STRANGE STORIES FROM A CHINESE STUDIO
by P’u Sung-ling
I. EXAMINATION FOR THE POST OF GUARDIAN ANGEL
MY eldest sister’s husband’s grandfather, named Sung Tao, was a graduate.2 One day, while lying down from indisposition, an official messenger arrived, bringing the usual notification in his hand and leading a horse with a white forehead to summon him to the examination for his master’s degree. Mr. Sung here remarked that the Grand Examiner had not yet come, and asked why there should be this hurry. The messenger did not reply to this, but pressed so earnestly that at length Mr. Sung roused himself, and getting upon the horse rode with him.
The way seemed strange, and by-and-by they reached a city which resembled the capital of a prince. They then entered the Prefect’s yamên,3 the apartments of which were beautifully decorated; and there they found some ten officials sitting at the upper end, all strangers to Mr. Sung, with the exception of one whom he recognised to be the God of War.4 In the verandah were two tables and two stools, and at the end of one of the former a candidate was already seated, [p. 2] so Mr. Sung sat down alongside of him. On the table were writing materials for each, and suddenly down flew a piece of paper with a theme on it, consisting of the following eight words:—“One man, two men; by intention, without intention.” When Mr. Sung had finished his essay, he took it into the hall. It contained the following passage: “Those who are virtuous by intention, though virtuous, shall not be rewarded. Those who are wicked without intention, though wicked, shall receive no punishment.”
The presiding deities praised this sentiment very much, and calling Mr. Sung to come forward, said to him, “A Guardian Angel is wanted in Honan. Go you and take up the appointment.” Mr. Sung no sooner heard this than he bowed his head and wept, saying, “Unworthy though I am of the honour you have conferred upon me, I should not venture to decline it but that my aged mother has reached her seventh decade, and there is no one now to take care of her. I pray you let me wait until she has fulfilled her destiny, when I will hold myself at your disposal.” Thereupon one of the deities, who seemed to be the chief, gave instructions to search out his mother’s term of life, and a long-bearded attendant forthwith brought in the Book of Fate. On turning it over, he declared that she still had nine years to live; and then a consultation was held among the deities, in the middle of which the God of War said, “Very well. Let Mr. graduate Chang take the post, and be relieved in nine years’ time.” Then, turning to Mr. Sung, he continued, “You ought to proceed without delay to your post; but as a reward for your filial piety, you are granted a furlough of nine years. At the expiration of that time you will receive another summons.” He next addressed a few kind words to Mr. Chang; and the two candidates, having made their kotow, went away together. Grasping Mr. Sung’s hand, his companion, who gave “Chang Ch‘i of Ch‘ang-shan” as his name and address, accompanied him beyond the city walls and gave him a stanza of poetry at parting. I cannot recollect it all, but in it occurred this couplet:
With wine and flowers we chase the hours,
In one eternal spring:
No moon, no light, to cheer the night,
Thyself that ray must bring. [p. 3]
Mr. Sung here left him and rode on, and before very long reached his own home; here he awaked as if from a dream, and found that he had been dead three days,5 when his mother, hearing a groan in the coffin, ran to it and helped him out. It was some time before he could speak, and then he at once inquired about Ch‘ang-shan, where, as it turned out, a graduate named Chang had died that very day.
Nine years afterwards, Mr. Sung’s mother, in accordance with fate, passed from this life; and when the funeral obsequies were over, her son, having first purified himself, entered into his chamber and died also. Now his wife’s family lived within the city, near the western gate; and all of a sudden they beheld Mr. Sung, accompanied by numerous chariots and horses with carved trappings and red-tasselled bits, enter into the hall, make an obeisance, and depart. They were very much disconcerted at this, not knowing that he had become a spirit, and rushed out into the village to make inquiries, when they heard he was already dead. Mr. Sung had an account of his adventure written by himself; but unfortunately after the insurrection it was not to be found. This is only an outline of the story.
1 The tutelar deity of every Chinese city.
2 That is, he had taken the first or bachelor’s degree. I shall not hesitate to use strictly English equivalents for all kinds of Chinese terms. The three degrees are literally, (1) Cultivated Talent, (2) Raised Man, and (3) Promoted Scholar.
3 The official residence of a mandarin above a certain rank.
4 The Chinese Mars. A celebrated warrior, named Kuan Yü, who lived about the beginning of the third century of our era. He was raised after death to the rank of a God, and now plays a leading part in the Chinese Pantheon.
5 Catalepsy, which is the explanation of many a story in this collection, would appear to be of very common occurrence among the Chinese. Such, however, is not the case.
II. THE TALKING PUPILS
AT Ch‘ang-ngan there lived a scholar, named Fang Tung, who though by no means destitute of ability was a very unprincipled rake, and in the habit of following and speaking to any woman he might chance to meet. The day before the spring festival of Clear Weather,l he was strolling about outside the city when he saw a small carriage with red curtains and an embroidered awning, followed by a crowd of waiting-maids on horseback, one of whom was exceedingly pretty, and riding on a small palfrey. Going closer to get a better view, Mr. Fang noticed that the carriage curtain was partly open, and inside he beheld a [p. 4] beautifully dressed girl of about sixteen, lovely beyond anything he had ever seen. Dazzled by the sight, he could not take his eyes off her; and, now before, now behind, he followed the carriage for many a mile.
By-and-by he heard the young lady call out to her maid, and, when the latter came alongside, say to her, “Let down the screen for me. Who is this rude fellow that keeps on staring so?” The maid accordingly let down the screen, and looking angrily at Mr. Fang said to him, “This is the bride of the Seventh Prince in the City of Immortals going home to see her parents, and no village girl that you should stare at her thus.” Then taking a handful of dust, she threw it at him and blinded him. He rubbed his eyes and looked round, but the carriage and horses were gone.
This frightened him, and he went off home, feeling very uncomfortable about the eyes. He sent for a doctor to examine his eyes, and on the pupils was found a small film, which had increased by next morning, the eyes watering incessantly all the time. The film went on growing, and in a few days was as thick as a cash.2 On the right pupil there came a kind of spiral, and as no medicine was of any avail, the sufferer gave himself up to grief and wished for death.
He then thought he might repent of his misdeeds, and hearing that the Kuang-ming sutra could relieve misery, he got a copy and hired a man to teach it to him. At first it was very tedious work, but by degrees he became more composed, and spent the whole day in a posture of devotion, telling his beads.
At the end of a year he had arrived at a state of perfect calm, when one day he heard a small voice, about as loud as a fly’s, calling out from his left eye: “It’s horridly dark in here.” To this he heard a reply from the right eye, saying, “Let us go out for a stroll, and cheer ourselves up a bit.” Then he felt a wriggling in his nose which made it itch, just as if something was going out of each of the nostrils; and after a while he felt it again as if going the other way. Afterwards he heard a voice from one eye say, “I hadn’t seen the garden for a long time: the epidendrums [p. 5] are all withered and dead.” Now Mr. Fang was very fond of these epidendrums, of which he had planted a great number, and had been accustomed to water them himself; but since the loss of his sight he had never even alluded to them. Hearing, however, these words, he at once asked his wife why she had let the epidendrums die. She inquired how he knew they were dead, and when he told her she went out to see, and found them actually withered away.
They were both very much astonished at this, and his wife proceeded to conceal herself in the room. She then observed two tiny people, no bigger than a bean, come down from her husband’s nose and run out of the door, where she lost sight of them. In a little while they came back and flew up to his face, like bees or beetles seeking their nests.
This went on for some days, until Mr. Fang heard from the left eye, “This roundabout road is not at all convenient. It would be as well for us to make a door.” To this the right eye answered, “My wall is too thick: it wouldn’t be at all an easy job.” “I’ll try and open mine,” said the left eye, “and then it will do for both of us.” Whereupon Mr. Fang felt a pain in his left eye as if something was being split, and in a moment he found he could see the tables and chairs in the room. He was delighted at this and told his wife, who examined his eye and discovered an opening in the film, through which she could see the black pupil shining out beneath, the eyeball itself looking like a cracked pepper-corn.
By next morning the film had disappeared, and when his eye was closely examined it was observed to contain two pupils. The spiral on the right eye remained as before; and then they knew that the two pupils had taken up their abode in one eye. Further, although Mr. Fang was still blind of one eye, the sight of the other was better than that of the two together. From this time he was more careful of his behaviour, and acquired in his part of the country the reputation of a virtuous man.3 [p. 6]
1 One of the twenty-four solar terms. It falls on or about the 5th of April, and is the special time for worshipping at the family tombs.
2 The common European name for the only Chinese coin, about twenty of which go to a penny. Each has a square hole in the middle, for the convenience of stringing them together; hence the expression “strings of cash.”
3 The belief that the human eye contains a tiny being of the human shape is universal in China. It originated, of course, from the reflection of oneself that is seen on looking into the pupil of anybody’s eye or even, with the aid of a mirror, into one’s own.
III. THE PAINTED WALL
A KIANG-SI gentleman, named Mêng Lung-T‘an, was lodging at the capital with a Mr. Chu, M.A., when one day chance led them to a certain monastery, within which they found no spacious halls or meditation chambers, but only an old priest in déshabillé. On observing the visitors, he arranged his dress and went forward to meet them, leading them round and showing whatever there was to be seen. In the chapel they saw an image of Chih Kung, and the walls on either side were beautifully painted with life-like representations of men and animals.
On the east side were pictured a number of fairies, among whom was a young girl whose maiden tresses were not yet confined by the matron’s knot. She was picking flowers and gently smiling, while her cherry lips seemed about to move, and the moisture of her eyes to overflow. Mr. Chu gazed for a long time without taking his eyes off her, until at last he became unconscious of anything but the thoughts that were engrossing him. Then, suddenly he felt himself floating in the air, as if riding on a cloud, and found himself passing through the wall,l where halls and pavilions stretched away one after another, unlike the abodes of mortals. Here an old priest was preaching the Law of Buddha, surrounded by a large crowd of listeners. Mr. Chu mingled with the throng, and after a few moments perceived a gentle tug at his sleeve.
Turning round, he saw the young girl above-mentioned, who walked laughing away. Mr. Chu at once followed her, and passing a winding balustrade arrived at a small apartment beyond which he dared not venture farther. But the young lady, looking back, waved the flowers she had in her hand as though beckoning him to come on. He accordingly entered and found nobody else within. Then they fell on their knees and worshipped heaven and earth together,2 and rose up as man and wife,[A] after which the bride went away, bidding Mr. Chu keep quiet until she came back.
This went on for a couple of days, when the [p. 7] young lady’s companions began to smell a rat and discovered Mr. Chu’s hiding-place. Thereupon they all laughed and said, “My dear, you are now a married woman, and should leave off that maidenly coiffure.”[B] So they gave her the proper hair-pins and head ornaments, and bade her go bind her hair, at which she blushed very much but said nothing. Then one of them cried out, “My sisters, let us be off. Two’s company, more’s none.” At this they all giggled again and went away.
Mr. Chu found his wife very much improved by the alteration in the style of her hair. The high top-knot and the coronet of pendants were very becoming to her.[C] But suddenly they heard a sound like the tramping of heavy-soled boots, accompanied by the clanking of chains and the noise of angry discussion. The bride jumped up in a fright, and she and Mr. Chu peeped out. They saw a man clad in golden armour, with a face as black as jet, carrying in his hands chains and whips, and surrounded by all the girls. He asked, “Are you all here?” “All,” they replied. “If,” said he, “any mortal is here concealed amongst you, denounce him at once, and lay not up sorrow for yourselves.” Here they all answered as before that there was no one. The man then made a movement as if he would search the place, upon which the bride was dreadfully alarmed, and her face turned the colour of ashes. In her terror she said to Mr. Chu, “Hide yourself under the bed,” and opening a small lattice in the wall, disappeared herself. Mr. Chu in his concealment hardly dared to draw his breath; and in a little while he heard the boots tramp into the room and out again, the sound of the voices getting gradually fainter and fainter in the distance. This reassured him, but he still heard the voices of people going backwards and forwards outside; and having been a long time in a cramped position, his ears began to sing as if there was a locust in them, and his eyes to burn like fire. It was almost unbearable; however, he remained quietly awaiting the return of the young lady without giving a thought to the why and wherefore of his present position.
Meanwhile, Meng Lung-t‘an had noticed the sudden disappearance of his friend, and thinking something was wrong, asked the priest where he was. “He has gone to [p. 8] hear the preaching of the Law,” replied the priest. “Where?” said Mr. Meng. “Oh, not very far,” was the answer. Then with his finger the old priest tapped the wall and called out, “Friend Chu! what makes you stay away so long?” At this, the likeness of Mr. Chu was figured upon the wall, with his ear inclined in the attitude of one listening. The priest added, “Your friend here has been waiting for you some time;” and immediately Mr. Chu descended from the wall, standing transfixed like a block of wood, with starting eyeballs and trembling legs. Mr. Meng was much terrified, and asked him quietly what was the matter. Now the matter was that while concealed under the bed he had heard a noise resembling thunder and had rushed out to see what it was.
Here they all noticed that the young lady on the wall with the maiden’s tresses had changed the style of her coiffure to that of a married woman. Mr. Chu was greatly astonished at this and asked the old priest the reason. He replied, “Visions have their origin in those who see them:[D] what explanation can I give?”
This answer was very unsatisfactory to Mr. Chu; neither did his friend, who was rather frightened, know what to make of it all; so they descended the temple steps and went away.
1 Which will doubtless remind the reader of “Alice through the Looking-glass, and what she saw there.”
2 The all-important item of a Chinese marriage ceremony; amounting, in fact, to calling God to witness the contract.
[A] Minford: “and where with no delay he embraced her and, finding her to be far from unreceptive, proceeded to make love to her.” There is nothing here about marriage. Which makes Giles’s note 2 almost comical.
[B] Minford: “‘Look at you!’ they teased the girl. ‘You’ve most probably got a baby on the way by now, and still you wear your hair like a little girl.’
[C] Giles simply removes this passage: “They were alone again and soon fell to further sports of love, his senses suffused with the heady perfume that emanated from her body, a scent of orchid mingled with musk.” As translated by Minford.
[D] Minford renders this: “The source of illusion lies within man himself.”
IV. PLANTING A PEAR-TREE
A COUNTRYMAN was one day selling his pears in the market. They were unusually sweet and fine flavoured, and the price he asked was high. A Taoist priest in rags and [p 9] tatters stopped at the barrow and begged one of them. The countryman told him to go away, but as he did not do so he began to curse and swear at him. The priest said, “You have several hundred pears on your barrow; I ask for a single one, the loss of which, Sir, you would not feel. Why then get angry?” The lookers-on told the country-man to give him an inferior one and let him go, but this he obstinately refused to do. Thereupon the beadle of the place, finding the commotion too great, purchased a pear and handed it to the priest. The latter received it with a bow and turning to the crowd said, “We who have left our homes and given up all that is dear to us are at a loss to understand selfish niggardly conduct in others. Now I have some exquisite pears which I shall do myself the honour to put before you.” Here. somebody asked, “Since you have pears yourself, why don’t you eat those?” “Because,” replied the priest, “I wanted one of these pips to grow them from.”
So saying he munched up the pear; and when he had finished took a pip in his hand, unstrapped a pick from his back, and proceeded to make a hole in the ground, several inches deep, wherein he deposited the pip, filling in the earth as before. He then asked the bystanders for a little hot water to water it with, and one among them who loved a joke fetched him some boiling water from a neighbouring shop. The priest poured this over the place where he had made the hole, and every eye was fixed upon him when sprouts were seen shooting up, and gradually growing larger and larger. By-and-by, there was a tree with branches sparsely covered with leaves; then flowers, and last of all fine, large, sweet-smelling pears hanging in great profusion. These the priest picked and handed round to the assembled crowd until all were gone, when he took his pick and hacked away for a long time at the tree, finally cutting it down. This he shouldered, leaves and all, and sauntered quietly away.
Now, from the very beginning, our friend the countryman had been amongst [p. 10] the crowd, straining his neck to see what was going on, and forgetting all about his business. At the departure of the priest he turned round and discovered that every one of his pears was gone. He then knew that those the old fellow had been giving away so freely were really his own pears. Looking more closely at the barrow, he also found that one of the handles was missing, evidently having been newly cut off. Boiling with rage, he set out in pursuit of the priest, and just as he turned the corner he saw the lost barrow-handle lying under the wall, being in fact the very pear-tree the priest had cut down. But there were no traces of the priest—much to the amusement of the crowd in the market-place.
1 That is, of the religion of Tao, a system of philosophy founded some six centuries before the Christian era by a man named Lao-tzŭ, “Old boy,” who was said to have been born with white hair and a beard. It is now but a shadow of its former self, and is corrupted by the grossest forms of superstition borrowed from Buddhism, which has in its turn adopted many of the forms and beliefs of Taoism, so that the two religions are hardly distinguishable one from the other.
“What seemed to me the most singular circumstance connected with the matter, was the presence of half a dozen Taoist priests, who joined in all the ceremonies doing everything that the Buddhist priests did, and presenting very odd appearance, with their top-knots and cues, among their closely shaven Buddhist brethren. It seemed strange that the worship of Sakyamuni by celibate Buddhist priests, with shaved heads, into which holes were duly burned at their initiation, should be participated in by married Taoist Priests, whose heads are not wholly shaven, and have never been burned.”—Initiation of Buddhist Priests at Kooshan, by S. L. B.
Taoist priests are credited with a knowledge of alchemy and the black art in general.
2 A celibate priesthood belongs properly to Buddhism, and is not a doctrine of the Taoist church.
V. THE TAOIST PRIEST OF LAO-SHAN
THERE lived in our village a Mr. Wang, the seventh son in an old family. This gentleman had a penchant for the Taoist religion; and hearing that at Lao-shan there were plenty of Immortals,1 shouldered his knapsack and went off for a tour thither. Ascending a peak of the mountain he reached a secluded monastery, where he found a priest sitting on a rush mat, with long hair flowing over his neck, and a pleasant expression on his face. Making a low bow, Wang addressed him thus: “Mysterious indeed is the doctrine: I pray you, Sir, instruct me therein.” “Delicately nurtured and wanting in energy as you are,” replied the priest, “I fear you could not support the fatigue.” “Try me,” said Wang. So when the disciples, who were very many in number, collected together at dusk, Wang joined them in making obeisance to the priest, and remained with them in the monastery.
Very early next morning the priest summoned Wang, and giving him a hatchet sent him out with the others to cut firewood. Wang respectfully obeyed, continuing to work for over a month until his hands and feet were so swollen and blistered [p. 11] that he secretly meditated returning home.
One evening when he came back he found two strangers sitting drinking with his master. It being already dark, and no lamp or candles having been brought in, the old priest took some scissors and cut out a circular piece of paper like a mirror, which he proceeded to stick against the wall. Immediately it became a dazzling moon, by the light of which you could have seen a hair or a beard of corn.
The disciples all came crowding round to wait upon them, but one of the strangers said, “On a festive occasion like this we ought all to enjoy ourselves together.” Accordingly he took a kettle of wine from the table and presented it to the disciples, bidding them drink each his fill; whereupon our friend Wang began to wonder how seven or eight of them could all be served out of a single kettle. The disciples, too, rushed about in search of cups, each struggling to get the first drink for fear the wine should be exhausted. Nevertheless, all the candidates failed to empty the kettle, at which they were very much astonished, when suddenly one of the strangers said, “You have given us a fine bright moon; but it’s dull work drinking by ourselves. Why not call Ch‘ang-ngo to join us?” He then seized a chop-stick and threw it into the moon, whereupon a lovely girl stepped forth from its beams. At first she was only a foot high, but on reaching the ground lengthened to the ordinary size of woman. She had a slender waist and a beautiful neck, and went most gracefully through the Red Garment figure.3 When this was finished she sang the following words:
Ye fairies! Ye fairies! I’m coming back soon,
Too lonely and cold is my home in the moon.
Her voice was clear and well sustained, ringing like the notes of a flageolet, and when she had concluded her song she pirouetted round and jumped up on the table, where, with every eye fixed in astonishment upon her, she once more became a chop-stick.
The three friends laughed [p. 12] loudly, and one of them said, “We are very jolly to-night, but I have hardly room for any more wine. Will you drink a parting glass with me in the palace of the moon?” They then took up the table and walked into the moon, where they could be seen drinking so plainly that their eyebrows and beards appeared like reflections in a looking-glass. By-and-by the moon became obscured; and when the disciples brought a lighted candle they found the priest sitting in the dark alone. The viands, however, were still upon the table and the mirror-like piece of paper on the wall. “Have you all had enough to drink?” asked the priest; to which they answered that they had. “In that case,” said he, “you had better get to bed, so as not to be behind-hand with your wood-cutting in the morning.” So they all went off, and among them Wang, who was delighted at what he had seen, and thought no more of returning home.
But after a time he could not stand it any longer; and as the priest taught him no magical arts he determined not to wait, but went to him and said, “Sir, I have travelled many long miles for the benefit of your instruction. If you will not teach me the secret of Immortality, let me at any rate learn some trifling trick, and thus soothe my cravings for a knowledge of your art. I have now been here two or three months, doing nothing but chop firewood, out in the morning and back at night, work to which I was never accustomed in my own home.” “Did I not tell you,” replied the priest, “that you would never support the fatigue? Tomorrow I will start you on your way home.” “Sir,” said Wang, “I have worked for you a long time. Teach me some small art, that my coming here may not have been wholly in vain.” “What art?” asked the priest. “Well,” answered Wang, “I have noticed that whenever you walk about anywhere, walls and so on are no obstacle to you. Teach me this, and I’ll be satisfied.” The priest laughingly assented, and taught Wang a formula which he bade him recite. When he had done so he told him to walk through the wall; but Wang, seeing the wall in front of him, didn’t like to walk at it. As, however, the priest bade him try, he walked quietly up to it and was there stopped. The priest here called out, “Don’t go so slowly. Put your head down and rush at it.” So Wang stepped back [p. 13] a few paces and went at it full speed; and the wall yielding to him as he passed, in a moment he found himself outside. Delighted at this, he went in to thank the priest, who told him to be careful in the use of his power, or otherwise there would be no response, handing him at the same time some money for his expenses on the way.
When Wang got home, he went about bragging of his Taoist friends and his contempt for walls in general; but as his wife disbelieved his story, he set about going through the performance as before. Stepping back from the wall, he rushed at it full speed with his head down; but coming in contact with the hard bricks, finished up in a heap on the floor. His wife picked him up and found he had a bump on his forehead as big as a large egg, at which she roared with laughter; but Wang was overwhelmed with rage and shame, and cursed the old priest for his base ingratitude.
1 The “angels” of Taoism—immortality in a happy land being the reward held out for a life on earth in accordance with the doctrines of Tao. Taoist priests are believed by some to possess an elixir of immortality in the form of a precious liquor; others again hold that the elixir consists solely in a virtuous conduct of life.
2 The beautiful wife of a legendary chieftain named Hou I, who flourished about 2500 B.C. She is said to have stolen from her husband the elixir of immortality, and to have fled with it to the moon.
3 The name of a celebrated pas seul of antiquity.
VI. THE BUDDHIST PRIEST OF CH‘ANGCH‘ING
AT Ch‘ang-ch‘ing there lived a Buddhist priest of exceptional virtue and purity of conduct, who, though over eighty years of age, was still hale and hearty. One day he fell down and could not move; and when the other priests rushed to help him up, they found he was already gone. The old priest was himself unconscious of death, and his soul flew away to the borders of the province of Honan. Now it chanced that the scion of an old family residing in Honan had gone out that very day with some ten or a dozen followers to hunt the hare with falcons;1 [p. 14] but his horse having run away with him he fell off and was killed. Just at that moment the soul of the priest came by and entered into the body, which thereupon gradually recovered consciousness. The servants crowded round to ask him how he felt, when opening his eyes wide, he cried out, “How did I get here?” They assisted him to rise, and led him into the house, where all his ladies came to see him and inquire how he did. In great amazement he said, “I am a Buddhist priest. How came I hither?” His servants thought he was wandering, and tried to recall him by pulling his ears. As for himself, he could make nothing of it, and closing his eyes refrained from saying anything further. For food he would only eat rice, refusing all wine and meat; and avoided the society of his wives.2
After some days he felt inclined for a stroll, at which all his family were delighted; but no sooner had he got outside and stopped for a little rest than he was besieged by servants begging him to take their accounts as usual. However, he pleaded illness and want of strength, and no more was said. He then took occasion to ask if they knew the district of Ch‘ang-ch‘ing, and on being answered in the affirmative expressed his intention of going thither for a trip, as he felt anxious about those he had left to their own resources, at the same time bidding the servants look after his affairs at home. They tried to dissuade him from this on the ground of his having but recently risen from a sick bed; but he paid no heed to their remonstrances, and on the very next day set out.
Arriving in the Ch‘ang-ch‘ing district, he found everything unchanged; and without being put to the [p. 15] necessity of asking the road, made his way straight to the monastery. His former disciples received him with every token of respect as an honoured visitor; and in reply to his question as to where the old priest was, they informed him that their worthy teacher had been dead for some time. On asking to be shown his grave, they led him to a spot where there was a solitary mound some three feet high, over which the grass was not yet green. Not one of them knew his motives for visiting this place; and by-and-by he ordered his horse, saying to the disciples, “Your master was a virtuous priest. Carefully preserve whatever relics of him you may have, and keep them from injury.” They all promised to do this, and he then set off on his way home.
When he arrived there, he fell into a listless state and took no interest in his family affairs. So much so, that after a few months he ran away and went straight to his former home at the monastery, telling the disciples that he was their old master. This they refused to believe, and laughed among themselves at his pretensions; but he told them the whole story, and recalled many incidents of his previous life among them, until at last they were convinced. He then occupied his old bed and went through the same daily routine as before, paying no attention to the repeated entreaties of his family, who came with carriages and horses to beg him to return.
About a year subsequently, his wife sent one of the servants with splendid presents of gold and silk, all of which he refused with the exception of a single linen robe. And whenever any of his old friends passed this monastery, they always went to pay him their respects, finding him quiet, dignified, and pure. He was then barely thirty, though he had been a priest for more than eighty years.3 [p. 16]
1 This form of sport may still be seen in the north of China. A hare being started, two Chinese greyhounds (which are very slow) are slipped from their leash in pursuit. But, as the hare would easily run straight away from them, a falcon is released almost simultaneously. The latter soars to a considerable height, and then swoops down on the hare, striking it a violent blow with the “pounce,” or claw. This partially stuns the hare, and allows the dogs to regain lost ground, by which time the hare is ready once more, and off they go again. The chase is ended by the hare getting to earth in a fox’s burrow, or being ultimately overtaken by the dogs. In the latter case the heart and liver are cut out on the spot, and given to the falcon; otherwise he would hunt no more that day. Two falcons are often released, one shortly after the other. They wear hoods, which are removed at the moment of flying, and are attached by a slip-string from one leg to the falconer’s wrist. During the night previous to a day’s hunting they are not allowed to sleep. Each falconer lies down with one falcon on his left wrist, and keeps up an incessant tapping with the other hand on the bird’s head. This is done to make them fierce. Should the quarry escape, a hare’s skin is thrown down, by which means the falcons are secured, and made ready for a further flight. Occasionally, but rarely, the falcon misses its blow at the hare, with the result of a broken or injured arm.
2 Abstinence from wine and meat, and celibacy, are among the most important rules of the Buddhist church, as specially applied to its priesthood. At the door of every Buddhist monastery may be seen a notice that “No wine or meat may enter here!” Even the laity are not supposed to drink wine.
3 Having renewed his youth by assuming the body of the young man into which his soul had entered.
VII. THE MARRIAGE OF THE FOX’S DAUGHTER
A PRESIDENT of the Board of Civil Office,l named Yin, and a native of Li-ch‘êng, when a young man, was very badly off, but was endowed with considerable physical courage. Now in this part of the country there was a large establishment, covering several acres, with an unbroken succession of pavilions and verandahs, and belonging to one of the old county families; but because ghosts and apparitions were frequently seen there, the place had for a long time remained untenanted, and was overgrown with grass and weeds, no one venturing to enter in even in broad daylight. One evening when Yin was carousing with some fellow-students, one of them jokingly said, “If anybody will pass a night in the haunted house, the rest of us will stand him a dinner.” Mr. Yin jumped up at this, and cried out, “What is there difficult in that?” So, taking with him a sleeping-mat, he proceeded thither, escorted by all his companions as far as the door, where they laughed and said, “We will wait here a little while. In case you see anything, shout out to us at once.” “If there are any goblins or foxes,” replied Yin, “I’ll catch them for you.”
He then went in, and found the paths obliterated by long grass, which had sprung up, mingled with weeds of various kinds. It was just the time of the new moon, and by its feeble light he was able to make out the door of the house. Feeling his way, he walked on until he reached the back pavilion, and then went up on to the Moon Terrace, which was such a pleasant spot that he determined to stop there. Gazing westwards, he sat for a long time looking at the moon—a, single thread of light embracing in its horns the peak of a hill—without hearing anything at all unusual; so, laughing to himself at the nonsense people talked, he spread his mat upon the floor, put a stone under his head for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.
He had watched the Cow-herd and the Lady [p. 17] until they were just disappearing, and was on the point of dropping off, when suddenly he heard footsteps down below coming up the stairs. Pretending to be asleep, he saw a servant enter, carrying in his hand a lotus-shaped lantern,4 who, on observing Mr. Yin, rushed back in a fright, and said to some one behind, “There is a stranger here!” The person spoken to asked who it was, but the servant did not know; and then up came an old gentleman, who, after examining Mr. Yin closely, said, “It’s the future President: he’s as drunk as can be. We needn’t mind him; besides, he’s a good fellow, and won’t give us any trouble.” So they walked in and opened all the doors; and by-and-by there were a great many other people moving about, and quantities of lamps were lighted, till the place was as light as day.
