STRANGE STORIES FROM A CHINESE STUDIO
by P’u Sung-ling
XXVI. THE LOST BROTHER
IN Honan there lived a man named Chang, who originally belonged to Shantung. His wife had been seized and carried off by the soldiery during the period when Ching Nan’s troops were overrunning the latter province;1 and as he was frequently in Honan on business, he finally settled there and married a Honan wife, by whom he had a son named Na. By-and-by this wife died, and he took another, who bore him a son named Ch‘êng. The last-mentioned lady was from the Niu family, and a very malicious woman. So jealous was she of Na, that she treated him like a slave or a beast of the field, giving him only the coarsest food, and making him cut a large bundle of wood every day, in default of which she would beat and abuse him in a most shameful manner. On the other hand, she secretly reserved all the tit-bits for Ch‘êng, and also sent him to school. As Ch‘êng grew up, and began to understand the meaning of filial piety and fraternal love,2 he could not bear to see this treatment of his elder brother, and spoke privately to his mother about it; but she would pay no heed to what he said.
One day, when Na was on the hills performing his task, a violent storm came on, and he took shelter under a cliff. However, by the time it was over the sun had set, and he began to feel very hungry. So, shouldering his bundle, he wended his way home, where his stepmother, displeased with the small quantity of wood he had brought, refused [p. 127] to give him anything to eat. Quite overcome with hunger, Na went in and lay down; and when Ch‘êng came back from school, and saw the state he was in, he asked him if he was ill. Na replied that he was only hungry, and then told his brother the whole story; whereupon Ch‘êng coloured up and went away, returning shortly with some cakes, which he offered to Na. “Where did you get them?” asked the latter. “Oh,” replied Ch‘êng, “I stole some flour and got a neighbour’s wife to make them for me. Eat away, and don’t talk.” Na ate them up; but begged his brother not to do this again, as he might get himself into trouble. “I shan’t die,” added he, “if I only get one meal a day.” “You are not strong,” rejoined Ch‘êng, “and shouldn’t cut so much wood as you do.”
Next day, after breakfast, Ch‘êng slipped away to the hills, and arrived at the place where Na was occupied with his usual task, to the great astonishment of the latter, who inquired what he was going to do. “To help you cut wood,” replied Ch‘êng. “And who sent you?” asked his brother. “No one,” said he; “I came of my own accord.” “Ah,” cried Na, “you can’t do this work; and even if you can you must not. Run along home again.” Ch‘êng, however, remained, aiding his brother with his hands and feet alone, but declaring that on the morrow he would bring an axe. Na tried to stop him, and found that he had already hurt his finger and worn his shoes into holes; so he began to cry, and said, “If you don’t go home directly, I’ll kill myself with my axe.” Ch‘êng then went away, his brother seeing him half-way home, and going back to finish his work by himself.
He also called in the evening at Ch‘êng’s school, and told the master his brother was a delicate boy, and should not be allowed to go on the hills, where, he said, there were fierce tigers and wolves. The master replied that he didn’t know where Clang had been all the morning, but that he had caned him for playing truant. Na further pointed out to Ch‘êng that by not doing as he had told him, he had let himself in for a beating. Ch‘êng laughed, and said he hadn’t been beaten; and the very next day off he went again, and this time with a hatchet. “I told you not to come,” cried Na, much alarmed; “why have you done so?
Ch‘êng made no reply, but set to work chopping wood [p. 128] with such energy that the perspiration poured down his face; and when he had cut about a bundle he went away without saying a word. The master caned him again, and then Ch‘êng told him how the matter stood, at which the former became full of admiration for his pupil’s kind behaviour, and no longer prevented him from going. His brother, however, frequently urged him not to come, though without the slightest success; and one day, when they went with a number of others to cut wood, a tiger rushed down from the hills upon them. The wood-cutters hid themselves, in the greatest consternation; and the tiger, seizing Ch‘êng, ran off with him in his mouth. Ch‘êng’s weight caused the tiger to move slowly; and Na, rushing after them, hacked away at the tiger’s flanks with his axe. The pain only made the tiger hurry off, and in a few minutes they were out of sight. Overwhelmed with grief, Na went back to his comrades, who tried to soothe him; but he said, “My brother was no ordinary brother, and, besides, he died for me; why, then, should I live?
Here, seizing his hatchet, he made a great chop at his own neck, upon which his companions prevented him from doing himself any more mischief. The wound, however, was over an inch deep, and blood was flowing so copiously that Na became faint, and seemed at the point of death. They then tore up their clothes, and, after having bandaged his neck, proceeded to carry him home. His stepmother cried bitterly, and cursed him, saying, “You have killed my son, and now you go and cut your neck in this make-believe kind of way.” “Don’t be angry, mother,” replied Na; “I will not live now that my brother is dead.” He than threw himself on the bed; but the pain of his wound was so great he could not sleep, and day and night he sat leaning against the wall in tears. His father, fearing that he too would die, went every now and then and gave him a little nourishment; but his wife cursed him so for doing it, that at length Na refused all food, and in three days he died.
Now in the village where these events took place there was a magician who was employed in certain devil-work among mortals,3 and Na’s ghost, happening to fall in [p. 129] with him, related the story of its previous sorrows, winding up by asking where his brother’s ghost was. The magician said he didn’t know, but turned round with Na and showed him the way to a city where they saw an official servant coming out of the city gates. The magician stopped him, and inquired if he could tell them anything about Ch‘êng; whereupon the man drew out a list from a pouch at his side, and, after carefully examining it, replied that among the male and female criminals within there was no one of the name of Chang.4 The magician here suggested that the name might be on another list; but the man replied that he was in charge of that road, and surely ought to know. Na, however, was not satisfied, and persuaded the magician to enter the city, where they met many new and old devils walking about, among whom were some Na had formerly known in life. So he asked them if they could direct him to his brother; but none of them knew where he was; and suddenly there was a great commotion, the devils on all sides crying out, “P‘u-sa has come!” Then, looking up, Na beheld a most beautiful man descending from above, encircled by rays of glory, which shot forth above and below, lighting up all around him. “You are in luck’s way, Sir,” said the magician to Na; “only once in many thousand years does P‘u-sa descend into hell and banish all suffering. He has come today.” He then made Na kneel, and all the devils began with clasped hands to sing songs of praise to P‘u-sa for his compassion in releasing them from their misery, shaking the very earth with the sound. P‘u-sa himself, seizing a willow-branch, sprinkled them all with holy water; and when this was done the clouds and glory melted away, and he vanished from their sight. Na, who had felt the holy water fall upon his neck, now became conscious that the axe-wound was no longer painful; and the magician then proceeded to lead him back, not quitting him until within sight of the village gate.
In fact, Na had been in a trance for two days, and when he recovered he told them all [p. 130] that he had seen, asserting positively that Ch‘êng was not dead. His mother, however, looked upon the story as a make-up, and never ceased reviling him; and, as he had no means of proving his innocence, and his neck was now quite healed, he got up from the bed and said to his father, “I am going away to seek for my brother throughout the universe; if I do not find him, never expect to see me again, but I pray you regard me as dead.” His father drew him aside and wept bitterly. However, he would not interfere with his son’s design, and Na accordingly set off.
Whenever he came to a large town or populous place he used to ask for news of Ch‘êng; and by-and-by, when his money was all spent, he begged his way on foot. A year had passed away before he reached Nanking, and his clothes were all in tatters—as ragged as a quail’s tail,6 when suddenly he met some ten or a dozen horsemen, and drew away to the roadside. Among them was a gentleman of about forty, who appeared to be a mandarin, with numerous lusty attendants and fiery steeds accompanying him before and behind. One young man on a small palfrey, whom Na took to be the mandarin’s son, and at whom, of course, he did not venture to stare, eyed him closely for some time, and at length stopped his steed, and, jumping off, cried out, “Are you not my brother?” Na then raised his head, and found that Ch‘êng stood before him. Grasping each other’s hands, the brothers burst into tears, and at length Ch‘êng said, “My brother, how is it you have strayed so far as this?” Na told him the circumstances, at which he was much affected; and Ch‘êng’s companions, jumping off their horses to see what was the matter, went off and informed the mandarin.
The latter ordered one of them to give up his horse to Na, and thus they rode together back to the mandarin’s house. Ch‘êng then told his brother how the tiger had carried him away, and how he had been thrown down in the road, where he had passed a whole night; also how the mandarin, Mr. Chang,7 on his return from the capital, had seen him there, and observing that he was no common-looking youth, had set to work and brought him round again. Also [p. 131] how he had said to Mr. Chang that his home was a great way off, and how Mr. Chang had taken him to his own home, and finally cured him of his wounds; when, having no son of his own, he had adopted him. And now, happening to be out with his father, he had caught sight of his brother.
As he was speaking Mr. Chang walked in, and Na thanked him very heartily for all his kindness; Ch‘êng, meanwhile, going into the inner apartments to get some clothes for his brother. Wine and food was placed on the table; and while they were chatting together the mandarin asked Na about the number of their family in Honan. “There is only my father,” replied Na, “and he is a Shantung man who came to live in Honan.” “Why; I am a Shantung man too,” rejoined Mr. Chang; “what is the name of your father’s native place?” “I have heard that it was in the Tung-Chang district,” replied Na. “Then we are from the same place,” cried the mandarin. “Why did your father go away to Honan?” “His first wife,” said Na, “was carried off by soldiers, and my father lost everything he possessed; so, being in the habit of trading to Honan, he determined to settle down there for good.” The mandarin then asked what his father’s other name was, and when he heard, he sat some time staring at Na, and at length hurried away within.
In a few moments out came an old lady, and when they had all bowed to her, she asked Na if he was Chang Ping-chih’s grandson. On his replying in the affirmative, the old lady wept, and, turning to Mr. Chang, said, “These two are your younger brothers.” And then she explained to Na and Ch‘êng as follows:—“Three years after my marriage with your father, I was carried off to the north and made a slave in a mandarin’s family. Six months [p. 132] afterwards your elder brother here was born, and in another six months the mandarin died. Your elder brother being his heir, he received this appointment, which he is now resigning. I have often thought of my native place, and have not unfrequently sent people to inquire about my husband, giving them the full particulars as to name and clan; but I could never hear anything of him. How should I know that he had gone to Honan?”
Then, addressing Mr. Chang, she continued, “That was rather a mistake of yours, adopting your own brother.” “He never told me anything about Shantung,” replied Mr. Chang; “I suppose he was too young to remember the story.” For, in point of age, the elder of the brothers was forty-one; Ch‘êng, the younger, being only sixteen; and Na, twenty years of age. Mr. Chang was very glad to get two young brothers; and when he heard the tale of their separation, proposed that they should all go back to their father. Mrs. Chang was afraid her husband would not care to receive her back again; but her eldest son said, “We will cast our lot together; all or none. How can there be a country where fathers are not valued?”
They then sold their house and packed up, and were soon on the way to Honan. When they arrived, Ch‘êng went in first to tell his father, whose third wife had died since Na left, and who now was a desolate old widower, left alone with only his own. shadow. He was overjoyed to see Ch‘êng again, and, looking fondly at his son, burst into a flood of tears. Ch‘êng told him his mother and brothers [p. 133] were outside, and the old man was then perfectly transfixed with astonishment, unable either to laugh or to cry. Mr. Chang next appeared, followed by his mother and the two old people wept in each other’s arms, the late solitary widower hardly knowing what to make of the crowd of men and women-servants that suddenly filled his house. Here Ch‘êng, not seeing his own mother, asked where she was; and when he heard she was dead, he fainted away, and did not come round for a good half-hour. Mr. Chang found the money for building a fine house, and engaged a tutor for his two brothers. Horses pranced in the stables, and servants chattered in the hall—it was quite a large establishment.
1. A.D. 1400.
2 The first of the sixteen maxims which form the so-called Sacred Edict, embodies these two all-important family ties. The doctrine of primogeniture is carried so far in China as to put every younger brother in a subordinate position to every elder brother. All property, however, of whatever kind, is equally divided among the sons. [The Sacred Edict was delivered by the great Emperor Wang Hsi, and should be publicly read and explained in every city of the Empire on the first and fifteenth of each month.]
3 Ordinary devils being unable to stand for any length of time the light and life of the upper world, the souls of certain persons are often temporarily employed in this work by the authorities of Purgatory, their bodies remaining meanwhile in a trance or cataleptic fit.
4 Their family name.
5 The Chinese corrupted form of Bodhisatva. Now widely employed to designate any deity of any kind.
6 The usual similitude for a Chinese tatterdemalion.
7, The surnames Chang, Wang, and Li correspond in China to our Brown, Jones, and Robinson.
8 Slavery, under a modified form, exists in China at the present day. All parents, having absolute power over their children, are at liberty to sell them as servants or slaves to their wealthier neighbours. This is not an infrequent occurrence in times of distress, the children even going so far as to voluntarily sell themselves, and exposing themselves in some public thoroughfare, with a notice affixed to a kind of arrow on their backs, stating that they are for sale, and the amount required from the purchaser. This I have seen with my own eyes. The chief source, however, from which the supply of slaves is kept up is kidnapping. [See No. XXIII, note 10.] As to the condition of the slaves themselves, it is by no means an unhappy one. Their master has nominally the power of life and death over them, but no Chinaman would ever dream of availing himself of this dangerous prerogative. They are generally well fed, and fairly well clothed, being rarely beaten, for fear they should run away, and either be lost altogether or entail much expense to secure their capture. The girls do not have their feet compressed; hence they are infinitely more useful than small-footed women; and, on reaching a marriageable age, their masters are bound to provide them with husbands. They live on terms of easy familiarity with the whole household; and, ignorant of the meaning and value of liberty, seem quite contented with a lot which places them beyond the reach of hunger and cold. Slaves take the surnames of their masters, and the children of slaves are likewise slaves. Manumission is not uncommon; and Chinese history furnishes more than one example of a quondam slave attaining to the highest offices of State.
XXVII. THE THREE GENII
THERE was a certain scholar who, passing through Su-ch’ien on his way to Nanking, where he was going to try for his master’s degree, happened to fall in with three other gentlemen, all graduates like himself, and was so charmed with their unusual refinement that he purchased a quantity of wine, and begged them to join him in drinking it. While thus pleasantly employed, his three friends told him their names. One was Chieh Ch’iu-heng; the second, Ch’ang Feng-lin; and the other, Ma They drank away and enjoyed themselves very much, until evening had crept upon them unperceived, when Chieh said, “Here we, who ought to have been playing the host, have been feasting at a stranger’s expense. This is not right. But, come, my house is close by; I will provide you with a bed.” Ch’ang and Ma got up, and, taking our hero by the arm, bade his servant come along with them.
When they reached a hill to the north of the village, there before them was a house and grounds, with a stream of clear water in front of the door, all the apartments within being beautifully clean and nice. Chieh then gave orders to light the lamps and see after his visitor’s servant; whereupon Ma observed, “Of old it was customary to set intellectual refreshments before one’s friends; let us not miss the opportunity of this lovely evening, but decide on four themes, one for each of us; and then, when we have [p. 134] finished our essays, we can set to work on the wine.” To this the others readily agreed; and each wrote down a theme and threw it on the table. These were next divided amongst them as they sat, and before the second watch was over the essays were all completed and handed round for general inspection; and our scholar was so struck with the elegance and vigour of those by his three friends, that he ran off a copy of them and put it in his pocket. The host then produced some excellent wine, which was drunk by them in such bumpers that soon they were all tolerably tipsy. The other two now took their leave; but Chieh led the scholar into another room, where, so overcome was he with wine, that he went to bed in his boots and clothes.
The sun was high in the heavens when our hero awaked, and, looking round, he saw no house or grounds, only a dell on the hill-side, in which he and his servant had been sleeping. In great alarm he called out to the servant, who also got up, and then they found a hole with a rill of water trickling down before it. Much astonished at all this, he felt in his pocket, and there, sure enough, was the paper on which he had copied the three essays of his friends. On descending the hill and making inquiries, he found that he had been to the Grotto of the Three Genii—namely, Crab, Snake, and Frog, three very wonderful beings, who often came out for a stroll, and were occasionally visible to mortal eyes. Subsequently, when our hero entered the examination hall, lo! the three themes set were those of the Three Genii, and he came out at the top of the list. [p. 135]
1 No Chinese wine-party is complete without more or less amusement of a literary character. Capping verses, composing impromptu odes on persons or places, giving historical and mythological allusions, are among the ordinary diversions of this kind.
2 The Chinese night lasts from 7 P.M. to 5 A.M., and is divided into five watches of two hours each, which are subdivided into five “beats” of the watchman’s wooden tom-tom.
XXVIII. THE SINGING FROGS
WANG TZU-SUN told me that when he was at the capital he saw a man in the street who gave the following performance:—He had a wooden box, divided by partitions into twelve holes, in each of which was a frog; and whenever he tapped any one of these frogs on the head with a tiny wand, the frog so touched would immediately begin to sing. Some one gave him a piece of silver, and then he tapped the frogs all round, just as if he was striking a gong; whereupon they all sang together, with their Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, in perfect time and harmony.
XXIX. THE PERFORMING MICE
MR. WANG also told me that there was a man at Ch’ang-an who made his living by exhibiting performing mice. He had a pouch on his back in which he kept some ten of these little animals; and whenever he got among a number of people he would fix a little frame on his back, exactly resembling a stage. Then beating a drum he would sing some old theatrical melody, at the first sounds of which the mice would issue forth from the pouch, and then, with masks on their faces, and arrayed in various costumes, they would climb up his back on to the stage; where, standing on their hind-legs, they would go through a performance portraying the various emotions of joy and anger, exactly like human actors of either sex.l
1 The rôles of women are always played in China by men, dressed up so perfectly, small feet and all, as to be quite undistinguishable from real women.
XXX. THE TIGER OF CHAO-CHING
AT Chao-ch’êng there lived an old woman more than seventy years of age, who had an only son. One day he went up to the hills and was eaten by a tiger, at which [p. 136] his mother was so overwhelmed with grief that she hardly wished to live. With tears and lamentations she ran and told her story to the magistrate of the place, who laughed and asked her how she thought the law could be brought to bear on a tiger. But the old woman would not be comforted, and at length the magistrate lost his temper and bade her begone. Of this, however, she took no notice; and then the magistrate, in compassion for her great age and unwilling to resort to extremities, promised her that he would have the tiger arrested. Even then she would not go until the warrant had been actually issued so the magistrate, at a loss what to do, asked his attendants which of them would undertake the job.1 Upon this one of them, Li Nêng, who happened to be gloriously drunk, stepped forward and said that he would; whereupon the warrant was immediately issued and the old woman went away. When our friend, Li Nêng, got sober, he was sorry for what he had done; but reflecting that the whole thing was a mere trick of his master’s to get rid of the old woman’s importunities, did not trouble himself much about it, handing in the warrant as if the arrest had been made. “Not so,” cried the magistrate, “you [p. 137] said you could do this, and now I shall not let you off.”
Nêng was at his wits’ end, and begged that he might be allowed to impress the hunters of the district.2 This was conceded; so collecting together these men, he proceeded to spend day and night among the hills in the hope of catching a tiger, and thus making a show of having fulfilled his duty.
A month passed away, during which he received several hundred blows with the bamboo,3 and at length, in despair, he betook himself to the Ch’êng-huang temple in the eastern suburb, where, falling on his knees, he prayed and wept by turns. By-and-by a tiger walked in, and Li Nêng, in a great fright, thought he was going to be eaten alive. But the tiger took no notice of anything, remaining seated in the doorway. Li Nêng then addressed the animal as follows:—“O tiger, if thou didst slay that old woman’s son, suffer me to bind thee with this cord;” and, drawing a rope from his pocket, threw it over the animal’s neck. The tiger drooped its ears, and, allowing itself to be bound, followed Li Nêng to the magistrate’s office. The latter then asked it, saying, “Did you eat the old woman’s son?” to which the tiger replied by nodding its head; whereupon the magistrate rejoined, “That murderers should suffer death has ever been the law.4 Besides, this old woman had but one son, and by killing him you took from her the sole support of her declining years. But if now you will be as a son to her, your crime shall be pardoned.” The tiger again nodded [p. 138] assent, and accordingly the magistrate gave orders that he should be released, at which the old woman was highly incensed, thinking that the tiger ought to have paid with its life for the destruction of her son.
Next morning, however, when she opened the door of her cottage, there lay a dead deer before it; and the old woman, by selling the flesh and skin, was able to purchase food. From that day this became a common event, and sometimes the tiger would even bring her money and valuables, so that she became quite rich, and was much better cared for than she had been even by her own son. Consequently, she became very well-disposed to the tiger, which often came and slept in the verandah, remaining for a whole day at a time, and giving no cause of fear either to man or beast.
In a few years the old woman died, upon which the tiger walked in and roared its lamentations in the hall. However, with all the money she had saved, she was able to have a splendid funeral and while her relatives were standing round the grave, out rushed a tiger, and sent them all running away in fear. But the tiger merely went up to the mound, and, after roaring like a thunder-peal, disappeared again. Then the people of that place built a shrine in honour of the Faithful Tiger, and it remains there to this day.
1 All underlings (and we might add overlings) in China being unpaid, it behoves them to make what they can out of the opportunities afforded. In most yamêns, the various warrants and such documents are distributed to the runners in turn, who squeeze the victims thus handed over to them. For a small bribe they will go back and report “Not at home;” for a larger one “Has absconded,’’ and so on.
Gatekeepers charge a fee on every petition that passes through their hands; gaolers, for a consideration and with proper security, allow their prisoners to be at large until wanted; clerks take bribes to use their influence, honestly or dishonestly, with the magistrate who is to try the case; and all the servants share equally in the gratuities given by anyone to whom their master may send presents. The amount, whatever it may be, is enclosed in a red envelope and addressed to the sender of the present, with the words “Instead of tea,” in large characters; the meaning being that the refreshments which should have been set before the servants who brought the gifts have been commuted by a money payment. This money is put into a general fund and equally divided at stated periods.
All Government officers holding a post, from the highest to the lowest, are entitled to a nominal, and what would be a quite inadequate, salary; but no one ever sees this. It is customary fo refuse acceptance of it on some such grounds as want of merit, and refund it to the Imperial Treasury.
2 Anybody is liable to be “impressed” at any moment for the service of the Government. Boat owners, sedan-chair and coolie proprietors especially dread the frequent and heavy calls that are made upon them for assistance, the remuneration they receive being in all cases insufficient to defray mere working expenses. But inasmuch as Chinese officials may not seize any men, or boats, or carts, holding passes to show that they are in the employ of a foreign merchant, a lively trade in such documents has sprung up in certain parts of China between the dishonest of the native and foreign commercial circles.
3 Constables, detectives, and others are liable to be bambooed at intervals, generally of three or five days, until the mission on which they are engaged has been successfully accomplished. In cases of theft and non-restoration of the stolen property within a given time, the detectives or constables employed may be required to make it good.
4 Extended by the Chinese to certain cases of simple manslaughter.
XXXI. A DWARF
IN the reign of K’ang Hsi, there was a magician who carried about with him a wooden box, in which he had a dwarf not much more than a foot in height. When people gave him money he would open the box and bid the little creature come out. The dwarf would then sing a song and go in again. Arriving one day at Yeh, the magistrate there seized the box, and taking it into his yamen asked the dwarf whence he came. At first he dared not reply, but on being pressed told the magistrate everything. He said he belonged to a respectable family, and that once when returning home from school he was stupefied by the magician, who gave him some drug which made his limbs shrink, and then took him about to exhibit to people. The magistrate was very angry, and had the [p. 139] magician beheaded, himself taking charge of the dwarf. He was subsequently very anxious to get him cured, but unable to obtain the proper prescription.l
1 The Cantonese believe the following to be the usual process:—“Young children are bought or stolen at a tender age and placed in a ch’ing, or vase with a narrow neck, and having in this case a movable bottom. In this receptacle the unfortunate little wretches are kept for years in a sitting posture, their heads outside; being all the while carefully tended and fed. . . . When the child has reached the age of twenty or over, he or she is taken away to some distant place and ‘discovered’ in the woods as a wild man or woman.’’—China Mail, May 15, 1878.
XXXII. HSIANG-JU’S MISFORTUNES
AT Kuang-p’ing there lived an old man named Feng, who had an only son called Hsiang-ju. Both of them were graduates; and the father was very particular and strict, though the family had long been poor. Mrs. Feng and Hsiang-fu’s wife had died, one shortly after the other, so that the father and son were obliged to do their household work for themselves.
One night Hsiang-ju was sitting out in the moonlight, when suddenly a young lady from next door got on the wall to have a look at him. He saw she was very pretty, and as he approached her she began to laugh. He then beckoned to her with his hand; but she did not move either to come or to go away. At length, however, she accepted his invitation, and descended the ladder that he had placed for her. In reply to Hsiang-ju’s inquiries, the young lady said her name was Hung-yü, and that she lived next door; so Hsiang-ju, who was much taken with her beauty, begged her to come over frequently and have a chat.
To this she readily assented, and continued to do so for several months, until one evening old Mr. Feng, hearing sounds of talking and laughing in his son’s room, got up and looked in. Seeing Miss Hung-yü, he was exceedingly angry, and called his son out, saying, “You good-for-nothing fellow poor as we are, why aren’t you at your books, instead of wasting your time like this? A pretty thing for the neighbours to hear of!—and even if they don’t hear of it, somebody else will, and [p. 140] shorten your life accordingly.” Hsiang-yu fell on his knees, and with tears implored forgiveness; whereupon his father turned to the young lady, and said, “A girl who behaves like this disgraces others as well as herself; and if people find this out, we shan’t be the only ones to suffer.” The old man then went back to bed in a rage, and Miss Hung-yü, weeping bitterly, said to Hsiang-ju, “Your father’s reproaches have overwhelmed me with shame. Our friendship is now at an end.” “I could say nothing,” replied he, “as long as my father was here; but if you have any consideration for me, I pray you think nothing of his remarks.” Miss Hung-yü protested, however, that they could meet no more, and then Hsiang-ju also burst into tears. “Do not weep,” cried she, “our friendship was an impossible one, and time must sooner or later have put an end to these visits. Meanwhile, I hear there is a very good match to be made in the neighbourhood.” Hsiang-ju replied that he was poor; but Miss Hung-yü told him to meet her again the following evening, when she would endeavour to do something for him.
At the appointed time she arrived, and, producing forty ounces of silver, presented them to Hsiang-ju; telling him that at a village some distance off there was a Miss Wei, eighteen years of age, who was not yet married because of the exorbitant demands of her parents, but that a little extra outlay would secure for him the young lady’s hand. Miss Hung-yü then bade him farewell, and Hsiang-ju went off to inform his father, expressing a desire to go and make inquiries, but saying nothing about the forty ounces. His father, thinking that they were not sufficiently well off, urged him not to go; however, by dint of argument, he finally persuaded the old man that, at any rate, there was no harm in trying.
So he borrowed horses and attendants, and set off to the house of Mr. Wei, who was a man of considerable property; and when he got there he asked Mr. Wei to come outside and accord him a few minutes’ conversation. Now the latter knew that Hsiang-ju belonged to a very good family and when he saw all the retinue that Hsiang-ju had brought [p. 141] with him, he inwardly consented to the match, though he was afraid that perhaps his would-be son-in-law might not be as liberal as he would like. Hsiang-ju soon perceived what Mr. Wei’s feelings were, and emptied his purse on the table, at which Mr. Wei was delighted, and begged a neighbour to allow the marriage contract to be drawn up in his house.2 Hsiang-ju then went in to pay his respects to Mrs. Wei, whom he found in a small, miserable room, with Miss Wei hiding behind her. Still he was pleased to see that, in spite of her homely toilette, the young lady herself was very nice-looking; and, while he was being entertained in the neighbour’s house, the old lady said, “It will not be necessary for you, Sir, to come and fetch our daughter. As soon as we have made up a small trousseau for her, we will send her along to you.”3 Hsiang-ju then agreed with them upon a day for the wedding, and went home and informed his father, pretending that the Wei family only asked for respectability, and did not care about money. His father was overjoyed to hear this; and when the day came, the young lady herself arrived. She proved to be a thrifty housekeeper and an obedient wife, so that she and her husband got along capitally together. In two years she had a son, who was called Fu-êrh. And once, on the occasion of the great spring festival, she was on her way to the family tombs, with her boy in her arms, when she chanced to meet a man named Sung, who was one of the gentry of the neighbourhood. This Mr. Sung had been a Censor,4 but had purchased his retirement, and was now [p. 142] leading a private life, characterised by many overbearing and violent acts. He was returning from his visit to the graves of his ancestors when he saw Hsiang-ju’s wife, and, attracted by her beauty, found out who she was; and imagining that, as her husband was a poor scholar, he might easily be induced for a consideration to part with the lady, sent one of his servants to find out how the land lay. When Hsiang-ju heard what was wanted, he was very angry; but, reflecting on the power of his adversary, controlled his passion, and passed the thing off with a laugh. His father, however, to whom he repeated what had occurred, got into a violent rage, and, rushing out, flung his arms about, and called Mr. Sung every name he could lay his tongue to. Mr. Sung’s emissary slunk off and went home; and then a number of men were sent by the enraged Sung, and these burst into the house and gave old Feng and his son a most tremendous beating. In the middle of the hubbub, Hsiang-ju’s wife ran in, and, throwing her child down on the bed, tore her hair and shrieked for help. Sung’s attendants immediately surrounded her and carried her off, while there lay her husband and his father, wounded on the ground, and the baby squalling on the bed. The neighbours, pitying their wretched condition, helped them up on to the couches, and by the next day Hsiang-ju could walk with a stick; however, his father’s anger was not to be appeased, and, after spitting a quantity of blood, he died.
