wei and continued, “My companions and I all live in the garden, and every year many of us are twisted by ill winds. Our existence being so unsafe, we ask Eighteenth Aunt to spare us. Last night, however, I could not go along with her. From now on, it is unlikely that we will ever be spared again. Perhaps you would not mind protecting us? We will not fail to repay you.”
Hsüan-wei then said, “What power have I to help you?”
Ah Ts’o said, “All you need to do is, each year, on the first day of the year, make a red banner for us, drawing on it the markings of the Sun, the Moon, and the Five Planets. Then you must stand it in the eastern part of the garden, and we will be safe from destruction by the wind. The new year’s day has already passed, but on the dawn of the twenty-first day of this month, when the winds begin to blow, raise the banner as we have said to protect us from disaster.”
When Hsüan-wei promised he would do this, they all thanked him in unison, saying, “We will not forget your kindness.” They then paid their respects and departed. Hsüan-wei followed them under the moon to see them off. They went over the wall, entered, and then were seen no more.
He did as he had been asked to do, raising the banner on the appointed day. On that day the west wind shook the ground and, working its way up from the southern part of Loyang, it toppled trees and made sand fly, but in the garden not one of the many flowers even moved.
Hsüan-wei then realized: the fact that the girls had said that they were Yang, Li and T’ao, along with the peculiarity of their clothing and appearance, all showed that they were flower spirits. The red-clad girl named Ah Ts’o was a pomegranate, while Eighteenth Aunt Feng was the goddess of the winds. For several nights afterwards, the girl surnamed Yang and the others came to offer him their thanks. Each bore packages many tan in weight, all of which contained plum and peach blossoms.
“If you eat these, your life will be prolonged and you will avoid old age,” they advised Hsüan-wei. “If you are willing to stay at this place always, protecting all of us, you will be able to attain immortality.”
By the beginning of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-821], Hsüan-wei was still alive, and had the appearance of a man in his thirties.
(YYTT, Hsü-chi, 3, pp. 198-99; Chang, pp. 190-92; TPKC, 416.10)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: Here we have another example of the use of analogical operations (cf. “Ts’en Shun” ). Tales of this type often provide occasion for versification; the better known among them include “Yüan-wu-yu” (Figment-of-the-Imagination) (TPKC, 369.8; Wang, pp. 197-98) and “Tung-yang yeh kuai lu” (The Nocturnal Visitors of Tung-yang) (TPKC, 490; Wang, pp. 199-204). In these pieces fantastic creatures are openly acknowledged to be phantoms of the mind, created from linguistic association.
This story is used as the prologue in the hua-реп story “Kuan-yüan-sou wan feng hsien-nü” (The Old Gardener Rewarded by Flower Fairies) (HSHY, 4), which tells of how an old gardener was given immortality for his devotion in caring for flowers.
1 One of the five sacred mountains of China, located in what is now Honan Province.
2 These surnames all have a double meaning: “Yang” literally means poplar, “Li” means plum, “Т’ао” literally means pottery, but puns with t’ao, “peach,” and “Shih” refers to shih-liu, “pomegranate.”
3 Pun on “wind.”
4 A description applied to Hsieh Tao-yün (2nd half of the fourth century), comparing her to the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove. (see Shih-shuo hsin-yü XIX, 30; Mather, p. 355). Here it may also suggest the identity of Aunt Feng.--Ed.
In the Pao-li reign period [825-826], there was a man who lived on Lu Mountain in Ching-chou [in modern Hupeh Province]. He often peddled saltpeter and lime, frequently doing business at the peasant market south of the town of White Whirlpool. From time to time, he would perform extraordinary feats, and on the whole remained unfathomable to the people.
A merchant by the name of Chao Yüan-ch’ing, who was curious by nature, noticed his abilities and wished to study with him. He frequently purchased goods from Lu,1 and sometimes would come with tea and refreshments, pretending to seek Lu’s advice as to how to make a profit. Lu was on to him, and responded saying, “You are not really interested in the affairs of the market. What is your true intention?” Chao then answered, “I have noticed, master, that you hide your true self and power. Yet your own abilities at divination surpass the divination arrived at by means of the turtle shells and milfoil stalks. I beg you to instruct me in it.”
Lu laughed and said, “Well, we can put my prophecy to the test this very day. Your landlord will experience a great calamity at midday. If he heeds my words, he can avoid it. You can tell him that towards noon, a workman will arrive carrying a sack on his back. In the sack will be over two ounces of silver. He will try to cause trouble. Tell your landlord to shut the door, and forbid his wife and children to respond to him. At midday, the man will begin to yell and curse roundly. He must take his family to the water to avoid this man. If so, nothing will happen to him, except that he will lose thirty-four hundred cash.”
At that time, Chao was rooming with the Chang family. He hurried there to warn Chang. Chang had always revered Lu’s powers, so he shut his gate and waited. As midday neared, a man appeared who looked just as Lu had described. He knocked at the gate, seeking to buy rice, and became incensed at receiving no answer. When he began to kick at the door, Chang piled up several bamboo bedmats to keep him out. Presently, several hundred people gathered. Chang then led his wife and children out the back gate to avoid his seeing them. It was just about noon when the stranger left. He walked several paces, then suddenly tumbled to the ground and died.
The stranger’s wife arrived at the scene, and the group of onlookers all related what had happened. The woman was deeply grieved. She went to Chang’s house and accused him of being responsible for her hunsband’s death. The judge at first was unable to pass judgment. The crowd of people related how Chang had shut his gate and left the scene. The judge addressed Chang, saying, “You certainly are not guilty. However, you must take care of his burial.”
Chang was happy to comply with the ruling. The stranger’s wife was also satisfied with the decision. When Chang bought the coffin, it cost him exactly thirty-four hundred cash.
As a result, people came to Lu in great numbers. He found this irritating, and finally left in secret to go to Fu-chou [in modern Hupeh]. When he reached the border, he moored his boat near the home of the scholar Li Ch’i.2 When someone told Li of Lu’s extraordinary abilities, Li went to consult him. At the time, Li was about to take a trip to the capital to seek out some friends who might support him in his career and wished to know if it would be an auspicious undertaking.
Lu instructed, “You must not set off on any journey this year, or a calamity may occur at any time. In back of the building you live in, there is a vat filled with money and covered by a plank of wood. It is not yours. The owner is now but three years of age. Under no circumstances may you use even one piece of this money. Were you to use it, there would definitely be a disaster. Are you capable of heeding my words?”
Apparently frightened, Li thanked him. Lu departed, and before the waves had even settled, Li, laughing, called to his wife and said, “If Lu’s words are true, why need I look any further for what I want?” Then he ordered the family servant to dig up the land. After digging no more than a few feet, they did indeed hit upon a plank of wood. They removed it to find a huge vat filled to the brim with coins. Li was ecstatic. His wife knotted some straw together and drew the coins onto the strands. When she had strung almost ten thousand coins, their children were suddenly seized with headaches of unbearable intensity.
“Could Lu’s prediction be coming true?” Li wondered aloud. He raced off on his horse to catch up with Lu and confessed that he had disobeyed the latter’s injunction. Lu cried angrily, “If you use the money, tragedy will befall your own flesh and blood. It is up to you to weigh which you value most--your family or financial gain!” He then paddled his boat away without a single backward glance. Li sped home, and with a sacrificial ceremony, reburied the money. His children instantly began to recuperate.
Lu arrived in Fu-chou and spent time with some friends going on leisurely walks. Once, on the road, they encountered six men in fine attire. The smell of liquor coming from them was enough to make one’s nose turn up in disgust. Lu suddenly yelled at them, “If you scoundrels do not repent, your days will be numbered!” The men all bowed down to the ground and exclaimed, “We will never do it again!” As Lu’s companions looked on amazed, he explained, “These characters are all bandits.”
These are some of the strange events associated with him. Chao Yüan-ch’ing told of how Lu sometimes appeared young, sometimes old, and of how he ate only sparingly. Lu once told Chao, “In this world, there are many assassins who are capable of hiding their form. The Taoist, once he masters the art of making himself invisible, can change his form at will if he does not practice the art for twenty years. This is called ‘Achieving Detachment’. After twenty years, his name will be recorded among the earthly immortals.” He also asserted, “When the assassin dies, his corpse disappears.” His discourses were usually strange like these, for he himself was probably one of the divine ones or an immortal.
(YYTT, 2, pp. 22-24; TPKC, 43.2)
Tr. Laurie Scheffler
Note: This is a story of the magic arts of a Taoist thaumaturge, reminiscent of Six Dynasties presentations both in its conception and episodic mode. But note that the episodes are now given as examples of the magic power of a Taoist adept, rather than simply as a record of manifestations of marvels.
1 The man is identified by the name of the place from which he comes.
2 This man’s name is Lu Ch’i in the Chinese text, this Lu being orthographically different from the diviner’s name. We have taken the liberty of changing it to Li to prevent confusion with the latter.
Early in the Chien-chung reign period [780-783], a scholar by the name of Wei was moving with his family to Ju-chou [in modern Honan] when they met a monk on the same road. Since they were traveling side by side, Wei and the monk chatted about many different topics, and a congenial feeling grew between them. With evening drawing near, the monk pointed to a fork in the road and said, “A few li from here is my humble monastery. May I invite you to stop there?” Wei assented, and instructed his family to go onward. The monk thereupon ordered his own followers to hurry ahead and prepare food and accomodations for them.
After traveling more than ten li they still had not reached their destination. Wei questioned the monk, who pointed to a spot where trees were faintly visible in the dusk, and said, “That is the place.” When they reached the spot, however, the monk kept on walking. The sun had already set, and Wei became suspicious. Having always been an expert marksman, he now stealthily drew out a slingshot bow1 and several pellets which were in his boot. Holding ten or more of the bronze pellets, he upbraided the monk, “Your disciple has a schedule to keep. Just now, out of eagerness for your enlightening discussions, I accepted your invitation. Yet we have already traveled over twenty li without arriving. What is the meaning of this?”
The monk replied only that they should keep on going. When the monk had gone another hundred paces, Wei realized that he was a robber. He took a shot at him, striking the monk right in the back of his head. At first, it seemed the monk did not feel a thing. Only after Wei had shot off five pellets at him did the monk reach up and touch his head. He said calmly, “It isn’t nice to play jokes on people.” Wei saw there was nothing he could do and did not draw his bow again.
At last they arrived at an isolated villa, where over a score of people carrying torches came out in welcome. The monk invited Wei into a hall to sit. “Don’t distress yourself,” he said with a smile. Turning to the servants, he asked, “Have you done as I told you in providing for the ladies?” The monk then spoke again to Wei, “Please go and comfort the ladies personally, but come back here as soon as things are settled.” Wei went and saw his wife and children settled in another place, where they were amply provided with all they needed. As they looked at each other, tears came into their eyes. Wei then returned to the monk.
The monk took Wei’s hand and said, “This humble monk is a robber. Originally I had evil designs on you. I had no idea that you were so skilled. If it had been anyone else but me, they should never have been able to defend themselves against you. Now, though, I have changed my mind. I hope that you will put your suspicions to rest. The shots you just aimed at me are all still here.” So saying, he raised his hand, and upon pressing the back of his head, five pellets fell out.
The next moment, a banquet of steamed calf was set out. The meat had over ten daggers stuck in it, and it was encircled by seasoned dumplings. The monk bowed to Wei, inviting him to sit down, and continued to speak, “I have several sworn brothers whom I would like to have come out and pay their respects to you.” As soon as he finished speaking, five or six men with vermilion cloaks and great wide sashes appeared and stood in a line below the steps. The monk called to them, “Bow to the gentleman. Had it been one of you who ran into him a while ago, there would be nothing left of you now.”
When the meal was finished, the monk said, “I have long made this my occupation. Now that I am entering the twilight of my years, I wish to rectify my former misdeeds. Unfortunately, one of my young followers has surpassed me with his skills. I entreat you to settle this matter for me.”
He then called for one Fei-fei to come and greet Wei. Fei-fei was only about sixteen years old. He wore an emerald cloak with long sleeves and had a complexion as pure as tallow.
The monk addressed Fei-fei, “Go and attend the gentleman in the rear hall!” Next, he handed Wei a sword and five pellets, and said, “I beg you to employ all of your skill to kill him, so that he will no longer be a source of worry to me.” Then he led Wei into the hall and locked him in.
There was nothing inside the hall, save for a brightly lit lantern in each of the four corners. Fei-fei stood there wielding a short riding crop. Wei raised his bow and aimed with perfect accuracy, but the pellet merely fell to the ground with a clatter. Suddenly Fei-fei leapt up to the rafters and started to skim about the walls, as swiftly as a monkey. Wei used up all his pellets without once hitting his mark, so he drew the sword and chased Fei-fei with it. Fei-fei dodged and feinted with lightning speed, always keeping a pace ahead. Wei sliced away at the whip, cutting it into several sections, but was unable to harm Fei-fei.
Only at long last did the monk open the door and ask Wei if he had been able to do away with the noxious fellow. Wei related all that had happened. The monk turned sadly to Fei-fei and said, “The gentleman has proven that you will always live a life of crime.”
The monk and Wei spent the rest of the night discussing swordsmanship and archery. When it neared dawn, the monk accompanied Wei to the main road and presented him with a gift of one hundred bolts of silk. With tears in their eyes, they parted.
(YYTT 9, pp. 70-71; TPKCH I, pp. 228-32; TPKC, 194.3)
Tr. Laurie Scheffler
Note: Included in the TPKC category 194, “Hao-hsia” (heroic knights-errant), this piece presents a type of hsia different from that of the Warring States period. The emphasis in the earlier genre on the obtaining of justice through private, often violent, means is replaced here by a narrative that stresses the fantastic nature of the martial arts employed. The description of Fei-fei’s fighting skills here is prototypical of many of the episodes in Ch’ing detective stories that contain wu-hsia (martial knight-errant) segments. Cf. entries - below.
1 A bow-like instrument that shoots pellets instead of arrows.
In western Pien-chou Prefecture [in modern Honan Province] during the T’ang dynasty, there was a Wooden Bridge Inn, run by a certain Third Lady. It was not known where she came from. She lived alone, was over thirty years of age, and had no children or relatives. The inn had several rooms, where she made an occupation of selling food. Yet she appeared quite wealthy, and owned many donkeys. Often when public and private carriages passed by, drawn by road-weary animals, she would lower the price of her donkeys in order to supply the travelers with fresh ones. Everyone praised her for her benevolence, and travelers from near and far sought refuge at her establishment.
During the yüan-ho reign period [806-820], a traveler named Chao Chi-ho, from Hsü-chou Prefecture [modern Hsü-ch’ang municipality in Honan], passed this inn on his way to the Eastern Capital [i.e., Loyang]. About six men were already lodged there, each occupying a simple bed-stall. Chi-ho, arriving after them, was given a bed in the deepest corner of the inn, situated against the wall of the proprietress’s own bedroom.
At dinner time, the provisions that Third Lady made for the guests were quite generous. She offered great quantities of wine that evening, and drank together with the guests in an atmosphere of general merriment. Chi-ho was not in the habit of indulging in liquor, but he did enjoy the conversation and laughter.
By the time of the second watch [9-11 pm], the guests were all drowsy from their drinking, and each went to bed. Third Lady retired to her chamber, shut the door firmly, and blew out her candle. Everyone slept deeply, except for Chi-ho, who lay awake tossing and turning. From the next room, by and by, he heard Third Lady making sounds as if she were moving things about. He happened to find a crack in the wall, and peeping through it, saw her take a candle from under a shade and light it. She then proceeded to draw from a chest a plow, together with a wooden ox and a wooden man, each about six or seven inches tall. She placed them before a small stove and spat water on them. The ox and the man immediately began to walk about. The little man hitched up the ox to the plow, and proceeded to plow a little spot before the bed, going back and forth several times. Next she drew from the chest a package of buckwheat seeds and handed them over to the little man to plant. In an instant, they began to grow. Blossoms opened and the wheat ripened. She then ordered the little man to cut it down and hull the grain, which yielded seven to eight sheng measures.1 This she placed in a small mill, and ground it into flour. She put the wooden man back into the chest, then baked several cakes with the flour.
Soon, when the cock began to crow, but before the guests arose to start on their journeys, Third Lady arose, lit the lanterns, and set the newly baked cakes on the dining table for her lodgers to snack on. Chi-ho, heart pounding, swiftly took his leave. Once outside, he concealed himself behind the gate to watch. The guests sat around the table and ate the cakes. But before they could finish, they suddenly fell to the ground and began to bray. In a flash, they were all transformed into donkeys. Third Lady drove them all behind the inn, and took possession of their goods and money. Chi-ho spoke of this to no one, and secretly envied her for her magical powers.
Several months later, Chi-ho was returning from the Eastern Capital. When he got near to the Wooden Bridge Inn, he prepared buckwheat cakes of the same size as those Third Lady had prepared. He again spent the night at the inn, and Third Lady was as cheery and pleasant as before. Further, as he happened to be the only guest that night, she treated him with even greater hospitality than she had on the previous occasion. As the night deepened, she courteously asked if there were anything he wanted. Chi-ho replied, “I shall set out tomorrow morning. Would you kindly prepare some snacks at your convenience?” Third Lady answered, “Of course. Just have yourself a good night’s sleep.”
After midnight, Chi-ho spied on her, and every detail of her actions was as before. At daybreak, Third Lady prepared a platter of food which, as expected, was filled with baked cakes. When she had done setting it out, she went to bring out some more food. Chi-ho seized on her absence to replace one of her cakes with one that he had prepared earlier, without her seeing him do so.