About this time Mr. Yin slightly changed his position, and sneezed; upon which the old man, perceiving that he was awake, came forward and fell down on his knees, saying, “Sir, I have a daughter who is to be married this very night. It was not anticipated that Your Honour would be here. I pray, therefore, that we may be excused.” Mr. Yin got up and raised the old man, regretting that, in his ignorance of the festive occasion, he had brought with him no present.5 “Ah, Sir,” replied the old man, “your very presence here will ward off all noxious influences; and that is quite enough for us.” He then begged Mr. Yin to assist in doing the honours, and thus double the obligation already conferred.
Mr. Yin readily assented, and went inside to look at the gorgeous arrangements they had made. He was here met by a lady, apparently about forty years of age, whom the old gentleman introduced as his wife; and he had hardly made his bow when he heard the sound of flageolets,6 and some one came hurrying in, saying, “He has come!” The old gentleman flew out to meet this personage, and Mr. Yin also stood up, awaiting his arrival. In no long time, a bevy of people with gauze lanterns ushered in the bridegroom himself, who seemed, to be about seventeen or eighteen years old, and of a most refined and prepossessing appearance. The old gentleman [p. 18] bade him pay his respects first to their worthy guest; and upon his looking towards Mr. Yin, that gentleman came forward to welcome him on behalf of the host. Then followed ceremonies between the old man and his son-in-law; and when these were over, they all sat down to supper.
Hosts of waiting-maids brought in profuse quantities of wine and meats, with bowls and cups of jade or gold, till the table glittered again. And when the wine had gone round several times, the old gentleman told one of the maids to summon the bride. This she did, but some time passed and no bride came. So the old man rose and drew aside the curtain, pressing the young lady to come forth; whereupon a number of women escorted out the bride, whose ornaments went tinkle tinkle as she walked along, sweet perfumes being all the time diffused around. Her father told her to make the proper salutation, after which she went and sat by her mother. Mr. Yin took a glance at her, and saw that she wore on her head beautiful ornaments made of kingfisher’s feathers, her beauty quite surpassing anything he had ever seen. All this time they had been drinking their wine out of golden goblets big enough to hold several pints, when it flashed across him that one of these goblets would be a capital thing to carry back to his companions in evidence of what he had seen. So he secreted it in his sleeve, and pretending to be tipsy,7 leaned forward with his head upon the table as if going off to sleep. “The gentleman is drunk,” said the guests; and by-and-by Mr. Yin heard the bridegroom take his leave, and there was a general trooping downstairs to the tune of a wedding march.
When they were all gone the old gentleman collected the goblets, one of which was missing, though they hunted high and low to find it. Some one mentioned the sleeping guest; but the old gentleman stopped him at once for fear Mr. Yin should hear, and before long silence reigned [p. 19] throughout. Mr. Yin then arose. It was dark, and he had no light; but he could detect the lingering smell of the food, and the place was filled with the fumes of wine.
Faint streaks of light now appearing in the east, he began quietly to make a move, having first satisfied himself that the goblet was still in his sleeve. Arriving at the door, he found his friends already there; for they had been afraid he might come out after they left, and go in again early in the morning. When he produced the goblet they were all lost in astonishment; and on hearing his story, they were fain to believe it, well knowing that a poor student like Yin was not likely to have such a valuable piece of plate in his possession.
Later on Mr. Yin took his doctor’s degree, and was appointed magistrate over the district of Fei-ch‘iu, where there was an old-established family of the name of Chu. The head of the family asked him to a banquet in honour of his arrival, and ordered the servants to bring in the large goblets. After some delay a slave-girl came and whispered something to her master which seemed to make him very angry. Then the goblets were brought in, and Mr. Yin was invited to drink. He now found that these goblets were of precisely the same shape and pattern as the one he had at home, and at once begged his host to tell him where he had had these made. “Well,” said Mr. Chu, “there should be eight of them. An ancestor of mine had them made, when he was a minister at the capital, by an experienced artificer. They have been handed down in our family from generation to generation, and have now been carefully laid by for some time; but I thought we would have them out today as a compliment to your Honour. However, there are only seven to be found. None of the servants can have touched them, for the old seals of ten years ago are still upon the box, unbroken. I don’t know what to make of it.” Mr. Yin laughed, and said, “It must have flown away! Still, it is a pity to lose an heirloom of that kind; and as I have a very similar one at home, I shall take upon myself to send it to you.”
When the banquet was over, Mr. Yin went home, and taking out his own goblet, sent it off to Mr. Chu. The latter was somewhat surprised to find that it was identical with his own, and hurried away to thank [p. 20] the magistrate for his gift, asking him at the same time how it had come into his possession. Mr. Yin told him the whole story, which proves conclusively that although a fox may obtain possession of a thing, even at a distance of many hundred miles, he will not venture to keep it altogether.8
1 One of the “Six Boards” (now Seven) at the capital, equivalent to our own War Office, Board of Works, &c.
2 Which, of course, is impossible.
3 The Chinese names for certain stars: beta gamma Aquilae and alpha Lyrae.
4 Lanterns very prettily made to resemble all kinds of flowers are to be seen at the Chinese New Year.
5 This is, as with us, obligatory on all friends invited to a marriage.
6 The accompaniment of all weddings and funerals in China.
7 The soberest people in the world, amongst whom anything like sottishness is comparatively unknown, think it no disgrace, but rather complimentary, to get pleasantly tipsy on all festive occasions; and people who are physically unable to do so frequently go so far as to hire substitutes to drink for them. Mandarins specially suffer very much from the custom of being obliged to take “wine” with a large number of guests. For further on this subject, see No. LIV., note 1.
8 The wedding-party was, of course, composed entirely of foxes, this animal being believed by the Chinese to be capable of appearing at will under the human form, and of doing either good or evil to its friends or foes. These facts will be prominently brought out in several of the stories to follow.
VIII. MISS CHIAO-NO
K‘UNG HSÜEH-LI was a descendant of Confucius.1 He was a man of considerable ability, and an excellent poet.2 A fellow-student, to whom he was much attached, became magistrate at T‘ien-t‘ai, and sent for K‘ung to join him. Unfortunately, just before K‘ung arrived his friend died, and he found himself without the means of returning home; so he took up his abode in a Buddhist monastery, where he was employed in transcribing for the priests.
Several hundred paces to the west of this monastery there was a house belonging to a Mr. Shan, a gentleman who had known better days, but who had spent all his money in a heavy law-suit; and then, as his family was a small one, had gone away to live in the country and left his house vacant. One day there was a heavy fall of snow which kept visitors away from the monastery; and K‘ung, finding it dull, went out. As he was passing by the door of the above-mentioned house, a young man of very elegant appearance came forth, who, the moment he saw K‘ung, ran up to him, and with a bow, entered into conversation, asking him to be pleased to walk in. K‘ung was much taken with the young man, and followed him inside. The [p. 21] rooms were not particularly large, but adorned throughout with embroidered curtains, and from the walls hung scrolls and drawings by celebrated masters. On the table lay a book, the title of which was “Jottings from Paradise” and turning over its leaves, K‘ung found therein many strange things. He did not ask the young man his name, presuming that as he lived in the Shan family mansion, he was necessarily the owner of the place. The young man, however, inquired what he was doing in that part of the country, and expressed great sympathy with his misfortunes, recommending him to set about taking pupils. “Alas!” said K‘ung, “who will play the Maecenas to a distressed wayfarer like myself?” “If,” replied the young man, “you would condescend so far, I for my part would gladly seek instruction at your hands.” K‘ung was much gratified at this, but said he dared not arrogate to himself the position of teacher, and begged merely to be considered as the young man’s friend. He then asked him why the house had been shut up for so long; to which the young man replied, “This is the Shan family mansion. It has been closed all this time because of the owner’s removal into the country. My surname is Huang-fu, and my home is in Shen-si; but as our house has been burnt down in a great fire, we have put up here for a while.” Thus Mr. K’ung found out that his name was not Shan. That evening they spent in laughing and talking together, and K‘ung remained there for the night.
In the morning a lad came in to light the fire; and the young man, rising first, went into the private part of the house. Mr. K‘ung was sitting up with the bed-clothes still huddled round him, when the lad looked in and said, “Master’s coming!” So he jumped up with a start, and in came an old man with a silvery beard, who began to thank him, saying, “I am very much obliged to you for your condescension in becoming my son’s tutor. At present he writes a villainous hand; and I can only hope you will not allow the ties of friendship to interfere with discipline.” Thereupon, he presented Mr. K‘ung with an embroidered suit of clothes, a sable hat, and a set of shoes and stockings; and when the latter had washed and dressed himself he called for wine and food. K‘ung could not make out what the valances of the chairs and tables were made of; they [p. 22] were so very bright-coloured and dazzling. By-and-by, when the wine had circulated several times, the old gentleman picked up his walking-stick and took his leave. After breakfast the young man handed in his theme, which turned out to be written in an archaic style, and not at all after the modern fashion of essay-writing. K‘ung asked him why he had done this, to which the young man replied that he did not contemplate competing at the public examinations.
In the evening they had another drinking-bout, but it was agreed that there should be no more of it after that night. The young man then called the boy and told him to see if his father was asleep or not; adding that if he was, he might quietly summon Miss Perfume. The boy went off, first taking a guitar out of a very pretty case; and in a few minutes in came a very nice-looking young girl. The young man bade her play the Death of Shun;3 and seizing an ivory plectrum she swept the chords, pouring forth a vocal melody of exquisite sweetness and pathos. He then gave her a goblet of wine to drink, and it was midnight before they parted.
Next morning they got up early and settled down to work. The young man proved an apt scholar: he could remember what he had once read, and at the end of two or three months had made astonishing progress. Then they agreed that every five days they would indulge in a symposium, and that Miss Perfume should always be of the party. One night when the wine had gone into K‘ung’s head, he seemed to be lost in a reverie; whereupon his young friend, who knew what was the matter with him, said. “This girl was brought up by my father. I know you find it lonely, and I have long been looking out for a nice wife for you.” “Let her only resemble Miss Perfume,” said K‘ung, “and she will do.” “Your experience,” said the young man, laughing, “is but limited, and, consequently, anything is a surprise to you. If Miss Perfume is your beau ideal, why, it will not be difficult to satisfy you.” [p. 23]
Some six months had passed away, when one day Mr. K‘ung took it into his head that he would like to go out for a stroll in the country. The entrance, however, was carefully closed; and on asking the reason, the young man told him that his father wished to receive no guests for fear of causing interruption to his studies. So K‘ung thought no more about it; and by-and-by, when the heat of summer came on, they moved their study to a pavilion in the garden. At this time Mr. K‘ung had a swelling on the chest about as big as a peach, which, in a single night, increased to the size of a bowl. There he lay groaning with the pain, while his pupil waited upon him day and night. He slept badly and took hardly any food; and in a few days the place got so much worse that he could neither eat nor drink. The old gentleman also came in, and he and his son lamented over him together.
Then the young man said, “I was thinking last night that my sister, Chiao-no, would be able to cure Mr. K‘ung, and accordingly I sent over to my grandmother’s asking her to come. She ought to be here by now.”
At that moment a servant entered and announced Miss Chiao-no, who had come with her cousin, having been at her aunt’s house. Her father and brother ran out to meet her, and then brought her in to see Mr. K‘ung. She was between thirteen and fourteen years old, and had beautiful eyes with a very intelligent expression in them, and a most graceful figure besides. No sooner had Mr. K‘ung beheld this lovely creature than he quite forgot to groan, and began to brighten up. Meanwhile the young man was saying, “This respected friend of mine is the same to me as a brother. Try, sister, to cure him.” Miss Chiao-no immediately dismissed her blushes, and rolling up her long sleeves approached the bed to feel his pulse.4 As she was grasping his wrist, K‘ung became conscious of a perfume more delicate than that of the epidendrum; and then she laughed, saying, “This illness was to be expected; for the heart is touched. Though it is severe, a cure can be effected; but, as there is already a swelling, not without using the knife.” Then [p. 24] she drew from her arm a gold bracelet which she pressed down upon the suffering spot, until by degrees the swelling rose within the bracelet and overtopped it by an inch and more, the outlying parts that were inflamed also passing under, and thus very considerably reducing the extent of the tumour: With one hand she opened her robe and took out a knife with an edge as keen as paper, and pressing the bracelet down all the time with the other, proceeded to cut lightly round near the root of the swelling. The dark blood gushed forth, and stained the bed and the mat; but Mr. K‘ung was delighted to be near such a beauty, not only felt no pain, but would willingly have continued the operation that she might sit by him a little longer. In a few moments the whole thing was removed, and looked like a growth which had been cut off a tree.
Here Miss Chiao-no called for water to wash the wound, and from between her lips she took a red pill as big as a bullet, which she laid upon the flesh, and, after drawing the skin together, passed round and round the place. The first turn felt like the searing of a hot iron; the second like a gentle itching; and at the third he experienced a sensation of lightness and coolness which penetrated into his very bones and marrow. The young lady then returned the pill to her mouth, and said, “He is cured,” hurrying away as fast as she could.
Mr. K’ung jumped up to thank her, and found that his complaint had quite disappeared. Her beauty, however, had made such an impression on him that his troubles were hardly at an end. From this moment he gave up his books, and took no interest in anything. This state of things was soon noticed by the young man, who said to him, “My brother, I have found a fine match for you.” “Who is it to be?” asked K‘ung. “Oh, one of the family,” replied his friend. Thereupon Mr. K‘ung remained some time lost in thought, and at length said, “Please don’t!” Then turning his face to the wall, he repeated these lines:
Speak not of lakes and streams to him who once has seen the sea;
The clouds that circle Wu’s peak are the only clouds for me.5
The young man guessed to whom he was alluding, and replied, “My father has a very high opinion of your talents  and would gladly receive you into the family, but that he has only one daughter, and she is much too young. My cousin, Ah-sung, however, is seventeen years old, and not at all a bad-looking girl. If you doubt my word, you can wait in the verandah until she takes her daily walk in the garden, and thus judge for yourself.” This Mr. K‘ung acceded to, and accordingly saw Miss Chiao-no come out with a lovely girl—her black eyebrows beautifully arched, and her tiny feet encased in phoenix-shaped shoes—as like one another as they well could be. He was of course delighted, and begged the young man to arrange all preliminaries; and the very next day his friend came to tell him that the affair was finally settled.
A portion of the house was given up to the bride and bridegroom, and the marriage was celebrated with plenty of music and hosts of guests, more like a fairy wedding than anything else. Mr. K‘ung was very happy, and began to think that the position of Paradise had been wrongly laid down, until one day the young man came to him and said, “For the trouble you have been at in teaching me, I shall ever remain your debtor. At the present moment, the Shan family law-suit has been brought to a termination, and they wish to resume possession of their house immediately. We therefore propose returning to Shen-si, and as it is unlikely that you and I will ever meet again, I feel very sorrowful at the prospect of parting.” Mr. K’ung replied that he would go too, but the young man advised him to return to his old home. This, he observed, was no easy matter; upon which the young man said, “Don’t let that trouble you: I will see you safe there.” By-and-by his father came in with Mr. K‘ung’s wife, and presented Mr. K‘ung with one hundred ounces of gold; and then the young man gave the husband and wife each one of his hands to grasp, bidding them shut their eyes. The next instant they were floating away in the air, with the wind whizzing in their ears. In a little while he said, “You have arrived,” and opening his eyes, K‘ung beheld his former home. Then he knew that the young man was not a human being. Joyfully he knocked at the old door, and his mother was astonished to see him arrive with such a nice wife. They were all rejoicing together, when he turned round and found that his friend had disappeared.
His wife attended [p. 26] on her mother-in-law with great devotion, and acquired a reputation both for virtue and beauty, which was spread round far and near. Some time passed away, and then Mr. K‘ung took his doctor’s degree, and was appointed Governor of the Gaol in Yen-ngan. He proceeded to his post with his wife only, the journey being too long for his mother, and by-and-by a son was born.
Then he got into trouble by being too honest an official, and threw up his appointment; but had not the wherewithal to get home again. One day when out hunting he met a handsome young man riding on a nice horse, and seeing that he was staring very hard looked closely at him. It was young Huang-fu. So they drew bridle, and fell to laughing and crying by turns,—the young man then inviting K‘ung to go along with him. They rode on together until they had reached a village thickly shaded with trees, so that the sun and sky were invisible overhead, and entered into a most elaborately-decorated mansion, such as might belong to an old-established family. K’ung asked after Miss Chiao-no, and heard that she was married; also that his own mother-in-law was dead, at which tidings he was greatly moved.
Next day he went back and returned again with his wife. Chiao-no also joined them, and taking up K‘ung’s child, played with it, saying, “Your mother played us truant.” Mr. K‘ung did not forget to thank her for her former kindness to him, to which she replied, “You’re a great man now. Though the wound has healed, haven’t you forgotten the pain yet?” Her husband, too, came to pay his respects, returning with her on the following morning.
One day the young Huang-fu seemed troubled in spirit, and said to Mr. K‘ung, “A great calamity is impending. Can you help us?” Mr. K‘ung did not know what he was alluding to, but readily promised his assistance. The young man then ran out and summoned the whole family to worship in the ancestral hall, at which Mr. K‘ung was alarmed, and asked what it all meant. “You know,” answered the young man, “I am not a man but a fox. To-day we shall be attacked by thunder;6 and if only you will aid us in our trouble, we may still [p. 27] hope to escape. If you are unwilling, take your child and go, that you may not be involved with us.” Mr. K‘ung protested he would live or die with them, and so the young man placed him with a sword at the door, bidding him remain quiet there in spite of all the thunder. He did as he was told, and soon saw black clouds obscuring the light until it was all as dark as pitch. Looking round, he could see that the house had disappeared, and that its place was occupied by a huge mound and a bottomless pit. In the midst of his terror, a fearful peal was heard which shook the very hills, accompanied by a violent wind and driving rain. Old trees were torn up, and Mr. K’ung became both dazed and deaf. Yet he stood firm until he saw in a dense black column of smoke a horrid thing with a sharp beak and long claws, with which it snatched some one from the hole, and was disappearing up with the smoke. In an instant K‘ung knew by her clothes and shoes that the victim was no other than Chiao-no, and instantly jumping up he struck the devil violently with his sword, and cut it down. Immediately the mountains were riven, and a sharp peal of thunder laid K‘ung dead upon the ground.
Then the clouds cleared away, and Chiao-no gradually came round, to find K‘ung dead at her feet. She burst out crying at the sight, and declared that she would not live since K‘ung had died for her. K‘ung’s wife also came out, and they bore the body inside. Chiao-no then made Ah-sung hold her husband’s head, while her brother prised open his teeth with a hair-pin, and she herself arranged his jaw. She next put a red pill into his mouth, and bending down breathed into him. The pill went along with the current of air, and presently there was a gurgle in his throat, and he came round. Seeing all the family about him, he was disturbed as if waking from a dream.
However, they were all united together, and fear gave place to joy; but Mr. K‘ung objected to live in that out-of-the-way place, and proposed that they should return with him to his native village. To this they were only too pleased to assent—all except Chiao-no; and when Mr. K‘ung invited her husband, Mr. Wu, as well, she said she feared her father and mother-in-law would not like to lose the children. They had tried all day to persuade her, but without success, when suddenly in rushed one of the Wu family’s servants, dripping with perspiration and [p. 28] quite out of breath. They asked what was the matter, and the servant replied that the Wu family had been visited by a calamity on the very same day, and had every one perished. Chiao-no cried very bitterly at this, and could not be comforted; but now there was nothing to prevent them from all returning together. Mr. K‘ung went into the city for a few days on business, and then they set to work packing-up night and day.
On arriving at their destination, separate apartments were allotted to young Mr. Huang-fu, and these he kept carefully shut up, only opening the door to Mr. K‘ung and his wife. Mr. K‘ung amused himself with the young man and his sister Chiao-no, filling up the time with chess,7 wine, conversation, and good cheer, as if they had been one family. His little boy, Huan, grew up to be a handsome young man, but with a touch of the fox in his composition; so that when he showed himself abroad, he was immediately recognised as the son of a fox.
1 Lineal descendants of Confucius are to be found at this day living together as a clan, near their founder’s mausoleum in Shantung. The head of the family is an hereditary hung or “duke,” and each member enjoys a share of the revenues with which the family has been endowed, in well-merited recognition of the undying influence of China’s greatest sage.
2 More or less proficiency in the art of poetry is an absolutely essential qualification for all who present themselves at the great competitive tests by which successful candidates are admitted to Chinese official life.
3 One of the two celebrated but legendary rulers of China in the golden ages of antiquity. Yao—who abdicated 2357 B.C. —nominated as his successor a young and virtuous husbandman named Shun, giving him both his daughters in marriage. At the death of Shun, these ladies are said to have wept so much that their tears literally drenched the bamboos which grew beside their husband’s grave; and the speckled bamboo is now commonly known as the bamboo of Shun’s wives.
4 Volumes have been written by Chinese doctors on the subject of the pulse. They profess to distinguish as many as twenty-four different kinds, among which is one well known to our own practitioners—namely, the “thready” pulse; they, moreover, make a point of feeling the pulses of both wrists.
5 By a famous poet, named Yüan Chên, A.D. 779-831.
6 The Chinese believe that wicked people are struck by the God of Thunder, and killed in punishment for some hidden crime. They regard lightning merely as an arrangement with a mirror by which the God is enabled to see his victim.
7 Chinese “chess” is similar to, but not identical with our game. The board is divided by a river, and the king is confined to a small square of moves on his own territory. The game par excellence in China is wei-ch‘i, an account of which I contributed to the Temple Bar magazine for January 1877.
IX. MAGICAL ARTS
A CERTAIN Mr. Yü was a spirited young fellow, fond of boxing and trials of strength. He was able to take two kettles and swing them round about with the speed of the wind. Now, during the reign of Ch‘ung Chêng,1 when up for the final examination at the capital, his servant became seriously ill. Much troubled at this, he applied to a necromancer in the market-place2 who was skilful at determining [p. 29] the various leases of life allotted to men. Before he had uttered a word, the necromancer asked him, saying, “Is it not about your servant, Sir, that you would consult me?” Mr. Yü was startled at this, and replied that it was. “The sick man,” continued the necromancer, “will come to no harm; you, Sir, are the one in danger.” Mr. Yü then begged him to cast his nativity, which he proceeded to do, finally saying to Mr. Yü, “You have but three days to live!” Dreadfully frightened, he remained some time in a state of stupefaction, when the necromancer quietly observed that he possessed the power of averting this calamity by magic, and would exert it for the sum of ten ounces of silver. But Mr. Yü reflected that Life and Death are already fixed,3 and he didn’t see how magic could save him. So he refused, and was just going away, whereupon the necromancer said, “You grudge this trifling outlay. I hope you will not repent it.”
Mr. Yü’s friends also urged him to pay the money, advising him rather to empty his purse than not secure the necromancer’s compassion. Mr. Yü, however, would not hear of it, and the three days slipped quickly away. Then he sat down calmly in his inn to see what was going to happen. Nothing did happen all day, and at night he shut his door and trimmed the lamp; then, with a sword at his side, he awaited the approach of death.
By-and-by, the clepsydra showed that two hours had already gone without bringing him any nearer to dissolution; and he was thinking about lying down, when he [p. 30] heard a scratching at the window, and then saw a tiny little man creep through, carrying a spear on his shoulder, who, on reaching the ground, shot up to the ordinary height. Mr. Yü seized his sword and at once struck at it; but only succeeded in cutting the air. His visitor instantly shrank down small again, and made an attempt to escape through the crevice of the window; but Yü redoubled his blows and at last brought him to the ground. Lighting the lamp, he found only a paper man,5 cut right through the middle.
This made him afraid to sleep, and he sat up watching, until in a little time he saw a horrid hobgoblin creep through the same place. No sooner did it touch the ground than he assailed it lustily with his sword, at length cutting it in half. Seeing, however, that both halves kept on wriggling about, and fearing that it might get up again, he went on hacking at it. Every blow told, giving forth a hard sound, and when he came to examine his work, he found a clay image all knocked to pieces.
Upon this he moved his seat near to the window, and kept his eye fixed upon the crack. After some time, he heard a noise like, a bull bellowing outside the window, and something pushed against the window-frame with such force as to make the whole house tremble and seem about to fall. Mr. Yü, fearing he should be buried under the ruins, thought he could not do better than fight outside; so he accordingly burst open the door with a crash and rushed out. There he found a huge devil, as tall as the house, and he saw by the dim light of the moon that its face was as black as coal. [p. 31] Its eyes shot forth yellow fire: it had nothing either upon its shoulders or feet; but held a bow in its hand and had some arrows at its waist. Mr. Yü was terrified; and the devil discharged an arrow at him which he struck to the ground with his sword. On Mr. Yü preparing to strike, the devil let off another arrow which the former avoided by jumping aside, the arrow quivering in the wall beyond with a smart crack. The devil here got very angry, and drawing his sword flourished it like a whirlwind, aiming a tremendous blow, at Mr. Yü. Mr. Yü ducked, and the whole force of the blow fell upon the stone wall of the house, cutting it right in two. Mr. Yü then ran out from between the devil’s legs, and began hacking at its back—whack! whack! The devil now became furious, and roared like thunder, turning round to get another blow at his assailant. But Mr. Yü again ran between his legs, the devil’s sword merely cutting off a piece of his coat. Once more he hacked away—whack!—whack! and at length the devil came tumbling down flat. Mr. Yü cut at him right and left, each blow resounding like the watchman’s wooden gong,6 and then, bringing a light, he found it was a wooden image about as tall as a man. The bow and arrows were still there, the latter attached to its waist. Its carved and painted features were most hideous to behold; and wherever Mr. Yü had struck it with his sword, there was blood.
Mr. Yü sat with the light in his hand till morning, when he awaked to the fact that all these devils had been sent by the necromancer in order to kill him, and so evidence his own magical power. The next day, after having told the story far and wide, he went with some others to the place where the necromancer had his stall; but the latter, seeing them coming, vanished in the twinkling of an eye. Some one observed that the blood of a dog would reveal a person who had made himself invisible, and Mr. Yü immediately procured some and went back with it. The necromancer disappeared as before, but on the spot where he had been standing they quickly threw down the dog’s blood. Thereupon they saw his head and face all smeared [p. 32] over with blood, his eyes glaring like a devil’s; and at once seizing him, they handed him over to the authorities, by whom he was put to death.
1 The last emperor of the Ming dynasty. Began to reign A.D. 1628.
2 The trade of fortune-teller is one of the most flourishing in China. A large majority of the candidates who are unsuccessful at the public examinations devote their energies in this direction; and in every Chinese city there are regular establishments whither the superstitious people repair to consult the oracle on every imaginable subject;—not to mention hosts of itinerant soothsayers, both in town and country, whose stock-in-trade consists of a trestle-table, pen, ink, and paper, and a few other mysterious implements of their art. The nature of the response, favourable or otherwise, is determined by an inspection of the year, month, day, and hour at which the applicant was born, taken in combination with other particulars referring to the question at issue.
3 A firm belief in predestination is an important characteristic of the Chinese mind. “All is destiny” is a phrase daily in the mouth of every man, woman, and child, in the empire. Confucius himself, we are told, objected to discourse to his disciples upon this topic; but it is evident from many passages in the Lun Yü, or Confucian Gospels [Book vi. ch. 8, Book xiv. ch. 38, &c.], that he believed in a certain pre-arrangement of human affairs, against which all efforts would be unavailing.
4 An appliance of very ancient date in China, now superseded by cheap clocks and watches. A large clepsydra, consisting of four copper jars standing on steps one above the other, is still, however, to be seen in the city of Canton, and is in excellent working order, the night-watches being determined by reference to its indicator in the lower jar. By its aid, coils of “joss-stick,” or pastille, are regulated to burn so many hours, and are sold to the poor, who use them both for the purpose of guiding their extremely vague notions of time, and for lighting the oft-recurring tobacco-pipe.
5 “Paper men” are a source of great dread to the people at large. During the year 1876 whole provinces were convulsed by the belief that some such superstitious agency was at work to deprive innocent persons of their tails; and the so-called “Pope” of the Taoist religion even went so far as to publish a charm against the machinations of the unseen. It ran as follows:—“Ye who urge filthy devils to spy out the people!—the Master’s spirits are at hand and will soon discover you. With this charm anyone may travel by sunlight, moonlight, or starlight all over the earth.” At one time popular excitement ran so high that serious consequences were anticipated; and the mandarins in the affected districts found it quite as much as they could do to prevent lynch-law being carried out on harmless strangers who were unlucky enough to give rise to the slightest suspicion.
Taoist priests are generally credited with the power of cutting out human, animal, or other figures, of infusing vitality into them on the spot, and of employing them for purposes of good or evil.
6 Watchmen in China, when on their nightly rounds, keep up an incessant beating on what, for want of a better term, we have called a wooden gong. The object is to let thieves know they are awake and on the lookout.