Hsiang-ju wept: bitterly at this, and taking his child in his arms, used every means to bring the offenders to justice, but without the slightest success. He then heard that his wife had put an end to her own existence, and with this his cup of misery was full. Unable to get his wrongs redressed, he often meditated assassinating Sung in the open street,5 but was deterred from attempting this by the number of his retainers and the fear of leaving his son with no one to protect him.
Day and night he mourned [p. 143] over his lot, and his eyelids were never closed in sleep, when suddenly in walked a personage of striking appearance to condole with him on his losses. The stranger’s face was covered with a huge curly beard; and Hsiang-ju, not knowing who he was, begged him to take a seat, and was about to ask whence he came, when all at once he began, “Sir! have you forgotten your father’s death, your wife’s disgrace?” Thereupon Hsiang-ju, suspecting him to be a spy from the Sung family, made some evasive reply, which so irritated the stranger that he roared out, “I thought you were a man; but now I know that you are a worthless, contemptible wretch.” Hsiang-ju fell on his knees and implored the stranger to forgive him, saying, “I was afraid it was a trick of Sung’s: I will speak frankly to you. For days I have lain, as it were, upon thorns, my mouth filled with gall, restrained only by pity for this little one and fear of breaking our ancestral line. Generous friend, will you take care of my child if I fall?” “That,” replied the stranger, “is the business of women; I cannot undertake it. But what you wish others to do for you, do yourself; and that which you would do yourself, I will do for you.” When Hsiang-ju heard these words he knocked his head upon the ground; but the stranger took no more notice of him, and walked out. Following him to the door, Hsiang-ju asked his name, to which he replied, “If I cannot help you I shall not wish to have your reproaches; if I do help you, I shall not wish to have your gratitude.” The stranger then disappeared, and Hsiang-1u, having a presentiment that some misfortune was about to happen, fled away with his child. [p. 144]
When night came, and the members of the Sung family were wrapped in sleep, some one found his way into their house and slew the ex-Censor and his two sons, besides a maid-servant and one of the ladies. Information was at once given to the authorities; and as the Sung family had no doubt that the murderer was Hsiang-ju, the magistrate, who was greatly alarmed,6 sent out lictors to arrest him. Hsiang-ju, however, was nowhere to be found, a fact which tended to confirm the suspicions of the Sung family and they, too, despatched a number of servants to aid the mandarin in effecting his capture. Towards evening the lictors and others reached a hill, and, hearing a child cry, made for the sound, and thus secured the object of their search, whom they bound and led away. As the child went on crying louder than ever, they took it from him and threw it down by the wayside, thereby nearly causing Hsiang-ju to die of grief and rage. On being brought before the magistrate he was asked why he had killed these people; to which he replied that he was falsely accused, “For,” said he, “they died in the night, whereas I had gone away in the daytime. Besides,” added he, “how, with a crying baby in my arms, could I scale walls and kill people?” “If you didn’t kill people,” cried the magistrate, “why did you run away?” Hsiang had no answer to make to this, and he was accordingly ordered to prison; whereupon he wept and said, “I can die without regret; but what has my child done that he, too, should be punished?” “You,” replied the magistrate, “have slain the children of others; how can you complain if your child meets the same fate?”
Hsiang-ju was then stripped of his degree7 and subjected to all kinds of indignities, but they were unable to wring a confession from his lips;8 and that very night, as the magistrate lay down, he heard a sharp noise of something striking the bed, and, jumping up in a fright, found, by the light of a candle, a small, keen blade sticking in the wood at the head of his couch so tightly that it could not be drawn out. Terribly alarmed at this, the magistrate [p. 145] walked round the room with a spear over his shoulder, but without finding anything; and then, reflecting that nothing more was to be feared from Sung, who was dead, as well as his two sons, he laid Hsiang-j u’s case before the higher authorities, and obtained for him an acquittal: Hsiang-ju was released and went home.
His cupboard, however, was empty, and there was nothing except his own shadow within the four walls of his house. Happily, his neighbours took pity on him and supplied him with food and whenever he thought upon the vengeance that had been wreaked, his countenance assumed an expression of joy; but as often as his misfortunes and the extinction of his family came into his mind, his tears would begin to flow. And when he remembered the poverty of his life and the end of his ancestral line, he would seek out some solitary spot, and there burst into an ungovernable fit of grief.
Thus things went on for about six months, when the search after the murderer began to be relaxed; and then Hsiang-ju petitioned for the recovery of his wife’s bones, which he took home with him and buried. His sorrows made him wish to die, and he lay tossing about on the bed without any object in life, when suddenly he heard somebody knock at the door. Keeping quiet to listen, he distinguished the sound of a voice outside talking with a child; and, getting up to look, he perceived a young lady, who said to him, “Your great wrongs are all redressed, and now, luckily, you have nothing to ail you.” The voice seemed familiar to him, but he could not at the moment recall where he had heard it; so he lighted a candle, and Miss Hung-yü stood before him. She was leading a small, happy-looking child by the hand; and after she and Hsiang-ju had expressed their mutual satisfaction at meeting once more, Miss Hung-yü pushed the boy forward, saying, “Have you forgotten your father?” The boy clung to her dress, and looked shyly at Hsiang-ju, who, on examining him closely, found that he was Fu-êrh. “Where did he come from?” asked his father, in astonishment, not unmingled with tears. “I will tell you all,” replied Miss Hung-yü. “I was only deceiving you when I said I belonged to a neighbouring family. I am really a fox, and, happening to go out one evening, I heard a child crying in a ditch. [p. 146] I took him home and brought him up; and, now that your troubles are over, I return him to you, that father and son may be together.” Hsiang-ju wiped away his tears and thanked her heartily; but Fu-êrh kept close to Miss Hung-yü, whom he had come to regard as a mother, and did not seem to recognise his father again.
Before daybreak Miss Hung-yü said she must go away; but Hsiang-yü fell upon his knees and entreated her to stop, until at, last she said she was only joking, adding that, in a new establishment like theirs, it would be a case of early to rise and late to bed. She then set to work cutting fuel and sweeping up, toiling hard as if she had been a man, which made Hsiang-ju regret that he was too poor to have all this done for her. However, she bade him mind his books, and not trouble himself about the state of their affairs, as they were not likely to die of hunger. She also produced some money, and bought implements for spinning, besides renting a few acres of land and hiring labourers to till them. Day by day she would shoulder her hoe and work in the fields, or employ herself in mending the roof, so that her fame as a good wife spread abroad, and the neighbours were more than ever pleased to help them. In half-a-year’s time their home was like that of a well-to-do family, with plenty of servants about; but one day Hsiang-ju said to Miss Hung-yü, “With all that you have accomplished on my behalf, there is still one thing left undone.” On her asking him what it was, he continued:—“The examination for master’s degree is at hand, and I have not yet recovered the bachelor’s degree of which I was stripped.” “Ah,” replied she, “some time back I had your name replaced upon the list; had I waited for you to tell me, it would have been too late.” Hsiang-ju marvelled very much at this, and accordingly took his master’s degree. He was then thirty-six years of age, the master of broad lands and fine houses; and Miss Hung-yü, who looked delicate enough to be blown away by the wind, and yet worked harder than an ordinary labourer’s wife, keeping her hands smooth and nice in spite of winter weather, gave herself out to be thirty-eight, though no one took her to be much more than twenty. [p. 147]
1 Meaning that it would become known to the Arbiter of life and death in the world below, who would punish him by shortening his appointed term of years. See The Wei-ch‘i Devil, No. CXXXI.
2 One important preliminary consists in the exchange of the four pairs of characters which denote the year, month, day, and hour of the births of the contracting parties. It remains for a geomancer to determine whether these are in harmony or not; and a very simple expedient for backing out of a proposed alliance is to bribe him to declare that the nativities of the young couple could not be happily brought together.
3 The bridegroom invariably fetches the bride from her father’s house, conveying her to his home in a handsomely-gilt red sedan-chair, closed in on all sides, and accompanied by a band of music.
4 The Censorate is a body of fifty-six officials, whose duty it is to bring matters to the notice of the Emperor which might otherwise have escaped attention; to take exception to any acts, including those of his Majesty himself, calculated to interfere with the welfare of the people; and to impeach, as occasion may require, the high provincial authorities, whose position, but for this wholesome check, would be almost unassailable. Censors are popularly termed the “ears and eyes “of the monarch.
5 In the Book of Rites (I. Pt. i. v. 10), which dates, in its present form, only from the first century B.C., occurs this passage “With the slayer of his father, a man may not live under the same heaven;” and in the Family Sayings (Bk. X. ab init.), a work which professes, though on quite insufficient authority, to record a number of the conversations and apophthegms of Confucius not given in the Lun-yü, or Confucian Gospels, we find the following course laid down for a man whose father has been murdered:—“He must sleep upon a grass mat, with his shield for his pillow; he must decline to take office; he must not live under the same heaven (with the murderer). When he meets him in the court or in the market-place, he must not return for a weapon, but engage him there and then;” being always careful, as the commentator observes, to carry a weapon about with him. Sir John Davis and Dr. Legge agree in stigmatising this as “one of the objectionable principles of Confucius.” It must, however, be admitted that (1) a patched-up work which appeared as we have it now from two to three centuries after Confucius’s death, and (2) a confessedly apocryphal work such as the Family Sayings, are hardly sufficient grounds for affixing to the fair fame of China’s great Sage the positive inculcation of a dangerous principle of blood-vengeance like that I have just quoted.
6 The Chinese theory being that every official is responsible for the peace and well-being of the district committed to his charge, and even liable to punishment for occurrences over which he could not possibly have had any control.
7 See No. X., note 3.
8 See No. X., note 6.
XXXIII. CHANG’S TRANSFORMATION
CHANG YU-TAN, of Chao-yüan, was a wild fellow, who pursued his studies at the Hsiao temple. Now it chanced that the magistrate of the district, Mr. Tsêng of San-han, had a daughter who was very fond of hunting, and that one day young Chang met her in the fields, and was much struck with her great beauty. She was dressed in an embroidered sable jacket, and rode about on a small palfrey, for all the world like a girl in a picture.
Chang went home with the young lady still in his thoughts, his heart being deeply touched; but he soon after heard, to his infinite sorrow and dismay, that Miss Tsêng had died suddenly. Their own home being at a distance,l her father deposited the coffin in a temple;2 the very temple, in fact, where her lover was residing. Accordingly Chang paid to her remains the same respect he would have offered to a god; he burnt incense every morning, and poured out libations at every meal, always accompanied by the following invocation:—“I had hardly seen you when your spirit became ever present to me in my dreams. But you passed suddenly away; and now, near as we are together, we are as far apart as if separated by hills and rivers. Alas! alas! In life you were under the control of your parents; now, however, there is nothing to restrain you, and with your supernatural power, I should be hearing the rustle of your robe as you approach to ease the sorrow of my heart.”
Day and night he prayed thus, and when some six months had passed away, and he was one night trimming his lamp to read, he raised his head and saw a young lady standing, all smiles, before him. Rising up, he inquired who she was; to which his visitor replied, “Grateful to you for your love of me, I was unable to resist the temptation of coming to thank you myself.” Chang then offered her a seat, and they sat together chatting for some time.
From this date the young lady used to come in every evening, and on one occasion said to Chang, “I was formerly very fond of riding and archery, shooting the musk and slaying the deer; my crime is so great that I can find no repose in death. If you have any friendly feelings towards me, I pray you recite for [p. 148] me the Diamond sutra five thousand and forty-eight times, and I will never forget your kindness.” Chang did as he was asked, getting up every night and telling his beads before the coffin, until the occasion of a certain festival, when he wished to go home to his parents, and take the young lady with him. Miss Tsêng said she was afraid her feet were too tender to walk far; but Chang offered to carry her, to which she laughingly assented. It was just like carrying a child, she was so light;4 and by degrees Chang got so accustomed to taking her about with him, that when he went up for his examination she went in too.5 The only thing was she could not travel except at night.
Later on, Chang would have gone up for his master’s degree, but the young lady told him it was of no use to try, for it was not destined that he should pass; and accordingly he desisted from his intention.
Four or five years afterwards, Miss Tsêng’s father resigned his appointment, and so poor was he that he could not afford to pay for the removal of his daughter’s coffin, but wanted to bury it economically where it was. Unfortunately, he had no ground of his own, and then Chang came forward and said that a friend of his had a piece of waste land near the temple, and that he might bury it there. Mr. Tsêng was very glad to accept, and Chang kindly assisted him with the funeral,—for what reason the former was quite unable to guess.
One night after this, as Miss Tsêng was sitting by Chang’s side, her father having already returned home, she burst into a flood of tears, and said, “For five years we have been good friends; we must now part. I can never repay your goodness to me.” Chang was alarmed, and asked her what she meant; to which she replied, “Your sympathy has told for me in the realms below. The sum of my sutras is complete, and today I am to be born again in the family of a high official, Mr. Lu, of Ho-pei. If you do not forget the present time, meet me there in fifteen years from now, on the 16th of the 8th moon.” “Alas!” cried Chang, [p. 149] “I am already over thirty, and in fifteen years more I shall be drawing near the wood.6 What good will our meeting do?” “I can be your servant,” replied Miss Tsêng, “and so make some return to you. But come, escort me a few miles on my way; the road is beset with brambles, and I shall have some trouble with my dress.” So Chang carried her as before, until they reached a high road, where they found a number of carriages and horses, the latter with one or two riders on the backs of each, and three or four, or even more persons, in every carriage. But there was one richly-decorated carriage, with embroidered curtains and red awnings, in which sat only one old woman, who, when she saw Miss Tsêng, called out, “Ah, there you are.” “Here I am,” replied Miss Tsêng; and then she turned to Chang and said, “We must part here; do not forget what I told you.” Chang promised he would remember; and then the old woman helped her up into the carriage, round went the wheels, off went the attendants, and they were gone.
Sorrowfully Chang wended his way home, and there wrote upon the wall the date mentioned by Miss Tsêng; after which, bethinking himself of the efficacy of prayer, he took to reciting sutras more energetically than ever. By-and-by he dreamed that an angel appeared to him, and said, “The bent of your mind is excellent indeed, but you must visit the Southern Sea.”7 Asking how far off the Southern Sea was, the angel informed him it was close by; and then waking up, and understanding what was required of him, he fixed his sole thoughts on Buddha, and lived a purer life than before.
In three years’ time his two sons, Ming and Chêng, came out very high on the list at the examination for the second degree, in spite of which worldly successes Chang continued to lead his usual holy life.
Then one night he dreamed that another angel led him among beautiful halls and palaces, where he saw a personage sitting down who resembled Buddha himself. This personage said to him, “My son, your virtue is a matter of great joy; unhappily your term of life is short, [p. 150] and I have, therefore, made an appeal to God on your behalf.” Chang prostrated himself, and knocked his head upon the ground; upon which he was commanded to rise, and was served with tea, fragrant as the epidendrum. A boy was next instructed to take him to bathe in a pool, the water of which was so exquisitely clear that he could count the fishes swimming about therein. He found it warm as he walked in, and scented like the leaves of the lotus-flower; and gradually the water got deeper and deeper, until he went down altogether and passed through with his head under water.
He then waked up in a fright; but from this moment he became more robust and his sight improved. As he stroked his beard the white hairs all came out, and by-and-by the black ones too; the wrinkles on his face were smoothed away, and in a few months he had the beardless face of a boy of fifteen or sixteen. He also grew very fond of playing about like other boys, and would sometimes tumble head over heels, and be picked up by his sons.
Soon afterwards his wife died of old age, and his sons begged him to marry again into some good family; but he said he should be obliged to go to Ho-pei first; and then, calculating his dates, found that the appointed time had arrived. So he ordered his horses and servants, and set off for Ho-pei, where he discovered that there actually was a high official named Lu. Now Mr. Lu had a daughter, who when born was able to talk,9 and became very clever and beautiful as she grew up. She was the idol of her parents, and had been asked in marriage by many suitors, but would not accept any of them; and when her father and mother inquired her motives for refusal, she told them the story of of her engagement in her former life. “Silly child,” said they, reckoning up the time, and laughing at her; “that Mr. Chang would now be about fifty years of age, a changed and feeble old man. Even if he is still alive, his hair will be white and his teeth gone.” But their daughter would not listen to them; and, finding her so obstinate in her determination, they instructed the doorkeeper to admit no strangers until the appointed time should have passed, [p. 151] that thus her expectations might be brought to naught.
Before long, Chang arrived, but the doorkeeper would not let him in, and he went back to his inn in great distress, not knowing what to do. He then took to walking about the fields, and secretly making inquiries concerning the family. Meanwhile Miss Tsêng thought that he had broken his engagement, and refused all food, giving herself up to tears alone. Her mother argued that he was probably dead, or in any case that the breach of engagement was no fault of her daughter’s; to none of which, however, would Miss Tsêng listen, lying where she was the livelong day. Mr. Lu now became anxious about her, and determined to see what manner of man this Chang might be; so, on the plea of taking a walk, he went out to meet him in the fields, and to his astonishment found quite a young man. They sat down together on some leaves, and after chatting awhile Mr. Lu was so charmed with his young friend’s bearing that he invited him to his house. No sooner had they arrived, than Mr. Lu begged Chang to excuse him a moment, and ran in first to tell his daughter, who exerted herself to get up and take a peep at the stranger. Finding, however, that he was not the Chang she had formerly known, she burst into tears and crept back to bed, upbraiding her parents for trying to deceive her thus. Her father declared he was no other than Chang, but his daughter replied only with tears; and then he went back very much upset to his guest, whom he treated with great want of courtesy. Chang asked him if he was not the Mr. Lu, of such and such a position, to which he replied in a vacant kind of way that he was, looking the other way all the time and paying no attention to Chang. The latter did not approve of this behaviour, and accordingly took his leave; and in a few days Miss Tsêng had cried herself to death.
Chang than dreamed that she appeared to him, and said, “Was it you after all that I saw? You were so changed in age and appearance that when I looked upon your face I did not know you. I have already died from grief; but if you make haste to the little street shrine and summon my spirit back, I may still recover. Be not late!” Chang then waked, and immediately made inquiries at Mr. Lu’s house, when he found that the young lady had been dead two days. [p. 152]
Telling her father his dream, they went forth to summon the spirit back; and on opening the shroud, and throwing themselves with lamentations over the corpse, a noise was heard in the young lady’s throat, and her cherry lips parted. They moved her on to a bed, and soon she began to moan, to the great joy of Mr. Lu, who took Chang out of the room and, over a bumper of wine, asked some questions about his family. He was glad to find that Chang was a suitable match for his daughter, and an auspicious day was fixed for the wedding. In a fortnight the event came off, the bride being escorted to Chang’s house by her father, who remained with them six months before going home again. They were a youthful pair, and people who didn’t know the story mistook Chang’s son and daughter-in-law for his father and mother.
A year later Mr. Lu died; and his son, a mere child, having been badly wounded by some scoundrels, and the family property being almost gone, Chang made him come and live with them, and be one of their own family.
1 No man being allowed to hold office in his own province.
2 This is a very common custom all over China.
3 Of all the Buddhist sutras, this is perhaps the favourite with the Chinese.
4 Contrary to the German notion that the spirit of the dead mother, coming back at night to suckle the child she has left behind, makes an impress on the bed alongside the baby.
5 Being, of course, invisible to all except himself.
6 A very ancient expression signifying “the grave,” the word “wood” being used by synecdoche for “coffin.”
7 The supposed residence of Kuan-yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, she who “hears prayers,” and is the giver of children.
8 The great Supreme Ruler, who is supposed to have absolute sway over the various other deities of the Chinese Pantheon.
9 Generally spoken of as an inauspicious phenomenon.
XXXIV. A TAOIST PRIEST
ONCE upon a time there was a Mr. Han, who belonged to a wealthy family, and was fond of entertaining people. A man named Hsü, of the same town, frequently joined him over the bottle; and on one occasion when they were together a Taoist priest came to the door with his alms-bowl in his hand. The servants threw him some money and food, but the priest would not accept them, neither would he go away; and at length they would take no more notice of him. Mr. Han heard the noise of the priest knocking his bowl going on for a long time, and asked his [p. 153] servants what was the matter; and they had hardly told him when the priest himself walked in. Mr. Han begged him to be seated; whereupon the priest bowed to both gentlemen and took his seat. On making the usual inquiries, they found that he lived at an old tumbledown temple to the east of the town, and Mr. Han expressed regret at not having heard sooner of his arrival, so that he might have shown him the proper hospitality of a resident. The priest said that he had only recently arrived, and had no friends in the place; but hearing that Mr. Han was a jovial fellow, he had been very anxious to take a glass with him. Mr. Han then ordered wine, and the priest soon distinguished himself as a hard drinker; Mr. Hsü treating him all the time with a certain amount of disrespect in consequence of his shabby appearance, while Mr. Han made allowances for him as being a traveller. When he had drunk over twenty large cups of wine, the priest took his leave, returning subsequently whenever any jollification was going on, no matter whether it was eating or drinking.
Even Han began now to tire a little of him; and on one occasion Hsü said to him in raillery, “Good priest, you seem to like being a guest; why don’t you play the host sometimes for a change?” “Ah,” replied the priest, “I am much the same as yourself—a mouth carried between a couple of shoulders.”3 This put Hsü to shame, and he had no answer to make; so the priest continued, “But although that is so, I have been revolving the question with myself for some time, and when we do meet I shall do my best to repay your kindness with a cup of my own poor wine.” When they had finished drinking, the priest said he hoped he should have the pleasure of their company the following day at noon; and at the appointed time the two friends went together, not expecting, however, to find anything ready for them.
But the priest was waiting for them in the street; and passing through a handsome courtyard, they beheld long suites of elegant apartments stretching away before them. In great astonishment, [p. 154] they remarked to the priest that they had not visited this temple for some time, and asked when it had been thus repaired; to which he replied that the work had been only lately completed.
They then went inside, and there was a magnificently-decorated apartment, such as would not be found even in the houses of the wealthy. This made them begin to feel more respect for their host; and no sooner had they sat down than wine and food were served by a number of boys, all about sixteen years of age, and dressed in embroidered coats, with red shoes. The wine and eatables were delicious, and very nicely served; and when the dinner was taken away, a course of rare fruits was put on the table, the names of all of which it would be impossible to mention. They were arranged in dishes of crystal and jade, the brilliancy of which lighted up the surrounding furniture; and the goblets in which the wine was poured were of glass,4 and more than a foot in circumference. The priest here cried out, “Call the Shih sisters,” whereupon one of the boys went out and in a few moments two elegant young ladies walked in. The first was tall and slim like a willow wand; the other was short and very young, both being exceedingly pretty girls. Being told to sing while the company were drinking, the younger beat time and sang a song, while the elder accompanied her on the flageolet. They acquitted themselves admirably; and, when the song was over, the priest, holding his goblet bottom upwards in the air, challenged his guests to follow his example, bidding his servants pour out more wine all round. He then turned to the girls, and remarked that they had not danced for a long time, asking if they were still able to do so; upon which a carpet was spread by one of the boys, and the two young ladies proceeded to dance, their long robes waving about and perfuming the air around. The dance concluded, they leant against a painted screen, while the two guests gradually became more and more confused, and were at last irrecoverably drunk.
The priest took no notice of them; but when he had finished drinking, he got up and said, “Pray, go on with your wine; I am going to rest awhile, and will return by-and-by.” He then went away, and lay down on a splendid couch at the other [p. 155] end of the room; at which Hsü was very angry, and shouted out, “Priest, you are a rude fellow,” at the same time making towards him with a view of rousing him up. The priest then ran out, and Han and Hs-ü lay down to sleep, one at each end of the room, on elaborately-carved couches covered with beautiful mattresses. When they woke up, they found themselves lying in the road, Mr. Hsü with his head in a dirty drain. Hard by were a couple of rush huts; but everything else was gone.
1 This is the Buddhist patra, which modern writers have come to regard as an instrumental part of the Taoist religion. See No. IV., note 1.
2 To call attention to his presence. Beggars in China accomplish their purpose more effectually by beating a gong in the shop where they ask for alms so loudly as to prevent the shopkeeper from hearing his customers speak; or they vary the performance by swinging about some dead animal tied to the end of a stick. Mendicity not being prohibited in China, there results a system of blackmail payable by every householder to a beggars’ guild, and this frees them from the visits of the beggars of their own particular district; many, however, do not subscribe, but take their chance in the struggle as to who will tire out the other first, the shopkeeper, who has all to lose, being careful to stop short of anything like manual violence, which would forthwith bring down upon him the myrmidons of the law, and subject him to innumerable “squeezes.”
3 Sc. a “sponge.”
4 First manufactured in China A.D. 424. The term here used (po-li) occurs as early as A.D. 643, and is of foreign origin.
XXXV. THE FIGHT WITH THE FOXES
IN the province of Chih-li, there was a wealthy family in want of a tutor. One day a graduate presented himself at the door, and was asked by the master of the house to walk in; and he conversed so pleasantly that in a short time it was clear to both sides that they were mutually pleased with each other. The tutor said his name was Hu; and when the usual present had been made to him, he was forthwith provided with apartments, and entered very energetically upon his duties, proving himself a scholar of no mean order.
He was, however, very fond of roaming, and generally came back in the middle of the night, not troubling himself to knock if the door was locked, but suddenly appearing on the inside. It was therefore suspected that he was a fox, though as his intentions seemed to be harmless, he was treated extremely well, and not with any want of courtesy as if he had been something uncanny. By-and-by he discovered that his master had a daughter,l and being desirous of securing the match was always dropping hints to that effect, which his master, on the other hand, invariably pretended not to understand.
One day he went off for a holiday, and on the next day a stranger called; who, tying a black mule at the door, accepted the invitation of the master to take a seat within. He was about fifty years of age, very neat and clean in his dress, and gentlemanly in his manners. When they were seated, the stranger began by saying that he was come with [p. 156] proposals of marriage on behalf of Mr. Hu; to which his host, after some consideration, replied that he and Mr. Hu got along excellently well as friends, and there was no object in bringing about a closer connection. “Besides,” added he, “my daughter is already betrothed, and I beg you, therefore, to ask Mr. Hu to excuse me.” The stranger said he was quite sure the young lady was not engaged, and inquired what might be the objection to the match: but it was all of no avail, until at length he remarked, “Mr. Hu is of a good family; I see no reason why you should have such an aversion to him.” “Well, then,” replied the other, “I will tell you what it is. We don’t like his species.” The stranger here got very angry, and his host also lost his temper, so that they came to high words, and were already on the way to blows, when the latter bade his servants give the stranger a beating and turn him out.
The stranger then retired, leaving his mule behind him; and when they drew near to look at it they found a huge creature with black hair, drooping ears, and a long tail. They tried to lead it away, but it would not move; and on giving it a shove with the hand from behind, it toppled over and was discovered to be only of straw.
In consequence of the angry words that had been said, the master of the house felt sure that there would be an attempt at revenge, and accordingly made all preparations; and sure enough the next day a whole host of fox-soldiers arrived, some on horseback, some on foot, some with spears, and others with cross-bows, men and horses trampling along with an indescribable din. The family were afraid to leave the house, and the foxes shouted out to set the place on fire, at which the inmates were dreadfully alarmed; but just then one of the bravest of them rushed forth with a number of the servants to engage the foxes. Stones and arrows flew about in all directions, and many on both sides were wounded; at length, however, the foxes drew off, leaving their swords on the field. These glittered like frost or snow, but when picked up turned out to be only millet-stalks. “Is this all their cunning?” cried their adversary, laughing, at the same time making still more careful preparations in case the foxes should come again.
Next day they were deliberating together, when suddenly a giant descended upon them from the sky. He was over ten feet in height [p. 157] by several feet in breadth, and brandished a sword as broad as half a door; but they attacked him so vigorously with arrows and stones that he was soon stretched dead upon the ground, when they saw that he was made of grass.
Our friends now began to make light of their fox-foes, and as they saw nothing more of them for three days their precautions were somewhat relaxed. The foxes, however, soon reappeared, armed with bows and arrows, and succeeded in shooting the master of the house in the back, disappearing when he summoned his servants and proceeded to attack them. Then, drawing the arrow from his back, he found it was a long thorn; and thus the foxes went on for a month or so, coming and going, and making it necessary to take precautions, though not really inflicting any serious injury.