As Chi-ho was about to leave, he sat down to eat, and said to Third Lady, “It just so happens I myself have some cakes. Please take yours back and save them for the other guests.” Then he took his own cake and ate it. As he ate, Third Lady brought some tea out to him. Chi-ho invited, “Won’t my hostess kindly share her guest’s cakes with him?” He chose for her the cake he had secretly taken from her platter, and gave it to her. As soon as she had swallowed the first bite, she fell to the ground and began to bray. Then and there she was transformed into a donkey, healthy and robust. Chi-ho mounted the donkey and set off on his travels, taking along the wooden man and wooden ox. But he was unable to figure out her magic spells, and failed to reproduce what she had done. Chi-ho drove the transformed donkey onward, journeying far and wide with her. She never stumbled or missed a step on the road, and could travel 100 li a day.
Four years later, they were riding into the T’ung-kuan Pass, and came to a place about five or six li east of the Hua Yüeh Temple.2 Suddenly there appeared an old man at the side of the road. He clapped his hands and, laughing heartily, exclaimed, “Third Lady of the Wooden Bridge Inn! How did you come to take this bodily form?” He then took up the donkey’s reins and addressed Chi-ho, “Although she had transgressed, falling into your hands has certainly been punishment enough. How pathetic she is! I beg you to set her free from this point on.”
The old man then grasped the donkey’s mouth and nose with his hands, and tore open the beast. Third Lady jumped out of the hide, looking exactly as she had before the transformation. After bowing to the old man, she ran off and disappeared, never to be heard of again.
(TPKCH I, pp. 136-40; TPKC 286.4)
Tr. Laurie Scheffler
Note: One of the most interesting stories in this anthology, this piece presents a type of kuai that some believe has a foreign origin. Both the use of food in casting a spell and the mode of imagination shown in the imitative ritual of “farming,” however, are found in the native tradition of wu-ku magic; cf. LCCI, 2.15, “Tsao ch’u” (Animal Husbandry). See Introduction, Sec. I, esp. п. 18.
1 One sheng is equal to .906 dry quart measures.
2 T’ung-kuan is located in the east of modern Shensi Province. Hua Yüeh (i.e., Hsi Yüeh, the Western Peak) is one of the Five Sacred Peaks, located in Hua-yin County, Shensi.--Ed.
Wei Tan was an Inspector General of Chiang-hsi1 during the T’ang dynasty. Nearing forty, he had yet to pass the civil service exam on the Five Classics. Once, while riding about on his broken-down donkey, he came to the Central Bridge in Loyang where he saw that a fisherman had caught a large turtle several feet in girth. He placed it on the bridge where it gasped and wheezed on the brink of death. Quite a crowd of onlookers had gathered, all of whom would have liked to buy it and cook it. Only Tan showed any pity. He asked how much it would cost. The fisherman said that if he could get two thousand he would sell it. At this time of year the weather was quite cold, and Wei could not trade the jacket and pants which he was wearing, so he exchanged his sorry mount for the turtle, which he placed back in the water before walking off.
During those times there was a certain Master Calabash whose origins were unknown and whose comings and goings were odd and flighty, but who could divine like a spirit. So Wei came several days later, seeking a divination. Master Calabash jumped out of his slippers to welcome him through the door. His delight was evident as he asked Wei, “Why have you come so late? I have been craning my neck after you for days.” Wei said he had come there seeking a consultation, whereupon the Master said, “My friend Chief Administrator Yüan can’t say enough about your fine qualities. He has specially dispatched me to seek your acquaintance. I hope it will be convenient for you to accompany me.”
Wei considered this for a while. He knew that he had heard of no one by that name in that office so he replied, “The Master has made a mistake. I have only come to find out what poor lot may be in store for me.”
Calabash said, “Yes, but that’s something beyond me. I’m unable to divine your fortunes. Lord Yüan is my mentor. We must go to him to discover the details of your future.”
He accompanied Wei with his walking stick to the T’ung-li district. Along a secluded alleyway in a quiet neighborhood they saw a small gate. A moment after Master Calabash knocked on it, a doorman opened the gate and invited them inside. After ten or so paces they went through a single leafed door, where, after another ten paces, they saw a large door. It had an imposing and beautiful aspect such as would suit the house of a lord. Now there were several maidservants who first came out to greet the guest, all of whom were extremely beautiful. The place was bedecked with splendid objects and redolent with rare scents.
An old man with white eyebrows and beard then appeared, attended on each side by a maid. He was seven feet tall and draped in a robe tied with a sash. He introduced himself as Yüan chün-chih2 and initiated salutations to Wei with full ceremony.3 Wei was taken by surprise. He hurriedly gave his salutations while saying, “I am but a poor and insignificant man. I shouldn’t think that a venerable gentleman like yourself would condescend to receive such a one as me. I don’t understand.”
The old man answered, “When I was at the point of death, it was you who let me live. Such a debt of kindness is beyond repayment. Of course, the one who has acted decently need not pay this any mind, but he who receives a kindness must try to requite it, even with his own death.” Wei was taken aback. He realized that this was the turtle, though he would never say so straight out.
Various delicacies were brought out as the entire day slowly slipped by. When it became dark and Wei was about to take his leave, the old man brought out a sheaf of writings from his breast pocket. He gave them to Wei saying, “I know that you wish to have a divination, so I have copied down from the heavenly officials all of your future appointments, salaries, movements and addresses. With these I would repay you. All of these accomplishments and deprivations are a part of your fate; the value of this copy is simply to let you know them beforehand.”
Then turning to Master Calabash, he said, “Would you be kind enough to loan me fifty thousand in cash to get another mount for Mr. Wei. He must leave for the west shortly. I would be much obliged.” Wei bowed twice and took his leave. The next day Master Calabash brought the fifty thousand cash to the inn to take care of Wei’s expenses.
Everything was written in the copy which Wei received. The next year in the fifth month he would pass the first exam. It also told what year he would pass the next set of examinations, albeit without distinction. He would become a military official of Hsien-yang [in modern Shensi, near Ch’ang-an] and the next year be promoted to the capital as a certain official. It listed seventeen such promotions. All of them had the year, the month, and the day. During the last year listed he would be transferred to Chiang-hsi as Inspector General and achieve the title of Grand Imperial Inspector. Three years later an acacia in front of his office would blossom, whereupon there would be another change of post, and he would move back north. After that nothing more was said.
Wei constantly held onto and prized the papers. Right from passing the first exam to becoming the Inspector General of Chiang-hsi, the day and the month were always correct for each promotion. There was an acacia tree in front of the yamen at Hung-chou [Nan-ch’ang, in modern Kiangsi] which had been there through many months and years. A local saying had it that if this tree should ever blossom, the incumbent magistrate should be prepared for the worst. During the eighth year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820], during Wei’s term in office, the tree suddenly blossomed one morning. Wei then left office and perished while on the road.
From the time Wei first encountered Chief Administrator Yüan, he had considered him rather odd. Afterwards he went to the site of Yüan’s old residence each time he came to Loyang to try to look for him, but he never met him again. He asked Master Calabash about this. Calabash replied, “He is the ‘spirit dragon.’ His location and form changes often. How can one find him?”
Wei said, “If that is so, then how could the calamity on the Central Bridge have occurred?”
Calabash answered, “No one is free from difficulties. Be he commoner or sage, ‘spirit dragon’ or earthworm, when calamity strikes there is no escape. Why should he be any different from others in this respect?”
(TPKCH, I, pp. 122-27; TPKC, 118.13)
Tr. Rick Harrington
Note: Her the motif of “a good turn repaid” is used to introduce the mystery of predestination. In so doing, this tale is able to reveal the future as history; cf. Introduction, Sec. I.
1 I.e., Chiang-nan-hsi-tao (Western Chiang-nan Circuit). It consisted approximately of what is now Kiangsi, Hunan, and Anhui; its administrative seat was Hung-chou (modern Nan-ch’ang, Kiangsi). For Wei’s biography, see H sin T’ang shu 197, pp. 5629ff.--Ed.
2 The surname Yüan puns on the word “turtle. “--Ed.
3 Wei would normally have been expected to greet the elderly host first.
Hsiao Tung-hsüan, a Taoist priest of Ling-ս Temple on the Mountain of the King’s Chamber,1 was determined to learn how to smelt the pill of immortality. Years came and went, but still he did not succeed.
After some time, he came upon an immortal who presented him with The Secret of the Great Transformation,2 saying, “This work contains complete instructions for concocting the pill of immortality. But you still must find another who is of the same mind as you, so that the inner and outer positions may complement each other in the concoction. Only then can you succeed. Go then, and begin your search!”
Tung-Hsüan roamed about the world, traversing the Five Peaks and the Four Seas, passing through renowned mountains and strange realms, cities both teeming and deserted--he did not miss a single place inhabited by humans. Yet in over ten years he failed to find a partner.
During the middle of the Chen-Yüan reign period [785-805], Tung-Hsüan was on his way from the east of Chekiang to Yang-chou [in modern Kiangsu] when he arrived at the Tu-’ing shiplock where he stopped and handed the boat over to an innkeeper. In the river thousands of boats were lined up end to end, squeezing together in the narrow water way. When the lock opened, all vied to get through first, the boats in front and behind jostling each other out of the way. The boatmen pressed forward with all their might.
Just then Tung-hsüan caught sight of a man whose boat pinned his arm back and broke it. Onlookers shuddered at the sight, but the man’s face did not even pale--indeed, not a sound escaped his lips. Slowly he turned and went inside the boat where he soothed himself with food and drink as though nothing had happened.
Tung-hsüan exclaimed that this man was remarkable indeed and rejoiced within, thinking, “What can this be but heaven coming to my aid?” Tung-hsüan asked him his name; he replied that it was Chung Wu-wei--Non-action to the End. He struck up a friendship with him, and their conversations often turned to the elevating subject of the Tao.
From then on, the two men never parted company and together went to the Mountain of the King’s Chamber. Once there, Tung-hsüan pulled out the text of The Secret of Transforming the Pill of Immortality and showed it to his companion. Wu-wei pored over it, and they discussed its contents carefully together. By the end of two or three years, they succeeded in completely cultivating their behavior in accordance with their learning.
Tung-hsüan then came to see Wu-wei and told him, “On the evening when we carry out the smelting, I shall perform the magic ritual to maintain the efficacy of the process. You shall stand guard over the cauldron. If you can maintain complete silence until the fifth watch, then hand in hand, we shall ascend to heaven.”
Wu-wei replied, “Though I possess no other skill, to maintain complete silence and utter no sound is, as you know, within my capacity.”
For ten days they worked on the construction of the altar, tended the golden furnace, and prepared the cauldron. Tung-hsüan circled the altar, performing the ritual, as if he were treading the void. Wu-wei sat before the cauldron, upright with folded arms, swearing in his heart that he would not speak, even if it meant his death.
After the first watch, he suddenly saw two Taoists descend from the heavens. They said to Wu-wei, “Our Lord in Heaven sent us to ask you whether or not you are doing this in order to attain enlightenment.” Wu-wei did not respond.
A while later, there appeared a host of immortals, calling themselves names like Wang Ch’iao and An Ch’i,3 who said to him, “Just now our lord sent two of his servants to demand that you explain what you are doing. Why did you not reply?” Wu-wei still would not speak.
Presently he saw before him a woman of about sixteen years old, her face of unsurpassed beauty, the tones of her voice alluring and soft, her gauze robes many-colored and brilliant; the musk exuding from her body could have made the earth tremble. She lingered for a long time, teasing and toying with Wu-wei. But he paid her no heed.
In a flash there appeared tigers and wolves, and a dozen kinds of other wild, ferocious beasts, baying and screeching, running and leaping. They bared their teeth and opened their jaws, but Wu-wei did not move.
A moment later he saw his deceased grandparents and parents, and all of his loved ones who had passed away, line up and stand before him. They demanded, “How can you remain silent upon seeing us?” Though tears fell from his eyes, Wu-wei persisted and said not a word.
Suddenly he saw a Yaksha, a messenger from hell, three chang tall, who had eyes like the red of lightning sparks and a mouth as red as blood. His vermilion hair stood out as erect as bamboo poles; his teeth were like a saw and his claws like hooks. He rushed up to Wu-wei, but Wu-wei did not budge.
Then a man clothed in a yellow robe led two strongmen to him and said, “The Great King has ordered that you be arrested. If you do not wish to go, simply state your reasons. Then you will not be apprehended.” Wu-wei did not respond. The yellow-robed man commanded the two strongmen to lead him away; Wu-wei had no choice but to follow.
Soon they came to a court, said to be the court of the King of Equality. Seated facing south, and leaning on a table, the king was imposing and severe, and spoke to Wu-wei in a harsh voice, “You are not due to be brought here. If you can say something to extricate yourself, then we shall set you free.” Wu-wei did not respond.
The King of Equality then commanded that Wu-wei be taken to hell. There he saw all those who were receiving punishment—there were hundreds and thousands of varieties of tortures. The pain and misery was beyond description. Upon his return, the King said, “If you do not speak, you shall enter among them.” Although Wu-wei was profoundly frightened, in the end he persisted in silence.
The King of Equality said, “Since you persist, I order that you be reincarnated, that you may not be allowed to return to that place where we first found you.” Thereupon Wu-wei began to feel confused, and his mind turned blank as if he had lost consciousness.
And then, all at once, he became aware that his body was reincarnating to join the aristocratic household of the Wang family of Ch’ang-an. Even when first in his mother’s womb, he still remembered his earlier oath against speaking. Once born, his features were as those of a normal baby, yet he did not give forth a single cry.
The third of the month marked exactly one month since the day of his birth, and the Wang household held a great party for their friends and relatives, a party which was one vast expanse of excited talk and music. His wet nurse carried him out in her arms to be passed around among the guests, cooed over and cuddled. The parents said to one another, “One day our son will be a man of noble stature.” So they named him Noble Gentleman.
The baby grew brighter and more perceptive every day, but he just would not release a cry. He began to walk when he was two years old, but his frailty made it difficult. At the age of four or five, although he was not able to speak, his actions betrayed a high degree of cultivation. At nine, as soon as he took up a pen he was able to complete an essay. Ever since then, whether engaged in activity or sitting in repose, and even when he was joyfully romping around, he had to be fully supplied with paper and ink.
By the time he had become a young man of twenty and had undergone the capping ceremony, he was very handsome, and his bearing was always graceful and elegant. He was quite the civilized gentleman. However, because of his muteness, he would not consent to enter government service. His life was as luxurious as a prince’s, replete with gold and jade. Servants and concubines sang and played the gongs; his lived sumptuously.
When he was twenty-five, his parents found a wife for him. Like him, she was also of a distinguished household; moreover, her face and figure surpassed those of any beauty of the age. Skilled in handiwork and talented in music, she was in every way extraordinary.
Noble Gentleman’s official name was Shen-wei--Attentive to Detail. He lived a life of contentment and conducted himself with self-esteem. He had been married one year when his wife gave birth to a boy--handsome, quick, gentle and intelligent--in every way beyond compare. Shen-wei adored the child to a degree that far surpassed the bounds of common attachment.
One morning Shen-wei and his wife went to enjoy themselves in the spring garden. There in the garden was a great flat boulder, large enough to seat ten people. His wife, the baby cradled in her arms, mounted the rock and abruptly said to Shen-wei, “I can see that your love for me is deep, but if you do not speak for me today, I shall batter your son to death!”
Shen-wei was not able to wrest his child away from her, and she raised her arms and dashed the child against the rock so hard that its brains gushed out. Shen-wei clutched at his breast in agony and involuntarily uttered a cry of horror.
Then his mind turned hazy and he awoke, realizing he was once again seated before the cauldron. The great flat boulder of moments before was in fact the cauldron. Just then the magic ritual which Tung-hsüan was performing upon the altar was on the verge of completion. The sky was just turning light when, all of a sudden, he heard Wu-wei moan quietly. Just as quickly, the cauldron disappeared. The two men looked at each, overcome with grief.
Afterwards they continued to temper their hearts and cultivate their behavior, and later on simply disappeared from the earth.
(TPKCH, ü, pp. 44-46; TPKC, 44.4)
Tr. Paula Varsano
Note: This is one of the many stories derived from the tale given in the “Lieh-shih ch’ih” episode of the Hsi-yü chi (Records of the Western Regions) by Hsüan-tsang (cf. “Wei Tzu-tung”  and “Tu Tzu-ch’un,” Ma and Lau, pp. 416-19). This version achieves a greater coherence than the others, in that the episode illustrative of Chung Wu-wei’s capacity to endure his trials is short but effective, and it is well integrated into the main section of the story. The “trial” section, however, lacks the finished quality of the “Tu Tzu-ch’un” version, even though none of the latter’s psychological implications is lost.
The psychologically induced visions of an ascetic are common topics in Western literature (e.g., Flaubert’s Le tentation de Saint Antoine), but in the Chinese tradition, such visions are usually understood in a moral or religious sense. Regarding the visions, cf. “Chang Tao-ling” (29).
The “human attachment” that impedes the completion of the alchemical process apparently has a ‘negative” implication in the story. Such an implication goes some way to show how different the outlook reflected in the piece is from that of the modern secular era.
1 The Mountain of the King’s Chamber, or Wang-wu, is located in Shanhsi Province, southwest of Yang-ch’eng Prefecture. It is actually a configuration of three peaks arranged to form what seems like a large chamber. Tradition has it that this is where the Yellow Emperor went to inquire about the Way.
2 “Transformation” here refers to the term “transforming the pill of immortality.” This is the process by which the original powder is me lted down to become a kind of liquid silver and then, after a long time, transforms back into the powder. According to the Pao P’u-tzu, after the ninth round of smelting the ingredients, the spirit in the cauldron causes the transformation of the ingredients. After that, one need take only a tiny amount of the mixture to attain immortality and ascend to heaven.
