STRANGE STORIES FROM A CHINESE STUDIO
by P’u Sung-ling
LVIII. FOOT-BALL ON THE TUNG-T‘ING LAKE
WANG SHIH-HSIU was a native of Lu-chou, and such a lusty fellow that he could pick up a stone mortar.1 Father and son were both good foot-ball players; but when the former was about forty years of age he was drowned while crossing the Money Pool.2 Some eight or nine years later our hero happened to be on his way to Hunan; and anchoring in the Tung-t‘ing lake, watched the moon rising in the east and illuminating the water into a bright sheet of light. While he was thus engaged, lo! from out of the lake emerged five men, bringing with them a large mat, which they spread on the surface of the water so as to cover about six yards square. Wine and food were then arranged upon it, and Wang heard the sound of the dishes knocking together, but it was a dull, soft sound, not at all like that of ordinary [p. 251] crockery. Three of the men sat down on the mat and the other two waited upon them. One of the former was dressed in yellow, the other two in white, and each wore a black turban. Their demeanour as they sat there side by side was grave and dignified; in appearance they resembled three of the ancients, but by the fitful beams of the moon Wang was unable to see very clearly what they were like. The attendants wore black serge dresses, and one of them seemed to be a boy, while the other was many years older.
Wang now heard the man in the yellow dress say, “This is truly a fine moonlight night for a drinking bout;” to which one of his companions replied, “It quite reminds me of the night when Prince Kuang-li feasted at Pear-blossom Island.”3 The three then pledged each other in bumping goblets, talking all the time in such a low tone that Wang could not hear what they were saying. The boatmen kept themselves concealed, crouching down at the bottom of the boat; but Wang looked hard at the attendants, the elder of whom bore a striking resemblance to his father, though he spoke in quite a different tone of voice.
When it was drawing towards midnight, one of them proposed a game at ball; and in a moment the boy disappeared in the water, to return immediately with a huge ball—quite an armful in fact—apparently full of quicksilver, and lustrous within and without. All now rose up, and the man in the yellow dress bade the old attendant join them in the game. The ball was kicked up some ten or fifteen feet in the air, and was quite dazzling in its brilliancy; but once, when it had gone up with a whish-h-h-h, it fell at some distance off, right in the very middle of Wang’s boat. The occasion was irresistible, and Wang, exerting all his strength, kicked the ball with all his might. It seemed unusually light and soft to the touch, and his foot broke right through. Away went the ball to a good height, pouring forth a stream of light like a rainbow from the hole Wang had made, and making as it fell a curve like that of a comet rushing across the sky. Down it glided into the water, where it fizzed a moment and then went out.
“Ho, there!” cried out the players in anger, “what living creature is that who dares thus to interrupt our sport?” “Well kicked [p. 252] indeed!” said the old man, “that’s a favourite drop-kick of my own.” At this, one of the two in white clothes began to abuse him, saying, “What you old baggage, when we are all so annoyed in this manner, are you to come forward and make a joke of it? Go at once with the boy and bring back to us this practical joker, or your own back will have a taste of the stick.” Wang was of course unable to flee; however, he was not a bit afraid, and grasping a sword stood there in the middle of the boat. In a moment, the old man and boy arrived, also armed, and then Wang knew that the former was really his father, and called out to him at once, “Father, I am your son.” The old man was greatly alarmed, but father and son forgot their troubles in the joy of meeting once again.
Meanwhile, the boy went back, and Wang’s father bade him hide, or they would all be lost. The words were hardly out of his mouth when the three men jumped on board the boat. Their faces were black as pitch, their eyes as big as pomegranates, and they at once proceeded to seize the old man. Wang struggled hard with them, and managing to get the boat free from her moorings, he seized his sword and cut off one of his adversaries’ arms. The arm dropped down and the man in the yellow dress ran away; whereupon one of those in white rushed at Wang, who immediately cut off his head, and he fell into the water with a splash, at which the third disappeared.
Wang and his father were now anxious to get away, when suddenly a great mouth arose from the lake, as big and as deep as a well, and against which they could hear the noise of the water when it struck. This mouth blew forth a violent gust of wind, and in a moment the waves were mountains high and all the boats on the lake were tossing about. The boatmen were terrified, but Wang seized one of two huge stones there were on board for use as anchors,4 about 130 lb. in weight, and threw it into the water, which immediately began to subside; and then he threw in the other one, upon which the wind dropped, and the lake became calm again.
Wang thought his father was a disembodied spirit, but the old man said, “I never died. There were nineteen of us drowned in [p. 253] the river, all of whom were eaten by the fish-goblins except myself: I was saved because I could play foot-ball. Those you saw got into trouble with the Dragon King, and were sent here. They were all marine creatures, and the ball they were playing with was a fish-bladder.” Father and son were overjoyed at meeting again, and at once proceeded on their way. In the morning they found in the boat a huge fin—the arm that Wang had cut off the night before.
1 Used for pounding rice.
2 A fancy name for the Tung-t‘ing lake. See No. XXXVIII., note 1 .
3 The commentator declares himself unable to trace this allusion.
4 These are bound in between several sharp-pointed stakes, and serve their purpose very well in the inland waters of China.
LIX. THE THUNDER GOD
YO YÜN-HAO and Hsia P’ing-tzŭ lived as boys in the same village, and when they grew up read with the same tutor, becoming the firmest of friends. Hsia was a clever fellow, and had acquired some reputation even at the early age of ten. Yo was not a bit envious, but rather looked up to him, and Hsia in return helped his friend very much with his studies, so that he, too, made considerable progress. This increased Hsia’s fame, though try as he would he could never succeed at the public examinations, and by-and-by he sickened and died. His family was so poor they could not find money for his burial, whereupon Yo came foward and paid all expenses, besides taking care of his widow and children. Every peck or bushel he would share with them, the widow trusting entirely to his support; and thus he acquired a good name in the village, though not being a rich man himself he soon ran through all his own property. “Alas!” cried he, “where talents like Hsia’s failed, can I expect to succeed? Wealth and rank are matters of destiny, and my present career will only end by my dying like a dog in a ditch. I must try something else.” So he gave up book-learning and went into trade, and in six months he had a trifle of money in hand.
One day when he was resting at an inn in Nanking, he saw a great big fellow walk in and seat himself at no great distance in a very melancholy mood. Yo asked him if he was hungry, and on receiving no answer, pushed some food over towards him. The stranger immediately set to feeding himself by handfuls, and in no time the whole had disappeared. Yo ordered another supply, but that was quickly disposed of in like manner; and then he told the [p. 254] landlord to bring a shoulder of pork and a quantity of boiled dumplings. Thus, after eating enough for half a dozen, his appetite was appeased and he turned to thank his benefactor, saying, “For three years I haven’t had such a meal.” “And why should a fine fellow like you be in such a state of destitution?” inquired Yo; to which the other only replied, “The judgments of heaven may not be discussed.” Being asked where he lived, the stranger replied, “On land I have no home, on the water no boat; at dawn in the village, at night in the city.” Yo then prepared to depart; but his friend would not leave him, declaring that he was in imminent danger, and that he could not forget the late kindness Yo had shown him. So they went along together, and on the way Yo invited the other to eat with him; but this he refused, saying that he only took food occasionally.
Yo marvelled more than ever at this; and next day when they were on the river a great storm arose and capsized all their boats, Yo himself being thrown into the water with the others. Suddenly the gale abated and the stranger bore Yo on his back to another boat, plunging at once into the water and bringing back the lost vessel, upon which he placed Yo and bade him remain quietly there. He then returned once more, this time carrying in his arms a part of the cargo, which he replaced in the vessel, and so he went on until it was all restored. Yo thanked him, saying, “It was enough to save my life; but you have added to this the restoration of my goods.” Nothing, in fact, had been lost, and now Yo began to regard the stranger as something more than human.
The latter here wished to take his leave, but Yo pressed him so much to stay that at last he consented to remain. Then Yo remarked that after all he had lost a gold pin, and immediately the stranger plunged into the water again, rising at length to the surface with the missing article in his mouth, and presenting it to Yo with the remark that he was delighted to be able to fulfil his commands. The people on the river were all much astonished at what they saw; meanwhile Yo went home with his friend, and there they lived together, the big man only eating once in ten or twelve days, but then displaying an enormous appetite.
One day he spoke of going away, to which Yo [p. 255] would by no means consent; and as it was just then about to rain and thunder, he asked him to tell him what the clouds were like, and what thunder was, also how he could get up to the sky and have a look, so as to set his mind at rest on the subject. “Would you like to have a ramble among the clouds?” asked the stranger, as Yo was lying down to take a nap; on awaking from which he felt himself spinning along through the air, and not at all as if he was lying on a bed. Opening his eyes he saw he was among the clouds, and around him was a fleecy atmosphere. Jumping up in great alarm, he felt giddy as if he had been at sea, and underneath his feet he found a soft, yielding substance unlike the earth. Above him were the stars, and this made him think he was dreaming; but looking up he saw that they were set in the sky like seeds in the cup of a lily, varying from the size of the biggest bowl to that of a small basin. On raising his hand he discovered that the large stars were all tightly fixed; but he managed to pick a small one, which he concealed in his sleeve; and then, parting the clouds beneath him, he looked through and saw the sea glittering like silver below. Large cities appeared no bigger than beans—just at this moment, however, he bethought himself that if his foot were to slip, what a tremendous fall he would have.
He now beheld two dragons writhing their way along, and drawing a cart with a huge vat in it, each movement of their tails sounding like the crack of a bullock-driver’s whip. The vat was full of water, and numbers of men were employed in ladling it out and sprinkling it on the clouds. These men were astonished at seeing Yo; however, a big fellow among them called out, “All right, he’s my friend,” and then they gave him a ladle to help them throw the water out. Now it happened to be a very dry season, and when Yo got hold of the ladle he took good care to throw the water so that it should all fall on and around his own home. The stranger then told him that he was an assistant to the God of Thunder,1 and [p. 256] that he had just returned from a three years’ punishment inflicted on him in consequence of some neglect of his in the matter of rain. He added that they must now part and taking the long rope which had been used as reins for the cart, bade Yo grip it tightly, that he might be let down to earth. Yo was afraid of this, but on being told there was no danger he did so, and in a moment whish-h-h-h-h—away he went and found himself safe and sound on terra firma. He discovered that he had descended outside his native village, and then the rope was drawn up into the clouds and he saw it no more.
The drought had been excessive; for three or four miles round very little rain had fallen, though in Yo’s own village the water-courses were all full. On reaching home he took the star out of his sleeve, and put it on the table. It was dull-looking like an ordinary stone but at night it became very brilliant and lighted up the whole house. This made him value it highly, and he stored it carefully away, bringing it out only when he had guests, to light them at their wine. It was always thus dazzling bright, until one evening when his wife was sitting with him doing her hair, the star began to diminish in brilliancy, and to flit about like a fire-fly. Mrs. Yo sat gaping with astonishment, when all of a sudden it flitted into her mouth and ran down her throat. She tried to cough it up, but couldn’t to the very great amazement of her husband. That night Yo dreamt that his old friend Hsia appeared before him and said, “I am the Shao-wei star. Your friendship is still cherished by me, and now you have brought me back from the sky. Truly our destinies are knitted together, and I will repay your kindness by becoming your son.” Now Yo was thirty years of age, but without sons; however, after this dream his wife bore him a male child, and they called his name Star. He was extraordinarily clever, and at sixteen years of age took his master’s degree.
1 This deity is believed to be constantly on the look-out for wicked people, aided by the Goddess of Lightning, who flashes a mirror on to whomsoever the God wishes to strike. “The thief eats thunderbolts,” means that he will bring down vengeance from Heaven on himself. Tylor’s Primitive Culture, Vol. I., p. 88. [p. 257]
LX. THE GAMBLER’S TALISMAN
A TAOIST priest, called Han, lived at the T’ien-ch’i temple, in our district city. His knowledge of the black art was very extensive, and the neighbours all regarded him as an Immortal.1 My late father was on intimate terms with him, and whenever he went into the city invariably paid him a visit. One day, on such an occasion, he was proceeding thither in company with my late uncle, when suddenly they met Han on the road. Handing them the key of the door, he begged them to go on and wait awhile for him, promising to be there shortly himself. Following out these instructions, they repaired to the temple, but on unlocking the door there was Han sitting inside--a feat which he subsequently performed several times.
Now a relative of mine, who was terribly given to gambling, also knew this priest, having been introduced to him by my father. And once this relative, meeting with a Buddhist priest from the T’ien-fo temple, addicted like himself to the vice of gambling, played with him until he had lost everything, even going so far as to pledge the whole of his property, which he lost in a single night. Happening to call in upon Han as he was going back, the latter noticed his exceedingly dejected appearance, and the rambling answers he gave, and asked him what was the matter: On hearing the story of his losses, Han only laughed, and said, “That’s what always overtakes the gambler, sooner or later; if, however, you will break yourself of the habit, I will get your money back for you.” “Ah,” cried the other, “if I can only win back my money, you may break the dice with an iron pestle when you catch me gambling again.” So Han gave him a talismanic formula, written out on a piece of paper, to put in his girdle, bidding him only win back what he had lost, and not attempt to get a fraction more. He also handed him 1000 cash, on condition that this sum should be repaid from his winnings, and off went my relative delighted.
The Buddhist, however, turned up his nose at the smallness of his means, and said it wasn’t worth his while to stake so little; but at last he was persuaded into having [p. 258] one throw for the whole lot. They then began, the priest leading oft with a fair throw, to which his opponent replied by a better; whereupon the priest doubled his stake, and my relative won again, going on and on until the latter’s good luck had brought him back all that he had previously lost. He thought, however, that he couldn’t do better than just win a few more strings of cash, and accordingly went on; but gradually his luck turned, and on looking into his girdle he found that the talisman was gone. In a great fright he jumped up, and went off with his winnings to the temple, where he reckoned up that after deducting Han’s loan, and adding what he had lost towards the end, he had exactly the amount originally his. With shame in his face he turned to thank Han, mentioning at the same time the loss of the talisman; at which Han only laughed, and said, “That has got back before you. I told you not to be over-greedy, and as you didn’t heed me, I took the talisman away.”2
1 See No. V., note 1.
2 Gambling is the great Chinese vice, far exceeding in its ill effects all that opium has ever done to demoralise the country. Public gaming-houses are strictly forbidden by law, but their existence is winked at by a too venal executive. Fantan is the favourite game. It consists in staking on the remainder of an unknown number of cash, after the heap has been divided by four, namely, whether it will be three, two, one or nothing; with other variations of a more complicated nature.
LXI. THE HUSBAND PUNISHED
CHING HSING, of Wên-têng, was a young fellow of some literary reputation, who lived next door to a Mr. Ch’ên, their studios being separated only by a low wall. One evening Ch’ên was crossing a piece of waste ground when he heard a young girl crying among some pine-trees hard by. He approached, and saw a girdle hanging from one of the branches, as if its owner was just on the point of hanging herself. Ch’ên asked her what was the matter, and then she brushed away her tears, and said, “My mother has gone away and left me in charge of my brother-in-law; but he’s a scamp, and won’t continue to take care of me; and now there is nothing left for me but to die.” Hereupon the girl began crying again, and Ch’ên untied the girdle and bade her go and find herself a husband [p. 259] to which she said there was very little chance of that; and then Ch’ên offered to take her to his own home—an offer which she very gladly accepted.