This annoyed the master of the family very much, until one day Mr. Hu himself appeared with a troop of soldiers at his back, and he immediately went out to meet him. Mr. Hu withdrew among his men, but the master called to him to come forth, and then asked him what he had done that soldiers should be thus brought against his family. The foxes were now on the point of discharging their arrows; Mr. Hu, however, stopped them; whereupon he and his old master shook hands, and the latter invited him to walk into his old room.
Wine being served, his host observed, “You, Mr. Hu, are a man of intelligence, and I trust you will make allowances for me. Friends as we were, I should naturally have been glad to form a connection with you; your carriages, however, horses, houses, &c., are not those of ordinary mortals; and even had my daughter consented, you must know the thing would have been impossible, she being still a great deal too young.” Mr. Hu was somewhat disconcerted at this, but his host continued, “It’s of no consequence; we can still be friends as before, and if you do not despise us earthly creatures, there is my son whom you have taught; he is fifteen years old, and I should be proud to see him connected with you if such an arrangement should be feasible.” Mr. Hu was delighted, and said, “I have a daughter one year younger than your son; she is neither ugly nor stupid. How would she do?” His host got up and made a low [p. 158] bow, which Mr. Hu forthwith returned, and they then became the best of friends, forgetting all about the former unpleasantness. Wine was given to Mr. Hu’s attendants, and everyone was made happy. The host now inquired where Mr. Hu lived, that the ceremony of pouring out a libation to the geese might be performed; but Mr. Hu said this would not be necessary, and remained drinking till night, when he went away again.
From this time there was no more trouble and a year passed without any news of Mr. Hu, so that it seemed as if he wished to get out of his bargain. The family, however, went on waiting, and in months more Mr. Hu reappeared, when, after a few general remarks, he declared that his daughter was ready, and requested that an auspicious day might be fixed for her to come to her husband’s home. This being arranged, the young lady arrived with a retinue of sedan-chairs, and horses, and a beautiful trousseau that nearly filled a room.4 She was unusually respectful to her father and mother-in-law, and the former was much pleased with the match. Her father and a younger brother of his had escorted her to the house, and conversing away in a most refined style they sat drinking till daybreak before they went away. The bride herself had the gift of foreknowing whether the harvest would be good or bad, and her advice was always taken in such matters. Mr. Hu and his brother, and also their mother, often came to visit her in her new home, and were then very frequently seen by people.
1 The women’s apartments being quite separate from the rest of a Chinese house, male visitors consequently know nothing about their inhabitants.
2 See No. XIII., note 1.
3 A very ancient custom in China, originating in a belief that these birds never mate a second time. The libation is made on the occasion of the bridegroom fetching his bride from her father’s house.
4 A Chinese trousseau, in addition to clothes and jewels, consists of tables and chairs, and all kinds of house furniture and ornaments.
XXXVI. THE KING
A CERTAIN Governor of Hu-nan despatched a magistrate to the capital in charge of treasure to the amount of six hundred thousand ounces of silver. On the road the magistrate encountered a violent storm of rain, which so [p. 159] delayed him that night came on before he was able to reach the next station. He therefore took refuge in an old temple but, when morning came, he was horrified to find that the treasure had disappeared. Unable to fix the guilt on anyone, he returned forthwith to the Governor and told him the whole story. The latter, however, refused to believe what the magistrate said, and would have had him severely punished, but that each and all of his attendants stoutly corroborated his statements; and accordingly he bade him return and endeavour to find the missing silver.
When the magistrate got back to the temple, he met an extraordinary-looking blind man, who informed him that he could read people’s thoughts, and further went on to say that the magistrate had come there on a matter of money. The latter replied that it was so, and recounted the misfortune that had overtaken him; whereupon the blind man called for sedan-chairs, and told the magistrate to follow and see for himself, which he accordingly did, accompanied by all his retinue. If the blind man said east, they went east; or if north, north; journeying along for five days until far among the hills, where they beheld a large city with a great number of inhabitants. They entered the gates and proceeded on for a short distance, when suddenly the blind man cried “Stop!” and, alighting from his chair, pointed to a lofty door facing the west, at which he told the magistrate to knock and make what inquiries were necessary. He then bowed and took his leave, and the magistrate obeyed his instructions, whereupon a man came out in reply to his summons. He was dressed in the fashion of the Han dynasty,1 and did not say what his name was; but as soon as the magistrate informed him wherefore he had come, he replied that if the latter would wait a few days he himself would assist him in the matter. The man then conducted the magistrate within, and giving him a room to himself, provided him regularly with food and drink. One day he chanced to stroll away to the back of the building, and there found a beautiful garden with dense avenues of pine-trees and smooth lawns of fine grass. After wandering about for some time among the arbours and ornamental buildings, the magistrate came to a lofty kiosque, and mounted the steps, when he saw hanging on [p. 160] the wall before him a number of human skins, each with its eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and heart.2 Horrified at this, he beat a hasty retreat to his quarters, convinced that he was about to leave his own skin in this out-of-the-way place, and giving himself up for lost.
He reflected, however, that he should probably gain nothing by trying to escape, and made up his mind to wait; and on the following day the same man came to fetch him, saying he could now have an audience. The magistrate replied that he was ready; and his conductor then mounted a fiery steed, leaving the other to follow on foot. By-and-by they reached a door like that leading into a Viceroy’s yamên, where stood on either side crowds of official servants, preserving the utmost silence and decorum. The man here dismounted and led the magistrate inside; and after passing through another door they came into the presence of a king, who wore a cap decorated with pearls, and an embroidered sash, and sat facing the south. The magistrate rushed forward and prostrated himself on the ground; upon which the King asked him if he was the Hu-non official who had been charged with the conveyance of treasure. On his answering in the affirmative, the King said; “The money is all here; it’s a mere trifle, but I have no objection to receive it as a present from the Governor.” The magistrate here burst into tears, and declared that his term of grace had already expired that he would be punished if he went back thus, especially as he would have no evidence to adduce in substantiation of his story. “That is easy enough,” replied the King, and put into his hands a thick letter, which he bade him give to the Governor, assuring him that this would prevent him from getting into any trouble. He also provided him with an escort; and the magistrate, who dared not argue the point further, sorrowfully accepted the letter and took his departure.
The road he travelled along was not that by which he had come; and when the hills ended, his escort left him and went back. In a few days more he reached Ch’ang-sha, and respectfully informed the Governor of what had taken place; but the Governor thought he was telling more lies, and in a great [p. 161] rage bade the attendants bind him hand and foot. The magistrate then drew the letter forth from his coat; and when the Governor broke the seal and saw its contents, his face turned deadly pale. He gave orders for the magistrate to be unbound, remarking that the loss of the treasure was of no importance, and that the magistrate was free to go. Instructions were next issued that the amount was to be made up in some way or other and forwarded to the capital; and meanwhile the Governor fell sick and died.
Now this Governor had had a wife of whom he was dotingly fond; and one morning when they waked up, lo all her hair was gone. The whole establishment was in dismay, no one knowing what to make of such an occurrence. But the letter above-mentioned contained that hair, accompanied by the following words:—“Ever since you first entered into public life your career has been one of peculation and avarice. The six hundred thousand ounces of silver are safely stored in my treasury. Make good this sum from your own accumulated extortions. The officer you charged with the treasure is innocent; he must not be wrongly punished. On a former occasion I took your wife’s hair as a gentle warning. If now you disobey my injunctions, it will not be long before I have your head. Herewith I return the hair as an evidence of what I say.” When the Governor was dead, his family divulged the contents of the letter; and some of his subordinates sent men to search for the city, but they only found range upon range of inaccessible mountains, with nothing like a road or path.
1 Which ended some seventeen hundred years ago.
2 Corresponding with our five “senses,” the heart taking the place of the brain, and being regarded by Chinese doctors as the seat not only of intelligence and the passions, but also of all sensation.
XXXVII. ENGAGED TO A NUN
AT I-ling, in Hupei, there lived a young man named Chên Yü, the son of a graduate. He was a good scholar and a handsome fellow, and had made a reputation for himself even before he arrived at manhood. When quite a boy, a physiognomist had predicted that he would marry a Taoist nun; but his parents regarded it only as a joke, and made several attempts to get him a different kind of wife. Their efforts, however, had not hitherto [p. 162] proved successful, the difficulty being to find a suitable match.
Now his maternal grandmother lived at Huang-kang; and on one occasion, when young Chên was paying her a visit, he heard some one say that of the four Yüns at Huang-chou the youngest had no peer. This remark referred to some very nice-looking nuns who lived in a temple a few miles from his grandmother’s house; and accordingly Chên secretly set off to see them, and knocking at the door, was very cordially received by the four ladies, who were persons of considerable refinement. The youngest was a girl of incomparable beauty, and Chên could not keep his eyes off her, until at last she put her hand up to her face and looked the other way. Her companions now going out of the room to get tea for their visitor, Chên availed himself of the opportunity to ask the young lady’s name; to which she replied that she was called Yün-ch‘i, and that her surname was Chên. “How extraordinary!” cried Chên; “and mine is Fan.”2 This made her blush very much, and she bent her head down, and made no answer by-and-by rising up and going away. The tea then came in, accompanied by some nice fruit, and the nuns began telling him their names. One was Pai Yün-shen, and thirty odd years of age; another was Sheng Yün-mien, just twenty; and the third was Liang Yün-tong, twenty-four or five years old, but the junior in point of religious standing.3 Yün-ch‘i did not reappear, and at length Chên grew anxious to see her again, and asked where she was. Miss Pai told him her sister was afraid of strangers, and Chên then got up, and took his leave in spite of their efforts to detain him. “If you want to see Yün-ch‘i you had better come again tomorrow,” said Miss Pai; and Chên, who went home thinking of nothing but Yün-ch‘i, did return to the temple on the following day.
All the nuns [p. 163] were there except Yün-ch‘i, but he hardly liked to begin by inquiring after her; and then they pressed him to stay and take dinner with them, accepting no excuses, Miss Pai herself setting food and chop-sticks before him, and urging him to eat. When he asked where Yün-ch‘i was, they said she would come directly; but evening gradually drew on, and Chên rose to go home. Thereupon they all entreated him to stay, promising that if he did so they would make Yün-ch‘i come in. Chên then agreed to remain; the lamps were lighted, and wine was freely served round, until at last he said he was so tipsy he couldn’t take any more. “Three bumpers more,” cried Miss Pai, “and then we will send for Yün-ch‘i.” So Chên drank off his three cups, whereupon Miss Liang said he must also drink three with her, which he did, turning his wine-cup down on the table and declaring that he would have no more. “The gentleman won’t condescend to drink with us,” said Miss Pai to Miss Liang, “so you had better call in Yün-ch‘i, and tell the fair Eloisa that her Abelard is awaiting her.” In a few moments Miss Liang came back and told Chên that Yün-ch‘i would not appear; upon which he went off in a huff, without saying a word to either of them, and for several days did not go near the place again.
He could not, however, forget Yün-ch‘i, and was always hanging about on the watch, until one afternoon he observed Miss Pai go out, at which he was delighted, for he wasn’t much afraid of Miss Liang, and at once ran up to the temple and knocked at the door. Yün-mien answered his knock, and from her he discovered that Miss Liang had also gone out on business. He then asked for Yün-ch‘i, and Yün-mien led him into another courtyard, where she called out, “Yün-ch‘i! here’s a visitor.” At this the door of the room was immediately slammed, and Yün-mien laughed and told Chên she had locked herself in. Chên was on the point of saying something, when Yün-mien moved away, and a voice was heard from the other side of the window, “They all want to make me a bait to entice you, Sir; and if you come here again, I cannot answer for my safety. I do not wish to remain a nun, and if I could only meet with a gentleman like you, Mr. Fan, I [p. 164] would be a handmaid to him all the days of my life.” Chên offered his hand and heart to the young lady on the spot; but she reminded him that her education for the priesthood had not been accomplished without expense. “And if you truly love me,” added she, “bring twenty ounces of silver wherewith to purchase my freedom. I will wait for you three years with the utmost fidelity.” Chên assented to this, and was about to tell her who he really was, when Yün-mien returned, and they all went out together, Chên now bidding them farewell and going back to his grand-mother’s.
After this he always had Yün-ch‘i in his thoughts, and wanted very much to get another interview with her and be near her once again, but at this juncture he heard that his father was dangerously ill, and promptly set off on his way home, travelling day and night. His father died, and his mother, who then ruled the household, was such a severe person that he dared not tell her what was nearest to his heart. Meanwhile he scraped together all the money he could; and refused all proposals of marriage on the score of being in mourning for his fathers. His mother, however, insisted on his taking a wife; and he then told her that when he was with his grandmother at Huang-kang, an arrangement had been made that he was to marry a Miss Ch‘en, to which he himself was quite ready to accede; and that now, although his father’s death had stopped all communications on the subject, he could hardly do better than pay a visit to his grandmother and see how matters stood, promising that if the affair was not actually settled he would obey his mother’s commands. His mother consented to this, and off he started with the money he had saved; but when he reached Huang-kang and went off to the temple, he found the place desolate and no longer what it had been. Entering in, he saw only one old priestess employed in cooking her food and on making inquiries of her, she told him that the Abbess had died in the previous year, and that the four nuns had gone away in different directions. According to her, Yün-ch‘i was living in the northern quarter of the city, and thither he proceeded forthwith; but after asking for her at all the temples in the neighbourhood, he could get no [p. 165] news of her, and returned sorrowfully home, pretending to his mother that his uncle had said Mr. Chên had gone away, and that as soon as he came back they would send a servant to let him know.
Some months after these events, Chên’s mother went on a visit to her own home, and mentioned this story in conversation with her old mother, who, to her astonishment, knew nothing at all about it, but suggested that Chên and his uncle must have concocted the thing together. Luckily, however, for Chên his uncle was away at that time, and they had no means of getting at the real truth. Meanwhile, Chên’s mother went away to the Lily Hill to fulfil a vow she had made, and remained all night at an inn at the foot of the hill. That evening the landlord knocked at her door and ushered in a young priestess to share the room. The girl said her name was Yün-ch‘i; and when she heard that Chên’s mother lived at I-ling, she went and sat by her side, and poured out to her a long tale of tribulation, finishing up by saying that she had a cousin named P‘an, at I-ling, and begging Chên’s mother to send some one to tell him where she would be found. “Every day I suffer,” added she, “and each day seems like a year. Tell him to come quickly, or I may be gone.” Chên’s mother inquired what his other name might be, but she said she did not know; to which the old lady replied that it was of no consequence, as, being a graduate, it would be easy to find him out.
Early in the morning Chên’s mother bade the girl farewell, the latter again begging her not to forget; and when she reached home she told Chên what had occurred. Chên threw himself on his knees, and told his mother that he was the Fan to whom the young lady alluded; and after hearing how the engagement had come about, his mother was exceedingly angry, and said, “Undutiful boy! how will you face your relations with a nun for a wife?” Chên hung his head and made no reply; but shortly afterwards when he went up for his examination, he presented himself at the address given by Yün-ch‘i—only, however, to find that the young lady had gone away a fortnight before. He then returned home and fell into a bad state of health, when his grandmother died and his mother set off to assist at her funeral.
On her way back she missed the right road and reached the house of some people named Ching, who [p. 166] turned out to be cousins of hers. They invited her in, and there she saw a young girl of about eighteen sitting in the parlour, and as great a beauty as she had ever set eyes on. Now, as she was always thinking of making a good match for her son, and curing him of his settled melancholy, she asked who the young lady might be; and they told her that her name was Wang,—that she was a connection of their own, and that her father and mother being dead, she was staying temporarily with them. Chên’s mother inquired the name of Miss Wang’s betrothed, but they said she was not engaged; and then, taking her hand, she entered into conversation, and was very much charmed with her. Passing the night there, Chên’s mother took her cousin into her confidence, and the latter agreed that it would be a capital match; “but,” added she, “this young lady is somewhat ambitious, or she would hardly have remained single so long. We must think about it.” Meanwhile, Chên’s mother and Miss Wang got on so extremely well together that they were already on the terms of mother and daughter; and Miss Wang was invited to accompany her home.
This invitation she readily accepted, and next day they went back; Chên’s mother, who wished to see her son free from his present trouble, bidding one of the servants tell him that she had brought home a nice wife for him; Chên did not believe this; but on peeping through the window beheld a young lady much prettier even than Yün-ch‘i herself. He now began to reflect that the three years agreed upon had already expired; that Yün-ch‘i had gone no one knew whither, and had probably by this time found another husband; so he had no difficulty in entertaining the thought of marrying this young lady, and soon regained his health. His mother then caused the young people to meet, and be introduced to one another; saying to Miss Wang, when her son had left the room, “Did you guess why I invited you to come home with me?” “I did,” replied the young lady, “but I don’t think you guessed what was my object in coming. Some years ago I was betrothed to a Mr. P‘an, of I-ling. I have heard nothing of him for a long time. If he has found another wife I will be your daughter-in-law; if not, I will ever regard you as my own mother, and endeavour to repay you for your kindness to me.” “As there is an actual [p. 167] engagement,” replied Chên’s mother, “I will say no more; but when I was at the Lily Hill there was a Taoist nun inquiring after this Mr. P‘an, and now you again, though, as a matter of fact, there is no Mr. P‘an in I-ling at all.” “What!” cried Miss Wang, “are you that lady I met? I am the person who inquired for Mr. P‘an.” “If that is so,” replied Chên’s mother with a smile, “then your Mr. P‘an is not far off.” “Where is he?” said she; and then Chên’s mother bade a maid-servant lead her out to her son and ask him. “Is your name Yün-ch‘i?” said Chên, in great astonishment; and when the young lady asked him how he knew it, he told her the whole story of his pretending to be a Mr. P‘an. But when Yün-ch‘i found out to whom she was talking, she was abashed, and went back and told his mother, who inquired how she came to have two names. “My real name is Wang,” replied the young lady; “but the old Abbess, being very fond of me, made me take her own name.” Chên’s mother was overjoyed at all this, and an auspicious day was immediately fixed for the celebration of their marriage.
1 These nunneries, of which there are plenty in China, are well worth visiting, and may be freely entered by both sexes. Sometimes there are as many as a hundred nuns living together in one temple, and to all appearances devoting their lives to religious exercises; report, however, tells many tales of broken vows, and makes sad havoc generally with the reputation of these fair vestals.
2 In corresponding English, this would be:—The young lady said her name was Eloïsa. “How funny!” cried Chên, “and mine is Abelard.”
3 That is, she was the last to take the vows.
4 The usual signal that a person does not wish to take any more wine.
5 This would carry him well on into the third of the years during which, Yün-ch‘i had promised to wait for him.
XXXVIII. THE YOUNG LADY OF THE TUNG-T‘ING LAKE
THE spirits of the Tung-t‘ing lake are very much in the habit of borrowing boats. Sometimes the cable of an empty junk will cast itself off, and away goes the vessel over the waves to the sound of music in the air above. The boatmen crouch down in one corner and hide their faces, not daring to look up until the trip is over and they are once more at their old anchorage.
Now a certain Mr. Lin, returning home after having failed at the examination for Master’s degree, was lying down very tipsy on the deck of his boat, when suddenly strains of music and singing began to be heard. The boatmen shook Mr. Lin, but failing to rouse him, ran down and hid themselves in the hold below. Then some one came and lifted him up, letting him drop again on to the deck, where he was allowed to remain in the same drunken sleep [p. 168] as before. By-and-by the noise of the various instruments became almost deafening, and Lin, partially waking up, smelt a delicious odour of perfumes filling the air around him. Opening his eyes, he saw that the boat was crowded with a number of beautiful girls; and knowing that something strange was going on, he pretended to be fast asleep. There was then a call for Chih-ch’eng, upon which a young waiting-maid came forward and stood quite close to Mr. Lin’s head. Her stockings were the colour of the king-fisher’s wing, and her feet encased in tiny purple shoes, no bigger than one’s finger. Much smitten with this young lady, he took hold of her stocking with his teeth, causing her, the next time she moved, to fall forward flat on her face. Some one, evidently in authority, asked what was the matter; and when he heard the explanation, was very angry, and gave orders to take off Mr. Lin’s head. Soldiers now came and bound Lin, and on getting up he beheld a man sitting with his face to the south, and dressed in the garments of a king. “Sire,” cried Lin, as he was being led away, “the king of the Tung-t‘ing lake was a mortal named Lin; your servant’s name is Lin also. His Majesty was a disappointed candidate; your servant is one too. His Majesty met the Dragon Lady, and was made immortal; your servant has played a trick upon this girl, and he is to die. Why this inequality of fortunes?”
When the king heard this, he bade them bring him back, and asked him, saying, “Are you, then, a disappointed candidate?” Lin said he was; whereupon the king handed him writing materials, and ordered him to compose an ode upon a lady’s head-dress. Some time passed before Lin, who was a scholar of some repute in his own neighbourhood, had done more than sit thinking about what he should write; and at length the king upbraided him, saying, “Come, come, a man of your reputation should not take so long.” “Sire,” replied Lin, laying down his pen, “it took ten years to complete the Songs of the Three Kingdoms; whereby it may be known that the value of compositions depends more upon the labour given to them than the speed with which they are written.”
The king laughed, and waited patiently from early morning till noon, when a copy of the verses was put into his hand, with which he declared himself very pleased. He now commanded that Lin should be [p. 169] served with wine; and shortly after there followed a collation of all kinds of curious dishes, in the middle of which an officer came in and reported that the register of people to be drowned had been made up. “How many in all?” asked the king. “Two hundred and twenty-eight,” was the reply; and then the king inquired who had been deputed to carry it out; whereupon he was informed that the generals Mao and Nan had been appointed to do the work. Lin here rose to take leave, and the king presented him with ten ounces of pure gold and a crystal square,2 telling him it would preserve him from any danger he might encounter on the lake. At this moment the king’s retinue and horses ranged themselves in proper order upon the surface of the lake; and his Majesty, stepping from the boat into his sedan-chair, disappeared from view.
When everything had been quiet for a long time, the boatmen emerged from the hold, and proceeded to shape their course northwards. The wind, however, was against them, and they were unable to make any headway; when all of a sudden an iron cat[A] appeared floating on the top of the water. “General Mao has come,” cried the boatmen, in great alarm; and they and all the passengers on board fell down on their faces. Immediately afterwards a great wooden beam stood up from the lake, nodding itself backwards and forwards, which the boatmen, more frightened than ever, said was General Nan. Before long a tremendous sea was raging, the sun was darkened in the heavens, and every vessel in sight was capsized. But Mr. Lin sat in the middle of the boat, with the crystal square in his hand, and the mighty waves broke around without doing them any harm. Thus were they saved, and Lin returned home; and whenever he told his wonderful story, he would assert that, although unable to speak positively as to the facial beauty of the young lady he had seen, he dared say that she had the most exquisite pair of feet in the world.
Subsequently, having occasion to visit the city of Wu-ch‘ang, he heard of an old woman who wished to sell her daughter, but was unwilling to accept money, giving out [p. 170] that anyone who had the fellow of a certain crystal square in her possession should be at liberty to take the girl. Lin thought this very strange; and taking his square with him sought out the old woman, who was delighted to see him, and told her daughter to come in. The young lady was about fifteen years of age, and possessed of surpassing beauty; and after saying a few words of greeting, she turned round and went within again. Lin’s reason had almost fled at the sight of this peerless girl, and he straightway informed the old woman that he had such an article as she required, but could not say whether it would match hers or not. So they compared their squares together, and there was not a fraction of difference between them, either in length or breadth. The old woman was overjoyed, and inquiring where Lin lived, bade him go home and get a bridal chair, leaving his square behind him as a pledge of his good faith. This he refused to do; but the old woman laughed, and said, “You are too cautious, Sir; do you think I should run away for a square?”
Lin was thus constrained to leave it behind him, and hurrying away for a chair, made the best of his way back. When, however, he got there, the old woman was gone. In great alarm he inquired of the people who lived near as to her whereabouts; no one, however, knew; and it being already late he returned disconsolately to his boat. On the way, he met a chair coming towards him, and immediately the screen was drawn aside, and a voice cried out, “Mr. Lin! why so late?” Looking closely, he saw that it was the old woman, who, after asking him if he hadn’t suspected her of playing him false, told him that just after he left she had had the offer of a chair; and knowing that he, being only a stranger in the place, would have some trouble in obtaining one, she had sent her daughter on to his boat.
Lin then begged she would return with him, to which she would not consent; and accordingly, not fully trusting what she said, he hurried on himself as fast as he could, and, jumping into the boat, found the young lady already there. She rose to meet him with a smile, and then he was astonished to see that her stockings were the colour of a king-fisher’s wing, her shoes purple, and her appearance generally like that of the girl he had met on the Tung-t‘ing lake. While he was still confused, the young lady remarked, [p. 171] “You stare, Sir, as if you had never seen me before!” but just then Lin noticed the tear in her stocking made by his own teeth, and cried out in amazement, “What! are you Chih-ch‘êng?” The young lady laughed at this; whereupon Lin rose, and, making her a profound bow, said, “If you are that divine creature, I pray you tell me at once, and set my anxiety at rest.” “Sir,” replied she, “I will tell you all. That personage you met on the boat was actually the king of the Tung-t‘ing lake. He was so pleased with your talent that he wished to bestow me upon you but, because I was a great favourite with her Majesty the Queen, he went back to consult with her. I have now come at the Queen’s own command.” Lin was highly pleased; and washing his hands, burnt incense, with his face towards the lake, as if it were the Imperial Court, and then they went home together.
Subsequently, when Lin had occasion to go to Wu-ch‘ang, his wife asked to be allowed to avail herself of the opportunity to visit her parents; and when they reached the lake, she drew a hair-pin from her hair, and threw it into the water. Immediately a boat rose from the lake, and Lin’s wife, stepping into it, vanished from sight like a bird on the wing. Lin remained waiting for her on the prow of his vessel, at the spot where she had disappeared; and by-and-by, he beheld a houseboat approach, from the window of which there flew a beautiful bird, which was no other than Chih-ch‘êng. Then some one handed out from the same window gold and silk, and precious things in great abundance, all presents to them from the Queen. After this, Chih-ch‘êng went home regularly twice every year, and Lin soon became a very rich man, the things he had being such as no one had ever before seen or heard of.
1 The celebrated lake in Hu-nan, round which has gathered so much of the folk-lore of China.
2 The instrument used by masons is here meant.
A I’m not sure what an “iron cat” is.
XXXIX. THE MAN WHO WAS CHANGED INTO A CROW
MR. YÜ JUNG was a Hu-nan man. The person who told me his story did not recollect from what department or district he came. His family was very poor; and once, when returning home after failure at the examination, he ran [p. 172] quite out of funds. Being ashamed to beg, and feeling uncomfortably hungry, he turned to rest awhile in the Wu Wang temple, where he poured out all his sorrows at the feet of the God. His prayers over, he was about to lie down in the outer porch, when suddenly a man took him and led him into the presence of Wu Wang; and then falling on his knees, said, “Your Majesty, there is a vacancy among the black-robes; the appointment might be bestowed on this man.” The King assented, and Yü received a suit of black clothes; and when he had put these on he was changed into a crow, and flew away.
Outside he saw a number of fellow-crows collected together, and immediately joined them, settling with them on the masts of the boats, and imitating them in catching and eating the meat or cakes which the passengers and boatmen on board threw up to them in the air.2 In a little while he was no longer hungry, and, soaring aloft, alighted on the top of a tree, quite satisfied with his change of condition. Two or three days passed, and the King, now pitying his solitary state, provided him with a very elegant mate, whose name was Chu-ch‘ing, and who took every opportunity of warning him when he exposed himself too much in search of food. However, he did not pay much attention to this, and one day a soldier shot him in the breast with a cross-bow; but luckily Chu-ch‘ing got away with him in her beak, and he was not captured. This enraged the other crows very much, and with their wings they flapped the water into such big waves that all the boats were upset. Chu-ch‘ing now procured food and fed her husband; but his wound was a severe one, and by the end of the day he was dead—at which moment he waked, as it were, from a dream, and found himself lying in the temple.
The people of the place had found Mr. Yü to all appearance dead; and not knowing how he had come by his death, and finding that his body was not quite cold, had set some one to watch him. They now learnt what had happened to him, and, making up a purse between them, sent him away [p. 173] home.
Three years afterwards he was passing by the same spot, and went in to worship at the temple; also preparing a quantity of food, and inviting the crows to come down and eat it. He then prayed, saying, “If Chu-ch‘ing is among you, let her remain.”