X. JOINING THE IMMORTALS
A MR. Chou, of Wên-têng, had in his youth been fellow-student with a Mr. Ch‘êng, and a firm friendship was the result. The latter was poor, and depended very much upon Chou, who was the elder of the two. He called Chou’s wife his “sister,” and had the run of the house just as if he was one of the family. Now this wife happening to die in child-bed, Chou married another named Wang; but as she was quite a young girl, Ch‘êng did not seek to be introduced.l
One day her younger brother came to visit her, and was being entertained in the “inner” apartments when Ch‘êng chanced to call. The servant announced his arrival, and Chou bade him ask Mr. Ch‘êng in. But Ch‘êng would not enter, and took his leave. Thereupon Chou caused the entertainment to be moved into the public part of the house, and, sending after Ch‘êng, succeeded in bringing him back. They had hardly sat down before someone came in to say that a former servant of the establishment had been severely beaten at the magistrate’s yamên; the facts of the case being that a cow-boy of the Huang family connected with the Board of Rites had driven his cattle across the Chou family’s land, and that words had arisen between the two servants in consequence; upon which the Huang family’s servant had complained to his master, who had seized the other and had sent him in to the magistrate’s, where he had been bambooed. When Mr. Chou found out what the matter was, he was exceedingly angry, and said, “How dares this pig-boy fellow behave thus? Why, only a generation ago his master was my father’s servant! He emerges a little from his obscurity, and immediately thinks himself I don’t [p. 33] know what!” Swelling with rage, he rose to go in quest of Huang, but Ch‘êng held him back, saying, “The age is corrupt: there is no distinction between right and wrong. Besides, the officials of the day are half of them thieves, and you will only get yourself into hot water.” Chou, however, would not listen to him; and it was only when tears were added to remonstrances that he consented to let the matter drop. But his anger did not cease, and he lay tossing and turning all night.
In the morning he said to his family, “I can stand the insults of Mr. Huang; but the magistrate is an officer of the Government, and not the servant of influential people. If there is a case of any kind, he should hear both plaintiff and defendant, and not act like a dog, biting anybody he is set upon. I will bring an action against the cow-boy, and see what the magistrate will do to him.” As his family rather egged him on, he accordingly proceeded to the magistrate’s and entered a formal plaint; but that functionary tore up his petition, and would have nothing to do with it. This roused Chou’s anger, and he told the magistrate plainly what he thought of him, in return for which contempt of court he was at once seized and bound.
During the forenoon Mr. Ch‘êng called at his house, where he learnt that Chou had gone into the city to prosecute the cow-boy, and immediately hurried after him with a view to stop proceedings. But his friend was already in the gaol, and all he could do was to stamp his foot in anger. Now it happened that three pirates had just been caught; and the magistrate and Huang, putting their heads together, bribed these fellows to say that Chou was one of their gang, whereupon the higher authorities were petitioned to deprive him of his status as a graduate,3 and the magistrate then had him most unmercifully barnbooed.4
Mr. Ch‘êng gained admittance to the gaol, and, after a painful interview, proposed that a petition should [p. 34] be presented direct to the Throne. “Alas!” said Chou, “here am I bound and guarded, like a bird in a cage. I have indeed a young brother, but it is as much as he can do to provide me with food.” Then Ch‘êng stepped forward, saying, “I will perform this service. Of what use are friends who will not assist in the hour of trouble?”
So away he went, and Chou’s brother provided him with money to defray his expenses. After a long journey he arrived at the capital, where he found himself quite at a loss as to how he should get the petition presented. However, hearing that the Emperor was about to set out on a hunting tour, he concealed himself in the market-place, and when His Majesty passed by, prostrated himself on the ground with loud cries and gesticulations. The Emperor received his petition, and sent it to the Board of Punishments,5 desiring to be furnished with a report on the case. It was then more than ten months since the beginning of the affair, and Chou, who had been made to confess to this false charge, was already under sentence of death; so that the officers of the Board were very much alarmed when they received the Imperial instructions, and set to work to re-hear the case in person.
Huang was also much alarmed, and devised a plan for killing Mr. Chou by bribing the gaolers to stop his food and drink; so that when his brother brought provisions he was rudely thrust back and prevented from taking them in. Mr. Ch‘êng complained of this to the Viceroy of the province, who investigated the matter himself, and found that Chou was in the last stage of starvation, for which the gaolers were bambooed to death. Terrified out of his wits, Huang, by dint of bribing heavily, succeeded in absconding and escaping a just punishment for his crimes. The magistrate, however, was banished for perversion of the law, and Chou was permitted to return home, his affection for Ch‘êng being now very much increased.
But ever after the prosecution and his friend’s captivity, Mr. Ch‘êng took a dismal view of human affairs, and one day invited Chou to retire with him from the world. The latter, who was deeply attached [p. 35] to his young wife, threw cold water on the proposition, and Mr. Ch‘êng pursued the subject no farther, though his own mind was fully made up. Not seeing him for some days afterwards, Mr. Chou sent to inquire about him at his house; but there they all thought he was at Chou’s, neither family, in fact, having seen anything of him. This looked suspicious, and Chou, aware of his peculiarity, sent off people to look for him, bidding them search all the temples and monasteries in the neighbourhood. He also from time to time supplied Ch‘êng’s son with money and other necessaries.
Eight or nine years had passed away, when suddenly Ch‘êng re-appeared, clad in a yellow cap and stole, and wearing the expression of a Taoist priest. Chou was delighted, and seized his arm, saying, “Where have you been? —letting me search for you all over the place.” “The solitary cloud and the wild crane,” replied Ch‘êng, laughing, “have no fixed place of abode. Since we last met my equanimity has happily been restored.” Chou then ordered wine, and they chatted together on what had taken place in the interval. He also tried to persuade Ch‘êng to detach himself from the Taoist persuasion, but the latter only smiled and answered nothing. “It is absurd!” argued Chou. “Why cast aside your wife and child as you would an old pair of shoes?” “Not so,” answered Ch‘êng; “if men wish to cast me aside, who is there who can do so now?”
Chou asked where he lived, to which he replied, “In the Great Pure Mansion on Mount Lao.” They then retired to sleep on the same bed; and by-and-by Chou dreamt that Ch‘êng was lying on his chest so that he could not breathe. In a fright he asked him what he was doing, but got no answer; and then he waked up with a start. Calling to Ch‘êng and receiving no reply, he sat up and stretched out his hand to touch him. The latter, however, had vanished, he knew not whither. When he got calm, he found he was lying at Ch‘êng’s end of the bed, which rather startled him. “I was not tipsy last night,” reflected he; “how could I have got over here?” He next called his servants, and when they came and struck a light, lo! he was Ch‘êng. Now Chou had had a beard, so he put up his hand to feel for it, but found only a few straggling hairs. He then seized a mirror to look at himself, and cried out in [p. 36] alarm: “If this is Mr. Ch‘êng, where on earth am I?” By this time he was wide awake, and knew that Ch‘êng had employed magic to induce him to retire from the world. He was on the point of entering the ladies’ apartments; but his brother, not recognising who he was, stopped him, and would not let him go in; and as he himself was unable to prove his own identity, he ordered his horse that he might go in search of Ch‘êng.
After some days’ journey he arrived at Mount Lao; and, as his horse went along at a good rate, the servant could not keep up with him. By-and-by he rested awhile under a tree, and saw a great number of Taoist priests going backwards and forwards, and among them was one who stared fixedly at him. So he inquired of him where he should find Ch‘êng; whereat the priest laughed and said, “I know the name. He is probably in the Great Pure Mansion.” When he had given this answer he went on his way, Chou following him with his eyes about a stone’s-throw, until he saw him speak with some one else, and, after saying a few words, proceed onwards as before. The person whom he had spoken with came on to where Chou was, and turned out to be a fellow-townsman of his. He was much surprised at meeting Chou, and said, “I haven’t seen you for some years. They told me you had gone to Mount Lao to be a Taoist priest. How is it you are still amusing yourself among mortals?” Chou told him who he really was; upon which the other replied, “Why, I thought the gentleman I just met was you! He has only just left me, and can’t have got very far.” “Is it possible,” cried Chou, “that I didn’t know my own face?”
Just then the servant came up, and away they went full speed, but could not discover the object of their search. All around them was a vast desert, and they were at a loss whether to go on or to return. But Chou reflected that he had no longer any home to receive him, and determined to carry out his design to the bitter end; but as the road was dangerous for riding, he gave his horse to the servant, and bade him go back. On he went cautiously by himself, until he spied a boy sitting by the wayside alone. He hurried up to him and asked the boy to direct him where he could find Mr. Ch‘êng. “I am one of his disciples,” replied the lad; and, shouldering Chou’s bundle, started [p. 39] off to show the way. They journeyed on together, taking their food by the light of the stars, and sleeping in the open air, until, after many miles of road, they arrived in three days at their destination.
But this Great Pure locality was not like that generally spoken of in the world. Though as late as the middle of the tenth moon, there was a great profusion of flowers along the road, quite unlike the beginning of winter. The lad went in and announced the arrival of a stranger, whereupon Mr. Ch‘êng came out, and Chou recognised his own features. Ch‘êng grasped his hand and led him inside, where he prepared wine and food, and they began to converse together. Chou noticed many birds of strange plumage, so tame that they were not afraid of him; and these from time to time would alight on the table and sing with voices like Pan-pipes. He was very much astonished at all this, but a love of mundane pleasures had eaten into his soul, and he had no intention of stopping. On the ground were two rush-mats, upon which Ch‘êng invited his friend to sit down with him. Then about midnight a serene calm stole over him; and while he was dozing off for a moment, he seemed to change places with Ch‘êng. Suspecting what had happened, he put his hand up to his chin, and found it covered with a beard as before.
At dawn he was anxious to return home, but Ch‘êng pressed him to stay; and when three days had gone by Ch‘êng said to him, “I pray you take a little rest now: tomorrow I will set you on your way.” Chou had barely closed his eyelids before he heard Ch‘êng call out, “Everything is ready for starting!” So he got up and followed him along a road other than that by which he had come, and in a very short time he saw his home in the distance. In spite of Chou’s entreaties, Ch‘êng would not accompany him so far, but made Chou go, waiting himself by the roadside. So the latter went alone, and when he reached his house, knocked at the door. Receiving no answer, he determined to get over the wall, when he found that his body was as light as a leaf, and with one spring he was over. In the same manner he passed several inner walls, until he reached the ladies’ apartments, where he saw by the still burning lamp that the inmates had not yet retired for the night. Hearing people talking within, he licked a hole in the [p. 38] paper window and peeped through, and saw his wife sitting drinking with a most disreputable-looking fellow. Bursting with rage, his first impulse was to surprise them in the act; but seeing there were two against one, he stole away and let himself out by the entrance-gate, hurrying off to Ch‘êng, to whom he related what he had seen, and finally begged his assistance.
Ch‘êng willingly went along with him; and when they reached the room, Chou seized a big stone and hammered loudly at the door. All was then confusion inside, so Chou hammered again, upon which the door was barricaded more strongly than before. Here Ch‘êng came forward with his sword,8 and burst the door open with a crash. Chou rushed in, and the man inside rushed out; but Ch‘êng was there, and with his sword cut his arm right off. Chou rudely seized his wife, and asked what it all meant; to which she replied that the man was a friend who sometimes came to take a cup of wine with them. Thereupon Chou borrowed Ch‘êng’s sword and cut off her head,9 hanging up the trunk on a tree in the courtyard. He then went back with Ch‘êng.
By-and-by he awaked and found himself on the bed, at which he was somewhat disturbed, and said, “I have had a strangely confused dream, which has given me a fright.” “My brother,” replied Clang, smiling, “you look upon dreams as realities: you mistake realities for dreams.” Chou asked what he meant by these words; and then Ch‘êng showed him his sword besmeared with blood. Chou was terrified, and sought to destroy himself; but all at once it occurred to him that Ch‘êng might be deceiving him again. Ch‘êng divined his suspicions, [p. 39] and made haste at once to see him home. In a little while they arrived at the village gate, and then Ch‘êng said, “Was it not here that, sword in hand, I awaited you that night? I cannot look upon the unclean spot. I pray you go on, and let me stay here. If you do not return by the afternoon, I will depart alone.” Chou then approached his house, which he found all shut up as if no one was living there; so he went into his brother’s.
The latter, when he beheld Chou, began to weep bitterly, saying, “After your departure, thieves broke into the house and killed my sister-in-law, hanging her body upon a tree. Alas! alas! The murderers have not yet been caught.” Chou then told him the whole story of his dream, and begged him to stop further proceedings; at all of which his brother was perfectly lost in astonishment. Chou then asked after his son, and his brother told the nurse to bring him in; whereupon the former said, “Upon this infant are centred the hopes of our race.10 Tend him well; for I am going to bid adieu [p. 40] to the world.”
He then took his leave, his brother following him all the time with tears in his eyes to induce him to remain. But he heeded him not; and when they reached the village gate his brother saw him go away with Ch‘êng. From afar he looked back and said, “Forbear, and be happy!” His brother would have replied; but here Ch‘êng whisked his sleeve, and they disappeared. The brother remained there for some time, and then went back overwhelmed with grief.
He was an unpractical man, and before many years were over all the property was gone and the family reduced to poverty. Chou’s son, who was growing up, was thus unable to secure the services of a tutor, and had no one but his uncle to teach him.
One morning, on going into the school-room, the uncle found a letter lying on his desk addressed to himself in his brother’s handwriting. There was, however, nothing in it but a finger-nail about four inches in length. Surprised at this, he laid the nail down on the ink-slab while he went out to ask whence the letter had come. This no one knew; but when he went back he found that the ink-stone had been changed into a piece of shining yellow gold. More than ever astonished, he tried the nail on copper and iron things, all of which were likewise turned to gold. He thus became very rich, sharing his wealth with Ch‘êng’s son; and it was bruited about that the two families possessed the secret of transmutation.11
1 This is a characteristic touch. Only the most intimate of friends ever see each other’s wives.
2 Where the women of the family live, and into which no stranger ever penetrates. Among other names by which a Chinese husband speaks of his wife, a very common one is “the inner [wo]man.”
3 Until which he would be safe, by virtue of his degree, from the degrading penalty of the bamboo.
4 This is the instrument commonly used for flogging criminals in China, and consists of a strip of split bamboo planed down smooth. Strictly speaking there are two kinds, the heavy and the light; the former is now hardly if ever used. Until the reign of K’ang Hsi all strokes were given across the back; but that humane Emperor removed the locus operandi lower down, “for fear of injuring the liver or the lungs.”
5 See No. VII., note 1.
6 It is a principle of Chinese jurisprudence that no sentence can be passed until the prisoner has confessed his guilt—a principle, however, frequently set aside in practice.
7 Wooden frames covered with a semi-transparent paper are used all over the northern provinces of China; in the south, oyster-shells, cut square and planed down thin, are inserted tile-fashion in the long narrow spaces of a wooden frame made to receive them, and used for the same purpose. But glass is gradually finding its way into the houses of the well-to-do, large quantities being made at Canton and exported to various parts of the empire.
8 Every Taoist priest has a magic sword, corresponding to our “magician’s wand.”
9 In China, a man has the right to slay his adulterous wife, but he must slay her paramour also; both or neither. Otherwise, he lays himself open to a prosecution for murder. The act completed, he is further bound to proceed at once to the magistrate of the district and report what he has done.
10 The importance of male offspring in Chinese social life is hardly to be expressed in words. To the son is confided the task of worshipping at the ancestral tombs, the care of the ancestral tablets, and the due performance of all rites and ceremonies connected with the departed dead. No Chinaman will die, if he can help it, without leaving a son behind him. If his wife is childless he will buy a concubine; and we are told on page 41, vol. xiii., of the Liao Chai, that a good wife, “who at thirty years of age has not borne a child should forthwith pawn her jewellery and purchase a concubine for her husband; for to be without a son is hard indeed!” Another and a common resource is to adopt a nephew; and sometimes a boy is bought from starving parents, or from a professional kidnapper. Should a little boy die, no matter how young, his parents do not permit even him to be without the good offices of a son. They adopt some other child on his behalf; and when the latter grows up it becomes his duty to perform the proper ceremonies at his baby father’s tomb. Girls do not enjoy the luxury of this sham posterity. They are quietly buried in a hole near the family vault, and their disembodied spirits are left to wander about in the realms below uncared for and unappeased. It must not be inferred, however, from this that the position of woman in China is low, as such is far from being the case. Every mother shares in the ancestral worship, and her name is recorded on the tombstone, side by side with that of her husband. Hence it is that Chinese tombstones are always to the memory either of a father or of a mother, or of both, with occasionally the addition of the grandfather and grandmother, and sometimes even that of the generation preceding.
11 The belief that a knowledge of alchemy is obtainable by leading the life of a pure and perfect Taoist is one of the numerous additions in later ages to this ancient form of religion. See No. IV., note 1.
XI. THE FIGHTING QUAILS
WANG CH‘ÊNG belonged to an old family in Ping-yuan, but was such an idle fellow that his property gradually disappeared, until at length all he had left was an old tumble-down house. His wife and he slept under a coarse hempen coverlet, and the former was far from sparing her reproaches. At the time of which we are speaking the weather was unbearably hot; and Wang went to pass the night with many other of his fellow-villagers in a pavilion which stood among some dilapidated buildings belonging to a family named Chou. With the first streaks of dawn [p. 41] his comrades departed; but Wang slept well on till about nine o’clock, when he got up and proceeded leisurely home. All at once he saw in the grass a gold hair-pin; and taking it up to look at it, found engraved thereon in small characters—“The property of the Imperial family.” Now Wang’s own grandfather had married into the Imperial family,l and consequently he had formerly possessed many similar articles; but while he was thinking it over up came an old woman in search of the hair-pin, which Wang, who though poor was honest, at once produced and handed to her. The old woman was delighted, and thanked Wang for his goodness, observing that the pin was not worth much in itself, but was a relic of her departed husband. Wang asked what her husband had been; to which she replied, “His name was Wang Chien-chih, and he was connected by marriage with the Imperial family.” “My own grandfather!” cried Wang, in great surprise, “how could you have known him?” “You, then,” said the old woman, “are his grandson. I am a fox, and many years ago I was married to your grandfather; but when he died I retired from the world. Passing by here I lost my hair-pin, which destiny conveyed into your hands.”
Wang had heard of his grandfather’s fox-wife, and believing therefore the old woman’s story, invited her to return with him, which she did. Wang called his wife out to receive her; but when she came in rags and tatters, with unkempt hair and dirty face, the old woman sighed, and said, “Alas! alas! has Wang Chien-chih’s grandson come to this?” Then looking at the broken, smokeless stove, she added, “How, under these circumstances, have you managed even to support life?” Here Wang’s wife told the tale of their poverty, with much sobbing and tears; whereupon the old woman gave her the hair-pin, bidding her go pawn it, and with the proceeds buy some food, saying that in three days [p. 42] she would visit them again. Wang pressed her to stay, but she said, “You can’t even keep your wife alive; what would it benefit you to have me also dependent on you?” So she went away, and then Wang told his wife who she was, at which his wife felt very much alarmed; but Wang was so loud in her praises, that finally his wife consented to treat her with all proper respect.
In three days she returned as agreed, and, producing some money, sent out for a hundredweight of rice and a hundredweight of corn. She passed the night with them, sleeping with Mrs. Wang, who was at first rather frightened, but who soon laid aside her suspicions when she found that the old lady meant so well towards them. Next day the latter addressed Wang, saying, “My grandson, you must not be so lazy. You should try to make a little money in some way or another.” Wang replied that he had no capital; upon which the old lady said, “When your grandfather was alive, he allowed me to take what money I liked; but not being a mortal, I had no use for it, and consequently did not draw largely upon him. I have, however, saved from my pin-money the sum of forty ounces of silver, which has long been lying idle for want of an investment. Take it, and buy summer cloth, which you may carry to the capital and re-sell at a profit.” So Wang bought some fifty pieces of summer cloth; and the old lady made him get ready, calculating that in six or seven days he would reach the capital. She also warned him, saying,
Be neither lazy nor slow—
For if a day too long you wait,
Repentance comes a day too late.
Wang promised all obedience, and packed up his goods and went off. On the road he was overtaken by a rainstorm which soaked him through to the skin; and as he was not accustomed to be out in bad weather, it was altogether too much for him. He accordingly sought shelter in an inn, but the rain went on steadily till night, running over the eaves of the house like so many ropes. Next morning the roads were in a horrible state; and Wang, watching the passers-by slipping about in the slush, unable to see any path, dared not face it all, and remained until noon, when it began to dry up a little. Just then, however, the clouds closed over again, and down came the rain in torrents, [p. 43] causing him to stay another night before he could go on.
When he was nearing the capital, he heard to his great joy that summer cloth was at a premium; and on arrival proceeded at once to take up his quarters at an inn. There the landlord said it was a pity he had come so late, as communications with the south having been only recently opened, the supply of summer cloth had been small; and there being a great demand for it among the wealthy families of the metropolis, its price had gone up to three times the usual figure. “But,” he added, “two days ago several large consignments arrived, and the price went down again, so that the late comers have lost their market.” Poor Wang was thus left in the lurch, and as every day more summer cloth came in, the value of it fell in a corresponding ratio. Wang would not part with his at a loss, and held on for some ten days, when his expenses for board and lodging were added to his present distress. The landlord urged him to sell even at a loss, and turn his attention to something else, which he ultimately did, losing over ten ounces of silver on his venture.
Next day he rose in the morning to depart, but on looking in his purse found all his money gone. He rushed away to tell the landlord, who, however, could do nothing for him. Some one then advised him to take out a summons and make the landlord reimburse him; but he only sighed, and said, “It is my destiny, and no fault of the landlord’s.” Thereupon the landlord was very grateful to him, and gave him five ounces of silver to enable him to go home.
He did not care, however, to face his grandmother empty-handed, and remained in a very undecided state, until suddenly he saw a quail-catcher winning heaps of money by fighting his birds, and selling them at over 100 cash apiece. He then determined to lay out his five ounces of silver in quails, and pay back the landlord out of the profits. The latter approved very highly of this plan, and not only agreed to lend him a room, but also to charge him little or nothing for his board. So Wang went off rejoicing, and bought two large baskets of quails, with which he returned to the city, to the great satisfaction of the landlord, who advised him to lose no time in disposing of them. All that night it poured in torrents, and the next morning the streets were like rivers, the rain still continuing to fall. Wang waited [p. 44] for it to clear up, but several days passed and still there were no signs of fine weather. He then went to look at his quails, some of which he found dead and others dying. He was much alarmed at this, but was quite at a loss what to do; and by the next day a lot more had died, so that only a few were left, which he fed all together in one basket. The day after this he went again to look at them, and lo! there remained but a single quail. With tears in his eyes he told the landlord what had happened, and he, too, was much affected. Wang then reflected that he had no money left to carry him home, and that he could not do better than cease to live.
But the landlord spoke to him and soothed him, and they went together to look at the quail. “This is a fine bird,” said the landlord, “and it strikes me that it has simply killed the others. Now, as you have got nothing to do, just set to work and train it; and if it is good for anything, why, you’ll be able to make a living out of it.” Wang did as he was told; and when the bird was trained, the landlord bade him take it into the street and gamble for something to eat. This, too, he did, and his quail won every main; whereupon the landlord gave him some money to bet with the young fellows of the neighbourhood. Everything turned out favourably, and by the end of six months he had saved twenty ounces of silver, so that he became quite easy in his mind and looked upon the quail as a dispensation of his destiny.
Now one of the princes was passionately fond of quail-fighting, and always at the Feast of Lanterns anybody who owned quails might go and fight them in the palace against the Prince’s birds. The landlord therefore said to Wang, “Here is a chance of enriching yourself by a single stroke; only I can’t say what your luck will do for you.” He then explained to him what it was, and away they went together, the landlord saying, “If you lose, burst out into lamentations; but if you are lucky enough to win, and the Prince wishes, as he will, to buy your bird, don’t consent. If he presses you very much, watch for a nod from me before you agree.”
This settled, they proceeded to the palace, where they found crowds of quail-fighters already on the ground; and then the Prince came forth, heralds proclaiming to the multitude that any who wished to fight their birds might come up. Some man at once stepped forward, and the [p. 45] Prince gave orders for the quails to be released; but at the first strike the stranger’s quail was knocked out of time. The Prince smiled, and by-and-by won several more mains, until at last the landlord said, “Now’s our time,” and went up together with Wang.
The Prince looked at their bird and said, “It has a fierce-looking eye and strong feathers. We must be careful what we are doing.” So he commanded his servants to bring out Iron Beak to oppose Wang’s bird; but, after a couple of strikes, the Prince’s quail was signally defeated. He sent for a better bird, but that shared the same fate; and then he cried out, “Bring, the Jade Bird from the palace!” In a little time it arrived, with pure white feathers like an egret, and an unusually martial appearance. Wang was much alarmed, and falling on his knees prayed to be excused this main, saying, “Your Highness’s bird is too good. I fear lest mine should be wounded, and my livelihood be taken from me.” But the Prince laughed and said, “Go on. If your quail is killed I will make it up to you handsomely.” Wang then released his bird, and the Prince’s quail rushed at it at once; but when the Jade Bird was close by, Wang’s quail awaited its coming head down and full of rage. The former made a violent peck at its adversary, and then sprang up to swoop down on it. Thus they went on up and down, backwards and forwards, until at length they got hold of each other, and the Prince’s bird was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. This enraged it all the more, and it fought more violently than ever; but soon a perfect snowstorm of feathers began to fall, and, with drooping wings; the Jade Bird made its escape.
The spectators were much moved by the result; and the Prince himself, taking up Wang’s bird, examined it closely from beak to claws, finally asking if it was for sale. “My sole dependence,” replied Wang, “is upon this bird. I would rather not part with it.” “But,” said the Prince, “if I give you as much as the capital, say, of an ordinary tradesman, will not that tempt you?” Wang thought some time, and then answered, “I would rather not sell my bird; but as your Highness has taken a fancy to it I will only ask enough to find me in food and clothes.” “How much do you want?” inquired the Prince; to which Wang replied that he would take a thousand ounces of silver. “You fool!” cried the [p. 46] Prince; “do you think your bird is such a jewel as all that?” “If your Highness,” said Wang, “does not think the bird a jewel, I value it more than that stone which was priced at fifteen cities.” “How so?” asked the Prince. “Why,” said Wang, “I take my bird every day into the market-place. It there wins for me several ounces of silver, which I exchange for rice; my family, over ten in number, has nothing to fear from either cold or hunger. What jewel could do that?” “You shall not lose anything,” replied the Prince; “I will give you two hundred ounces.” But Wang would not consent, and then the Prince added another hundred; whereupon Wang looked at the landlord, who, however, made no sign. Wang then offered to take nine hundred; but the Prince ridiculed the idea of paying such a price for a quail, and Wang was preparing to take his leave with the bird, when the Prince called him back, saying, “Here! here! I will give you six hundred. Take it or leave it as you please.” Wang here looked at the landlord, and the landlord remained motionless as before. However, Wang was satisfied himself with this offer, and being afraid of missing his chance, said to his friend, “If I get this price for it I shall be quite content. If we go on haggling and finally come to no terms, that will be a very poor end to it all.”
So he took the Prince’s offer, and the latter, overjoyed, caused the money to be handed to him. Wang then returned with his earnings, but the landlord said to him, “What did I say to you? You were in too much of a hurry to sell. Another minute, and you would have got eight hundred.” When Wang got back he threw the money on the table and told the land-lord to take what he liked; but the latter would not, and it was only after some pressing that he would accept payment for Wang’s board.
Wang then packed up and went home, where he told his story and produced his silver, to the great delight of all of them. The old lady counselled the purchase of a quantity of land, the building of a house, and the purchase of implements; and in a very short time they became a wealthy family. The old lady always got up early in the morning and made Wang attend to the farm, his wife to her spinning; and rated them soundly at any signs of laziness. The husband and wife henceforth lived in peace, and no longer abused each other, until at [p. 47] the expiration of three years the old lady declared her intention of bidding them adieu. They both tried to stop her, and with the aid of tears succeeded in persuading her; but the next day she had disappeared.2
1 The direct issue of the Emperors of the present dynasty and their descendants in the male line for ever are entitled to wear a yellow girdle in token of their relationship to the Imperial family, each generation becoming a degree lower in rank, but always retaining this distinctive badge. Members of the collateral branches wear a red girdle, and are commonly known as gioros. With the lapse of two hundred and fifty years, the wearers of these badges have become numerous, and in many cases disreputable; and they are now to be found even among the lowest dregs of Chinese social life.
2 Quail fighting is not so common now in China as it appears to have been formerly. Cricket-fighting is, however, a very favourite form of gambling, large quantities of these insects being caught every year for this purpose, and considerable sums frequently staked on the result of a contest between two champions.
XII. THE PAINTED SKIN
AT T’ai-yuan there lived a man named Wang. One morning he was out walking when he met a young lady carrying a bundle and hurrying along by herself. As she moved along with some difficulty,l Wang quickened his pace and caught her up, and found she was a pretty girl of about sixteen. Much smitten, he inquired whither she was going so early, and no one with her. “A traveller like you,” replied the girl, “cannot alleviate my distress; why trouble yourself to ask?” “What distress is it?” said Wang; “I’m sure I’ll do anything I can for you.” “My parents,” answered she, “loved money, and they sold me as a[A1] concubine into a rich family, where the wife was very jealous, and beat and abused me morning and night. It was more than I could stand, so I have run away.” Wang asked her where she was going; to which she replied that a runaway had no fixed place of abode. “My house,” said Wang, “is at no great distance; what do you say to coming there?”
She joyfully acquiesced; and Wang, taking up her bundle, led the way to his house. Finding no one there, she asked Wang where his family were; to which he [p. 48] replied that that was only the library. “And a very nice place, too,” said she; “but if you are kind enough to wish to save my life, you mustn’t let it be known that I am here.” Wang promised he would not divulge her secret,[A2] and so she remained there for some days without anyone knowing anything about it. He then told his wife, and she, fearing the girl might belong to some influential family, advised him to send her away.
This, however, he would not consent to do; when one day, going into the town, he met a Taoist priest, who looked at him in astonishment, and asked him what he had met. “I have met nothing,” replied Wang. “Why,” said the priest, “you are bewitched; what do you mean by not having met anything?” But Wang insisted that it was so, and the priest walked away, saying, “The fool! Some people don’t seem to know when death is at hand.” This startled Wang, who at first thought of the girl; but then he reflected that a pretty young thing as she was couldn’t well be a witch, and began to suspect that the priest merely wanted to do a stroke of business.
