Long ago, Ou Ming, a townsman of Lu-ling [now in Chi-an County, Kiangsi Province], went traveling as a trader. Every time his path crossed Lake P’eng-tse, he would throw from the boat all that he had with him, explaining that this was a ritual offering. After doing this for many years, he was once again crossing the lake when he saw within it a great road, swirling with wind and dust. There came up to him a score of officials in simple robes, riding horse-drawn chariots. They said that they were sent for him by the Lord of the Blue Deep. Ou Ming knew that these were spirits, but he dared not refuse to go with them.
An instant later he could see lictors and officials waiting in the distance beneath the gate to a ministry. Ou Ming was terrified and inquired of the lictors, for he feared that he would not be allowed to return home. “Fear nothing! The Lord of the Blue Deep, noting that at all times you have behaved with ritual propriety, has requested your presence. He is sure to offer you valuable presents. Do not accept any of them, but ask for a ‘what-you-will.’”
When they arrived, the lord indeed presented Ou Ming with silk and fabrics. Ou Ming declined them all and instead asked for a ‘what-you-will.’
The lord was greatly surprised; Ou could discern that there was reluctance in him. But finally forcing himself to comply, the lord called What-you-will out, and ordered her to go with Ou Ming. What-you-will was the name of one of the Lord of the Blue Deep’s servant girls: she obtained for him all that he wanted. After Ou Ming returned home with What-you-will, his every want was satisfied, and in a few years he was very wealthy.
Ou Ming grew proud and self-satisfied; he fell out of love with What-you-will. At cock crow one New Year’s morn he called out, “What-you-will!” What-you-will did not get up, and Ou Ming became furious. He was on the point of beating her, so she fled. Ou Ming followed her to the compost and manure pile. On this pile was a mass of wood and kindling that had been swept out on the previous day, the last day of the old year. What-you-will escaped through the wood pile and disappeared, but Ou Ming did not know this. Assuming that she was still hiding amidst the kindling and manure, he took out his cane and beat upon the pile to force her out. When a long time had passed and she had not come out, he knew that he had failed. He said, “You just keep making me wealthy, and I’ll never beat you again.”
Nowadays at cock crow on New Year’s morn, people go out to beat their manure piles. It is said that this is to make one wealthy.
(Lu, pp. 414-15; TPYL, 472.216a-b)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: An example of a legend given to explain the origin of a custom or a ritualistic practice. The practice however might have in fact originated from a linguistic association with the expression “what-you-will” (ju-yüan).
Wei Chao was a man of the Hung-shou Precinct and excelled at the Book of Changes. On his deathbed he wrote some words on a tablet, which he presented to his wife. “After I am gone,” he said, “there will come a time of great poverty and famine. Though it shall be so, you must be careful never to sell this house. Five years hence, in the spring time, there will come a government official, surnamed Kung, to stay in this precinct. This man owes gold to me. Present this tablet to him. Take care to obey my every word.” As he finished speaking, he died.
Just as he had said, the succeeding times were indeed very hard, and though on many occasions the widow thought of selling the house, mindful of her husband’s words, she desisted. On the appointed day, the official Kung did in fact stop in the precinct. The widow thereupon took the tablet to present to him. The official took the tablet with some hesitation, not understanding its significance. “But I’ve never set foot in this area in all my life. How could this have happened?”
“My husband wrote this on his death bed in his own hand. My command was to do thus. I dare not fabricate the truth.”
The official pondered for a long while, and finally it dawned on him. “What abilities had your honored husband?”
The widow replied, “My deceased husband excelled at the Book of Changes yet he never divined for a single soul.”
“Aah... it becomes clear,” said the official. He turned to his attendants and ordered the milfoil stalks to be brought out. He tossed the divination stalks, and when the hexagram was complete, clasped his hands together and sighed, “Extraordinary! Wei Chao had in his lifetime wholly fathomed the hidden ways, and yet he never revealed it, and no one had ever heard of him. Truly he held up an accurate mirror to success and failure and could forsee the coming of good and evil.”
The official Kung thereupon explained to the widow Wei, “I owe you no gold, for your husband has his own. Knowing, however, that after his death there would be a brief time of hardship, he hid his treasure until prosperity would return. He didn’t tell you or your son, for he feared that the gold would be too soon exhausted, and that you would never know a respite from poverty. He knew that I was skilled in the Book of Changes and thus wrote this tablet to communicate his plan. There are 500 catties of gold, kept in an azure urn with a brass cover. It is buried by the eastern end of your hall, one fathom from the wall and nine feet deep.”
The widow went and dug up the gold; all was as divined.
(Lu, pp. 415-16; Chin shu 95, p. 2480; TPYL, 728.3230b)
Tr. by Chris Connery
Note: An example of the kuai about the efficacy of divination done according to the I-ching.
This entry is very similar to what is recorded in Chin-shu about Wei Chao, from which this may have been derived.