When the crows had eaten the food they all flew away; and by-and-by Yü returned, having succeeded in obtaining his master’s degree. Again he visited Wu Wang’s temple, and sacrificed a sheep as a feast for the crows; and again he prayed as on the previous occasion. That night he slept on the lake, and, just as the candles were lighted and he had sat down, suddenly there was a noise as of birds settling, and lo! a beautiful young lady about twenty years of age stood before him. “Have you been quite well since we parted?” asked she; to which Yü replied that he should like to know whom he had the honour of addressing. “Don’t you remember Chu-ch‘ing?” said the young lady; and then Yü was overjoyed, and inquired how she had come. “I am now,” replied Chu-ch‘ing, “a spirit of the Han river, and seldom go back to my old home; but in consequence of what you did on two occasions, I have come to see you once more.” They then sat talking together like husband and wife reunited after long absence, and Yü proposed that she should return with him on his way south. Chu-ch‘ing, however, said she must go west again, and upon this point they could not come to any agreement.
Next morning when waked up, he found himself in a lofty room with two large candles burning brightly, and no longer in his own boat. In utter amazement he arose and asked where he was. “At Han-yang,” replied Chu-ch‘ing; “my home is your home; why need you go south?” By-and-by, when it got lighter, in came a number of serving-women with wine, which they placed on a low table on the top of a broad couch; and then husband and wife sat down to drink together. “Where are all my servants?” asked Yü; and when he heard they were still on the boat, he said he was afraid the boat people would not be able to wait. “Never mind,” replied Chu-ch‘ing; “I have plenty of money, and I’ll help you to make it up to them.” Yü therefore remained with her, feasting and enjoying himself, and forgetting all about going home.
As for the boatmen, when they walked up and found themselves at [p. 174] Han-yang, they were greatly astonished; and seeing that the servants could find no trace of their missing master, they wished to go about their own business. They were unable, however, to undo the cable, and so they all remained there together for more than a couple of months, by the end of which time Mr. Yü became anxious to return home, and said to Chu-ch‘ing, “If I stay here, my family connections will be completely severed. Besides, as we are husband and wife, it is only right that you should pay a visit to my home.” “That,” replied Chu-ch’ing, “I cannot do and even were I able to go, you have a wife there already, and where would you put me? It is better for me to stop where I am, and thus you will have a second family.” Yü said she would be so far off that he could not always be dropping in; whereupon Chu-ch’ing produced a black suit, and replied, “Here are your old clothes. Whenever you want to see me, put these on and come, and on your arrival I will take them off for you.”
She then prepared a parting feast for her husband, at which he got very tipsy; and when he waked up he was on board his boat again, and at his old anchorage on the lake. The boatmen and his servants were all here, and they looked at one another in mutual amazement and when they asked Yü where he had been, he hardly knew what to say. By the side of his pillow he discovered a bundle in which were some new clothes Chu-ch‘ing had given him, shoes, stockings, &c.; and folded up with them was the suit of black. In addition to these he found an embroidered belt for tying round the waist, which was stuffed full of gold. He now started on his way south, and, when he reached the end of his journey, dismissed the boatmen with a handsome present.
After being at home for some months, his thoughts reverted to Han-yang; and, taking out the black clothes, he put them on, when wings immediately grew from his ribs, and with a flap he was gone. In about four hours he arrived at Han-yang, and, wheeling round and round in the air, espied below him a solitary islet, on which stood a house, and there he proceeded to alight. A maid-servant had already seen him coming, and cried out, “Here’s master!” and in a few moments out came Chu-ch‘ing, and bade the attendants take off Mr. Yü’s feathers. They were not [p. 175] long in setting him free, and then, hand in hand, he and Chu-ch‘ing went into the house together. “You have come at a happy moment,” said his wife, as they sat down to tell each other all the news; and in three days’ time she gave birth to a boy, whom they called Han-ch‘an, which means “born on the Han river.” Three days after the event all the river-nymphs came to congratulate them, and brought many handsome presents. They were a charming band, not one being over thirty years of age; and, going into the bedroom and approaching the bed, each one pressed her thumb on the baby’s nose, saying, “Long life to thee, little one!” Yü asked who they all were, and Chu-ch‘ing told him they belonged to the same family of spirits as herself; “And the two last of all,” said she, “dressed in pale lilac, are the nymphs who gave away their girdles at Hankow.”3
A few months passed away, and then Chu-ch‘ing sent her husband back in a boat to his old home. No sails or oars were used, but the boat sped along of itself; and at the end of the river journey there were men waiting with horses to convey him to his own door. After this he went backwards and forwards very frequently; and in time Han-ch‘an grew up to be a fine boy, the apple of his father’s eye.
Unhappily his first wife had no children, and she was extremely anxious to see Han-ch‘an; so Yü communicated this to Chu-ch‘ing, who at once packed up a box and sent him back with his father, on the understanding that he was to return in three months. However, the other wife became quite as fond of him as if he had been her own child, and ten months passed without her being able to bear the thought of parting with him. But one day Han-ch‘an was taken violently ill, and died; upon which Yü’s wife was overwhelmed with grief, and wished to die too.
Yü then set off for Han-yang, to carry the tidings to Chu-Ch‘ing; and when he arrived, lo! there was Han-ch‘an, with his shoes and socks off, lying on the bed. He was greatly rejoiced at this, and asked Chu-ch‘ing what it all meant. “Why,” replied she, “the term agreed upon by us had long [p. 176] expired, and, as I wanted my boy, I sent for him.” Yü then told her how much his other wife loved Han-ch‘an, but Chu-ch’ing said she must wait until there was another child, and then she should have him.
Later on Chu-Ch‘ing had twins, a boy and a girl, the former named Han-sheng and the latter Yü-p‘ei; whereupon Han-ch‘an went back again with his father, who, finding it inconvenient to be travelling backwards and forwards three or four times in a year, removed with his family to the city of Han-yang. At twelve years of age Han-ch‘an took his bachelor’s degree; and his mother, thinking there was no girl among mortals good enough for her son, sent for him to come home, that she herself might find a wife for him, which she did in the person of a Miss Chih-niang, who was the daughter of a spirit like herself. Yü’s first wife then died, and the three children all went to mourn her loss, Han-ch‘an remaining in Hu-nan after the funeral, but the other two returning with their father, and not leaving their mother again.
1 The guardian angel of crows.
2 In order to secure a favourable passage. The custom here mentioned was actually practised at more than one temple on the river Yang-tsze, and allusions to it will be found in more than one serious work.
3 Alluding to a legend of a young man meeting two young ladies at Hankow, each of whom wore a girdle adorned with a pearl as big as a hen’s egg. The young man begged them to give him these girdles, and they did so; but the next moment they had vanished, and the girdles too.
XL. THE FLOWER NYMPHS
AT the lower temple on Mount Lao the camellias are twenty feet in height, and many spans in circumference. The peonies are more than ten feet high; and when the flowers are in bloom the effect is that of gorgeous tapestry.
There was a Mr. Huang, of Chiao-chow, who built himself a house at that spot, for the purposes of study; and one day he saw from his window a young lady dressed in white wandering about amongst the flowers. Reflecting that she could not possibly belong to the monastery,l he went out to meet her; but she had already disappeared. After this he frequently observed her, and once hid himself in a thick-foliaged bush, waiting for her to come. By-and-by she appeared, bringing with her another young lady dressed in red, who, as he noticed from his distant point of observation, was an exceedingly good-looking girl. When they approached nearer, the young lady in the red dress ran back, saying, “There is a man here!” whereupon Mr. Huan jumped out upon them, and away they went in a scare, with their skirts and long sleeves fluttering in the breeze, and [p. 177] perfuming the air around. Huang pursued them as far as a low wall, where they suddenly vanished from his gaze. In great distress at thus losing the fair creatures, he took a pencil and wrote upon a tree the following lines:
The pangs of love my heart enthrall
As I stand opposite this wall.
I dread some hateful tyrant’s power,
With none to save you in that hour.
Returning home he was absorbed in his own thoughts, when all at once the young lady walked in, and he rose up joyfully to meet her. “I thought you were a brigand,” said his visitor, smiling; “you nearly frightened me to death. I did not know you were a great scholar whose acquaintance I now hope to have the honour of making.” Mr. Huang asked the young lady her name, &c., to which she replied, “My name is Hsiang-yü, and I belong to Ping-k‘ang-hsiang; but a magician has condemned me to remain on this hill much against my own inclination.” “Tell me his name,” cried Huang, “and I’ll soon set you free.” “There is no need for that,” answered the young lady; “I suffer no injury from him, and the place is not an inconvenient one for making the acquaintance of such worthy gentlemen as yourself.” Huang then inquired who was the young lady in red, and she told him that her name was Chiang-hsüeh, and that they were half-sisters; “and now,” added she, “I will sing you a song; but please don’t laugh at me.” She then began as follows
In pleasant company the hours fly fast,
And through the window daybreak peeps at last.
Ah, would that, like the swallow and his mate,
To live together were our happy fate.
Huang here grasped her hand and said, “Beauty without and intellect within—enough to make a man love [p. 178] you and forget all about death, only one day’s absence being like the separation of a thousand miles. I pray you come again whenever an opportunity may present itself.” From this time the young lady would frequently walk in to have a chat, but would never bring her sister with her in spite of all Mr. Huang’s entreaties. Huang thought they weren’t friends, but Hsiang said her sister did not care for society in the same way that she herself did, promising at the same time to try and persuade her to come at some future day.
One evening Hsiang-yü arrived in a melancholy frame of mind, and told Huang that he was wanting more when he couldn’t even keep what he had got; “for tomorrow,” said she, “we part.” Huang asked what she meant; and then, wiping away her tears with her sleeve, Hsiang-yü declared it was destiny, and that she couldn’t well tell him. “Your former prophecy,” continued she, “has come too true; and now it may well be said of me
Fallen into the tyrant’s power,
With none to save me in that hour.”
Huang again tried to question her, but she would tell him nothing; and by-and-by she rose and took her leave. This seemed very strange; however, next day a visitor came, who, after wandering round the garden, was much taken with a white peony,3 which he dug up and carried away with him. Huang now awaked to the fact that Hsiang-yü was a flower nymph, and became very disconsolate in consequence of what had happened; but when he subsequently heard that the peony only lived a few days after being taken away, he wept bitterly, and composed an elegy in fifty stanzas, besides going daily to the hole from which it had been taken, and watering the ground with his tears.
One day, as he was returning thence, he espied the young lady of the red clothes also wiping away her tears alongside the hole and immediately walked back gently towards her. She did not run away, and Huang, [p. 179] grasping her sleeve, joined with her in her lamentations. When these were concluded he invited her to his house, and then she burst out with a sigh, saying, “Alas! that the sister of my early years should be thus suddenly taken from me. Hearing you, Sir, mourn as you did, I have also been moved to tears. Those you shed have sunk down deep to the realms below, and may perhaps succeed in restoring her to us; but the sympathies of the dead are destroyed for ever, and how then can she laugh and talk with us again?” “My luck is bad,” said Huang, “that I should injure those I love, neither can I have the good fortune to draw towards me another such a beauty. But tell me, when I often sent messages by Hsiang-yü to you, why did you not come?” “I knew,” replied she, “what nine young fellows out of ten are; but I did not know what you were.” She then took leave, Huang telling her how dull he felt without Hsiang-yü, and begging her to come again.
For some days she did not appear; and Huang remained in a state of great melancholy, tossing and turning on his bed and wetting the pillow with his tears, until one night he got up, put on his clothes, and trimmed the lamp; and having called for pen and ink, he composed the following lines—
On my cottage roof the evening rain-drops beat;
I draw the blind and near the window take my seat.
To my longing gaze no loved one appears;
Drip, drip, drip, drip: fast flow my tears.
This he read aloud; and when he had finished, a voice outside said, “You want some one to cap your verses there!” Listening attentively, he knew it was Chiang-hsüeh and opening the door he let her in. She looked at his stanza and added impromptu—
She is no longer in the room;
A single lamp relieves the gloom;
One solitary man is there;
He and his shadow make a pair.
As Huang read these words his tears fell fast; and then, turning to Chiang-hsüeh, he upbraided her for not having been to see him. “I can’t come so often as Hsiang-yü did,” replied she, “but only now and then when you are very dull.” After this she used to drop in occasionally, [p. 180] and Huang said Hsiang-yü was his beloved wife, and she his dear friend, always trying to find out every time she came which flower in the garden she was, that he might bring her home with him, and save her from the fate of Hsiang-yü. “The old earth should not be disturbed,” said she, “and it would not do any good to tell you. If you couldn’t keep your wife always with you, how will you be sure of keeping a friend?” Huang, however, paid no heed to this, and seizing her arm, led her out into the garden, where he stopped at every peony and asked if this was the one; to which Chiang-hsüeh made no reply, but only put her hand to her mouth and laughed.
At New Year’s time Huang went home, and a couple of months afterwards he dreamt that Chiang-hsüeh came to tell him she was in great trouble, begging him to hurry off as soon as possible to her rescue. When he woke up, he thought his dream a very strange one; and ordering his servant and horses to be ready, started at once for the hills. There he found that the priests were about to build a new room; and finding a camellia in the way, the contractor had given orders that it should be cut down. Huang now understood his dream, and immediately took steps to prevent the destruction of the flower.
That night Chiang-hsüeh came to thank him, and Huang laughed and said, “It serves you right for not telling me which you were. Now I know you, and if you don’t come and see me, I’ll get a firebrand and make it hot for you.” “That’s just why I didn’t tell you before,” replied she. “The presence of my dear friend,” said Huang, after a pause, “makes me think more of my lost wife. It is long since I have mourned for her. Shall we go and bemoan her loss together?” So they went off and shed many a tear on the spot where formerly Hsiang-yü had stood, until at last Chiang-hsüeh wiped her eyes and said it was time to go.
A few evenings later Huang was sitting alone, when suddenly Chiang-hsüeh entered, her face radiant with smiles. “Good news! “cried she, “the Flower-God,4 moved by [p. 181] your tears, has granted Hsiang-yü a return to life.” Huang was overjoyed, and asked when she would come; to which Chiang-hsüeh replied, that she could not say for certain, but that it would not be long. “I came here on your account,” said Huang; “don’t let me be duller than you can help.” “All right,” answered she, and then went away, not returning for the next two evenings. Huang then went into the garden and threw his arms around her plant, entreating her to come and see him, though without eliciting any response. He accordingly went back, and began twisting up a torch, when all at once in she came, and snatching the torch out of his hand, threw it away, saying, “You’re a bad fellow, and I don’t like you, and I sha’n’t have any more to do with you.”
However, Huang soon succeeded in pacifying her, and by-and-by in walked Hsiang-yü herself. Huang now wept tears of joy as he seized her hand, and drawing Chiang-hsüeh towards them, the three friends mingled their tears together. They then sat down and talked over the miseries of separation, Huang meanwhile noticing that Hsiang-yü seemed to be unsubstantial, and that when he grasped her hand his fingers seemed to close only on themselves, and not as in the days gone by. This Hsiang-yü explained, saying, “When I was a flower-nymph I had a body; but now I am only the disembodied spirit of that flower. Do not regard me as a reality, but rather as an apparition seen in a dream.” “You have come at the nick of time,” cried Chiang-hsüeh; “your husband there was just getting troublesome.” Hsiang-yü now instructed Huang to take a little powdered white-berry and mixing it with some sulphur, to pour out a libation to her, adding, “This day next year I will return your kindness.”
The young ladies then went away, and next day Huang observed the shoots of a young peony growing up where Hsiang-yü had once stood. So he made the libation as she had told him, and had the plant very carefully tended, even building a fence all round to protect it. Hsiang-yü came to thank him for this, and he proposed that the plant should be removed to his own home; but to this she would not agree, “for,” said she, “I am not very strong, and could not stand being transplanted. Besides, all things have their appointed place; and as I was not originally intended for your home, it might shorten my life [p. 182] to be sent there. We can love each other very well here.”
Huang then asked why Chiang-hsüeh did not come; to which Hsiang-yü replied that they must make her, and proceeded with him into the garden, where, after picking a blade of grass, she measured upwards from the roots of Chiang-hsüeh’s plant to a distance of four feet six inches, at which point she stopped and Huang began to scratch a mark on the place with his nails. At that moment Chiang-hsüeh came from behind the plant, and in mock anger cried out, “You hussy you! what do you aid that wretch for?” “Don’t be angry, my dear,” said Hsiang-yü; “help me to amuse him for a year only, and then you sha’n’t be bothered any more.” So they went on, Huang watching the plant thrive, until by the spring it was over two feet in height. He then went home, giving the priests a handsome present, and bidding them take great care of it.
Next year, in the fourth moon, he returned and found upon the plant a bud just ready to break; and as he was walking round, the stem shook violently as if it would snap, and suddenly the bud opened into a flower as large as a plate, disclosing a beautiful maiden within, sitting upon one of the pistils, and only a few inches in height. In the twinkling of an eye she had jumped out, and lo! it was Hsiang-yü. “Through the wind and the rain I have waited for you,” cried she; “why have you come so late?” They then went into the house, where they found Chiang-hsüeh already arrived, and sat down to enjoy themselves as they had done in former times.
Shortly afterwards Huang’s wife died, and he took up his abode at Mount Lao for good and all. The peonies were at that time as large round as one’s arm; and whenever Huang went to look at them, he always said, “Some day my spirit will be there by your sides;” to which the two girls used to reply with a laugh, and say, “Mind you don’t forget.”
Ten years after these events, Huang became dangerously ill, and his son, who had come to see him, was very much distressed about him. “I am about to be born,” cried his father; “I am not going to die. Why do you weep?” He also told the priests that if later on they should see a red shoot, with five leaves, thrusting itself forth alongside of the peony, that would be himself. This was all he said, and his son proceeded to convey him home, where he died immediately on arrival. [p. 183]
Next year a shoot did come up exactly as he had mentioned; and the priests, struck by the coincidence, watered it and supplied it with earth. In three years it was a tall plant, and a good span in circumference, but without flowers. When the old priest died, the others took no care of it; and as it did not flower they cut it down. The white peony then faded and died; and before long the camellia was dead too.
1 Women, of course, being excluded.
2 Although the Chinese do not “shake hands” in our sense of the term, it is a sign of affection to seize the hand of a parting or returning friend. “The Book of Rites,” however, lays down the rule that persons of opposite sexes should not, in passing things from one to the other, let their hands touch; and the question was gravely put to Mencius (Book IV.) as to whether a man might even pull his drowning sister-in-law out of the water. Mencius replied that it was indeed a general principle that a man should avoid touching a woman’s hand, but that he who could not make an exception in such a case would be no better than a wolf. Neither, according to the Chinese rule, should men and women hang their clothes on the same rack, which reminds one of the French prude who would not allow male and female authors to be ranged upon the same bookshelf.
3 The Paeonia albiflora, Pall.
4 The various subdivisions of the animal and vegetable kingdoms are each believed by the Chinese to be under the sway of a ruler holding his commission from and responsible to the one Supreme Power or God, fully in accordance with the general scheme of supernatural government accepted in other and less civilised communities.
XLI. TA-NAN IN SEARCH OF HIS FATHER
HSI CH‘ANG-LIEH was a Ch‘êng-tu man. He had a wife and a concubine, the latter named Ho Chao-jung. His wife dying, he took a second by name Shên, who bullied the concubine dreadfully, and by her constant wrangling made his life perfectly unbearable, so that one day in a fit of anger he ran away and left them. Shortly afterwards Ho gave birth to a son, and called him Ta-nan; but as Hsi did not return, the wife Shên turned them out of the house, making them a daily allowance of food. By degrees Ta-nan became a big boy; and his mother, not daring to ask for an increase of victuals, was obliged to earn a little money by spinning.
Meanwhile, Ta-nan, seeing all his companions go to school and learn to read, told his mother he should like to go too; and accordingly, as he was still very young, she sent him for a few days’ probation. He turned out to be so clever that he soon beat the other boys; at which the master of the school was much pleased, and offered to teach him for nothing.1 His mother, therefore, sent him regularly, making what trifling presents she could to the master; and by the end of two or three years he had a first-rate knowledge of the Sacred Books.2
One day he came home and asked his mother, saying, “All the fellows at our school get money from their fathers to buy cakes. [p. 184] Why don’t I?” “Wait till you are grown up,” replied his mother, “and I will explain it to you.” “Why, mother,” cried he, “I’m only seven or eight years old. What a time it will be before I’m grown up.” “Whenever you pass the temple of the God of War on your way to school,” said his mother, “you should go in and pray awhile; that would make you grow faster.” Ta-nan believed she was serious; and every day, going and coming, he went in and worshipped at that temple. When his mother found this out, she asked him how soon he was praying to be grown up; to which he replied that he only prayed that by the following year he might be as big as if he were fifteen or sixteen years old. His mother laughed; but Ta-nan went on, increasing in wisdom and stature alike, until by the time he was ten he looked quite thirteen or fourteen, and his master was no longer able to correct his essays.
Then he said to his mother, “You promised me that when I grew up you would tell me where my father is. Tell me now.” “By-and-by, by-and-by,” replied his mother; so he waited another year, and then pressed her so eagerly to tell him that she could no longer refuse, and related to him the whole story. He heard her recital with tears and lamentations, and expressed a wish to go in search of his father; but his mother objected that he was too young, and also that no one knew where his father was. Ta-nan said nothing; however, in the middle of the day he did not come home as usual, and his mother at once sent off to the school, where she found he had not shown himself since breakfast. In great alarm, and thinking that he had been playing truant, she paid some people to go and hunt for him everywhere, but was unable to obtain the slightest clue to his whereabouts.
As to Ta-nan himself, when he left the house he followed the road without knowing whither he was going, until at length he met a man who was on his way to K‘uei-chou, and said his name was Ch‘ien. Ta-nan begged of him something to eat, and went along with him; Mr. Ch‘ien even procuring an animal for him to ride because be walked too slowly. The expenses of the journey were all defrayed by Ch‘ien; and when they arrived at K‘uei-chou they dined together, Ch‘ien secretly putting some drug in Ta-nan’s food which soon reduced him to a state of unconsciousness. Ch‘ien then carried him off to a temple, and, pretending [p. 185] that Ta-nan was his son, offered him to the priests on the plea that he had no money to continue his journey. The priests, seeing what a nice-looking boy he was, were only too ready to buy him; and when Ch‘ien had got his money he went away. They then gave Ta-nan a draught which brought him round; but as soon as the abbot heard of the affair and saw Ta-nan himself, he would not allow them to keep him, sending him away with a purse of money in his pocket.
Ta-nan next met a gentleman named Chiang, from Lu-chou, who was returning home after having failed at the examination; and this Mr. Chiang was so pleased with the story of his filial piety that he took him to his own home at Lu-chou. There he remained for a month and more, asking everybody he saw for news of his father, until one day he was told that there was a man named Hsi among the Fokien traders. So he bade good-bye to Mr. Chiang, and set off for Fokien, his patron providing him with clothes and shoes, and the people of the place making up a subscription for him.
On the road he met two traders in cotton cloth who were going to Fu-ch‘ing, and he joined their party; but they had not travelled many stages before these men found out that he had money, and taking him to a lonely spot, bound him hand and foot and made off with all he had. Before long a Mr. Chen, of Yung-fu, happened to pass by, and at once unbound him, and giving him a seat in one of his own vehicles, carried him off home. This Mr. Chen was a wealthy man, and in his house Ta-nan had opportunities of meeting with traders from all quarters. He therefore begged them to aid him by making inquiries about his father, himself remaining as a fellow student with Mr. Ch’en’s sons, and roaming the country no more, neither hearing any news of his former and now distant home.
Meanwhile, his mother, Ho, had lived alone for three or four years, until the wife, Shên, wishing to reduce the expenses, tried to persuade her to find another husband. As Ho was now supporting herself, she steadfastly refused to do this; and then Shên sold her to a Chung-ch’ing trader, who took her away with him. However, she so frightened this man by hacking herself about with a knife, that when the wounds were healed he was only too happy to get rid [p. 186] of her to a trader from Yen-t‘ing, who in his turn, after Ho had nearly disembowelled herself, readily listened to her repeated cries that she wished to become a nun. However, he persuaded her to hire herself out as housekeeper to a friend of his, as a means of reimbursing himself for his outlay in purchasing her; but no sooner had she set eyes on the gentleman in question than she found it was her own husband.
For Hsi had given up the career of a scholar, and gone into business; and as he had no wife, he was consequently in want of a housekeeper. They were very glad to see each other again; and on relating their several adventures, Hsi knew for the first time that he had a son who had gone forth in search of his father. Hsi then asked all the traders and commercial travellers to keep a look-out for Ta-nan, at the same time raising Ho from the status of concubine to that of wife. In consequence, however, of the many hardships Ho had gone through, her health was anything but good, and she was unable to do the work of the house; so she advised her husband to buy a concubine. This he was most unwilling to do, remembering too well the former squabbling he had to endure; but ultimately he yielded, asked a friend to buy for him an oldish woman—at any rate more than thirty years of age. A few months afterwards his friend arrived, bringing with him a person of about that age; and, on looking closely at her, Hsi saw that she was no other than his own wife Shên.
Now this lady had lived by herself for a year and more when her brother Pao advised her to marry again, which she accordingly agreed to do. She was prevented, however; by the younger branches of the family from selling the landed property; but she disposed of everything else, and the proceeds passed into her brother’s hands. About that time a Pao-ning trader, hearing that she had plenty of money, bribed her brother to marry her to himself; and afterwards, finding that she was a disagreeable woman, took possession of everything she had, and advertised her for sale. No one caring to buy a woman of her age, and her master being on the eve of starting for K’uei-chou, took her with him, finally getting rid of her to Hsi, who was in the same line of business as himself.
When she stood before her former husband, she was overwhelmed with shame and fear, and had not a word to say; but Hsi gathered an [p. 187] outline of what had happened from the trader, and then said to her, “Your second marriage with this Pao-ning gentleman was doubtless contracted after you had given up all hope of seeing me again. It doesn’t matter in the least, as now I am not in search of a wife but only of a concubine. So you had better begin by paying your respects to your mistress here, my wife Ho Chao-jung.” Shên was ashamed to do this: but Hsi reminded her of the time when she had been in the wife’s place, and in spite of all Ho’s intercession insisted that she should do so, stimulating her to obedience by the smart application of a stick. Shên was therefore compelled to yield, but at the same time she never tried to gain Ho’s favour, and kept away from her as much as possible. Ho, on the other hand, treated her with great consideration, and never took her to task on the performance of her duties; whilst Hsi himself, whenever he had a dinner-party, made her wait at table, though Ho often entreated him to hire a maid.
Now the magistrate at Yen-t‘ing was named Chen Tsung-ssü, and once when Hsi had some trifling difficulty with one of the neighbours he was further accused to this official of having forced his wife to assume the position of concubine. The magistrate, however, refused to take up the case, to the great satisfaction of Hsi and his wife, who lauded him to the skies as a virtuous mandarin. A few nights after, at rather a late hour, the servant knocked at their door, and called out, “The magistrate has come!” Hsi jumped up in a hurry, and began looking for his clothes and shoes; but the magistrate was already in their bedroom without either of them understanding what it all meant: when suddenly Ho, examining him closely, cried out, “It is my son!” She then burst into tears, and the magistrate, throwing himself on the ground, wept with his mother.
It seemed he had taken the name of the gentleman with whom he had lived, and had since entered upon an official career. That on his way to the capital he had made a detour and visited his old home, where he heard to his infinite sorrow that both his mothers had married again; and that his relatives, finding him already a man of position, had restored to him the family property, of which he had left some one in charge in the hope that his father might return. That [p. 188] then he had been appointed to Yen-t‘ing, but had wished to throw up the post and travel in search of his father, from which design he had been dissuaded by Mr. Chen. Also that he had met a fortune-teller from whom he obtained the following response to his inquiries: “The lesser is the greater; the younger is the elder. Seeking the cock, you find the hen; seeking one, you get two. Your official life will be successful.”
Chen then took up his appointment, but not finding his father he confined himself entirely to a vegetable diet, and gave up the use of wine.5 The above-mentioned case had subsequently come under his notice, and seeing the name Hsi, he quietly sent his private servant to find out, and thus discovered that this Hsi was his father. At nightfall he set off himself, and when he saw his mother he knew that the fortune-teller had told him true.
Bidding them all say nothing to anybody about what had occurred, he provided money for the journey, and sent them back home. On arriving there, they found the place newly painted, and with their increased retinue of servants and horses, they were quite a wealthy family.
As to Shên, when she found what a great man Ta-nan had become, she put still more restraint upon herself; but her brother Pao brought an action for the purpose of reinstating her as wife. The presiding official happened to be a man of probity, and delivered the following judgment:—“Greedy of gain, you urged your sister to remarry. After she had driven Hsi away, she took two fresh husbands. How have you the face to talk about reinstating her as wife?” He thereupon ordered Pao to be severely bambooed, and from this time there was no longer any doubt about Shên’s status. She was the lesser and Ho the greater; and yet in the matter of clothes and food Ho showed herself by no means grasping. Shên was at first afraid that Ho would pay her out, and was consequently more than ever repentant; and Hsi himself, letting bygones be bygones, gave orders that Shên should be called madam by all alike, though of course she was excluded from any titles that might be gained for them by Ta-nan.6
1 This is by no means uncommon. The debt of gratitude between pupil and teacher is second only to that existing between child and parent; and a successful student soon has it in his power to more than repay any such act of kindness as that here mentioned.