When he returned, the library door was shut, and he couldn’t get in, which made him suspect that something was wrong; and so he climbed over the wall, where he found the door of the inner room shut too. Softly creeping up, he looked through the window and saw a hideous devil, with a green face and jagged teeth like a saw, spreading a human skin upon the bed and painting it with a paint brush. The devil then threw aside the brush, and giving the skin a shake out, just as you would a coat, threw it over its shoulders, when lo! it was the girl.
Terrified at this, Wang hurried away with his head down in search of the priest, who had gone he knew not whither; subsequently finding him in the fields, where he threw himself on his knees and begged the priest to save him. “As to driving her away,” said the priest, “the creature must be in great distress to be seeking a substitute for herself;2 besides, I could hardly endure to [p. 49] injure a living thing.”3 However, he gave Wang a fly-brush, and bade him hang it at the door of the bedroom, agreeing to meet again at the Ch’ing-ti temple.
Wang went home, but did not dare enter the library; so he hung up the brush at the bedroom door, and before long heard a sound of footsteps outside. Not daring to move, he made his wife peep out; and she saw the girl standing looking at the brush, afraid to pass it. She then ground her teeth and went away; but in a little while came back, and began cursing, saying, “You priest, you won’t frighten me. Do you think I am going to give up what is already in my grasp?” Thereupon she tore the brush to pieces, and bursting open the door, walked straight up to the bed, where she ripped open Wang and tore out his heart, with which she went away. Wang’s wife screamed out, and the servant came in with a light; but Wang was already dead and presented a most miserable spectacle.[B]
His wife, who was in an agony of fright, hardly dared cry for fear of making a noise; and next day she sent Wang’s brother to see the priest. The latter got into a great rage, and cried out, “Was it for this that I had compassion on you, devil that you are?” proceeding at once with Wang’s brother to the house, from which the girl had disappeared without anyone knowing whither she had gone. But the priest, raising his head, looked all round, and said, “Luckily she’s not far off.” He then asked who lived in the apartments on the south side, to which Wang’s brother replied that he did; whereupon the priest declared that there she would be found. Wang’s brother was horribly frightened and, said he did not think so; and then the priest asked him if any stranger had been to the house. To this he answered that he had been out to the Ch’ing-ti temple and couldn’t possibly say: but he went off to inquire, and in a little while came back and reported that an old woman had [p. 50] sought service with them as a maid-of-all-work, and had been engaged by his wife. “That is she,” said the priest, as Wang’s brother added she was still there; and they all set out to go to the house together.
Then the priest took his wooden sword, and standing in the middle of the courtyard, shouted out, “Base-born fiend, give me back my fly-brush!” Meanwhile the new maid-of-all-work was in a great state of alarm, and tried to get away by the door; but the priest struck her and down she fell flat, the human skin dropped off, and she became a hideous devil. There she lay grunting like a pig, until the priest grasped his wooden sword and struck off her head.[C] She then became a dense column of smoke curling up from the ground, when the priest took an uncorked gourd and threw it right into the midst of the smoke. A sucking noise was heard, and the whole column was drawn into the gourd; after which the priest corked it up closely and put it in his pouch.4
The skin, too, which was complete even to the eye-brows, eyes, hands, and feet, he also rolled up as if it had been a scroll, and was on the point of leaving with it, when Wang’s wife stopped him, and with tears entreated him to bring her husband to life. The priest said he was unable to do that; but Wang’s wife flung herself at his feet, and with loud lamentations implored his assistance. For some time he remained immersed in thought, and then replied, “My power is not equal to what you ask. I myself cannot raise the dead; but I will direct you to some one who can, and if you apply to him properly you will succeed.” Wang’s wife asked the priest who it was; to which he replied, “There is a maniac in the town who passes his time grovelling in the dirt. Go, prostrate yourself before him, and beg him to help you. If he insults you, show no sign of anger.” Wang’s brother knew the man to whom he alluded, and accordingly bade the priest adieu, and proceeded thither with his sister-in-law.
They found the destitute creature raving away by the roadside,[D] so filthy that it was all they could do to go near him. Wang’s wife approached him on her knees; at which the maniac leered at her, and cried out, “Do you love me, my beauty?” Wang’s wife told him what she had come [p. 51] for, but he only laughed and said, “You can get plenty of other husbands. Why raise the dead one to life?” But Wang’s wife entreated him to help her; whereupon he observed, “It’s very strange: people apply to me to raise their dead as if I was king of the infernal regions.” He then gave Wang’s wife a thrashing, with his staff, which she bore without a murmur, and before a gradually increasing crowd of spectators. After this he produced a loathsome pill which he told her she must swallow,[E] but here she broke down and was quite unable to do so. However, she did manage it at last,[F] and then the maniac, crying out, “How you do love me!” got up and went away without taking any more notice of her. They followed him into a temple with loud supplications, but he had disappeared, and every effort to find him was unsuccessful.
Overcome with rage and shame, Wang’s wife went home, where she mourned bitterly over her dead husband, grievously repenting the steps she had taken, and wishing only to die. She then bethought herself of preparing the corpse, near which none of the servants would venture, and set to work to close up the frightful wound of which he died.
While thus employed, interrupted from time to time by her sobs, she felt a rising lump in her throat, which by-and-by came out with a pop and fell straight into the dead man’s wound. Looking closely at it, she saw it was a human heart; and then it began as it were to throb, emitting a warm vapour like smoke. Much excited, she at once closed the flesh over it, and held the sides of the wound together with all her might. Very soon, however, she got tired, and finding the vapour escaping from the crevices, she tore up a piece of silk and bound it round, at the same time bringing back circulation by rubbing the body and covering it up with clothes. In the night she removed the coverings, and found that breath was coming from the nose; and by next morning her husband was alive again, though disturbed in mind as if awaking from a dream, and feeling a pain in his heart. Where he had been wounded there was a cicatrix about as big as a cash, which soon after disappeared.[G]
1 Impeded, of course, by her bound feet. This practice is said to have originated about A.D. 970, with Yao Niang, the concubine of the pretender Li Yü, who wished to make her feet like the “new moon.” The Manchu or Tartar ladies never adopted this custom, and therefore the Empresses of modern times have had feet of the natural size; neither is it in force among the Hakkas or among the hill-tribes of China and Formosa and others. The practice was forbidden in 1664 by the Manchu Emperor, K’ang Hsi; but popular feeling was so strong on the subject that four years afterwards the prohibition was withdrawn. A vigorous attempt is now being made to secure natural feet for the Chinese girl, with more chance of success.
2 The disembodied spirits of the Chinese Inferno are permitted, under certain conditions of time and good conduct, to appropriate to themselves the vitality of some human being, who, as it were, exchanges places with the so-called “devil.” The devil does not, however, reappear as the mortal whose life it has become possessed of, but is merely born again into the world; the idea being that the amount of life on earth is a constant quantity, and cannot be increased or diminished, reminding one in a way of the great modern doctrine of the conservation of energy. This curious belief has an important bearing that will be brought out in a subsequent story.
3 Here again is a Taoist priest quoting the Buddhist commandment, “Thou shalt not take life.” The Buddhist laity in China, who do not hesitate to take life for the purposes of food, salve their consciences from time to time by buying birds, fishes, &c. and letting them go, in the hope that such acts will be set down on the credit side of their record of good and evil.
4 This recalls the celebrated story of the fisherman in the Arabian Nights.
[A1] I have added the “a”, which Giles does not have.
[A2] Denis and Victor Mair translate: “Having agreed to this, the scholar took her to bed with him.”
[B] P’u is actually more explicit, according to the Mairs: “Blood from his chest cavity was splattered everywhere.”
[C] Mairs: “and held it up in the air.”
[D] Mairs: “snot dangled in a long string from his nose.”
[E] Mairs: “The beggar hacked up phlegm until it filled his cupped hand, then held it up to Chen’s face, saying: ‘Eat it.’”
[F] Mairs: “As it entered her throat, it felt hard like compacted fuzz. It slid slowly down into her chest and clotted firm.”
[G] P’u included a moral, as he sometimes did, which Giles omitted. Minford translates: “The Chronicler of the Strange remarks: ‘How foolish men are, to see nothing but beauty in what is clearly evil! And how benighted to dismiss as absurd what is clearly well-intended! It is folly such as this that obliges the lady Chen to steel herself to eat another man’s phlegm, when her husband has fallen prey to lust. Heaven’s Way has its inexorable justice, but some mortals remain foolish and never see the light!’”
This story, though wildly fantastic, shows how deeply moral popular narrative can be. (And, as Minford observes in his notes, ‘Painted Skin’ is a scathing commentary on the moral weakness of some Chinese men, and their dependence on strong women in their families to bail them out of disasters they’ve fallen into.)
Incidently, by omitting the detail that the husband and the woman-demon made love, Giles removes a central point of the story. Paradoxically, through his Victorian reticence, he makes the story less moralistic. The woman eating phlegm is another striking, if revolting, action that had moralistic resonance.
XIII. THE TRADER’S SON
IN the province of Hunan there dwelt a man who was engaged in trading abroad; and his wife, who lived alone, dreamt one night that some one was in her room. Waking up, she looked about, and discovered a small creature which on examination she knew to be a fox; but in a moment the thing had disappeared, although the door had not been opened.
The next evening she asked the cook-maid to come and keep her company; as also her own son, a boy of ten, who was accustomed to sleep elsewhere. Towards the middle of the night, when the cook and the boy were fast asleep, back came the fox; and the cook was waked up by hearing her mistress muttering something as if she had nightmare. The former then called out, and the fox ran away; but from that moment the trader’s wife was not quite herself. When night came she dared not blow out the candle, and bade her son be sure and not sleep too soundly.
Later on, her son and the old woman having taken a nap as they leant against the wall, suddenly waked up and found her gone. They waited some time, but she did not return, and the cook was too frightened to go and look after her; so her son took a light, and at length found her fast asleep in another room. She didn’t seem aware that anything particular had happened, but she became queerer and queerer every day, and wouldn’t have either her son or the cook to keep her company any more. Her son, however, made a point of running at once into his mother’s room if he heard any unusual sounds; and though his mother always abused him for his pains, he paid no attention to what she said. Consequently, everyone thought him very brave, though at the same time he was always indulging in childish tricks.
One day he played at being a mason, and piled up stones upon the window-sill, in spite of all that was said to him; and if anyone took away a stone, he threw himself on the ground, and cried like a child, so that nobody dared go near him. In a few days he had got both windows blocked up and the light excluded and then he set to filling up the chinks with mud. He worked hard all day without minding the trouble, and when it was finished he took and sharpened the kitchen chopper. [p. 53] Everyone who saw him was disgusted with such antics, and would take no notice of him.
At night he darkened his lamp, and, with the knife concealed on his person, sat waiting for his mother to mutter. As soon as she began he uncovered his light, and, blocking up the doorway, shouted out at the top of his voice. Nothing, however, happened, and he moved from the door a little way, when suddenly out rushed something like a fox, which was disappearing through the door when he made a quick movement and cut off about two inches of its tail, from which the warm blood was still dripping as he brought the light to bear upon it. His mother hereupon cursed and reviled him, but he pretended not to hear her, regretting only as he went to bed that he hadn’t hit the brute fair. But he consoled himself by thinking that although he hadn’t killed it outright, he had done enough to prevent it coming again.
On the morrow he followed the tracks of blood over the wall and into the garden of a family named Ho; and that night, to his great joy, the fox did not reappear. His mother was meanwhile prostrate, with hardly any life in her, and in the midst of it all his father came home. The boy told him what had happened, at which he was much alarmed, and sent for a doctor to attend his wife; but she only threw the medicine away, and cursed and swore horribly. So they secretly mixed the medicine with her tea and soup, and in a few days she began to get better, to the inexpressible delight of both her husband and son.
One night, however, her husband woke up and found her gone; and after searching for her with the aid of his son, they discovered her sleeping in another room. From that time she became more eccentric than ever, and was always being found in strange places, cursing those who tried to remove her. Her husband was at his wits’ end. It was of no use keeping the door locked, for it opened of itself at her approach; and he had called in any number of magicians to exorcise the fox, but without obtaining the slightest result.
One evening her son concealed himself in the Ho family garden, and lay down in the long grass with a view to detecting the fox’s retreat. As the moon rose he heard the sound of voices, and, pushing aside the grass, saw two people drinking, with a long-bearded servant pouring out their wine, dressed in an old dark-brown coat. [p. 54] They were whispering together, and he could not make out what they said; but by-and-by he heard one of them remark, “Get some white wine for tomorrow,” and then they went away, leaving the long-bearded servant alone. The latter then threw off his coat, and lay down to sleep on the stones; whereupon the trader’s son eyed him carefully, and saw that he was like a man in every respect except that he had a tail. The boy would then have gone home; but he was afraid the fox might hear him, and accordingly remained where he was till near dawn, when he saw the other two come back, one at a time, and then they all disappeared among the bushes.
On reaching home his father asked him where he had been, and he replied that he had stopped the night with the Ho family. He then accompanied his father to the town, where he saw hanging up at a hat-shop a fox’s tail, and finally, after much coaxing, succeeded in making his father buy it for him. While the latter was engaged in a shop, his son, who was playing about beside him, availed himself of a moment when his father was not looking and stole some money from him, and went off and bought a quantity of white wine, which he left in charge of the wine-merchant. Now an uncle of his, who was a sportsman by trade, lived in the city, and thither he next betook himself. His uncle was out, but his aunt was there, and inquired after the health of his mother. “She has been better the last few days,” replied he; “but she is now very much upset by a rat having gnawed a dress of hers, and has sent me to ask for some poison.” His aunt opened the cupboard and gave him about the tenth of an ounce in a piece of paper, which he thought was very little; so, when his aunt had gone to get him something to eat, he took the opportunity of being alone, opened the packet, and abstracted a large handful. Hiding this in his coat, he ran to tell his aunt that she needn’t prepare anything for him, as his father was waiting in the market, and he couldn’t stop to eat it. He then went off; and having quietly dropped the poison into the wine he had bought, went sauntering about the town.
At nightfall he returned home, and told his father that he had been at his uncle’s. This he continued to do for some time, until one day he saw among the crowd his long bearded friend. Marking him closely, he followed him, [p. 55] and at length entered into conversation, asking him where he lived. “I live at Pei-ts’un,” said he; “where do you live?” “I,” replied the trader’s son, falsely, “live in a hole on the hillside.” The long-bearded man was considerably startled at his answer, but much more so when he added, “We’ve lived there for generations: haven’t you?” The other man asked his name, to which the boy replied, “My name is Hu.1 I saw you with two gentlemen in the Ho family garden, and haven’t forgotten you.” Questioning him more fully, the long-bearded man was still in a half-and-half state of belief and doubt, when the trader’s son opened his coat a little bit, and showed him the end of the tail he had bought, saying, “The like of us can mix with ordinary people, but unfortunately we can never get rid of this.” The long-bearded man then asked him what he was doing there, to which he answered that his father had sent him to buy wine; thereupon the former remarked that that was exactly what he had come for, and, the boy then inquired if he had bought it yet or not. “We are poor,” replied the stranger, “and as a rule I prefer to steal it.” “A difficult and dangerous job,” observed the boy. “I have my masters’ instructions to get some,” said the other, “and what am I to do?” The boy then asked him who his masters were, to which he replied that they were the two brothers the boy had seen that night. “One of them has bewitched a lady named Wang; and the other, the wife of a trader who lives near. The son of the last-mentioned lady is a violent fellow, and cut off my master’s tail, so that he was laid up for ten days. But he is putting her under spells again now.” He was then going away, saying he should never get his wine; but the boy said to him, “It’s much easier to buy than steal. I have some at the wine-shop there which I will give to you. My purse isn’t empty, and I can buy some more.” The long-bearded man hardly knew how to thank him; but the boy said, “We’re all one family. Don’t mention such a trifle. When I have time I’ll come and take a drink with you.” So they went off together to the wine-shop, where the boy gave him the wine, and they then separated.
That night his mother [p. 56] slept quietly and had no fits, and the boy knew that something must have happened. He then told his father, and they went to see if there were any results; when lo! they found both foxes stretched out dead in the arbour. One of the foxes was lying on the grass, and out of its mouth blood was still trickling. The wine-bottle was there; and on shaking it they heard that some was left. Then his father asked him why he had kept it all so secret; to which the boy replied that foxes were very sagacious, and would have been sure to scent the plot. Thereupon his father was mightily pleased, and said he was a perfect Ulysses for cunning. They then carried the foxes home, and saw on the tail of one of them the scar of a knife-wound.
From that time they were left in peace; but the trader’s wife became very thin, and though her reason returned, she shortly afterwards died of consumption. The other lady, Mrs. Wang, began to get better as soon as the foxes had been killed; and as to the boy, he was taught riding and archery by his proud parent, and subsequently rose to high rank in the army.
1 Hu is the sound of the character for “fox”; it is also the sound of quite a different character, which is used as a surname.
2 The name of the Chinese type was Ch’ên P’ing.
3 Skill in archery was until quite lately de rigueur for all Manchus, and for those who would rise in the Chinese army.
XIV. JUDGE LU
AT Ling-yang there lived a man named Chu Erh-tan, whose literary designation was Hsiao-ming. He was a fine manly [p. 57] fellow, but an egregious dunce, though he tried hard to learn. One day he was taking wine with a number of fellow-students, when one of them said to him, by way of a joke, “People credit you with plenty of pluck. Now, if you will go in the middle of the night to the Chamber of Horrors,2 and bring back the Infernal Judge from the left-hand porch, we’ll stand you a dinner.” For at Ling-yang there was a representation of the Ten Courts of Purgatory, with the gods and devils carved in wood, and almost lifelike in appearance; and in the eastern vestibule there was a full-length image of the judge with a green face, and a red beard, and a hideous expression in his features. Sometimes sounds of examination under the whip were heard to issue during the night from both porches, and persons who went in found their hair standing on end from fear; so the other young men thought it would be a capital test for Mr. Chu. Thereupon Chu smiled, and rising from his seat went straight off to the temple; and before many minutes had elapsed they heard him shouting outside, “His Excellency has arrived!”
At this they all got up, and in came Chu with the image on his back, which he proceeded to deposit on the table, and then poured out a triple libation in its honour. His comrades, who were watching what he did, felt ill at ease, and did not like to resume their seats; so they begged him to carry the Judge back again. But he first poured some wine upon the ground, invoking the image as follows: “I am only a foolhardy, illiterate fellow: I pray your Excellency excuse me. My house is close by, and whenever your Excellency feels so disposed I shall be glad to take a cup of wine with you in a friendly [p. 58] way.” He then carried the judge back, and the next day his friends gave him the promised dinner, from which he went home half-tipsy in the evening.
But not feeling that he had had enough, he brightened up his lamp, and helped himself to another cup of wine, when suddenly the bamboo curtain was drawn aside, and in walked the judge. Mr. Chu got up and said, “Oh, dear Your Excellency has come to cut off my head for my rudeness the other night.” The judge parted his thick beard, and smiling, replied, “Nothing of the kind. You kindly invited me last night to visit you; and as I have leisure this evening, here I am.” Chu was delighted at this, and made his guest sit down, while he himself wiped the cups and lighted a fire.3 “It’s warm weather,” said the judge; “let’s drink the wine cold.” Chu obeyed, and putting the bottle on the table, went out to tell his servants to get some supper. His wife was much alarmed when she heard who was there, and begged him not to go back; but he only waited until the things were ready, and then returned with them. They drank out of each other’s cups,4 and by-and-by Chu asked the name of his guest. “My name is Lu,” replied the judge; “I have no other names.” They then conversed on literary subjects, one capping the other’s quotation as echo responds to sound. The judge then asked Chu if he understood composition; to which he answered that he could just tell good from bad; whereupon the former repeated a little infernal poetry which was not very different from that of mortals. He was a deep drinker, and took off ten goblets at a draught; but Chu, who had been at it all day, soon got dead drunk and fell fast asleep with his head on the table.
When he waked up the candle had burnt out and day was beginning to break, his guest having already departed; and from this time the judge was in the habit of dropping in pretty often, until a close friendship sprang up between them. Sometimes the latter would pass the night at the house, and Chu would show him his essays, all of which the Judge scored and underlined as being good for nothing.
One night Chu got tipsy and went to bed first, leaving the Judge drinking by himself. In his drunken sleep he seemed to feel a pain in his stomach, and [p. 59] waking up he saw that the judge, who was standing by the side of the bed, had opened him and was carefully arranging his inside. “What harm have I done you,” cried Chu, “that you should thus seek to destroy me?” “Don’t be afraid,” replied the Judge, laughing; “I am only providing you with a more intelligent heart.”5 He then quietly put back Chu’s viscera, and closed up the opening, securing it with a bandage tied tightly round his waist. There was no blood on the bed, and all Chu felt was a slight numbness in his inside. Here he observed the Judge place a piece of flesh upon the table, and asked him what it was. “Your heart,” said the latter, “which wasn’t at all good at composition, the proper orifice being stuffed up.6 I have now provided you with a better one, which I procured from Hades, and I am keeping yours to put in its place.”7 He then opened the door and took his leave.
In the morning Chu undid the bandage, and looked at his waist, the wound on which had quite healed up, leaving only a red seam. From that moment he became an apt scholar, and found his memory much improved; so much so, that a few days afterwards he showed an essay to the Judge for which he was very much commended. “However,” said the latter, “your success will be limited to the master’s degree. You won’t get beyond that.” “When shall I take it? “asked Chu. “This year,” replied the Judge.
And so it turned out. Chu passed first on the list for the bachelor’s degree, and then among the first five for the master’s degree. His old comrades, who had been accustomed to make a laughing-stock of him, were now astonished to find him a full-blown M.A., and when they learned how it had come about, they begged Chu to speak to the judge on their behalf. The judge promised to assist them, and they made all ready to receive him; but when in the evening he did come, they were so frightened at his red beard and flashing eyes that their teeth chattered in their heads, and one by one they stole away.
Chu then took the judge home with him to have [p. 60] a cup together, and when the wine had mounted well into his head, he said, “I am deeply, grateful to your Excellency’s former kindness in arranging my inside; but there is still another favour I venture to ask which possibly may be granted.” The Judge asked him what it was; and Chu replied, “If you can change a person’s inside, you surely could also change his face. Now my wife is not at all a bad figure, but she is very ugly. I pray your Excellency try the knife upon her.” The judge laughed, and said he would do so, only it would be necessary to give him a little time.
Some days subsequently, the judge knocked at Chu’s door towards the middle of the night; whereupon the latter jumped up and invited him in. Lighting a candle, it was evident that the Judge had something under his coat, and in answer to Chu’s inquiries, he said, “It’s what you asked me for. I have had great trouble in procuring it.” He then produced the head of a nice-looking young girl, and presented it to Chu, who found the blood on the neck was still warm. “We must make haste,” said the judge, “and take care not to wake the fowls or dogs.”8 Chu was afraid his wife’s door might be bolted, but the judge laid his hand on it and it opened at once. Chu then led him to the bed where his wife was lying asleep on her side; and the judge, giving Chu the head to hold, drew from his boot a steel blade shaped like the handle of a spoon. He laid this across the lady’s neck, which he cut through as if it had been a melon, and the head fell over the back of the pillow. Seizing the head he had brought with him, he now fitted it on carefully and accurately, and pressing it down to make it stick, bolstered the lady up with pillows placed on either side. When all was finished, he bade Chu put his wife’s old head away, and then took his leave.
Soon after Mrs. Chu waked up, and perceived a curious sensation about her neck, and a scaly feeling about the jaws. Putting her hand to her face, she found flakes of dry blood and much frightened called a maid-servant to bring water to wash it off. The maid-servant was also greatly alarmed at the appearance of her face, and proceeded to wash off [p. 61] the blood, which coloured a whole basin of water; but when she saw her mistress’s new face she was almost frightened to death. Mrs. Chu took a mirror to look at herself, and was staring at herself in utter astonishment, when her husband came in and explained what had taken place. On examining her more closely, Chu saw she had a well-featured pleasant face, of a high order of beauty; and when he came to look at her neck, he found a red seam all round, with the parts above and below of a different coloured flesh.
Now the daughter of an official named Wu was a very nice-looking girl, who, though nineteen years of age, had not yet been married, two gentlemen who were engaged to her having died before the day.9 At the Feast of Lanterns,10 this young lady happened to visit the Chamber of Horrors, whence she was followed home by a burglar, who that night broke into the house and killed her. Hearing a noise, her mother told the servant to go and see what was the matter; and the murder being thus discovered, every member of the family got up. They placed the body in the hall, with the head alongside, and gave themselves up to weeping and wailing the live-long night.
Next morning, when they removed the coverings, the corpse was there, but the head had disappeared. The waiting-maids were accordingly flogged for neglect of duty, and consequent loss of the head, and Mr. Wu brought the matter to the notice of the Prefect. This officer took very energetic measures, but for three months no clue could be obtained; and then the story of the changed head in the Chu family gradually reached Mr. Wu’s ears. Suspecting something, he sent an old woman to make inquiries; and she at once recognised [p. 62] her late young mistress’s features, and went back and reported to her master. Thereupon Mr. Wu, unable to make out why the body should have been left, imagined that Chu had slain his daughter by magical arts, and at once proceeded to the house to find out the truth of the matter; but Chu told him that his wife’s head had been changed in her sleep, and that he knew nothing about it, adding that it was unjust to accuse him of the murder. Mr. Wu refused to believe this, and took proceedings against him; but as all the servants told the same story, the Prefect was unable to convict him.
Chu returned home and took counsel with the Judge, who told him there would be no difficulty, it being merely necessary to make the murdered girl herself speak. That night Mr. Wu dreamt that his daughter came and said to him, “I was killed by Yang Ta-nien, of Su-ch’i. Mr. Chu had nothing to do with it; but desiring a better-looking face for his wife, Judge Lu gave him mine, and thus my body is dead while my head still lives. Bear Chu no malice.” When he awaked, he told his wife, who had dreamt the same dream; and thereupon he communicated these facts to the officials.
Subsequently, a man of that name was captured, who confessed under the bamboo that he had committed the crime; so Mr. Wu went off to Chu’s house, and asked to be allowed to see his wife, regarding Chu from that time as his son-in-law. Mrs. Chu’s old head was fitted on to the young lady’s body, and the two parts were buried together.
Subsequent to these events Mr. Chu tried three times for his doctor’s degree, but each time without success, and at last he gave up the idea of entering into official life. Then when thirty years had passed away, judge Lu appeared to him one night, and said, “My friend, you cannot live for ever. Your hour will come in five days’ time.” Chu asked the judge if he could not save him; to which he replied, “The decrees of Heaven cannot be altered to suit the purposes of mortals. Besides, to an intelligent man life and death are much the same.11 Why necessarily regard life as a boon and death as a misfortune? “Chu [p. 63] could make no reply to this, and forthwith proceeded to order his coffin and shroud; and then, dressing himself in his grave-clothes,12 yielded up the ghost. Next day, as his wife was weeping over his bier, in he walked at the front door, to her very great alarm. “I am now a disembodied spirit,” said Chu to her, “though not different from what I was in life; and I have been thinking much of the widow and orphan I left behind.” His wife, hearing this, wept till the tears ran down her face, Chu all the time doing his best to comfort her. “I have heard tell,” said she, “of dead bodies returning to life; and since your vital spark is not extinct, why does it not resume the flesh?” “The ordinances of Heaven,” replied her husband, “may not be disobeyed.” His wife here asked him what he was doing in the infernal regions; and he said that judge Lu had got him an appointment as Registrar, with a certain rank attached, and that he was not at all uncomfortable. Mrs. Chu was proceeding to inquire further, when he interrupted her, saying, “The judge has come with me; get some wine ready and something to eat.” He then hurried out, and his wife did as he had told her, hearing them laughing and drinking in the guest chamber just like old times come back again. About midnight she peeped in, and found that they had both disappeared; but they came back once in every two or three days, often spending the night, and managing the family affairs as usual. Chu’s son was named Wei, and was about five years old; and whenever his father came he would take the little boy upon his knee. When he was about eight years of age, Chu began to teach him to read; and the boy was so clever that by the time [p. 64] he was nine he could actually compose. At fifteen he took his bachelor’s degree, without knowing all this time that he had no father. From that date Chu’s visits became less frequent, occurring not more than once or so in a month; until one night he told his wife that they were never to meet again. In reply to her inquiry as to whither he was going, he said he had been appointed to a far-off post, where press of business and distance would combine to prevent him from visiting them any more. The mother and son clung to him, sobbing bitterly, but he said, “Do not act thus. The boy is now a man, and can look after your affairs. The dearest friends must part some day.” Then, turning to his son, he added, “Be an honourable man, and take care of the property. Ten years hence we shall meet again.” With this he bade them farewell, and went away.