Soon after they arrived, his neighbour Ching thought he heard a noise, and jumped over the wall to have a peep, when lo and behold! at the door of Ch’ên’s house stood this young lady, who immediately ran away into the garden on seeing Ching. The two young men pursued her, but without success, and were obliged to return each to his own room, Ching being greatly astonished to find the same girl now standing at his door. On addressing the young lady, she told him that his neighbour’s destiny was too poor a one for her,1 and that she came from Shantung, and that her name was Chi’i A-hsia. She finally agreed to take up her residence with Ching; but after a few days, finding that a great number of his friends were constantly calling, she declared it was too noisy a place for her, and that she would only visit him in the evening. This she continued to do for a few days, telling him in reply to his inquiries that her home was not very far off.
One evening, however, she remarked that their present liaison was not very creditable to either; that her father was a mandarin on the western frontier, and that she was about to set out with her mother to join him; begging him meanwhile to make a formal request for the celebration of their nuptials, in order to prevent them from being thus separated. She further said that they started in ten days or so, and then Ching began to reflect that if he married her she would have to take her place in the family, and that would make his first wife jealous; so he determined to get rid of the latter, and when she came in he began to abuse her right and left. His wife bore it as long as she could, but at length cried out it were better she should die; upon which Ching advised her not to bring trouble on them all like that, but to go back to her own home. He then drove her away, his wife asking all the time what she had done to be sent away like this after ten years of blameless life with him.2 Ching, however, paid no heed to her entreaties, and when he had got rid of her he set to work at once to get the house whitewashed and made generally clean, himself being on the tip-toe of [p. 260] expectation for the arrival of Miss A-hsia.
But he waited and waited, and no A-hsia came; she seemed gone like a stone dropped into the sea. Meanwhile emissaries came from his late wife's family begging him to take her back; and when he flatly refused, she married a gentleman of position named Hsia, whose property adjoined Ching's, and who had long been at feud with him in consequence, as is usual in such cases. This made Ching furious, but he still hoped that A-hsia would come, and tried to console himself in this way. Yet more than a year passed away, and still no signs of her, until one day, at the festival of the Sea Spirits, he saw among the crowds of girls passing in and out one who very much resembled A-hsia. Ching moved towards her, following her as she threaded her way through the crowd as far as the temple gate, where he lost sight of her altogether, to his great mortification and regret.
Another six months passed away, when one day he met a young lady dressed in red, accompanied by an old man-servant, and riding on a black mule. It was A-hsia. So he asked the old man the name of his young mistress, and learnt from him that she was the second wife of a gentleman named Chêng, having been married to him about a fortnight previously. Ching now thought she could not be A-hsia, but just then the young lady, hearing them talking, turned her head, and Ching saw that he was right. And now, finding that she had actually married another man, he was overwhelmed with rage, and cried out in a loud voice, "A-hsia! A-hsia! why did you break faith?" The servant here objected to his mistress being thus addressed by a stranger, and was squaring up to Ching, when A-hsia bade him desist; and, raising her veil, replied, "And you, faithless one, how do you dare meet my gaze?" "You are the faithless one, said Ching, “not I." "To be faithless to your wife is worse than being faithless to me," rejoined A-hsia; "if you behaved like that to her, how should I have been treated at your hands? Because of the fair fame of your ancestors, and the honours gained by them, I was willing to ally myself with you; but now that you have discarded your wife, your thread of official advancement has been cut short in the realms below, and Mr. Ch’ên is to take the place that should have been yours at the head [p. 261] of the examination list. As for myself, I am now part of the Chêng family; think no more of me." Ching hung his head and could make no reply; and A-hsia whipped up her mule and disappeared from his sight, leaving him to return home disconsolate.
At the forthcoming examination, everything turned out as she had predicted; Mr. Ch’ên was at the top of the list, and he himself was thrown out. It was clear that his luck was gone. At forty he had no wife, and was so poor that he was glad to pick up a meal where he could. One day he called on Mr. Chêng, who treated him well and kept him there for the night; and while there Chêng's second wife saw him, and asked her husband if his guest's name wasn't Ching. "It is," said he; "how could you guess that?" "Well," replied she, "before I married you, I took refuge in his house, and he was then very kind to me. Although he has now sunk low, yet his ancestors' influence on the family fortunes is not yet exhausted;3 besides, he is an old acquaintance of yours, and you should try and do something for him." Chêng consented, and having first given him a new suit of clothes, kept him in the house several days. At night a slave-girl came to him with twenty ounces of silver for him, and Mrs. Chêng, who was outside the window, said, "This is a trifling return for your past kindness to me. Go and get yourself a good wife. The family luck is not yet exhausted, but will descend to your sons and grandchildren. Do not behave like this again, and so shorten your term of life." Ching thanked her and went home, using ten ounces of silver to procure a concubine from a neighbouring family, who was very ugly and ill-tempered. However, she bore him a son, and he by-and-by graduated as doctor. Mr. Chêng became Vice-President of the Board of Civil Office,4 and at his death A-hsia attended the funeral; but when they opened her chair on its return home, she was gone, and then people knew for the first time that she was not mortal flesh and blood. Alas! for the perversity of mankind, rejecting the old and craving for the new,5 until at length the nest is overthrown and the birds fly away. Thus does heaven punish such people.
1 See No. XLVI., note 4.
2 See No, LIII., note 1.
3 The virtuous conduct of any individual will result not only in happiness and prosperity to himself, but a certain quantity of these will descend to his posterity, unless, as in the present case, there is one among them whose personal wickedness neutralises any benefit that would otherwise accrue therefrom. Here we have an instance where the crimes of a descendant still left a balance of good fortune surviving from the accumulated virtue of generations.
4 One of the six departments of State administration.
5 This seems a curious charge to bring against a people who for a stolid and bigoted conservatism have rarely, if ever, been equalled. Mencius, however, uttered one golden sentence which might be brought to bear upon the occasionally foolish opposition of the Chinese to measures of proved advantage to the commonwealth. “Live,” said the Sage, “in harmony with the age in which you are born.”
LXII. THE MARRIAGE LOTTERY
A CERTAIN labourer, named Ma T’ien-jung, lost his wife when he was only about twenty years of age, and was too poor to take another. One day when out hoeing in the fields, he beheld a nice-looking young lady leave the path and come tripping across the furrows towards him. Her face was well painted,1 and she had altogether such a refined look that Ma concluded she must have lost her way, and began to make some playful remarks in consequence. “You go along home,” cried the young lady, “and I’ll be with you by-and-by.” Ma doubted this rather extraordinary promise, but she vowed and declared she would not break her word; and then Ma went off, telling her that his front door faced the north, &c. &c.
At midnight the young lady arrived, and then Ma saw that her hands and face were covered with fine hair, which made him suspect at once she was a fox. She did not deny the accusation; and accordingly Ma said to her, “If you really are one of those wonderful creatures you will be able to get me anything I want; and I should be much obliged if you would begin by giving me some money to relieve my poverty.” The young lady said she would and next evening, when she came again, Ma asked her where the money was. “Dear me!” replied she, “I quite forgot it.” When she was going away, Ma reminded her of what he wanted, but on the following evening she made precisely the same excuse, promising to bring it another day. A few nights afterwards Ma asked her [p. 263] once more for the money, and then she drew from her sleeve two pieces of silver, each weighing about five or six ounces. They were both of fine quality, with turned-up edges,2 and Ma was very pleased and stored them away in a cupboard.
Some months after this, he happened to require some money for use, and took out these pieces; but the person to whom he showed them said they were only pewter, and easily bit off a portion of one of them with his teeth. Ma was much alarmed, and put the pieces away directly; taking the opportunity when evening came of abusing the young lady roundly. “It’s all your bad luck,” retorted she; “real gold would be too much for your inferior destiny.”3 There was an end of that; but Ma went on to say, “I always heard that fox-girls were of surpassing beauty; how is it you are not?” “Oh,” replied the young lady, “we always adapt ourselves to our company. Now you haven’t the luck of an ounce of silver to call your own; and what would you do, for instance, with a beautiful princess? My beauty may not be good enough for the aristocracy; but among your big-footed, bent-backed rustics,5 why, it may safely be called ‘surpassing.’”
A few months passed away, and then one day the young lady came and gave Ma three ounces of silver, saying, “You have often asked me for money, but in consequence of your weak luck I have always refrained from giving you any. Now, however, your marriage is at hand, and I here give you the cost of a wife, which you may also regard as a parting gift from me.” Ma replied that he wasn’t engaged, to which the young lady answered that in a few days a go-between would visit him to arrange the affair. “And what will she be like?” asked Ma. “Why, as your aspirations are for ‘surpassing’ beauty,” replied the young lady, “of course she will be possessed of surpassing beauty.” “I hardly expect that,” said Ma; “at any rate, three ounces of silver will not be enough to get a wife.” “Marriages,” [p. 264] explained the young lady, “are made in the moon; mortals have nothing to do with them.” “And why must you be going away like this?” inquired Ma. “Because,” answered she, “for us to meet only by night is not the proper thing. I had better get you another wife and have done with you.”
Then when morning came, she departed, giving Ma a pinch of yellow powder, saying, “In case you are ill after we are separated, this will cure you.” Next day, sure enough, a go-between did come, and Ma at once asked what the proposed bride was like; to which the former replied that she was very passable-looking. Four or five ounces of silver was fixed as the marriage present, Ma making no difficulty on that score, but declaring he must have a peep at the young lady.7 The go-between said she was a respectable girl, and would never allow herself to be seen; however, it was arranged that they should go to the house together, and await a good opportunity. So off they went, Ma remaining outside while the go-between went in, returning in a little while to tell him it was all right. “A relative of mine lives in the same court, and just now I saw the young lady sitting in the hall. We have only got to pretend we are going to see my relative, and you will be able to get a glimpse of her.” Ma consented, and they accordingly passed through the hall, where he saw the young lady sitting down with her head bent forward while some one was scratching her back. She seemed to be all that the go-between had said; but when they came to discuss the money, it appeared the young lady only wanted one or two ounces of silver, just to buy herself [p. 265] a few clothes, &c., which Ma thought was a very small amount, and gave the go-between a present for her trouble, which just finished up the three ounces his fox-friend had provided.
An auspicious day was chosen, and the young lady came over to his house; when lo! she was hump-backed and pigeon-breasted, with a short neck like a tortoise, and regular beetle-crushers, full ten inches long. The meaning of his fox-friend’s remarks then flashed upon him.
1 Only slave-girls and women of the poorer classes, and old women, omit this very important part of a Chinese lady’s toilet.
2 Alluding probably to the shape of the “shoe” or ingot of silver.
3 See No. XLVI., note 4.
4 Literally, “One who would make wild geese alight and fish dive down for shame” or, as the next line from the same poem has it, “a beauty which would obscure the moon and put flowers to the blush.”
5 Slave-girls do not have their feet compressed.
6 Wherein resides an old gentleman who ties together with a red cord the feet of those destined to become man and wife. From this bond there is no escape, no matter what distance may separate the affianced pair. The first go-between, Ku Ts’ê, was originally seen on ice, arranging matches with some one below:
Marriage is not a
The Book and the Vermilion String!
On ice by moonlight may be seen
The wedded couples’ go-between.
—A Thousand Character Essays for Girls.
Hence the common phrase “to do the ice (business),” i.e., to arrange a marriage.
7 This proceeding is highly improper, but is winked at in a large majority of Chinese betrothals.
LXIII. THE LO-CH’A COUNTRY AND THE SEA-MARKET
ONCE upon a time there was a young man, named Ma Chün, who was also known as Lung-mei. He was the son of a trader, and a youth of surpassing beauty. His manners were courteous, and he loved nothing better than singing and playing. He used to associate with actors, and with an embroidered handkerchief round his head the effect was that of a beautiful woman. Hence he acquired the sobriquet of the Beauty. At fourteen years of age he graduated and began to make a name for himself; but his father, who was growing old and wished to retire from business, said to him, “My boy, book-learning will never fill your belly or put a coat on your back; you had much better stick to the old thing.” Accordingly, Ma from that time occupied himself with scales and weights, with principal and interest, and such matters.
He made a voyage across the sea, and was carried away by a typhoon. After being tossed about for many days and nights he arrived at a country where the people were hideously ugly. When these people saw Ma they thought he was a devil, and all ran screeching away. Ma was somewhat alarmed at this, but finding that it was they who were frightened at him, he quickly turned their fear to his own advantage. lf he came across people eating and drinking he would rush upon them, and when they fled away for fear, he would regale himself upon what they had left.
By-and-by he went to a village among the hills, and there the people had at any rate some facial [p. 266] resemblance to ordinary men. But they were all in rags and tatters like beggars. So Ma sat down to rest under a tree, and the villagers, not daring to come near him, contented themselves with looking at him from a distance. They soon found, however, that he did not want to eat them, and by degrees approached a little closer to him. Ma, smiling, began to talk; and although their language was different, yet he was able to make himself tolerably intelligible, and told them whence he had come. The villagers were much pleased, and spread the news that the stranger was not a man-eater. Nevertheless, the very ugliest of all would only take a look and be off again; they would not come near him. Those who did go up to him were not very much unlike his own countrymen, the Chinese. They brought him plenty of food and wine. Ma asked them what they were afraid of. They replied, “We had heard from our forefathers that 26,000 li to the west there is a country called China. We had heard that the people of that land were the most extraordinary in appearance you can possibly imagine. Hitherto it has been hearsay; we can now believe it.” He then asked them how it was they were so poor. They answered, “You see, in our country everything depends, not on literary talent, but on beauty. The most beautiful are made ministers of state; the next handsomest are made judges and magistrates and the third class in looks are employed in the palace of the king. Thus these are enabled out of their pay to provide for their wives and families. But we, from our very birth, are regarded by our parents as inauspicious, and are left to perish, some of us being occasionally preserved by more humane parents to prevent the extinction of the family.”
Ma asked the name of their country, and they told him it was Lo-ch’a. Also that the capital city was some 30 li to the north. He begged them to take him there, and next day at cock-crow he started thitherwards in their company, arriving just about dawn. The walls of the city were made of black stone, as black as ink, and the city gate-houses were about 100 feet high. Red stones were used for tiles, and picking up a broken piece Ma found that it marked his finger-nail like vermilion. They arrived just when the Court was rising, and saw all the equipages of the officials. The [p. 267] village people pointed out one who they said was Prime Minister. His ears drooped forward in flaps; he had three nostrils, and his eye-lashes were just like bamboo screens hanging in front of his eyes. Then several came out on horseback, and they said these were the privy councillors. So they went on, telling him the rank of all the ugly uncouth fellows he saw. The lower they got down in the official scale the less hideous the officials were. By-and-by Ma went back, the people in the streets marvelling very much to see him, and tumbling helter-skelter one over another as if they had met a goblin. The villagers shouted out to reassure them, and then they stood at a distance to look at him. When he got back, there was not a man, woman, or child in the whole nation but knew that there was a strange man at the village; and the gentry and officials became very desirous of seeing him. However, if he went to any of their houses the porter always slammed the door in his face, and the master, mistress, and family, in general, would only peep at, and speak to him through the cracks.