3 Wang Ch’iao of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220) and An Ch’ i-sheng of the Ch’in (249-207 B. C.) were both men with supernatural powers who had encountered and intrigued the emperors of their respective times.
During the Kuang-te reign period [763-765] there was one Sun K’o, a graduate of the hsiu-ts’ai examination. After failing in the civil service examinations, he wandered about in the vicinity of Loyang. When he reached the banks of the Lake of the Prince of Wei1 there suddenly appeared before him a great mansion, its bricks and timbers all new. Others on the road pointed at it and said, “That’s the Yüan family mansion.”
K’o went up to it and knocked on the door but heard no sound from within. Beside the door was a small room, with a tidy curtain screening it. K’o thought it must be a waiting room for guests, so he parted the curtain and entered. After some time, he suddenly heard the sound of someone opening a door. A girl appeared in the courtyard: her beauty was striking, and the radiance of her person lit up the surroundings; she was like a pearl freshly washed in splendid moonlight, a seductive willow half hidden by mists. Her orchid fragrance purified the spirit; her bright jade lustre cleansed one of dust.
K’o supposed she was the daughter of the master of the house. He could do nothing but stare at her stealthily. The girl picked a day-lily2 from the courtyard. She stood fixed in thought for a long time and then began to murmur a poem:
When others see you they forget their sorrows,
But for me you are only a decaying weed.
Only green mountains and white clouds
Can unroll the joy stifled in my breast.
She appeared quite miserable as she recited this. A few moments later, when she came over to open the curtain, she suddenly caught sight of K’o. Startled and embarrassed, she went back in the door, and sent out a maid to question him. She asked, “Who are you, and how did you come to be here?”
So K’o pretended he was looking for a place to rent and said, “I am very sorry to have intruded upon the young lady. My brazen behavior was inexcusable. Please convey my apologies to the young lady.” The maid then reported to her mistress.
The girl said, “My clumsiness and my homely appearance, more crude because I have not attended to my make-up, has already been seen by the young gentleman who was watching through the curtain for such a long time. How dare I avoid seeing him now? I hope the young gentleman will briefly wait inside the hall--let me attend to my ornaments and I will come out shortly.”
K’o, attracted by her beauty, was overwhelmed with joy and asked the maid, “Who is she?”
She replied, “The daughter of high official Yuan.3 She was orphaned young and so has no marriage connections. She lives in this mansion with only three or five of us servants. The young lady has sought to marry, but so far nothing has come of it.”
After a good while, she came out to see K’o. Her beauty and voluptuousness surpassed anything he had ever seen. She ordered the maid to bring in tea and fruit, saying, “As you, sir, have no house in which to spend the night, why don’t you just move your bags and baggage into our halls?” Pointing to the maid, she said to K’o, “If later you should need anything, just tell her.” K’o was bashfully grateful and expressed his thanks.
K’o had not yet married. Having observed how handsome and desirable the girl was, he engaged a go-between and asked for her hand. The girl happily accepted his offer, so he took her as his wife.
Lady Yuan was very well to do, possessing great amounts of gold and silk. On the other hand, K’o had long been poor. For him to suddenly come into possession of a splendid carriage, and beautiful clothes and jewelry, surprised his relatives and made them curious. They frequently came to nose about, but K’o did not tell them the truth.
As K’o was arrogant and haughty, he did not seek fame or rank. Instead, he drank large quantities of wine and sang without restraint every day in the company of the powerful and aristocratic. He spent three or four years like this without leaving Loyang.
Then one day he unexpectedly encountered his cousin, Chang Hsien-yün, a Taoist layman. K’o said to him, “It’s been quite some time since we’ve met, and I rather long for some friendly talk. I hope you will let me bring my quilt and enjoy an evening of conversation with you.”
Master Chang agreed to the arrangement. At midnight, as they were about to go to sleep, Master Chang took K’o’s hand and confided, “Your stupid elder brother is an adept in the Tao. Just now, in your words and complexion, I observed a rather thick demonic vapor. Has anything peculiar happened to you? If so, be it great or small, please tell me about it. If you don’t, you will come to ruin.’
K’ о replied, “I haven’t run into anything in particular.”
Master Chang continued and said, “Man’s natural endowment is, in essence, Yang. Demons have a Yin anima. If the hun, the aspiring soul, is protected and the po, the base soul, is exhausted, then a man will live a long life. If the po is dominant and the hun dissipated, a man dies immediately. Thus, by nature, a ghostly being is without form and entirely Yin, and the immortals have no shadow and are entirely Yang. The plentitude and decrepitude of the Yin and Yang, the tugging battle of the aspiring and base souls--if they cause one’s constitution to lose its equilibrium even slightly, it will inevitably become apparent in one’s complexion. Just now, I have observed that among your various humors the Yin has taken the place of the Yang. There is degeneration in the bowels, the genuine essence is already dispersed, the cognitive faculties are gradually being defeated, and the vital fluid approaches exhaustion. The spine is wobbling and the bones are about to turn to dust; the complexion is no longer ruddy. You must have been transmuted by something strange and bizarre. How can you obstinately conceal it and not reveal its source?”
Startled into awareness, K’o explained the circumstances of his marriage.
Greatly astonished, Master Chang said, “Obviously, this is it! But what’s to be done?”
K’o said, “Your younger brother has deliberated about the matter. What’s so strange about it?”
Master Chang said, “Is it possible that, in all of the world, Lady Yuan doesn’t have a single relative? Furthermore, she is perceptive, intelligent and very capable--that’s enough to be considered strange.”
Then K’o told Chang, “All my life I’ve been in difficulties and unable to get ahead. For a long time I lived in cold and hunger. Thanks to my fortunate marriage, I’ve been able to enjoy some rest. I couldn’t bring myself to be disloyal. How could I plot against her?”
Angrily Master Chang said, “A man who is unable to serve other men--how can he serve a ghost? Tradition says, ‘demons from humans rise.’ If men don’t make trouble, the demons do not of themselves appear. Furthermore, what is the relative importance of your body and your loyalty? Your body is being destroyed, yet you are loyal to the kindness of a demon! A little boy three feet tall knows it is wrong--how much more so should a grown man?”
Master Chang continued, “I have a magic sword, equal in power to one made by Kan Chiang.4 Whatever monsters there are will be destroyed when confronted with it. Its miraculous power has never failed; its victims are too numerous to count. Tomorrow morning, take it with you. If you sneak it into your room, you will certainly see her true form to her mortification, just as Wang Tu saw the true form of the maid, Parrot, in his magic mirror.5 Otherwise you will not be able to pull yourself away from your conjugal affections.”
So, the next day K’o was given the sword. Master Chang grasped his hand and said farewell, “Be on the watch for an approriate moment and hide the sword well!” K’o took the sword and hid it inside the chamber, but his conscience was uneasy. Lady Yuan got wind of his scheme, and very angrily upbraided K’o, saying, “You were poor and I made you happy and prosperous. You brush aside all of my kindness and loyalty to you, and act in this evil manner. What kind of man are you! Even dogs and pigs wouldn’t eat what you leave! How can you expect to call yourself a man of rectitude among the world of men?”
Rebuked in this manner, K’o’s face flushed with shame, his conscience ridden with guilt. He kowtowed and said, “I received these instructions from my cousin. It wasn’t my own idea. Let me drink an oath in blood to prove that I shall never dare have any such ideas again.” Beads of sweat fell from him and he prostrated himself on the ground.
Lady Yüan searched for and found the sword, then broke it into pieces, as if it were no more than a light lotus stalk. K’o was even more frightened and seemed about to jump up and run away, when Lady Yüan said with a sneer, “That charlatan, Master Chang! He can’t instruct his younger cousin in the Tao of loyalty, and instead incites him to acts of treachery and violence. I have observed your heart, however, and am certain it is not this way. We have already been married for several years. What do you have to worry about?” Only then did K’o begin to feel more at ease.
Several days later, he went out again. Encountering Master Chang, he said, “Without any reason at all you sent me to pull the tiger’s whiskers; I was lucky to escape the tiger’s mouth!” Master Chang asked about the sword, and K’o told him all. Greatly frightened, Master Chang exclaimed, “I didn’t expect anything like that!” He was terrified and dared not visit K’o again.
In the space of about ten years, Lady Yüan raised two sons. She ran the house very strictly, not liking disorder. Then K’o went to Ch’ang-an to visit his old friend, Prime Minister Wang Chin. Wang recommended him to Governor General Chang Wan-ch’ing of the Nan-k’ang commandery [modern Te-ch’ing in Kwangtung Province] as Staff Supervisor of Planning and Administration, so K’o gathered his household and started on his way.
Whenever Lady Yüan encountered green pines and tall mountains, she stared at them without moving for a long time, as if unhappy. On their arrival at T’uan-chou [modern Kao-yao County, Kwangtung] Lady Yüan said, “Halfway from here along the river is the Gorge Cliff Temple. In the past a monk sponsored by my family, named Hui, lived in seclusion at this temple. I haven’t been there for several decades. This monk is very advanced in age now and is very good at explicating doctrine and inspiring one to transcend the dust and dirt. If we eat a meal prepared by him, it will surely bring good fortune to our journey south.”
“All right,” said K’o.
They prepared a food offering suitable for the monk. When they arrived at the temple, Lady Yüan’s spirits rose. She changed her clothes and arranged her makeup. Taking her two children by the hand, she pointed out the old monk’s courtyard, as though familiar with its paths. K’o was rather surprised by this. She then took a green jade choker and presented it to the monk, saying “This is an old article from the temple.” The monk was puzzled.
After the midday meal they saw several dozen wild apes, arm in arm under the tall pines, eating on the Sermon Platform. After calling out mournfully, they grabbed the vines and jumped about restlessly. Lady Yüan appeared disconsolate, and suddenly asking for a brush, she inscribed on the monk’s wall:
Feeling kindness now, the heart is enslaved--
How easily the power of change sinks into smoke.
Better to follow my companions and return to the mountains
And utter a long yodel deep in the clouds and mist.
She threw the brush to the ground and stroked her two sons while sobbing bitterly. She then said to K’o, “Take care of yourself! I will never see you again!” With that she tore off her clothes and changed into an old ape. Chasing after the other crying apes, she clambered up the vines into the trees and departed. Just before she disappeared in the depths of the mountain, she turned back again to look.
K’o was shocked and frightened. He felt as if his soul had flown and his spirit dissolved. For a long time he stroked his sons in grief. He then asked for an explanation from the old monk, who had finally realized what had happened.
“I raised this ape when I was still a Buddhist novice. During the K’ai-yüan reign period [713-742] there was an imperial emissary, Kao Li-shih,6 who passed through here and took a liking to her nimble wits and exhanged some bolts of silk for her. I heard that when he reached Loyang, he made of her a present to the Son of Heaven. At the time there were imperial emissaries coming and going, and many said that her intelligence surpassed even that of men. For a long time she was trained and tamed inside the Shang-yang Palace. At the time of the An Lu-shan rebellion [755-763], they completely lost track of her. Alas! I did not expect that today I would again see this creature and witness her strange transformation. The green jade choker was originally presented by a foreigner from Ho-ling in the southern seas. It was worn by the ape and went away with her. At last I understand!”
Deeply saddened by all this, K’o moored his boat on the riverbank for six or seven days. He then took his two sons and turned the boat back toward home, as he was no longer able to take up his post.
(PHCC, pp. 1-6; Wang, pp. 279-82; TPKC 445.3)
Tr. Simon Schuchat
Note: This is one of the best known T’ang tales that feature an ape as a main character (cf. “Pai-yüan chuan,” TPKC, 444.4; Wang, pp. 15-17). The story may have grown out of earlier legends about animal spirits as harmful seducers, but here the female avatar is treated sympathetically (cf. “Chin Yu-chang”  and “Miss Jen,” Ma and Lau, pp. 339-45).
The interference of the Taoist cousin reminds one of the more extensive struggles between the Buddhist monk and the snake spirit in the legends of the White Snake (see “Eternal Prisoner under the Thunder Peak Pagoda,” Ma and Lau, pp. 355-78).
Note the incorporation of the expository mode in the speech in which the Taoist philosophizes about the human constitution.
This tale was made into a yüan drama, but the text has not been preserved.
1 A lake located to the south of Loyang off the Lo River. It was allotted by Emperor T’ai-tsung (r. 626-649) to his son T’ai, the Prince of Wei.--Ed.
2 I.e., hsüan-ts’ao, a plant which is said to cause one to forget sorrow.
3 The woman’s surname, Yüan, is a homophone for “ape;” in the course of the story, this becomes significant.
4 A famous ancient smith; see “Kan Chiang and Mo Yeh” (11).
5 A reference to the early T’ang story “The Ancient Mirror” (Wang, pp. 3-14); Parrot was the name of a maidservant who was in reality a thousand year old racoon.--Ed.
6 Emperor Hsüan-tsung’s (r. 712-56) favorite eunuch.
During the Chen-yuan reign period [785-805], Cheng Te-lin was a captain from Hsiang-t’an, living in Ch’ang-sha.1 He had a cousin living in Chiang-hsia whom he would go and visit once a year. On his way up the Hsiang River, he would cross Tung-t’ing Lake and go through Hsiang-t’an where he would often meet up with a certain old man selling chestnuts from his rowboat. Although his hair was already white, he had a youthful face. Often when Te-lin spoke to him, their coversation would turn to the profound. Once Te-lin inquired, “There is no dried food in your boat. What, then, do you use for nourishment?”
“Just chestnuts,” answered the old man.
Te-lin loved wine, and always brought pine-resin wine with him on his travels. Each time he visited Chiang-hsia and came across the old man, he would treat him to some wine. The old man would drink without much ado, nor did he express his gratitude.
Once after Te-lin had visited Chiang-hsia and was on his way back to Ch’ang-sha, he docked his boat at the base of Yellow Crane Pavilion.2 Docked at his side was a very large boat carrying a salt merchant, a certain Master Wei, who also happened to have arrived at Hsiang-t’an and that night was drinking wine with some friends from other boats in honor of the next day’s parting. Wei had a daughter who lived in the helm of the boat, so a girl from another boat also came along to pay her respects before their departure. The two girls sat together talking and laughing. Shortly before midnight, they heard a young scholar chanting a poem somewhere on the river which went as follows:
Something bumps my swift, light boat, I feel it in my heart.
Wind still and waves calm, the moonlight is gossamer.
The night is deep; I float on the river, trying to dispel my melancholy thoughts,
And pick up the red lotus; its fragrance stirs my robes.
The girl from the neighboring boat was very good at writing, and noticing that Miss Wei had a scroll of red letter-paper in her make-up chest, took it out and wrote down the lines they had just heard, chanting them all the while. But there was no way to know who had composed them.
As dawn approached, they went their separate ways. Te-lin’s boat and Wei’s boat set off from Chiang-hsia at the same time. Two days later, they passed the night together again on the banks of Tung-t’ing Lake. Te-lin’s boat was beached rather close to Wei’s. Miss Wei was beautiful and charming--her face like a sparkling flower, her hair like clouds, her feet were lotus buds, her eyes full of gentle lustrous ripples, her hibiscus figure bathed in dew, fresh as the moon and colorful as pearl. She sat dangling a fishing line from her porthole. Thus, Te-lin could watch her undetected, and was enchanted.
Then he took a swatch of red silk, and on it wrote a poem:
With dainty hand dangling a fishing-line, she faces the porthole;
Red lotus, the color of autumn, lends beauty to the Long River.
As the goddesses could untie their pendants and cast them to Cheng Chiao-fu,3
You should also have some gleaming pearls, and I’d beg you for a pair.4
Resolutely, he attached the red silk to her fish-hook. When she pulled in the line, she found the poem, and recited and looked over it for a long while. Yet no matter how many times she read it, she still did not understand its meaning. She was not skilled in writing, and embarrassed at being unable to reply, she took the poem that the girl from the neighboring boat had jotted down on the red paper the other night, and cast it in on the end of her fishing line. Te-lin thought that it was composed by Miss Wei, and this made him quite happy; one can just imagine his unbridled joy. Nevertheless, there was no way to understand the meaning of the poem, and he was unable to further express his feelings to her. From then on, the girl cherished that swatch of red silk and wore it around her arm.
Under bright moon and clear wind, Wei’s boat quickly unfurled its sail and set off. But as the wind grew stronger and the waves became alarmingly rough, Te-lin in his small boat did not dare go on with them. His hopes dashed, he was filled with resentment and anguish. Later, as night came on, a fisherman talking to Te-lin said, “The wealthy merchant with the big boat just drowned in the lake with his whole family.”
Te-lin was in shock, his mind a muddled haze. He was wound up in misery for a long time, unable to suppress his grief. Around midnight, he wrote two poems entitled, “Two Poems Mourning the River Beauty.” One of them said:
Stop blowing, Oh stormy winds on the lake.
Bubbles of foam begin to break up, moonlight is gossamer.
Submerged in my secret thoughts of her--the sidelong waves are now but tears.
Would that, with my mermaid, I could shed them face to face.
The other one read:
On Tung-t’ing a gentle wind; reed blossoms in autumn.
Her dark moth-brows just departed; grief at the tiny waves.
Tears drip on white duckweed, you don’t see,
Moon bright on the river, a seagull lightly flying.
When the poems were completed he poured a libation and tossed them into the sea. The purity of his sentiment reached the gods, and his piercing sincerity called forth a response. His plea succeeded in touching the Spirit of the River, who brought it to the Palace of the Water Gods.