Later on, when Wei was twenty-five years of age, he took his doctor’s degree, and was appointed to conduct the sacrifices at the Imperial tombs. On his way thither he fell in with a retinue of an official, proceeding along with all the proper insignia,13 and, looking carefully at the individual sitting in the carriage, he was astonished to find that it was his own father. Alighting from his horse, he prostrated himself with tears at the side of the road; whereupon his father stopped and said, “You are well spoken .of. I now take leave of this world.” Wei remained on the ground, not daring to rise; and his father, urging on his carriage, hurried away without saying any more. But when he had gone a short distance, he looked back, and unloosing a sword from his waist, sent it as a present to his son, shouting out to him, “Wear this and you will succeed.” Wei tried to follow him; but, in an instant, carriage, retinue, and horses had vanished with the speed of wind. For a long time his son gave himself up to grief, and then seizing the sword began to examine it closely. It was of exquisite workmanship, and on the blade was engraved this legend: “Be bold, but cautious; round in disposition, square in action.”14 Wei subsequently rose to high honours, and had five sons named Chen, Chien, Wu, Hun, and Shen. One night he dreamt that his father told him to give the sword to Hun, which he accordingly did; and Hun rose to be a Viceroy of great administrative ability. [p. 65]
1 Every Chinese man and woman inherits a family name or surname. A woman takes her husband’s surname, followed in official documents by her maiden name. Children usually have a pet name given to them soon after birth, which is dropped after a few years. Then there is the ming or name, which once given is unchangeable, and by which the various members of a family are distinguished. But only the Emperor, a man’s father and mother, and certain other relatives are allowed to use this. Friends call each other by their literary designations or “book-names,” which are given generally by the teacher to whom the boy’s education is first entrusted. Brothers and sisters and others have all kinds of nicknames, as with us. Dogs and cats are called by such names as “Blacky,” “Whitey,” “Yellowy,” “Jewell,” “Pearly,” &c., &c. Junks are christened “Large Profits,” “Abounding Wealth,” “Favourite of Fortune,” &c., &c. Places are often named after some striking geographical feature; e.g., Hankow—“mouth of the Han river,” i.e., its point of junction with the Yang-tsze; or they have fancy names, such as Fuhkien—“happily established;” Tientsin—“Heaven’s ford;” or names implying a special distinction, such as Nanking—“southern capital;” Shan-tung—“east of the mountains,” &c.
2 The name given by foreigners in China to the imitation of the ten torture-chambers of purgatory, as seen in every Ch‘êng-huang or municipal temple. The various figures of the devil-lictors and the tortured sinners are made either of clay or wood, and painted in very bright colours; and in each chamber is depicted some specimen of the horrible tortures that wicked people will undergo in the world to come. I have given in the Appendix a translation of the Yü-li-ch‘ao, a celebrated Taoist work on this subject, which should at any rate be glanced at by persons who would understand the drift of some of these stories.
3 To heat the wine, which is almost invariably taken hot.
4 In token of their mutual good feeling.
5 The Chinese as a nation believe to this day that the heart is the seat of the intellect and the emotions.
6 The heart itself is supposed to be pierced by a number of “eyes,” which pass right through and in physical and mental health these passages are believed to be clear.
7 See No. XII., note 2.
8 The Hsi-yüan-lu, a well-known work on Chinese medical jurisprudence and an officially authorised book, while giving an absurd antidote against a poison that never existed, gravely insists that it is to be prepared at certain dates only, “in some place quite away from women, fowls, and dogs.”
9 It was almost a wonder that she got a second fiancé, few people caring to affiance their sons in a family where such a catastrophe has once occurred. The death of an engaged girl is a matter of much less importance, but is productive of a very curious ceremony. Her betrothed goes to the house where she is lying dead and steps over the coffin containing her body, returning home with a pair of the girl’s shoes. He thus severs all connection with her, and her spirit cannot haunt him as it otherwise most certainly would do.
10 Held annually on the 15th of the first Chinese month—i.e., at the first full moon of the year, when coloured lanterns are hung at every door. It was originally a ceremonial worship in the temple of the First Cause, and dates from about the time of the Han dynasty, or nearly two thousand years ago.
11 It was John Stuart Mill who pointed out that the fear of death is due to “the illusion of imagination, which makes one conceive oneself as if one were alive and feeling oneself dead” (The Utility of Religion).
12 “Boards of old age” and “Clothes of old age sold here” are common shop-signs in every Chinese city; death and burial being always, if possible, spoken of euphemistically in some such terms as these: A dutiful son provides, when he can afford it, decent coffins for his father and mother. They are generally stored in the house, sometimes in a neighbouring temple; and the old people take pleasure in seeing that their funeral obsequies are properly provided for, though the subject is never raised in conversation. Chinese coffins are beautifully made and when the body has been in for a day or two, a candle is closely applied to the seams all round to make sure it is air-tight—any crack, however fine, being easily detected by the flickering of the flame in the escaping gas. Thus bodies may be kept unburied for a long time, until the geomancer has selected an auspicious site for the grave.
13 Gongs, red umbrellas, men carrying boards on which the officer’s titles are inscribed in large characters, a huge wooden fan, &c., &c.
14 “Be like a cash” (see No. II., note 2) is a not uncommon saying among the Chinese, the explanation of which rests upon the fact that a cash is “round in shape and convenient for use,” which words are pronounced identically with a corresponding number of words meaning “round in disposition, square in action.” It is, in fact, a play on words.
XV. MISS YING-NING, OR THE LAUGHING GIRL
AT Lo-tien, in the province of Shantung, there lived a youth named Wang Tzŭ-fu, who had been left an orphan when quite young. He was a clever boy, and took his bachelor’s degree at the age of fourteen, being quite his mother’s pet, and not allowed by her to stray far away from home. One young lady to whom he had been betrothed having unhappily died, he was still in search of a wife when, on the occasion of the Feast of Lanterns, his cousin Wu asked him to come along for a stroll. But they had hardly got beyond the village before one of his uncle’s servants caught them up and told Wu he was wanted. The latter accordingly went back; but Wang, seeing plenty of nice girls about and being in high spirits himself, proceeded on alone. Amongst others, he noticed a young lady with her maid. She had just picked a sprig of plum-blossom, and was the prettiest girl he had ever heard of, her smiling face being very captivating. He stared and stared at her quite regardless of appearances; and when she had passed by, she said to her maid, “That young fellow has a wicked look in his eyes.” As she was walking away, laughing and talking, the flower dropped out of her hand; and Wang, picking it up, stood there disconsolate as if he had lost his wits. He then went home in a very melancholy mood; and, putting the flower under his pillow, lay down to sleep. He would neither talk nor eat; and his mother became very anxious about him, and called in the aid of the priests.1 By degrees, he fell off in flesh and [p. 66] got very thin; and the doctor felt his pulse and gave him medicines to bring out the disease. Occasionally, he seemed bewildered in his mind, but in spite of all his mother’s inquiries would give no clue as to the cause of his malady. One day when his cousin Wu came to the house, Wang’s mother told him to try and find out what was the matter; and the former, approaching the bed, gradually and quietly led up to the point in question. Wang, who had wept bitterly at the sight of his cousin, now repeated to him the whole story, begging him to lend some assistance in the matter. “How foolish you are, cousin,” cried Wu; “there will be no difficulty at all, I’ll make inquiries for you. The girl herself can’t belong to a very aristocratic family to be walking alone in the country. If she’s not already engaged, I have no doubt we can arrange the affair; and even if she is unwilling, an extra outlay will easily bring her round.2 You make haste and get well: I’ll see to it all.” Wang’s features relaxed when he heard these words; and Wu left him to tell his mother how the case stood, immediately setting on foot inquiries as to the whereabouts of the girl. All his efforts, however, proved fruitless, to the great disappointment of Wang’s mother; for since his cousin’s visit Wang’s colour and appetite had returned.
In a few days Wu called again, and in answer to Wang’s questions falsely told him the affair was settled. “Who do you think the young lady is?” said he. “Why, a cousin of ours, who is only waiting to be betrothed; and though you two are a little near,3 I dare say this difficulty may be overcome.” Wang was overjoyed, and asked where she lived; so Wu had to tell another lie, and say, “On the south-west hills, about ten miles from here.” Wang begged him again and again to do his best for him, [p. 67] and Wu undertook to get the betrothal satisfactorily arranged.
He then took leave of his cousin, who from this moment was rapidly restored to health. Wang drew the flower from underneath his pillow, and found that, though dried up, the leaves had not fallen away. He often sat playing with this flower and thinking of the young lady; but by-and-by, as Wu did not reappear, he wrote a letter and asked him to come. Wu pleaded other engagements, being unwilling to go; at which Wang got into a rage and quite lost his good spirits; so that his mother, fearing a relapse, proposed to him a speedy betrothal in another quarter. Wang shook his head at this, and sat day after day waiting for Wu, until his patience was thoroughly exhausted.
He then reflected that ten miles was no great distance, and that there was no particular reason for asking anybody’s aid; so, concealing the flower in his sleeve, he went off in a huff by himself without letting it be known. Having no opportunity of asking the way, he made straight for the hills; and after about ten miles’ walking, found himself right in the midst of them, enjoying their exquisite verdure, but meeting no one, and with nothing better than mountain paths to guide him. Away down in the valley below, almost buried under a densely luxuriant growth of trees and flowers, he espied a small hamlet, and began to descend the hill and make his way thither. He found very few houses, and all built of rushes, but otherwise pleasant enough to look at. Before the door of one, which stood at the northern end of the village, were a number of graceful willow trees, and inside the wall plenty of peach and apricot trees, with tufts of bamboo between them, and birds chirping on the branches. As it was a private house, he did not venture to go in, but sat down to rest himself on a huge smooth stone opposite the front door.
By-and-by he heard a girl’s voice from within calling out Hsiao-jung; and noticing that it was a sweet-toned voice, set himself to listen, when a young lady passed with a bunch of apricot-flowers in her hand, which she was sticking into her bent-down head. As soon as she raised her face she saw Wang, and stopped putting in the flowers; then, smothering a laugh, she gathered them together and ran in. Wang perceived to his intense delight that she was none other than his heroine of the Feast of Lanterns; but recollecting [p. 68] that he had no right to follow her in, was on the point of calling after her as his cousin. There was no one, however, in the street, and he was afraid lest he might have made a mistake; neither was there anybody at the door of whom he could make inquiries. So he remained there in a very restless state till the sun was well down in the west, and his hopes were almost at an end, forgetting all about food and drink. He then saw the young lady peep through the door, apparently very much astonished to find him still there; and in a few minutes out came an old woman leaning on a stick, who said to him, “Whence do you come, Sir? I hear you have been here ever since morning. What is it you want? Aren’t you hungry?” Wang got up, and making a bow, replied that he was in search of some relatives of his; but the old woman was deaf and didn’t catch what he said, so he had to shout it out again at the top of his voice. She asked him what their names were, but he was unable to tell her; at which she laughed and said, “It is a funny thing to look for people when you don’t know their names. I am afraid you are an unpractical gentleman. You had better come in and have something to eat; we’ll give you a bed, and you can go back tomorrow and find out the names of the people you are in quest of.”
Now Wang was just beginning to get hungry, and, besides, this would bring him nearer to the young lady; so he readily accepted and followed the old woman in. They walked along a paved path banked on both sides with hibiscus, the leaves of which were scattered about on the ground; and passing through another door, entered a courtyard full of trained creepers and other flowers. The old woman showed Wang into a small room with beautifully white walls and a branch of a crab-apple tree coming through the window, the furniture being also nice and clean. They had hardly sat down when it was clear that someone was taking a peep through the window; whereupon the old woman cried out, “Hsiao-jung! make haste and get dinner,” and a maid from outside immediately answered “Yes, ma’am.” Meanwhile, Wang had been explaining who he was; and then the old lady said, “Was your maternal grandfather named Wu?” “He was,” replied Wang. “Well, I never!” cried the old woman; “he was my uncle, and your mother and I are cousins. But in [p. 69] consequence of our poverty, and having no sons, we have kept quite to ourselves, and you have grown to be a man without my knowing you.” “I came here,” said Wang, “about my cousin, but in the hurry I forgot your name.” “My name is Ch’in,” replied the old lady; “I have no son: only a girl, the child of a concubine, who, after my husband’s death, married again and left her daughter with me. She’s a clever girl, but has had very little education; full of fun and ignorant of the sorrows of life. I’ll send for her by-and-by to make your acquaintance.” The maid then brought in the dinner—a well-grown fowl—and the old woman pressed him to eat.
When they had finished, and the things were taken away, the old woman said, “Call Miss Ning,” and the maid went off to do so. After some time there was a giggling at the door, and the old woman cried out, “Ying-ning! your cousin is here.” There was then a great tittering as the maid pushed her in, stopping her mouth all the time to try and keep from laughing. “Don’t you know better than to behave like that?” asked the old woman, “and before a stranger, too.” So Ying-ning controlled her feelings, and Wang made her a bow, the old woman saying, “Mr. Wang is your cousin; you have never seen him before. Isn’t that funny?” Wang asked how old his cousin was, but the old woman didn’t hear him, and he had to say it again, which sent Ying-ning off into another fit of laughter. “I told you,” observed the old woman, “she hadn’t much education; now you see it. She is sixteen years old, and as foolish as a baby.” “One year younger than I am,” remarked Wang. “Oh, you’re seventeen, are you? Then you were born in the year —, under the sign of the horse.”5 Wang nodded assent, and then the old woman asked who his wife was, to which Wang replied that he had none. “What! a clever, [p. 70] handsome young fellow of seventeen not yet engaged? Ying-ning is not engaged either: you two would make a nice pair if it wasn’t for the relationship.” Wang said nothing, but looked hard at his cousin; and just then the maid whispered to her, “It is the fellow with the wicked eyes He’s at his old game.” Ying-ning laughed, and proposed to the maid that they should go and see if the peaches were in blossom or not; and off they went together, the former with her sleeve stuffed into her mouth until she got outside, where she burst into a hearty fit of laughing. The old woman gave orders for a bed to be got ready for Wang, saying to him, “It’s not often we meet: you must spend a few days with us now you are here, and then we’ll send you home. If you are at all dull, there’s a garden behind where you can amuse yourself, and books for you to read.”
So next day Wang strolled into the garden, which was of moderate size, with a well-kept lawn and plenty of trees and flowers. There was also an arbour consisting of three posts with a thatched roof, quite shut in on all sides by the luxuriant vegetation. Pushing his way among the flowers, Wang heard a noise from one of the trees, and looking up saw Ying-ning, who at once burst out laughing and nearly fell down. “Don’t! don’t!” cried Wang, “you’ll fall!” Then Ying-ning came down, giggling all the time, until, when she was near the ground, she missed her hold, and tumbled down with a run. This stopped her merriment, and, Wang picked her up, gently squeezing her hand as he did so. Ying-ning began laughing again, and was obliged to lean against a tree for support, it being some time before she was able to stop. Wang waited till she had finished, and then drew the flower out of his sleeve and handed it to her. “It’s dead,” said she; “why do you keep it?” “You dropped it, cousin, at the Feast of Lanterns,” replied Wang, “and so I kept it.” She then asked him what was his object in keeping it, to which he answered, “To show my love, and that I have not forgotten you. Since that day when we met, I have been very ill from thinking so much of you, and am quite changed from [p. 71] what I was. But now that it is my unexpected good fortune to meet you, I pray you have pity on me.” “You needn’t make such a fuss about a trifle,” replied she, “and with your own relatives, too. I’ll give orders to supply you with a whole basketful of flowers when you go away.” Wang told her she did not understand, and when she asked what it was she didn’t understand, he said, “I didn’t care for the flower itself; it was the person who picked the flower.” “Of course,” answered she, “everybody cares for their relations; you needn’t have told me that?” “I wasn’t talking about ordinary relations,” said Wang, “but about husbands and wives.” “What’s the difference?” asked Ying-ning. “Why,” replied Wang, “husband and wife are always together.” “Just what I shouldn’t like,” cried she, “to be always with anybody.” At this juncture up came the maid, and Wang slipped quietly away.
By-and-by they all met again in the house, and the old woman asked Ying-ning where they had been; whereupon she said they had been talking in the garden. “Dinner has been ready a long time. I can’t think what you have had to say all this while,” grumbled the old woman. “My cousin,” answered Ying-ning, “has been talking to me about husbands and wives.” Wang was much disconcerted, and made a sign to her to be quiet, so she smiled and said no more; and the old woman luckily did not catch her words, and asked her to repeat them. Wang immediately put her off with something else, and whispered to Ying-ning that she had done very wrong. The latter did not see that; and when Wang told her that what he had said was private, answered him that she had no secrets from her old mother. “Besides,” added she, “what harm can there be in talking on such a common topic as husbands and wives?”
Wang was angry with her for being so dull, [p. 72] but there was no help for it; and by the time dinner was over he found some of his mother’s servants had come in search of him, bringing a couple of donkeys with them. It appeared that his mother, alarmed at his non-appearance, had made strict search for him in the village; and when unable to discover any traces of him, had gone off to the Wu family to consult. There her nephew, who recollected what he had previously said to young Wang, advised that a search should be instituted in the direction of the hills; and accordingly the servants had been to all the villages on the way until they had at length recognised him as he was coming out of the door. Wang went in and told the old woman, begging that he might be allowed to take Ying-ning with him. “I have had the idea in my head for several days,” replied the old woman, overjoyed; “but I am a feeble old thing myself, and couldn’t travel so far. If, however, you will take charge of my girl and introduce her to her aunt, I shall be very pleased.” So she called Ying-ning, who came up laughing as usual; whereupon the old woman rebuked her, saying, “What makes you always laugh so? You would be a very good girl but for that silly habit. Now, here’s your cousin, who wants to take you away with him. Make haste and pack up.” The servants who had come for Wang were then provided with refreshment, and the old woman bade them both farewell, telling Ying-ning that her aunt was quite well enough off to maintain her, and that she had better not come back. She also advised her not to neglect her studies, and to be very attentive to her elders, adding that she might ask her aunt to provide her with a good husband. Wang and Ying-ning then took their leave; and when they reached the brow of the hill, they looked back and could just discern the old woman leaning against the door and “gazing towards the north.”8
On arriving at Wang’s home, his mother, seeing a nice-looking young girl with him, asked in astonishment who she might be; and Wang at once told her the whole story. “But that was all an invention of your cousin Wu’s!” cried his mother; “I haven’t got a sister, and consequently I can’t have such a niece.” Ying-ning here observed, “I am not the daughter of the old woman; my father was named Ch’in and died when I was a little baby, [p. 73] so that I can’t remember anything.” “I had a sister,” said Wang’s mother, “who actually did marry a Mr. Ch’in, but she died many years ago, and can’t be still living, of course.” However, on inquiring as to facial appearance and characteristic marks, Wang’s mother was obliged to acknowledge the identity, wondering at the same time how her sister could be alive when she had died many years before. Just then in came Wu, and Ying-ning retired within; and when he heard the story, remained some time lost in astonishment, and then said, “Is this young lady’s name Ying-ning?” Wang replied that it was, and asked Wu how he came to know it. “Mr. Ch’in,” answered he, “after his wife’s death was bewitched by a fox, and subsequently died. The fox had a daughter named Ying-ning, as was well known to all the family; and when Mr. Ch’in died, as the fox still frequented the place, the Taoist Pope was called in to exorcise it. The fox then went away, taking Ying-ning with it, and now here she is.” While they were thus discussing, peals of laughter were heard coming from within, and Mrs. Wang took occasion to remark what a foolish girl she was. Wu begged to be introduced, and Mrs. Wang went in to fetch her, finding her in an uncontrollable fit of laughter, which she subdued only with great difficulty, and by turning her face to the wall. By-and-by she went out; but, after making a bow, ran back and burst out laughing again, to the great amusement of all the ladies.
Wu then said he would go and find out for them all about Ying-ning and her queer story, so as to be able to arrange the marriage; but when he reached the spot indicated, village and houses had all vanished, and nothing was to be seen except hill-flowers scattered about here and there. He recollected that Mrs. Ch’in had been buried at no great distance from that spot; he found, [p. 74] however, that the grave had disappeared, and he was no longer able to determine its position.
Not knowing what to make of it all, he returned home, and then Mrs. Wang, who thought the girl must be a disembodied spirit, went in and told her what Wu had said. Ying-ning showed no signs of alarm at this remark; neither did she cry at all when Mrs. Wang began to condole with her on no longer having a home. She only laughed in her usual silly way, and fairly puzzled them all. Sharing Miss Wang’s room, she now began to take her part in the duties of a daughter of the family; and as for needlework, they had rarely seen anything like hers for fineness. But she could not get over that trick of laughing, which, by the way, never interfered with her good looks, and consequently rather amused people than otherwise, amongst others a young married lady who lived next door.
Wang’s mother fixed an auspicious day for the wedding, but still feeling suspicious about Ying-ning, was always secretly watching her. Finding, however, that she had a proper shadow,10 she had her dressed up when the day came, in all the finery of a bride and would have made her perform the usual ceremonies, only Ying-ning laughed so much she was unable to kneel down.11 They were accordingly obliged to excuse her, but Wang began to fear that such a foolish girl would never be able to keep the family counsel. Luckily, she was very reticent and did not indulge in gossip; and moreover, when Mrs. Wang was in trouble or out of temper, Ying-ning could always bring her round with a laugh. The maid-servants, too, if they expected a whipping for anything, would always ask her to be present when they appeared before their mistress, and thus they often escaped punishment. Ying-ning had a perfect passion for flowers. She got all she could out of her relations, and even secretly pawned her jewels to buy rare specimens; and by the end of a few months the whole place was one mass of flowers. Behind the house there was one especial tree which [p. 75] belonged to the neighbours on that side; but Ying-ning was always climbing up and picking the flowers to stick in her hair, for which Mrs. Wang rebuked her severely, though without any result.
One day the owner saw her, and gazed at her some time in rapt astonishment; however, she didn’t move, deigning only to laugh. The gentleman was much smitten with her; and when she smilingly descended the wall on her own side, pointing all the time with her finger to a spot hard by, he thought she was making an assignation. So he presented himself at night-fall at the same place, and sure enough Ying-ning was there. Seizing her hand, to tell his passion, he found that he was grasping only a log of wood which stood against the wall; and the next thing he knew was that a scorpion had stung him violently on the finger. There was an end of his romance, except that he died of the wound during the night, and his family at once commenced an action against Wang for having a witch-wife.
The magistrate happened to be a great admirer of Wang’s talent, and knew him to be an accomplished scholar; he therefore refused to grant the summons, and ordered the prosecutor to be bambooed for false accusation.13 Wang interposed and got him off this punishment, and returned home himself.
His mother then scolded Ying-ning well, saying, “I knew your too playful disposition would some day bring sorrow upon you. But for our intelligent magistrate we should have been in a nice mess. Any ordinary hawk-like official would have had you publicly interrogated in court; and then how could your husband ever have held up his head again?” Ying-ning looked grave and swore she would laugh no more; and Mrs. Wang continued, “There’s no harm in laughing as long as it is seasonable laughter;” but from that moment Ying-ning laughed no more, no matter what people did to make her, though at the same time her expression was by no means gloomy.
One evening she went in tears to her husband, who wanted to know what was the matter. “I couldn’t tell you before,” said she, sobbing; “we had known each other such a short time. But now that you and your mother have been so kind to me, I will keep nothing from you, but tell you all. I am the daughter of a fox. When my mother went away she [p. 76] put me in the charge of the disembodied spirit of an old woman; with whom I remained for a period of over ten years. I have no brothers: only you to whom I can look. And now my foster-mother is lying on the hill-side with no one to bury her and appease her discontented shade. If not too much, I would ask you to do this, that her spirit may be at rest, and know that it was not neglected by her whom she brought up.” Wang consented, but said he feared they would not be able to find her grave; on which Ying-ning said there was no danger of that, and accordingly they set forth together.
When they arrived, Ying-ning pointed out the tomb in a lonely spot amidst a thicket of brambles, and there they found the old woman’s bones. Ying-ning wept bitterly, and then they proceeded to carry her remains home with them, subsequently interring them in the Ch’in family vault. That night Wang dreamt that the old woman came to thank him, and when he waked he told Ying-ning, who said that she had seen her also, and had been warned by her not to frighten Mr. Wang. Her husband asked why she had not detained the old lady; but Ying-ning replied, “She is a disembodied spirit, and would be ill at ease for any time surrounded by so much life.”14 Wang then inquired after Hsiao-jung, and his wife said, “She was a fox too, and a very clever one. My foster-mother kept her to wait on me, and she was always getting fruit and cakes for me, so that I have a friendship for her and shall never forget her. My foster-mother told me yesterday she was married.”
After this, whenever the great fast-day came round, husband and wife went off without fail to worship at the Ch’in family tomb; and by the time a year had passed she gave birth to a son, who wasn’t a bit afraid of strangers, but laughed at everybody, and in fact took very much after his mother. [p. 77]
1 Sickness being supposed to result from evil influences, witchcraft, &c., just as often as from more natural causes.
2 The rule which guides betrothals in China is that “the doors should be opposite”—i.e., that the families of the bride and bridegroom should be of equal position in the social scale. Any unpleasantness about the value of the marriage presents, and so on, is thereby avoided.
3 Marriage between persons of the same surname, except in special cases, is forbidden by law, for such are held to be blood relations, descended lineally from the original couple of that name. Inasmuch, however, as the line of descent is traced through the male branches only, a man may marry his cousins on the maternal side without let or hindrance except that of sentiment, which is sufficiently strong to keep these alliances down to a minimum.
4 A very unjustifiable proceeding in Chinese eyes, unless driven to it by actual poverty.
5 The Chinese years are distinguished by the names of twelve animals—namely, rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog, and boar. To the common. question, “What is your honourable age?” the reply is frequently, “I was born under the —;” and the hearer by a short mental calculation can tell at once how old the speaker is, granting, of course, the impossibility of making an error of so much as twelve years.
6 Parents in China like to get their sons married as early as possible, in the hope of seeing themselves surrounded by grandsons, and the family name in no danger of extinction. Girls are generally married at from fifteen to seventeen.
7 This scene should for ever disabuse people of the notion that there is no such thing as “making love” among the Chinese. That the passion is just as much a disease in China as it is with us will be abundantly evident from several subsequent stories; though by those who have lived and mixed with the Chinese people, no such confirmation will be needed. I have even heard it gravely asserted by an educated native that not a few of his countrymen had “died for love” of the beautiful Miss Lin, the charming but fictitious heroine of the so-called Dream of the Red Chamber.
Playgoers can here hardly fail to notice a very striking similarity to the close of the first act of Sir W. S. Gilbert’s “Sweethearts.”
8 q.d. Looking sorrowfully after them.
9 The semi-divine head of the Taoist religion, wrongly called the Master of Heaven. In his body is supposed to reside the soul of a celebrated Taoist, an ancestor of his, who actually discovered the elixir of life and became an immortal some eighteen hundred years ago. At death, the precious soul above-mentioned will take up its abode in the body of some youthful member of the family to be hereinafter revealed. Meanwhile, the present Pope makes a very respectable income from the sale of charms, by working miracles, and so forth; and only about 1877 he visited Shanghai, where he was interviewed by several foreigners.
10 Disembodied spirits are supposed to have no shadow, and but very little appetite. There are also certain occasions on which they cannot stand the smell of sulphur. Fiske, in his Myths and Myth-makers (page 230), says, “Almost universally, ghosts, however impervious to thrust of sword or shot of pistol, can eat and drink like Squire Westerns.”
11 See No. III., note 2.
12 The Muh-siang or Rosa Banksiae, R. Br.
13 Strictly in accordance with Chinese criminal law.
14 These disembodied spirits are unable to stand for any length of time the light and life of this upper world, darkness and death being as it were necessary to their existence and comfort.
l5 The day before the annual spring festival.
XVI. THE MAGIC SWORD
NING TS’AI-CH’EN was a Chekiang man, and a good-natured, honourable fellow, fond of telling people that he had only loved once. Happening to go to Chinhua, he took shelter in a temple to the north of the city; very nice as far as ornamentation went, but overgrown with grass taller than a man’s head, and evidently not much frequented. On either side were the priests’ apartments, the doors of which were ajar, with the exception of a small room on the south side, where the lock had a new appearance. In the east corner he espied a group of bamboos, growing over a large pool of water-lilies in flower; and, being much pleased with the quiet of the place, determined to remain; more especially as, the Grand Examiner being in the town, all lodgings had gone up in price.
So he roamed about waiting till the priests should return; and in the evening a gentleman came and opened the door on the south side. Ning quickly made up to him, and with a bow informed him of his design. “There is no one here whose permission you need ask,” replied the stranger; “I am only lodging here, and if you don’t object to the loneliness, I shall be very pleased to have the benefit of your society.” Ning was delighted, and made himself a straw bed, and put up a board for a table, as if he intended to remain some time; and that night, by the beams of the clear bright moon, they sat together in the verandah and talked. The stranger’s name was Yen Ch’ih-hsia, and Ning thought he was a student up for the provincial examination, only his dialect was not that of a Chekiang man. On being asked, he said he came from Shensi; and there was an air of straightforwardness about all his remarks. By-and-by, when their conversation was exhausted, they bade each other good night and went to bed; but Ning, being in a strange place, was quite unable to sleep; and soon he heard sounds of voices from the room on the north side. Getting up, he peeped through a window, and saw, in a small courtyard the other side of a low wall, a woman of about forty with an old maid-servant in a long faded gown, humped-backed and feeble-looking. They were chatting by the light of the moon, and the mistress said, “Why doesn’t Hsiao-ch’ien [p. 78] come?” “She ought to be here by now,” replied the other. “She isn’t offended with you, is she?” asked the lady. “Not that I know of,” answered the old servant, “but she seems to want to give trouble.” “Such people don’t deserve to be treated well,” said the other; and she had hardly uttered these words when up came a young girl of seventeen or eighteen, and very nice looking. The old servant laughed, and said, “Don’t talk of people behind their backs. We were just mentioning you as you came without our hearing you; but fortunately we were saying nothing bad about you. And, as far as that goes,” added she, “if I were a young fellow, why, I should certainly fall in love with you.” “If you don’t praise me,” replied the girl, “I’m sure I don’t know who will;” and then the lady and the girl said something together, and Mr. Ning, thinking they were the family next door, turned round to sleep without paying further attention to them.
In a little while no sound was to be heard; but, as he was dropping off to sleep, he perceived that somebody was in the room. Jumping up in great haste, he found it was the young lady he had just seen; and detecting at once that she was going to attempt to bewitch him, sternly bade her begone. She then produced a lump of gold which he threw away, and told her to go after it or he would call his friend. So she had no alternative but to go, muttering something about his heart being like iron or stone.