Not a single one dared receive him face to face; but, finally, the village people, at a loss what to do, bethought themselves of a man who had been sent by a former king on official business among strange nations. “He,” said they, “having seen many kinds of men, will not be afraid of you.” So they went to his house, where they were received in a very friendly way. He seemed to be about eighty or ninety years of age; his eyeballs protruded, and his beard curled up like a hedgehog. He said, “In my youth I was sent by the king among many nations, but I never went to China. I am now one hundred and twenty years of age, and that I should be permitted to see a native of your country is a fact which it will be my duty to report to the Throne. For ten years and more I have not been to Court, but have remained here in seclusion; yet I will now make an effort on your behalf.”
Then followed a banquet, and when the wine had already circulated pretty freely, some dozen singing girls came in and sang and danced before them. The girls all wore white embroidered turbans, and long scarlet robes which trailed on the ground. The words they uttered were unintelligible, and the tunes they played perfectly hideous. The host, however, [p. 268] seemed to enjoy it very much, and said to Ma, “Have you music in China?” He replied that they had, and the old man asked for a specimen. Ma hummed him a tune, beating time on the table, with which he was very much pleased, declaring that his guest had the voice of a phoenix and the notes of a dragon, such as he had never heard before.
The next day he presented a memorial to the Throne, and the king at once commanded Ma to appear before him. Several of the ministers, however, represented that his appearance was so hideous it might frighten His Majesty, and the king accordingly desisted from his intention. The old man returned and told Ma, being quite upset about it. They remained together some time until they had drunk themselves tipsy. Then Ma, seizing a sword, began to attitudinise, smearing his face all over with coal-dust. He acted the part of Chang Fei at which his host was so delighted that he begged him to appear before the Prime Minister in the character of Chang Fei. Ma replied, “I don’t mind a little amateur acting, but how can I play the hypocrite for my own personal advantage?” On being pressed he consented, and the old man prepared a great feast, and asked some of the high officials to be present, telling Ma to paint himself as before. When the guests had arrived, Ma was brought out to see them; whereupon they all exclaimed, “Ai-yah! how is it he was so ugly before and is now so beautiful?” By-and-by, when they were all taking wine together, Ma began to sing them a most bewitching song, and they got so excited over it that next day they recommended him to the king.
The king sent a special summons for him to appear, and asked him many questions about the government of China, to all of which Ma replied in detail, eliciting sighs of admiration from His Majesty. He was honoured with a banquet in the royal guest-pavilion, and when the king had made himself tipsy he said to him, “I hear you are a very skilful musician. Will you be good enough to let me hear you?” Ma then got up and began to attitudinise, singing a plaintive air like the girls with the turbans. The king was charmed, and at once made him a privy councillor, giving him a [p. 269] private banquet, and bestowing other marks of royal favour.
As time went on his fellow officials found out the secret of his painted face, and whenever he was among them they were always whispering together, besides which they avoided being near him as much as possible. Thus Ma was left to himself, and found his position anything but pleasant in consequence. So he memorialised the Throne, asking to be allowed to retire from office, but his request was refused. He then said his health was bad, and got three months’ sick leave, during which he packed up his valuables and went back to the village.
The villagers on his arrival went down on their knees to him, and he distributed gold and jewels amongst his old friends. They were all very glad to see him, and said, “Your kindness shall be repaid when we go to the sea-market; we will bring you some pearls and things.” Ma asked them where that was. They said it was at the bottom of the sea, where the mermaids kept their treasures, and that as many as twelve nations were accustomed to go thither to trade. Also that it was frequented by spirits, and that to get there it was necessary to pass through red vapours and great waves. “Dear Sir,” they said, “do not yourself risk this great danger, but let us take your money and purchase these rare pearls for you. The season is now at hand.” Ma asked them how they knew this. They said, “Whenever we see red birds flying backwards and forwards over the sea, we know that within seven days the market will open.” He asked when they were going to start, that he might accompany them; but they begged him not to think of doing so. He replied, “I am a sailor: how can I be afraid of wind and waves?” Very soon after this people came with merchandise to forward, and so Ma packed up and went on board the vessel that was going.
This vessel held some tens of people, was flat-bottomed, with a railing all round, and, rowed by ten men, it cut through the water like an arrow. After a voyage of three days they saw afar off faint outlines of towers and minarets, and crowds of trading vessels. They soon arrived at the city, the walls of which were made of bricks as long [p. 270] as a man’s body, the tops of its buildings being lost in the Milky Way. Having made fast their boat, they went in, and saw laid out in the market rare pearls and wondrous precious stones of dazzling beauty, such as are quite unknown amongst men. Then they saw a young man come forth riding upon a beautiful steed. The people of the market stood back to let him pass, saying he was the third son of the king; but when the prince saw Ma, he exclaimed, “This is no foreigner,” and immediately an attendant drew near and asked his name and country. Ma made a bow, and standing at one side told his name and family. The prince smiled, and said, “For you to have honoured our country thus is no small piece of good luck.” He then gave him a horse and begged him to follow.
They went out of the city gate and down to the sea-shore, whereupon their horses plunged into the water. Ma was terribly frightened and screamed out; but the sea opened dry before them and formed a wall of water on either side. In a little time they reached the king’s palace, the beams of which were made of tortoise-shell and the tiles of fishes’ scales. The four walls were of crystal, and dazzled the eye like mirrors. They got down off their horses and went in, and Ma was introduced to the king. The young prince said, “Sire, I have been to the market, and have got a gentleman from China.” Whereupon Ma made obeisance before the king, who addressed him as follows:—“Sir, from a talented scholar like yourself I venture to ask for a few stanzas upon our sea-market. Pray do not refuse.” Ma thereupon made a k’o-t’ou, and undertook the king’s command. Using an ink-slab of crystal, a brush of dragon’s beard, paper as white as snow, and ink scented like the larkspur, Ma immediately threw off some thousand odd verses, which he laid at the feet of the king. When His Majesty saw them, he said, “Sir, your genius does honour to these marine nations of ours.”
Then, summoning the members of the royal family, the king gave a great feast in the Coloured Cloud pavilion; and, when the wine had circulated freely, seizing [p. 271] a great goblet in his hand, the king rose and said before all the guests, “It is a thousand pities, Sir, that you are not married. What say you to entering the bonds of wedlock?” Ma rose blushing and stammered out his thanks; upon which the king, looking round, spoke a few words to the attendants, and in a few moments in came a bevy of Court ladies supporting the king’s daughter, whose ornaments went tinkle, tinkle, as she walked along. Immediately the nuptial drums and trumpets began to sound forth, and bride and bridegroom worshipped Heaven and Earth together. Stealing a glance, Ma saw that the princess was endowed with a fairy-like loveliness. When the ceremony was over she retired, and by-and-by the wine party broke up. Then came several beautifully dressed waiting-maids, who with painted candles escorted Ma within. The bridal couch was made of coral adorned with eight kinds of precious stones, and the curtains were thickly hung with pearls as big as acorns.
Next day at dawn a crowd of young slave-girls trooped into the room to offer their services; whereupon Ma got up and went off to Court to pay his respects to the king. He was then duly received as royal son-in-law and made an officer of state. The fame of his poetical talents spread far and wide, and the kings of the various seas sent officers to congratulate him, vieing with each other in their invitations to him. Ma dressed himself in gorgeous clothes, and went forth riding on a superb steed, with a mounted body-guard all splendidly armed. There were musicians on horseback and musicians in chariots, and in three days he had visited every one of the marine kingdoms, making his name known in all directions.
In the palace there was a jade tree, about as big round as a man could clasp. Its roots were as clear as glass, and up the middle ran, as it were, a stick of pale yellow. The branches were the size of one’s arm; the leaves like white jade, as thick as a copper cash. The foliage was dense, and beneath its shade the ladies of the palace were wont to sit and sing. The flowers which covered the tree resembled grapes, and if a single petal fell to the earth it made a ringing sound. Taking one up, it would be found to be exactly like carved cornelian, [p. 272] very bright and pretty to look at. From time to time a wonderful bird came and sang there. Its feathers were of a golden hue, and its tail as long as its body. Its notes were like the tinkling of jade, very plaintive and touching to listen to. When Ma heard this bird sing, it called up in him recollections of his old home, and accordingly he said to the princess, “I have now been away from my own country for three years, separated from my father and mother. Thinking of them my tears flow and the perspiration runs down my back. Can you return with me?” His wife replied, “The way of immortals is not that of men. I am unable to do what you ask, but I cannot allow the feelings of husband and wife to break the tie of parent and child. Let us devise some plan.” When Ma heard this he wept bitterly, and the princess sighed and said, “We cannot both stay or both go.”
The next day the king said to him, “I hear that you are pining after your old home. Will tomorrow suit you for taking leave?” Ma thanked the king for his great kindness, which he declared he could never forget, and promised to return very shortly. That evening the princess and Ma talked over their wine of their approaching separation. Ma said they would soon meet again; but his wife averred that their married life was at an end. Then he wept afresh, but the princess said, “Like a filial son you are going home to your parents. In the meetings and separations of this life, a hundred years seem but a single day; why, then, should we give way to tears like children? I will be true to you; do you be faithful to me; and then, though separated, we shall be united in spirit, a happy pair. Is it necessary to live side by side in order to grow old together? If you break our contract your next marriage will not be a propitious one; but if loneliness overtakes you then choose a concubine. There is one point more of which I would speak, with reference to our married life. I am about to become a mother, and I pray you give me a name for your child.” To this Ma replied, “If a girl I would have her called Lung-kung; if a boy, then name him Fu-hai.”10 The princess asked for some token of remembrance, and Ma gave her a pair [p. 273] of jade lilies that he had got during his stay in the marine kingdom. She added, “On the 8th of the 4th moon, three years hence, when you once more steer your course for this country, I will give you up your child.” She next packed a leather bag full of jewels and handed it to Ma, saying, “Take care of this; it will be a provision for many generations.”
When the day began to break a splendid farewell feast was given him by the king, and Ma bade them all adieu. The princess, in a car drawn by snow-white sheep, escorted him to the boundary of the marine kingdom; where he dismounted and stepped ashore. “Farewell!” cried the princess, as her returning car bore her rapidly away, and the sea, closing over her, snatched her from her husband’s sight. Ma returned to his home across the ocean. Some had thought him long since dead and gone; all marvelled at his story. Happily his father and mother were yet alive, though his former wife had married another man; and so he understood why the princess had pledged him to constancy, for she already knew that this had taken place. His father wished him to take another wife, but he would not. He only took a concubine.
Then, after the three years had passed away, he started across the sea on his return journey, when lo! he beheld, riding on the wave-crests and splashing about the water in playing, two young children. On going near, one of them seized hold of him and sprang into his arms; upon which the elder cried until he, too, was taken up. They were a boy and girl, both very lovely, and wearing embroidered caps adorned with jade lilies. On the back of one of them was a worked case, in which Ma found the following letter:
“I presume my father and mother-in-law are well. Three years have passed away and destiny still keeps us apart. Across the great ocean, the letter-bird would find no path. I have been with you in my dreams until I am quite worn out. Does the blue sky look down upon any grief like mine? Yet Ch’ang-ngo lives solitary in the moon, and Chih Nü  laments that she cannot cross the [p. 274] Silver River. Who am I that I should expect happiness to be mine? Truly this thought turns my tears into joy. Two months after your departure I had twins, who can already prattle away in the language of childhood, at one moment snatching a date, at another a pear. Had they no mother they would still live. These I now send to you, with the jade lilies you gave me in their hats, in token of the sender. When you take them upon your knee, think that I am standing by your side. I know that you have kept your promise to me, and I am happy. I shall take no second husband, even unto death. All thoughts of dress and finery are gone from me; my looking-glass sees no new fashions; my face has long been unpowdered, my eyebrows unblacked. You are my Ulysses, I am your Penelope;14 though not actually leading a married life, how can it be said that we are not husband and wife? Your father and mother will take their grandchildren upon their knees, though they have never set eyes upon the bride. Alas! there is something wrong in this. Next year your mother will enter upon the long night. I shall be there by the side of the grave, as is becoming in her daughter-in-law. From this time forth our daughter will be well; later on she will be able to grasp her mother’s hand. Our boy, when he grows up, may possibly be able to come to and fro. Adieu, dear husband, adieu, though I am leaving much unsaid.” Ma read the letter over and over again, his tears flowing all the time.
His two children clung round his neck, and begged him to take them home. “Ah, my children,” said he, “where is your home?” Then they all wept bitterly, and Ma, looking at the great ocean stretching away to meet the sky, lovely and pathless, embraced his children, and proceeded sorrowfully to return. Knowing, too, that his mother could not last long, he prepared everything necessary for the ceremony of interment, and planted a hundred young pine-trees at her grave.15 The following year the old lady did die, and her coffin was borne to its last resting-place, when lo! there was the princess standing by the side of the grave. The lookers-on were much [p. 275] alarmed, but in a moment there was a flash of lightning followed by a clap of thunder and a squall of rain, and she was gone. It was then noticed that many of the young pine-trees which had died were one and all brought to life.
Subsequently, Fu-hai went in search of the mother for whom he pined so much, and after some days’ absence returned. Lung-kung, being a girl, could not accompany him, but she mourned much in secret. One dark day her mother entered and bade her dry her eyes, saying, “My child, you must get married. Why these tears?” She then gave her a tree of coral eight feet in height, some Baroos camphor,16 one hundred valuable pearls, and two boxes inlaid with gold and precious stones, as her dowry. Ma having found out she was there, rushed in, and, seizing her hand, began to weep for joy, when suddenly a violent peal of thunder rent the building and the princess had vanished.17
1 The term “sea-market” is generally understood in the sense of mirage, or some similar phenomenon.
2 A famous General who played a leading part in the wars of the Three Kingdoms. See No. XCIII., note 8.
3 A hit at the hypocrisy of the age
4 Showing that hypocrisy is bad policy in the long run.
5 The tears of Chinese mermaids are said to be pearls.
6 See No. XIX., note 1.
7 Good ink of the kind miscalled “Indian” is usually very highly scented; and from a habit the Chinese have of sucking their writing-brushes to a fine point, the phrase “to eat ink” has become a synonym of “to study.”
8 This all-important point in a Chinese marriage ceremony is the equivalent of our own “signing in the vestry.”
9 Literally, “if you have no one to cook your food.”
10 “Dragon Palace “and “Happy Sea,” respectively.
11 Alluding to an old legend of a letter conveyed by a bird.
12 See No. V., note 2.
13 The “Spinning Damsel,” or name of a star in Lyra, connected with which there is a celebrated legend of its annual transit across the Milky Way.
14 These are of course only the equivalents of the Chinese names in the text.
15 To keep off the much-dreaded wind, which disturbs the rest of the departed.
16 For which a very high price is obtained in China.
17 Episodes which appear in this story and in “The Princess of the Tung-t‘ing Lake” have been woven together to form the so-called Japanese “tale of Urashima, the fisher-lad who was beloved of the Sea King’s daughter.” See the Fortnightly Review, July 1906, p. 99, and Aston’s Japanese Literature, p. 39.
LXIV. THE FIGHTING CRICKET
DURING the reign of Hsüan Tê,l cricket fighting was very much in vogue at court, levies of crickets being exacted from the people as a tax. On one occasion the magistrate of Hua-yin, wishing to make friends with the Governor, presented him with a cricket which, on being set to fight, displayed very remarkable powers; so much so that the Governor commanded the magistrate to supply him regularly with these insects. The latter, in his turn, ordered the beadles of his district to provide him with crickets; and then it became a practice for people who had nothing else to do to catch and rear them for this purpose.