The Prince of the Water Gods looked it over and summoned the corps of souls who had died by drowning. He asked, “Who here is the beloved of Master Cheng?”--but Miss Wei had no way of knowing what was the origin of the poems. An attendant frisked her upper arm and found the swatch of red silk. He told the prince, who said, “In a future day, Te-lin shall be the illustrious magistrate of our region; moreover, he has always treated me with kindness. We can’t but restore you to life.”
The prince summoned the attendant to lead Miss Wei back to Master Cheng. Miss Wei looked at the Prince of the Water Gods and saw that he was an old man. She then turned and followed the attendant. They traveled with great speed and encountered no obstacles. As they neared the end of the road, she could see a vast lake whose green water was deep and wide. Then she was pushed in by the attendant. Now sinking, now bobbing up, she was in terrible distress.
It was already midnight and Te-lin had not yet gone to sleep. Instead, he was still reciting the poem on the red letter-paper, grieving bitterly. Suddenly, he felt something hit his boat. The boatman had already gone to sleep, so Te-lin picked up a candle and shone it upon the object. He could make out some clothing of embroidered silk. It looked like a person. Alarmed, he rescued her from the water. It was Miss Wei, still bearing the red silk on her arm. Te-lin was overwhelmed.
Gradually, the girl came back to life, but was not able to speak again until morning. She then told Te-lin that the Prince of the Water Gods had restored her to life out of gratitude to him. Te-lin asked, “Who is this prince?’, but try as she may, she could not explain. He subsequently took her as his wife, realizing that there was something extraordinary about all this. He took her back with him to Ch’ang-sha.
Over the next three years, Te-lin was often selected for promotion to posts variously located. He desired to have the position as head prefect of Li-ling [in modern Hunan Province]. Miss Wei said, “You will only obtain the position in Pa-ling [modern Yüeh-yang County, Honan].
“How do you know that?”
“Before, the Prince of the Water Gods said that you would be the illustrious magistrate of his region. Since Tung-t’ing is part of Pa-ling, the selection probably will bear out the prediction.” Te-lin took note of her words.
As a result of the nominations, he was made prefect of Pa Ling. When Miss Wei came to join him there, some people were sent to welcome her. As her boat approached Tung-t’ing, adverse winds kept preventing it from advancing, so Te-lin sent five boatmen out to meet her and bring her in. Among them was one old man who seemed rather negligent. Miss Wei grew angry and spat at him.
The old man turned and looked over his shoulder at her. “It is I who restored you to life that day in the Palace of the Water Gods. Yet instead of being grateful, you now display your anger!” Only then did Miss Wei realize who he was. Her heart pounding, she invited the old man to board her boat, paid her respects to him, and offered him wine and delicacies. Then she bowed deeply and said, “My father and mother must still be in the Palace of the Water Gods. Would it be possible for me to find them and pay my respects?”
“Yes, it can be done,” he replied. Within moments, the boat appeared to sink beneath the waves, but this time she felt no discomfort. Suddenly, they arrived at the palace as before. Her whole family clung to her boat, crying and wailing, as she went to visit her parents.
Their residence was a distinctive mansion, and in no way different from those on earth. When she asked them if there was anything that they required, they said, “Whatever sinks in the river can get to this place. But because there is no fire with which to cook, the only thing we eat is chestnuts.”
Then they took out several pieces of silver, and handed them to their daughter, saying, “We have no use for these down here, so let us give them to you . . . now, you mustn’t stay too long.” So they hurried her off, and she took her leave of them after grievous weeping.
Then the old man used a brush to write in large characters on Miss Wei’s scarf:
In former days a chestnut man at the river’s mouth,
Accepted several sips of your pine-resin wine.
Giving life to your wife in return for your kindness,
I wish all the best to Cheng Te-lin of Ch’ang-sha.
When he had finished writing, he was escorted from the boat by hundreds of his attendants to return to the Palace of the Water Gods. A second later, the boat emerged at the tidewater; everyone on the boat had witnessed this event. Only after Te-lin had thought long and hard about the meaning of this poem did he realize that the old man from the Palace of the Water Gods was the man from long ago who sold chestnuts.
Several years later, a certain scholar named Ts’ui Hsi-chou presented Te-lin with a poetry scroll containing “A Poem on Picking up Lotus Flowers on the River at Night.” It was none other than the poem on red paper that Miss Wei had given to Te-lin. Te-lin felt suspicious about this poem and questioned Hsi-chou.
He replied, “Many years ago, I had docked my little boat at the O-chu Port in Chiang-hsia. The moon on the river was bright, and I had not yet gone to bed when some small object knocked against my boat. Its sweet fragrance assailed my nostrils, and I picked it out of the water and looked at it. It was a garland of lotus flowers. Because of this I composed a poem which I then chanted aloud for a long time. I respectfully submit that this is the truth.” Te-lin sighed and said, “It was all fated.”
From that time on, he never again dared to cross Tung-’ ing Lake.
He eventually attained the high post of censor.
(PHCC, pp. 10-13; Wang, pp. 187-89; TPKC 152.1)
Tr. Paula Varsano
Note: Listed as an anonymous work in TPKC, this piece is attributed to Ρ’ei Hsing by some Sung sources. Note the similarity in the stylized descriptions of the heroines in this piece and in “Sun K’o” (89) by P’ei.
Predestination again is the framing theme; cf. “The Inn of Betrothal” (76).
1 All of the towns mentioned in this story are along the Hsiang River. Chiang-hsia is northernmost, located in modern Hupeh Province. Moving south, we come to Hsiang-t’an, on the bank of the Tung-t’ing Lake. Ch’ang-sha is in Hunan, south of the lake. Pa-ling, mentioned later in the story, is on the northern side of Tung-t’ing Lake, where the Hsiang joins with the lake.
2 The legendary Yellow Crane Pavilion (Huang-ho Lou) is located in Wu-ch’ang County, Chiang-hsia Prefecture, Hupeh. There are many legends associated with this pavilion. According to one of them, the pavilion was built by a wine merchant to commemorate a miraculous event. Being generous, this merchant made a practice of allowing a certain gentleman to drink without charge. The gentleman repayed his kindness by painting a yellow crane on the wall which could dance in time with the songs of the guests. The merchant made a great deal of money by charging admission for people to see it. Later on the gentleman returned and caused the crane to fly down from the wall by playing on a flute. He mounted it and together they disappeared into the clouds.
3 Cheng Chiao-fu was walking along the Chiang river when he spied two beautiful river sprites. He asked them to give him their girdle pendants, and they did so. But when he had walked but a few paces, he discovered that the pendants had vanished from the breast of his robe. He turned to look at the spirits, but they too had disappeared. See the Lieh-hsien chuan (Biographies of the Immortals).
4 A pair of pearls often refers to the tears of mermaids.
In the Chen-Yüan reign period [785-805] there lived one Wei Tzu-tung, a righteous and ardent man. Often he wandered around the area of Mount Τ’ai-po [in modern Shensi Province], staying at the estate of General Tuan. Tuan had long known of Wei’s prowess and courage. One day, as he and Tzu-tung were gazing over the mountain valleys, they saw a very small path which appeared to have once had foot-prints.
Tzu-tung asked his host, “Where does it lead?”
General Tuan replied, “In the past there were two monks living on top of this mountain. Their temple buildings, stately and magnificent, were situated in a grove beside a spring of great beauty. It was built during the K’ai-Yüan reign period [713-742] by the great monk Wan-hui1 and his followers. It appears that they compelled spirits to do all the work--it isn’t the sort of thing of which human strength is capable. Some woodsmen say that the monks became the food of ogres, since they haven’t been seen for two or three years. Also, I’ve heard people say there are two Yakshas2 on the mountain, but no one even dares go near the temple to find out.”
Angrily, Tzu-tung said, “I am anxious to redress such evil violence. What sort of creatures are these Yakshas that they dare to eat people! I swear to you that I will bring back these Yakshas’ heads to your gate this very evening!”
The general, trying to dissuade him, quoted the saying, “There is no grief at the death of a man fool-hardy enough to try to beat up a tiger with his bare fists and cross rivers without a boat.”3
But Tzu-tung did not listen. He took up his sword, straightened his clothes, and set right out--no force could have restrained him. Sadly the general said, “Master Wei will have only himself to blame for the consequences.”
Tzu-tung held onto vines and climbed up stones until he reached the hermitage, which was silent and desolate. He noticed the two cells of the monks, their doors wide open. Sandals and utensils were all in order, the quilts and pillows were neatly arranged, but dust had settled and accumulated over everything. He also saw slender weeds growing luxuriantly in the Buddha Hall, amongst which great beasts appeared to have slept. Many wild boars, black bears and the like hung on the four walls, as well as left-overs from butchering and broiling. There were also saucepans, a cauldron and firewood. Tzu-tung then realized that the woodsmen’s words were not lies.
Reckoning that the Yakshas had not yet arrived, he uprooted a cypress tree, as big in diameter as a bowl, and removed its branches and leaves to make a big staff. He then barred the door, blocking it with a stone Buddha.
That night the moonlight shone as brightly as the dawn. Before midnight, a Yaksha arrived, bearing a deer. Enraged by the locked door, it let out a great yell and rammed its head against the door, breaking the stone Buddha and stumbling to the ground. Tzu-tung brought the cypress tree down on its head, killing it with his second stroke. He then dragged the body inside and shut the door again. In a moment, another Yaksha arrived. As though infuriated that the first one had not opened the door to greet him, it also roared angrily, butted against the door and stumbled to the threshold. Again Tzu-tung struck it, and it also died. Knowing that both the male and female had perished, and that there would be no more of their kind, Tzu-tung shut the door, cooked the deer and ate.
The next morning he cut off the two Yakshas’ heads and brought them to Tuan with the left-over venison. Much amazed, the general said, “You are truly the equal of Chou Ch’u!”4 They then cooked the deer and drank wine in great joy. The people who came from far and near to look on were like a wall.
A Taoist priest emerged from the thick crowd and bowed to Tzu-tung, saying, “I have a sincere request and wish to speak openly to the Venerable One. May I?”
Tzu-tung said, “My entire life is spent in relieving people’s anxieties. Certainly you may speak.”
The Taoist said, “I have devoted my mind to the cultivation of the Tao and set my heart on obtaining the medicine of immortality for many days. Two or three years ago, there was an immortal who mixed a brazier of Dragon-tiger elixir for me.5 I have taken over his cave and attended to the mixture for some time now.
“Now this medicine of immortality is almost finished, but there have been evil spirits who, several times, have entered the cave and knocked against the brazier. The medicine was nearly ruined and scattered. I hope to find a man of unyielding fortitude to protect it with his sword. If this immortality elixir is perfected, it will certainly be generously shared. I do not know if you would be willing to make a trip for this or not.”
Tzu-tung said enthusiasticly, “It would fulfill my life-long wish!” Thereupon he grabbed his sword, and left with the Taoist. They crossed narrow passes and climbed steep places among the high peaks of T’ai-p’o. About halfway up the mountain was a stone cave, around a hundred or so paces in width. This was the Taoist’s elixir preparing room. There was only one disciple there.
The Taoist said briefly, “Tomorrow morning, at the beginning of the fifth watch [3-5 a.m.], would you please take your sword to the entrance of the cave and stand guard. If you see any strange beasts, merely strike them with your sword.”
Tzu-tung said, “I shall carefully follow your instructions.”
He placed a candle outside of the cave entrance and waited. In a while, a large venomous snake, several chang in length, with golden eyes and snowy teeth, spitting out a thick mist of poisonous vapor, was about to enter the cave. Tzu-tung struck it with his sword, which appeared to split its head. In a moment, it changed into pale mist and vanished. After about the time it takes for a meal, there appeared a young woman of matchless beauty who held lily blossoms in her hands and approached with leisurely steps. Again Tzu-tung drew his sword against her; she disappeared like a cloud of vapor.
After another such pause, as dawn approached, a Taoist priest appeared mounted on a crane, riding the clouds. Followed by a very majestic entourage, he approached Tzu-tung and said appreciatively, “The evil spirits are all done away with! My disciple’s elixir is almost finished. I have come now to test it.” He lingered around, as if waiting for the arrival of dawn before entering the cave.
He told Tzu-tung, “I’m pleased that the Taoist’s elixir is finished. Now I have a poem; you may try to match it. It goes like this:
Kowtow for three autumns, ask of the True Spirit;
When Dragon and Tiger mix, the smelting of gold is done.
When the crimson snow6 has frozen, the body may cross over into immortality;
Atop the P’eng-lai7 jug rise multi-colored clouds.
Tzu-tung pondered it and thought, “This is the master of the Taoist priest.” He then put down his sword and made obeisance. All of a sudden, the Taoist forced his way into the room. The cauldron cracked and exploded, leaving nothing behind. The Taoist priest wept bitterly; Tzu-tung was filled with remorse. It was all his fault. The two men then cleaned the cauldron dish in a stream and drank from it.
Later, Tzu-tung took on an even more youthful appearance and went away to Nan-Yüeh.8 No one knows where he ended up, but to this day, the Yakshas’ skeletons can be seen at General Tuan’s estate. Nor does anyone know where the Taoist went.
(PHCC, pp. 30-32; Wang, pp. 282-84; TPKC, 356.7)
Tr. Simon Schuchat
Note: The similarity of the second part of this story to that of “Hsiao Tung-Hsüan” (88) is obvious--here, too, the theme of alchemical quest is related to the “Lie-shih ch’ih” story in the Hsi-Yü chi (see Note to ).
This piece again provides us with an example of a non-unitary plot. Notice also how the endings of both this story and “Hsiao Tung-hsüan,” when compared with that of “Tu Tzu-ch’un” (Ma and Lau, pp. 416-419), betray a sense of wish-fulfillment on the authors’ part by hinting that the seeker eventually obtains his goal (disappearance from the human world means the success of the quest). A “happy ending” is also often added to the Ming and Ch’ing adaptations of earlier works that do not end happily; cf. the hua-реп story “Tu Tzu-ch’un san ju Ch’ang-an” (HSHY 37).
Regarding the nature of the first part of the story, cf. “Li Chi” (26) and “Kuo Yüan-chen” (73).
1 Lit., “A-Round-Trip-of-Ten-Thousand-Miles.” The monk was so named because of a feat he supposedly had performed in his youth. He was said to have carried a message from his parents to his conscripted brother, who was stationed on the frontier, and returned the same day, a trip totalling ten thousand li.--Ed.
2 Demons that fly like violent meteors, messengers of evil in Buddhist mythology.
3 Analects 7:11, “Shu-erh.”
4 Chou Ch’u (240-99 A.D.) was a native of Yang-hsien (modern I-hsing in Kiangsu Province). According to tradition, he ran wild in his youth, until his father compared him to a much-feared tiger and snake, saying that they were the “three calamities.” Ch’u then beheaded the snake, shot the tiger and reformed his own character.
5 Dragon and tiger refer to the elements of water and fire, respectively. Dragon-tiger elixir is a common name for Taoist elixirs.
6 “Crimson snow” refers to the immortality elixir.
7 P’eng-lai is a Taoist paradise.
8 Mount Heng in modern Hunan, one of the five sacred peaks.
During the Chen-Yüan reign period [785-805] there was one Ts’ui Wei, the son of the former Inspector Ts’ui Hsiang. Ts’ui Hsiang was a well-known poet who ended his career as an assistant to the governor of Nan-hai [a T’ang commandery, including present-day Kwangtung and Kwangsi] and died in office. Wei continued to live in Nan-hai, feeling quite at ease there. Uninterested in attending to the family property, he expended his resources in entertaining gallant, chivalrous men, so it was not many years before his inheritance was all gone. Often he would stay at Buddhist hostels.
On the day of the chung-Yüan festival1 the people of Pan-Yü [i.e., Kuang-chou, or Canton] set out their best wares in the temples and presented all kinds of plays and entertainments at the K’ai-Yüan Temple. Wei went to watch them. There, he saw an old beggar woman being beaten by a shopkeeper for kicking over someone’s wine jar as she tripped. He reckoned the wine-jar’s value to be scarcely a string of cash. Wei pitied her and took off his gown to pay for the jar. The old woman left without a word of thanks.
Some time later, she returned and said to Wei, “Thank you for ending my troubles the other day. I am skilled in the use of moxibustion to cure tumors. Now I have a little mugwort to give you from the Hill of the King of Yüeh’s Wells [to the north of Kuang-chou]. Whenever you find a tumor, you need only burn a little--it not only cures suffering, it adds to the beauty of the skin!”2 Wei laughed and took it; the old woman suddenly vanished.
Several days later, when he visited the Hai-kuang Temple, Wei met an old monk with a tumor in his ear. He took out the mugwort to try and moxibust it: the result was as she had said. The monk was very grateful and said to Wei, “I have nothing to give as a gift, except for chanting sutras to bring you good luck and blessings. At the foot of this mountain, however, there is one Old Man Jen, a man with tens of thousands of strings of cash in treasure, who also has this illness. If you can cure him, he will certainly reward you generously. Please permit me to write you a letter of introduction.” Wei agreed.
When Old Man Jen heard the news, he jumped up in delight. He received Wei with the greatest of deference. Wei took out the mugwort and with one burning the tumor was cured. Old Man Jen told Wei, “Thank you, sir, for curing my suffering. I am unable to reward you generously, but I would like to present you with a hundred thousand coins. I hope you will feel at home here and stay awhile, instead of rushing off in haste.” So Wei stayed there a few days.
Wei was skilled in music. When he heard the sound of a ch’in zither being strummed in the front quarter of his host’s house, he inquired of a household servant about it, who replied, “It’s the master’s beloved daughter.” So Wei asked for her ch’in and plucked at it. The girl listened in secret and developed a fondness for him.