2 Which form the unvarying curriculum of a Chinese education. These are (1) the Four Books, consisting of the teachings of Confucius and Mencius; and (2) the Five Canons (in the ecclesiastical sense of the word) or the Canons of Changes, History, Poetry, the Record of Rites, and Spring and Autumn.
3 See No. XXIII., note 10.
4 To be presented to the Emperor before taking up his post.
5 Hoping thus to interest Buddha in his behalf.
6 In accordance with Chinese usage, by which titles of nobility are often conferred upon the dead parents of a distinguished son. [p. 189]
XLII. THE WONDERFUL STONE
IN the prefecture of Shun-t’ien there lived a man named Hsing Yün-fei, who was an amateur mineralogist and would pay any price for a good specimen. One day as he was fishing in the river, something caught his net, and diving down he brought up a stone about a foot in diameter, beautifully carved on all sides to resemble clustering hills and peaks. He was quite as pleased with this as if he had found some precious stone; and having had an elegant sandal-wood stand made for it, he set his prize upon the table. Whenever it was about to rain, clouds, which from a distance looked like new cotton-wool, would come forth from each of the holes or grottoes on the stone, and appear to close them up.
By-and-by an influential personage called at the house and begged to see the stone, immediately seizing it and handing it over to a lusty servant, at the same time whipping his horse and riding away. Hsing was in despair; but all he could do was to mourn the loss of his stone, and indulge his anger against the thief. Meanwhile, the servant, who had carried off the stone on his back, stopped to rest at a bridge; when all of a sudden his hand slipped and the stone fell into the water. His master was extremely put out at this, and gave him a sound beating; subsequently hiring several divers, who tried every means in their power to recover the stone, but were quite unable to find it. He then went away, having first published a notice of reward, and by these means many were tempted to seek for the stone.
Soon after, Hsing himself came to the spot, and as he mournfully approached the bank, lo the water became clear, and he could see the stone lying at the bottom. Taking off his clothes, he quickly jumped in and brought it out, together with the sandal-wood stand, which was still with it. He carried it off home, but being no longer desirous of showing it to people, he had an inner room cleaned and put it in there.
Some time afterwards an old man knocked at the door and asked to be allowed to see the stone; whereupon Hsing replied that he had lost it a long time ago. “Isn’t that it in the [p. 190] inner room?” said the old man smiling. “Oh, walk in and see for yourself if you don’t believe me,” answered Hsing; and the old man did walk in, and there was the stone on the table. This took Hsing very much aback; and the old man then laid his hand upon the stone and said, “This is an old family relic of mine: I lost it many months since. How does it come to be here? I pray you now restore it to me.” Hsing didn’t know what to say, but declared he was the owner of the stone; upon which the old man remarked, “If it is really yours, what evidence can you bring to prove it?” Hsing made no reply; and the old man continued, “To show you that I know this stone, I may mention that it has altogether ninety-two grottoes, and that in the largest of these are five words:
“A stone from Heaven above.”
Hsing looked and found that there were actually some small characters, no larger than grains of rice, which by straining his eyes a little he managed to read; also, that the number of grottoes was as the old man had said. However, he would not give him the stone; and the old man laughed, and asked, “Pray, what right have you to keep other people’s things?” He then bowed and went away, Hsing escorting him as far as the door; but when he returned to the room, the stone had disappeared. In a great fright, he ran after the old man, who had walked slowly and was not far off, and seizing his sleeve entreated him to give back the stone. “Do you think,” said the latter, “that I could conceal a stone a foot in diameter in my sleeve?
But Hsing knew that he must be superhuman, and led him back to the house, where he threw himself on his knees and begged that he might have the stone. “Is it yours or mine?” asked the old man. “Of course it is yours,” replied Hsing, “though I hope you will consent to deny yourself the pleasure of keeping it.” “In that case,” said the old man, “it is back again;” and going into the inner room, they found the stone in its old place. “The jewels of this world,” observed Hsing’s visitor, “should be given to those who know how to take care of them. This stone can choose its own master, and I am very pleased that it should remain with you; at the same time I must inform you that it was in too great a hurry to come into [p. 191] the world of mortals, and has not yet been freed from all contingent calamities. I had better take it away with me, and three years hence you shall have it again. If, however, you insist on keeping it, then your span of life will be shortened by three years, that your terms of existence may harmonise together. Are you willing?” Hsing said he was; whereupon the old man with his fingers closed up three of the stone’s grottoes, which yielded to his touch like mud. When this was done, he turned to Hsing and told him that the grottoes on that stone represented the years of his life; and then he took his leave, firmly refusing to remain any longer, and not disclosing his name.
More than a year after this, Hsing had occasion to go away on business, and in the night a thief broke in and carried off the stone, taking nothing else at all. When Hsing came home, he was dreadfully grieved, as if his whole object in life was gone; and made all possible inquiries and efforts to get it back, but without the slightest result. Some time passed away, when one day going into a temple Hsing noticed a man selling stones, and amongst the rest he saw his old friend. Of course he immediately wanted to regain possession of it; but as the stone-seller would not consent, he shouldered the stone and went off to the nearest mandarin. The stone-seller was then asked what proof he could give that the stone was his; and he replied that the number of grottoes was eighty-nine. Hsing inquired if that was all he had to say, and when the other acknowledged that it was, he himself told the magistrate what were the characters inscribed within, also calling attention to the finger marks at the closed-up grottoes. He therefore gained his case, and the mandarin would have bambooed the stone-seller, had he not declared that he bought it in the market for twenty ounces of silver,—whereupon he was dismissed.
A high official next offered Hsing one hundred ounces of silver for it; but he refused to sell it even for ten thousand, which so enraged the would-be purchaser that he worked up a case against Hsing,2 and got him put in prison. Hsing was thereby compelled to pawn a great deal of his property; [p. 192] and then the official sent some one to try if the affair could not be managed through his son, to which Hsing, on hearing of the attempt, steadily refused to consent, saying that he and the stone could not be parted even in death. His wife, however, and his son, laid their heads together, and sent the stone to the high official, and Hsing only heard of it when he arrived home from the prison. He cursed his wife and beat his son, and frequently tried to make away with himself, though luckily his servants always managed to prevent him from succeeding.3
At night he dreamt that a noble-looking personage appeared to him, and said, “My name is Shih Ch’ing-hsü—(Stone from Heaven). Do not grieve. I purposely quitted you for a year and more; but next year on the 20th of the eighth moon, at dawn, come to the Hai-tai Gate and buy me back for two strings of cash.” Hsing was overjoyed at this dream, and carefully took down the day mentioned. Meanwhile the stone was at the official’s private house; but as the cloud manifestations ceased, the stone was less and less prized; and the following year when the official was disgraced for maladministration and subsequently died, Hsing met some of his servants at the Hai-tai Gate going off to sell the stone, and purchased it back from them for two strings of cash.
Hsing lived till he was eighty-nine; and then having prepared the necessaries for his interment, bade his son bury the stone with him,4 which was accordingly done. Six months later robbers broke into the vault and made off with the stone, and his son tried in vain to secure their capture; however, a few days afterwards, he was travelling with his servants, when suddenly two men rushed forth dripping with perspiration, and looking up into the air, [p. 193] acknowledged their crime, saying, “Mr. Hsing, please don’t torment us thus! We took the stone, and sold it for only four ounces of silver.” Hsing’s son and his servants then seized these men, and took them before the magistrate, where they at once acknowledged their guilt. Asking what had become of the stone, they said they had sold it to a member of the magistrate’s family; and when it was produced, that official took such a fancy to it that he gave it to one of his servants and bade him place it in the treasury. Thereupon the stone slipped out of the servant’s hand and broke into a hundred pieces, to the great astonishment of all present. The magistrate now had the thieves bambooed and sent them away; but Hsing’s son picked up the broken pieces of the stone, and buried them in his father’s grave.
1 In which Peking is situated.
2 A common form of revenge in China, and one which is easily carried through when the prosecutor is a man of wealth and influence.
3 Another favourite method of revenging oneself upon an enemy, who is in many cases held responsible for the death thus occasioned. The late Sir C. Alabaster told me an amusing story of a Chinese woman who deliberately walked into a pond until the water reached her knees, and remained there alternately putting her lips below the surface and threatening in a loud voice to drown herself on the spot, as life had been made unbearable by the presence of foreign barbarians. This was during the T’ai’ping rebellion.
4 Valuables of some kind or other are often placed in the coffins of wealthy Chinese; and women are almost always provided with a certain quantity of jewels with which to adorn themselves in the realms below.
5 One of the most heinous offences in the Chinese Penal Code.
XLIII. THE QUARRELSOME BROTHERS
AT K’un-yang there lived a wealthy man named Tsêng. When he died, and before he was put in the coffin, tears were seen to gush forth from both eyes of the corpse, to the infinite amazement of his six sons. His second son, T’i, otherwise called Yu-yü, who had gained for himself the reputation of being a scholar, said it was a bad omen, and warned his brothers to be careful and not give cause for sorrow to the dead,—at which the others only laughed at him as an idiot.
Tsêng’s first wife and eldest son having been carried off by the rebels when the latter was only seven or eight years old, he married a second wife, by whom he had three sons, Hsiao, Chung, and Hsin; besides three other sons by a concubine—namely, the above-mentioned T’i, or Yu-yü, Jen, and Yi. Now the three by the second wife banded themselves together against the three by the concubine, saying that the latter were a base-born lot; and whenever a guest was present and either of them happened to be in the room, Hsiao and his two brothers would not take the slightest notice of them. This enraged Jen and Yi very much, and they went to consult with Yu-yü as to how they should avenge themselves for such slights. Yu-yü, however, tried every means in his power to pacify them, and [p. 194] would not take part in any plot; and, as they were much younger than he, they took his advice,1 and did nothing.
Hsiao had a daughter, who died shortly after her marriage to a Mr. Chou; and her father begged Yu-yü and his other brothers to go with him and give his late daughter’s mother-in-law a sound beating.2 Yu-yü would not hear of it for a moment; so Hsiao in a rage got his brothers Chung and Hsin, with a lot of rowdies from the neighbourhood, and went off and did it themselves, scattering the goods and chattels of the family about, and smashing everything they could lay their hands on. An action was immediately brought by the Chou family, and Hsiao and his two brothers were thrown into prison by the angry mandarin, who purposed sending the case before a higher tribunal. Yu-yü, however, whose high character was well known to that official, interceded for them, and himself went to the Chou family and tendered the most humble apologies, for what had occurred. The Chou family, out of respect for Yu-yü, suffered the case to drop, and Hsiao regained his liberty, though he did not evince the slightest gratitude for his brother’s exertions.
Shortly after, Yu-yü’s mother died; but Hsiao and the other two refused to put on mourning for her, going on with their usual feasting and drinking as if nothing had happened. Jen and Yi were furious at this; but Yu-yü only observed, “What they do is their own indecorous behaviour; it does not injure us.” Then, again, when the funeral was about to take place, Hsiao, Chung, and Hsin stood before the door of the vault, and would not allow the others to bury their mother there. So Yu-yü buried her alongside the principal grave. Before long Hsiao’s wife died, and Yu-yü told Jen and Yi to accompany him to the house [p. 195] and condole with the widower to which they both objected, saying, “He would not wear mourning for our mother; shall we do so for his wife?”3
Ultimately Yu-yü had to go alone; and while he was pouring forth his lamentations beside the bier, he heard Jen and Yi playing drums and trumpets outside the door. Hsiao flew into a tremendous passion, and went after them with his own two brothers to give them a good thrashing. Yu-yü, too, seized a big stick and accompanied them to the house where Jen and Yi were; whereupon Jen made his escape; but as Yi was clambering over the wall, Yu-yü hit him from behind and knocked him down. Hsiao and the others then set upon him with their fists and sticks, and would never have stopped but that Yu-yü interposed his body between them and made them desist. Hsiao was very angry at this, and began to abuse Yu-yü, who said, “The punishment was for want of decorum, for which death would be too severe. I can neither connive at their bad behaviour, nor at your cruelty. If your anger is not appeased, strike me.” Hsiao now turned his fury against Yu-yü, and being well seconded by his two brothers, they beat Yu-yü until the neighbours separated them and put an end to the row.
Yu-yü at once proceeded to Hsiao’s house to apologise for what had occurred but Hsiao drove him away, and would not let him take part in the funeral ceremonies. Meanwhile, as Yi’s wounds were very severe, and he could neither eat nor drink, his brother Jen went on his behalf to the magistrate, stating in the petition that the accused had not worn mourning for their father’s concubine. The magistrate issued a warrant; and, besides causing the arrest of Hsiao, Chung, and Hsin, he ordered Yu-yü to prosecute them as well. Yu-yü, however, was so much cut about the head and face that he could not appear in court, but he wrote out a petition, in which he begged that the case might be quashed; and this the magistrate consented to do.
Yi soon got better, the feeling of hatred and resentment increasing in the family day by day; while Jen and Yi, who were younger than the others, complained to Yu-yü of their recent punishment, saying, “The relationship of elder and younger [p. 196] brothers exists for others, why not for us?” “Ah,” replied Yu-yü, “that is what I might well say; not you.” Yu-yü then tried to persuade them to forget the past; but, not succeeding in his attempt, he shut up his house, and went off with his wife to live somewhere else, about twenty miles away. Now, although when Yu-yü was among them he did not help the two younger ones, yet his presence acted as some restraint upon Hsiao and the other two; but now that he was gone their conduct was beyond all bounds. They sought out Jen and Yi in their own houses, and not only reviled them, but abused the memory of their dead mother, against which Jen and Yi could only retaliate by keeping the door shut against them. However, they determined to do them some injury, and carried knives about with them wherever they went for that purpose.
One day the eldest brother, Ch’êng, who had been carried off by the rebels, returned with his wife; and, after three days’ deliberation, Hsiao and the other two determined that, as he had been so long separated from the family, he had no further claims upon them for house-room, &c. Jen and Yi were secretly delighted at this result, and at once inviting Ch’êng to stay with them, sent news of his arrival to Yu-yü, who came back directly, and agreed with the others to hand over a share of the property to their elder brother.
Hsiao and his clique were much enraged at this purchase of Ch’êng’s goodwill, and, hurrying to their brothers’ houses, assailed them with every possible kind of abuse. Ch’êng, who had long been accustomed to scenes of violence among the rebels, now got into a great passion, and cried out, “When I came home none of you would give me a place to live in. Only these younger ones recognised the ties of blood,4 and you would punish them for so doing. Do you think to drive me away?” Thereupon he threw a stone at Hsiao and knocked him down; and Jen and Yi rushed out with clubs and gave the three of them a severe thrashing. Ch’êng did not wait for them to lay a plaint, but set off to the magistrate on the spot, and preferred a charge against his three brothers. The magistrate, as before, [p. 197] sent for Yu-yü to ask his opinion, and Yu-yü had no alternative but to go, entering the yamên with downcast head, his tears flowing in silence all the while. The magistrate inquired of him how the matter stood; to which he replied only by begging His Honour to hear the case which the magistrate accordingly did, deciding that the whole of the property was to be divided equally among the seven brothers.
Thenceforth Jen and Yi became more and more attached to Ch’êng; and one day, in conversation, they happened to tell him the story of their mother’s funeral. Ch’êng was exceedingly angry, and declared that such behaviour was that of brute beasts, proposing at the same time that the vault should be opened and that she should be re-buried in the proper place. Jen and Yi went off and told this to Yu-yü, who immediately came and begged Ch’êng to desist from his scheme; to which, however, he paid no attention, and fixed a day for her interment in the family vault. He then built a hut near by, and, with a knife lopping the branches off the trees, informed the brothers that any of them who did not appear at the funeral in the usual mourning would be treated by him in a manner similar to the trees. So they were all obliged to go, and the obsequies were conducted in a fitting manner.
The brothers were now at peace together, Ch’êng keeping them in first-rate order, and always treating Hsiao, Chung, and Hsin with much more severity than the others. To Yu-yü he showed a marked deference, and, whenever he was in a rage, would always be appeased by a word from him. Hsiao, too, was always going to Yu-yü to complain of the treatment he received at Ch’êng’s hands when he did anything that Ch’êng disapproved of; and then, if Yu-yü quietly reproved him, he would be dissatisfied, so that at last Yu-yü could stand it no longer, and again went away and took a house at a considerable distance, where he remained almost entirely cut off from the others.
By the time two years had passed away Ch’êng had completely succeeded in establishing harmony amongst them, and quarrels were of rare occurrence. Hsiao was then forty-six years old, and had five sons; Chi-yeh and Chi-tê, the first and third, by his wife; Chi-kung and Chi-chi, the second and fourth, by a concubine; and Chi-tsu, by a slave. They were [p. 198] all grown up, and exactly imitated their father’s former behaviour, banding themselves together one against the other, and so on, without their father being able to make them behave better. Chi-tsu had no brothers of his own, and, being the youngest, the others bullied him dreadfully; until at length, being on a visit to his wife’s family, who lived not far from Yu-yü’s house, he went slightly out of his way to call and see his uncle. There he found his three cousins living peaceably together and pursuing their studies, and was so pleased that he remained with them some time, and said not a word as to returning home. His uncle urged him to go back, but he entreated to be allowed to stay and then his uncle told him it was not that he grudged his daily food: it was because his father and mother did not know where he was. Chi-tsu accordingly went home, and a few months afterwards, when he and his wife were on the point of starting to congratulate his wife’s mother on the anniversary of her birthday, he explained to his father that he should not come home again. When his father asked him why not, he partly divulged his reasons for going; whereupon his father said he was afraid his uncle would bear malice for what happened in the past, and that he would not be able to remain there long. “Father,” replied Chi-tsu, “uncle Yu-yü is a good and virtuous man.” He set out with his wife, and when they arrived Yu-yü gave them separate quarters, and made Chi-tsu rank as one of his own sons, making him join the eldest, Chi-san, in his studies. Chi-tsu was a clever fellow, and now enrolled himself as a resident of the place where his uncle lived.5
Meanwhile, his brothers went on quarrelling among themselves as usual; and one day Chi-kung, enraged at an insult offered to his mother, killed Chi-yeh. He was immediately thrown into prison, where he was severely bambooed, and in a few days he died. Chi-yeh’s wife, whose maiden name was Fêng, now spent the days of mourning in cursing her husband’s murderer; and when Chi-kung’s wife heard this, she flew into a towering passion, and said to her, “If your husband is dead, mine isn’t [p. 199] alive.” She then drew a knife and killed her, completing the tragedy by herself committing suicide in a well.
Mr. Fêng, the father of the murdered woman, was very much distressed at his daughter’s untimely end; and, taking with him several members of the family with arms concealed under their clothes, they proceeded to Hsiao’s house, and there gave his wife a most terrific beating. It was now Ch’êng’s turn to be angry. “The members of my family are dying like sheep,” cried he, “ what do you mean by this, Mr. Fêng?” He then rushed out upon them with a roar, accompanied by all his own brothers and their sons; and the Fêng family was utterly routed. Seizing old Fêng himself, Ch’êng cut off both his ears; and when his son tried to rescue him, Chi-chi ran up and broke both his legs with an iron crowbar. Every one of the Fêng family was badly wounded, and thus dispersed, leaving old Fêng’s son lying in the middle of the road. The others not knowing what to do with him, Ch’êng took him under his arm, and having thrown him down in the Fêng village, returned home, giving orders to Chi-Chi to go immediately to the authorities and enter their plaint the first.6
The Fêng family had, however, anticipated them, and all the Tsêngs were accordingly thrown into prison, except Chung, who managed to escape. He ran away to the place where Yu-yü lived, and was pacing backwards and forwards before the door, afraid lest his brother should not have forgiven past offences, when suddenly Yu-yü, with his son and nephew, arrived on their return from the examination. “What do you want, my brother?” asked Yu-yü; whereupon Chung prostrated himself at the road-side, and then Yu-yü, seizing his hand, led him within to make further inquiries. “Alas! alas!” cried Yu-yü, when he had heard the story, “I knew that some dreadful calamity would be the result of all this wicked behaviour. But why have you come hither? I have been absent so long that I am no more acquainted with the local authorities; and if I now went to ask a favour of them, I should probably only be insulted for my pains. However, if none of the Fêng family die of their wounds, and [p. 200] if we three may chance to be successful in our examination, something may perhaps be done to mitigate this calamity.”7 Yu-yü then kept Chung to dinner, and at night he shared their room, which kind treatment made him at once grateful and repentant. By the end of ten days he was so struck with the behaviour of the father, sons, uncle, nephew, and cousins, one towards the other, that he burst into tears, and said, “Now I know how badly I behaved in days gone by.” His brother was overjoyed at his repentance, and sympathised with his feelings, when suddenly it was announced that Yu-yü and his son had both passed the examination for master’s degree, and that Chi-tsu was proxime accessit. This delighted them all very much. They did not, however, attend the Fu-t’ai’s congratulatory feast,8 but went off first to worship at the tombs of their ancestors.
Now, at the time of the Ming dynasty a man who had taken his master’s degree was a very considerable personage,9 and the Fêngs accordingly began to draw in their horns. Yu-yü, too, met them half-way. He got a friend to convey to them presents of food and money to help them in recovering from their injuries, and thus the prosecution was withdrawn. Then all his brothers implored him with tears in their eyes to return home, and, after burning incense with them,10 and making them enter into a bond with him that bygones should be bygones, he acceded to their request. Chi-tsu, however, would not leave his uncle and Hsiao himself said to Yu-yü, “I don’t deserve such a son as that. Keep him, and teach him as you have done hitherto, and let him be as one of your own children but if at some future time he succeeds [p. 201] in his examination, then I will beg you to return him to me.” Yu-yü consented to this; and three years afterwards Chi-tsu did take his master’s degree, upon which he sent him back to his own family.
Both husband and wife were very loth to leave their uncle’s house, and they had hardly been at home three days before one of their children, only three years old, ran away and went back, returning to his great-uncle’s as often as he was recaptured. This induced Hsiao to remove to the next house to Yu-yü’s, and, by opening a door between the two, they made one establishment of the whole. Ch’êng was now getting old, and the family affairs devolved entirely upon Yu-yü, who managed things so well that their reputation for filial piety and fraternal love was soon spread far and wide.
1 Deference to elder brothers is held by the Chinese to be second only in importance to filial piety.
2 In a volume of Chinese Sketches, published by me in 1876, occur (p. 129) the following words: “Occasionally, a young wife is driven to commit suicide by the harshness of her mother-in-law, but this is of rare occurrence, as the consequences are terrible to the family of the guilty woman. The blood-relatives of the deceased repair to the chamber of death, and in the inj ured victim’s hand they place a broom. They then suppprt the corpse round the room, making its dead arm move the broom from side to side, and thus sweep away wealth, happiness, and longevity from the accursed place for ever.”
3 A wife being an infinitely less important personage than a mother in the Chinese social scale.
4 Literally, of hand and foot, to the mutual dependence of which that of brothers is frequently likened by the Chinese.
5 Any permanent change of residence must be notified to the District Magistrate, who keeps a running census of all persons within his jurisdiction.
6 To be thus beforehand with one’s adversary is regarded as prima facie evidence of being in the right.
7 By means of the status which a graduate of the second degree would necessarily have.
8 A sham entertainment given by the Fu-t’ai, or governor, to all the successful candidates. I say sham, because the whole thing is merely nominal; a certain amount of food is contracted for, but there is never anything fit to eat, most of the money being embezzled by the underlings to whose management the banquet is entrusted.
9 Much more so than at present.
10 Thereby invoking the Gods as witnesses. A common method of making up a quarrel in China is to send the aggrieved party an olive and a piece of red paper in token that peace is restored. Why the olive should be specially employed I have in vain tried to ascertain.
XLIV. THE YOUNG GENTLEMAN WHO COULDN’T SPELL
AT Chia-p’ing there lived a certain young gentleman of considerable talent and very prepossessing appearance. When seventeen years of age he went up for his bachelor’s degree; and as he was passing the door of a house, he saw within a pretty-looking girl, who not only riveted his gaze, but also smiled and nodded her head at him. Quite pleased at this, he approached the young lady and began to talk, she, meanwhile, inquiring of him where he lived, and if alone or otherwise. He assured her he was quite by himself; and then she said, “Well, I will come and see you, but you mustn’t let any one know.” The young gentleman agreed, and when he got home he sent all the servants to another part of the house, and by-and-by the young lady arrived. She said her name was Wên-chi, and that her admiration for her host’s noble bearing had made her visit him, unknown to her mistress. “And gladly,” added she, “would I be your handmaid for life.” Our hero was delighted, and proposed to purchase her from the mistress she mentioned; and from this time she was in the habit of coming in every other day or so. [p. 202] On one occasion it was raining hard, and, after hanging up her wet cloak upon a peg, she took off her shoes, and bade the young gentleman clean them for her. He noticed that they were newly embroidered with all the colours of the rainbow, but utterly spoilt by the soaking rain; and was just saying what a pity it was, when the young lady cried out, “I should never have asked you to do such menial work except to show my love for you.” All this time the rain was falling fast outside, and Wên-chi now repeated the following line:
A nipping wind, and chilly rain fill the river and the city.
“There,” said she, “cap that.” The young gentleman replied that he could not, as he did not even understand what it meant. “Oh, really,” retorted the young lady, “if you’re not more of a scholar than that, I shall begin to think very little of you.” She then told him he had better practise making verses, and he promised he would do so.
By degrees Miss Wên-chi’s frequent visits attracted the notice of the servants, as also of a brother-in-law named Sung, who was likewise a gentleman of position; and the latter begged our hero to be allowed to have a peep at her. He was told in reply that the young lady had strictly forbidden that any one should see her; however, he concealed himself in the servants’ quarters, and when she arrived he looked at her through the window. Almost beside himself, he now opened the door; whereupon Wên-chi, jumping up, vaulted over the wall and disappeared. Sung was really smitten with her, and went off to her mistress to try and arrange for her purchase; but when he mentioned Wê’n-chi’s name, he was informed that they had once had such a girl, who had died several years previously. In great amazement Sung went back and told his brother-in-law, and he now knew that his beloved Wen-chi was a disembodied spirit. So when she came again he asked her if it was so; to which she replied, “It is; but as you wanted a nice wife and I a handsome husband, I thought we should be a suitable pair. What matters it that one is a mortal and the other a spirit?
The young gentleman thoroughly coincided in her view of the case; and when his examination was over, and he [p. 203] was homeward bound, Wên-chi accompanied him, invisible to others and visible to him alone. Arriving at his parents’ house, he installed her in the library; and the day she went to pay the customary bride’s visit to her father and mother,2 he told his own mother the whole story. She and his father were greatly alarmed, and ordered him to have no more to do with her; but he would not listen to this, and then his parents tried by all kinds of devices to get rid of the girl, none of which met with any success.
One day our hero had left upon the table some written instructions for one of the servants, wherein he had ‘made a number of mistakes in spelling, such as paper for pepper, jinjer for ginger, and so on; and when Wên-chi saw this, she wrote at the foot:
Paper for pepper do I see?
Jinjer for ginger—can it be?
Of such a husband I’m afraid;
I’d rather be a servant-maid.
She then said to the young gentleman, “Imagining you to be a man of culture, I hid my blushes and sought you out the first.3 Alas, your qualifications are on the outside; should I not thus be a laughing-stock to all?” She then disappeared, at which the young gentleman was much hurt; but not knowing to what she alluded, he gave the instructions to his servant, and so made himself the butt of all who heard the story.
1 Of course there is no such thing as spelling, in our sense of the term, in Chinese. But characters are frequently written with too many or too few strokes, and may thus be said to be incorrectly spelt.
2 A ceremonial visit made on the third day after marriage.
3 Contrary to all Chinese notions of modesty and etiquette.
XLV. THE TIGER GUEST
A YOUNG man named Kung, a native of Min-chou, on his way to the examination at Hsi-ngan, rested awhile in an inn, and ordered some wine to drink. Just then a very tall and noble-looking stranger walked in, and, seating himself by the side of Kung, entered into conversation with him. Kung offered him a cup of wine, which the stranger did not refuse; saying, at the same time, that his name was Miao. But he was a rough, coarse fellow; and Kung, therefore, when the wine was finished, did not call for any more. Miao then rose, and observing that Kung did not appreciate a man of his capacity, went out [p. 204] into the market to buy some, returning shortly with a huge bowl full. Kung declined the proffered wine; but Miao, seizing his arm to persuade him, gripped it so painfully that Kung was forced to drink a few more cups, Miao himself swilling away as hard as he could go out of a soup-plate. “I am not good at entertaining people,” cried Miao, at length; “pray go on or stop just as you please.” Kung accordingly put together his things and went off; but he had not gone more than a few miles when his horse was taken ill, and lay down in the road. While he was waiting there with all his heavy baggage, revolving in his mind what he should do, up came Mr. Miao; who, when he heard what was the matter, took off his coat and handed it to the servant, and lifting up the horse, carried it off on his back to the nearest inn, which was about six or seven miles distant. Arriving there he put the animal in the stable, and before long Kung and his servant arrived too. Kung was much astonished at Mr. Miao’s feat; and, believing him to be superhuman, began to treat him with the utmost deference, ordering both wine and food to be procured for their refreshment. “My appetite,” remarked Miao, “is one that you could not easily satisfy. Let us stick to wine.” So they finished another stoup together, and then Miao got up and took his leave, saying, “It will be some time before your horse is well; I cannot wait for you.” He then went away.