Next day, a young candidate for the examination came and lodged in the east room with his servant. He, however, was killed that very night, and his servant the night after; the corpses of both showing a small hole in the sole of the foot as if bored by an awl, and from which a little blood came. No one knew who had committed these murders, and when Mr. Yen came home, Ning asked him what he thought about it. Yen replied that it was the work of devils, but Ning was a brave fellow, and that didn’t frighten him much.
In the middle of the night Hsiao-ch’ien appeared to him again, and said, “I have seen many men, but none with a steel-cold heart like yours. You are an upright man, and I will not attempt to deceive you. I, Hsiao-ch’ien, whose family name is Nieh, died when only eighteen, and was buried alongside of this temple. A devil then took possession of [p. 79] me, and employed me to bewitch people by my beauty, contrary to my inclination. There is now nothing left in this temple to slay, and I fear that imps will be employed to kill you.” Ning was very frightened at this, and asked her what he should do. “Sleep in the same room with Mr. Yen,” replied she. “What!” asked he, “cannot the spirits trouble Yen?” “He is a strange man,” she answered, “and they don’t like going near him.” Ning then inquired how the spirits worked. “I bewitch people,” said Hsiao-ch’ien, “and then they bore a hole in the foot which renders the victim senseless, and proceed to draw off the blood, which the devils drink. Another method is to tempt people by false gold, the bones of some horrid demon; and if they receive it, their hearts and livers will be torn out. Either method is used according to circumstances.” Ning thanked her, and asked when he ought to be prepared; to which she replied, “Tomorrow night.” At parting she wept, and said, “I am about to sink into the great sea, with no friendly shore at hand. But your sense of duty is boundless, and you can save me. If you will collect my bones and bury them in some quiet spot, I shall not again be subject to these misfortunes.” Ning said he would do so, and asked where she lay buried. “At the foot of the aspen-tree on which there is a bird’s nest,” replied she; and passing out of the door, disappeared.
The next day Ning was afraid that Yen might be going away somewhere, and went over early to invite him across. Wine and food were produced towards noon; and Ning, who took care not to lose sight of Yen, then asked him to remain there for the night. Yen declined, on the ground that he liked being by himself; but Ning wouldn’t hear any excuses, and carried all Yen’s things to his own room, so that he had no alternative but to consent. However, he warned Ning, saying, “I know you are a gentleman and a man of honour. If you see anything you don’t quite understand, I pray you not to be too inquisitive; don’t pry into my boxes, or it may be the worse for both of us.” Ning promised to attend to what he said, and by-and-by they both lay down to sleep; and Yen, having placed his boxes on the window-sill, was soon snoring loudly.
Ning himself could not sleep; and after some time he saw a [p. 80] figure moving stealthily outside, at length approaching the window to peep through. Its eyes flashed like lightning, and Ning in a terrible fright was just upon the point of calling Yen, when something flew out of one of the boxes like a strip of white silk, and dashing against the window-sill returned at once to the box, disappearing very much like lightning. Yen heard the noise and got up, Ning all the time pretending to be asleep in order to watch what happened. The former then opened the box, and took out something which he smelt and examined by the light of the moon. It was dazzlingly white like crystal, and about two inches in length by the width of an onion leaf in breadth. He then wrapped it up carefully and put it back in the broken box, saying, “A bold-faced devil that, to dare thus to break my box;” upon which he went back to bed; but Ning, who was lost in astonishment, arose and asked him what it all meant, telling at the same time what he himself had seen. “As you and I are good friends,” replied Yen, “I won’t make any secret of it. The fact is I am a Taoist priest. But for the window-sill the devil would have been killed; as it is, he is badly wounded.” Ning asked him what it was he had there wrapped up, and he told him it was his sword,l on which he had smelt the presence of the devil. At Ning’s request he produced the weapon, a bright little miniature of a sword; and from that time Ning held his friend in higher esteem than ever.
Next day he found traces of blood outside the window which led round to the north of the temple; and there among a number of graves he discovered the aspen tree with the bird’s nest at its summit. He then fulfilled his promise and prepared to go home, Yen giving him a farewell banquet, and presenting him with an old leather case which he said contained a sword, and would keep at a distance from him all devils and bogies. Ning then wished to learn a little of Yen’s art; but the latter replied that although he might accomplish this easily enough, being as he was an upright man, yet he was well off in life, and not in a condition where it would be of any advantage to him. Ning then pretending that he had a younger sister buried here, dug up Hsiao-ch’ien’s bones, and, having wrapped [p. 81] them up in grave-clothes, hired a boat, and set off on his way home.
On his arrival, as his library looked towards the open country, he made a grave hard by and buried the bones there, sacrificing, and invoking Hsiao-ch’ien as follows:—“In pity for your lonely ghost, I have placed your remains near my humble cottage, where we shall be near each other, and no devil will dare annoy you. I pray you reject not my sacrifice, poor though it be.” After this, he was proceeding home when he suddenly heard himself addressed from behind, the voice asking him not to hurry; and turning round he beheld Hsiao-ch’ien, who thanked him, saying, “Were I to die ten times for you I could not discharge my debt. Let me go home with you and wait upon your father and mother; you will not repent it.” Looking closely at her, he observed that she had a beautiful complexion, and feet as small as bamboo shoots,2 being altogether much prettier now that he came to see her by daylight.
So they went together to his home, and bidding her wait awhile, Ning ran in to tell his mother, to the very great surprise of the old lady. Now Ning’s wife had been in for a long time, and his mother advised him not to say a word about it to her for fear of frightening her; in the middle of which in rushed Hsiao-ch’ien, and threw herself on the ground before them. “This is the young lady,” said Ning; whereupon his mother in some alarm turned her attention to Hsiao-ch’ien, who cried out, “A lonely orphan, without brother or sister, the object of your son’s kindness and compassion, begs to be allowed to give her poor services as some return for favours shown.” Ning’s mother, seeing that she was a nice, pleasant-looking girl, began to lose fear of her, and replied, “Madam, the preference you show for my son is highly pleasing to an old body like myself; but this is the only hope of our family, and I hardly dare agree to his taking a devil-wife.” “I have but one motive in what I ask,” answered Hsiao-ch’ien, “and if you have no faith in disembodied people then let me regard him as my brother, and live under your protection, serving you like a daughter.” Ning’s mother could not resist her straightforward manner, and Hsiao-ch’ien asked to be allowed to see Ning’s wife, but this was [p. 82] denied on the plea that the lady was ill.
Hsiao-ch’ien then went into the kitchen and got ready the dinner, running about the place as if she had lived there all her life. Ning’s mother was, however, much afraid of her, and would not let her sleep in the house; so Hsiao-ch’ien went to the library, and was just entering when suddenly she fell back a few steps, and began walking hurriedly backwards and forwards in front of the door. Ning seeing this, called out and asked her what it meant; to which she replied, “The presence of that sword frightens me, and that is why I could not accompany you on your way home.” Ning at once understood her, and hung up the sword-case in another place; whereupon she entered, lighted a candle, and sat down. For some time she did not speak: at length asking Ning if he studied at night or not—“For,” said she, “when I was little I used to repeat the Lêngyen sutra; but now I have forgotten more than half, and, therefore, I should like to borrow a copy, and when you are at leisure in the evening you might hear me.” Ning said he would, and they sat silently there for some time, after which Hsiao-ch‘ien went away and took up her quarters elsewhere.
Morning and night she waited on Ning’s mother, bringing water for her to wash in, occupying herself with household matters, and endeavouring to please her in every way. In the evening before she went to bed, she would always go in and repeat a little of the sutra, and leave as soon as she thought Ning was getting sleepy. Now the illness of Ning’s wife had given his mother a great deal of extra trouble—more, in fact, than she was equal to; but ever since Hsiao-ch’ien’s arrival all this was changed, and Ning’s mother felt kindly disposed to the girl in consequence, gradually growing to regard her almost as her own child, and forgetting quite that she was a spirit. Accordingly, she didn’t make her leave the house at night; and Hsiao-ch’ien, who being a devil had not tasted meat or drink since her arrival,3 now began at the end of six months to take a little thin gruel. Mother and son alike became very fond of her, and henceforth never mentioned what she really was; neither were strangers able to detect the fact.
By-and-by, Ning’s wife died, and his mother secretly wished him to espouse Hsiao-ch’ien, though she rather [p. 83] dreaded any unfortunate consequences that might arise. This Hsiao-ch’ien perceived, and seizing an opportunity said to Ning’s mother, “I have been with you now more than a year, and you ought to know something of my disposition. Because I was unwilling to injure travellers I followed your son hither. There was no other motive; and, as your son has shown himself one of the best of men, I would now remain with him for three years in order that he may obtain for me some mark of Imperial approbation which will do me honour in the realms below.” Ning’s mother knew that she meant no evil, but hesitated to put the family hopes of a posterity into jeopardy. Hsiao-ch’ien, however, reassured her by saying that Ning would have three sons, and that the line would not be interrupted by his marrying her. On the strength of this the marriage was arranged, to the great joy of Ning, a feast prepared, and friends and relatives invited; and when in response to a call the bride herself came forth in her gay wedding-dress, the beholders took her rather for a fairy than for a devil. After this, numbers of congratulatory presents were given by the various female members of the family, who vied with one another in making her acquaintance; and these Hsiao-ch’ien returned by gifts of paintings of flowers, done by herself, in which she was very skilful, the receivers being extremely proud of such marks of her friendship.
One day she was leaning at the window in a despondent mood, when suddenly she asked where the sword-case was. “Oh,” replied Ning, “as you seemed afraid of it, I moved it elsewhere.” “I have now been so long under the influence of surrounding life,”5 said Hsiao-ch’ien, “that I sha’n’t be afraid of it any more. Let us hang it on the bed.” “Why so?” asked Ning. “For the last three days,” explained she, “I have been much agitated in mind; and I fear that the devil at the temple, angry at my escape, may come suddenly and carry me off.” So Ning brought the sword-case, and Hsiao-ch’ien, after examining it closely, remarked, “This is where the magician puts people. I wonder how many were slain before it got old and worn out as it is now. [p. 84] Even now when I look at it my flesh creeps.” The case was then hung up, and next day removed to over the door.
At night they sat up and watched, Hsiao-ch’ien warning Ning not to go to sleep; and suddenly something fell down flop like a bird. Hsiao-ch’ien in a fright got behind the curtain; but Ning looked at the thing, and found it was an imp of darkness, with glaring eyes and a bloody mouth, coming straight to the door. Stealthily creeping up, it made a grab at the sword-case, and seemed about to tear it in pieces, when bang!—the sword-case became as big as a wardrobe, and from it a devil protruded part of his body and dragged the imp in. Nothing more was heard, and the sword-case resumed its original size. Ning was greatly alarmed, but Hsiao-ch’ien came out rejoicing, and said, “There’s an end of my troubles.” In the sword-case they found only a few quarts of clear water; nothing else.
After these events Ning took his doctor’s degree and Hsiao-ch’ien bore him a son. He then took a concubine, and had one more son by each, all of whom became in time distinguished men.
1 See No. X., note 8.
2 Which, well cooked, are a very good substitute for asparagus.
3 See note 10 to the last story.
4 Such as are from time to time bestowed upon virtuous widows and wives, filial sons and daughters, and others. These consist of some laudatory scroll or tablet, and are much prized by the family of the recipient.
5 See note 14 to last story.
XVII. THE SHUI-MANG PLANT
THE shui-mang is a poisonous herb. It is a creeper, like the bean, and has a similar red flower. Those who eat of it die, and become shui-mang devils, tradition asserting that such devils are unable to be born again unless they can find some one else who has also eaten of this poison to take their place.2 These shui-mang devils abound in the province of Hunan, where, by the way, the phrase “same-year man” is applied to those born in the same year, who exchange visits and call each other brother, their children addressing the father’s “brother” as uncle. This has now become a regular custom there.3 [p. 85]
A young man named Chu was on his way to visit a same-year friend of his, when he was overtaken by a violent thirst. Suddenly he came upon an old woman sitting by the roadside under a shed and distributing tea gratis,4 and immediately walked up to her to get a drink. She invited him into the shed, and presented him with a bowl of tea in a very cordial spirit; but the smell of it did not seem like the smell of ordinary tea, and he would not drink it, rising up to go away. The old woman stopped him, and called out, “San-niang! bring some good tea.” Immediately a young girl came from behind the shed, carrying in her hands a pot of tea. She was about fourteen or fifteen years old, and of very fascinating appearance, with glittering rings and bracelets on her fingers and arms. As Chu received the cup from her his reason fled; and drinking down the tea she gave him, the flavour of which was unlike any other kind, he proceeded to ask for more. Then, watching for a moment when the old woman’s back was turned, he seized her wrist and drew a ring from her finger. The girl blushed and smiled; and Chu, more and more inflamed, asked her where she lived. “Come again this evening,” replied she, “and you’ll find me here.” Chu begged for a handful of her tea, which he stowed away with the ring, and took his leave.
Arriving at his destination, he felt a pain in his heart, which he at once attributed to the tea, telling his friend what had occurred. “Alas! you are undone,” cried the other; “they were shui-mang devils. My father died in the same way, and we were unable to save him. There is no help for you.” Chu was terribly frightened, and produced the handful of tea, which his friend at once pronounced to be leaves of the shui-mang plant. He then showed him the ring, and told him what the girl had said whereupon his friend, after some reflection, said, “She must be San-niang, of the K’ou family.” “How could you know her name?” asked Chu, hearing his friend use the same words as the old woman. [p. 86] “Oh,” replied he, “there was a nice-looking girl of that name who died some years ago from eating of the same herb. She is doubtless the girl you saw.” Here some one observed that if the person so entrapped by a devil only knew its name, and could procure an old pair of its shoes, he might save himself by boiling them in water and drinking the liquor as medicine. Chu’s friend thereupon rushed off at once to the K’ou family, and implored them to give him an old pair of their daughter’s shoes; but they, not wishing to prevent their daughter from finding a substitute in Chu, flatly refused his request. So he went back in anger and told Chu, who ground his teeth with rage, saying, “If I die, she shall not obtain her transmigration thereby.” His friend then sent Min home; and just as he reached the door he fell down dead.
Chu’s mother wept bitterly over his corpse, which was in due course interred; and he left behind one little boy barely a year old. His wife did not remain a widow, but in six months married again and went away, putting Chu’s son under the care of his grandmother, who was quite unequal to any toil, and did nothing but weep morning and night.
One day she was carrying her grandson about in her arms, crying bitterly all the time, when suddenly in walked Chu. His mother, much alarmed, brushed away her tears, and asked him what it meant. “Mother,” replied he, “down in the realms below I heard you weeping. I am therefore come to tend you. Although a departed spirit, I have a wife, who has likewise come to share your toil. Therefore do not grieve.” His mother inquired who his wife was, to which he replied, “When the K’ou family sat still and left me to my fate I was greatly incensed against them; and after death I sought for San-niang, not knowing where she was. I have recently seen my old same-year friend, and he told me where she was. She had come to life again in the person of the baby-daughter of a high official named Jen; but I went thither and dragged her spirit back. She is now my wife, and we get on extremely well together.” A very pretty and well-dressed young lady here entered, and made obeisance to Chu’s mother, Chu saying, “This is San-niang, of the K’ou family;” and although not a living being, Mrs. Chu at once took a great fancy to her. Chu sent her off to help in the work of the house, and, in spite of not being accustomed [p. 87] to this sort of thing, she was so obedient to her mother-in-law as to excite the compassion of all. The two then took up their quarters in Chu’s old apartments, and there they continued to remain.
Meanwhile San-niang asked Chu’s mother to let the K’ou family know; and this she did, notwithstanding some objections raised by her son. Mr. and Mrs. K’ou were much astonished at the news, and, ordering their carriage, proceeded at once to Chu’s house. There they found their daughter, and parents and child fell into each other’s arms. San-niang entreated them to dry their tears; but her mother, noticing the poverty of Chu’s household, was unable to restrain her feelings. “We are already spirits,” cried San-niang; “what matters poverty to us? Besides, I am very well treated here, and am altogether as happy as I can be.” They then asked her who the old woman was, to which she replied, “Her name was Ni. She was mortified at being too ugly to entrap people herself, and got me to assist her. She has now been born again at a soy-shop in the city.” Then, looking at her husband, she added, “Come, since you are the son-in-law, pay the proper respect to my father and mother, or what shall I think of you?” Chu made his obeisance, and San-niang went into the kitchen to get food ready for them, at which her mother became very melancholy, and went away home, whence she sent a couple of maid-servants, a hundred ounces of silver, and rolls of cloth and silk, besides making occasional presents of food and wine, so that Chu’s mother lived in comparative comfort. San-niang also went from time to time to see her parents, but would never stay very long, pleading that she was wanted at home, and such excuses; and if the old people attempted to keep her, she simply went off by herself. Her father built a nice house for Chu with all kinds of luxuries in it; but Chu never once entered his father-in-law’s door.
Subsequently a man of the village who had eaten shui-mang, and had died in consequence, came back to life, to the great astonishment of everybody. However, Chu explained it, saying, “I brought him back to life. He was the victim of a man named Li Chiu; but I drove off Li’s spirit when it came to make the other take his place.” Chu’s mother then asked her son why he did not get a [p. 88] substitute for himself; to which he replied, “I do not like to do this. I am anxious to put an end to, rather than take advantage of, such a system. Besides, I am very happy waiting on you, and have no wish to be born again.” From that time all persons who had poisoned themselves with shui-mang were in the habit of feasting Chu and obtaining his assistance in their trouble. But in ten years’ time his mother died, and he and his wife gave themselves up to sorrow, and would see no one, bidding their little boy put on mourning, beat his breast, and perform the proper ceremonies.
Two years after Chu had buried his mother, his son married the granddaughter of a high official named Jen. This gentleman had had a daughter by a concubine, who had died when only a few months old; and now, hearing the strange story of Chu’s wife, he came to call on her and arrange the marriage. He then gave his granddaughter to Chu’s son, and a free intercourse was maintained between the two families. However, one day Chu said to his son, “Because I have been of service to my generation, God has appointed me Keeper of the Dragons; and I am now about to proceed to my post.” Thereupon four horses appeared in the court-yard, drawing a carriage with yellow hangings, the flanks of the horses being covered with scale-like trappings. Husband and wife came forth in full dress, and took their seats, and, while son and daughter-in-law were weeping their adieus, disappeared from view. That very day the K’ou family saw their daughter arrive, and, bidding them farewell, she told them the same story. The old people would have kept her, but she said, “My husband is already on his way,” and, leaving the house, parted from them for ever. Chu’s son was named Ngo, and his literary name was Li-ch’ên. He begged Sanniang’s bones from the K’ou family, and buried them by the side of his father’s. [p. 89]
1 Probably the Illicium religiosum, S. & Z., is meant.
2 See No. XII., note 2.
3 The common application of the term “same-year men” is to persons who have graduated at the same time.
4 This is by no means an uncommon form of charity. During the temporary distress at Canton, in the summer of 1877, large tubs of gruel were to be seen standing at convenient points, ready for any poor person who might wish to stay his hunger. It is thus, and by similar acts of benevolence, such as building bridges, repairing roads, &c., &c., that the wealthy Chinaman strives to maintain an advantageous balance in his record of good and evil.
XVIII. LITTLE CHU
A MAN named Li Hua dwelt at Ch’ang-chou. He was very well off, and about fifty years of age, but he had no sons; only one daughter, named Hsiao-hui, a pretty child on whom her parents doted. When she was fourteen she had a severe illness and died, leaving their home desolate and depriving them of their chief pleasure in life. Mr. Li then bought a concubine, and she by-and-by bore him a son, who was perfectly idolised, and called Chu, or the Pearl. This boy grew up to be a fine manly fellow, though so extremely stupid that when five or six years old he didn’t know pulse from corn, and could hardly talk plainly. His father, however, loved him dearly, and did not observe his faults.
Now it chanced that a one-eyed priest came to collect alms in the town, and he seemed to know so much about everybody’s private affairs that the people all looked upon him as superhuman. He himself declared he had control over life, death, happiness, and misfortune and consequently no one dared refuse him whatever sum he chose to ask of them. From Li he demanded one hundred ounces of silver, but was offered only ten, which he refused to receive. This sum was increased to thirty ounces, whereupon the priest looked sternly at Li and said, “I must have one hundred; not a fraction less.” Li now got angry, and went away without giving him any, the priest, too, rising up in a rage and shouting after him, “I hope you won’t repent.”
Shortly after these events little Chu fell sick, and crawled about the bed scratching the mat, his face being of an ashen paleness. This frightened his father, who hurried off with eighty ounces of silver, and begged the priest to accept them. “A large sum like this is no trifling matter to earn,” said the priest, smiling; “but what can a poor recluse like myself do for you?” So Li went home, to find that little Chu was already dead; and this worked him into such a state that he immediately laid a complaint before the magistrate. The priest was accordingly summoned and interrogated; but the magistrate wouldn’t accept his defence, and ordered him to be bambooed. The blows sounded as if falling on leather, [p. 90] upon which the magistrate commanded his lictors to search him and from about his person they drew forth two wooden men, a small coffin, and five small flags. The magistrate here flew into a passion, and made certain mystic signs with his fingers, which when the priest saw he was frightened, and began to excuse himself; but the magistrate would not listen to him, and had him bambooed to death. Li thanked him for his kindness, and, taking his leave, proceeded home.
In the evening, after dusk, he was sitting alone with his wife, when suddenly in popped a little boy, who said, “Pa! why did you hurry on so fast? I couldn’t catch you up.” Looking at him more closely, they saw that he was about seven or eight years old, and Mr. Li, in some alarm, was on the point of questioning him, when he disappeared, reappearing again like smoke, and, curling round and round, got upon the bed. Li pushed him off, and he fell down without making any sound, crying out, “Pa! why do you do this?” and in a moment he was on the bed again. Li was frightened, and ran away with his wife, the boy calling after them, “Pa! Ma! boo-oo-oo.” They went into the next room, bolting the door after them; but there was the little boy at their heels again. Li asked him what he wanted, to which he replied, “I belong to Su-chou; my name is Chan; at six years of age I was left an orphan; my brother and his wife couldn’t bear me, so they sent me to live at my maternal grandfather’s. One day, when playing outside, a wicked priest killed me by his black art underneath a mulberry-tree, and made of me an evil spirit, dooming me to everlasting devildom without hope of transmigration. Happily you exposed him; and I would now remain with you as your son.” “The paths of men and devils,” replied Li, “lie in different directions. How can we remain together?” “Give me only a tiny room,” cried the boy, “a bed, a mattress, and a cup of cold gruel every day. I ask for nothing more.”
So Li agreed, to the great delight of the boy, who slept by himself in another part of the house, coming in the morning and walking in and out like any ordinary person. Hearing Li’s concubine crying bitterly, he asked how long little Chu had been dead, and she told him seven days. “It’s cold weather now,” said he, “and the body can’t have decomposed. Have the grave opened, and let me see it; if not too far [p. 91] gone, I can bring him to life again.” Li was only too pleased, and went off with the boy; and when they opened the grave they found the body in perfect preservation but while Li was controlling his emotions, lo the boy had vanished from his sight. Wondering very much at this, he took little Chu’s body home, and had hardly laid it on the bed when he noticed the eyes move. Little Chu then called for some broth, which put him into a perspiration, and then he got up. They were all overjoyed to see him come to life again; and, what is more, he was much brighter and cleverer than before. At night, however, he lay perfectly stiff and rigid, without showing any signs of life and, as he didn’t move when they turned him over and over, they were much frightened, and thought he had died again. But towards daybreak he awaked as if from a dream, and in reply to their questions said that when he was with the wicked priest there was another boy named Ko-tzŭ;1 and that the day before, when he had been unable to catch up his father, it was because he had stayed behind to bid adieu to Ko-tzŭ; that Ko-tzŭ was now the son of an official in Purgatory named Chiang, and very comfortably settled; and that he had invited him (Chan) to go and play with him that evening, and had sent him back on a white-nosed horse. His mother then asked him if he had seen little Chu in Purgatory, to which he replied, “Little Chu has already been born again. He and our father here had not really the destiny of father and son. Little Chu was merely a man named Yen Tzŭ-fang, from Chin-ling, who had come to reclaim an old debt.”2 Now Mr. Li had formerly traded to Chin-ling, and actually owed money for goods to a Mr. Yen; but he had died, and no one else knew anything about it, so that he was now greatly alarmed when he heard this story.
His mother next asked (the quasi) little Chu if he had seen his sister, Hsiao-hui; and he said he had not, promising to go again and inquire about her. A few days afterwards he told his mother that Hsiao-hui was very happy in Purgatory, being married to a son of one of the Judges; and that she had any quantity of [p. 92] jewels,3 and crowds of attendants when she went abroad. “Why doesn’t she come home to see her parents?” asked his mother. “Well,” replied the boy, “dead people, you know, haven’t got any flesh or bones; however, if you can only remind them of something that happened in their past lives, their feelings are at once touched. So yesterday I managed, through Mr. Chiang, to get an interview with Hsiao-hui; and we sat together on a coral couch, and I spoke to her of her father and mother at home, all of which she listened to as if she was asleep. I then remarked, ‘Sister, when you were alive you were very fond of embroidering double-stemmed flowers; and once you cut your finger with the scissors, and the blood ran over the silk, but you brought it into the picture as a crimson cloud. Your mother has that picture still, hanging at the head of her bed, a perpetual souvenir of you. Sister, have you forgotten this?’ Then she burst into tears, and promised to ask her husband to let her come and visit you.” His mother asked when she would arrive, but he said he could not tell.
However, one day he ran in and cried out, “Mother, Hsiao-hui has come, with a splendid equipage and a train of servants; we had better get plenty of wine ready.” In a few moments he came in again, saying, “Here is my sister,” at the same time asking her to take a seat and rest. He then wept; but none of those present saw anything at all. By-and-by he went out and burnt a quantity of paper money4 and made offerings of wine outside the door, returning shortly and saying he had sent away her attendants for a while; also that Hsiao-hui asked if the green coverlet, a small portion of which had been burnt by a candle, was still in existence. “It is,” replied her mother, and, going to a box, she at once produced the coverlet. “Hsiao-hui would like a bed made up for her in her old room,” said her (quasi) brother; “she [p. 93] wants to rest awhile, and will talk with you again in the morning.”
Now their next-door neighbour, named Chao, had a daughter who was formerly a great friend of Hsiao-hui’s, and that night she dreamt that Hsiao-hui appeared with a turban on her head and a red mantle over her shoulders, and that they talked and laughed together precisely as in days gone by. “I am now a spirit,” said Hsiao-hui, “and my father and mother can no more see me than if I was far separated from them. Dear sister, I would borrow your body, from which to speak to them. You need fear nothing.”
On the morrow, when Miss Chao met her mother, she fell on the ground before her and remained some time in a state of unconsciousness, at length saying, “Madam, it is many years since we met; your hair has become very white.” “The girl’s mad,” said her mother, in alarm; and, thinking something had gone wrong, proceeded to follow her out of the door. Miss Chao went straight to Li’s house, and there with tears embraced Mrs. Li, who did not know what to make of it all. “Yesterday,” said Miss Chao, “when I came back, I was unhappily unable to speak with you. Unfilial wretch that I was, to die before you and leave you to mourn my loss. How can I redeem such behaviour?” Her mother thereupon began to understand the scene, and, weeping, said to her, “I have heard that you hold an honourable position, and this is a great comfort to me; but living as you do in the palace of a judge, how is it you are able to get away?” “My husband,” replied she, “is very kind; and his parents treat me with all possible consideration. I experience no harsh treatment at their hands.” Here Miss Chao rested her cheek upon her hand, exactly as Hsiao-hui had been wont to do when she was alive; and at that moment in came her brother to say that her attendants were ready to return. “I must go,” said she, rising up and weeping bitterly all the time; after which she fell down, and remained some time unconscious as before.
Shortly after these events Mr. Li became dangerously ill, and no medicines were of any avail, so that his son feared they would not be able to save his life. Two devils sat at the head of his bed, one holding an iron staff, the other a nettle-hemp rope four or five feet in length. Day [p. 94] and night his son implored them to go, but they would not move; and Mrs. Li in sorrow began to prepare the funeral clothes.5 Towards evening her son entered and cried out, “Strangers and women leave the room! My sister’s husband is coming to see his father-in-law.” He then clapped his hands, and burst out laughing: “What is the matter?” asked his mother. “I am laughing,” answered he, “because when the two devils heard my sister’s husband was coming, they both ran under the bed, like terrapins, drawing in their heads.” By-and-by, looking at nothing, he began to talk about the weather, and ask his sister’s husband how he did, and then he clapped his hands and said, “I begged the two devils to go, but they would not; it’s all right now.” After this he went out to the door and returned, saying, “My sister’s husband has gone. He took away the two devils tied to his horse. My father ought to get better now. Besides, Hsiao-hui’s husband said he would speak to the judge, and obtain a hundred years’ lease of life both for you and my father.” The whole family rejoiced exceedingly at this, and when night came Mr. Li was better, and in a few days quite well again. A tutor was engaged for the (quasi) little Chu, who showed himself an apt pupil, and at eighteen years of age took his bachelor’s degree. He could also see things of the other world; and when anyone in the village was ill, he pointed out where the devils were, and burnt them out with fire; so that everybody got well. However, before long he himself became very ill, and his flesh turned green and purple, whereupon he said, “The devils afflict me thus because I let out their secrets. Henceforth I shall never divulge them again.”