Thus the price of crickets rose very high; and when the beadle’s runners came to exact even a single one, it was enough to ruin several families. [p. 276] Now in the village of which we are speaking there lived a man named Ch‘êng, a student who had often failed for his bachelor’s degree; and, being a stupid sort of fellow, his name was sent in for the post of beadle. He did all he could to get out of it, but without success; and by the end of the year his small patrimony was gone. Just then came a call for crickets, and Ch‘êng, not daring to make a like call upon his neighbours, was at his wits’ end, and in his distress determined to commit suicide. “What’s the use of that?” cried his wife. “You’d do better to go out and try to find some.” So off went Ch‘êng in the early morning, with a bamboo tube and a silk net, not returning till late at night; and he searched about in tumble-down walls, in bushes, under stones, and in holes, but without catching more than two or three, do what he would. Even those he did catch were weak creatures, and of no use at all, which made the magistrate fix a limit of time, the result of which was that in a few days Ch‘êng got one hundred blows with the bamboo. This made him so sore that he was quite unable to go after the crickets any more, and, as he lay tossing and turning on the bed, he determined once again to put an end to his life.
About that time a hump-backed fortune-teller of great skill arrived at the village, and Ch‘êng’s wife, putting together a trifle of money, went off to seek his assistance. The door was literally blocked up—fair young girls and white-headed dames crowding in from all quarters. A room was darkened, and a bamboo screen hung at the door, an altar being arranged outside at which the fortune-seekers burnt incense in a brazier, and prostrated themselves twice, while the soothsayer stood by the side, and, looking up into vacancy, prayed for a response. His lips opened and shut, but nobody heard what he said, all standing there in awe waiting for the answer. In a few moments a piece of paper was thrown from behind the screen, and the soothsayer said that the petitioner’s desire would be accomplished in the way he wished. Ch‘êng’s wife now advanced, and, placing some money on the altar, burnt her incense and prostrated herself in a similar manner. In a few moments the screen began to move, and a piece of paper was thrown down, on which there were no words, but only a picture. In the middle was a building like a temple, and behind this a small hill, at the foot of which were a number of curious stones, with the long, spiky feelers of innumerable crickets appearing from behind. Hard by was a frog, which seemed to be engaged in putting itself into various kinds of attitudes. The good woman had no idea what it all meant; but she noticed the crickets, and accordingly went off home to tell her husband.
“Ah,” said he, “this is to show me where to hunt for crickets; and, on looking closely at the picture, he saw that the building very much resembled a temple to the east of their village. So he forced himself to get up, and, leaning on a stick, went out to seek crickets behind the temple. Rounding an old grave, he came upon a place where stones were lying scattered about as in the picture, and then he set himself to watch attentively. He might as well have been looking for a needle or a grain of mustard-seed; and by degrees he became quite exhausted, without finding anything, when suddenly an old frog jumped out. Ch‘êng was a little startled, but immediately pursued the frog, which retreated into the bushes. He then saw one of the insects he wanted sitting at the root of a bramble; but on making a grab at it, the cricket ran into a hole, from which he was unable to move it until he poured in some water, when out the little creature came. It was a magnificent specimen, strong and handsome, with a fine tail, green neck, and golden wings; and, putting it in his basket, he returned home in high glee to receive the congratulations of his family. He would not have taken anything for this cricket. He put it into a bowl, and fed it with white crab’s flesh and with the yellow kernel of the sweet chestnut, tending it most lovingly, and waiting for the time when the magistrate should call upon him for a cricket.
Meanwhile, a son of Ch‘êng’s, aged nine, one day took [p. 278] the opportunity of his father being out to open the bowl. Instantaneously the cricket made a spring forward and was gone; and all efforts to catch it again were unavailing. At length the boy made a grab at it with his hand, but only succeeded in seizing one of its legs, which thereupon broke, and the little creature soon afterwards died. Ch’êng’s wife turned deadly pale when her son, with tears in his eyes, told her what had happened. “Oh, you young rascal! won’t you catch it when your father comes home,” said she; at which the boy ran away, crying bitterly. Soon after Ch’êng arrived, and when he heard his wife’s story he felt as if he had been turned to ice, and went in search of his son, who, however, was nowhere to be found, until at length they discovered his body lying at the bottom of a well. Their anger was thus turned to grief, and death seemed as though it would be a pleasant relief to them as they sat facing each other in silence in their thatched and smokeless hut.
At evening they prepared to bury the boy; but, on touching the body, lo! he was still breathing. Overjoyed, they placed him upon the bed, and towards the middle of the night he came round; but they found that his mind was weak, and he wanted to go to sleep. His father, however, caught sight of the empty bowl in which he had kept the cricket, and ceased to think any more about his son, never once closing his eyes all night; and as day gradually broke, there he lay stiff and stark, until suddenly he heard the chirping of a cricket outside the house door. Jumping up in a great hurry to see, there was his lost insect; but, on trying to catch it, away it hopped directly. At last he got it under his hand, though when he came to close his fingers on it, there was nothing in them. So he went on, chasing it up and down, until finally it hopped into a corner of the wall; and then, looking carefully about, he espied it once more, no longer the same in appearance, but small, and of a dark red colour. Ch’êng stood looking at it, without trying to catch such a worthless specimen, when all of a sudden the little creature hopped into his sleeve; and, on examining it more nearly, he saw that it really was a handsome insect, with well-formed head and neck, and forthwith took it indoors. He was now anxious to try its prowess; and it so happened that a young fellow of the village, who [p. 279] had a fine cricket which used to win every bout it fought, and was so valuable to him that he wanted a high price for it, called on Ch’êng that very day. He laughed heartily at Ch’êng’s champion, and, producing his own, placed it side by side, to the great disadvantage of the former. Ch’êng’s countenance fell, and he no longer wished to back his cricket; however, the young fellow urged him, and he thought that there was no use in rearing a feeble insect, and that he had better sacrifice it for a laugh; so they put them together in a bowl. The little cricket lay quite still like a piece of wood, at which the young fellow roared again, and louder than ever when it did not move even though tickled with a pig’s bristle. By dint of tickling it was roused at last, and then it fell upon its adversary with such fury, that in a moment the young fellow’s cricket would have been killed outright had not its master interfered and stopped the fight. The little cricket then stood up and chirped to Ch’êng as a sign of victory; and Ch’êng, overjoyed, was just talking over the battle with the young fellow when a cock caught sight of the insect, and ran up to eat it. Ch’êng was in a great state of alarm; but the cock luckily missed its aim, and the cricket hopped away, its enemy pursuing at full speed. In another moment it would have been snapped up, when, lo! to his great astonishment, Ch’êng saw his cricket seated on the cock’s head, holding firmly on to its comb.
He then put it into a cage, and by-and-by sent it to the magistrate, who, seeing what a small one he had provided, was very angry indeed. Ch’ing told the story of the cock, which the magistrate refused to believe, and set it to fight with other crickets, all of which it vanquished without exception. He then tried it with a cock, and as all turned out as Ch’êng had said, he gave him a present, and sent the cricket in to the Governor. The Governor put it into a golden cage, and forwarded it to the palace, accompanied by some remarks on its performances; and when there, it was found that of all the splendid collection of His Imperial Majesty, not one was worthy to be placed alongside of this one. It would dance in time to music, and thus became a great favourite, the Emperor in return bestowing magnificent gifts of horses and silks upon the Governor. The Governor did not forget whence he had obtained the cricket, and the [p. 280] magistrate also well rewarded Ch’êng by excusing him from the duties of beadle, and by instructing the Literary Chancellor to pass him for the first degree.
A few months afterwards Ch’êng’s son recovered his intellect, and said that he had been a cricket, and had proved himself a very skilful fighter.4 The Governor, too, rewarded Ch’êng handsomely, and in a few years he was a rich man, with flocks, and herds, and houses, and acres, quite one of the wealthiest of mankind.
1 Of the Ming dynasty; reigned A.D. 1426-1436.
2 These beadles are chosen by the officials from among the respectable and substantial of the people to preside over a small area and be responsible for the general good behaviour of its inhabitants. The post is one of honour and occasional emolument, since all petitions presented to the authorities, all mortgages, transfers of land, &c., should bear the beadle’s seal or signature in evidence of their bona-fide character. On the other hand, the beadle is punished by fine, and sometimes bambooed, if robberies are too frequent within his jurisdiction, or if he fails to secure the person of any malefactor particularly wanted by his superior officers. And other causes may combine to make the post a dangerous one; but no one is allowed to refuse acceptance of it point-blank.
3 A favourite Chinese expression, signifying the absence of food.
4 That is to say, his spirit had entered, during his period of temporary insanity, into the cricket which had allowed itself to be caught by his father, and had animated it to fight with such extraordinary vigour in order to make good the loss occasioned by his carelessness in letting the other escape.
LXV. TAKING REVENGE
HSIANG KAO, otherwise called Ch’u-tan, was a T’ai-y-üan man, and deeply attached to his half-brother Shêng. Shêng himself was desperately enamoured of a young lady named Po-ssü,l who was also very fond of him: but the mother wanted too much money for her daughter. Now a rich young fellow named Chuang thought he should like to get Po-ssü for himself, and proposed to buy her as a concubine. “No, no,” said Po-ssü to her mother, “I prefer being Shêng’s wife to becoming Chuang’s concubine.” So her mother consented, and informed Shêng, who had only recently buried his first wife; at which he was delighted and made preparations to take her over to his own house. When Chuang heard this he was infuriated against Shêng for thus depriving him of Po-ssü; and chancing to meet him out one day, set to and abused him roundly. Shêng answered him back, and then Chuang ordered his attendants to fall upon Shêng and beat him well, which they did, leaving him lifeless on the ground.
When Hsiang heard what had taken place he ran out and found his brother lying dead upon the ground. Overcome with grief, he proceeded to the magistrate’s, and accused Chuang of [p. 281] murder; but the latter bribed so heavily that nothing came of the accusation. This worked Hsiang to frenzy, and he determined to assassinate Chuang on the high road; with which intent he daily concealed himself, with a sharp knife about him, among the bushes on the hill-side, waiting for Chuang to pass. By degrees, this plan of his became known far and wide, and accordingly Chuang never went out except with a strong bodyguard, besides which he engaged at a high price the services of a very skilful archer, named Chiao T’ung, so that Hsiang had no means of carrying out his intention.
However, he continued to lie in wait day after day, and on one occasion it began to rain heavily, and in a short time Hsiang was wet through to the skin. Then the wind got up, and a hailstorm followed, and by-and-by Hsiang was quite numbed with the cold. On the top of the hill there was a small temple wherein lived a Taoist priest, whom Hsiang knew from the latter having occasionally begged alms in the village, and to whom he had often given a meal. This priest, seeing how wet he was, gave him some other clothes, and told him to put them on; but no sooner had he done so than he crouched down like a dog, and found that he had been changed into a tiger, and that the priest had vanished. It now occurred to him to seize this opportunity of revenging himself upon his enemy; and away he went to his old ambush, where lo and behold he found his own body lying stiff and stark.
Fearing lest it should become food for birds of prey, he guarded it carefully, until at length one day Chuang passed by. Out rushed the tiger and sprang upon Chuang, biting his head off, and swallowing it upon the spot, at which Chiao T’ung, the archer, turned round and shot the animal through the heart. Just at that moment Hsiang awaked as though from a dream, but it was some time before he could crawl home, where he arrived to the great delight of his family, who didn’t know what had become of him. Hsiang said not a word, lying quietly on the bed until some of his people came in to congratulate him on the death of his great enemy Chuang. Hsiang then cried out, “I was that tiger,” and proceeded to relate the whole story, which thus got about until it reached the ears of Chuang’s son, who immediately set to work to bring his father’s murderer to justice. The magistrate, however, did not consider this wild story as sufficient evidence against him, and thereupon dismissed the case.
1 This is the term used by the Chinese for “Persia,” often put by metonymy for things which come from that country, sc. “valuables.” Thus, “to be poor in Persia” is to have but few jewels, gold and silver ornaments, and even clothes.
LXVI. THE TIPSY TURTLE
AT Lin-t’iao there lived a Mr. Fêng, whose other name the person who told me this story could not remember; he belonged to a good family, though now somewhat falling into decay. Now a certain man, who caught turtles, owed him some money which he could not pay, but whenever he captured any turtles he used to send one to Mr. Fêng. One day he took him an enormous creature, with a white spot on its forehead; but Fêng was so struck with something in its appearance, that he let it go again.
A little while afterwards he was returning home from his son-in-law’s, and had reached the banks of the river,1 when in the dusk of the evening he saw a drunken man come rolling along, attended by two or three servants. No sooner did he perceive Fêng than he called out, “Who are you?” to which Fêng replied that he was a traveller. “And haven’t you got a name?” shouted out the drunken man in a rage, “that you must call yourself a traveller?” To this Fêng made no reply, but tried to pass by; whereupon he found himself seized by the sleeve and unable to move. His adversary smelt horribly of wine, and at length Fêng asked him, saying, “And pray who are you?” “Oh, I am the late magistrate at Nan-tu,” answered he; “what do you want to know for?” “A nice disgrace to society you are, too,” cried Fêng; “however, I am glad to hear you are only late magistrate, for if you had been present magistrate there would be bad times in store for travellers.” This made the drunken man furious, and he was proceeding to use violence, when Fêng cried out, “My name is So-and-so, and I’m not the man to stand this sort of thing from anybody.”
No sooner had he uttered these words than the drunken man’s rage was turned into joy, and, falling on his knees before [p. 283] Fêng, he said, “My benefactor! pray excuse my rudeness.” Then getting up, he told his servants to go on ahead and get something ready; Fêng at first declining to go with him, but yielding on being pressed. Taking his hand, the drunken man led him along a short distance until they reached a village, where there was a very nice house and grounds, quite like the establishment of a person of position. As his friend was now getting sober, Fêng inquired what might be his name. “Don’t be frightened when I tell you,” said the other; “I am the Eighth Prince of the T’iao river. I have just been out to take wine with a friend, and somehow I got tipsy; hence my bad behaviour to you, which please forgive.” Fêng now knew that he was not of mortal flesh and blood; but, seeing how kindly he himself was treated, he was not a bit afraid.
A banquet followed, with plenty of wine, of which the Eighth Prince drank so freely that Fêng thought he would soon be worse than ever, and accordingly said he felt tipsy himself, and asked to be allowed to go to bed. “Never fear,” answered the Prince, who perceived Fêng’s thoughts; “many drunkards will tell you that they cannot remember in the morning the extravagances of the previous night, but I tell you this is all nonsense, and that in nine cases out of ten those extravagances are committed wittingly and with malice prepense.2 Now, though I am not the same order of being as yourself, I should never venture to behave badly in your good presence; so pray do not leave me thus.” Fêng then sat down again and said to the Prince, “Since you are aware of this, why not change your ways?” “Ah,” replied the Prince, “when I was a magistrate I drank much more than I do now; but I got into disgrace with the Emperor and was banished here, since which time, ten years and more, I have tried to reform. Now, however, I am drawing near the wood and being unable [p. 284] to move about much, the old vice has come upon me again; I have found it impossible to stop myself, but perhaps what you say may do me some good.”