After the examination several friends of Kung’s invited him to join them in a picnic to the Flowery Hill; and just as they were all feasting and laughing together, lo Mr. Miao walked up. In one hand he held a large flagon, and in the other a ham, both of which he laid down on the ground before them. “Hearing,” said he, “that you gentlemen were coming here, I have tacked myself on to you, like a fly to a horse’s tail.” Kung and his friends then rose and received him with the usual ceremonies, after which they all sat down promiscuously.2 By-and-by, [p. 205] when the wine had gone round pretty freely, some one proposed capping verses; whereupon Miao cried out, “Oh, we’re very jolly drinking like this; what’s the use of making oneself uncomfortable?” The others, how ever, would not listen to him, and agreed that as a forfeit a huge goblet of wine should be drunk by any defaulter. “Let us rather make death the penalty,” said Miao; to which they replied, laughing, that such a punishment was a trifle too severe; and then Miao retorted that if it was not to be death, even a rough fellow like himself might be able to join. A Mr. Chin, who was sitting at the top of the line, then began
“From the hill-top high, wide extends the gaze”—
upon which Miao immediately carried on with
“Redly gleams the sword o’er the shattered vase.”3
The next gentleman thought for a long time, during which Miao was helping himself to wine; and by-and-by they had all capped the verse, but so wretchedly that Miao called out, “Oh, come! if we aren’t to be fined for these,4 we had better abstain from making any more.” As none of them would agree to this, Miao could stand it no longer, and roared like a dragon till the hills and valleys echoed again. He then went down on his hands and knees, [p. 206] and jumped about like a lion, which utterly confused the poets, and put an end to their lucubrations. The wine had now been round a good many times, and being half tipsy each began to repeat to the other the verses he had handed in at the recent examination,5 all at the same time indulging in any amount of mutual flattery. This so disgusted Miao that he drew Kung aside to have a game at “guess-fingers;”6 but as they went on droning away all the same, he at length cried out, “Do stop your rubbish, fit only for your own wives,7 and not for general company.” The others were much abashed at this, and so angry were they at Miao’s rudeness that they went on repeating all the louder. Miao then threw himself on the ground in a passion, and with a roar changed into a tiger, immediately springing upon the company, and killing them all except Kung and Mr. Chin. He then ran off roaring loudly.
Now this Mr. Chin succeeded in taking his master’s degree; and three years afterwards, happening to revisit the Flowery Hill, he beheld a Mr. Chi, one of those very gentlemen who had previously been killed by the tiger. In great alarm he was making off, when Chi seized his bridle and would not let him proceed. So he got down from his horse, and inquired what was the matter; to which Chi replied, “I am now the slave of Miao, and have to endure bitter toil for him. He must kill some one else before I can be set free.8 Three days hence a man, arrayed in the [[p. 207] robes and cap of a scholar, should be eaten by the tiger at the foot of the Ts’ang-lung Hill. Do you on that day take some gentleman thither, and thus help your old friend.” Chin was too frightened to say much, but promising that he would do so, rode away home. He then began to consider the matter over with himself, and, regarding it as a plot, he determined to break his engagement, and let his friend remain the tiger’s devil. He chanced, however, to repeat the story to a Mr. Chiang who was a relative of his, and one of the local scholars; and as this gentleman had a grudge against another scholar, named Yu, who had come out equal with him at the examination, he made up his mind to destroy him. So he invited Yu to accompany him on that day to the place in question, mentioning that he himself should appear in undress only. Yu could not make out the reason for this; but when he reached the spot there he found all kinds of wine and food ready for his entertainment. Now that very day the Prefect had come to the hill; and being a friend of the Chiang family, and hearing that Chiang was below, sent for him to come up. Chiang did not dare to appear before him in undress, and borrowed Yu’s clothes and hat; but he had no sooner got them on than out rushed the tiger and carried him away in its mouth.
1 Alluding to a well-known expression which occurs in the Historical Record, and is often used in the sense of deriving advantage from connection with some influential person.
2 Without any regard to precedence, which plays quite as important a part at a Chinese as at a Western dinner-party. In China, however, the most honoured guest sits at (what may be called) the head of the table, the host at the foot. I say “what may be called,” as Chinese dining tables are almost invariably square, and position alone determines which is the head and which the foot. They are usually made to accommodate eight persons; hence the fancy name “eight-angel table,” in allusion to the eight famous angels, or Immortals, of the Taoist religion. (See No. V., note 1.) Occasionally, round tables are used; especially in cases where the party consists of some such number as ten.
3 It is almost impossible to give in translation the true spirit of a Chinese antithetical couplet. There are so many points to be brought out, each word of the second line being in opposition both in tone and sense to a corresponding word in the first, that anything beyond a rough rendering of the idea conveyed would be superfluous in a work like this. Suffice it to say that Miao has here successfully capped the verse given and the more so because he has introduced, through the medium of “sword “and “shattered vase,” an allusion to a classical story in which a certain Wang Tun, when drunk with wine, beat time on a vase with his sword, and smashed the lip.
4 This is the vel ego vel Cluvienus style of sarcasm, his own verse having been particularly good.
5 Many candidates, successful or otherwise, have their verses and essays printed, and circulate them among an admiring circle of friends.
6 Accurately described in Tylor’s Primitive Culture, Vol. I., p. 75. “Each player throws out a hand, and the sum of all the fingers shown has to be called, the successful caller scoring a point practically each calls the total before he sees his adversary’s hand.” The insertion of the word “simultaneously” after “called” would improve this description. This game is so noisy that the Hong-Kong authorities have forbidden it, except within certain authorised limits, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.—Ordinance No. 2 of 1872.
7 This delicate stroke is of itself sufficient to prove the truth of the oft-quoted Chinese saying, that all between the Four Seas are brothers.
8 The “substitution” theory, by which disembodied spirits are enabled to find their way back to the world of mortals. A very interesting and important example of this belief occurs in a later story (No. CVI.), for which place I reserve further comments.
XLVI. THE SISTERS
HIS EXCELLENCY the Grand Secretary Mao came from an obscure family in the district of Yeh, his father being only a poor cow-herd. At the same place there resided a wealthy gentleman, named Chang, who owned a burial-ground in the neighbourhood and some one informed him that while passing by he had heard sounds of wrangling from within the grave, and voices saying, “Make haste and go away; do not disturb His Excellency’s home.” Chang did not much believe this; but subsequently he had several dreams in which he was told that the burial-ground in question really belonged to the Mao family, and that he had no right whatever to it. From this [p. 208] moment the affairs of his house began to go wrong;1 and at length he listened to the remonstrances of friends and removed his dead elsewhere.
One day Mao’s father, the cow-herd, was out near this burial-ground, when, a storm of rain coming on, he took refuge in the now empty grave, while the rain came down harder than ever, and by-and-by flooded the whole place and drowned the old man. The Grand Secretary was then a mere boy, and his mother went off to Chang to beg a piece of ground wherein to bury her dead husband. When Chang heard her name he was greatly astonished; and on going to look at the spot where the old man was drowned, found that it was exactly at the proper place for the coffin. More than ever amazed, he gave orders that the body should be buried there in the old grave, and also bade Mao’s mother bring her son to see him.
When the funeral was over, she went with Mao to Mr. Chang’s house, to thank him for his kindness; and so pleased was he with the boy that he kept him to be educated, ranking him as one of his own sons. He also said he would give him his eldest daughter as a wife, an offer which Mao’s mother hardly dared accept; but Mrs. Chang said that the thing was settled and couldn’t be altered, so then she was obliged to consent. The young lady, however, had a great contempt for Mao, and made no effort to disguise her feelings; and if any one spoke to her of him, she would put her fingers in her ears, declaring she would die sooner than marry the cow-boy. On the day appointed for the wedding, the bridegroom arrived, and was feasted within, while outside the door a handsome chair was in waiting to convey away the bride, who all this time was standing crying in a corner, wiping her eyes with her sleeve, and absolutely refusing to dress. Just then the bridegroom sent in to say he was going,2 and the drums and trumpets struck up the wedding march, at [p. 209] which the bride’s tears only fell the faster as her hair hung dishevelled down her back. Her father managed to detain Mao awhile, and went in to urge his daughter to make haste, she weeping bitterly as if she did not hear what he was saying. He now got into a rage, which only made her cry the louder; and in the middle of it all a servant came to say the bridegroom wished to take his leave. The father ran out and said his daughter wasn’t quite ready, begging Mao to wait a little longer; and then hurried back again to the bride. Thus they went on for some time, backwards and forwards, until at last things began to look serious, for the young lady obstinately refused to yield; and Mr. Chang was ready to commit suicide for want of anything better.
Just then his second daughter was standing by upbraiding her elder sister for her disobedience, when suddenly the latter turned round in a rage, and cried out, “So you are imitating the rest of them, you little minx; why don’t you go and marry him yourself?” “My father did not betroth me to Mr. Mao,” answered she, “but if he had I should not require you to persuade me to accept him.” Her father was delighted with this reply, and at once went off and consulted with his wife as to whether they could venture to substitute the second for the elder; and then her mother came and said to her, “That bad girl there won’t obey her parents’ commands; we wish, therefore, to put you in her place: will you consent to this arrangement?” The younger sister readily agreed, saying that had they told her to marry a beggar she would not have dared to refuse, and that she had not such a low opinion of Mr. Mao as all that. Her father and mother rejoiced exceedingly at receiving this reply; and dressing her up in her sister’s clothes, put her in the bridal chair and sent her off.
She proved an excellent wife, and lived in harmony with her husband; but she was troubled with a disease of the hair, which caused Mr. Mao some annoyance. Later on, she told him how she had changed places with her sister, and this made him think more highly of her than before. Soon after Mao took his bachelor’s degree, and then set off to present himself as a candidate for the master’s degree. On the way he passed by an inn, the landlord of which had dreamt the night before that a [p. 210] spirit appeared to him and said, “Tomorrow Mr. Mao, first on the list, will come. Some day he will extricate you from a difficulty.” Accordingly the landlord got up early, and took especial note of all guests who came from the eastward, until at last Mao himself arrived. The landlord was very glad to see him, and provided him with the best of everything, refusing to take any payment for it all, but telling what he had dreamt the night before. Mao now began to give himself airs; and, reflecting that his wife’s want of hair would make him look ridiculous, he determined that so soon as he attained to rank and power he would find another spouse. But alas! when the list of successful candidates was published, Mao’s name was not among them; and he retraced his steps with a heavy heart, and by another road, so as to avoid meeting the innkeeper.
Three years afterwards he went up again, and the landlord received him with precisely the same attentions as on the previous occasion; upon which Mao said to him, “Your former words did not come true; I am now ashamed to put you to so much trouble.” “Ah,” replied the landlord, “you meant to get rid of your wife, and the Ruler of the world below struck out your name.3 My dream couldn’t have been false.” In great astonishment, Mao asked what he meant by these words; and then he learnt that after his departure the landlord had had a second dream informing him of the above facts. Mao was much alarmed at what he heard, and remained as motionless as a wooden image, until the landlord said to him, “You, Sir, as a scholar, should have more self-respect, and you will certainly take the highest place.” By-and-by when the list came out, Mao was the first of all and almost simultaneously his wife’s hair began to grow quite thick, making her much better-looking than she had hitherto been.
Now her elder sister had married a rich young fellow of good family, who lived in the neighbourhood, which made the young lady more contemptuous than ever; but he was so extravagant and so idle that their property was soon gone, and they were positively in want of food. [p. 211] Hearing, too, of Mr. Mao’s success at the examination, she was overwhelmed with shame and vexation, and avoided even meeting her sister in the street. Just then her husband died and left her destitute; and about the same time Mao took his doctor’s degree, which so aggravated her feelings that, in a passion, she became a nun. Subsequently, when Mao rose to be a high officer of state, she sent a novice to his yamên to try and get a subscription out of him for the temple; and Mao’s wife, who gave several pieces of silk and other things, secretly inserted a sum of money among them. The novice, not knowing this, reported what she had received to the elder sister, who cried out in a passion, “I wanted money to buy food with; of what use are these things to me?”
So she bade the novice take them back; and when Mao and his wife saw her return, they suspected what had happened, and opening the parcel found the money still there. They now understood why the presents had been refused; and taking the money, Mao said to the novice, “If one hundred ounces of silver is too much luck for your mistress to secure, of course she could never have secured a high official, such as I am now, for her husband.” He then took fifty ounces, and giving them to the novice, sent her away, adding, “Hand this to your mistress; I’m afraid more would be too much for her.” The novice returned and repeated all that had been said and then the elder sister sighed to think what a failure her life had been, and how she had rejected the worthy to accept the worthless.
After this, the innkeeper got into trouble about a case of murder, and was imprisoned; but Mao exerted his influence, and obtained the man’s pardon.
1 Such is the dominant belief regarding the due selection of an auspicious site, whether for a house or grave; and with this superstition deeply ingrained in the minds of the people, it is easy to understand the hold on the public mind possessed by the pseudo-scientific professors of Fêng-Shui, or the geomantic art.
2 The bridegroom leads off the procession, and the bride follows shortly afterwards in an elaborately-gilt sedan-chair, closed in on all sides so that the occupant cannot be seen.
3 Here again we have the common Chinese belief that fate is fate only within certain limits, and is always liable to be altered at the will of heaven.
4 This is another curious phase of Chinese superstition, namely, that each individual is so constituted by nature as to be able to absorb only a given quantity of good fortune and no more, any superfluity of luck doing actual harm to the person on whom it falls.
XLVII. FOREIGN PRIESTS
THE Buddhist priest, T’i-k’ung, relates that when he was at Ch’ing-chou he saw two foreign priests of very extraordinary appearance. They wore rings in their ears, [p. 212] were dressed in yellow cloth, and had curly hair and beards. They said they had come from the countries of the west; and hearing that the Governor of the district was a devoted follower of Buddha, they went to visit him. The Governor sent a couple of servants to escort them to the monastery of the place, where the abbot, Ling-p’ei, did not receive them very cordially; but the secular manager, seeing that they were not ordinary individuals, entertained them and kept them there for the night.
Some one asked if there were many strange men in the west, and what magical arts were practised by the Lohans; whereupon one of them laughed, and putting forth his hand from his sleeve, showed a small pagoda, fully a foot in height, and beautifully carved, standing upon the palm. Now very high up in the wall there was a niche; and the priest threw the pagoda up to it, when lo it stood there firm and straight. After a few moments the pagoda began to incline to one side, and a glory, as from a relic of some saint, was diffused throughout the room. The other priest then bared his arms and stretched out his left until it was five or six feet in length, at the same time shortening his right arm until it dwindled to nothing. He then stretched out the latter until it was as long as his left arm.
1 The word here used is fan, generally translated “barbarian,”
2 The disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Same as Arhans.
XLVIII. THE SELF-PUNISHED MURDERER
MR. LI was a chü-jen of Yung-nien.1 On the 28th of the 9th moon of the 4th year of K’ang Hsi,2 he killed his wife. The neighbours reported the murder to the officials, and the high authorities instructed the district magistrate to investigate the case. At this juncture Mr. Li was standing at the door of his residence; and snatching a butcher’s knife from a stall hard by, he rushed into the Ch’êng-huang temple, where, mounting the theatrical stage,4 he threw himself on his knees, and spoke as follows: [p. 213] “The spirit here will punish me. I am not to be prosecuted by evil men who, from party motives, confuse right and wrong. The spirit moves me to cut off an ear.” Thereupon he cut off his left ear and threw it down from the stage. He then said the spirit was going to fine him a hand for cheating people out of their money; and he forthwith chopped off his left hand. Lastly, he cried out that he was to be punished severely for all his many crimes; and immediately cut his own throat. The Viceroy subsequently received the Imperial permission to deprive him of his rank 5 and bring him to trial; but he was then being punished by a higher power in the realms of darkness below. See the Peking Gazette.6
1 In the province of Chihli. “Chü-jen” = second or master’s degree.
2 In 1665, that is between fourteen and fifteen years previous to the completion of the Liao Chai.
3 See No. I., note 1.
4 Religion and the drama work hand in hand in China.
5 Always the first step in the prosecution of a graduate. In this case, the accused was also an official.
6 Of what date, our author does not say, or it would be curious to try and hunt up the official record of this case as it appeared in the Government organ of the day. The unfortunate man was in all probability insane.
XLIX. THE MASTER THIEF
BEFORE his rebellion,1 Prince Wu frequently told his soldiers that if any one of them could catch a tiger unaided he would give him a handsome pension and the title of the Tiger Daunter. In his camp there was a man named Pao-chu, as strong and agile as a monkey; and once when a new tower was being built, the wooden framework having only just been set up, Pao-chu walked along the eaves, and finally got up on the very tip-top beam, where he ran backwards and forwards several times. He then jumped down, alighting safely on his feet.
Now Prince Wu had a favourite concubine, who was a skilful player on the guitar; and the nuts of the instrument she used were of warm jade,2 so that when played upon there was a general feeling of warmth throughout the room. The young lady was extremely careful of this treasure, and never produced it for any one to see unless on receipt of the Prince’s written order. One night, in [p. 214] the middle of a banquet, a guest begged to be allowed to see this wonderful guitar; but the Prince, being in a lazy mood, said it should be exhibited to him on the following day. Pao-chu, who was standing by, then observed that he could get it without troubling the Prince to write an order. Some one was therefore sent off beforehand to instruct all the officials to be on the watch, and then the Prince told Pao-chu he might go; and after scaling numerous walls the latter found himself near the lady’s room. Lamps were burning brightly within; the doors were bolted and barred, and it was impossible to effect an entrance. Under the verandah, however, was a cockatoo fast asleep on its perch; and Pao-chu, first mewing several times like a cat, followed it up by imitating the voice of the bird, and cried out as though in distress, “The cat! the cat!” He then heard the concubine call to one of the slave girls, and bid her go rescue the cockatoo, which was being killed; and, hiding himself in a dark corner, he saw a girl come forth with a light in her hand. She had barely got outside the door when he rushed in, and there he saw the lady sitting with the guitar on a table before her. Seizing the instrument he turned and fled; upon which the concubine shrieked out “Thieves! thieves!” And the guard, seeing a man making off with the guitar, at once started in pursuit. Arrows fell round Pao-chu like drops of rain, but he climbed up one of a number of huge ash trees growing there, and from its top leaped on to the top of the next, and so on, until he had reached the furthermost tree, when he jumped on to the roof of a house, and from that to another, more as if he were flying than anything else. In a few minutes he had disappeared, and before long presented himself suddenly at the banquet-table with the guitar in his hand, the entrance-gate having been securely barred all the time, and not a dog or a cock aroused. [p. 215]
1 A.D. 1675. His full name was Wu San-1116.
2 Such is the literal translation of a term which I presume to be the name of some particular kind of jade, which is ordinarily distinguished from the imitation article by its comparative coldness.
L. A FLOOD
IN the twenty-first year of K’ang Hsi there was a severe drought, not a green blade appearing in the parched ground all through the spring and well into the summer: On the 13th of the 6th moon a little rain fell, and people began to plant their rice. On the 18th there was a heavy fall, and beans were sown.
Now at a certain village there was an old man, who, noticing two bullocks fighting on the hills, told the villagers that a great flood was at hand, and forthwith removed with his family to another part of the country. The villagers all laughed at him; but before very long rain began to fall in torrents, lasting all through the night, until the water was several feet deep, and carrying away the houses. Among the others was a man, who, neglecting to save his two children, with his wife assisted his aged mother to reach a place of safety, from which they looked down at their old home, now only an expanse of water, without hope of ever seeing the children again. When the flood had subsided, they went back, to find the whole place a complete ruin; but in their own house they discovered the two boys playing and laughing on the bed as if nothing had happened. Some one remarked that this was a reward for the filial piety of the parents. It happened on the 20th of the 6th moon.2
1 A.D. 1682; that is, three years after the date of our author’s preface. See Introduction.
2 A curious note here follows in the original:—“In 1696 a severe earthquake occurred at P’ing-yang, and seven or eight out of every ten of the inhabitants were killed, the city and suburbs were utterly destroyed, only one house remaining uninjured—a house inhabited by a filial son. And thus, when in the crash of a collapsing universe, filial piety is specially marked out for protection, who shall say that God Almighty does not know black from white?”
LI. DEATH BY LAUGHING
A MR. SUN CHING-HSIA, a Director of Studies, told me that in his village there was a certain man who had been killed by the rebels when they passed through the place. The [p. 216] man’s head was left hanging down on his chest; and as soon as the rebels had gone, his servants secured the body and were about to bury it. Hearing, however, a sound of breathing, they looked more closely, and found that the windpipe was not wholly severed; and, setting his head in its proper place, they carried him back home. In twenty-four hours he began to moan; and by dint of carefully feeding him with a spoon, within six months he had quite recovered.
Some ten years afterwards he was chatting with a few friends, when one of them made a joke which called forth loud applause from the others. Our hero, too, clapped his hands; but, as he was bending backwards and forwards with laughter, the seam on his neck split open, and down fell his head with a gush of blood. His friends now found that he was quite dead, and his father immediately commenced an action against the joker; but a sum of money was subscribed by those present and given to the father, who buried his son and stopped further proceedings.
1 The Chinese distinguish five degrees of homicide, of which accidental homicide is one (see Penal Code, Book VI.). Thus, if a gun goes off of itself in a man’s hand and kills a bystander, the holder of the gun is guilty of homicide; but were the same gun lying on a table, it would be regarded as the will of Heaven. Similarly, a man is held responsible for any death caused by an animal belonging to him though in such cases the affair can usually be hushed up by a money payment, no notice being taken of crimes in general unless at the instigation of a prosecutor, at whose will the case may be subsequently withdrawn. Where the circumstances are purely accidental, the law admits of a money compensation.
LII. PLAYING AT HANGING
A NUMBER of wild young fellows were one day out walking when they saw a young lady approach, riding on a pony.l One of them said to the others, I’ll back myself to make that girl laugh,” and a supper was at once staked by both sides on the result. Our hero then ran out in front of the pony, and kept on shouting “I’m going to die I’m going to die “at the same time pulling out from over the top of a wall a stalk of millet, to which he attached his own waistband, and, tying the latter round his neck, [p. 217] made a pretence of hanging himself. The young lady did laugh as she passed by, to the great amusement of the assembled company; but as when she was already some distance off their friend did not move, the others laughed louder than ever. However, on going up to him they saw that his tongue protruded, and that his eyes were glazed; he was, in fact, quite dead. Was it not strange that a man should be able to hang himself on a millet stalk? It is a good warning against practical joking.
1 Women in China ride astride.
2 Which, although tolerably stout and strong, is hardly capable of sustaining a man’s weight.
LIII. THE RAT WIFE
HSI SHAN was a native of Kao-mi, and a trader by occupation. He used constantly to travel between Mêng-yin and I-shui (in Shantung) . One day he was delayed on the road by rain, and when he arrived at his usual quarters it was already late in the night. He knocked at all the doors, but no one answered; and he was walking backwards and forwards in the piazza when suddenly a door flew open and an old man came out. He invited the traveller to enter, an invitation to which Hsi Shan gladly responded; and, tying up his mule, he went in. The place was totally unfurnished; and the old man began by saying that it was only out of compassion that he had asked him in, as his house was not an inn. “There are only three or four of us,” added he; “and my wife and daughter are fast asleep. We have some of yesterday’s food, which I will get ready for you; you must not object to its being cold.” He then went within, and shortly afterwards returned with a low couch, which he placed on the ground, begging his guest to be seated, at the same time hurrying back for a low table, and soon for a number of other things, until at last Hsi Shan was quite uncomfortable, and entreated his host to rest himself awhile. By-and-by a young lady came out, bringing some wine; upon which the old man said, “Oh, our A-ch’ien has got up.” She was about sixteen or seventeen, a slender and pretty-looking girl; and as Hsi Shan had an unmarried brother, he began to think directly that she would do for him. So he inquired of the old man his name and address, to which [p. 218] the latter replied that his name was Ku, and that his children had all died save this one daughter. “I didn’t like to wake her just now, but I suppose my wife told her to get up.” Hsi Shan then asked the name of his son-in-law, and was informed that the young lady was not yet engaged,—at which he was secretly very much pleased. A tray of food was now brought in, evidently the remains from the day before; and when he had finished eating, Hsi Shan began respectfully to address the old man as follows:—“I am only a poor wayfarer, but I shall never forget the kindness with which you have treated me. Let me presume upon it, and submit to your consideration a plan I have in my head. My younger brother, San-lang, is seventeen years old. He is a student, and by no means unsteady or dull. May I hope that you will unite our families together, and not think it presumption on my part?” “I, too, am but a temporary sojourner,” replied the old man, rejoicing; “and if you will only let me have a part of your house, I shall be very glad to come and live with you.” Hsi Shan consented to this, and got up and thanked him for the promise of his daughter; upon which the old man set to work to make him comfortable for the night, and then went away. At cock-crow he was outside, calling his guest to come and have a wash; and when Hsi Shan had packed up ready to go, he offered to pay for his night’s entertainment. This, however, the old man refused, saying, “I could hardly charge a stranger any-thing for a single meal; how much less could I take money from one who is to be a connection by marriage?” They then separated, and in about a month Hsi Shan returned; but when he was a short distance from the village he met an old woman with a young lady, both dressed in deep mourning. As they approached he began to suspect it was A-ch’ien; and the young lady, after turning round to look at him, pulled the old woman’s sleeve, and whispered something in her ear, which Hsi Shan himself did not hear. The old woman stopped immediately, and asked if she was addressing Mr. Hsi; and when informed that she was, she said mournfully, “Alas my husband has been killed by the falling of a wall. We are going to bury him to-day. There is no one at home but please wait here, and we will be back by-and-by.” They then disappeared among [p. 219] the trees; and, returning after a short absence, they walked along together in the dusk of the evening. The old woman complained bitterly of their lonely and helpless state, and Hsi Shan himself was moved to compassion by the sight of her tears. She told him that the people of the neighbourhood were a bad lot, and that if A-ch’ien was to marry into his family, no time should be lost. Hsi Shan said he was willing; and when they reached the house the old woman, after lighting the lamp and setting food before him, proceeded to speak as follows:—“Knowing, Sir, that you would shortly arrive, we sold all our grain except about twenty piculs. We cannot take this with us so far; but a mile or so to the north of the village, at the first house you come to, there lives a man named T’an Erh-ch’üan, who often buys grain from me. Don’t think it too much trouble to oblige me by taking a sack with you on your mule and proceeding thither at once. Tell Mr. T’an that the old lady of the southern village has several piculs of grain which she wishes to sell in order to get money for a journey, and beg him to send some animals to carry it.” The old woman then gave him a sack of grain; and Hsi Shan, whipping up his mule, was soon at the place; and, knocking at the door, a great fat fellow came out, to whom he told his errand. Emptying the sack he had brought, he went back himself first and before long a couple of men arrived leading five mules. The old woman took them into the granary, which was a cellar below ground, and Hsi Shan, going down himself, held the measure and grasped the smoothing-bar, while the mother poured the grain into the measure and the daughter received it in the sack. In a little while the men had got a load, with which they went off, returning altogether four times before all the grain was exhausted. They then paid the old woman, who kept one man and two mules, and, packing up her things, set off towards the east. After travelling some seven miles day began to break; and by-and-by they reached a market-town, where the old woman hired animals and sent back T’an’s servant. When they arrived at Hsi Shan’s home he related the whole story to his parents, who were very pleased at what had happened, and provided separate apartments for the old lady; and after choosing a lucky [p. 220] day, A-ch’ien was married to San-lang. The old woman prepared a handsome trousseau; and as for A-ch’ien herself, she spoke but little, seldom losing her temper, and if anyone addressed her she would only reply with a smile. She employed all her time in spinning, and thus became a general favourite with all alike. “Tell your brother,” said she to San-lang, “that when he happens to pass our old residence he will do well not to make any mention of my mother and myself.”