This Old Man Jen’s family sacrificed to a demon, called the One-footed God. Every three years they needed to kill a man to feed this demon. The time was already fast approaching and still they had no victim. Old Man Jen heartlessly summoned his sons for a scheme, saying, “The guest is not a blood relative of ours; we may use him as a sacrifice.3 I’ve heard it said, even great kindness goes unrepaid--how much more so the curing of a little wart!” He therefore ordered them to prepare for the sacrifice and planned to kill Wei around midnight. They had already secretly bolted the room where Wei slept without his realizing it.
The girl had overheard the scheme. Stealthily, she took a knife and told Wei through a crack in the window, “My family worships a demon. This very night they will kill you and sacrifice you to it. You can take this, break the window and run away. Otherwise, you’ll soon be dead. Take this knife away with you, too, so that I won’t be implicated.”
Wei was terrified. His heart throbbed and beads of sweat flowed. Wielding the knife, and taking along his mugwort, he slashed the window lattice and jumped out, tore the bolt from the door, and escaped. Old Man Jen soon realized what had happened and led ten or so household servants, all waving swords and holding torches, out after Wei. They chased him for six or seven li and nearly caught up with him. Wei strayed from the path and fell into a large abandoned well. His pursuers lost his trail and returned.
Although Wei had fallen into a well, he landed on a pile of withered leaves and so was unharmed. At dawn, he looked around. He found himself in an enormous cave, more than a hundred chang deep and with no way out. The four sides sloped away into empty space. It was large enough in diameter to hold a thousand people. In the center was a coiled white serpent, several chang in length. In front of it was a stone depression like the bowl of a mortar. From above, something resembling sweet honey dripped into the mortar, from which the snake drank.
On closer examination, Wei realized that the serpent was no common creature, so he kowtowed and addressed it, “Dragon King, I have unfortunately fallen in here. I hope you will take pity on me and not harm me.” Then he drank what the snake had left and was no longer hungry or thirsty.
Upon carefully observing the serpent’s lip, he saw that it also had a tumor on it. Grateful for the snake’s pity, Wei wanted to cure it with moxibustion, but he could do nothing without a means of lighting the mugwort. Only after some time had passed did a spark happen to fly into the cave. Then Wei lit the mugwort, explained the process to the snake, and moxibusted the tumor. No sooner had he applied his hand than the tumor fell to the ground. The serpent had long been hampered in its drinking and eating, so the removal of the tumor was a great relief. So, as a gift to Wei, he spat out a pearl, an inch in diameter.
Wei would not accept it and explained to the snake, “You, Dragon King, can bring clouds and rain, you are as unfathomable as Yin and Yang. You divinely transform yourself as you like and travel wherever you wish. You must have the power to rescue the drowned and the lost. If you can help me return to the human world, then I will engrave your kindness on my heart, and be eternally grateful to you. Only to return--I do not desire any treasure.” The snake then swallowed the pearl and uncoiled as though it were about to set off. Wei bowed again, straddled the snake and departed with it. Rather than heading towards the entry, they only proceeded further into the interior of the cave for perhaps several dozen li. It was dead silent and pitch dark inside. But the snake’s glow threw light in every direction. Frequently he saw paintings of ancient men, all in caps and sashes. Finally they reached a stone gate. On the gate was the image of an animal with a ring of gold in its mouth, quite bright and clear. The snake lowered his head and set Wei down without entering itself.
Wei was under the impression that he had reached the human world. He entered the door, but all he saw was a broad, empty chamber, perhaps more than a hundred paces long, with the walls of a cave, all hollowed out to make rooms. Several of these chambers in the middle section had beautifully embroidered curtains, hung with gold and painted purple, ornamented with emeralds and pearls which sparkled like clusters of bright stars. In front of each curtain was a gold incense burner. On the incense burners were flood dragons, luan- and feng-phoenixes, turtles, snakes, swallows and peacocks; out of all their mouths came the lush, sweet-smelling smoke of incense. To one side was a small pool, walled with gold, and holding silver water, with wild ducks, seagulls, and other such creatures floating within, all carved of fine jasper and jade. Against the four walls stood couches, all decorated with the tusks of elephants and rhinoceri. When Wei examined them, he found that these ancient articles were still new.
Wei felt puzzled as to what this cave really was. After a little while, he took up a ch’in and tried to play it. The latticed doors, on all four sides, opened. Maidservants in blue clothes came out and said with a laugh, “The Jade City Master has brought the young gentleman of the Ts’ui family.” They then went back in. In a moment, there were four women, in gowns with trailing rainbow colored skirts and coiffures in an antique style, who said to Wei, “What son of Ts’ui dares to enter the Unfathomable Palace of the Emperor?”
Wei set aside the ch’in and bowed twice; the women also made obeisance. Wei said, “If this is the Unfathomable Palace of the Emperor, where is the emperor?’
They said, “Right now he has gone off to a banquet given by Chu Jung, the god of fire.”
Then they asked Wei to sit down and play the ch’in. Wei then played the “Tartar Reed-pipe.” The women asked, “What tune was that?”
He replied “It’s the ‘Tartar Reed-pipe.”
“What is the ‘Tartar Reed-pipe?’” they asked. “We have never heard of it.”
“Ts’ai Wen-chi of Han, the daughter of Board Secretary Ts’ai Yung, was taken by barbarians to the north. When she returned, stirred by her experiences among the barbarians, she strummed the ch’in and wrote this tune. It’s sound resembles the mournful sobbing of Tartars playing their pipes.”4
The women were all delighted and said, “This is indeed a marvelous new song!” Then they poured out sweet wine and passed it around.
Wei made obeisance and earnestly asked for permission to return to the human world. The women said, “Master Ts’ui, your coming here to meet us has been predestined. What’s the hurry in returning? We hope you can stay a little longer. The emissary from Goat City5 will soon arrive. You may then leave with him.” And they informed Ts’ui, “The emperor has already decreed that Lady T’ien should serve you as a wife. You shall see her in a moment.”
Master Ts’ui could not fathom what they were talking about and did not dare reply. They called a lady-in-waiting to summon Lady T’ien. She was unwilling to come, saying, “Without recieving the emperor’s command, I dare not see Master Ts’ui.” Again they ordered her to come out, but she would not.
To Wei they said, “Lady T’ien is gentle, virtuous and beautiful: no one in the world can compare with her. We hope that you will treat her well. This is indeed a predestined match. She is the daughter of the King of Ch’i.”
“The King of Ch’i--who is that?” asked Master Wei.
“His name was Heng,”6 said the women. “At the beginning of the Former Han, Han destroyed Ch’i and he went to live on a sea-island.”
A little later, a light shone onto their seats. When Wei lifted his head, he dimly saw the Milky Way in the cave above, as it appeared in the human world. The four women announced, “The emissary from Goat City has arrived!”
Then a white goat gradually descended from the emptiness, in a brief moment coming to rest among the seats. On its back sat a man in stately gown and cap, holding a large brush and a letter written on green bamboo slips, in seal script,7 which he placed on the incense table. The four women ordered a servant girl to read it: “The Governor of Kuang-chou, Hsü Shen, has died. His position is to be taken by the Frontier General of Annam, Chao Ch’ang.”8
The women poured out sweet wine for the emissary to drink, and said, “Master Ts’ui desires to return to Pan-yü and hoped you will take him along.”
The emissary willingly agreed. Turning to Wei, he said, “Later you must exchange services with me: refurbish my clothes and repair my temple, in order to pay back the favor.” Wei could only murmur in agreement.
The four women said, “The emperor has commanded that the young gentleman be given the state treasure, the Sun Mirror Pearl. Take this and return home. There will be a barbarian who will have a hundred thousand strings of cash to exchange for it.” They then ordered a serving girl to open a jade container, took the pearl and handed it over to Wei. Wei bowed twice and received it with both hands.
To the emissary and the four women he said, “I have never seen this emperor. Why am I so favored by him?”
The four women said, “Your ancestor wrote a poem on the King of Yüeh’s Terrace, which so moved Hsü Shen that he had the temple restored. The emperor felt obligated by it. He has also written a poem to match that of your ancestor, which makes his intention of bestowing the pearl quite apparent. It needs no explanation. How could you not know it?”
Wei said, “I don’t know what poem of the Emperor’s you’re talking about.”
The woman commanded the serving girl to write on the Goat City Emissary’s brush holder:
A thousand year old terrace at the corner of the road, overgrown and crumbling:
The prefect once took the trouble to refurbish it with scented plaster.
Now that you have repaired it, I am deeply obliged by your concern.
I shall present you with a beautiful woman and a bright pearl.
Wei said, “What was the emperor’s original name?”
One of the women said, “You will learn it later on.”
Another woman said to Wei, “On the chung-Yüan festival, you must prepare good wine and rich dishes in the meditation room of the P’u-chien Temple in Kuang-chou. Then we will accompany Lady T’ien there.”
Wei then bowed twice and said farewell. As he was about to mount the emissary’s goat and leave, one of the women said, “We know you have some Pao-ku mugwort--you may leave us a little.” As Wei had no idea who Pao-ku was, he merely left them the mugwort which he had with him.
In the twinkling of an eye they came out of the cave and walked on flat ground, and then he lost sight of the emissary and his goat. Gazing at the starry sky, he saw it was already the fifth watch. Suddenly he heard the sound of the bells of P’u-chien Temple. When he reached the temple, the monks gave him some of their morning gruel. He then returned to Kuang-chou.
Master Ts’ui had earlier rented a room in a temple hostel. When it was light, he went to the hostel to inquire about it. They said, “It’s already been three years!” The master asked Ts’ui Wei, “Where did you go, that for three years you have not returned?” Wei did not answer truthfully. When he opened his door, he found that dust had covered the bed. The sight saddened him greatly. He inquired about the magistrate: Hsü Shen had indeed died and Chao Ch’ang had replaced him.
Then he went to the Persian trade office and tried to sell the pearl quietly. There was an old barbarian who, after one look at it, prostrated himself and clasped his hands, saying, “You have come from the tomb of Chao T’o, King of Southern Yüeh!9 Otherwise, you would not have been able to obtain this jewel. This particular pearl was buried along with Chao T’o.” Then Ts’ui truthfully told all. Now he knew that the emperor was Chao T’o, also known as the Martial Emperor of Southern Yüeh. He then exchanged the pearl for a hundred thousand strings of cash.
Master Ts’ui asked the barbarian, “How did you know all this?” The barbarian replied, “This Sun Bonfire Pearl is a state treasure of my country, Arabia. At the beginning of the Former Han, Chao T’o sent remarkable men with superhuman abilities to cross the mountains and navigate the seas, to steal it and bring it back to Pan-yü. That was already a thousand years ago. My country has astrologers, versed in prognostication, who said that in coming years this state treasure would return, so my king summoned me to prepare a large ship, heavy with treasure, to sail to Pan-yü to search for it. Today I have acquired what I have sought.” He then took out liquid jade to polish and wash the pearl. Its gleam filled the room. The barbarian hurriedly set sail for Arabia. Having obtained this gold, Wei once again had some property.
He tried to seek out the Goat City Emissary, but there was no trace of him to be found. Later, while on business in the Temple of the City God, he suddenly noticed among the statues of gods one resembling the emissary. He then saw tiny writing on the god’s brush holder, which was just what the serving girl had inscribed. He prepared wine and dried meat for an offering, and had repairs made to the temple, for he then knew that Goat City was in fact the city of Kuang-chou, in whose temple there were five goats.
He went again to Old Man Jen’s house, but a village elder told him, “That’s the tomb of Military Officer Jen of Nan-hai.”10
And he climbed the Terrace of the King of Yüeh, where he saw his father’s poem which read:
At the head of the Hill of the King of Yüeh’s Wells, the pine and poplar are old.
Autumn grass grows on top of the King of Yüeh’s Terrace.
An ancient tomb--no sons or grandsons for many years;
And rustic men walk along the tracks and make of them a thoroughfare.
Accompanying it was the King of Yüeh’s poem in reply, a poem rather extraordinary in words and script. He inquired about it of the abbott, who said, “Minister Hsü Shen, after climbing this terrace, was so moved by Censor Ts’ui’s poem that he had the terrace renovated; the halls and the altar were restored to their former brilliance and glory.”
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Wei took an abundant supply of delicacies and sweet wine and spent the night in a monk’s cell in the P’u-chien Temple. Around midnight the four women arrived, accompanying Lady T’ien. She was beautiful and elegant in appearance and bearing, cultured in speech and refined in thought. The four women and Master Ts’ui drank and joked until it was almost dawn, then said goodbye. After bowing twice to them, Wei gave them a letter to present to the King of Yüeh, expressing his respect and gratitude. He then returned to his house with Lady T’ien.
Some time later Wei asked the lady, “If you are the daughter of the King of Ch’i, how was it that you married a man of Southern Yüeh?”
She replied, “My country was destroyed and my family wiped out. It was my misfortune to be captured by the King of Yüeh and made his royal concubine. When the King died, I was buried along with him. Now I don’t even know what time this is. The boiling of Master Li11 seems only yesterday.” Whenever she remembered the past, tears came to her eyes.
Wei asked, “Who are those four women?”
“Two were given by King Yao of the Ou-Yüeh, and two were entered into service by King Wu-chu of the Min-Yüeh,”12 she said. “All of them were buried alive with the King.”
He then asked, “Before, the four women spoke of Pao-ku. Who is that?”
She said, “Pao Ching’s daughter, the wife of Ko Hung.13 She often performed moxibustion in Nan-hai.”
Wei then sighed in amazement, thinking of that old woman in earlier days.
He inquired further, “They called that serpent ‘Jade City Master.’ Why?”
She explained, “In the past, Master An Ch’i regularly rode that dragon to pay his respects in the Jade Capital,14 so it is called the ‘Jade City Master.’”
Because Wei had drunk the dragon’s leftover foam in the cave, his skin was young and delicate, and his sinews and ligaments were nimble and light. He continued to live in Nan-hai for more than ten years, then gave away his gold and property and devoted himself to the Tao. Later Wei took along his wife to Lo-fu Mountain15 in order to seek out Pao-ku. After that, no one knows where he went.
(PHCC, pp. 14-21; Wang, 274-79; TPKC, 34.2)
Tr. Simon Schuchat
Note: A version of the archetypal theme of “underground journey,” set in a southern locale, this story is rich in CK motifs, historical associations, and symbolic patternings. The historical and mythological frames of reference link the precedents and consequences in a tightly-knit interconnection; and despite their complexity, the motifs and events at the end all fit together, like the pieces in a jig-saw puzzle.
The action is unified also by a retribution theme. Within the parallel settings of Goat City (mythological) and the Tomb of the King of Southern Yüeh (historical), we see a father’s instrumentality in bringing about the renovation of the king’s terrace matched by the son’s refurbishing of the emmissary’s temple at the end. The sequences of events involved may be seen to complete a series of the motifs of “a favor repaid,” forming an interconnected pattern of retribution.
By the use of history and legends, the narrator is able to employ a consistent point of view based on the “limited consciousness” of the protagonist and yet maintain the intelligibility of the complex events. The explanations given through Lady Τ’ien’s words at the end, however, read more like footnotes than effective narrative.
1 The chung-yüan festival occurred on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, according to the lunar calendar. It was the day of sacrifice to the deceased ancestors, and coincided with the Ullambana festival, the Buddhist ‘All Souls Day,’ when sacrifices are made to the ‘hungry ghosts.’
2 The last clause may also read, “it will also help you obtain a beautiful lady,” presaging the events to come.--Ed.
3 Text amended according to Wang Meng-ou’s suggestion; see T‘ang-jen hsiao-shuo yen-chiu, I, (Taipei: I-wen yin-shu-kuan, 1971), p. 152.--Ed.
4 For an account of Ts’ai Wen-chi’s (i.e., Ts’ai Yen’s) story and the lyrics of the “Tartar Reed-pipe” song, see Kuo Mao-ch’ien (12th cent.), Yüeh-fu shih-chi (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chü, 1979), 59, pp. 860-65.--Ed.
5 I.e., Yang-ch’eng, an old name for Canton. According to legend, in the Chou dynasty (1134-250 B.C.) five immortals in different colored robes descended from heaven, each mounted on a colored goat, and presented the people there with spikes of rice as a gift. When they departed, the goats were left behind and subsequently changed into five goat statues.--Ed.
6 Towards the end of the Ch’in dynasty (249-207 B.C.) T’ien Heng, who succeeded his brother as Prince of Ch’i, was one of the main opponents of Hsiang Yü. After the latter’s defeat at the hands of Liu Pang, Tien Heng was also driven to a coastal island in the south. He later committed suicide on the way to Loyang to see Liu Pang, the newly enthroned emperor of the new Han dynasty.--Ed.
7 The writing style used in the Ch’in and early Han periods (249-ca. 200 B.C.).
8 For the biography of Hsü, see Hsin T’ang shu 143, pp. 4694-95; for that of Chao Ch’ang, see Chiu T’ang shu 151, pp. 4063 and Hsin T’ang shu 170, pp. 5175-76.--Ed.
9 During the Ch’in dynasty, Chao T’o (?-137 B.C.) was Prefect of Nan-hai. When the Ch’in empire fell, he took Nan-hai and two other prefectures, Kuei-lin and Hsiang, to form the state of Nan-yüeh. In 196 B.C. the Han Emperor Kao-tsu (r. 206-195 B.C.) enfoeffed him as Prince of Nan-yüeh. During the time of Empress Lu he declared himself Martial Emperor of Nan-yüeh, and attacked Chang-sha. During the reign of Emperor Ching-ti (r. 157-41 B.C.), he submitted again to Han rule.