While they were thus talking, the sound of a distant bell broke upon their ears and the Prince, getting up and seizing Fêng’s hand, said, “We cannot remain together any longer; but I will give you something by which I may in part requite your kindness to me. It must not be kept for any great length of time when you have attained your wishes, then I will receive it back again.” Thereupon he spat out of his mouth a tiny man, no more than an inch high, and scratching Fêng’s arm with his nails until Fêng felt as if the skin was gone, he quickly laid the little man upon the spot. When he let go, the latter had already sunk into the skin, and nothing was to be seen but a cicatrix well healed over. Fêng now asked what it all meant, but the Prince only laughed, and said, “It’s time for you to go,” and forthwith escorted him to the door. The Prince here bade him adieu, and when he looked round, Prince, village, and house had all disappeared together, leaving behind a great turtle which waddled down into the water, and disappeared likewise.
He could now easily account for the Prince’s present to him; and from this moment his sight became intensely keen. He could see precious stones lying in the bowels of the earth, and was able to look down as far as Hell itself; besides which he suddenly found that he knew the names of many things of which he had never heard before. From below his own bedroom he dug up many hundred ounces of pure silver, upon which he lived very comfortably; and once when a house was for sale, he perceived that in it lay concealed a vast quantity of gold, so he immediately bought it, and so became immensely rich in all kinds of valuables. He secured a mirror, on the back of which was a phoenix, surrounded by water and clouds, and portraits of the celebrated wives of the Emperor Shun,4 so beautifully executed that each hair of the head and eyebrows could easily be counted. If any woman’s face came upon the mirror, there it remained indelibly fixed and not to be rubbed out; but if the same woman looked into the mirror again, dressed in a different dress, or if some other woman chanced to look in, then the former face would gradually fade away. [p. 285]
Now the third princess in Prince Su’s family was very beautiful; and Fêng, who had long heard of her fame, concealed himself on the K’ung-tung hill, when he knew the Princess was going there. He waited until she alighted from her chair, and then getting the mirror full upon her, he walked off home. Laying it on the table, he saw therein a lovely girl in the act of raising her handkerchief, and with a sweet smile playing over her face; her lips seemed about to move, and a twinkle was discernible in her eyes.5 Delighted with this picture, he put the mirror very carefully away; but in about a year his wife had let the story leak out, and the Prince, hearing of it, threw Fêng into prison, and took possession of the mirror. Fêng was to be beheaded; however, he bribed one of the Prince’s ladies to tell His Highness that if he would pardon him all the treasures of the earth might easily become his; whereas, on the other hand, his death could not possibly be of any advantage to the Prince. The Prince now thought of confiscating all his goods and banishing him; but the third princess observed, that as he had already seen her, were he to die ten times over it would not give her back her lost face, and that she had much better marry him. The Prince would not hear of this, whereupon his daughter shut herself up and refused all nourishment, at which the ladies of the palace were dreadfully alarmed, and reported it at once to the Prince.
Fêng was accordingly liberated, and was informed of the determination of the Princess, which, however, he declined to fall in with, saying that he was not going thus to sacrifice the wife of his days of poverty,6 and would rather die than carry out such an order. He added that if His Highness would consent, he would purchase his liberty at the price of everything he had. The Prince was exceedingly angry at this, and seized Fêng again; and meanwhile one of the concubines got Fêng’s wife into the palace, intending to poison her. Fêng’s wife, however, brought her a beautiful present of a coral stand for a looking-glass, and was so agreeable in her conversation, that the concubine took a great fancy to her, and presented [p. 286] her to the Princess, who was equally pleased, and forthwith determined that they would both be Fêng’s wives.7
When Fêng heard of this plan, he said to his wife, “With a Prince’s daughter there can be no distinctions of first and second wife;” but Mrs. Fêng paid no heed to him, and immediately sent off to the Prince such an enormous quantity of valuables that it took a thousand men to carry them, and the Prince himself had never before heard of such treasures in his life. Fêng was now liberated once more, and solemnised his marriage with the Princess.
One night after this he dreamt that the Eighth Prince came to him and asked him to return his former present, saying that to keep it too long would be injurious to his chances of life. Fêng asked him to take a drink, but the Eighth Prince said that he had forsworn wine, acting under Fêng’s advice, for three years. He then bit Fêng’s arm, and the latter waked up with the pain, to find that the cicatrix on his arm was no longer there.
1 The name here used is the Hêng or “ceaseless” river, which is applied by the Chinese to the Ganges. A certain number, extending to fifty-three places of figures, is called “Ganges sand,” in allusion to a famous remark that “Buddha and the Bôdhisatras knew of the creation and destruction of every grain of dust in Jambudwipa (the universe); how much more the number of the sand-particles in the river Ganges?”
2 Drunkenness is not recognised in China as an extenuating circumstance neither, indeed, is insanity,—a lunatic who takes another man’s life being equally liable with ordinary persons to the forfeiture of his own.
3 A favourite Chinese figure expressive of old age. It dates back to the celebrated commentary by Tso-ch’iu Ming on Confucius’ Spring and Autumn (see No. XLI., note 2):—“Hsi is twenty-three and I am twenty-five; and marrying thus we shall approach the wood together;” the “wood” being, of course, that of the coffin.
4 See No. VIII., note 3.
5 . . . Move these eyes?
. . . Here are severed lips.
—Merchant of Venice, Act III, sc. 2.
6 See No. LIII., note 1.
7 This method of arranging a matrimonial difficulty is a common one in Chinese fiction, but I should say quite unknown in real life.
LXVII. THE MAGIC PATH
IN the province of Kuangtung there lived a scholar named Kuo, who was one evening on his way home from a friend’s, when he lost his way among the hills. He got into a thick jungle, where, after about an hour’s wandering, he suddenly heard the sound of laughing and talking on the top of the hill. Hurrying up in the direction of the sound, he beheld some ten or a dozen persons sitting on the ground engaged in drinking. No sooner had they caught sight of Kuo than they all cried out, “Come along! just room for one more; you’re in the nick of time.” So Kuo sat down with the company, most of whom, he noticed, belonged to the literati,l and began by asking them to direct him on his [p. 287] way home; but one of them cried out, “A nice sort of fellow you are, to be bothering about your way home, and paying no attention to the fine moon we have got tonight.” The speaker then presented him with a goblet of wine of exquisite bouquet, which Kuo drank off at a draught, and another gentleman filled up again for him at once. Now, Kuo was pretty good in that line, and being very thirsty withal from his long walk, tossed off bumper after bumper, to the great delight of his hosts, who were unanimous in voting him a jolly good fellow.
He was, moreover, full of fun, and could imitate exactly the note of any kind of bird; so all of a sudden he began on the sly to twitter like a swallow, to the great astonishment of the others, who wondered how it was a swallow could be out so late. He then changed his note to that of a cuckoo, sitting there laughing and saying nothing, while his hosts were discussing the extraordinary sounds they had just heard. After a while he imitated a parrot, and cried, “Mr. Kuo is very drunk: you’d better see him home;” and then the sounds ceased, beginning again by-and-by, when at last the others found out who it was, and all burst out laughing. They screwed up their mouths and tried to whistle like Kuo, but none of them could do so; and soon one of them observed, “What a pity Madam Ch’ing isn’t with us: we must rendezvous here again at mid-autumn, and you, Mr. Kuo, must be sure and come.”
Kuo said he would, whereupon another of his hosts got up and remarked that, as he had given them such an amusing entertainment, they would try to show him a few acrobatic feats. They all arose, and one of them planting his feet firmly, a second jumped up on to his shoulders, a third on to the second’s shoulders, and a fourth on to his, until it was too high for the rest to jump up, and accordingly they began to climb as though it had been a ladder. When they were all up, and the topmost head seemed to touch the clouds, the whole column bent gradually down until it lay along the ground transformed into a path. Kuo remained for some time in a state of considerable alarm, and then, setting out along this path, ultimately reached his own home. Some days [p. 288] afterwards he revisited the spot, and saw the remains of a feast lying about on the ground, with dense bushes on all sides, but no sign of a path. At mid-autumn he thought of keeping his engagement; however, his friends persuaded him not to go.
1 This term, while really including all literary men, of no matter what rank or standing, is more usually confined to that large section of unemployed scholarship made up of (1) those who are waiting to get started in an official career, (2) those who have taken one or more degrees and are preparing for the next, (3) those who have failed to distinguish themselves at the public examinations, and eke out a small patrimony by taking pupils, and (4) scholars of sufficiently high qualifications who have no taste for official life.
LXVIII. THE FAITHLESS WIDOW
MR. Niu was a Kiangsi man who traded in piece goods. He married a wife from the Cheng family, by whom he had two children, a boy and a girl. When thirty-three years of age he fell ill and died, his son Chung being then only twelve and his little girl eight or nine. His wife did not remain faithful to his memory, but, selling off all the property, pocketed the proceeds and married another man, leaving her two children almost in a state of destitution with their aunt, Niu’s sister-in-law, an old lady of sixty, who had lived with them previously, and had now nowhere to seek a shelter.
A few years later this aunt died, and the family fortunes began to sink even lower than before; Chung, however, was now grown up, and determined to carry on his father’s trade, only he had no capital to start with. His sister marrying a rich trader named Mao, she begged her husband to lend Chung ten ounces of silver, which he did, and Chung immediately started for Nanking. On the road he fell in with some bandits, who robbed him of all he had, and consequently he was unable to return; but one day when he was at a pawnshop he noticed that the master of the shop was wonderfully like his late father, and on going out and making inquiries he found that this pawnbroker bore precisely the same names. In great astonishment, he forthwith proceeded to [p. 289] frequent the place with no other object than to watch this man, who, on the other hand, took no notice of Chung and by the end of three days, having satisfied himself that he really saw his own father, and yet not daring to disclose his own identity, he made application through one of the assistants, on the score of being himself a Kiangsi man, to be employed in the shop.
Accordingly, an indenture was drawn up; and when the master noticed Chung’s name and place of residence he started, and asked him whence he came. With tears in his eyes Chung addressed him by his father’s name, and then the pawnbroker became lost in a deep reverie, by-and-by asking Chung how his mother was. Now Chung did not like to allude to his father’s death, and turned the question by saying, “My father went away on business six years ago, and never came back; my mother married again and left us, and had it not been for my aunt our corpses would long ago have been cast out in the kennel.” Then the pawnbroker was much moved, and cried out, “I am your father!” seizing his son’s hand and leading him within to see his step-mother. This lady was about twenty-two, and, having no children of her own, was delighted with Chung, and prepared a banquet for him in the inner apartments. Mr. Niu himself was, however, somewhat melancholy, and wished to return to his old home; but his wife, fearing that there would be no one to manage the business, persuaded him to remain; so he taught his son the trade, and in three months was able to leave it all to him.
He then prepared for his journey, whereupon Chung informed his step-mother that his father was really dead, to which she replied in great consternation that she knew him only as a trader to the place, and that six years previously he had married her, which proved conclusively that he couldn’t be dead. He then recounted the whole story, which was a perfect mystery to both of them; and twenty-four hours afterwards in walked his father, leading a woman whose hair was all dishevelled. Chung looked at her, and saw that she was his own mother; and Niu took her by the ear and began to revile her, saying, “Why did you desert my children?” to which the wretched woman made no reply. He then bit her across the neck, at which she screamed to Chung for assistance, and he, not being able [p. 290] to bear the sight, stepped in between them. His father was more than ever enraged at this, when, lo! Chung’s mother had disappeared. While they were still lost in astonishment at this strange scene, Mr. Niu’s colour changed; in another moment his empty clothes had dropped upon the ground, and he himself became a black vapour and also vanished from their sight.
The step-mother and son were much overcome; they took Niu’s clothes and buried them, and after that Chung continued his father’s business, and soon amassed great wealth. On returning to his native place he found that his mother had actually died on the very day of the above occurrence, and that his father had been seen by the whole family.
1 Unless under exceptional circumstances, it is not considered creditable in China for widows to marry again. It may here be mentioned that the honorary tablets conferred from time to time by His Imperial Majesty upon virtuous widows are only given to women who, widowed before the age of thirty, have remained in that state for a period of thirty years. The meaning of this is obvious; temptations are supposed to be fewer and less dangerous after thirty, which is the equivalent of forty with us; and it is wholly improbable that thirty years of virtuous life, at which period the widow would be at least fifty, would be followed by any act that might cast a stain upon the tablet thus bestowed.
LXIX. THE PRINCESS OF THE TUNG-T‘ING LAKE
CH’ÊN PI-CHIAO was a Pekingese; and being a poor man he attached himself as secretary to the suite of a high military official named Chia. On one occasion, while anchored on the Tung-t‘ing lake, they saw a dolphin floating on the surface of the water; and General Chia took his bow and shot at it, wounding the creature in the back. A fish was hanging on to its tail, and would not let go; so both were pulled out of the water together, and attached to the mast. There they lay gasping, the dolphin opening its mouth as if pleading for life, until at length young Ch’ên begged the General to let them go again; and then he himself half jokingly put a piece of plaster upon the dolphin’s wound, and had the two thrown back into the water, where they were seen for some time after-wards diving and rising again to the surface.
About a year afterwards, Ch’ên was once more crossing the Tung-t’ing lake on his way home, when the boat was upset in a squall, and he himself only saved by clinging to a bamboo crate, which finally, after floating about all night, caught [p. 291] in the overhanging branch of a tree, and thus enabled him to scramble on shore. By-and-by, another body floated in, and this turned out to be his servant; but on dragging him out, he found life was already extinct. In great distress, he sat himself down to rest, and saw beautiful green hills and waving willows, but not a single human being of whom he could ask the way. From early dawn till the morning was far advanced he remained in that state; and then, thinking he saw his servant’s body move, he stretched out his hand to feel it, and before long the man threw up several quarts of water and recovered consciousness. They now dried their clothes in the sun, and by noon these were fit to put on; at which period the pangs of hunger began to assail them, and accordingly they started over the hills in the hope of coming upon some habitation of man.
As they were walking along, an arrow whizzed past, and the next moment two young ladies dashed by on handsome palfreys. Each had a scarlet band round her head, with a bunch of pheasant’s feathers stuck in her hair, and wore a purple riding-jacket with small sleeves, confined by a green embroidered girdle round the waist. One of them carried a cross-bow for shooting bullets, and the other had on her arm a dark-coloured bow-and-arrow case. Reaching the brow of the hill, Ch’ên beheld a number of riders engaged in beating the surrounding cover, all of whom were beautiful girls and dressed exactly alike. Afraid to advance any further, he inquired of a youth who appeared to be in attendance, and the latter told him that it was a hunting party from the palace; and then, having supplied him with food from his wallet, he bade him retire quickly, adding that if he fell in with them he would assuredly be put to death.
Thereupon Ch’ên hurried away; and descending the hill, turned into a copse where there was a building which he thought would in all probability be a monastery. On getting nearer, he saw that the place was surrounded by a wall, and between him and a half-open red door was a brook spanned by a stone bridge leading up to it. Pulling back the door, he beheld within a number of ornamental buildings circling in the air like so many clouds, and for all the world resembling the Imperial pleasure-grounds and thinking it must be the park of some official personage, [p. 292] he walked quietly in, enjoying the delicious fragrance of the flowers as he pushed aside the thick vegetation which obstructed his way. After traversing a winding path fenced in by balustrades, Ch’ên reached a second enclosure, wherein were a quantity of tall willow-trees which swept the red eaves of the buildings with their branches. The note of some bird would set the petals of the flowers fluttering in the air, and the least wind would bring the seed-vessels down from the elm-trees above; and the effect upon the eye and heart of the beholder was something quite unknown in the world of mortals.
