A certain Hsü of Tung-hai [now in Canton Province] lived during the Liu Sung dynasty [420-479]. His first wife, nee Xu, gave birth to a boy, whom she named Iron Mortar. When Lady Xu died, Mr. Hsü married a Lady Ch’en. Lady Ch’en was evil and cruel; her heart was set on the death of Iron Mortar. She gave birth to a boy, and at his birth she incanted, “If you do not exterminate Iron Mortar, you are not my son!” She named him Iron Pestle, wanting a pestle with which to pound the mortar. She beat Iron Mortar, and inflicted all manner of suffering and abuse. When hungry he was not fed; when cold she would not pad his clothing. By nature Mr. Hsü was a simpleton of weak constitution, and he was often away from home. In time the wife gave full vent to her vicious cruelty, and Iron Mortar finally died of cold, hunger, and beatings. He was then sixteen.
A few weeks after his death, his ghost suddenly returned home. He climbed onto Lady Ch’en’s bed and said, “I am Iron Mortar. I merited not an ounce of blame, yet found only cruelty and evil. My mother has registered her complaint in Heaven. I come now with a warrant from the Heavenly Inspector to take Iron Pestle. It is ordained that Iron Pestle shall suffer a serious illness; his suffering shall be as great as my own. His death date has been fixed, and I am staying here in wait.”
His voice was as when he lived. Family and guests could not see him, yet they heard his words. He then took up a position on the rafters. Lady Ch’en went down on her knees in supplication, slapping her own face. She prepared libations in offering. The ghost said, “No need for that. You starved me to death. Do you expect to make up for that with just one meal?”
At night Lady Ch’en complained of him in a whisper. The ghost lashed out, “You dare to complain against me! I should chop your beam down.” There followed the sound of a saw, and sawdust drifted down. The rasping made it seem that the beam was indeed about to fall, and the whole household fled outside. But when later they shone a light on the beam, it was still whole, just as before.
The ghost also cursed Iron Pestle, “You, who killed me, sit so contentedly at home, taking it easy. I’ll burn your house down!” A fire blazed forth. Smoke and flames raged furiously, and chaos reigned throughout. In a second the fire had extinguished itself. The thatching on the house was as before, and no damage was suffered. Daily the ghost cursed and reviled. Sometimes he would sing a song, the words of which went,
O Peach Blossoms,
Helpless if you fall in heavy frost.
Your lives cut short by heavy frost...
His singing was plaintive and sad. It seemed that he was lamenting the life that he had not known.
At that time Iron Pestle was six years old. He took sick when the ghost arrived. His body ached and his stomach was swollen; his coughing prevented him from eating. The ghost beat him constantly, and where blows struck, dark, livid bruises would appear. In a little over a month, Iron Pestle died, and the ghost was never seen nor heard from again.
(HYC, 17a-18b; FYCL, 92.1109a-b; TPKC, 120.6)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: Cf. “Ni Yen-ssu” (23), in which the ghost (or goblin) acts rather like the one in this story, but in a much more playful mood than the avenger here.
Wang Fan, magistrate of Fu-yang County [in Chekiang Province] during the Chin Dynasty [265-420], had a concubine, Peach Flower, who was an enchanting beauty. She carried on adulterous liaisons with Wang’s subalterns, Ting Feng and Shih Hua-ch’i.
Once, when Wang was away on a journey, Sun Yüan-pi, his quartermaster, heard the tinkling of bangles and pendants in Ting Feng’s house, and went to investigate. He saw Peach Flower in bed with Ting. Yüan-pi knocked on the door and denounced them to their faces. Peach Flower promptly stood up, gathered up her skirt, rearranged her temple curls, and scurried off to an inner chamber.
Yüan-pi also saw Hua-ch’i wearing a musk sachet on his belt that had belonged to Peach Flower.
The two men were terrified that Yüan-pi would report them, so they accused him of having had an affair with Peach Flower. Wang Fan was imperceptive and did not investigate this further, so he had Yüan-pi killed. Ch’en Ch’ao, present at the time, had pressed for Yüan-pi’s conviction.
Later, when Wang Fan was serving in a different office, Ch’en Ch’ao journeyed forth from the city to see him. He traveled as far as Ch’ih-t’ing Mountain [in modern Kansu Province], where it thundered and rained at dusk. Suddenly Ch’ao was taken by his arm and leg and dragged through a swamp. A flash of lightning revealed a ghost. His face was black and blue, and his eyes were without pupils. He said, “I am Sun Yüan-pi. I registered my complaint with the Emperor of Heaven, and judgement has already been reached. Long have I waited for you, and finally we meet!”