10 I.e., Jen Hsiao; he was the Governor of Nan-hai before Chao T’о.
11 Li Shih-ch’i, a native of Kao-yang (in modern Hopeh), was a famous persuader at the beginning of the Han dynasty. The King of Ch’i thought Li had betrayed him, and had him boiled alive.--Ed.
12 The Ou-yüeh and the Min-yüeh are two tribes in Kuang-tung and Fu-kien, respectively, conquered and sinicized during the Former Han.
13 Pao-ku was a woman of the Chin dynasty (265-420), famous for her skill at moxibustion. Pao Ching was an official in Nan-hai and later a Taoist scholar; he was said to have lived more than a hundred years. Ko Hung was a great Taoist scholar, author of the Pao-p’u-tzu, who retired to Mount Lo-fu to practice alchemy.
14 Master An Ch’i was a mythological magician of the time of the First Emperor of Ch’in, who was said to have spent three days and nights in conversation with him. Jade City is the residence of the Celestial Emperor.
15 A mountain in Tseng-ch’eng County of Kwangtung Province, where Ko Hung reputedly transformed himself and became an immortal.
In the Ta-li reign period [766-780] of Emperor Tai-tsung, there was a scholar by the name of Ts’ui. His father was an illustrious official and a good friend of the most eminent minister of the court. He was foremost in merit among the officials of the age and had been granted the Highest Rank of noblemen. Young Ts’ui at this time was a member of the Imperial Guard, and his father sent him off to inquire after His Excellency the Lordship in his illness.
The young Ts’ui had a countenance that was pure as jade. He was of good moral character, austere and uncompromising; his deportment was serene and his speech refined. His Lordship, after ordering a singing girl to roll up the curtain, asked young Ts’ui to enter his parlor. Ts’ui saluted him respectfully and explained his father’s commission. His Lordship was greatly pleased and took a liking to him, and so bade him sit down to chat.
During that time, three singing girls of unsurpassed beauty remained at His Lordship’s side bearing golden bowls which contained cherries. These they peeled, moistened in sweet cream, and presented to him. His Lordship then directed a singing girl wearing a red silk garment to give one of the bowls to Ts’ui that he might partake of its contents. The young Ts’ui felt embarrassed in the presence of the singing girl and his face reddened, so that he could not eat anything. His Lordship had the singing girl with the red silk garment feed him with a spoon, so that he had no choice but to eat, provoking smiles on her face. Then Ts’ui took his leave. His Lordship said, “When you have some leisure, young man, you must come and visit me, as I do not wish that we should become estranged.”
He then ordered the singing girl with the red silk garment to escort Ts’ui to the courtyard. There Ts’ui looked back and saw the girl raise three fingers, turn her palm three times, and then point to a mirror in front of her bosom, saying, “Remember.” After this she said nothing else.
Ts’ui went back home, reported to his father His Lordship’s words, and then returned to his study. He became totally infatuated with the thought of the girl.
All day long he remained speechless, his visage downcast; he was so distraught and meditative that he could not bring himself to eat. In his distress, he recited a poem, which went:
By mistake I went to travel on the peak of P’eng-lai mountain;
A jade maiden with bright earrings blinked her eyes of stars.
Vermilion doors half covered the moon of the forbidden palace,
Which illumined the lovely iris, a beauty grieving on the snow.
No one could understand the meaning of this.
At that time, there was in the house a К’un-lun slave1 called Mo-le, who eyed his young master and said, “What matter have you in your mind that you cannot put an end to your sorrow? Why do you not tell me about it?” Ts’ui replied, “What does someone of your status know, yet you ask me about matters of the heart?” Mo-le said, “If you would just tell me, I am sure I can find a solution for you. No matter how distant and difficult, I will be able to carry it out.” Ts’ui marveled at the strangeness of the slave’s words, so he told him everything. Mo-le said, “This is but a small affair! Why did you not let me know sooner and spare yourself this suffering?”
Ts’ui then spoke of the girl’s mysterious gestures, after which Mo-le said, “What is the difficulty in understanding that? Raising three fingers simply means that there are ten units of apartments for housing the singing girls in the home of His Lordship, and that hers is the third. Turning the hand three times, you will count fifteen fingers, which are the equivalent of fifteen days. The small mirror before her bosom--does it not mean that she would expect you on the night of the fifteenth day, when the moon will be as round as a bronze mirror?”
Ts’ui was delighted and could not control himself, so he said to Mo-le, “What scheme have you for overcoming my melancholy?” To this Mo-le responded with a smile, saying, “The fifteenth night will be two nights from now. Please give me two rolls of dark green gauze and I will make you some clothes which will allow freedom of movement. But in the home of His Lordship there is a fierce dog who guards the gate to the singing girls’ chambers. Strangers cannot get through; the dog is trained to kill anyone who attempts to enter. It is supremely alert and is as ferocious as a tiger, being a purebred from Ts’ao-chou [in modern Shantung] from Meng Hai’s days.2 In the entire world, I alone am capable of killing this dog. I will slay it for you this evening.” Thereupon Ts’ui feasted him with wine and meat.
At the third watch, Mo-le left carrying a mace. He came back in the time it takes to eat a meal, saying, “The dog is already dead, so there is nothing barring the way.”
On the appointed night, during the third watch, he made Ts’ui put on the green clothes, then he placed him on his back and crossed over ten walls. He then entered the singing girls’ quarter, stopping at the third door. The ornamented door was not shut and a golden lantern emitted a weak light. They saw only the girl sitting inside, heaving long sighs, as if waiting for someone. She had just taken off her jade earrings and her makeup, like a jade piece neglected for all its beauty, a pearl in desolation still retaining its luster. They heard her recite a poem, which said:
In the deep valley, the weeping orioles are sorrowful over Master Juan3
Who secretly came beneath the flowers to loosen the pearl ornaments.4
Emerald clouds drift and break, no more news is received;
In vain does one use a jade flute, awaiting in grief the coming of phoenixes.5
The guards were all asleep, and there was silence all about. Ts’ui then slowly lifted the curtain and entered the room. In a moment the girl noticed that he had come and, springing from her bed, she seized Ts’ui by the hand, saying, “I knew of your cleverness, Young Master, and that you could fathom that which is not uttered, so I spoke to you by means of my hand. Yet I do not know what magic you have availed yourself of to come in here!” Ts’ui told her Mo-le’s scheme in its entirety and how he had brought him there by carrying him on his back. The girl said, “Where is Mo-le?” Ts’ui said, “On the other side of the curtain.” She then asked Mo-le to enter and served him wine in a golden bowl.
The girl then said to Ts’ui, “My family was originally wealthy. We lived in the north. My present master was the local overlord, and he compelled me to become his attendant. I could not take my life, yet I have been living at the expense of principle. Even though I have kept my face powdered, my heart has been most sullen. Even though I have jade chopsticks with which to pick up my food, golden braziers that exude fragrance; I live behind door-screens made of mica and wear nothing but silk; my covers are embroidered quilts and I sleep among pearls and fine green jade--this is not what I want, and I feel as though I were fettered and manacled. Since your worthy retainer possesses magic powers, why do you not free me from this prison? If I am able to attain my wish, I would not regret even if I were to die. I would like to be your servant and wait upon your person.”
Ts’ui was worried and did not speak, but Mo-le said, “Since the young lady is so determined, this is but a simple matter!” The girl was very pleased. Mo-le first asked to carry out the girl’s bags and dressing case, which required three trips. After this was done he said, “I fear it will soon be dawn.” So saying, he placed young Ts’ui and the girl on his back and flew over the ten lofty walls. None of His Lordship’s guards awakened. Mo-le thus returned to Ts’ui’s study and there they hid the girl.
Only at dawn did His Lordship’s household become aware of what had happened; they also saw that the dog was dead. His Lordship exclaimed in astonishment, “Our gates and walls have always been unassailable, our doors heavily locked. Under the circumstances, it appears as though someone flew over them without leaving a trace. This must be the work of a knight-errant! But do not allow the news to spread. That would only be bringing more trouble on ourselves.”
The singing girl remained hidden at Ts’ui’s home for two years. But one day, when she went out in a small carriage to view the flower blossoms along the Crooked River, she was espied by a servant of His Lordship’s household. He informed His Lordship of this, who thought it all most unusual. He summoned Ts’ui and made inquiries of him. Young Ts’ui, fearing grave consequences, did not dare keep anything from His Lordship, but recounted the affair in detail: it was all due to Mo-le’s carrying her away on his back. His Lordship said, “This singing girl has committed a grave wrong. But she has been serving you more than a year, so I will not press the matter further. Still, we must be rid of this other threat to humanity.”
He then ordered fifty armored soldiers, heavily armed with weapons, to surround Ts’ui’s residence in order to arrest Mo-le. Mo-le took a dagger and flew over the high wall, flitting past like a winged bird, as fast as a falcon. A volley of arrows shot towards him like rain, but none hit their mark. In a moment he vanished without anyone seeing in which direction he had gone. Ts’ui’s household was quite alarmed. Later on His Lordship regretted what he had done and grew so afraid that each night he had more household lads protect him with swords and halberds. Only when a full year had passed did this finally stop.
More than ten years later, a member of the Ts’ui household saw Mo-le selling herbs in the marketplace at Lo-yang, his appearance no different from before.
(PHCC, pp. 6-9; Wang, pp. 267-69; Chang, pp. 151-54; Hsü, pp. 389-94; TPKC, 194.1)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: The kind of kung-fu skills described here makes this a fantastic piece, while the exotic origin of the character Mo-le also enhances this quality.
The fascination this story has exerted on the Chinese mind is borne out by its many adaptations by later writers, particularly playwrights. There are at least three plays known to be based on this story: Tao Hung-hsiao (Theft of Hung-hsiao, the Girl in Red Silk) by Yang No (late 14th century), Hung-hsiao chi (Story of Hung-hsiao) by Liang Ch’en-yü (1521?-1594?) and K’un-lun nu (The K’un-lun Slave) by Mei Ting-tso (1553-1619).
1 See “Old Chang” (78), n. 2.--Ed.
2 Meng Hai may refer to the leader of a peasant uprising in Ts’ao-chou during the late Sui (589-618).--Ed.
3 Juan Chao, said to have ascended Τ’ien-t’ai mountain along with Liu Chen to gather herbs. There they encountered some fairy women, who detained them for half a year (see “Liu Ch’en and Juan Chao,” ).
4 “Loosen the pearl ornaments” refers to Cheng Chiao-fu’s encounter with the goddesses on the bank of the Han River (see “Cheng Te-lin” [90), n. 3).--Ed.
5 Hsiao Shih was a man of the Spring and Autumn Period (722-484 B.C.) who was skilled at playing the flute. Duke Mu of Ch’ in married his daughter Nung Yu to him. Hsiao taught her how to play the flute and sing the songs of phoenixes, so that later on a phoenix did indeed come to them. Duke Mu of Ch’in then built a phoenix terrace for them. Eventually they both went away (Nung Yli on a phoenix and Hsiao Shih astride a dragon) to become immortals.
Yin-niang was the daughter of Nieh Feng, a general from Wei-po [covering parts of modern Hopeh and Shantung Provinces] in the Chen-Yüan reign period [785-804]. When she was only ten years old, a nun came begging for food at the house of Nieh. Upon seeing Yin-niang, she was pleased and said, “Sir, please let me take this girl that I may instruct her.” Nieh was greatly angered and rebuked the nun, who said, “Even if you hide her in an iron chest, sir, I will still snatch her away.” That night, Yin-niang did indeed vanish. Nieh Feng was very much alarmed and had her searched for, but there were no clues to her whereabouts. Her parents longed for her but could do no more than look at each other and weep.
Five years later, the nun brought Yin-niang back and said to Nieh Feng, “She has completed her tutelage. You may have her.” She then suddenly disappeared. The entire household cried with delight. They asked her what she had learned, and she replied, “At first I did nothing but read sutras and recite incantations.” Nieh Feng did not believe her and persisted in his questioning. Yin-niang then said, “If I tell you the truth, I am afraid you will not believe me. What is the use?” Nieh Feng said, “Just tell the truth then.”
She replied, “When I was taken away by the nun, we traveled I don’t know how many miles. At dawn, we reached a big, bright stone cave. There were no inhabitants for many paces around, only plenty of apes, pines, and creepers for a great distance. Two girls were already there, each also ten years of age. Both were bright and beautiful. They did not eat, and could fly over sheer cliffs without losing their footing, like nimble gibbons going up a tree. The nun made me take a pill and gave me a sword which she told me always to keep at my side. It was about two feet long and so sharp that one could cut a hair by blowing it against the edge. She directed me to learn to climb by following two girls who were there, and I gradually felt my body become as light as the wind.
“A year later, I could attack and kill monkeys without ever missing a single one. Afterwards, I struck at tigers and leopards, and I always succeeded in cutting off their heads. By the third year I was able to fly, and if I struck out at hawks and falcons, I would hit them all. The blade of my sword gradually shrank to five inches. When flying birds encountered it, they would not know where it came from.
“During the fourth year, the nun left the two girls to keep watch over the cave and took me to a city somewhere. She pointed out a man and enumerated his wrongdongs, saying, ‘Go and sever his head for me, and do not let him realize what you are doing. If you calm your nerves, it will be as easy as killing birds.’ She gave me a ram’s horn dagger, the blade of which was three inches wide. I then hacked off the man’s head in broad daylight without anyone seeing me. I put the head in a pouch and returned to my mistress, who used a potion to change it into water.
“In the fifth year, she said, ‘A certain major official is guilty of transgression. For no reason at all he has brought harm to many. Go at night to his bed chamber and cut off his head.’ I again took up my dagger and entered his chamber, passing through the cracks in the door without difficulty. I then lay on my stomach upon a beam. At dusk, I made off with his head and returned. The nun said in great anger, ‘Why are you so late?’ I replied, ‘I saw him playing with a child. It was so touching I could not bring myself to carry out the task right away.’ The nun scolded me, saying, ‘From now on, when you run into his kind again, you are first to kill the loved one, and then you may slay the man.’ I acknowledged my mistake. The nun said, ‘I will open up the back of your head and secrete the dagger there without any harm to you. When you have need of it, draw it out.’ Then she added, ‘You have already mastered your craft. You may go home.’ Thereupon she escorted me back, saying, ‘Only after twenty years have passed will we see each other again.’”
When Nieh Feng heard these words he was very much afraid. At nightfall she would disappear and then return in the morning. Nieh Feng no longer dared make inquiries of her, and as a result, he also came to lose his affection for her. One day, a mirror grinder1 happened to come by their door. The girl said, “This man may be made my husband.” She informed her father, who dared not gainsay her and married her to the man. Since the husband could do nothing but grind mirrors, her father kept them both generously supplied with food and clothing. They lived by themselves in a separate house.
Several years later her father died. The regional commander of Wei-po, knowing something of her exceptional qualities, took her into his service by offering her payments of gold and silk. Several more years passed in this way. In the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820], the regional commander of Wei-po was not getting along well with Liu Ch’ang-i,2 viceroy of Ch’en-chou and Hsü-chou [both commanderies in Honan province]. He thus ordered Yin-niang to assassinate him. Yin-niang took leave of the regional commander and went to Hsü-chou with her husband.
Viceroy Liu, who was an adept in the magic arts, already knew that she was coming. He summoned one of his officers and bade him go early the next day to the northern part of the city, there to await a man and a woman coming up to the gate astride a black and a white donkey. They would hear a magpie screech and the husband would shoot it with a slingshot bow3 but fail to hit it. The wife would then take the husband’s bow and slay the bird with a single pellet. He was to make obeisance to them and say that the viceroy, wishing to see them, has bid him to welcome them at a distance.
The officer went to meet them as directed. Yin-niang and her husband said, “His lordship must be versed in the arcane arts. Otherwise, how could he have known of our coming? We wish to see Lord Liu.” The viceroy gave them audience. Yin-niang and her husband paid their respects and said, “We deserve ten thousand deaths for plotting against you!” Liu replied, “Not so. It is a common matter for each man to be loyal to his master. But there is no difference between Wei-po and Hsü-chou now. I hope you will remain here and will not doubt my intentions.” Yin-niang admitted her fault, saying, “Your Lordship has no one worthy at his side. I wish to leave the other lord and declare my allegiance to you. Your Lordship’s divine perspicuity has made a convert of me.” She knew that the regional commander of Wei-po was not the equal of Viceroy Liu. The viceroy asked what she had need of. She said, “Two hundred cash a day would suffice.” It was done as she requested.
Not knowing where the donkeys had gone, the viceroy had them searched after, but no one knew where they were. Later on they secretly looked inside Yin-niang’s bag and found two paper donkeys, one black and one white.
After somewhat more than a month had passed, Yin-niang said to the viceroy, “My former master does not know when to stop. He will surely send someone in my place. Allow me to cut off a strand of my hair, tie it to a red tassel, and place it before the regional commander’s pillow, in order to show him my determination not to return.” The viceroy gave his consent. During the fourth watch, she returned and said, “I have relayed my message. The night after tomorrow night he will send Ching-ching-erh to kill me and carry off your head. When the time comes, I will do everything to destroy the assailant. Please do not be concerned.” Viceroy Liu was candid and valiant, and showed no fear.
That night, in the candle light after midnight, there appeared two streamers, one red and one white, floating about as though attacking each other around the four corners of the viceroy’s bed. After a long time, someone fell to the ground from midair, head and body separated. Yin-niang also came out and said, “Ching-ching-erh has been slain.” She moved the body outside and used drugs to change it into water, leaving not a single hair behind.