Passing through a small kiosque, Ch’ên and his servant came upon a swing which seemed as though suspended from the clouds, while the ropes hung idly down in the utter stillness that prevailed.2 Thinking by this that they were approaching the ladies’ apartments,3 Ch’ên would have turned back, but at that moment he heard sounds of horses’ feet at the door, and what seemed to be the laughter of a bevy of girls. So he and his servant hid themselves in a bush; and by-and-by, as the sounds came nearer, he heard one of the young ladies say, “We’ve had but poor sport to-day;” whereupon another cried out, “If the princess hadn’t shot that wild goose, we should have taken all this trouble for nothing.” Shortly after this, a number of girls dressed in red came in escorting a young lady, who went and sat down under the kiosque. She wore a hunting costume with tight sleeves, and was about fourteen or fifteen years old. Her hair looked like a cloud of mist at the back of her head, and her waist seemed as though a breath of wind might snap it—incomparable for beauty, even [p. 293] among the celebrities of old. Just then the attendants handed her some exquisitely fragrant tea, and stood glittering round her like a bank of beautiful embroidery. In a few moments the young lady arose and descended from the kiosque; at which one of her attendants cried out, “Is your Highness too fatigued by riding to take a turn in the swing?” The princess replied that she was not; and immediately some held her under the shoulders, while others seized her arms, and others, again, arranged her petticoats and supported her feet. Thus they helped her into the swing, she herself stretching out her shining arms, and putting her feet into a suitable pair of slippers;6 and then —away she went, light as a flying-swallow, far up into the fleecy clouds. As soon as she had had enough, the attendants helped her out, and one of them exclaimed, “Truly, your Highness is a perfect angel!” At this the young lady laughed, and walked away, Ch’ên gazing after her in a state of semi-consciousness, until, at length, the voices died away, and he and his servant crept forth. Walking up and down near the swing, he suddenly espied a red handkerchief near the paling, which he knew had been dropped by one of the young ladies; and, thrusting it joyfully into his sleeve, he walked up and entered the kiosque. There, upon a table, lay writing materials, and taking out the handkerchief he indited upon it the following lines:
What form divine was just now sporting nigh?
’Twas she, I trove, of “golden lily” fame;
Her charms the moon’s fair denizens might shame,
Her fairy footsteps bear her to the sky.
Humming this stanza to himself, Ch’ên walked along seeking for the path by which he had entered; but every door was securely barred; and he knew not what to do. So he went back to the kiosque, when suddenly one of the young ladies appeared, and asked him in astonishment what he did there. “I have lost my way,” replied Ch’ên; [p. 294] “I pray you lend me your assistance.” “Do you happen to have found a red handkerchief?” said the girl. “I have, indeed,” answered Ch’ên, “but I fear I have made it somewhat dirty; and, suiting the action to the word, he drew it forth, and handed it to her. “Wretched man!” cried the young lady, “you are undone. This is a handkerchief the Princess is constantly using, and you have gone and scribbled all over it; what will become of you now?”
Ch’ên was in a great fright, and begged the young lady to intercede for him; to which she replied, “It was bad enough that you should come here and spy about; however, being a scholar, and a man of refinement, I would have done my best for you; but after this, how am I to help you?” Off she then ran with the handkerchief, while Ch’ên remained behind in an agony of suspense, and longing for the wings of a bird to bear him away from his fate. By-and-by the young lady returned and congratulated him, saying, “There is some hope for you. The Princess read your verses several times over, and was not at all angry. You will probably be released; but, meanwhile, wait here, and don’t climb the trees, or try to get through the walls, or you may not escape after all.” Evening was now drawing on, and Ch’ên knew not, for certain, what was about to happen; at the same time he was very empty, and, what with hunger and anxiety, death would have been almost a happy release. Before long, the young lady returned with a lamp in her hand, and followed by a slave-girl bearing wine and food, which she forthwith presented to Ch’ên. The latter asked if there was any news about himself; to which the young lady replied that she had just mentioned his case to the Princess, who, not knowing what to do with him at that hour of the night, had given orders that he should at once be provided with food, “which, at any rate,” added she, “is not bad news.” The whole night long Ch’ên walked up and down, unable to take rest; and it was not till late in the morning that the young lady appeared with more food for him. Imploring her once more to intercede on his behalf, she told him that the Princess had not instructed them either to kill or to release him, and that it would not be fitting for such as herself to be bothering the Princess with suggestions. So there Chen still remained until another day had almost [p. 295] gone, hoping for the welcome moment; and then the young lady rushed hurriedly in, saying, “You are lost! Some one has told the Queen, and she, in a fit of anger, threw the handkerchief on the ground, and made use of very violent language. Oh dear! Oh dear! I’m sure something dreadful will happen.” Ch’ên threw himself on his knees, his face as pale as ashes, and begged to know what he should do; but at that moment sounds were heard outside, and the young lady waved her hand to him, and ran away. Immediately a crowd came pouring in through the door, with ropes ready to secure the object of their search; and among them was a slave-girl, who looked fixedly at’our hero, and cried out, “Why, surely you are Mr. Ch’ên, aren’t you?” at the same time stopping the others from binding him until she should have reported to the Queen. In a few minutes she came back, and said the Queen requested him to walk in; and in he went, through a number of doors, trembling all the time with fear, until he reached a hall, the screen before which was ornamented with green jade and silver. A beautiful girl drew aside the bamboo curtain at the door, and announced, “Mr. Ch’ên; “and he himself advanced, and fell down before a lady, who was sitting upon a dais at the other end, knocking his head upon the ground, and crying out, “Thy servant is from afar-off country; spare, oh I spare his life.” “Sir! “replied the Queen, rising hastily from her seat, and extending a hand to Ch’ên, “but for you, I should not be here to-day. Pray excuse the rudeness of my maids.” Thereupon a splendid repast was served, and wine was poured out in chased goblets, to the no small astonishment of Ch’ên, who could not understand why he was treated thus. “Your kindness,” observed the Queen, “in restoring me to life, I am quite unable to repay.; however, as you have made my daughter the subject of your verse, the match is clearly ordained by fate, and I shall send her along to be your handmaid.” Ch’ên hardly knew what to make of this extraordinary accomplishment of his wishes, but the marriage was solemnised there and then; bands of music struck up wedding-airs, beautiful mats were laid down for them to walk upon, and the whole place was brilliantly lighted with a profusion of coloured lamps. Then Ch’ên said to the Princess, “That [p. 296] a stray and unknown traveller like myself, guilty of spoiling your Highness’s handkerchief, should have escaped the fate he deserved, was already more than could be expected; but now to receive you in marriage—this, indeed, far surpasses my wildest expectations.” “My mother,” replied the Princess, “is married to the King of this lake, and is herself a daughter of the River Prince. Last year, when on her way to visit her parents, she happened to cross the lake, and was wounded by an arrow; but you saved her life, and gave her plaster for the wound. Our family, therefore, is grateful to you, and can never forget your good act. And do not regard me as of another species than yourself; the Dragon King has bestowed upon me the elixir of immortality, and this I will gladly share with you.”
Then Ch’ên knew that his wife was a spirit, and by-and-by he asked her how the slave-girl had recognised him; to which she replied, that the girl was the small fish which had been found hanging to the dolphin’s tail. He then inquired why, as they didn’t intend to kill him, he had been kept so long a prisoner. “I was charmed with your literary talent,” answered the Princess, “but I did not venture to take the responsibility upon myself; and no one saw how I tossed and turned the livelong night.” “Dear friend,” said Ch’ên; “but, come, tell me who was it that brought my food.” “A trusty waiting-maid of mine,” replied the Princess; “her name is A-nien.” Ch’ên then asked how he could ever repay her, and the Princess told him there would be plenty of time to think of that; and when he inquired where the King, her father, was, she said he had gone off with the God of War to fight against Ch’ih-yu,7 and had not returned.
A few days passed, and Ch’ên began to think his people at home would be anxious about him; so he sent off his servant with a letter to tell them he was safe and sound, at which they were all overjoyed, believing him to have been lost in the wreck of the boat, of which event news had already reached them. However, they were unable to send him any reply, and were considerably distressed [p. 297] as to how he would find his way home again.
Six months afterwards Ch’ên himself appeared, dressed in fine clothes, and riding on a splendid horse, with plenty of money, and valuable jewels in his pocket—evidently a man of wealth. From that time forth he kept up a magnificent establishment; and in seven or eight years had become the father of five children. Every day he kept open house, and if any one asked him about his adventures, he would readily tell them without reservation. Now a friend of his, named Liang, whom he had known since they were boys together, and who, after holding an appointment for some years in Nan-fu, was crossing the Tung-t’ing lake, on his way home, suddenly beheld an ornamental barge, with carved woodwork and red windows, passing over the foamy waves to the sound of music and singing from within. Just then a beautiful young lady leant out of one of the windows, which she had pushed open, and by her side Liang saw a young man sitting, in a négligé attitude, while two nice-looking girls stood by and shampooed him. Liang, at first, thought it must be the party of some high official, and wondered at the scarcity of attendants;9 but, on looking more closely at the young man, he saw it was no other than his old friend Ch’ên. Thereupon he began almost involuntarily to shout out to him; and when Ch’ên heard his own name, he stopped the rowers, and walked out towards the figurehead,10 beckoning Liang to cross over into his boat, where the remains of their feast were quickly cleared away, and fresh supplies of wine, and tea, and all kinds of costly foods spread out by handsome slave-girls. “It’s ten years since we met,” said Liang, “and what a rich man you have become in the meantime.” “Well,” replied Ch’ên, “do you think that so very extraordinary for a poor fellow like me?
Liang then asked him who was the lady with whom he [p. 298] was taking wine, and Ch’ên said she was his wife, which very much astonished Liang, who further inquired whither they were going. “Westwards,” answered Ch’ên, and prevented any further questions by giving a signal for the music, which effectually put a stop to all further conversation.11 By-and-by, Liang found the wine getting into his head, and seized the opportunity to ask Ch’ên to make him a present of one of his beautiful slave-girls. “You are drunk,12 my friend,” replied Ch’ên; “however, I will give you the price of one as a pledge of our old friendship.” And, turning to a servant, he bade him present Liang with a splendid pearl, saying, “Now you can buy a Green Pearl; you see I am not stingy” adding forthwith, “but I am pressed for time, and can stay no longer with my old friend.” So he escorted Liang back to his boat, and, having let go the rope, proceeded on his way.
Now, when Liang reached home, and called at Ch’ên’s house, whom should he see but Ch’ên himself drinking with a party of friends! “Why, I saw you only yesterday,” cried Liang, “upon the Tung-t’ing. How quickly you have got back!” Ch’ên denied this, and then Liang repeated the whole story, at the conclusion of which Ch’ên laughed, and said, “You must be mistaken. Do you imagine I can be in two places at once?” The company were all much astonished, and knew not what to make of it; and subsequently when Ch’ên, who died at the age of eighty, was being carried to his grave, the bearers thought the coffin seemed remarkably light, and on opening it to see, found that the body had disappeared.14 [p. 299]
1 Literally, a “pig old-woman dragon.” Porpoise (Fr. porc-poisson) suggests itself at once; but I think fresh-water dolphin is the best term, especially as the Tung-t’ing lake is many hundred miles inland. The commentator explains it by t’o, which would be “alligator “or “cayman,” and is of course out of the question.
2 Literally, in the utter absence of anybody.
3 In passing near to the women’s quarters in a friend’s house, it is etiquette to cough slightly, that inmates may be warned and withdraw from the doors or windows in time to escape observation. Over and over again at interviews with mandarins of all grades I have heard the rustling of the ladies’ dresses from some coign of vantage, whence every movement of mine was being watched by an inquisitive crowd; and on one occasion I actually saw an eye peering through a small hole in the partition behind me.
4 Literally, “bald”—i.e., without the usual width and ornamentation of a Chinese lady’s sleeve.
5 Small waists are much admired in China, but any such artificial aids as stays and tight lacing are quite unknown. A certain Prince Wei admitted none but the possessors of small waists into his harem; hence his establishment came to be called the Palace of Small Waists.
6 Probably of felt or some such material, to prevent the young lady from slipping as she stood, in this case, not sat, in the swing. Chinese girls swing either standing or sitting.
7 A rebel chieftain of the legendary period of China’s history, who took up arms against the Emperor Huang Ti (B. C. 2698-2598), but was subsequently defeated in what was perhaps the first decisive battle of the world.
8 This favourite process consists in gently thumping the person operated upon all over the back with the soft part of the closed fists. Compare Lane, Arabian Nights, Vol. I., p. 551:—“She then pressed me to her bosom, and laid me on the bed, and continued gently kneading my limbs until slumber overcame me.”
9 See No. LVI., note 5. A considerable number of the attendants there mentioned would accompany any high official, some in the same, the rest in another barge.
10 Generally known as the “cut-wave God.”
11 At all great banquets in China a theatrical troupe is engaged to perform while the dinner, which may last from four to six hours, drags its slow length along.
12 See No. LIV., note 1.
13 The name of a celebrated beauty.
14 See No. LXIII., note 17.
LXX. THE PRINCESS LILY
AT Chiao-chou there lived a man named Tou Hs-an, otherwise known as Hsiao-hui. One day he had just dropped off to sleep when he beheld a man in serge clothes standing by the bedside, and apparently anxious to communicate something to him. Tou inquired his errand , to which the man replied that he was the bearer of an invitation from his master. “And who is your master?” asked Tou. “Oh, he doesn’t live far off,” replied the other; so away they went together, and after some time came to a place where there were innumerable white houses rising one above the other, and shaded by dense groves of lemon-trees. They threaded their way past countless doors, not at all similar to those usually used, and saw a great many official-looking men and women passing and repassing, each of whom called out to the man in serge, “Has Mr. Tou come?” to which he always replied in the affirmative. Here a mandarin met them and escorted Tou into a palace, upon which the latter remarked, “This is really very kind of you; but I haven’t the honour of knowing you, and I feel somewhat diffident about going in.” “Our Prince,” answered his guide, “has long heard of you as a man of good family and excellent principles, and is very anxious to make your acquaintance.” “Who is your Prince?” inquired Tou. “You’ll see for yourself in a moment,” said the other; and just then out came two girls with banners, and guided Tou through a great number of doors until they came to a throne, upon which sat the Prince. His Highness immediately descended to meet him, and made him take the seat of honour; after which ceremony exquisite viands of all kinds were spread out before them. Looking up, Tou noticed a scroll, on which was inscribed, The Cassia Court, and he was just beginning to feel puzzled as to what he should say next, when the Prince addressed him as follows:—“The honour of having you for a neighbour is, as it were, a bond of affinity between us. Let us, then, give ourselves up to enjoyment, and put away suspicion and fear.” Tou murmured his acquiescence; and when the wine had gone round several times there arose from a distance the sound of pipes and singing, unaccompanied, however, by the usual drum, and very [p. 300] much subdued in volume. Thereupon the Prince looked about him and cried out, “We are about to set a verse for any of you gentlemen to cap; here you are:—Genius seeks the Cassia Court.” While the courtiers were all engaged in thinking of some fit antithesis,l Tou added, “Refinement loves the Lily flower;” upon which the Prince exclaimed, “How strange! Lily is my daughter’s name; and, after such a coincidence, she must come in for you to see her.” In a few moments the tinkling of her ornaments and a delicious fragrance of musk announced the arrival of the Princess, who was between sixteen and seventeen, and endowed with surpassing beauty. The Prince bade her make an obeisance to Tou, at the same time introducing her as his daughter Lily; and as soon as the ceremony was over the young lady moved away. Tou remained in a state of stupefaction, and, when the Prince proposed that they should pledge each other in another bumper, paid not the slightest attention to what he said. Then the Prince, perceiving what had distracted his guest’s attention, remarked that he was anxious to find a consort for his daughter, but that unfortunately there was the difficulty of species, and he didn’t know what to do; but again Tou took no notice of what the Prince was saying, until at length one of the bystanders plucked his sleeve, and asked him if he hadn’t seen that the Prince wished to drink with him, and had just been addressing some remarks to him. Thereupon Tou started, and, recovering himself at once, rose from the table and apologised to the Prince for his rudeness, declaring that he had taken so much wine he didn’t know what he was doing. “Besides,” said he, “your Highness has doubtless business to transact; I will therefore take my leave.” “I am extremely pleased to have seen you,” replied the Prince, “and only regret that you are in such a hurry to be gone. However, I won’t detain you now; but, if you don’t forget all about us, I shall be very glad to invite you here again.” He then gave orders that Tou should be escorted home; and on the way one of the courtiers [p. 301] asked the latter why he had said nothing when the Prince had spoken of a consort for his daughter, as his Highness had evidently made the remark with an eye to securing Tou as his son-in-law. The latter was now sorry that he had missed his opportunity; meanwhile they reached his house, and he himself awoke.