In three or four years’ time the Hsi family had made plenty of money, and San-lang had taken his bachelor’s degree, when one day Hsi Shan happened to pass a night with the people who lived next door to the house where he had met A-ch’ien. After telling them the story of his having had nowhere to sleep, and taking refuge with the old man and woman, his host said to him, “You must make a mistake, Sir; the house you allude to belongs to my uncle, but was abandoned three years ago in consequence of its being haunted. It has now been uninhabited for a long time. What old man and woman can have entertained you there?” Hsi Shan was very much astonished at this, but did not put much faith in what he heard; meanwhile his host continued, “For ten years no one dared enter the house; however, one day the back wall fell down, and my uncle, going to look at it, found, half-buried underneath the ruins, a large rat, almost as big as a cat. It was still moving, and my uncle went off to call for assistance, but when he got back the rat had disappeared. Every one suspected some supernatural agency to be at work, though on returning to the spot ten days afterwards nothing was to be either heard or seen and about a year subsequently the place was inhabited once more.”
Hsi Shah was more than ever amazed at what he now heard, and on reaching home told the family what had occurred; for he feared that his brother’s wife was not a human being, and became rather anxious about him. San-lang himself continued to be much attached to A-ch’ien; but by-and-by the other members of the family let A-ch’ien perceive that they had suspicions about her. So one night she complained to San-lang, saying, “I have been a good wife to you for some years, but now I am no longer regarded as a human being. I pray you [p. 221] give me my divorce)l and seek for yourself some worthier mate.” She then burst into a flood of tears; whereupon San-lang said, “You should know my feelings by this time. Ever since you entered the house the family has prospered; and that prosperity is entirely due to you. Who can say it is not so?” “I know full well,” replied A-ch’ien, “what you feel; still there are the others, and I do not wish to share the fate of an autumn fan.”2 At length San-lang succeeded in pacifying her; but Hsi Shan could not dismiss the subject from his thoughts, and gave out that he was going to get a first-rate mouser, with a view to testing A-ch’ien. She did not seem very frightened at this, though evidently ill at ease; and one night she told San-lang that her mother was not very well, and that he needn’t come to bid her good-night as usual. In the morning mother and daughter had disappeared; at which San-lang was greatly alarmed, and sent out to look for them in every direction. No traces of the fugitives could be discovered, and San-bag was overwhelmed with grief, unable either to eat or to sleep. His father and brother thought it was a lucky thing for him, and advised him to [p. 222] console himself with another wife. This, however, he refused to do; until, about a year afterwards, nothing more having been heard of A-ch’ien, he could not resist their importunities any longer, and bought himself a concubine. But he never ceased to think of A-ch’ien; and some years later, when the prosperity of the family was on the wane, they all began to regret her loss.
Now San-lang had a step-brother, named Lan, who, when travelling to Chiao-chou on business, passed a night at the house of a relative named Lu. He noticed that during the night sounds of weeping and lamentation proceeded from their next-door neighbours, but he did not inquire the reason of it; however, on his way back he heard the. same sounds, and then asked what was the cause of such demonstrations. Mr. Lu told him that a few years ago an old widow and her daughter had come there to live, and that the mother had died about a month previously, leaving her child quite alone in the world. Lan inquired what her name was, and Mr. Lu said it was Ku; “But,” added he, “the door is closely barred, and as they never had any communication with the village, I know nothing of their antecedents.” “It’s my sister-in-law,” cried Lan, in amazement, and at once proceeded to knock at the door of the house. Some one came to the front door, and said, in a voice that betokened recent weeping, “Who’s there? There are no men in this house.” 3 Lan looked through a crack, and saw that the young lady really was his sister-in-law; so he called out, “Sister, open the door. I am your step-brother A-sui.” A-ch’ien immediately opened the door and asked him in, and recounted to him the whole story of her troubles. “Your husband,” said Lan, “is always thinking of you. For a trifling difference you need hardly have run away so far from him.” He then proposed to hire a vehicle and take her home; but A-ch’ien replied, “I came hither with my mother to hide because I was not regarded as a human being, and should make myself ridiculous by now returning thus. If I am to go back, my elder brother Hsi Shan must no longer live with us; otherwise, I will immediately poison myself.” Lan then went home and told San-lang, who set off and travelled all night until he [p. 223] reached the place where A-ch’ien was. Husband and wife were overjoyed to meet again, and the following day San-lang notified the landlord of the house where A-ch’ien had been living. Now this landlord had long desired to secure A-ch’ien as a concubine for himself; and, after making no claim for rent for several years, he began to hint as much to her mother. The old lady, however, refused flatly; but shortly afterwards she died, and then the landlord thought that he might be able to succeed. At this juncture San-lang arrived, and the landlord sought to hamper him by putting in his claim for rent; and, as San-lang was anything but well off at the moment, it really did annoy him very much. A-ch’ien here came to the rescue, showing San-lang a large quantity of grain she had in the house, and bidding him use it to settle accounts with the landlord. The latter declared he could not accept grain, but must be paid in silver; whereupon A-ch’ien sighed and said it was all her unfortunate self that had brought this upon them, at the same time telling San-lang of the landlord’s former proposition. San-lang was very angry, and was about to take out a summons against him, when Mr. Lu interposed, and, by selling the grain in the neighbourhood, managed to collect sufficient money to pay off the rent. San-lang and his wife then returned home; and the former, having explained the circumstances to his parents, separated his household from that of his brother. A-ch’ien now proceeded to build, with her own money, a granary, which was a matter of some astonishment to the family, there not being a hundred-weight of grain in the place. But in about a year the granary was full,4 and before very long San-lang was a rich man, Hsi Shan remaining as poor as before. Accordingly, A-ch’ien persuaded her husband’s parents to come and live with them, and made frequent presents of money to the elder brother; so that her husband said, “Well, at any rate, you bear no malice.” “Your brother’s behaviour,” replied she, “was from his regard for you. Had it not been for him, you and I would never have met.” After this there were no more supernatural manifestations. [p. 224]
1 The Chinese acknowledge seven just causes for putting away a wife. (1) Bad behaviour towards the husband’s father and mother. (2) Adultery. (3) Jealousy. (4) Garrulity. (5) Theft. (6) Disease. (7) Barrenness. The right of divorce may not, however, be enforced if the husband’s father and mother have died since the marriage, as thus it would be inferred that the wife had served them well up to the time of their death; or if the husband has recently risen to wealth and power (hence the saying, “The wife of my porridge days shall not go down from my hall”); or, thirdly, if the wife’s parents and brothers are dead, and she has no home in which she can seek shelter.
2 This simile is taken from a song ascribed to Pan Chieh-yü, a favourite of the Emperor Ch’êng Ti of the Han dynasty, written when her influence with the Son of Heaven began to wane. I venture to reproduce it here.
“O fair white silk, fresh from the weaver’s loom;
Clear as the frost, bright as the winter’s snow!
See! friendship fashions out of thee a fan,
Round as the round moon shines in heaven above.
At home, abroad, a close companion thou,
Stirring at every move the grateful gale.
And yet I fear, ah, me I that autumn chills,
Cooling the dying Summer’s torrid rage,
Will see thee laid neglected on the shelf,
All thought of bygone days, like them, bygone.”
3 Signifying that it would be impossible for him to enter.
4 The result of A-ch’ien’s depredations as a rat.
LIV. THE MAN WHO WAS THROWN DOWN A WELL
MR. TAI, of An-ch’ing, was a wild fellow when young. One day as he was returning home tipsy,l he met by the way a dead cousin of his named Chi; and having, in his drunken state, quite forgotten that his cousin was dead, he asked him where he was going. “I am already a disembodied spirit,” replied Chi; “don’t you remember?”
Tai was a little disturbed at this; but, being under the influence of liquor, he was not frightened, and inquired of his cousin what he was doing in the realms below. “I am employed as scribe,” said Chi, “in the court of the Great King.” “Then you must know all about our happiness and misfortunes to come,” cried Tai. “It is my business,” answered his cousin, “so of course I know. But I see such an enormous mass that, unless of special reference to myself or family, I take no notice of any of it. Three days ago, by the way, I saw your name in the register.” Tai immediately asked what there was about himself, and his cousin replied, “I will not deceive you; your name was put down for a dark and dismal hell.”
Tai was dreadfully alarmed, and at the same time sobered, and entreated his cousin to assist him in some way. “You may try,” said Chi, “what merit will do for you as a means of mitigating your punishment; but the register of your sins is as thick as my finger, and nothing short of the most deserving acts will be of any avail. What can a poor fellow like myself do for you? Were you to [p. 225] perform one good act every day, you would not complete the necessary total under a year and more, and it is now too late for that. But henceforth amend your ways, and there may still be a chance of escape for you.” When Tai heard these words he prostrated himself on the ground, imploring his cousin to help him; but, on raising his head, Chi had disappeared; he therefore returned sorrowfully home, and set to work to cleanse his heart and order his behaviour.
Now Tai’s next-door neighbour had long suspected him of paying too much attention to his wife; and one day meeting Tai in the fields shortly after the events narrated above, he inveigled him into inspecting a dry well, and then pushed him down. The well was many feet deep, and the man felt certain that Tai was killed; however, in the middle of the night he came round, and sitting up at the bottom, he began to shout for assistance, but could not make any one hear him. On the following day, the neighbour, fearing that Tai might possibly have recovered consciousness, went to listen at the mouth of the well; and hearing him cry out for help, began to throw down a quantity of stones. Tai took refuge in a cave at the side, and did not dare utter another sound; but his enemy knew he was not dead, and forthwith filled the well almost up to the top with earth. In the cave it was as dark as pitch, exactly like the Infernal Regions; and not being able to get anything to eat or drink, Tai gave up all hopes of life. He crawled on his hands and knees further into the cave, but was prevented by water from going further than a few paces, and returned to take up his position at the old spot. At first he felt hungry; by-and-by, however, this sensation passed away; and then reflecting that there, at the bottom of a well, he could hardly perform any good action, he passed his time in calling loudly on the name of Buddha. Before long he saw a number of Will-o’-the-Wisps flitting over the water and illuminating the gloom of the cave; and immediately prayed to them, saying, “O Will-o’-the-Wisps, I have heard that ye are the shades of wronged and injured people. I have not long to live, and am without hope of escape still I would gladly relieve the monotony of my situation by exchanging a few words with you.” Thereupon, all the Wills came [p. 226] flitting across the water to him; and in each of them was a man of about half the ordinary size. Tai asked them whence they came; to which one of them replied, “This is an old coal-mine. The proprietor, in working the coal, disturbed the position of some graves;2 and Mr. Lung-fei flooded the mine and drowned forty-three workmen. We are the shades of those men.” He further said he did not know who Mr. Lung-fei was, except that he was secretary to the City God, and that in compassion for the misfortunes of the innocent workmen, he was in the habit of sending them a quantity of gruel every three or four days. “But the cold water,” added he, “soaks into our bones, and there is but small chance of ever getting them removed. If, Sir, you some day return to the world above, I pray you fish up our decaying bones and bury them in some public burying-ground. You will this earn for yourself boundless gratitude in the realms below.” Tai promised that if he had the luck to escape he would do as they wished; “but how,” cried he, “situated as I am, can I ever hope to look again upon the light of day?” He then began to teach the Wills to say their prayers, making for them beads out of bits of mud, in order to keep record of the number of invocations uttered. He could not tell night from morning he slept when he felt tired, and when he waked he sat up. Suddenly, he perceived in the distance the light of lamps, at which the shades all rejoiced, and said, “It is Mr. Lung-fei with our food.” They then invited Tai to go with them; and when he said he couldn’t because of the water, they bore him along over it so that he hardly seemed to walk. After twisting and turning about for nearly a quarter of a mile, he reached a place at which the Wills bade him walk by himself and then he appeared to mount a flight of steps, at the top of which he found himself in an apartment lighted by a candle as thick round as one’s arm. Not having seen the light of fire for some time, he was overjoyed and walked [p. 227] in; but observing an old man in a scholar’s dress and cap seated in the post of honour, he stopped, not liking to advance further. But the old man had already caught sight of him, and asked him how he, a living man, had come there. Tai threw himself on the ground at his feet, and told him all; whereupon the old man cried out, “My great-grandson!” then bade him get up; and offering him a seat, explained that his own name was Tai Chien, and that he was otherwise known as Lung-fei. He said, moreover, that in days gone by a worthless grandson of his named T‘ang had associated himself with a lot of scoundrels and sunk a well near his grave, disturbing the peace of his everlasting night; and that therefore he had flooded the place with salt water and drowned them. He then inquired as to the general condition of the family at that time.
Now Tai was a descendant of one of five brothers, from the eldest of whom T‘ang himself was also descended; and an influential man of the place had bribed T‘ang to open a mine alongside the family grave. His brothers were afraid to interfere; and by-and-by the water rose and drowned all the workmen; whereupon actions for damages were commenced by the relatives of the deceased,5 and T‘ang and his friend were reduced to poverty, and Tang’s descendants to absolute destitution. Tai was a son of one of T‘ang’s brothers, and having heard this story from his seniors, now repeated it to the old man. “How could they be otherwise than unfortunate,” cried the latter, “with such an unfilial progenitor? But since you have come hither, you must on no account neglect your studies.” The old man then provided him with food and wine, and spreading a volume of essays according to the old style before him, bade him study it most care-fully. He also gave him themes for composition, and corrected his essays as if he had been his tutor. The candle remained always burning in the room, never needing to be snuffed and never decreasing. When he was tired [p. 228] he went to sleep, but he never knew day from night. The old man occasionally went out, leaving a boy to attend to his great-grandson’s wants. It seemed that several years passed away thus, but Tai had no troubles of any kind to annoy him. He had no other book except the volume of essays, one hundred in all, which he read through more than four thousand times. One day the old man said to him, “Your term of expiation is nearly completed, and you will be able to return to the world above. My grave is near the coal-mine, and the grosser breeze plays upon my bones. Remember to remove them to the eastern plain.”6 Tai promised he would see to this and then the old man summoned all the shades together and instructed them to escort Tai back to the place where they had found him. The shades now bowed one after the other, and begged Tai to think of them as well, while Tai himself was quite at a loss to guess how he was going to get out.
Meanwhile, Tai’s family had searched for him everywhere, and his mother had brought his case to the notice of the officials, thereby implicating a large number of persons, but without getting any trace of the missing man. Three or four years passed away, and there was a change of magistrate; in consequence of which the search was relaxed, and Tai’s wife, not being happy where she was, married another husband. Just then an inhabitant of the place set about repairing the old well, and found Tai’s body in the cave at the bottom. Touching it, he found it was not dead, and at once gave information to the family. Tai was promptly conveyed home, and within a day he could tell his own story.
Since he had been down the well, the neighbour who pushed him in had beaten his own wife to death; and his father-in-law having brought an action against him, he had, been in confinement for more than a year while the case was being investigated.7 When released he was a mere bag of bones;8 and then hearing that Tai had come [p. 229] back to life, he was terribly alarmed and fled away. The family tried to persuade. Tai to take proceedings against him, but this he would not do, alleging that what had befallen him was a proper punishment for his own bad behaviour, and had nothing to do with the neighbour. Upon this, the said neighbour ventured to return; and when the water in the well had dried up, Tai hired men to go down and collect the bones, which he put in coffins and buried all together in one place. He next hunted up Mr. Lung-fei’s name in the family tables of genealogy, and proceeded to sacrifice all kinds of nice things at his tomb. By-and-by the Literary Chancellor heard this strange story, and was also very pleased with Tai’s compositions; accordingly, Tai passed successfully through his examinations, and, having taken his master’s degree, returned home, and reburied Mr. Lung-fei on the eastern plain, repairing thither regularly every spring without fail.
1 I have already discussed the subject of drunkenness in China (Chinese Sketches, pp. 113, 114), and shall not return to it here, further than to quote a single sentence, to which I adhere as firmly now as when the book in question was published:—“Who ever sees in China a tipsy man reeling about a crowded thoroughfare, or lying with his head in a ditch by the side of some country road?” It is not, however, generally known that the Chinese, with their usual quaintness, distinguish between five kinds of drunkenness, different people being differently affected, according to the physical constitution of each. Wine may fly (1) to the heart, and produce maudlin emotions; or (2) to the liver, and incite to pugnacity; or (3) to the stomach, and cause drowsiness, accompanied by a flushing of the face or (4) to the lungs, and induce hilarity; or (5) to the kidneys, and excite desire.
2 A religious and social offence of the deepest dye, sure to entail punishment in the world to come, even if the perpetrator escapes detection in this life.
3 The Buddhist rosary consists of 108 beads, which number is the same as that of the compartments in the Phrabat, or sacred foot-print of Buddha,
4 It here occurred to me that the word hitherto translated “well” should have been “shaft;” but the commentator refers expressly to the Tso Chuan, where the phrase for “a dry well,” as first used, is so explained. We must accordingly fall back on the supposition that our author has committed a trifling slip.
5 See No. LI., note 1.
6 In order to profit by the vivifying influence of the east, the quarter associated with spring.
7 That is, as to whether or not there were extenuating circumstances, in which case no punishment would be inflicted.
8 Such is the invariable result of confinement in a Chinese prison, unless the prisoner has the wherewithal to purchase food.
9 The provincial examiner for the degree of bachelor.
10 To worship at his tomb.
LV. THE VIRTUOUS DAUGHTER-IN-LAW
AN TA-CH‘ÊNG was a Chung-ch‘ing man. His father, who had gained the master’s degree, died early; and his brother Erh-ch‘êng was a mere boy. He himself had married a wife from the Ch’en family, whose name was Shan-hu; and this young lady had much to put up with from the violent and malicious disposition of her husband’s mother.l However, she never complained; and every morning dressed herself up smart, and went in to pay her respects to the old lady. Once when Ta-ch‘êng was ill, his mother abused Shan-hu for dressing so nicely; whereupon Shan-hu went back and changed her clothes; but even then Mrs. An was not satisfied, and began to tear her own hair with rage. Ta-ch‘êng, who was a very filial son, at once gave his wife a beating, and this put an end to the scene. From that moment his mother hated her more than ever, and although she was everything that a daughter-in-law could be, would never exchange a word with her. Ta-ch‘êng then treated her in much the same [p. 230] way, that his mother might see he would have nothing to do with her; still the old lady wasn’t pleased, and was always blaming Shan-hu for every trifle that occurred. “A wife,” cried Ta-ch‘êng, “is taken to wait upon her mother-in-law. This state of things hardly looks like the wife doing her duty.” So he bade Shan-hu begone,2 and sent an old maid-servant to see her home: but when Shan-hu got outside the village-gate, she burst into tears, and said, “How can a girl who has failed in her duties as a wife ever dare to look her parents in the face? I had better die.” Thereupon she drew a pair of scissors and stabbed herself in the throat, covering herself immediately with blood. The servant prevented any further mischief, and supported her to the house of her husband’s aunt, who was a widow living by herself, and who made Shan-hu stay with her. The servant went back and told Ta-ch‘êng, and he bade her say nothing to any one, for fear his mother should hear of it. In a few days Shan-hu’s wound was healed, and Ta-ch‘êng went off to ask his aunt to send her away. His aunt invited him in, but he declined, demanding loudly that Shan-hu should be turned out; and in a few moments Shan-hu herself came forth, and inquired what she had done. Ta-ch‘êng said she had failed in her duty towards his mother; whereupon Shan-hu hung her head and made no answer, while tears of blood trickled from her eyes and stained her dress all over. Ta-ch’êng was much touched by this spectacle, and went away without saying any more; but before long his mother heard all about it, and, hurrying off to the aunt’s, began abusing her roundly. This the aunt would not stand, and said it was all the fault of her own bad temper, adding, “The girl has already left you, and do you still claim to decide with whom she is to live? Miss Ch‘ên is staying with me, not your daughter-in-law; so you had better mind your own business.” This made Mrs. An furious; but she was at a loss for an answer, and, seeing that the aunt was firm, she went off home abashed and in tears. [p. 231]
Shan-hu herself was very much upset, and determined to seek shelter elsewhere, finally taking up her abode with Mrs. An’s elder sister, a lady of sixty odd years of age, whose son had died, leaving his wife and child to his mother’s care. This Mrs. Yü was extremely fond of Shan-hu; and when she heard the facts of the case, said it was all her sister’s horrid disposition, and proposed to send Shan-hu back. The latter, however, would not hear of this, and they continued to live together like mother and daughter; neither would Shan-hu accept the invitation of her two brothers to return home and marry some one else, but remained there with Mrs. Yü, earning enough to live upon by spinning and such work.
Ever since Shan-hu had been sent away, Ta-ch‘êng’s mother had been endeavouring to get him another wife but the fame of her temper had spread far and wide, and no one would entertain her proposals. In three or four years Erh-ch‘êng had grown up, and he had to be married first. His wife was a young lady named Tsang-ku, whose temper turned out to be something fearful, and far more ungovernable even than her mother-in-law’s. When the latter only looked angry, Tsang-ku was already at the shrieking stage; and Erh-ch‘êng, being of a very meek disposition, dared not side with either. Thus it came about that Mrs. An began to be in mortal fear of Tsang-ku; and whenever her daughter-in-law was in a rage she would try and turn off her anger with a smile. She seemed never to be able to please Tsang-ku, who in her turn worked her mother-in-law like a slave, Ta-ch‘êng himself not venturing to interfere, but only assisting his mother in washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Mother and son would often go to some secluded spot, and there in secret tell their griefs to one another; but before long Mrs. An was stretched upon a sick-bed with nobody to attend to her except Ta-ch‘êng. He watched her day and night without sleeping, until both eyes were red and inflamed; and then when he went to summon the younger son to take his place, Tsang-ku told him to leave the house. Ta-ch‘êng now went off to inform Mrs. Yü, hoping that she would come and assist; and he had hardly finished his tale of woe before Shan-hu walked in. In great confusion at seeing her, he would have left immediately had [p. 232] not Shan held out her arms across the door; whereupon he bolted underneath them and escaped. He did not dare to tell his mother, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Yü arrived, to the great joy of Ta-ch‘êng’s mother, who made her stay in the house. Every day something nice was sent for Mrs. Yü, and even when she told the servants that there was no occasion for it, she having all she wanted at her sister’s, the things still came as usual. However, she kept none of them for herself, but gave what came to the invalid, who gradually began to improve. Mrs. Yü’s grandson also used to come by his mother’s orders, and inquire after the sick lady’s health, besides bringing a packet of cakes and so on for her. “Ah, me!” cried Mrs. An, “what a good daughter-in-law you have got, to be sure. What have you done to her?” “What sort of a person was the one you sent away?” asked her sister in reply. “She wasn’t as bad as some one I know of,” said Mrs. An, “though not so good as yours.” “When she was here you had but little to do,” replied Mrs. Yü; “and when you were angry she took no notice of it. How was she not as good?” Mrs. An then burst into tears, and saying how sorry she was, asked if Shan-hu had married again; to which Mrs. Yü replied that she did not know, but would make inquiries. In a few more days the patient was quite well, and Mrs. Yü proposed to return; her sister, however, begged her to stay, and declared she should die if she didn’t. Mrs. Yü then advised that Erh-ch‘êng and his wife should live in a separate house, and Erh-ch‘êng spoke about it to his wife; but she would not agree, and abused both Ta-ch‘êng and Mrs. Yü alike. It ended by Ta-ch‘êng giving up a large share of the property, and ultimately Tsang-ku consented, and a deed of separation was drawn up. Mrs. Yü then went away, returning next day with a sedan-chair to carry her sister back; and no sooner had the latter put her foot inside Mrs. Yü’s door, than she asked to see the daughter-in-law, whom she immediately began to praise very highly. “Ah,” said Mrs. Yü, “she’s a good girl, with her little faults like the rest of us; but even if your daughter-in-law were as good as mine, you would not be able to appreciate her.” “Alas! “replied her sister, “I must have been as senseless as a statue not to have seen what [p. 233] she was.” “I wonder what Shan-hu, whom you turned out of doors, says of you?” rejoined Mrs. Yü, “Why, swears at me, of course,” answered Mrs. An. “If you examine yourself honestly and find nothing which should make people swear at you, is it at all likely you would be sworn at?” asked Mrs. Yü. “Well, all people are fallible,” replied the other, “and as I know she is not perfect, I conclude she would naturally swear at me.” “If a person has just cause for resentment, and yet does not indulge that resentment, it is obvious how he will repay kindness; or if any one has just cause for leaving another and yet does not do so, it is obvious how he will act under good treatment. Now, all the things that were sent when you were ill, and all the various little attentions, did not come from my daughter-in-law, but from yours.” Mrs. An was amazed at hearing this, and asked for some explanation; whereupon Mrs. Yü continued, “Shan-hu has been living here for a long time. Everything she sent to you was bought with money earned by her spinning, and that, too, continued late into the night.” Mrs. An here burst into tears, and begged to be allowed to see Shan-hu, who came in at Mrs. Yü’s summons, and threw herself on the ground at her mother-in-law’s feet. Mrs. An was much abashed, and beat her head with shame; but Mrs. Yü made it all up between them, and they became mother and daughter as at first. In about ten days they went home, and, as their property was not enough to support them, Ta-ch‘êng had to work with his pen while his wife did the same with her needle. Erh-ch‘êng was quite well off, but his brother would not apply to him, neither did he himself offer to help them. Tsang-ku, too, would have nothing to do with her sister-in-law, because she had been divorced; and Shan-hu in her turn, knowing what Tsang-ku’s temper was, made no great efforts to be friendly. So the two brothers lived apart;4 and when Tsang-ku was in one of her outrageous moods, all the others would stop their ears, till at length there was only her husband and the servants upon whom to vent her spleen. One day a maid-servant of hers committed suicide, and the father of the girl brought an action against Tsang-ku [p. 234] for having caused her death. Erh-ch‘êng went off to the mandarin’s to take her place as defendant, but only got a good beating for his pains, as the magistrate insisted that Tsang-ku herself should appear and answer to the charge, in spite of all her friends could do. The consequence was she had her fingers squeezed until the flesh was entirely taken off; and the magistrate, being a grasping man, a very severe fine was inflicted as well. Erh-ch‘êng had now to mortgage his property before he could raise enough money to get Tsang-ku released; but before long the mortgagee threatened to foreclose, and he was obliged to enter into negotiations for the sale of it to an old gentleman of the village named Jen. Now Mr. Jen knowing that half the property had belonged to Ta-ch‘êng, said the deed of sale must be signed by the elder brother as well; however, when Ta-ch‘êng reached his house, the old man cried out, “I am Mr. An, M.A.; who is this Jen that he should buy my property?” Then, looking at Ta-ch‘êng, he added, “The filial piety of you and your wife has obtained for me in the realms below this interview;” upon which Ta-ch‘êng said, “O father, since you have this power, help my younger brother.” “The unfilial son and the vixenish daughter-in-law,” said the old man, “deserve no pity. Go home and quickly buy back our ancestral property.” “We have barely enough to live upon,” replied Ta-ch‘êng; “where, then, shall we find the necessary money?” “Beneath the crape myrtle-tree,”6 answered his father, “you will find a store of silver, which you may take and use for this purpose.” Ta-ch‘êng would have questioned him further, but the old gentleman said no more, recovering consciousness shortly afterwards without knowing a word of what [p. 235] had happened. Ta-ch‘êng went back and told his brother, who did not altogether believe the story; Tsang-ku, however, hurried off with a number of men, and had soon dug a hole four or five feet deep, at the bottom of which they found a quantity of bricks and stones, but no gold. She then gave up the idea and returned home, Ta-ch‘êng having meanwhile warned his mother and wife not to go near the place while she was digging. When Tsang-ku left, Mrs. An went herself to have a look, and seeing only bricks and earth mingled together, she too, retraced her steps. Shan-hu was the next to go, and she found the hole full of silver bullion; and then Ta-ch‘êng repaired to the spot and saw that there was no mistake about it. Not thinking it right to apply this heirloom to his own private use, he now summoned Erh-ch‘êng to share it; and having obtained twice as much as was necessary to redeem the estate, the brothers returned to their homes. Erh-ch‘êng and Tsang-ku opened their half together, when lo! the bag was full of tiles and rubbish. They at once suspected Ta-ch‘êng of deceiving them, and Erh-ch‘êng ran off to see how things were going at his brother’s. He arrived just as Ta-ch‘êng was spreading the silver on the table, and with his mother and wife rejoicing over their acquisition; and when he had told them what had occurred, Ta-ch‘êng expressed much sympathy for him, and at once presented him with his own half of the treasure. Erh-ch‘êng was delighted, and paid off the mortgage on the land, feeling very grateful to his brother for such kindness. Tsang-ku, however, declared it was a proof that Ta-ch‘êng had been cheating him; “for how otherwise,” argued she, “can you understand a man sharing anything with another, and then resigning his own half?”