Yin-niang said, “On the night after tomorrow night he will send K’ung-k’ung-erh the Adroit. K’ung-k’ung-erh’s magic is such that no human can understand its use, no spirit can follow its tracks. He4 can enter the netherworld from the heavens; he can disappear and leave no trace of his shadow. My own arts are no match for his. We’ll therefore have to rely on Your Lordship’s good fortune. Please wear a collar made of Khoten jade5 and sleep with it. I will turn into a cootie and conceal myself in your innards to wait it out. Besides this there is no escape.”
The viceroy heeded her advice. During the third watch, before his eyes had been closed long, he heard a sharp ringing sound from something striking at his neck. Yin-niang jumped out of the viceroy’s mouth and congratulated him, “Your Lordship no longer has anything to fear! This person is like a fierce falcon. If he fails to accomplish his goal in a single blow, he will turn and go away, ashamed over the failure. Before the watch is over, he will be a thousand miles away.” Later, they looked at the jade and s aw that it had been cut by a dagger, the mark quite long. From then on the viceroy treated Yin-niang with great generosity.
In the eighth year of the Yüan-ho reign period [806-820], when Liu left Hsü-chou to pay a court visit to the emperor, Yin-niang chose not to accompany him, saying, “Henceforth I will roam in the mountains and rivers to search for Accomplished Persons.”6 She asked only that her husband be given a sinecure. The viceroy did as they had agreed and gradually came to lose track of her whereabouts.
When the viceroy died in office, Yin-niang came to the capital on her donkey and wept before his coffin before disappearing again.
During the K’ai-ch’eng reign period [836-840], the viceroy’s son Liu Tsung was made governor of Ling-chou [roughly the area of modern Szechwan Province]. In his travels, he met Yin-niang on a plank-trail along a precipice in the Shu [Szechwan] mountains. Her countenance was as it had been in earlier days, and she still rode a white donkey. She was pleased to see him, and said, “Don’t go to Ling-chou. A great calamity is in store for you there.” She took out a pellet of drugs and bade Liu Tsung swallow it, saying, “Next year you must resign your post and return to Loyang [the eastern capital]. Only thus will you avert disaster. My drugs will protect you for but a year.” Liu Tsung was not much of a believer in such things. He offered her colored silk, but Yin-niang did not accept any of it. Instead, she drank with Tsung and left only when she was inebriated.
One year later, Liu Tsung still had not resigned, and indeed soon died at his post in Ling-chou. After this, no one ever saw Yin-niang again.
(PHCC, pp. 22-25; Wang, pp. 270-72; Chang, pp. 155-58; Hsü, pp. 389-401; TPKC, 194.5)
Tr. Pedro Acosta
Note: This is a rare example of a CK story with a description of the training of a hsia (here an assassin). The contests of magic between Yin-niang and Ching-ching-erh and K’ung-k’ung-erh move the story from the category of the fantastic into that of the supernatural. These episodes have inspired many imitations by later writers.
The professionalism shown in the nun’s attitude towards assassination is consistent with her aim of ridding society of evil. But her zealotry also points to an ethical problem in this time of political disorder. As reflected in Yin-niang’s amoral criterion in the choice of a master, the chivalric code of the original hsia has by now totally disappeared. The skills and magic are here enlisted to serve the purposes of military governors in rivalry with each other for power (cf. the next entry, “Hung-hsien”).
The plot of a play by Yu T’ung (1618-1704) entitled Hei Pai wei (The Black and White Donkeys) is based on this tale.
1 Mirrors were made of bronze and occasionally needed grinding to recover their luster. Mirror-grinding was a specialized craft. The mirror was heated until it was red hot. It was then submerged in water, removed, and put to a grinding stone.
2 Liu Ch’ang-i (?-813) was a military governor supportive of the central government; for his biography, see Chiu T’ang shu 151, pp. 4056-57 and Shin T’ang shu 170, pp. 5166-67.--Ed.
3 A bow-like weapon that proj ects pellets instead of arrows.--Ed.
4 K’ung-k’ung-erh’s sex, like that of Ching-ching-erh, is not clear from the text.
5 Khoten, a place in Sinkiang renowned for fine jades.
6 Those who have attained immortality.
Hung-hsien [lit., Red Threads] served as a maid in the household of Hsüeh Sung,1 the Military Governor of Lu-chou.2 She was an accomplished lute player, and since she was also well-versed in the classics and histories, Sung placed her in charge of his correspondence, designating her as his private secretary.
One evening at a military banquet Hung-hsien remarked to Sung, “The deerskin drum sounds so sorrowful--the drummer must have something on his mind.”
Sung, who had a keen sensibility for music, replied, “It seems that you are right.” He summoned the drummer and asked him what the matter was.
“My wife died last night,” the drummer said. “But I dare not ask for leave.”
Sung at once gave him permission to go home.
After the Chih-te reign period [756-758] there was unrest north and south of the Yellow River.3 The Chao-i Division was established with a garrison post at Fu-yang.4 Sung was ordered to defend this stronghold and restore order in Shan-tung.5 Because this was a time just after much blood had been shed, and the military government had just been instituted, the emperor ordered Sung to give his daughter in marriage to the son of T’ien Ch’eng-ssu,6 the Military Governor of Wei-po,7 and in addition to match his son with the daughter of Ling-hu Chang,8 the Military Governor of Hua-chou [Hua County, Honan]. After being so bound by marriage, the three governors were obliged to regularly dispatch messengers to one another.
T’ien Ch’eng-ssu suffered from pulmonary emphysema. It was so unbearable during the summer that he often said, “If I could move my garrison to Shan-tung and breathe the cool air there, I would live several years longer.”
Ch’eng-ssu thus began to marshal his troops, selecting three thousand of the best of them. Each of these men was ten times fiercer and braver than the ordinary soldier. He called them his “Palace Guards,” lavished favors on them,9 and regularly assigned three hundred of them to stand guard around his mansion at night. It seemed that Ch’eng-ssu would march on Lu-chou on any auspicious day.
News of the impending invasion so agitated Sung that he talked to himself day and night, trying in vain to think of a solution. One night, when the outer gate to his mansion had already been shut and the watch posted, Sung paced back and forth in his courtyard, supporting himself with a staff. Only Hung-hsien was with him.
“My Lord, you have been worried this past month even while eating and sleeping,” Hung-hsien said. “There seems to be something on your mind. Could it have something to do with the neighboring territories?”
“What troubles me concerns the survival of the country,” Sung said. “I’m afraid it is something beyond your comprehension.”
“I am a girl of lowly station, but I might be able to help you,” Hung-hsien insisted.
Sung thus felt compelled to tell her everything.
“I succeeded my grandfather and my father in becoming a military officer10 and have received many favors from the state,”11 he said. “If I lose this territory, a hundred years of achievement will vanish in a single day.”
“This is no problem,” Hung-hsien said. “There is no reason for you to be so distressed. Let me go to Wei-chün [i.e. Wei-chou] to survey the situation and find out the real strength there. I shall start out at the first watch and should report back to you by the third. I only ask that you first prepare a swift horse for a messenger and write a letter of greeting. Then you won’t have to do anything but wait for my return.”
Sung was greatly surprised. “I must have been blind to have failed to see that you are a person of extraordinary ability!” he said. “But what if you fail and hasten the arrival of calamity instead?”
“I certainly won’t fail you in this mission,” she responded.
She went into her chamber and outfitted herself for travel. She combed her hair into a bun in the style of the Wu-man tribe.12 and clasped it with a gold hairpin shaped like a phoenix. She put on a purple embroidered jacket and a light pair of black shoes. Over her breast she carried a dagger engraved with dragons, and on her forehead she wrote the name of the god T’ai-i.13 She then took leave of Sung by bowing twice and vanished instantly.
Sung retreated to his chamber, shut the door, and sat tensely with his back to a candle. In the past he had usually felt the effects of wine after only a few cups, but this night he drank more than ten flasks without feeling intoxicated.
Suddenly Sung heard the morning bugle blowing in the wind and a sound like that of a leaf falling to the ground. Startled, he inquired what had happened--it was Hung-hsien who had returned. Sung felt relieved and greeted her solicitously.
“Did everything go well?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t dare fail you,” she replied.
“Was anyone hurt or killed?”
“It didn’t come to that. I only took a gold box from the head of T’ien Ch’eng-ssu’s bed as proof that I was there.”
Hung-hsien continued, “Last night I reached Wei-chün at three quarters before midnight. I passed through several gates before arriving at Τ’ien’s sleeping quarters. I heard his Palace Guards snoring like thunder in the hallway outside his room. I saw other soldiers in the headquarters marching down another corridor, shouting orders like the wind.
“I opened the left door leaf to Τ’ien’s room and made my way to his canopied bed. Inside I saw your kinsman sound asleep with his legs propped up. His head rested on a carved rhinoceros horn pillow, and his topknot was tied with a yellow crêpe ribbon. In front of his pillow there was a sword engraved with the seven stars of the Northern Dipper14 and in front of the sword there was an open gold box. Τ’ien’s own birth date and the names of the gods of the Northern Dipper15 were written inside it. Spread out around it were fragrant incense and beautiful jewels. Even inside his jade-studded canopy he was displaying his might, his only thoughts being of the success of his present life. Little did he know that I could have ended it, even as he dreamt in his magnolia hall. Why should I have taken the trouble to capture him? It only made one feel pity.
“By this time the candles and incense burners had died down. Attendants were everywhere along with vast arrays of weapons. Some snored, leaning their heads against folding screens. Others slept stretched out, holding towels and dusters. I pulled out their hairpins and even fastened their jackets and robes, but none of them woke up--it was almost as if all of them were in a coma. I just took the gold box and headed back here.
“I had traveled nearly two hundred li after leaving through the western gate of Wei when I saw the Bronze Tower16 rising high and the Chang River [in Honan] flowing eastward. The early morning winds were blowing across the wilderness, and the moon had already sunk behind the trees in the distance. Tense when I went, now on the way home I felt free and easy, and forgot all about my exhausting journey. This was only a small token of my gratitude for your appreciation.
“Within six hours I made a roundtrip of seven hundred li, entering dangerous lands and passing through five or six cities. I did all this for no other purpose than to alleviate your worries. I wouldn’t dare complain to you about my hardships.”
When she finished, Sung dispatched a messenger with a letter for T’ien Ch’eng-ssu. It read: “Last night a stranger came here from Wei after taking a gold box from your bedside. I dare not keep it, so I am sending it back with this letter.”
The messenger rode from morning to evening and reached Wei by midnight. He saw that Ch’eng-ssu’s troops had been searching for the missing gold box and were filled with fear and doubt. He knocked on Ch’eng-ssu’s gate with his whip, requesting an emergency audience.
Ch’eng-ssu met him immediately. When presented with the box Ch’eng-ssu almost fell down in shock. He invited the messenger to stay and tried to ingratiate himself with the man by giving him a feast and showering him with gifts.
The next day Ch’eng-ssu sent a messenger to present Sung with thirty thousand bolts of silk, two hundred thoroughbred horses, and many other fitting gifts. Ch’eng-ssu’s letter to Sung read:
To you I owe my life. I now recognize my faults and will reform. From now on I will give you no cause for concern. I shall be at your disposal anytime, even as a servant, and dare not presume to be treated as a relative. It would only be fitting for me to guard your carriage from behind as you go out, and lead the horse as a vanguard when you come in.
I organized my Palace Guards to defend against bandits and thieves. They had no other purpose. Now I have ordered them to remove their armor and have allowed them to return to their homes.
Within one or two months communications were resumed between the regions north and south of the Yellow River.
Hung-hsien then asked for permission to leave. Sung replied, “You were born in my household. Where will you go? And just when I need you most, how can you talk of leaving?”
“I was a man in my previous life,” Hung-hsien said. “I wandered about, studying Shen Nung’s books on medicinal herbs,17 and saving people in distress. Once I came to a village where a pregnant woman had suddenly been stricken with a stomach ailment. I prescribed daphne blossom wine,18 and the woman and two unborn children died. With one act I killed three people. As punishment, the Lord of the Underworld had me reborn as a girl. I was cast into the lot of a serving girl whose character was governed by the Star of Thievery.184 Fortunately I was born into your household where I have lived for nineteen years. I have been treated with the utmost kindness and have lived in unmatched splendor--so much so that I have grown weary of fine silk and have had my fill of rare delicacies.
“Now that the nation has been restored to order, there will be great rejoicing. T’ien and his likes violated the principles of heaven, so I had to put a stop to their activities. By going to Wei-chün that night, I expressed my gratitude for your kindness. In addition, two regions were preserved intact, the lives of ten thousand people were saved, an unruly subject came to know fear, and loyal officials can thus be secure in their plans for the country. For a girl like me, all this is no small accomplishment. It is enough to redeem my past crime, and I may be restored to my original form. I should withdraw from the dusty world and concentrate my mind on spiritual matters, purifying my vital essences so that I may transcend life and death.”20
“If you insist on leaving,” Sung said, “I’ll give you a thousand pieces of gold so that you can sustain yourself while living in the mountains.”
“This is a matter of the next life,” Hung-hsien said. “How can one plan for anything in advance?”
Sung realized that he could not stop her, so he held a sumptuous farewell feast for her. The banquet hall was crowded with guests. Sung dedicated a song to her and asked one of the guests, Leng Chao-yang, to compose the lyrics:
Singing “Plucking Water Caltrops,”21 we lamented in the magnolia boat;
When we parted, our spirits melted away in the hundred-foot tower.
She returns like the Goddess of the Lo River,22 riding the morning mist;
Beneath the boundless turquoise sky the river flows on forever.
As the song ended Sung broke down in grief. Hung-hsien bowed to him and wept. She excused herself from the feast, saying she had been overcome by the wine. She was never seen again.
(Wang, pp. 260-62; Hsü, pp. 378-89; Chang, pp. 145-50; TPKC, 195.1; SF, 19.25a-27a)
Tr. Cordell D. K. Yee
Note: The controlled description of action and the creation of moods by indirection and suggestion make this one of the most artistically satisfying pieces in this anthology. As an example of the artistry of the story, note how Hung-hsien’s penetration into the chamber goes through several “layers” until it reaches, beyond the person of T’ien Ch’eng-ssu, the inner-most symbolic objects in the gold box.
The conflict between the military governors portrayed here, as has been pointed out by critics, closely reflects the political realities of the time.
The Ku-chin shih-hua explains that Hung-hsien was given to Hsüeh Sung as a “gift” when she was thirteen, and that she got her name from the fact that the palms of her hands were marked by lines that looked like red threads (see Hsü, p. 382).
Later adaptations of this tale include a lost hua-pen version and a play by Liang Ch’en-yü (1509-1581) entitled Hung-hsien nü (The Girl Named Red Threads).
1 Hsüeh Sung (?-773), a participant in the An Lu-shan rebellion of 755. Like many rebel generals, he was allowed to retain command of his army and govern a large tract of land after his surrender to the T’ang. As a military governor, he won a reputation for administrative effectiveness.
2 A region encompassing the greater portion of present-day Shansi and Hopeh; its administrative seat was located at what is now Ch’ang-chih, Shansi.
3 I.e., the instability in the wake of the An Lu-shan rebellion.
4 The Chao-i (i.e. Shining Righteousness) Division had its headquarters at what is now An-yang County in Honan. Fu-yang is now Tz’u County in Honan.
5 The region east of T’ai-hang Mountain, including modern Hopeh, Honan, and Shantung.--Ed.
6 T’ien Ch’eng-ssu (704-778) served as a general under An Lu-shan. After surrendering, T’ien was made a military governor, but still proved to be unruly. In 775 he annexed the territories which had been under Hsüeh Sung’s jurisdiction.
7 Administrative district that once consisted of five prefectures in Hopeh. Its headquarters was located at Wei-chou (modern Ta-ming).
8 Ling-hu Chang (?-773), a general under An Lu-shan, was made a military governor after his surrender to the T’ang government.
9 This seems to have been based on historical fact. According to the Chiu T’ang shu, T’ien Ch’eng-ssu selected ten thousand of his best troops and made them his personal guards. He called them his “Palace Guards,” an appellation normally reserved for the emperor’s own troops. The Hsin T’ang shu says that T’ien was so fond of his troops that he called them “heroes of heaven.”
10 Hsüeh Sung’s grandfather, Jen-kuei, served as a general under the T’ang Emperor Kao-tsung (r. 650-684). His father, Ch’u-yü, was military governor of Fan-yang (now Peking) during the K’ai-yüan reign period (713-742).
11 Perhaps a reference to his treatment after his surrender to the T’ang. See note 1.
12 The Wu-man aborigines lived in southern Szechwan and eastern Yunnan. Aborigines of southern China were collectively known as the Man tribes. Chinese accounts describe them as having mallet shaped coiffures and knots shaped like clenched fists. The Wu-man, or “Black Barbarians” were so named for their women’s long black dresses.
13 T’ai-i, god of the North Star.
14 Star swords were believed to possess supernatural powers.
15 The gods of the Northern Dipper were greatly revered in Taoism. They supposedly descended into the Taoist adepts’ body to prepare it for immortality.
16 I.e., T’ung-t’ai, shortened form of T’ung-ch’üeh t’ai (Terrace of the Bronze Sparrows). Built by Ts’ao Ts’ao (155-220), it stood in the northwest corner of the city of Yeh, west of Lin-chang County in Honan.
17 Shen Nung, legendary emperor who is supposed to have introduced agriculture and herbal medicine into China.
18 Daphne genkwa, a poisonous plant.
19 Another text has Hung-hsien describing her character as “ordinary, common."
20 According to Taoist belief, a person could attain immortality by performing breathing and gymnastic exercises designed to circulate one’s ch’i (vital pneumas) throughout the body.