1 It may be necessary here to remind the reader that Chan’s spirit is speaking from Chu’s body.
2 We shall come by-and-by to a story illustrative of this extraordinary belief.
3 The summum bonum of many a Chinese woman.
4 Chinese silver, called sycee (from the Cantonese sai see, “fine silk;” because, if pure, it may be drawn out under the application of heat into fine silk threads), is cast in the form of “shoes,” weighing from one to one hundred ounces. Paper imitations of these are burnt for the use of the spirits in the world below. The sharp edges of a “shoe” of sycee are caused by the mould containing the molten silver being gently shaken until the metal has set, with a view to secure uniform fineness throughout the lump.
5 Death is regarded as a summons from the authorities of Purgatory; lictors are sent to arrest the doomed man armed with a written warrant similar to those issued on earth from a magistrate’s yamên.
XIX. MISS QUARTA HU
MR. SHANG was a native of T’ai-shan, and lived quietly with his books alone. One autumn night when the Silver River [p. 95] was unusually distinct and the moon shining brightly in the sky, he was walking up and down under the shade, with his thoughts wandering somewhat at random, when lo a young girl leaped over the wall, and, smiling, asked him, “What are you thinking about, Sir, all so deeply?” Shang looked at her, and seeing that she had a pretty face, asked her to walk in. She then told him her name was Hu,2 and that she was called Tertia; but when he wanted to know where she lived, she laughed and would not say. So he did not inquire any further; and by degrees they struck up a friendship, and Miss Tertia used to come and chat with him every evening.
He was so smitten that he could hardly take his eyes off her, and at last she said to him, “What are you looking at?” “At you,” cried he, “my lovely rose, my beautiful peach. I could gaze at you all night long.” “If you think so much of poor me,” answered she, “I don’t know where your wits would be if you saw my sister Quarta.” Mr. Shang said he was sorry he didn’t know her, and begged that he might be introduced; so next night Miss Tertia brought her sister, who turned out to be a young damsel of about fifteen, with a face delicately powdered and resembling the lily, or like an apricot-flower seen through mist; and altogether as pretty a girl as he had ever seen. Mr. Shang was charmed with her, and inviting them in, began to laugh and talk with the elder, while Miss Quarta sat playing with her girdle, and keeping her eyes on the ground. By-and-by Miss Tertia got up and said she was going, whereupon her sister rose to take leave also; but Mr. Shang asked her not to be in a hurry, and requested the elder to assist in persuading her. “You needn’t hurry,” said she to Miss Quarta; and accordingly the latter remained chatting with Mr. Shang without reserve, and finally told him she was a fox. However, Mr. Shang was so occupied with her beauty that he didn’t pay any heed to that; but she added, “And my sister is very dangerous; she has already killed three people. Anyone bewitched by her has no chance of escape. Happily, you have bestowed your affections on me, and I shall not allow you to be destroyed. You must break off your acquaintance with her at once.” Mr. Shang was very frightened, and implored her to help him; to which [p. 96] she replied, “Although a fox, I am skilled in the arts of the Immortals; I will write out a charm for you which you must paste on the door, and thus you will keep her away.” So she wrote down the charm, and in the morning when her sister came and saw it, she fell back, crying out, “Ungrateful minx! you’ve thrown me up for him, have you? You two being destined for each other, what have I done that you should treat me thus?”
She then went away; and a few days afterwards Miss Quarta said she too would have to be absent for a day, so Shang went out for a walk by himself, and suddenly beheld a very nice-looking young lady emerge from the shade of an old oak that was growing on the hill-side. “Why so dreadfully pensive?” said she to him; “those Hu girls can never bring you a single cent.” She then presented Shang with some money, and bade him go on ahead and buy some good wine, adding, “I’ll bring something to eat with me, and we’ll have a jolly time of it.” Shang took the money and went home, doing as the young lady had told him; and by-and-by in she herself came, and threw on the table a roast chicken and a shoulder of salt pork, which she at once proceeded to cut up. They now set to work to enjoy themselves, and had hardly finished when they heard some one coming in, and the next minute in walked Miss Tertia and her sister. The strange young lady didn’t know where to hide, and managed to lose her shoes; but the other two began to revile her, saying, “Out upon you, base fox; what are you doing here?” They then chased her away after some trouble, and Shang began to excuse himself to them, until at last they all became friends again as before.
One day, however, a Shensi man arrived, riding on a donkey, and coming to the door said, “I have long been in search of these evil spirits: now I have got them.” Shang’s father thought the man’s remark rather strange, and asked him whence he had come. “Across much land and sea,” replied he; “for eight or nine months out of every year I am absent from my native place. These devils killed my brother with their poison, alas! alas! and I have sworn to exterminate them; but I have travelled many miles without being able to find them. They are now [p. 97] in your house, and if you do not cut them off, you will die even as my brother.” Now Shang and the young ladies had kept their acquaintanceship very dark; but his father and mother had guessed that something was up, and, much alarmed, bade the Shensi man walk in and perform his exorcisms. The latter then produced two bottles which he placed upon the ground, and proceeded to mutter a number of charms and cabalistic formulae; whereupon four wreaths of smoke passed two by two into each bottle. “I have the whole family,” cried he, in an ecstasy of delight; as he proceeded to tie down the mouths of the bottles with pig’s bladder, sealing them with the utmost care.
Shang’s father was likewise very pleased, and kept his guest to dinner; but the young man himself was sadly dejected, and approaching the bottles unperceived, bent his ear to listen. “Ungrateful man,” said Miss Quarta from within, “to sit there and make no effort to save me.” This was more than Shang could stand, and he immediately broke the seal, but found that he couldn’t untie the knot. “Not so,” cried Miss Quarta; “merely lay down the flag that now stands on the altar, and with a pin prick the bladder, and I can get out.” Shang did as she bade him, and in a moment a thin streak of white smoke issued forth from the hole and disappeared in the clouds. When the Shensi man came out, and saw the flag lying on the ground, he started violently, and cried out, “Escaped! This must be your doing, young Sir.” He then shook the bottle and listened, finally exclaiming, “Luckily only one has got away. She was fated not to die, and may therefore be pardoned.”4 Thereupon he took the bottles and went his way.
Some years afterwards Shang was one day superintending his reapers cutting the corn, when he descried Miss Quarta at a distance, sitting under a tree. He approached, and she took his hand, saying, “Ten years have rolled away since last we met. Since then I have gained the prize of [p. 98] immortality;5 but I thought that perhaps you had not quite forgotten me, and so I came to see you once more.” Shang wished her to return home with him; to which she replied, “I am no longer what I was that I should mingle in the affairs of mortals. We shall meet again.”
And as she said this, she disappeared but twenty years later, when Shang was one day alone, Miss Quarta walked in. Shang was overjoyed, and began to address her; but she answered him, saying, “My name is already enrolled in the register of the Immortals, and I have no right to return to earth. However, out of gratitude to you I determined to announce to you the date of your dissolution, that you might put your affairs in order. Fear nothing; I will see you safely through to the happy land.” She then departed, and on the day named Shang actually died. A relative of a friend of mine, Mr. Li Wen-yu, frequently met the abovementoned Mr. Shang.6
1 The Milky Way is known to the Chinese under, this name—unquestionably a more poetical one than our own.
2 See No. XIII., note 1.
3 That is, of the Taoists. See No. IV., note 1.
4 Predestination after the event is, luckily for China, the form of this superstition which really appeals to her all-practical children. Not a larger percentage than with ourselves allow belief in an irremediable destiny to divert their efforts one moment from the object in view; though thousands upon thousands are ready enough to acknowledge the “will of heaven “in any national or individual calamities that may have befallen. See No. IX., note 3.
5 Any disembodied spirit whose conduct for a certain term of years is quite satisfactory is competent to obtain this reward. Thus, instead of being born again on earth, perhaps as an animal, they become angels or good spirits, and live for ever in heaven in a state of supreme beatitude.
6 Our author occasionally ends up with a remark of this kind; and these have undoubtedly had their weight with his too credulous countrymen.
XX. MR. CHU, THE CONSIDERATE HUSBAND
AT the village of Chu in Chi-yang, there was a man named Chu, who died at the age of fifty and odd years. His family at once proceeded to put on their mourning robes, when suddenly they heard the dead man cry out. Rushing up to the coffin, they found that he had come to life again; and began, full of joy, to ask him all about it. But the old gentleman replied only to his wife, saying, “When I died I did not expect to come back. However, by the time I had got a few miles on my way, I thought of the poor old body I was leaving behind me, dependent for everything on others, and with no more enjoyment of life. So I made up my mind to return, and take you away with me.” The bystanders thought this was only the disconnected talk of [p. 99] a man who had just regained consciousness, and attached no importance to it; but the old man repeated it, and then his wife said, “It’s all very well, but, you have only just come to life; how can you go and die again directly?” “It is extremely simple,” replied her husband; “you go and pack up everything ready.” The old lady laughed and did nothing; upon which Mr. Chu urged her again to prepare, and then she left the house. In a short time she returned, and pretended that she had done what he wanted. “Then you had better dress,” said he; but Mrs. Chu did not move until he pressed her again and again, after which she did not like to cross him, and by-and-by came out all fully equipped. The other ladies of the family were laughing on the sly, when Mr. Chu laid his head upon the pillow, and told his wife to do likewise. “It’s too ridiculous,” she was beginning to say, when Mr. Chu banged the bed with his hand, and cried out, “What is there to laugh at in dying?” upon which the various members of the family, seeing the old gentleman was in a rage, begged her to gratify his whim. Mrs. Chu then lay down alongside of her husband, to the infinite amusement of the spectators; but it was soon noticed that the old lady had ceased to smile, and by-and-by her two eyes closed. For a long time not a sound was heard, as if she was fast asleep; and when some of those present approached to touch her, they found she was as cold as ice, and no longer breathing; then, turning to her husband, they perceived that he also had passed away.
This story was fully related to me by a younger sister-in-law of Mr. Chu’s, who, in the twenty-first year of the reign K’ang Hsi,1 was employed in the house of a high official named Pi.
1 A.D. 1682.
XXI. THE MAGNANIMOUS GIRL
AT Chin-ling there lived a young man named Ku, who had considerable ability but was very poor; and having an old mother, he was very loth to leave home. So he employed himself in writing or painting for people, and gave his [p. 100] mother the proceeds, going on thus till he was twenty-five years of age without taking a wife. Opposite to their house was another building, which had long been untenanted; and one day an old woman and a young girl came to occupy it, but there being no gentleman with them young Ku did not make any inquiries as to who they were or whence they hailed. Shortly afterwards it chanced that just as Ku was entering the house he observed a young lady come out of his mother’s door. She was about eighteen or nineteen, very clever and refined-looking, and altogether such a girl as one rarely sets eyes on; and when she noticed Mr. Ku, she did not run away, but seemed quite self-possessed. “It was the young lady over the way; she came to borrow my scissors and measure,” said his mother, “and she told me that there was only her mother and herself. They don’t seem to belong to the lower classes. I asked her why she didn’t get married, to which she replied that her mother was old. I must go and call on her tomorrow, and find out how the land lies. If she doesn’t expect too much, you could take care of her mother for her.”
So next day Ku’s mother went, and found that the girl’s mother was deaf, and that they were evidently poor, apparently not having a day’s food in the house. Ku’s mother asked what their employment was, and the old lady said they trusted for food to her daughter’s ten fingers. She then threw out some hints about uniting the two families, to which the old lady seemed to agree; but, on consultation with her daughter, the latter would not consent. Mrs. Ku returned home and told her son, saying, “Perhaps she thinks we are too poor. She doesn’t speak or laugh, is very nice-looking, and as pure as snow; truly no ordinary girl.”
There ended that; until one day, as Ku was sitting in his study, up came a very agreeable young fellow, who said he was from a neighbouring village, and engaged Ku to draw a picture for him. The two youths soon struck up a firm friendship and met constantly, when it happened that the stranger chanced to see the young lady of over [p. 101] the way. “Who is that?” said he, following her with his eyes. Ku told him, and then he said, “She is certainly pretty, but rather stern in her appearance.” By-and-by Ku went in, and his mother told him the girl had come to beg a little rice, as they had had nothing to eat all day. “She’s a good daughter,” said his mother, “and I’m very sorry for her. We must try and help them a little.” Ku thereupon shouldered a peck of rice, and, knocking at their door, presented it with his mother’s compliments. The young lady received the rice but said nothing; and then she got into the habit of coming over and helping Ku’s mother with her work and household affairs, almost as if she had been her daughter-in-law, for which Ku was very grateful to her, and whenever he had anything nice he always sent some of it in to her mother, though the young lady herself never once took the trouble to thank him.
So things went on until Ku’s mother got an abscess on her leg, and lay writhing in agony day and night. Then the young lady devoted herself to the invalid, waiting on her and giving her medicine. with such care and attention that at last the sick woman cried out, “Oh, that I could secure such a daughter-in-law as you, to see this old body into its grave!” The young lady soothed her, and replied, “Your son is a hundred times more filial than I, a poor widow’s only daughter.” “But even a filial son makes a bad nurse,” answered the patient; “besides I am now drawing towards the evening of my life, when my body will be exposed to the mists and the dews, and I am vexed in spirit about our ancestral worship and the continuance of our line.” As she was speaking Ku walked in; and his mother, weeping, said, “I am deeply indebted to this young lady; do not forget to repay her goodness.” Ku made a low bow, but the young lady said, “Sir, when you were kind to my mother, I did not thank you; why, then, thank me?”
Ku thereupon became more than ever attached to her; but could never get her to depart in the slightest degree from her cold demeanour towards himself. One day, however, he managed to squeeze her hand, upon which she told him never to do so again; and then for some time he neither saw nor heard anything of her. She had conceived a violent dislike to the young stranger above-mentioned; and one evening when he was [p. 102] sitting talking with Ku, the young lady reappeared. After a while she got angry at something he said, and drew from her robe a glittering knife about a foot long. The young man, seeing her do this, ran out in a fright and she after him, only to find that he had vanished. She then threw her dagger up into the air, and whish a streak of light like a rainbow, and something came tumbling down with a flop. Ku got a light, and ran to see what it was; and lo! there lay a white fox, head in one place and body in another. “There is your friend,” cried the girl; “I knew he would cause me to destroy him sooner or later.” Ku dragged it into the house, and said, “Let us wait till tomorrow to talk it over; we shall then be more calm.”
Next day the young lady arrived, and Ku inquired about her knowledge of the black art; but she told Ku not to trouble himself about such affairs, and to keep it secret or it might be prejudicial to his happiness. Ku then entreated her to consent to their union, to which she replied that she had already been as it were a daughter-in-law to his mother, and there was no need to push the thing further. “Is it because I am poor?” asked Ku. “Well, I am not rich,” answered she, “but the fact is I had rather not.” She then took her leave, and the next evening when Ku went across to their house to try once more to persuade her, the young lady had disappeared, and was never seen again.
1 The usual occupation of poor scholars who are ashamed to go into trade, and who have not enterprise enough to start as doctors or fortune-tellers. Besides painting pictures and fans, and illustrating books, these men write fancy scrolls in the various ornamental styles so much prized by the Chinese; they keep accounts for people, and write or read business and private letters for the illiterate masses.
XXII. THE BOON-COMPANION
ONCE upon a time there was a young man named Ch‘ê who was not particularly well off, but at the same time very fond of his wine; so much so, that without his three stoups of liquor every night, he was quite unable to sleep, and bottles were seldom absent from the head of his bed. One night he had waked up and was turning over and over, when he fancied some one was in the bed with him; but then, thinking it was only the clothes which had slipped off, he put out his hand to feel, and, to he touched something silky like a cat, only larger. Striking a light, he found it was a fox, lying in a drunken sleep like a dog and then looking at his wine bottle he saw that it had been emptied. “A boon-companion,” said he, laughing, [p. 103] as he avoided startling the animal, and covering it up, lay down to sleep with his arm across it, and the candle alight so as to see what transformation it might undergo.
About midnight, the fox stretched itself, and Ch‘ê cried, “Well, to be sure, you’ve had a nice sleep!” He then drew off the clothes, and beheld an elegant young man in a scholar’s dress; but the young man jumped up, and making a low obeisance, returned his host many thanks for not cutting off his head. “Oh,” replied Ch‘ê, “I am not averse to liquor myself; in fact they say I’m too much given to it. You shall play Pythias to my Damon; and if you have no objection, we’ll be a pair of bottle-and-glass chums.” So they lay down and went to sleep again, Ch‘ê urging the young man to visit him often, and saying that they must have faith in each other. The fox agreed to this, but when Ch‘ê awoke in the morning his bedfellow had already disappeared.
So he prepared a goblet of first-rate wine in expectation of his friend’s arrival, and at nightfall sure enough he came. They then sat together drinking, and the fox cracked so many jokes that Ch‘ê said he regretted he had not known him before. “And truly I don’t know how to repay your kindness,” replied the former, “in preparing all this nice wine for me.” “Oh,” said Ch‘ê, “what’s a pint or so of wine?—nothing worth speaking of.” “Well,” rejoined the fox, “you are only a poor scholar, and money isn’t so easily to be got. I must try if I can’t secure a little wine capital for you.” Next evening, when he arrived, he said to Ch‘ê, “Two miles down towards the south-east you will find some silver lying by the wayside. Go early in the morning and get it.” So on the morrow Ch‘ê set off, and actually obtained two lumps of silver, with which he bought some choice morsels to help them out with their wine that evening. The fox now told him that there was a vault in his back-yard which he ought to open; and when he did so, he found therein more than a hundred strings of cash.2 “Now then,” cried Ch‘ê, delighted, “I shall have no more anxiety about funds for buying wine with all this in my purse.” “Ah,” replied the fox, “the water in a puddle [p. 104] is not inexhaustible. I must do something further for you.”
Some days afterwards the fox said to Ch‘ê, “Buckwheat is very cheap in the market just now. Something is to be done in this line.” Accordingly, Ch‘ê bought over forty tons, and thereby incurred general ridicule; but by-and-by there was a bad drought and all kinds of grain and beans were spoilt. Only buckwheat would grow, and Ch‘ê sold off his stock at a profit of one thousand per cent. His wealth thus began to increase; he bought two hundred acres of rich land, and always planted his crops, corn, millet, or what not, upon the advice of the fox secretly given him beforehand. The fox looked on Ch‘ê’s wife as a sister, and on Ch‘ê’s children as his own; but when, subsequently, Ch‘ê died, it never came to the house again.
1 Kuan Chung and Pao Shu are the Chinese types of friendship. They were two statesmen of considerable ability, who flourished in the seventh century B.C.
2 Say about £10. See No. II., note 2.
XXIII. MISS LIEN-HSIANG
THERE was a young man named Sang Tzŭ-ming, a native of I-chou, who had been left an orphan when quite young. He lived near the Saffron market, and kept himself very much to himself, only going out twice a day for his meals to a neighbour’s close by, and sitting quietly at home all the rest of his time. One day the said neighbour called, and asked him in joke if he wasn’t afraid of devil-foxes, so much alone as he was. “Oh,” replied Sang, laughing, “what has the superior man to fear from devil-foxes? If they come as men, I have here a sharp sword for them; and if as women, why, I shall open the door and ask them to walk in.”
The neighbour went away, and having arranged with a friend of his, they got a young lady of their acquaintance to climb over Sang’s wall with the help of a ladder, and knock at the door. Sang peeped through, and called out, “Who’s there?” to which the girl answered, “A devil!” and frightened Sang so dreadfully that his teeth chattered in his head. The girl then ran away, and next morning when his neighbour came to see him, Sang told him what had happened, and said he meant to go back to his native place. The neighbour then clapped his hands, and said to Sang, “Why didn’t you ask her [p. 105] in?” Whereupon Sang perceived that he had been tricked, and went on quietly again as before.
Some six months afterwards, a young lady knocked at his door; and Sang, thinking his friends were at their old tricks, opened it at once, and asked her to walk in. She did so; and he beheld to his astonishment a perfect Helen for beauty.2 Asking her whence she came, she replied that her name was Lien-hsiang, and that she lived not very far off, adding that she had long been anxious to make his acquaintance. After that she used to drop in every now and again for a chat; but one evening when Sang was sitting alone expecting her, another young lady suddenly walked in. Thinking it was Lien-hsiang, Sang got up to meet her, but found that the new-comer was somebody else. She was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, wore very full sleeves, and dressed her hair after the fashion of unmarried girls, being otherwise very stylish-looking and refined, and apparently hesitating whether to go on or go back. Sang, in a great state of alarm, took her for a fox; but the young lady said, “My name is Li, and I am of a respectable family. Hearing of your virtue and talent, I hope to be accorded the honour of your acquaintance.” Sang laughed, and took her by the hand, which he found was as cold as ice; and when he asked the reason, she told him that she had always been delicate, and that it was very chilly outside. She then remarked that she intended to visit him pretty frequently, and hoped it would not inconvenience him; so he explained that no one came to see him except another young lady, and that not very often. “When she comes, I’ll go,” replied the young lady, “and only drop in when she’s not here.” She then gave him an embroidered slipper, saying that she had worn it, and that whenever he shook it she would know that he wanted to see her, cautioning him at the same time never to shake it before strangers. Taking it in his hand he beheld a very tiny little shoe almost as fine-pointed as an awl, with which he was much pleased and next evening, when nobody was present, he produced the shoe and shook it, whereupon the young lady [p. 106] immediately walked in. Henceforth, whenever he brought it out, the young lady responded to his wishes and appeared before him. This seemed so strange that at last he asked her to give him some explanation; but she only laughed, and said it was mere coincidence.
One evening after this Lien-hsiang came, and said in alarm to Sang, “Whatever has made you look so melancholy?” Sang replied that he did not know, and by-and-by she took her leave, saying they would not meet again for some ten days. During this period Miss Li visited Sang every day, and on one occasion asked him where his other friend was. Sang told her; and then she laughed and said, “What is your opinion of me as compared with Lien-hsiang?” “You are both of you perfection,” replied he, “but you are a little colder of the two.” Miss Li didn’t much like this, and cried out, “Both of us perfection is what you say to me. Then she must be a downright Cynthia,3 and I am no match for her.” Somewhat out of temper, she reckoned that Lien-hsiang’s ten days had expired, and said she would have a peep at her, making Sang promise to keep it all secret. The next evening Lien-hsiang came, and while they were talking she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, dear! how much worse you seem to have become in the last ten days. You must have encountered something bad.” Sang asked her why so; to which she answered, “First of all your appearance; and then your pulse is very thready.4 You’ve got the devil-disease.”
The following evening when Miss Li came, Sang asked her what she thought of Lien-hsiang, “Oh,” said she, “there’s no question about her beauty; but she’s a fox. When she went away I followed her to her hole on the hill-side.” Sang, however, attributed this remark to jealousy, and took no notice of it; but the next evening when Lien-hsiang came, he observed, “I don’t believe it myself, but some one has told me you are a fox.” Lien-hsiang asked who had said so, to which Sang replied that he was only joking; and then she begged him to explain what difference there was between a fox and an ordinary person. “Well,” answered Sang, “foxes frighten people to death, and, therefore, they are very much dreaded.” “Don’t you believe that!” cried Lien-hsiang; “and now tell me who has been saying this of me.” Sang [p. 107] declared at first that it was only a joke of his, but by-and-by yielded to her instances, and let out the whole story. “Of course I saw how changed you were,” said Lien-hsiang; “she is surely not a human being to be able to cause such a rapid alteration in you. Say nothing; tomorrow I’ll watch her as she watched me.” The following evening Miss Li came in; and they had hardly interchanged half a dozen sentences when a cough was heard outside the window, and Miss Li ran away. Lien-hsiang then entered and said to Sang, “You are lost! She is a devil, and if you do not at once forbid her coming here, you will soon be on the road to the other world.” “All jealousy,” thought Sang, saying nothing; as Lien-hsiang continued, “I know that you don’t like to be rude to her; but I, for my part, cannot see you sacrificed, and tomorrow I will bring you some medicine to expel the poison from your system. Happily, the disease has not yet taken firm hold of you, and in ten days you will be well again.” The next evening she produced a knife and chopped up some medicine for Sang, which made him feel much better; but, although he was very grateful to her, he still persisted in disbelieving that he had the devil-disease.
After some days he recovered and Lien-hsiang left him, warning him to have no more to do with Miss Li. Sang pretended that he would follow her advice, and closed the door and trimmed his lamp. He then took out the slipper, and on shaking it Miss Li appeared, somewhat cross at having been kept away for several days. “She merely attended on me these few nights while I was ill,” said Sang; “don’t be angry.” At this Miss Li brightened up a little; but by-and-by Sang told her that people said she was a devil. “It’s that nasty fox,” cried Miss Li, after a pause, “putting these things into your head. If you don’t break with her, I won’t come here again.” She then began to sob and cry, and Sang had some trouble in pacifying her.
Next evening Lien-hsiang came and found out that Miss Li had been there again; whereupon she was very angry with Sang, and told him he would certainly die. “Why need you be so jealous?” said Sang, laughing; at which she only got more enraged, and replied, “When you were nearly dying the other day and I saved you, if I had not been jealous, where would [p. 108] you have been now?” Sang pretended he was only joking, and said that Miss Li had told him his recent illness was entirely owing to the machinations of a fox; to which she replied, “It’s true enough what you say, only you don’t see whose machinations, However, if anything happens to you, I should never clear myself even had I a hundred mouths; we will, therefore, part. A hundred days hence I shall see you on your bed.” Sang could not persuade her to stay, and away she went; and from that time Miss Li became a regular visitor.
Two months passed away, and Sang began to experience a feeling of great lassitude, which he tried at first to shake off, but by-and-by he became very thin, and could only take thick gruel. He then thought about going back to his native place; however, he could not bear to leave Miss Li, and in a few more days he was so weak that he was unable to get up. His friend next door, seeing how ill he was, daily sent in his boy with food and drink; and now Sang began for the first time to suspect Miss Li. So he said to her, “I am sorry I didn’t listen to Lien-hsiang before I got as bad as this.” He then closed his eyes and kept them shut for some time; and when he opened them again, Miss Li had disappeared. Their acquaintanceship was thus at an end, and Sang lay all emaciated as he was upon his bed in his solitary room longing for the return of Lien-hsiang.
One day, while he was still thinking about her, someone drew aside the screen and walked in. It was Lien-hsiang; and approaching the bed she said with a smile, “Was I then talking such nonsense?” Sang struggled a long time to speak; and, at length, confessing he had been wrong, implored her to save him. “When the disease has reached such a pitch as this,” replied Lien-hsiang, “there is very little to be done. I merely came to bid you farewell, and to clear up your doubts about my jealousy.” In great tribulation, Sang asked her to take something she would find under his pillow and destroy it; and she accordingly drew forth the slipper, which she proceeded to examine by the light of the lamp, turning it over and over. All at once Miss Li walked in, but when she saw Lien-hsiang she turned back as though she would run away, which Lien-hsiang instantly prevented by placing herself in the doorway. Sang then began to [p. 109] reproach her, and Miss Li could make no reply; whereupon Lien-hsiang said, “At last we meet. Formerly you attributed this gentleman’s illness to me; what have you to say now?” Miss Li bent her head in acknowledgment of her guilt, and Lien-hsiang continued, “How is it that a nice girl like you can thus turn love into hate?” Here Miss Li threw herself on the ground in a flood of tears and begged for mercy; and Lien-hsiang, raising her up, inquired of her as to her past life. “I am a daughter of a petty official named Li, and I died young, leaving the web of my destiny incomplete, like the silkworm that perishes in the spring. To be the partner of this gentleman was my ardent wish; but I had never any intention of causing his death.” “I have heard,” remarked Lien-hsiang, “that the advantage devils obtain by killing people is that their victims are ever with them after death. Is this so?” “It is not,” replied Miss Li; “the companionship of two devils gives no pleasure to either. Were it otherwise, I should not have wanted for friends in the realms below. But tell me, how do foxes manage not to kill people?” “You allude to such foxes as suck the breath out of people?” replied Lien-hsiang; “I am not of that class. Some foxes are harmless; no devils are,5 because of the dominance of the yin in their compositions.”
Sang now knew that these two girls were really a fox and a devil; however, from being long accustomed to their society, he was not in the least alarmed. His breathing had dwindled to a mere thread, and at length he uttered a cry of pain. Lien-hsiang looked round and said, “How shall we cure him?” upon which Miss Li blushed deeply and drew back; and then Lien-hsiang added, “If he does get well, I’m afraid you will be dreadfully jealous.” Miss Li drew herself up, and replied, “Could a physician be found to wipe away the wrong I have done to this gentleman, I would bury my head in the ground. How [p. 110] should I look the world in the face?” Lien-hsiang here opened a bag and drew forth some drugs, saying, “I have been looking forward to this day. When I left this gentleman I proceeded to gather my simples, as it would take three months for the medicine to be got ready; but then, should the poison have brought anyone even to death’s door, this medicine is able to call him back. The only condition is that it be administered by the very hand which wrought the ill.” Miss Li did as she was told, and put the pills Lien-hsiang gave her one after another into Sang’s mouth. They burnt his inside like fire; but soon vitality began to return, and Lien-hsiang cried out, “He is cured!”
Just at this moment Miss Li heard the cock crow and vanished,7 Lien-hsiang remaining behind in attendance on the invalid, who was unable to feed himself. She bolted the outside door and pretended that Sang had returned to his native place, so as to prevent visitors from calling. Day and night she took care of him, and every evening Miss Li came in to render assistance, regarding Lien-hsiang as an elder sister, and being treated by her with great consideration and kindness. Three months afterwards Sang was as strong and well as ever he had been, and then for several evenings Miss Li ceased to visit them, only staying a few moments when she did come, and seeming very uneasy in her mind.
One evening Sang ran after her and carried her back in his arms, finding her no heavier than so much straw; and then, being obliged to stay, she curled herself up and lay down, to all appearance in a state of unconsciousness, and by-and-by she was gone. For many days they heard nothing of her, and Sang was so anxious that she should come back that he often took out her slipper and shook it. “I don’t wonder at your missing her,” said Lien-hsiang, “I do myself very much indeed.” “Formerly,” observed Sang, “when I [p. 111] shook the slipper she invariably came. I thought it was very strange, but I never suspected her of being a devil. And now, alas! all I can do is to sit and think about her with this slipper in my hand.” He then burst into a flood of tears.