Ch’ao kowtowed until his blood flowed. The ghost said, “As Wang Fan was the principal party throughout this affair, he should be killed first. Chia Ching-p’o and Sun Wen-tu,1 of the Hall of Dark Mystery in Mount T’ai,2 together preside over the Registry of Birth and Death. The spirit of Peach Flower has already been confined at the Blue Woman Pavilion. That is the name of the third hell in the Yellow Springs,3 and is reserved for female spirits.” Toward daybreak, the ghost suddenly disappeared.
When Ch’ao came to Yang-chou and arrived at Wang’s house, he dared not tell him what had happened. But then he saw the ghost come in from outside and pass through Wang’s bed curtains. That night, soon after falling asleep, Wang had a terrible nightmare. His family called him, but were unable to wake him up. They led a black ox in and faced it toward him, placing a peach-wood figurine on the left side to hold the reins.4 Toward dawn there came a brief respite, but in ten days he was dead. His concubine also died violently.
Ch’ao fled to Ch’ang-kan Temple and changed his name to Ho Kuei. Five years later, during the festival on the third day of the third month,5 he was enjoying wine by a river bank. He said, “I finally no longer need live in terror of that ghost.” He then lowered his head, and there in the stream was the ghost’s image. The ghost reached out his hand and gouged Ch’ao’s nose. Blood gushed forth, amounting tp more than a quart. In several days he was dead.
(HYC, 20b-22a; TPKC, 129.2)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: Adultery, conspiracy, betrayal, and revenge--the story here has all the ingredients for the making of a powerful drama. Although the piece fails to explore their dramatic potential fully and places emphasis on just the theme of vengeance, one can still feel the force of the violence contained in this potent mix.
1 Chia was a scholar of the Eastern Han, who served under Emperor Ho-ti (r. 88-105); nothing is known of Sun’s life.
2 Regarding Mount Τ’ai as a stop for the spirit of the deceased, see “Chiang Chi’s Dead Son,” n. 2, p. 000.--Ed.
3 I.e., the world of the dead.
4 A practice designed to exorcise evil ghosts.
5 A day of lustration; see “Lu Ch’ung” (22), n. 2.--Ed.
Yüan Hui,1 Prince of Ch’eng-yang during the Northern Wei Dynasty [386-557], had, on behalf of Emperor Hsiao-chuang, plotted the assassination of Er-chu Jung.2 When Er-chu Chao3 entered Loyang and killed the Emperor Hsiao-chuang, Yüan departed in fear and took refuge with K’ou Tsu-jen, magistrate of Loyang. Tsu-jen’s father, uncle, and brother were all governors, and had all attained their positions due to the support of Yüan Hui. But when Er-chu Chao offered a marquisate encompassing ten thousand households as a reward for Yüan Hui’s death, Tsu-jen beheaded him and sent him to Er-chu Chao. He also confiscated one hundred catties of Yüan’s gold and fifty head of horses. When Chao received Yüan’s head, he did not award the marquisate.
One night Chao dreamed of Yüan Hui, who said, “There are two hundred catties of gold and one hundred horses of mine at the home of К’ou Tsu-jen. You may take them.”
Chao awoke and said, “The house of Ch’eng-yang was indeed of great wealth. When the order for arrest was carried out yesterday, there was not an ounce of gold or silver received with it. This dream is probably true.” In the morning he ordered the arrest of K’ou Tsu-jen. Tsu-jen also dreamed of Yüan Hui, who said to him, “This will suffice to avenge myself.”
Tsu-jen had in fact only confiscated one hundred catties of gold and fifty horses, but Chao did not believe him. From his relatives, Tsu-jen privately raised an additional thirty catties of gold and thirty horses, and these he sent to Chao. The requisite number was not reached, though, and Chao became furious. He hung Tsu-jen by the head from a tree, weighted his feet with stones, and flogged him to death.
(HYC, 7b8-a; FYCL, 84, p. 1009b; TPKC, 127.5)
Tr. Chris Connery
Note: Interpretation of historical incidents and political intrigues in terms of the Buddhist law of retribution is typical of the stories collected in the Huan-Yüan chi.
1 Great-great-grandson of Emperor T’ai-wu (r. 423-452). His father Yüan Luan was made Prince of Ch’eng-yang, part of present day Shantung Province, and this position was inherited by Yüan Hui. He served as magistrate of Ho-nei in modern Honan Province, and under Emperor Hsiao-chuang (r. 528-530) served as Grand Protector. [For an account of his plot against Er-chu Jung and his betrayal by К’ou Mi, styled Tsu-jen, see Wei shu 19B, pp. 510-13.--Ed.]
2 ?-530 A.D. His rise to power came in the reign of the Emperor Hsiao-ming (r. 515-528) of the Northern Wei for his efficacious suppression of bandits. His power steadily grew under Hsiao-chuang until the emperor became wary of him and had him killed.
3 Second younger brother of Er-chu Jung.