21 Title of a yüeh-fu (Music Bureau) lyric by Emperor Wu of Liang (r. 502-550) describing a maiden separated from her lover.
22 I.e., Lo-fei, the Lo River being a tributary of the Yellow River which has its source in Shensi. In Ts’ao Chih’s (192-232) “Lo-shen fu” (Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Lo) she is described as having an airy figure and riding a cloud chariot.
In the eleventh year of the Hsien-t’ung reign period [860-873] of Emperor Yi-tsung, Chang Chih-fang,1 the Regional Commandant of the Lu-lung Army2 and Honorary Left Executive of the Department of Ministries, submitted a memorial requesting an imperial audience. A favorable edict from the throne granted the request.
Now, the Chang family had originally been the hereditary rulers of Yen [the area around modern Peking], and the people there had willingly submitted to their benign government. Their rule followed the precepts of “a polite reception of honored guests on the terrace of Chao,” and “a soothing treatment of the brave men of the Yi River.”3 Their territory was fertile and their troops numerous. Because of this, the central government had let them do much as they pleased, never interfering with their administration. However, when Chih-fang came to inherit his position, since he had been raised together with silk-trousered fops, he acted like a feudal lord in control of an enormous territory, and never paid any attention to the welfare of the people. He indulged in drinking in his chambers and went hunting in the outer suburbs all day. In order to befriend them, he grandly rewarded his leather-capped hunters, and his generous favors reached even green-turbaned laborers. Toward the evening of his life there was great resentment toward him among the troops under his command. Only then did Chih-fang himself begin to feel uncomfortable.
Listening to the advice of his adjutants, he decided to move his entire family west to the capital [i.e., Ch’ang-an]. Emperor Yi-tsung gave him the post of Great General of the Military Guard of the Left. But Chih-fang continued to fly his hawks and chase with his yellow hounds, and never involved himself in the responsibilites of guarding the Imperial Palace. He constantly set up nets and traps on the public roads so that eventually no dogs or boar were left. Those maids and servants who displeased him were killed immediately. It was said, “Within the immediate reach of imperial authority no one may kill without permission.” But Chih-fang’s mother said, “Is there anyone more honored than my son?” One can imagine from this the extent of his transgressions! As a consequence, the Censors enumerated their accusations and transmitted them upwards, asking that Chih-fang be prosecuted. The Son of Heaven did not want to turn him over to the courts, so he demoted him to the post of Chief of Palace Affairs for Prince Ch’ao4 and sent him off to work in Loyang [i.e., the Eastern Capital].
Although Chih-fang went off to the Eastern Capital, he did not mend his ways--he became even more extreme in his indulgence in outings and hunting trips. On all sides of Loyang, flying and running creatures all recognized him, and on seeing him, would screech and howl as they fled.
There was one Wang Chih-ku, a graduate among the local officials of Loyang. Although he had some Confucian learning and could read, fate was against him and he failed in the spring office selection. He had returned to live at home, above the Three Rivers,5 and occupied himself with drinking wine and playing football, rambling and roaming throughout the vicinity. It happened that someone mentioned his name to Chih-fang, and Chih-fang sent him an invitation. He observed that Chih-ku was a good talker with a smooth tongue. Often, he was so charmed by the talk that he unconsciously moved forward on his mat. From that day on they became close friends.
During the winter of the jen-ch’en year [i.e., 892] in the eleventh month, Chih-ku awoke one morning at dawn. In his heatless, rented room he felt out of sorts, as if cloaked in a cloud of sorrows, and fell into a deep depression. He went on foot to Chih-fang’s mansion. When he arrived, Chih-fang was hurrying out to the fields on a hunt. “Can you accompany me?” he asked Chih-ku. But because of the bitter cold, Chih-ku hesitated. Chih-fang turned to a servant and said, “Go and bring a black work coat.” He asked Chih-ku to wear it; Chih-ku put it on under his formal gown, then gathered the reins and departed with the others.
As they passed through the Eternal Summer Gate, it began to hail. From Yi-ch’üeh Mountain6 on, dense snow fell. They crossed eastward over the Yi River, walking south along the foot of the north face of Wan-an Mountain.7 The archer’s arrows hit many targets. The men filled bird-shaped goblets with wine and roasted rabbit shoulder, not paying the slightest attention to the bitter winter.
Toward sunset, the sleeting sky cleared up and the snow stopped. Suddenly a large fox appeared before Chih-ku’s horse. Carried along by the wine, he galloped after it for several 1i, but never caught it, and meanwhile lost the way back to his hunting companions. Shortly, small birds began chirping in the misty dusk. He had no idea where he was. He heard the faint sounds of the evening temple bells from Loyang and felt as though he were walking among woodsmen’s trails and the paths of ancient times. In a moment, the mountains and streams turned very dark, as though it were already halfway through the first watch [7-9 p.m.]. He looked into the distance and saw some bright torch fires. By the light reflected from the snow he picked his way toward them. Having gone what seemed a little more than ten li, he arrived at a grove of tall trees with intertwined branches. In the clearing was a vermilion gate and a bright partition wall, a mansion such as those of the Imperial Palace.
Chih-ku reached the gate and dismounted. Here he thought he could pace back and forth and wait for dawn. But after a short wait the noise of his horse shaking its reins was heard by the gatekeeper, who asked through the partition wall, “Hey, who is out there?”
Chih-ku replied, “I am Wang Chih-ku of T’ai-yüan,8 graduate of the first examination from Ch’eng-chou [i.e., Loyang]. I have a friend who returned to a hermit’s life in the K’ung-t’ung mountains. Today I had a farewell banquet for him on the banks of the Yi River and had too much to drink. Then, after taking leave of him, I was unable to stop my horse from galloping away on its own, so I lost my way and ended up here. At dawn I shall go. I hope I will not be rebuked for this.”
The gatekeeper said, “This is the estate of the Vice Governor of Nan-hai, Middle Deputy of the Imperial Censorate Ts’ui.9 The master of the house has lately received an imperial summons to go to the palace, and the young master is off serving as an accountant on a campaign to the west. There are only women and servants here--you cannot stay long. I dare not decide whether you can stay at all, so I will make this known and get instructions.”
Although Chih-ku was uneasy and nervous, it was already the middle of the night and he had no where else to go. So he politely folded his hands and waited. In a few minutes someone came from inside, holding a beeswax candle, grasping a key to open the door, and led a nurse out. Chih-ku bowed and again explained how he had come to be there.
The nurse said, “The lady of the house asks me to say that the master and son are both away from home. According to the rules of propriety, it is not proper for her to receive guests. However, we live in the midst of deep mountains and great marshes. If we insist on sending you off where fierce wolves howl, that would be to ‘see someone in trouble yet not rescue him.’ Please stay the night in the outer hall. In the morning you may depart.”
Chih-ku expressed his thanks, then followed the nurse inside. They passed a double door. On one side was a high-ceilinged, broad-beamed waiting room, with a new and ornate curtain. She set out a silver lamp, prepared a beautifully embroidered mat, and instructed Chih-ku to sit down. After three rounds of wine, there was a table full of food--leopard embryo, bream bellyfat, all the delicacies of sea and land. From time to time the nurse came in to urge him to eat more.
When he had finished eating, the nurse asked Chih-ku about his family’s status, including his relatives on both his mother’s and his father’s sides. Chih-ku answered all of her questions. Then she said, “You, sir, come from a good family; your appearance and carriage are lofty and pure like gold and jade. Steeped in the histories, you conduct yourself with virtue and uprightness. Truly, a worthy man for a virtuous lady. Our mistress dearly loves her young daughter, now of marriageable age. We have made use of go-betweens in the past to seek a proper match, but have met with no success. But ‘what night is tonight?--to find her ideal mate.’10 Perhaps the well-known harmony of Pan Yüeh and Yang Ch’ung-wu11 can be repeated. And an omen for the arrival of a phoenix pair is before us.12 What do you think?”
With a serious expression Chih-ku said, “My paltry learning is shamed ‘by comparison with the sounds of gold;’ my talents are ‘nothing like lustrous jade.’ How can I ever expect to have a family? Mired in the mud, I am worried by my present plight. I can hardly believe that by losing my way I have come to be the favored object of your choice, and that I have been visited by such auspicious fortune in the midst of the night. This is ‘to hear propitious sounds in the Offices of Lu,’13 and ‘to approach the benevolent atmosphere of the Ch’in Terrace.’14 The two who traveled among the immortals did not experience such kindness!15 The Three Stars are sending forth their light,16 and I fear the matter will not be consumated. To be accepted by an exalted family, solicited as a good match—isn’t this what I have wanted all my life?”
Pleased, the nurse giggled as she went back inside to report. Then she came back out, conveying the reply of the lady of the house, ‘“Since I married into the house of Ts’ui, my behavior has always been virtuous. As one who upholds the model of p’ in and fan,17 I venerate by husband. Our relationship is like the harmony of ch’in and se.18 I am concerned only for my young daughter and would like to marry her to a gentleman. Now that you have agreed to lower yourself to make this connection, my life-long wish has been fulfilled. Let a message be sent to the capital posthaste; it is by no means far from here. Have a hundred carriages prepared at the wedding; this would hardly be extravagant. I am very content, and look on you with the greatest satisfaction.’”
Chih-ku bowed, as solemn and respectful as a stone bell. “I am as small as a grain of sand, and as insignificant as an insect; my future is dim and my life without prospects. Yet a rich, powerful family has unexpectedly chosen me as their son. I swear by the waters that I will be forever faithful.19 With the greatest anticipation I await the good news.” Again Chih-ku bowed.
Playfully, the nurse said, “Upon the wedding night, when the beautifully embroidered clothes are removed, and the mirror cases opened; when you see her appearance as splendid as the moon, and you two are as secluded as if in a distant cloud--will you remember my help?”
Gratefully, Chih-ku said, “I am mortal, yet I have climbed to the Milky Way. If there had been no one to recommend me, how could I have done it? I swear in my heart, I will remember your kindness forever, carrying it in my bosom like the pendant hanging from my belt.” And again he bowed.
Before long blazing pine torches appeared in the courtyard. The night was coming to an end. The nurse asked Chih-ku to remove his clothes and rest. As he took off his formal gown, the black work coat was revealed. Ridiculing him, the nurse said, “How can a big-sleeved scholar be wearing the clothes of a corvée laborer?”
Chih-ku said apologetically, “Actually, this is something I borrowed from one of my friends. It isn’t my own, in fact.” Then she asked from whom it was borrowed. He answered, “This was borrowed from Chang Chih-fang of Lu-lung, of the Deartment of Ministries.”
Startled, she let out a cry and fell to the ground. Her complexion turned the color of cold ashes. She then picked herself up and, without looking back, went inside to report. In the distance Chih-ku heard loud cursing, “My lady, the gentleman you sent me to wait on is one of Chang Chih-fang’s friends.”
Then he heard the lady of the house say, “Send him off quickly, let’s not create any bad feelings.”
So maids and house boys came out in a crowd, holding big torches and dragging white clubs, and started up the stairs. Panic-stricken, Chih-ku stumbled to the center of the courtyard, looking around defensively and mumbling apologies. With curses descending upon him, he barely got out of the gate. Even as he did so, the gate was being bolted shut. Behind him he could hear the clamour continuing. Frightened and confused, Chih-ku stood on the side of the road for quite some time feeling sorry for himself. As he tried to take refuge under a broken wall, he saw his horse across the way. Mounting his horse, he fled the spot. In the distance he caught sight of a huge fire; it seemed as if the whole prairie were ablaze. He loosened the reins and rode toward it.
When he arrived, he found a tax-collector’s cart, with men feeding their oxen and sitting around a fire. He asked where he was and was told that he was south of the thatched inn on the east bank of the Yi River. Pillowing his head on his reins, he napped in the saddle. After the time it takes to eat a meal, he awoke. By then the east was silent and empty, and he had calmed down. He raised his whip and set out along the main road.
By the time he had reached the gates of the capital, several of Chang Chih-fang’s riders had come out to search for him. Only after riding a considerable distance did they arrive at Chih-fang’s mansion. When Chih-ku saw Chih-fang he was so angry he could not speak. It took Chih-fang some time to calm him down. After they were seated, Chih-ku told the story of this strange affair in the middle of the night. Chih-fang rose and slapped his thighs, saying, “So these ogres and goblins in the mountains and forests know that in the human world there is a Chang Chih-fang!” He made Chih-ku rest a bit.
Collecting an additional several dozen men, all warriors and hunters, he treated them to mugs of wine and shoulder of suckling pig. With Chih-ku they again rode southward. When they reached the north side of Wan-an Mountain, Chih-ku went ahead to guide them. The tracks of his horse were visible in the snow. As they headed toward a cypress grove, they saw untended tombstones and steles in an overgrown area where felled trees lay half-buried in the thick underbrush. In the midst of the grove rose a line of more than ten large burial mounds, surrounded by criss-crossing animal tracks and riddled with fox and rabbit burrows.
Chih-fang commanded that nets and traps be stretched on all sides, after which they were to lie in wait. Inside this enclosure men with torches and shovels dug and smoked the animals out. Shortly a pack of foxes suddenly came rushing out of the burrows, only to be scorched and burned by the fire and caught in the nets, or shot to death by the twanging bows. Altogether they carried home with them more than a hundred head of fox, both large and small.
The Man of Three Waters [i.e., Huang-fu Mei, the author] says: Alas for Master Wang! Not only was he born into the world without luck, but to be insulted by foxes and badgers--isn՚ that even greater misfortune? Had it not been for Honorable Chang’s coat, he would have died an untimely death in the burrows of filthy animals.
When I was a student in the Tun-hua district of Loyang, the Master of Literary Arts, the Honorable Hsü T’ung of Po-hai [in modern Hupeh] told me this story. Though this is “talk of anomalies,’20 still it is based on fact, so I record it here.
(Wang, pp. 289-92; Chang, pp. 164-73; TPKC, 455.1)
Tr. Simon Schuchat
Note: Wang Chih-ku’s nocturnal adventure conflates two distinct motifs, the “necromantic union” and the “marriage with a Taoist maiden” (cf. “Lu Ch’ung”  and “Huang Yüan” ). The adaptations of the motifs produce a new kind of “sojourn in fairyland,” in which the match-making (equivalent to the courtship ritual) and the marriage are parodied. The florid language used in the match-making scene, replete with parallelisms and arcane allusions, is in itself a mockery of Chih-ku’s status as a failed scholar.
The parodic use of old motifs here brings the evolution of the CK genre to a new phase, as fact and fiction are now made to intermingle in a playful way, in contrast to the Six Dynasties attitude that simple-mindedly claimed all the supernatural as factual. It is this intentional mixture of history and fantasy that enables the author to assert in the “appraisal” section that, while writing about anomalies, he has in fact kept intact the spirit of the Confucian dictum on the topic.
This entry is entitled “Chang Chih-fang” in TPKC. For a discussion of the use of history and fiction as the basic frame in this story, see Introduction, Sec. V.
1 Son of Chang Chung-wu. He was Honorary Vice President of State Affairs before being exiled as Governor of K’ang-chou (modern Te-ch’ing County, Kwangtung); he returned to the the capital as Great General, Honorary Left Executive of the Department of Ministeries. When Huang Ch’ao invaded the capital, Chang made a plan to destroy the rebel forces, but the rebels found out about it and slaughtered his family. His arrogant behavior and his love for hunting, described in the story, are grounded in history.
2 A commandery controlling what is now the area of Hopeh; its administrative seat located at Yu-chou (southwest of modern Peking).--Ed.
3 These two expressions from the Intrigues of the Warring States and Szu-ma Ch’ien’s Records of the Grand Historian (Shih-chi), respectively, indicate that in the area under their control, the Chang family followed correct ritual and employed talented men.
4 Li Jui, son of emperor Hsuan-tsung (r. 847-58).
5 The Yi, Lo, and Yellow Rivers, by Loyang.--Ed.
6 About ten li to the south of Loyang, also known as Dragon Gate Mountain.--Ed.
7 About forty li southeast of Loyang.--Ed.
8 All Wangs in the T’ang tales tend to claim they belong to the T’ai-yüan clan, one of the most powerful clans in the T’ang.--Ed.
9 The Ts’ui family of Shantung was one of the clans which matched the Wangs in power.--Ed.
10 A quotation from the Book of Odes, #118.
11 Pan Yüeh was a poet of the Chin dynasty. His marriage with Yang Ch’ung-wu was known as a felicitous alliance between two families.
12 A pair of phoenixes represents a very good match.
13 A periphrasis for marriage.
14 A periphrasis for advancement in rank.
15 The two men referred to are Liu Ch’en and Juan Chao, who wandered in the world of the immortals (see “Liu Ch’en and Juan Ch’ao” ).
16 The Three Stars are the stars of the Heart Constellation of the Twenty-eight Houses of the Chinese zodiac. Their appearance signals an auspicious time for marriage.
17 In the Book of Odes, the p’in and fan waterplants represent the authority of the husband.
18 The ch’in and se are two types of zithers, used to symbolize harmonious and joyful marital relations.
19 “Swear by the waters” alludes to the assurance of continuous trust and friendship given by Ch’ung Erh, the heir apparent of the state of Ch’in during the Spring and Autumn period, to his retainer-advisor Hu Yen when they returned from a long exile together (see Tso-chuan, Hsi-kung 24).--Ed.
20 As allusion to Confucius’ refusal to speak about “anomalies, violence, the supernatural, and the disorderly.” (Lun-yü 7:20, “Shu-erh”).--Ed.