Now a young lady named Yen-êrh, belonging to the wealthy Chang family, and about fifteen years of age, had died suddenly, without any apparent cause, and had come to life again in the night, when she got up and wished to go out. They barred the door and would not hear of her doing so; upon which she said, “I am the spirit daughter of a petty magistrate. A Mr. Sang has been very kind to me, and I have left my slipper at his house. I am really a spirit; what is the use of keeping me in?” There being some reason for what she said, they asked her why she had come there; but she only looked up and down without being able to give any explanation. Some one here observed, that Mr. Sang had already gone home, but the young lady utterly refused to believe them. The family was much disturbed at all this; and when Sang’s neighbour heard the story, he jumped over the wall, and peeping through beheld Sang sitting there chatting with a pretty-looking girl. As he went in, there was some commotion, during which Sang’s visitor had disappeared, and when his neighbour asked the meaning of it all, Sang replied laughing, “Why, I told you if any ladies came I should ask them in.” His friend then repeated what Miss Yen-êrh had said; and Sang, unbolting his door, was about to go and have a peep at her, but unfortunately had no means of so doing. Meanwhile Mrs. Chang, hearing that he had not gone away, was more lost in astonishment than ever, and sent an old woman-servant to get back the slipper. Sang immediately gave it to her, and Miss Yen-êrh was delighted to recover it, though when she came to try it on it was too small for her by a good inch. In considerable alarm, she seized a mirror to look at herself and suddenly became aware that she had come to life again in some one else’s body. She therefore told all to her mother, and finally succeeded in convincing her, crying all the time because she was so changed for the worse as regarded personal appearance from what she had been before. And whenever she happened to see Lien-hsiang, she was very much disconcerted, declaring [p. 112] that she had been much better off as a devil than now as a human being.
She would sit and weep over the slipper, no one being able to comfort her; and finally, covering herself up with bed-clothes, she lay all stark and stiff, positively refusing to take any nourishment. Her body swelled up, and for seven days she refused all food, but did not die; and then the swelling began to subside, and an intense hunger to come upon her which made her once more think about eating. Then she was troubled with a severe irritation, and her skin peeled entirely away; and when she got up in the morning, she found that her shoes had fallen off. On trying to put them on again, she discovered that they did not fit her any longer; and then she went back to her former pair, which were now exactly of the right size and shape. In an ecstasy of joy, she grasped her mirror, and saw that her features had also changed back to what they had formerly been; so she washed and dressed herself and went in to visit her mother.
Every one who met her was much astonished; and when Lien-hsiang heard the strange story, she tried to persuade Mr. Sang to make her an offer of marriage. But the young lady was rich and Sang was poor, and he did not see his way clearly. However, on Mrs. Chang’s birthday, when she completed her cycle,8 Sang went along with the others to wish her many happy returns of the day; and when the old lady knew who was coming, she bade Yen-êrh take a peep at him from behind the curtain. Sang arrived last of all; and immediately out rushed Miss Yen-êrh and seized his sleeve, and said she would go back with him. Her mother scolded her well for this, and she ran in abashed; but Sang, who had looked at her closely, began to weep, and threw himself at the feet of Mrs. Chang, who raised him up without saying anything unkind. Sang then took his leave, and got his uncle to act as medium between them; the result being that an auspicious day was fixed upon for the wedding.
At the appointed time Sang [p. 113] proceeded to the house to fetch her; and when he returned he found that, instead of his former poor-looking furniture, beautiful carpets were laid down from the very door, and thousands of coloured lanterns were hung about in elegant designs. Lien-hsiang assisted the bride to enter, and took off her veil, finding her the same bright girl as ever. She also joined them while drinking the wedding cup,9 and inquired of her friend as to her recent transmigration; and Yen-êrh related as follows:—“Overwhelmed with grief, I began to shrink from myself as some unclean thing; and, after separating from you that day, I would not return any more to my grave. So I wandered about at random, and whenever I saw a living being, I envied its happy state. By day I remained among trees and shrubs, but at night I used to roam about anywhere. And once I came to the house of the Chang family, where, seeing a young girl lying upon the bed, I took possession of her mortal coil, unknowing that she would be restored to life again.” When Lien-hsiang heard this she was for some time lost in thought; and a month or two afterwards became very ill. She refused all medical aid and gradually got worse and worse, to the great grief of Mr. Sang and his wife, who stood weeping at her bedside. Suddenly she opened her eyes, and said, “You wish to live; I am willing to die. If fate so ordains it, we shall meet again ten years hence.” As she uttered these words, her spirit passed away, and all that remained was the dead body of a fox. Sang, however, insisted on burying it with all the proper ceremonies.
Now his wife had no children; but one day a servant came in and said, “There is an old woman outside who has got a little girl for sale.” Sang’s wife gave orders that she should be shown in; and no sooner had she set eyes on the girl than she cried out, “Why, she’s the image of Lien-hsiang!” Sang then looked at her, and found to his astonishment that she was really very like his old friend. The old woman said she was fourteen years old; [p. 114] and when asked what her price was, declared that her only wish was to get the girl comfortably settled, and enough to keep herself alive, and ensure not being thrown out into the kennel at death. So Sang gave a good price for her;10 and his wife, taking the girl’s hand, led her into a room by themselves. Then, chucking her under the chin, she asked her, smiling, “Do you know me?” The girl said she did not; after which she told Mrs. Sang that her name was Wei, and that her father, who had been a pickle-merchant at Hsu-ch‘eng, had died three years before. Mrs. Sang then calculated that Lien-hsiang had been dead just fourteen years; and, looking at the girl, who resembled her so exactly in every trait, at length patted her on the head, saying, “Ah, my sister, you promised to visit us again in ten years, and you have not played us false.” The girl here seemed to wake up as if from a dream, and, uttering an exclamation of surprise, fixed a steady gaze upon Sang’s wife. Sang himself laughed, and said, “Just like the return of an old familiar swallow.” “Now I understand,” cried the girl, in tears; “I recollect my mother saying that when I was born I was able to speak and that, thinking it an inauspicious manifestation, they gave me dog’s blood to drink, so that I should forget all about my previous state of existence. Is it all a dream; or are you not the Miss Li who was so ashamed of being a devil?”
Thus they chatted of their existence in a former life, with alternate tears and smiles; but when [p. 115] it came to the day for worshipping at the tombs, Yen-êrh explained that she and her husband were in the habit of annually visiting and mourning over her grave. The girl replied that she would accompany them; and when they got there they found the whole place in disorder, and the coffin wood all warped. “Lien-hsiang and I,” said Yen-êrh to her husband, “have been attached to each other in two states of existence. Let us not be separated, but bury my bones here with hers.” Sang consented, and opening Miss Li’s tomb took out the bones and buried them with those of Lien-hsiang, while friends and relatives, who had heard the strange story, gathered round the grave in gala dress to the number of many hundreds.
I learnt the above when travelling through I-chow, where I was detained at an inn by rain, and read a biography of Mr. Sang written by a comrade of his named Wang Tzŭ-chang. It was lent me by a Mr. Liu Tzŭ-Ching, a relative of Sang’s, and was quite a long account. This is merely an outline of it. [p. 115]
1 The term constantly employed by Confucius to denote the man of perfect probity, learning, and refinement. The nearest, if not a exact, translation would be “gentleman.”
2 Literally, “a young lady whose beauty would overthrow a kingdom,” in allusion to an old story which it is not necessary to reproduce here.
3 The Lady of the Moon. See No. V., note 2.
4 See No. VIII., note 4.
5 Miss Lien-hsiang was here speaking without book, as will be seen in a story later on.
6 The female principle. In a properly-constituted human being the male and female principles are harmoniously combined. Nothing short of a small volume would place this subject, the basis of Chinese metaphysics, in a clear light before the uninitiated reader. Broadly speaking, the yin and the yang are the two primeval forces from the interaction of which all things have been evolved.
7 Ber.—It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
Hor. —And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the God of Day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring sprit hies
To his confine. Hamlet
8 The Chinese cycle is sixty years, and the birthday on which any person completes his cycle is considered a very auspicious occasion. The second emperor of the present dynasty, K‘ang Hsi, completed a cycle in his reign, with one year to spare; and his grandson, Ch‘ien Lung (or Kien Lung) fell short of this only by a single year, dying in the same cyclical period as that in which he had ascended the throne.
9 Bride and bridegroom drink wine together out of two cups joined by a red string, typical of that imaginary bond which is believed to unite the destinies of husband and wife long before they have set eyes on each other. Popular tradition assigns to an old man who lives in the moon the arrangement of all matches among mortals hence the common Chinese expression, “Marriages are made in the moon.”
10 The bill of sale always handed to the purchaser of a child in China, as a proof that the child is his bonâ fide property and has not been kidnapped, is by a pleasant fiction called a “deed of gift,” the amount paid over to the seller being therein denominated “ginger and vinegar money,” or compensation for the expense of rearing and educating up to the date of sale. This phrase originates from the fact that a dose of ginger and vinegar is administered to every Chinese woman immediately after the delivery of her child.
We may here add that the value of male children to those who have no heirs, and of female children to those who want servants, has fostered a regular kidnapping trade, which is carried on with great activity in some parts of China, albeit the penalty on discovery is instant decapitation. Some years ago I was present in the streets of Tientsin when a kidnapper was seized by the infuriated mob, and within two hours I heard that the man had been summarily executed.
11 The power of recalling events which have occurred in a previous life will be enlarged upon in several stories to come.
XXIV. MISS A-PAO; OR, PERSEVERANCE REWARDED
IN the province of Kuang-si there lived a scholar of some reputation, named Sun Tzu-ch’u. He was born with six fingers, and such a simple fellow was he that he readily believed any nonsense he was told. Very shy with the fair sex, the sight of a woman was enough to send him flying in the opposite direction; and once when he was inveigled into a room where there were some young ladies, he blushed down to his neck and the perspiration dripped off him like falling pearls. His companions laughed heartily at his discomfiture, and told fine stories of what a noodle he looked, so that he got the nickname of Silly Sun.
In the town where our hero resided, there was a rich trader whose wealth equalled that of any prince or nobleman, and whose connections were all highly aristocratic.1 [p. 116] He had a daughter, A-pao, of great beauty, for whom he was seeking a husband; and the young men of position in the neighbourhood were vieing with each other to obtain her hand, but none of them met with the father’s approval. Now Silly Sun had recently lost his wife; and some one in joke persuaded him to try his luck and send in an application: Sun, who had no idea of his own shortcomings, proceeded at once to follow this advice; but the father, though he knew him to be an accomplished scholar, rejected his suit on the ground of poverty. As the go-between was leaving the house, she chanced to meet A-pao, and related to her the object of her visit. “Tell him,” cried A-pao, laughing, “that if he’ll cut off his extra finger, I’ll marry him.” The old woman reported this to Sun, who replied, “That is not very difficult; “and, seizing a chopper, cut the finger clean off. The wound was extremely painful, and he lost so much blood that he nearly died, it being many days before he was about again.
He then sought out the go-between and bade her inform Miss A-pao, which she did; and A-pao was taken rather aback, but she told the old woman to go once more and bid him cut off the “silly” from his reputation. Sun got much excited when he heard this, and denied that he was silly; however, as he was unable to prove it to the young lady herself, he began to think that probably her beauty was overstated, and that she was giving herself great airs. So he ceased to trouble himself about her until the following spring festival,3 when it was customary for both men and women to be seen abroad, and the young rips of the place would stroll about in groups and pass their remarks on all and sundry. Sun’s friends urged him to join them in their expedition, and one of them asked him with a smile if he did not wish to look out for a suitable mate. Sun knew they were chaffing him, but he thought he [p. 117] should like to see the girl that had made such a fool of him, and was only too pleased to accompany them. They soon perceived a young lady resting herself under a tree, with a throng of young fellows crowding round her, and they immediately determined that she must be A-pao, as in fact they found she was. Possessed of peerless beauty, the ring of her admirers gradually increased, till at last she rose up to go. The excitement among the young men was intense; they criticised her face and discussed her feet,4 Sun only remaining silent; and when they had passed on to something else, there they saw Sun rooted like an imbecile to the same spot. As he made no answer when spoken to, they dragged him along with them, saying, “Has your spirit run away after A-pao?” He made no reply to this either; but they thought nothing of that, knowing his usual strangeness of manner, so by dint of pushing and pulling they managed to get him home.
There he threw himself on the bed and did not get up again for the rest of the day, lying in a state of unconsciousness just as if he were drunk. He did not wake when called; and his people; thinking that his spirit had fled, went about in the fields calling out to it to return. However, he showed no signs of improvement; and when they shook him, and asked him what was the matter, he only answered in a sleepy kind of voice, “I am at A-pao’s house;” but to further questions he would not make any reply, and left his family in a state of keen suspense.
Now when Silly Sun had seen the young lady get up to go, he could not bear to part with her, and found himself first following and then walking along by her side without anyone saying anything to him. Thus he went back with her to her home, and there he remained for three days, longing to run home and get something to eat, but unfortunately not knowing the way. By that time Sun had [p. 118] hardly a breath left in him; and his friends, fearing that he was going to die, sent to beg of the rich trader that he would allow a search to be made for Sun’s spirit in his house. The trader laughed and said, “He wasn’t in the habit of coming here, so he could hardly have left his spirit behind him;” but he yielded to the entreaties of Sun’s family, and permitted the search to be made. Thereupon a magician proceeded to the house, taking with him an old suit of Sun’s clothes and some grass matting; and when Miss A-pao heard the reason for which he had come, she simplified matters very much by leading the magician straight to her own room. The magician summoned the spirit in due form, and went back towards Sun’s house. By the time he had reached the door, Sun groaned and recovered consciousness; and he was then able to describe all the articles of toilette and furniture in A-pao’s room without making a single mistake. A-pao was amazed when the story was repeated to her, and could not help feeling kindly towards him on account of the depth of his passion. Sun himself, when he got well enough to leave his bed, would often sit in a state of abstraction as if he had lost his wits; and he was for ever scheming to try and have another glimpse at A-pao.
One day he heard that she intended to worship at the Shui-yüeh temple on the 8th of the fourth moon, that day being the Wash-Buddha festival; and he set off early in the morning to wait for her at the roadside. He was nearly blind with straining his eyes, and the sun was already past noontide before the young lady arrived; but when she saw from her carriage a gentleman standing there, she drew aside the screen and had a good stare at him. Sun followed her in a great state of excitement, upon which she bade one of her maids to go and ask his name. Sun told her who he was, his perturbation all the time increasing; and when the carriage drove on he returned home.
Again he became very ill, and lay on his bed unconscious, without taking any food, occasionally calling on A-pao by name, at the same time abusing his spirit for not having been able to follow her as before. Just at this juncture a parrot that had been long with the family died; and a child, playing with the body, laid it upon the bed. Sun then reflected that if he was only a parrot one flap of [p. 119] his wings would bring him into the presence of A-pao; and while occupied with these thoughts, lo! the dead body moved and the parrot flew away. It flew straight to A-pao’s room, at which she was delighted; and catching it, tied a string to its leg, and fed it upon hemp-seed. “Dear sister,” cried the bird, “do not tie me by the leg: I am Sun Tzŭ-ch‘u.” In great alarm A-pao untied the string, but the parrot did not fly away. “Alas” said she, “your love has engraved itself upon my heart; but now you are no longer a man, how shall we ever be united together?” “To be near your dear self,” replied the parrot, “is all I care about!” The parrot then refused to take food from anyone else, and kept close to Miss A-pao wherever she went, day and night alike.
At the expiration of three days, A-pao, who had grown very fond of her parrot, secretly sent some one to ask how Mr. Sun was; but he had already been dead three days, though the part over his heart had not grown cold. “Oh! come to life again as a man,” cried the young lady, “and I swear to be yours for ever.” “You are surely not in earnest,” said the parrot, “are you?” Miss A-pao declared she was, and the parrot, cocking its head aside, remained some time as if absorbed in thought. By-and-by A-pao took off her shoes to bind her feet a little tighter;6 and the parrot, making a rapid grab at one, flew off with it in its beak. She called loudly after it to come back, but in a moment it was out of sight; so she next sent a servant to inquire if there was any news of Mr. Sun, and then learnt that he had come round again, the parrot having flown in with an embroidered shoe and dropped down dead on the ground. Also, that directly he regained consciousness he asked for the shoe, of which his people knew nothing; at which moment her servant had arrived, and demanded to know from him where it was. “It was given to me by Miss A-pao as a pledge of faith,” replied Sun; “I beg you will tell her I have not forgotten her promise.”
A-pao was greatly astonished at this, and instructed her maid to divulge the whole affair to her mother, who, when she had made some inquiries, observed that Sun was well known [p. 120] as a clever fellow, but was desperately poor, “and to get such a son-in-law after all our trouble would give our aristocratic friends the laugh against us.” However, A-pao pleaded that with the shoe there as a proof against her, she would not marry anybody else; and, ultimately, her father and mother gave their consent.
This was immediately announced to Mr. Sun, whose illness rapidly disappeared in consequence. A-pao’s father would have had Sun come and live with them;8 but the young lady objected, on the score that a son-in-law should not remain long at a time with the family of his wife,9 and that as he was poor he would lower himself still more by doing so. “I have accepted him,” added she, “and I shall gladly reside in his humble cottage, and share his poor fare without complaint.” The marriage was then celebrated, and bride and bridegroom met as if for the first time in their lives.10
The dowry A-pao brought with her somewhat raised their pecuniary position, and gave them a certain amount of comfort; but Sun himself stuck only to his books, and knew nothing about managing affairs in general. Luckily his wife was clever in that respect, and did not bother him with such things; so much so that by the end of three years they were comparatively well off, when Sun suddenly fell ill and died.
Mrs. Sun was inconsolable, and refused either to sleep or take nourishment, being deaf to all entreaties on the subject; and before long, taking advantage of the night, she hanged herself.11 Her maid, hearing a noise, ran in and cut her down just in time [p. 121] but she still steadily refused all food.
Three days passed away, and the friends and relatives of Sun came to attend his funeral, when suddenly they heard a sigh proceeding forth from the coffin. The coffin was then opened and they found that Sun had come to life again. He told them that he had been before the Great Judge, who, as a reward for his upright and honourable life, had conferred upon him an official appointment. “At this moment,” said Sun, “it was reported that my wife was close at hand,12 but the Judge, referring to the register, observed that her time had not yet come. They told him she had taken no food for three days; and then the judge, looking at me, said that as a recompense for her wifely virtues I should be permitted to return to life. Thereupon he gave orders to his attendants to put to the horses and see me safely back.”
From that hour Sun gradually improved, and the next year went up for his Master’s degree. All his old companions chaffed him exceedingly before the examination, and gave him seven themes on out-of-the-way subjects, telling him privately that they had been surreptitiously obtained from the examiners. Sun believed them as usual, and worked at them day and night until he was perfect, his comrades all the time enjoying a good laugh against him. However, when the day came it was found that the examiners, fearing lest the themes they had chosen in an ordinary way should have been dishonestly made public,13 took a set of fresh ones quite out of the common run—in fact, on the very subjects Sun’s companions had given to him. Consequently, he came out at the head of the list; and the next year, after taking his Doctor’s degree, he was entered among the Han-lin Academicians.14 The Emperor, too, happening to hear of his curious adventures, sent for him and made him repeat his story; subsequently summoning A-pao and making her some very costly presents. [p. 122]
1 There is nothing in China like an aristocracy of birth. Any man may raise himself from the lowest level to the highest; and as long as he and his family keep themselves there, they may be considered aristocratic. Wealth has nothing to do with the question; official rank and literary tastes, separate or combined, these constitute a man’s title to the esteem of his fellows. Trade is looked upon as ignoble and debasing; and friendly intercourse between merchants and officials, the two great social divisions, is so rare as to be almost unknown.
2 The medium, without whose good offices no marriage can be arranged. Generally, but not always, a woman. This system of go-betweens is not confined to matrimonial engagements. No servant ever offers himself for a place; he invariably employs some one to introduce him. So also in mercantile transactions the broker almost invariably appears upon the scene.
3 See No. II., note 1.
4 The so-called “golden lilies” always come in for a large share of criticism. See No. XII., note 1. This term originated with an emperor who reigned in the fifth century, when, in ecstasies at the graceful dancing of a concubine upon a stage ornamented with lilies, he cried out, “Every footstep makes a lily grow.”
5 A common custom; e.g. in the case of a little child lying dangerously ill, its mother will go outside the door into the garden or field, and call out its name several times, in the hope of bringing back the wandering spirit.
6 This process must be regularly gone through night and morning, otherwise the bandages become loose, and the gait of the walker unsteady.
7 I have explained before that any great disparity of means is considered an obstacle to a matrimonial alliance between two families.
8 This is a not unusual arrangement in cases where there are other sons in the bridegroom’s family, but none in that of the bride’s, especially if the advantage of wealth is on the side of the latter.
9 Such is the Chinese rule, adopted simply with a view to the preservation of harmony.
10 They are supposed never to see each other before the wedding-day; but, after careful investigation of the subject, I have come to the conclusion that certainly in seven cases out of ten, the intended bridegroom secretly procures a sight of his future wife. I am now speaking of the higher classes; among the poor, both sexes mix almost as freely as with us.
11 This would still be considered a creditable act on the part of a Chinese widow. It is, however, of exceedingly rare occurrence.
12 Being nearly dead from hanging.
13 This is occasionally done, great influence or a heavy bribe being brought to bear upon the Examiners, of whom there are only two for the Master’s degree, and the second of these, or Assistant-Examiner, holds but a subordinate position. See No. LXXV., note 1.
14 Admission to the Han-lin College is the highest literary honour obtainable by a scholar. Its members are employed in drawing up Government documents, histories, &c.
XXV. JEN HSIU
JEN CHIEN-CHIH was a native of Yü-t‘ai, and a dealer in rugs and furs. One day he set off for Shensi, taking with him every penny he could scrape together; and on the road he met a man who told him that his name was Shên Chu-t‘ing, and his native place Su-ch‘ien. These two soon became firm friends, and entered into a masonic bond with each other, journeying on together by the same stages until they reached their destination. By-and-by Mr. Jen fell sick, and his companion had to nurse him, which he did with the utmost attention, but for ten days he gradually got worse and worse, and at length said to Shên, “My family is very poor. Eight mouths depend upon my exertions for food; and now, alas! I am about to die, far from my own home. You and I are brothers. At this distance there is no one else to whom I can look. Now in my purse you will find two hundred ounces of silver. Take half, and when you have defrayed my funeral expenses, use the balance for your return journey; and give the other half to my family, that they may be able to send for my coffin.2 If, however, you will take my mortal [p. 123] remains with you home to my native place, these expenses need not be incurred.” He then, with the aid of a pillow, wrote a letter, which he handed to Shên, and that evening he died.
Thereupon Shên purchased a cheap coffin for some five or six ounces of silver; and, as the landlord kept urging him to take away the body, he said he would go out and seek for a temple where it might be temporarily deposited. But he ran away and never went back to the inn; and it was more than a year before Jen’s family knew what had taken place. His son was just about seventeen years of age, and had recently been reading with a tutor; but now his books were laid aside, and he proposed to go in search of his father’s body. His mother said he was too young; and it was only when he declared he would rather not live than stay at home, that with the aid of the pawn-shop enough money was raised to start him on his way. An old servant accompanied him, and it was six months before they returned and performed the last ceremonies over Jen’s remains.
The family was thus reduced to absolute destitution; but happily young Hsiu was a clever fellow, and when the days of mourning were over, took his Bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, he was somewhat wild and very fond of gambling; and although his mother strictly prohibited such diversions, [p. 124] all her prohibitions were in vain. By-and-by the Grand Examiner arrived, and Hsiu came out in the fourth class. His mother was extremely angry, and refused to take food, which brought young Hsiu to his senses, and he promised her faithfully he would never gamble again. From that day he shut himself up, and the following year took a first-class degree, coming out among the “senior” graduates.6 His mother now advised him to take pupils, but his reputation as a disorderly fellow stuck to him, and no one would entrust their sons to his care.
Just than an uncle of his, named Chang, was about to start with merchandise for the capital, and recommended that Hsiu should go along with him, promising himself to pay all expenses, an offer which Hsiu was only too pleased to accept. When they reached Lin-ch‘ing, they anchored outside the Custom House, where they found a great number of salt-junks, in fact a perfect forest of masts; and what with the noise of the water and the people it was quite impossible to sleep. Besides, as the row was beginning to subside, the clear rattle of dice from a neighbouring boat fell upon Hsiu’s ear, and before long he was itching to be back again at his old games. Listening to hear if all around him were sound asleep, he drew forth a string of cash that he had brought with him, and thought he would just go across and try his luck. So he got up quietly with his money, and was on the point of going, when he suddenly recollected his mother’s injunctions, and at once tying his purse-strings laid himself down to sleep. He was far too excited, however, to close his eyes; and after a while got up again and re-opened his purse. This he did three times, until at last it was too much for him, and off he went with his money. Crossing over into the boat whence the sounds proceeded, he beheld two persons engaged in gambling for high stakes; so throwing his money on the table, he begged to be allowed to join. The others readily consented, and they began to play, Hsiu winning so rapidly that soon one of the strangers had no money left, and was obliged to get the proprietor of the boat to change a large piece of silver [p. 125] for him, proceeding to lay down as much as several ounces of silver for a single stake.
As the play was in full swing another man walked in, who after watching for some time at length got the proprietor to change another lump of silver for him of one hundred ounces in weight, and also asked to be allowed to join. Now Hsiu’s uncle, waking up in the middle of the night, and finding his nephew gone, and hearing the sound of dice-throwing hard by, knew at once where he was, and immediately followed him to the boat with a view of bringing him back. Finding, however, that Hsiu was a heavy winner, he said nothing to him, only carrying off a portion of his winnings to their own boat and making the others of his party get up and help him to fetch the rest, even then leaving behind a large sum for Hsiu to go on with. By-and-by the three strangers had lost all their ready money, and there wasn’t a farthing left in the boat: upon which one of them proposed to play for lumps of silver, but Hsiu said he never went so high as that. This made them a little quarrelsome, Hsiu’s uncle all the time trying to get him away; and the proprietor of the boat, who had only his own commission in view, managed to borrow some hundred strings of cash from another boat, and started them all again. Hsiu soon took this out of them; and, as day was beginning to dawn and the Custom House was about to open, he went off with his winnings back to his own boat.
The proprietor of the gambling-boat now found that the lumps of silver which he had changed for his customers were nothing more than so much tinsel, and rushing off in a great state of alarm to Hsiu’s boat, told him what had happened and asked him to make it good; but when he discovered he was speaking to the son of his former travelling companion, Jen Chien-chih, he hung his head and slunk away covered with shame. For the proprietor of that boat was no other than Shên Ghu-t‘ing, of whom Hsiu had heard when he was in Shensi; now, however, that with supernatural aid the wrongs of his father had been avenged, he determined to pursue the man no further.
So going into partnership with his uncle, they proceeded [p. 126] north together; and by the end of the year their capital had increased five-fold. Hsiu then purchased the status of chien-shêng,8 and by further careful investment of his money ultimately became the richest man in that part of the country.
1 Besides the numerous secret societies so much dreaded by the Government, membership of which is punishable by death, very intimate friends are in the habit of adopting each other as sworn brothers, bound to stand by one another in cases of danger and difficulty, to the last drop of blood. The bond is cemented by an oath, accompanied by such ceremonies as fancy may at the moment dictate. The most curious of all, however, are the so-called “Golden Orchid” societies, the members of which are young girls, who have sworn never to enter into the matrimonial state. To such an extent have these sisterhoods spread in the Kuang-tung Province, that the authorities have been compelled to prohibit them under severe penalties.
2 A Chinaman loves to be buried alongside of his ancestors, and poor families are often put to great straits to pay this last tribute of respect and affection to the deceased. At all large cities are to be found temporary burial grounds, where the bodies of strangers are deposited until their relatives can come to carry them away. Large freights of dead bodies are annually brought back to China from California, Queensland, and other parts to which the Chinese are in the habit of emigrating, to the great profit of the steamer companies concerned. Coffins are also used as a means of smuggling, respect for the dead being so great that they are only opened under the very strongest suspicion.
3 See No. XIV., note 12. The price of an elaborate Chinese coffin goes as high as £100 or £150.
4 The never-failing resource of an impecunious Chinaman who has any property whatever bearing an exchange value. The pawn-shop proper is a licensed institution, where three per cent per month is charged on all loans, all pledges being redeemable within sixteen months. It is generally a very high brick structure, towering far above the surrounding houses, with the deposits neatly packed up in paper and arranged on the shelves of a huge wooden skeleton-like frame, that completely fills the interior of the building, on the top of which are ranged buckets of water in case of fire, and a quantity of huge stones to throw down on any thieves who may be daring enough to attempt to scale the wall. (In Peking, houses are not allowed to be built above a certain height, as during the long summer months ladies are in the habit of sitting to spin or sew in their courtyards, very lightly clad.) Pawning goods in China is not held to be so disgraceful as with us; in fact, most people, at the beginning of the hot weather, pawn their furs and winter clothes, these being so much more carefully looked after there than they might be at home.
5 Nominally of three years’—really of twenty-eight months’—duration.
6 These are entitled to receive from Government a small allowance of rice, besides being permitted to exercise certain petty functions, for which a certain charge is authorised.
7 One of the strangers was the disembodied spirit of Hsiu’s father, helping his son to take vengeance on the wicked Shên.
8 An intermediate step between the first and second degrees, to which certain privileges are attached.