Tung Chao-chih, of Fu-yang County [modern Hang County, Chekiang Province] in the state of Wu, was once taking a boat across the Ch’ien-t’ang River. In midstream he saw an ant crawling on a short reed. Scurrying back and forth on the reed, it seemed fearful and anxious. Tung said, “It fears death.” He thereupon took a rope and caught the reed. He wanted to bring it up onto the prow of the boat, but someone on the boat scowled, “That is a poisonous insect. You can’t keep it alive. If you bring it on board, I will stomp it to death.”
In his heart Tung felt great pity for the ant. It happened that the boat reached the bank just then and the ant was able to climb out along the rope. That night Tung dreamed of a man dressed in black, leading hundreds of men. The man came to thank him, and said, “I was careless and fell into the river. Thanks to you, my life was saved. I am the Insect King. If you are ever in any trouble, call on me.”
Ten-odd years later, there were bandits and robbers west of the river. While passing by the mountain area of Yü-hang [east of Hang-chou], Tung was pressed into a bandit gang by their chief, and ended up bound in the Yü-yao [south of Hang-chou Bay] prison. All of a sudden he remembered his dream of the ant king. As he was tossing the idea about in his head, a fellow prisoner asked him about it. Tung said, “The ant said that when a crisis came, I should let him know. Now how can I let him know?” A prisoner said, “Take a couple of ants in your hand and pray to them.”
Tung did as he said, and that night dreamed of a man in black who said, “You should go quickly to Yü-hang Mountain. The emperor will soon declare an amnesty.” He then awoke. The ants had already finished gnawing through his cangue, and thus he was able to escape from the prison. He crossed the river and took refuge on Yü-hang Mountain. In a short while amnesty was declared and he was free.
(Lu, pp. 231-32; TPKC, 473.8)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: Again “a good turn repaid” (cf. “Hsieh Yün” ). The story here probably is motivated specifically by the Buddhist belief of retribution.
In the fourth year of the reign of the Emperor Hsiao Wu [r. 372-396] of the Chin Dynasty [265-420], Hsüeh Tao-hsün of An-lu County in the Chiang-hsia Commandery [in Hupeh Province] was twenty-two. He had been brilliant from an early age, but succumbed to an epidemic disease and, following his cure, went mad. A hundred remedies could not restore his sanity. Then he took some powdered drugs and began to dash around wildly, completely unrestrainable. All of a sudden, he simply vanished. He had turned into a tiger and subsequently devoured countless people.
One day there was a girl picking mulberries beneath a tree. The tiger approached and ate her. When he finished eating, he hid her jewelry among some boulders, thinking he would remember where to find them when he became a man again.
After a year he returned home, a man once more. Later he went to the capital and became an official, serving as Palace Attendant. One night when he was talking with a group of friends, the conversation shifted to matters of mysterious metamorphoses in the universe. Hsüeh Tao-hsün spoke up, “Long ago I was sick and went mad, and then became a tiger. For a full year I gobbled men down.” He then recounted locales and names of his victims. Among those with him were men whose fathers, sons, or brothers he had eaten, and they began to wail and cry. They seized him and brought him before a judge. He later starved to death in a Chien-k’ang [modern Nanking, Kiangsu] prison.
(Lu, p. 232; TPKC, 426.10)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: The transformation of a human into a tiger is a common motif in CK. The fact that such stories always include the taking of human lives by the tiger-man seems to point to a metaphoric or allegorical origin of the stories. A “man-eating tiger” is a common metaphor for an evil, avaricious magistrate (see, e.g., “Feng Shao” in Shui-i chi, Lu, p. 169, where the metaphoric origin of the man-into-tiger motif is made explicit).
In the cases where this phenomenon is treated as factual, the cause of the metamorphosis is variously given; see, e.g. “Huang Miao” (52) and other related entries in TPKC, 426-33.