The sun had already set, and there he sat in the gloom thinking of what had happened. In the evening he put out his candle, hoping to continue his dream; but, alas! the thread was broken, and all he could do was to pour forth his repentance in sighs.
One night he was sleeping at a friend’s house, when suddenly an officer of the Court walked in and summoned him to appear before the Prince; so up he jumped, and hurried off at once to the palace, where he prostrated himself before the throne. The Prince raised him and made him sit down, saying that since they had last met he had become aware that Tou would be willing to marry his daughter, and hoped that he might be allowed to offer her as a handmaid. Tou rose and thanked the Prince, who thereupon gave orders for a banquet to be prepared; and when they had finished their wine it was announced that the Princess had completed her toilet. Immediately a bevy of young ladies came in with the Princess in their midst, a red veil covering her head, gliding with tiny footsteps as they led her up to be introduced to Tou. When the ceremonies were concluded, Tou said to the Princess, “In your presence, Madam, it would be easy to forget even death itself; but, tell me, is not this all a dream?” “And how can it be a dream,” asked the Princess, “when you and I are here together?”
Next morning Tou amused himself by helping the Princess to paint her face,2 and then with a girdle he began to measure the size of her waists and with his fingers the length of her feet. “Are you crazy?” cried she, laughing; to which Tou replied, “I have been deceived so often by dreams, that I am now making a careful record. If such it turns out to be, I shall still have something as a souvenir of you.” While they were thus chatting a maid rushed into the room, shrieking out, “Alas! alas! a great monster has got into the palace: the Prince has [p. 302] fled into a side chamber: destruction is surely come upon us.” Tou was in a great fright when he heard this, and rushed off to see the Prince, who grasped his hand and, with tears in his eyes, begged him not to desert them. “Our relationship,” cried he, “was cemented when Heaven sent this calamity upon us; and now my kingdom will be overthrown. What shall I do?” Tou begged to know what was the matter; and then the Prince laid a despatch upon the table, telling Tou to open it and make himself acquainted with its contents. This despatch ran as follows:—“The Grand Secretary of State, Black Wings, to His Royal Highness, announcing the arrival of an extraordinary monster, and advising the immediate removal of the Court in order to preserve the vitality of the empire. A report has just been received from the officer in charge of the Yellow Gate stating that, ever since the 6th of the 5th moon, a huge monster, 10,000 feet in length, has been lying coiled up outside the entrance to the palace, and that it has already devoured 13,800 and odd of your Highness’s subjects, and is spreading desolation far and wide. On receipt of this information your servant proceeded to make a reconnaissance, and there beheld a venomous reptile with a head as big as a mountain and eyes like vast sheets of water. Every time it raised its head, whole buildings disappeared down its throat; and, on stretching itself out, walls and houses were alike laid in ruins. In all antiquity there is no record of such a scourge. The fate of our temples and ancestral halls is now a mere question of hours; we therefore pray your Royal Highness to depart at once with the Royal Family and seek somewhere else a happier abode.”4
When Tou had read this document his face turned ashy pale; and just then a messenger rushed in, shrieking out, “Here is the monster!” at which the whole Court burst into lamentations as if their last hour was at hand. The Prince was beside himself with fear; all he could do was to beg Tou to look to his own safety without regarding the wife through whom he was involved in their misfortunes. The Princess, however, who [p. 303] was standing by bitterly lamenting the fate that had fallen upon them, begged Tou not to desert her; and, after a moment’s hesitation, he said he should be only too happy to place his own poor home at their immediate disposal if they would only deign to honour him. “How can we talk of deigning,” cried the Princess, “at such a moment as this? I pray you take us there as quickly as possible.” So Tou gave her his arm, and in no time they had arrived at Tau’s house, which the Princess at once pronounced to be a charming place of residence, and better even than their former kingdom. “But I must now ask you,” said she to Tou, “to make some arrangement for my father and mother, that the old order of things may be continued here.” Tou at first offered objections to this; whereupon the Princess said that a man who would not help another in his hour of need was not much of a man, and immediately went off into a fit of hysterics, from which Tou was trying his best to recall her, when all of a sudden he awoke and found that it was all a dream.
However, he still heard a buzzing in his ears which he knew was not made by any human being, and, on looking carefully about, he discovered two or three bees which had settled on his pillow. He was very much astonished at this, and consulted with his friend, who was also greatly amazed at his strange story; and then the latter pointed out a number of other bees on various parts of his dress, none of which would go away even when brushed off. His friend now advised him to get a hive for them, which he did without delay; and immediately it was filled by a whole swarm of bees, which came flying from over the wall in great numbers.
On tracing whence they had come, it was found that they belonged to an old gentleman who lived near, and who had kept bees for more than thirty years previously. Tou thereupon went and told him the story; and when the old gentleman examined his hive he found the bees all gone. On breaking it open he discovered a large snake inside of about ten feet in length, which he immediately killed, recognising in it the “huge monster “of Tou’s adventure. As for the bees, they remained with Tou, and increased in numbers every year. [p. 304]
1 In this favourite pastime of the literati in China the important point is that each word in the second line should be a due and proper antithesis of the word in the first line to which it corresponds.
2 See No. LXII., note 1.
3 See No. LXIX., note 5.
4 The language in which this fanciful document is couched is precisely such as would be used by an officer of the Government in announcing some national calamity; hence the value of these tales, —models as they are of the purest possible style.
LXXI. THE DONKEY’S REVENGE
CHUNG CH’ING-YÜ was a scholar of some reputation, who lived in Manchuria. When he went up for his master’s degree, he heard that there was a Taoist priest at the capital who would tell people’s fortunes, and was very anxious to see him; and at the conclusion of the second part of the examination,1 he accidentally met him at Pao-t’u-ch’üan.2 The priest was over sixty years of age, and had the usual white beard flowing down over his breast. Around him stood a perfect wall of people inquiring their future fortunes, and to each the old man made a brief reply: but when he saw Chung among the crowd, he was overjoyed, and, seizing him by the hand, said, “Sir, your virtuous intentions command my esteem.” He then led him up behind a screen, and asked if he did not wish to know what was to come; and when Chung replied in the affirmative, the priest informed him that his prospects were bad. “You may succeed passing this examination,” continued he, “but on returning covered with honour to your home, I fear that your mother will be no longer there.” Now Chung was a very filial son; and as soon as he heard these words, his tears began to flow, and he declared that he would go back without competing any further. The priest observed that if he let this chance slip, he could never hope for success; to which Chung replied that, on the other hand, if his mother were to die he could never hope to have her back again, and that even the rank of Viceroy would not repay him for her loss. “Well,” said the priest, “you and I were connected in a former existence, and I must do my best to help you now.” So he took out a pill which he gave to Chung, and told him that if he sent it post-haste by some one to his mother, it would prolong her life for seven days, and thus he would be able to see her once again after the examination was over. Chung took the pill, and went off in very low spirits; but he soon reflected [p. 305] that the span of human life is a matter of destiny, and that every day he could spend at home would be one more day devoted to the service of his mother. Accordingly, he got ready to start at once, and, hiring a donkey, actually set out on his way back. When he had gone about half-a-mile, the donkey turned round and ran home; and when he used his whip, the animal threw itself down on the ground. Chung got into a great perspiration, and his servant recommended him to remain where he was; but this he would not hear of, and hired another donkey, which served him exactly the same trick as the other one. The sun was now sinking behind the hills, and his servant advised his master to stay and finish his examination while he himself went back home before him. Chung had no alternative but to assent, and the next day he hurried through with his papers, starting immediately afterwards, and not stopping at all on the way either to eat or to sleep. All night long he went on, and arrived to find his mother in a very critical state; however, when he gave her the pill she so far recovered that he was able to go in and see her. Grasping his hand, she begged him not to weep, telling him that she had just dreamt she had been down to the Infernal Regions, where the King of Hell had informed her with a gracious smile that her record was fairly clean, and that in view of the filial piety of her son she was to have twelve years more of life. Chung was rejoiced at this, and his mother was soon restored to her former health.
Before long the news arrived that Chung had passed his examination; upon which he bade adieu to his mother, and went off to the capital, where he bribed the eunuchs of the palace to communicate with his friend the Taoist priest. The latter was very much pleased, and came out to see him, whereupon Chung prostrated himself at his feet. “Ah,” said the priest, “this success of yours, and the prolongation of your good mother’s life, is all a reward for your virtuous conduct. What have I done in the matter?” Chung was very much astonished that the priest should already know what had happened; however, he now inquired as to his own future. “You will never rise to high rank,” replied the priest, “but you will attain [p. 306] the years of an octogenarian. In a former state of existence you and I were once travelling together, when you threw a stone at a dog, and accidentally killed a frog. Now that frog has reappeared in life as a donkey, and according to all principles of destiny you ought to suffer for what you did; but your filial piety has touched the Gods, a protecting star-influence has passed into your nativity sheet, and you will come to no harm. On the other hand, there is your wife; in her former state she was not as virtuous as she might have been, and her punishment in this life was to be widowed quite young; you, however, have secured the prolongation of your own term of years, and therefore I fear that before long your wife will pay the penalty of death.” Chung was much grieved at hearing this; but after a while he asked the priest where his second wife to be was living. “At Chung-chou” replied the latter; “she is now fourteen years old.” The priest then bade him adieu, telling him that if any mischance should befall him he was to hurry off towards the south-east.
About a year after this, Chung’s wife did die; and his mother then desiring him to go and visit his uncle, who was a magistrate in Kiangsi, on which journey he would have to pass through Chung-chou, it seemed like a fulfilment of the old priest’s prophecy. As he went along, he came to a village on the banks of a river, where a large crowd of people was gathered together round a theatrical performance which was going on there. Chung would have passed quietly by, had not a stray donkey followed so close behind him that he turned round and hit it over the ears. This startled the donkey so much that it ran off full gallop, and knocked a rich gentleman’s child, who was sitting with its nurse on the bank, right into the water, before any one of the servants could lend a hand to save it. Immediately there was a great outcry against Chung, who gave his mule the rein and dashed away, mindful of the priest’s warning, towards the south-east.
After riding about seven miles, he reached a mountain village, where he saw an old man standing at the door of a house, and, jumping off his mule, made him a low bow. The old man asked him in, and inquired his name and whence he came; to which Chung replied by telling him the whole adventure. “Never fear,” [p. 307] said the old man; “you can stay here, while I send out to learn the position of affairs.”
By the evening his messenger had returned, and then they knew for the first time that the child belonged to a wealthy family. The old man looked grave and said, “Had it been anybody else’s child, I might have helped you; as it is I can do nothing.” Chung was greatly alarmed at this; however, the old man told him to remain quietly there for the night, and see what turn matters might take. Chung was overwhelmed with anxiety, and did not sleep a wink; and next morning he heard that the constables were after him, and that it was death to any one who should conceal him.
The old man changed countenance at this, and went inside, leaving Chung to his own reflections; but towards the middle of the night he came and knocked at Chung’s door, and, sitting down, began to ask how old his wife was. Chung replied that he was a widower; at which the old man seemed rather pleased, and declared that in such case help would be forthcoming; “for,” said he, “my sister’s husband has taken the vows, and become a priest,3 and my sister herself has died, leaving an orphan girl who has now no home; and if you would only marry her . . .” Chung was delighted, more especially as this would be both the fulfilment of the Taoist priest’s prophecy and a means of extricating himself from his present difficulty; at the same time, he declared he should be sorry to implicate his future father-in-law. “Never fear about that,” replied the old man; “my sister’s husband is pretty skilful in the black art. He has not mixed much with the world of late; but when you are married, you can discuss the matter with my niece.”
So Chung married the young lady, who was sixteen years of age, and very beautiful; but whenever he looked at her he took occasion to sigh. At last she said, “I may be ugly; but you [p. 308] needn’t be in such a hurry to let me know it;” whereupon Chung begged her pardon, and said he felt himself only too lucky to have met with such a divine creature; adding that he sighed because he feared some misfortune was coming on them which would separate them for ever. He then told her his story, and the young lady was very angry that she should have been drawn into such a difficulty without a word of warning. Chung fell on his knees, and said he had already consulted with her uncle, who was unable himself to do anything, much as he wished it. He continued that he was aware of her power; and then, pointing out that his alliance was not altogether beneath her, made all kinds of promises if she would only help him out of this trouble. The young lady was no longer able to refuse, but informed him that to apply to her father would entail certain disagreeable consequences, as he had retired from the world, and did not any more recognise her as his daughter.
That night they did not attempt to sleep, spending the interval in padding their knees with thick felt concealed beneath their clothes; and then they got into chairs and were carried off to the hills. After journeying some distance, they were compelled by the nature of the road to alight and walk; and it was only by a great effort that Chung succeeded at last in getting his wife to the top. At the door of the temple they sat down to rest, the powder and paint on the young lady’s face having all mixed with the perspiration trickling down; but when Chung began to apologise for bringing her to this pass, she replied that it was a mere trifle compared with what was to come. By-and-by, they went inside and threading their way to the wall behind, found the young lady’s father sitting in contemplation,4 his eyes closed, and a servant-boy standing by with a chowry.5 Everything was beautifully clean and nice, but before the dais were sharp stones scattered about as thick as the stars in the sky. The young lady did not venture to select a favourable spot; she fell on her knees at once, and Chung did likewise behind her. Then her father opened [p. 309] his eyes, shutting them again almost instantaneously; whereupon the young lady said, “For a long time I have not paid my respects to you. I am now married, and I have brought my husband to see you.” A long time passed away, and then her father opened his eyes and said, “You’re giving a great deal of trouble,” immediately relapsing into silence again.
There the husband and wife remained until the stones seemed to pierce into their very bones; but after a while the father cried out, “Have you brought the donkey?” His daughter replied that they had not; whereupon they were told to go and fetch it at once, which they did, not knowing what the meaning of this order was.