Erh-ch‘êng himself did not know what to think of it; but next day the mortgagee sent to say that the money paid in was all imitation silver, and that he was about to lay the case before the authorities. Husband and wife were greatly alarmed at this, and Tsang-ku exclaimed, “Well, I never thought your brother was as bad as this. He’s simply trying to take your life.” Erh-ch‘êng him-self was in a terrible fright, and hurried off to the mortgagee to entreat for mercy; but as the latter was extremely angry. and would hear of no compromise, Erh-ch‘êng was [p. 236] obliged to make over the property to him to dispose of himself. The money was then returned, and when he got home he found that two lumps had been cut through, showing merely an outside layer of silver, about as thick as an onion-leaf, covering nothing but copper within. Tsang-ku and Erh-ch‘êng then agreed to keep the broken pieces themselves, but send the rest back to Ta-ch‘êng, with a message, saying that they were deeply indebted to him for all his kindness, and that they had ventured to retain two of the lumps of silver out of compliment to the giver; also that the property which remained to them was still equal to Ta-ch’êng’s, that they had no use for much land, and accordingly had abandoned it, and that Ta-ch‘êng could redeem it or not as he pleased. Ta-ch’êng, who did not perceive the intention in all this, refused to accept the land; however, Erh-ch‘êng entreated him to do so, and at last he consented. When he came to weigh the money, he found it was five ounces short, and therefore bade Shan-hu pawn something from her jewel-box to make up the amount, with which he proceeded to pay off the mortgage. The mortgagee, suspecting it was the same money that had been offered him by Erh-ch‘êng, cut the pieces in halves, and saw that it was all silver of the purest quality. Accordingly he accepted it in liquidation of his claim, and handed the mortgage back to Ta-ch‘êng. Meanwhile, Erh-ch‘êng had been expecting some catastrophe; but when he found that the mortgaged land had been redeemed, he did not know what to make of it. Tsang-ku thought that at the time of the digging Ta-ch‘êng had concealed the genuine silver, and immediately rushed off to his house, and began to revile them all round. To-clang now understood why they had sent him back the money; and Shan-hu laughed and said, “The property is safe; why, then, this anger?” Thereupon she made Ta-ch‘êng hand over the deeds to Tsang-ku.
One night after this Erh-ch‘êng’s father appeared to him in a dream, and reproached him, saying, “Unfilial son, unfraternal brother, your hour is at hand. Wherefore usurp rights that do not belong to you?” In the morning Erh-ch‘êng told Tsang-ku of his dream, and proposed to return the property to his brother; but she only laughed at him for a fool. Just then the eldest of [p. 237] his two sons, a boy of seven, died of small-pox, and this frightened Tsang-ku so that she agreed to restore the deeds. Ta-ch‘êng would not accept them; and now the second child, a boy of three, died also; whereupon Tsang-ku seized the deeds, and threw them into her brother-in-law’s house. Spring was over, but the land was in a terribly neglected state; so Ta-ch‘êng set to work and put it in order again. From this moment Tsang-ku was a changed woman towards her mother- and sister-in-law; and when, six months later, Mrs. An died, she was so grieved that she refused to take any nourishment. “Alas “cried she, “that my mother-in-law has died thus early, and prevented me from waiting upon her. Heaven will not allow me to retrieve my past errors.” Tsang-ku had thirteen children,8 but as none of them lived, they were obliged to adopt one of Ta-ch‘êng’s,9 who, with his wife, lived to a good old age, and had three sons, two of whom took their doctor’s degree. People said this was a reward for filial piety and brotherly love.
1 See No. XLIII., note 2.
2 See No. LIII, note 1.
3 Such is the Chinese idiom for what we should call “bitter” tears. This phrase is constantly employed in the notices of the death of a parent sent round to friends and relatives.
4 A disgraceful state of things, in the eyes of the Chinese. See the paraphrase of the Sacred Edict, Maxim 1.
5 An illegal form of punishment, under the present dynasty, which authorises only bambooing of two kinds, each of five degrees of severity; banishment, of three degrees of duration; transportation for life, of three degrees of distance; and death, of two kinds, namely, by strangulation and decapitation. That torture is occasionally resorted to by Chinese officials is an indisputable fact; that it is commonly employed by the whole body of mandarins could only be averred by those who have not had the opportunities or the desire to discover the actual truth.
6 Lagerstraemia indica, L.
7 That is, old Mr. Jen’s body had been possessed by the disembodied spirit of Ta-ch’êng’s father.
8 Five is considered a large number for an ordinary Chinese woman.
9 In order to leave some one behind to look after their graves and perform the duties of ancestral worship. No one can well refuse to give a son to be adopted by a childless brother.
LVI. DR. TSÊNG’S DREAM
THERE was a Fuhkien gentleman named Tsêng, who had just taken his doctor’s degree. One day he was out walking with several other recently elected doctors, when they heard that at a temple hard by there lived an astrologer, and accordingly the party proceeded thither to get their fortunes told. They went in and sat down, and the astrologer made some very complimentary remarks to Tsêng, at which he fanned himself and smiled, saying, “Have I any chance of ever wearing the dragon robes and the jade girdle?”1 The astrologer immediately put on a serious face, and replied that he would be a Secretary of State during twenty years of national tranquillity. Thereupon Tsêng was much pleased, and began to give himself greater airs than ever.
A slight rain coming on, they sought shelter in the priest’s quarters, [p. 238] where they found an old bonze, with sunken eyes and a big nose, sitting upon a mat. He took no notice of the strangers, who, after having bowed to him, stretched themselves upon the couches to chat, not forgetting to congratulate Tsêng upon the destiny which had been foretold him. Tsêng, too, seemed to think the thing was a matter of certainty, and mentioned the names of several friends he intended to advance, amongst others the old family butler. Roars of laughter greeted this announcement, mingled with the patter-patter of the increasing rain outside.
Tsêng then curled himself up for a nap, when suddenly in walked two officials bearing a commission under the Great Seal appointing Tsêng to the Grand Secretariat. As soon as Tsêng understood their errand, he rushed off at once to pay his respects to the Emperor, who graciously detained him some time in conversation, and then issued instructions that the promotion and dismissal of all officers below the third grade should be vested in Tsêng alone. He was next presented with the dragon robes, the jade girdle, and a horse from the imperial stables, after which he performed the k’o-t’ou before His Majesty and took his leave.
He then went home, but it was no longer the old home of his youth. Painted beams, carved pillars, and a general profusion of luxury and elegance, made him wonder where on earth he was; until, nervously stroking his beard, he ventured to call out in a low tone. Immediately the responses of numberless attendants echoed through the place like thunder. Presents of costly food were sent to him by all the grandees, and his gate was absolutely blocked up by the crowds of retainers who were constantly coming and going. When Privy Councillors came to see him, he would rush out in haste to receive them; when Under-Secretaries of State visited him, he made them a polite bow; but to all below these he would hardly vouchsafe a word. The Governor of Shansi sent him twelve singing-girls, two of whom, Ni-ni and Fairy, he made his favourites. All day long he had nothing to do but find amusement as best he could, until he bethought himself that formerly [p. 239] a man named Wang had often assisted him with money. Thereupon he memorialised the Throne and obtained official employment for him. Then he recollected that there was another man to whom he owed a long-standing grudge. He at once caused this man, who was in the Government service, to be impeached and stripped of his rank and dignities. Thus he squared accounts with both.
One day when out in his chair a drunken man bumped against one of his tablet-bearers.5 Tsêng had him seized and sent in to the mayor’s yamên, where he died under the bamboo. Owners of land adjoining his would make him a present of the richest portions, fearing the consequences if they did not do so; and thus he became very wealthy, almost on a par with the State itself. By-and-by, Ni-ni and Fairy died, and Tsêng was overwhelmed with grief. Suddenly he remembered that in former years he had seen a beautiful girl whom he wished to purchase as a concubine, but want of money had then prevented him from carrying out his intention. Now there was no longer that difficulty; and accordingly he sent off two trusty servants to get the girl by force. In a short time she arrived, when he found that she had grown more beautiful than ever; and so his cup of happiness was full.
But years rolled on, and gradually his fellow-officials became estranged, Tsêng taking no notice of their behaviour, until at last one of them impeached him to the Throne in a long and bitter memorial. Happily, however, the Emperor still regarded him with favour, and for some time kept the memorial by him unanswered. Then followed a joint memorial from the whole of the Privy Council, including those who had once thronged his doors, and had falsely called him their dear father. [p. 240] The Imperial rescript to this document was “Banishment to Yünnan,”6 his son, who was Governor of P‘ing-yang, being also implicated in his guilt. When Tsêng heard the news, he was overcome with fear; but an armed guard was already at his gate, and the lictors were forcing their way into his innermost apartments. They tore off his robe and official hat, and bound him and his wife with cords. Then they collected together in the hall his gold, his silver, and bank-notes,7 to the value of many hundred thousands of taels. His pearls, and jade, and precious stones filled many bushel baskets. His curtains, and screens, and beds, and other articles of furniture were brought out by thousands; while the swaddling-clothes of his infant boy and the shoes of his little girl were lying littered about the steps. It was a sad sight for Tsêng; but a worse blow was that of his concubine carried off almost lifeless before his eyes, himself not daring to utter a word. Then all the apartments, store-rooms, and treasuries were sealed up; and, with a volley of curses, the soldiers bade Tsêng begone, and proceeded to leave the place, dragging him with them. The husband and wife prayed that they might be allowed some old cart, but this favour was denied them. After about ten li, Tsêng’s wife could barely walk, her feet being swollen and sore. Tsêng helped her along as best he could, but another ten li reduced him to a state of abject fatigue.
By-and-by they saw before them a great mountain, the summit of which was lost in the clouds; and, fearing they should be made to ascend it, Tsêng and his wife stood still and began to weep. The lictors, however, clamoured round them, and would permit of no rest. The sun was rapidly sinking, and there was no place at hand where they could obtain shelter for the night. So they continued on their weary way until about half-way up the hill, when his wife’s strength was quite exhausted, and she sat down by the roadside. Tsêng, too, halted to rest in spite of the soldiers and their abuse; but they had hardly stopped a moment before down came a band of robbers upon them, [p. 241] each with a sharp knife in his hand. The soldiers immediately took to their heels, and Tsêng fell on his knees before the robbers, saying, “I am a poor criminal going into banishment, and have nothing to give you. I pray you spare my life.” But the robbers sternly replied, “We are all the victims of your crimes, and now we want your wicked head.” Then Tsêng began to revile them, saying, “Dogs! though I am under sentence of banishment, I am still an officer of the State.” But the robbers cursed him again, flourishing a sword over his neck, and the next thing he heard was the noise of his own head as it fell with a thud to the ground. At the same instant two devils stepped forward and seized him each by one hand, compelling him to go with them.
After a little while they arrived at a great city where there was a hideously ugly king sitting upon a throne judging between good and evil. Tsêng crawled before him on his hands and knees to receive sentence, and the king, after turning over a few pages of his register, thundered out, “The punishment of a traitor who has brought misfortune on his country: the cauldron of boiling oil!” To this ten thousand devils responded with a cry like a clap of thunder, and one huge monster led Tsêng down alongside the cauldron, which was seven feet in height, and surrounded on all sides by blazing fuel, so that it was of a glowing red heat. Tsêng shrieked for mercy, but it was all up with him, for the devil seized him by the hair and the small of his back and pitched him headlong in. Down he fell with a splash, and rose and sank with the bubbling of the oil, which ate through his flesh into his very vitals. He longed to die, but death would not come to him.
After about half-an-hour’s boiling, a devil took him out on a pitchfork and threw him down before the Infernal King, who again consulted his note-book, and said, “You relied on your position to treat others with contumely and injustice, for which you must suffer on the Sword-Hill.” Again he was led away by devils to a large hill thickly studded with sharp swords, their points upwards like the shoots of bamboo, with here and there the remains of many miserable wretches who had suffered before him. Tsêng again cried for mercy and crouched upon the ground; but a devil bored into him with a poisoned [p. 242] awl until he screamed with pain. He was then seized and flung up high into the air, falling down right on the sword-points, to his most frightful agony. This was repeated several times until he was almost hacked to pieces.
He was then brought once more before the king, who asked what was the amount of his peculations while on earth. Immediately an accountant came forward with an abacus, and said that the whole sum was 3,210,000 taels, whereupon the king replied, “Let him drink that amount.” Forthwith the devils piled up a great heap of gold and silver, and, when they had melted it in a huge crucible, began pouring it into Tsêng’s mouth. The pain was excruciating as the molten metal ran down his throat into his vitals; but since in life he had never been able to get enough of the dross, it was determined he should feel no lack of it then.
He was half-a-day drinking it, and then the king ordered him away to be born again as a woman8 in Kan-chou. A few steps brought them to a huge frame, where on an iron axle revolved a mighty wheel many hundred yojanas in circumference, and shining with a brilliant light. The devils flogged Tsêng on to the wheel, and he shut his eyes as he stepped up. Then whiz—and away he went, feet foremost, round with the wheel, until he felt himself tumble off and a cold thrill ran through him, when he opened his eyes and found he was changed into a girl. He saw his father and mother in rags and tatters, and in one corner a beggar’s bowl and a staff,10 and understood the calamity that had befallen him. Day after day he begged about the streets, and his inside rumbled for want of food; he had no clothes to his back.
At fourteen years of age he was sold to a gentleman as concubine; and then, though food and clothes were not wanting, he had to put up with the scoldings and floggings of the wife, who one day burnt him with a hot iron.11 Luckily the gentleman took a [p. 243] fancy to him and treated him well, which kindness Meng repaid by an irreproachable fidelity.
It happened, however, that on one occasion when they were chatting together, burglars broke into the house and killed the gentleman, Tsêng having escaped by hiding himself under the bed. Thereupon he was immediately charged by the wife with murder, and on being taken before the authorities was sentenced to die the “lingering death.”12 This sentence was at once carried out with tortures more horrible than any in all the Courts of Purgatory, in the middle of which Tsêng heard one of his companions call out “Hello, there! you’ve got nightmare.” Tsêng got up and rubbed his eyes, and his friends said, “It’s quite late in the day, and we’re all very hungry.” But the old priest smiled, and asked him if the prophecy as to his future rank was true or not. Tsêng bowed and begged him to explain; whereupon the old priest said, “For those who cultivate virtue, a lily will grow up even in the fiery pit.”13 Tsêng had gone thither full of pride and vainglory; he went home an altered man. From that day he thought no more of becoming a Secretary of State, but retired into the hills, and I know not what became of him after that.
1 That is, of rising to the highest offices of State.
2 The Chinese term used throughout is “star-man.”
3 Chinese official life is divided into nine grades.
4 Prostrating himself three times, and knocking his head on the ground thrice at each prostration.
5 The retinue of a high mandarin is composed as follows:—First, gong-bearers, then banner-men, tablet-bearers (on which tablets are inscribed the titles of the official), a large red umbrella, mounted attendants, a box containing a change of clothes, bearers of regalia, a second gong, a small umbrella or sunshade, a large wooden fan, executioners, lictors from hell, who wear tall hats; a mace (called a “golden melon”), bamboos for “bambooing,” incense-bearers, more attendants, and now the great man himself, followed by a body-guard of soldiers and a few personal attendants, amounting in all to nearly one hundred persons, many of whom are mere street-rowdies or beggars, hired at a trifling outlay when required to join what might otherwise be an imposing procession.
6 A land journey of about three months, ending in a region which the Chinese have always regarded as semi-barbarous.
7 From A.D. 1154 the use of paper money became quite common in China.
8 This contingency is much dreaded by the Chinese.
9 A yojana has been variously estimated at from five to nine English miles.
10 The patra and khakkharam of the bikshu or Buddhist mendicant.
11 It is not considered quite correct to take a concubine unless the wife is childless, in which case it is held that the proposition to do so, and thus secure the much-desired posterity, should emanate from the wife herself. On page 41 of Vol. XIII. of this author, we read, “and if at thirty years of age you have no children, then sell your hair-pins and other ornaments, and buy a concubine for your husband. For the childless state is a hard one to bear; “or, as Victor Hugo puts it in his Légende des Siècles, there is nothing so sad as “la maison sans enfants.”
12 This is the celebrated form of death, reserved for parricide and similar awful crimes, about which so much has been written. Strictly speaking, the malefactor should be literally chopped to pieces in order to prolong his agonies; but the sentence is now rarely, if ever, carried out in its extreme sense. A few gashes are made upon the wretched victim’s body, and he is soon put out of his misery by decapitation.
13 Alluding to a well-known Buddhist miracle, in which a bikshu was to be thrown into a cauldron of boiling water in a fiery pit, when suddenly a lotus-flower came forth, the fire was extinguished, and the water became cold. [p.
LVII. THE COUNTRY OF THE CANNIBALS
AT Chiao-chou there lived a man named Hsü, who gained his living by trading across the sea. On one occasion he was carried far out of his course by a violent tempest, and [p. 244] reached a country of high hills and dense jungle,3 where, after making fast his boat and taking provisions with him, he landed, hoping to meet with some of the inhabitants. He then saw that the rocks were covered with large holes, like the cells of bees; and, hearing the sound of voices from within, he stopped in front of one of them and peeped in. To his infinite horror he beheld two hideous beings, with thick rows of horrid fangs, and eyes that glared like lamps, engaged in tearing to pieces and devouring some raw deer’s flesh; and, turning round, he would have fled instantly from the spot, had not the cannibals already espied him; and, leaving their food, they seized him and dragged him in. Thereupon ensued a chattering between them, resembling the noise of birds or beasts,4 and they proceeded to pull off Hsü’s clothes as if about to eat him but Hsü, who was frightened almost to death, offered them the food he had in his wallet, which they ate up with great relish, and looked inside for more. Hsü waved his hand to show it was all finished, and then they angrily seized him again; at which he cried out, “I have a saucepan in my boat, and can cook you some.” The cannibals did not understand what he said; but, by dint of gesticulating freely, they at length seemed to have an idea of what he meant; and, having taken him down to the shore to fetch the saucepan, they returned with him to the cave, where he lighted a fire and cooked the remainder of the deer, with the flavour of which they appeared to be mightily pleased.
At night they rolled a big stone to the mouth of the cave,5 fearing lest he should try to escape; and Hsü himself lay down at a distance from them in doubt as to whether his life would be spared. At daybreak the cannibals went out, leaving the entrance blocked, and by-and-by came back with a deer, which they gave to Hsü to cook. Hsü flayed the carcase, and from a remote [p. 245] corner of the cave took some water and prepared a large quantity, which was no sooner ready than several other cannibals arrived to join in the feast. When they had finished all there was, they made signs that Hsü’s sauce-pan was too small; and three or four days afterwards they brought him a large one, of the same shape as those in common use amongst men, subsequently furnishing him with constant supplies of wolf and deer,6 of which they always invited him to partake.
By degrees they began to treat him kindly, and not to shut him up when they went out; and Hsü, too, gradually learnt to understand, and even to speak, a little of their language, which pleased them so much that they finally gave him a cannibal woman for his wife. Hsü was horribly afraid of her; but, as she treated him with great consideration, always reserving tit-bits of food for him, they lived very happily together.
One day all the cannibals got up early in the morning, and, having adorned themselves with strings of fine pearls, they went forth as if to meet some honoured guest, giving orders to Hsü to cook an extra quantity of meat that day. “It is the birthday of our King,” said Hsü’s wife to him; and then, running out, she informed the other cannibals that her husband had no pearls. So each gave five from his own string, and Hsü’s wife added ten to these, making in all fifty, which she threaded on a hempen fibre and hung around his neck, each pearl being worth over a hundred ounces of silver. Then they went away, and as soon as Hsü had finished his cooking his wife appeared and invited him to come and receive the King. So off they went to a huge cavern, covering about a mow] of ground, in which was a huge stone, smoothed away at the top like a table, with stone seats at the four sides. At the upper end was a dais, over which was spread a leopard’s skin, the other seats having only deer-skins; and within the cavern some twenty or thirty cannibals ranged themselves on the seats.
After a short [p. 246] interval a great wind began to stir up the dust, and they all rushed out to a creature very much resembling themselves, which hurried into the cave, and, squatting down cross-legged, cocked its head and looked about like a cormorant. The other cannibals then filed in and took up their positions right and left of the dais, where they stood gazing up at the King with their arms folded before them in the form of a cross. The King counted them one by one, and asked if they were all present; and when they replied in the affirmative, he looked at Hsü and inquired who he was. Thereupon Hsü’s wife stepped forward and said he was her husband, and the others all loudly extolled his skill in cookery, two of them running out and bringing back some cooked meat, which they set before the King. His Majesty swallowed it by handfuls, and found it so nice that he gave orders to be supplied regularly; and then, turning to Hsü he asked him why his string of beads was so short. “He has but recently arrived among us,” replied the cannibals, “and hasn’t got a complete set;” upon which the King drew ten pearls from the string round his own neck and bestowed them upon Hsü. Each was as big as the top of one’s finger and as round as a bullet and Hsü’s wife threaded them for him and hung them round his neck. Hsü himself crossed his arms and thanked the King in the language of the country, after which His Majesty went off in a gust of wind as rapidly as a bird can fly, and the cannibals sat down and finished what was left of the banquet.
Four years afterwards Hsü’s wife gave birth to a triplet of two boys and one girl, all of whom were ordinary human beings, and not at all like the mother; at which the other cannibals were delighted, and would often play with them and caress them.9 Three years passed away, and the children could walk about, after which their father taught them to speak his own tongue and in their early babblings their human origin was manifested. The boys, as mere [p. 247] children, could climb about on the mountains as easily as though walking upon a level road; and between them and their father there grew up a mutual feeling of attachment.
One day the mother had gone out with the girl and one of the boys, and was absent for a long time. A strong north wind was blowing, and Hsü, filled with thoughts of his old home, led his other son down with him to the beach, where lay the boat in which he had formerly reached this country. He then proposed to the boy that they should go away together; and, having explained to him that they could not inform his mother, father and son stepped on board, and after a voyage of only twenty-four hours, arrived safely at Chiao-chou.
On reaching home Hsü found that his wife had married again; so he sold two of his pearls for an enormous sum of money,10 and set up a splendid establishment. His son was called Piao, and at fourteen or fifteen years of age the boy could lift a weight of three thousand catties (4000 lb.). He was extremely fond of athletics of all kinds, and thus attracted the notice of the Commander-in-Chief, who gave him a commission as sub-lieutenant. Just at that time there happened to be some trouble on the frontier, and young Piao, having covered himself with glory, was made a colonel at the age of eighteen.
About that time another merchant was driven by stress of weather to the country of the cannibals, and had hardly stepped ashore before he observed a young man whom he knew at once to be of Chinese origin. The young man asked him whence he came, and finally took him into a cave hid away in a dark valley and concealed by the dense jungle. There he bade him remain, and in a little while he returned with some deer’s flesh, which he gave the merchant to eat, saying at the same time that his own father was a Chiao-chou man. The merchant now knew that the young man was Hsü’s son, he himself being acquainted with Hsü’as a trader in the same line of business. “Why, he’s an old friend of mine,” cried the latter; “his other son is now a colonel.” The young man did not know what was meant [p. 248] by a colonel, so the merchant told him it was the title of a Chinese mandarin. “And what is a mandarin?” asked the youth. “A mandarin,” replied the merchant, “is one who goes out with a chair and horses; who at home sits upon a dais in the hall; whose summons is answered by a hundred voices; who is looked at only with sidelong eyes, and in whose presence all people stand aslant;—this is to be a mandarin.” The young man was deeply touched at this recital, and at length. the merchant said to him, “Since your honoured father is at Chiao-chou, why do you remain here?” “Indeed,” replied the youth, “I have often indulged the same feeling; but my mother is not a Chinese woman, and, apart from the difference of her language and appearance, I fear that if the other cannibals found it out they would do us some mischief.” He then took his leave, being in rather a disturbed state of mind, and bade the merchant wait until the wind should prove favourable,12 when he promised to come and see him off, and charge him with a letter to his father and brother. Six months the merchant remained in that cave, occasionally taking a peep at the cannibals passing backwards and forwards, but not daring to leave his retreat.
As soon as the monsoon set in the young man arrived and urged him to hurry away, begging him, also, not to forget the letter to his father. So the merchant sailed away and soon reached Chiao-chou, where he visited the colonel and told him the whole story. Piao was much affected, and wished to go in search of those members of the family; but his father feared the dangers he would encounter, and advised him not to think of such a thing. However, Piao was not to be deterred; and having imparted his scheme to the Commander-in-Chief, he took with him two soldiers and set off. Adverse winds prevailed at that time, and they beat about for half a moon, until they were out of sight of all land, could not see a foot before them, and had completely lost their reckoning.
Just then a mighty sea arose and capsized their boat, tossing Piao into the water, where he floated about for some time at the will of the waves, until suddenly somebody dragged him out and carried him into a house. Then he saw that his rescuer was to all appearances a cannibal, and accordingly he addressed him [p. 249] in the language of the country, and told him whither he himself was bound. “It is my native place,” replied the cannibal, in astonishment; “but you will excuse my saying that you are now 8000 li out of your course. This is the way to the country of the Poisonous Dragons, and not your route at all.” He then went off to find a boat for Piao, and, himself swimming in the water behind, pushed it along like an arrow from a bow, so quickly that by the next day they had traversed the whole distance.
On the shore Piao observed a young man walking up and down and evidently watching him; and, knowing that no human beings dwelt there, he guessed at once that he was his brother. Approaching more closely, he saw that he was right; and, seizing the young man’s hand, he asked after his mother and sister. On hearing that they were well, he would have gone directly to see them; but the younger one begged him not to do so, and ran away himself to fetch them. Meanwhile, Piao turned to thank the cannibal who had brought him there, but he, too, had disappeared. In a few minutes his mother and sister arrived, and, on seeing Piao, they could not restrain their tears. Piao then laid his scheme before them, and when they said they feared people would ill-treat them, he replied, “In China I hold a high position, and people will not dare to show you disrespect.” Thus they determined to go.
The wind, however, was against them, and mother and son were at a loss what to do, when suddenly the sail bellied out towards the south, and a rustling sound was heard. “Heaven helps us, my mother!” cried Piao, full of joy; and, hurrying on board at once, in three days they had reached their destination. As they landed the people fled right and left in fear, Piao having divided his own clothes amongst the party; and when they arrived at the house, and his mother saw Hsü, she began to rate him soundly for running away without her. Hsü hastened to acknowledge his error, and then all the family and servants were introduced to her, each one being in mortal dread of such a singular personage.
Piao now bade his mother learn to talk Chinese, and gave her any quantity of fine clothes and rich meats, to the infinite delight of the old lady. She and her daughter both dressed in man’s clothes, and by the end of a few months were able to understand what was said to them. [p. 250] The brother, named Pao (Leopard), and the sister, Yeh (Night), were both clever enough, and immensely strong into the bargain. Piao was ashamed that Pao could not read, and set to work to teach him; and the youngster was so quick that he learnt the Sacred Books and histories by merely reading them once over. However, he would not enter upon a literary career, loving better to draw a strong bow or ride a spirited horse, and finally taking the highest military degree.
He married the daughter of a post-captain; but his sister had some trouble in getting a husband, because of her being the child of a cannibal woman. At length a serjeant, named Yüan, who was under her brother’s command, and had become a widower, consented to take her as his wife. She could draw a hundred-catty bow, and shoot birds at a hundred paces without ever missing. Whenever Yüan went on a campaign she went with him; and his subsequent rise to high rank was chiefly due to her.
At thirty-four years of age Pao got a command; and in his great battles his mother, clad in armour and grasping a spear, would fight by his side, to the terror of all their adversaries; and when he himself received the dignity of an hereditary title, he memorialised the Throne to grant his mother the title of “lady.”
1 The Chinese term—here translated “cannibals”—is a meaningless imitation by two Chinese characters of the Sanscrit yakcha, or certain demons who feed upon human flesh.
2 Hué, the capital of Cochin-China.
3 The island of Hainan, inhabited as it was in earlier times by a race of savages, is the most likely source of the following marvellous adventures.
4 To which sounds the languages of the West have been more than once likened by the Chinese. It is only fair, however, to the lettered classes to state that they have a similar contempt for their own local dialects; regarding Mandarin, or the Court dialect, as the only form of speech worthy to be employed by men.
5 The occasional analogies to the story of the Cyclops must be evident to all readers.
6. The animal here mentioned is the plain brown deer, or Rusa Swinhoii, of Formosa, in which island I should prefer to believe, but for the great distance from Hué, that the scenes here narrated took place.
7 About one-sixth of an acre. On old title-deeds of landed property in China may still be seen measurements calculated according to the amount of grain that could be sown thereon.
8 The king here uses the words “ku-t‘u-tzu,” which are probably intended by the author to be an imitation of a term in the savage tongue.
9 Fondness for children is specially a trait of Chinese character; and a single baby would do far more to ensure the safety of a foreign traveller in China than all the usual paraphernalia of pocket-pistols and revolvers.
10 Literally, “a million of taels.”
11 Here again we have 100 chün, one chün being equal to about 40 lb. Chinese weights, measures, distances, numbers, &c., are often very loosely employed; and it is probable that not more than 100 catties, say 133 lb., is here meant.
12 That is, until the change of the monsoon from S.W. to N.E.
13 See No. XLI., note 2.