After a few more days’ kneeling, they suddenly heard that the murderer of the child had been caught and beheaded, and were just congratulating each other on the success of their scheme, when a servant came in with a stick in his hand, the top of which had been chopped off. “This stick,” said the servant, “died instead of you. Bury it reverently, that the wrong done to the tree may be somewhat atoned for.”6 Then Chung saw that at the place where the top of the stick had been chopped off there were traces of blood; he therefore buried it with the usual ceremony, and immediately set off with his wife, and returned to his own home.
1 The examination consists of three bouts of three days each, during which periods the candidates remain shut up in their examination cells day and night.
2 The name of a place.
3 This interesting ceremony is performed by placing little conical pastilles on a certain number of spots, varying from three to twelve, on the candidate’s head. These are then lighted and allowed to burn down into the flesh, while the surrounding parts are vigorously rubbed by attendant priests in order to lessen the pain. The whole thing lasts about twenty minutes, and is always performed on the eve of Shâkyamuni Buddha’s birthday. The above was well described by Mr. S. L. Baldwin in the Foochow Herald.
4 There is a room in most Buddhist temples specially devoted to this purpose.
5 The Buddhist emblem of cleanliness; generally a yak’s tail, and commonly used as a fly-brush.
6 Tree-worship can hardly be said to exist in China at the present day; though at a comparatively recent epoch this phase of religious sentiment must have been widely spread. See The Flower Nymphs and Mr. Willow.
LXXII. THE WOLF DREAM
MR. PAI was a native of Chih-li, and his eldest son was called Chia. The latter had been some two years holding an appointment as magistrate in the south; but because of the great distance between them, his family had heard nothing of him. One day a distant connection, named Ting, called at the house; and Mr. Pai, not having seen this gentleman for a long time, treated him with much cordiality. Now Ting was one of those persons who are occasionally employed by the Judge of the Infernal Regions [p. 310] to make arrests on earth;2 and, as they were chatting together, Mr. Pai questioned him about the realms below. Ting told him all kinds of strange things, but Pai did not believe them, answering only by a smile.
Some days afterwards, he had just lain down to sleep when Ting walked in and asked him to go for a stroll; so they went off together, and by-and-by reached the city. “There,” said Ting, pointing to a door, “lives your nephew,” alluding to a son of Mr. Pai’s elder sister, who was a magistrate in Honan; and when Pai expressed his doubts as to the accuracy of this statement, Ting led him in, when, lo and behold! there was his nephew sitting in his court dressed in his official robes. Around him stood the guard, and it was impossible to get near him; but Ting remarked that his son’s residence was not far off, and asked Pai if he would not like to see him too.
The latter assenting, they walked along till they came to a large building, which Ting said was the place. However, there was a fierce wolf at the entrance,3 and Mr. Pai was afraid to go in. Ting bade him enter, and accordingly they walked in, when they found that all the employes of the place, some of whom were standing about and others lying down to sleep, were all wolves. The central pathway was piled up with whitening bones, and Mr. Pai began to feel horribly alarmed; but Ting kept close to him all the time, and at length they got safely in.
Pai’s son, Chia, was just coming out; and when he saw his father accompanied by Ting, he was overjoyed, and, asking them to sit down, bade the attendants serve some refreshments. Thereupon a great big wolf brought in in his mouth the carcase of a dead man, and set it before them, at which Mr. Pai rose up in consternation, and asked his son what this meant. “It’s only a little refreshment for you, father,” replied Chia; but this did not calm Mr. Pai’s agitation, who would have retired precipitately, had it not been for the crowd of [p. 311] wolves which barred the path.
Just as he was at a loss what to do, there was a general stampede among the animals, which scurried away, some under the couches and some under the tables and chairs; and while he was wondering what the cause of this could be, in marched two knights in golden armour, who looked sternly at Chia, and, producing a black rope, proceeded to bind him hand and foot. Chia fell down before them, and was changed into a tiger with horrid fangs; and then one of the knights drew a glittering sword and would have cut off its head, had not the other cried out, “Not yet! not yet! that is for the fourth month next year. Let us now only take out its teeth.” Immediately that knight produced a huge mallet, and, with a few blows, scattered the tiger’s teeth all over the floor, the tiger roaring so loudly with pain as to shake the very hills, and frightening all the wits out of Mr. Pai—who woke up with a start. He found he had been dreaming, and at once set off to invite Ting to come and see him; but Ting sent back to say he must beg to be excused.
Then Mr. Pai, pondering on what he had seen in his dream, despatched his second son with a letter to Chia, full of warnings and good advice; and lo when his son arrived, he found that his elder brother had lost all his front teeth, these having been knocked out, as he averred, by a fall he had had from his horse when tipsy; and, on comparing dates, the day of that fall was found to coincide with the day of his father’s dream. The younger brother was greatly amazed at this, and took out their father’s letter, which he gave to Chia to read. The latter changed colour, but immediately asked his brother what there was to be astonished at in the coincidence of a dream. And just at that time he was busily engaged in bribing his superiors to put him first on the list for promotion, so that he soon forgot all about the circumstance; while the younger, observing what harpies Chia’s subordinates were, taking presents from one man and using their influence for another, in one unbroken stream of corruption, sought out his elder brother, and, with tears in his eyes, implored him to put some check upon their rapacity. “My brother,” replied Chia, “your life has been passed in an obscure village; you know nothing of our official routine. We are promoted [p. 312] or degraded at the will of our superiors, and not by the voice of the people. He, therefore, who gratifies his superiors is marked out for success;4 whereas he who consults the wishes of the people is unable to gratify his superiors as well.” Chia’s brother saw that his advice was thrown away; he accordingly returned home and told his father all that had taken place. The old man was much affected, but there was nothing that he could do in the matter, so he devoted himself to assisting the poor, and such acts of charity, daily praying the Gods that the wicked son alone might suffer for his crimes, and not entail misery on his innocent wife and children.
The next year it was reported that Chia had been recommended for a post in the Board of Civil Office,5 and friends crowded the father’s door, offering their congratulations upon the happy event. But the old man sighed and took to his bed, pretending he was too unwell to receive visitors. Before long another message came, informing them that Chia had fallen in with bandits while on his way home, and that he and all his retinue had been killed. Then his father arose and said, “Verily the Gods are good unto me, for they have visited his sins upon himself alone;” and he immediately proceeded to burn incense and return thanks. Some of his friends would have persuaded him that the report was probably untrue; but the old man had no doubts as to its correctness, and made haste to get ready his son’s grave.
But Chia was not yet dead. In the fatal fourth moon he had started on his journey and had fallen in with bandits, to whom he had offered all his money and valuables; upon which the latter cried out, “We have come to avenge the cruel wrongs of many hundreds of victims; do you imagine we want only that?” They then cut off his head, and the head of his wicked secretary, and the heads of several of his servants who had been foremost in carrying out his shameful orders, and were now accompanying him to the capital.
They then divided the booty between them, and made off with all speed. Chia’s soul remained near his body for some time, until at length a high mandarin passing by asked [p. 313] who it was that was lying there dead. One of his servants replied that he had been a magistrate at such and such a place, and that his name was Pai. “What!” said the mandarin, “the son of old Mr. Pai? It is hard that his father should live to see such sorrow as this. Put his head on again.”6 Then a man stepped forward and placed Chia’s head upon his shoulders. again, when the mandarin interrupted him, saying, “A crooked-minded man should not have a straight body: put his head on sideways.”
By-and-by Chia’s soul returned to its tenement.; and when his wife and children arrived to take away the corpse, they found that he was still breathing. Carrying him home, they poured some nourishment down his throat, which he was able to swallow; but there he was at an out-of-the-way place, without the means of continuing his journey.
It was some six months before his father heard the real state of the case, and then he sent off the second son to bring his brother home. Chia had indeed come to life again, but he was able to see down his own back, and was regarded ever afterwards more as a monstrosity than as a man. Subsequently the nephew, whom old Mr. Pai had seen sitting in state surrounded by officials, actually became an Imperial Censor, so that every detail of the dream was thus strangely realised.
1 Literally, “had been allotted the post of Nan-fu magistrate,” such appointments being always determined by drawing lots.
2 Such is one common explanation of catalepsy (see No. I., note 5), it being further averred that the proper lictors of the Infernal Regions are unable to remain long in the light of the upper world.
3 Upon a wall at the entrance to every official residence is painted a huge fabulous animal, called Greed, in such a position that the resident mandarin must see it every time he goes out of his front gates. It is to warn him against greed and the crimes that are sure to flow from it.
4 Such, indeed, is the case at the present day in China, and elsewhere.
5 See No. VII., note 1.
6 The great sorrow of decapitation as opposed to strangulation is that the body will appear in the realms below without a head. The family of any condemned man who may have sufficient means always bribe the executioner to sew it on again.
LXXIII. THE UNJUST SENTENCE
MR. CHU was a native of Yang-ku, and, as a young man, was much given to playing tricks and talking in a loose kind of way. Having lost his wife, he went off to ask a certain old woman to arrange another match for him and on the way he chanced to fall in with a neighbour’s wife who took his fancy very much. So he said in joke to the old woman, “Get me that stylish-looking, handsome lady, and I shall be quite satisfied.” “I’ll see what I can do,” replied the old woman, also joking, “if you will manage to kill her present husband; “upon which Chu laughed and said he certainly would do so.
Now about [p. 314] a month afterwards, the said husband, who had gone out to collect some money due to him, was actually killed in a lonely spot; and the magistrate of the district immediately summoned the neighbours and beadle and held the usual inquest, but was unable to find any clue to the murderer. However, the old woman told the story of her conversation with Chu, and suspicion at once fell upon him. The constables came and arrested him; but he stoutly denied the charge; and the magistrate now began to suspect the wife of the murdered man. Accordingly, she was severely beaten and tortured in several ways until her strength failed her, and she falsely acknowledged her guilt.2 Chu was then examined, and he said, “This delicate woman could not bear the agony of your tortures; what she has stated is untrue; and, even should her wrong escape the notice of the Gods, for her to die in this [p. 315] way with a stain upon her name is more than I can endure. I will tell the whole truth. I killed the husband that I might secure the wife: she knew nothing at all about it.” And when the magistrate asked for some proof, Chu said his bloody clothes would be evidence enough; but when they sent to search his house, no bloody clothes were forthcoming.
He was then beaten till he fainted; yet when he came round he still stuck to what he had said. “It is my mother,” cried he, “who will not sign the death-warrant of her son. Let me go myself and I will get the clothes.” So he was escorted by a guard to his home, and there he explained to his mother that whether she gave up or withheld the clothes, it was all the same; that in either case he would have to die, and it was better to die early than late. Thereupon his mother wept bitterly, and going into the bedroom, brought out, after a short delay, the required clothes, which were taken at once to the magistrate’s. There was now no doubt as to the truth of Chu’s story; and as nothing occurred to change the magistrate’s opinion, Chu was thrown into prison to await the day for his execution.
Meanwhile, as the magistrate was one day inspecting his gaol, suddenly a man appeared in the hall, who glared at him fiercely and roared out, “Dull-headed fool unfit to be the guardian of the people’s interests “—whereupon the crowd of servants standing round rushed forward to seize him, but with one sweep of his arms he laid them all flat on the ground. The magistrate was frightened out of his wits, and tried to escape, but the man cried out to him, “I am one of Kuan Ti’s lieutenants. If you move an inch you are lost.” So the magistrate stood there, shaking from head to foot with fear, while his visitor continued, “The murderer is Kung Piao: Chu had nothing to do with it.”
The lieutenant then fell down on the ground, and was to all appearance lifeless; however, after a while he recovered, his face having quite changed, and when they asked him his name, lo it was Kung Piao. Under the application of the bamboo he confessed his guilt. Always an unprincipled man, he had heard that the murdered man was going out to collect money, and thinking he would be sure to bring it back with him, he had killed him, but had [p. 316] found nothing. Then when he learnt that Chu acknowledged the crime as his own doing, he had rejoiced in secret at such a stroke of luck. How he had got into the magistrate’s hall he was quite unable to say. The magistrate now called for some explanation of Chu’s bloody clothes, which Chu himself was unable to give; but his mother, who was at once sent for, stated that she had cut her own arm to stain them, and when they examined her they found on her left arm the scar of a recent wound. The magistrate was lost in amazement at all this; unfortunately for him, the reversal of his sentence cost him his appointment, and he died in poverty, unable to find his way home. As for Chu, the widow of the murdered man married him in the following year, out of gratitude for his noble behaviour.
1 See No. LXIV., note 2.
2 Such has, doubtless, been the occasional result of torture in China; but the singular keenness of the mandarins, as a body, in recognising the innocent and detecting the guilty,—that is, when their own avaricious interests are not involved,—makes this contingency so rare as to be almost unknown. A good instance came under my own notice at Swatow in 1876. For years a Chinese servant had been employed at the foreign Custom House to carry a certain sum of money every week to the bank, and at length his honesty was above suspicion. On the occasion to which I allude he had been sent as usual with the bag of dollars, but after a short absence he rushed back with a frightful gash on his right arm, evidently inflicted by a heavy chopper, and laying the bone bare. The money was gone. He said he had been invited into a tea-house by a couple of soldiers whom he could point out; that they had tried to wrest the bag from him, and that at length one of them seized a chopper and inflicted so severe a wound on his arm, that in his agony he dropped the money, and the soldiers made off with it. The latter were promptly arrested and confronted with their accuser; but, with almost indecent haste, the police magistrate dismissed the case against them, and declared that he believed the man had made away with the money and inflicted the wound on himself. And so it turned out to be, under overwhelming evidence. This servant of proved fidelity had given way to a rash hope of making a little money at the gaming-table; had hurried into one of these hells and lost everything in three stakes; had wounded himself on the right arm (he was a left-handed man), and had concocted the story of the soldiers, all within the space of about twenty-five minutes. When he saw that he was detected, he confessed everything, without having received a single blow of the bamboo; but up to the moment of his confession the foreign feeling against that police-magistrate was undeniably strong.
3 See No. I., note 4.
4 See No. LXVIII., note 1. The circumstances which led to this marriage would certainly be considered “exceptional.”
LXXIV. A RIP VAN WINKLE
[THE story runs that a Mr. Chia, after obtaining, with the assistance of a mysterious friend, his master’s degree, became alive to the vanity of mere earthly honours, and determined to devote himself to the practice of Taoism, in the hope of obtaining the elixir of immortality.2]
So early one morning Chia and his friend, whose name was Lang, stole away together, without letting Chia’s family know anything about it; and by-and-by they found themselves among the hills, in a vast cave where there was another world and another sky. An old man was sitting there in great state, and Lang presented Chia to him as his future master. “Why have you come so soon?” asked the old man; to which Lang replied, “My friend’s determination is firmly fixed: I pray you receive him amongst you.” “Since you have come,” said the old man, turning to Chia, “you must begin by putting away from you your earthly body.” Chia murmured his assent, and was then escorted by Lang to a sleeping-chamber, where he was provided with food, after which Lang went away. [p. 317] The room was beautifully clean: the doors had no panels and the windows no lattices; and all the furniture was one table and one couch. Chia took off his shoes and lay down, with the moon shining brightly into the room; and beginning soon to feel hungry, he tried one of the cakes on the table, which he found sweet and very satisfying. He thought Lang would be sure to come back, but there he remained hour after hour by himself, never hearing a sound. He noticed, however, that the room was fragrant with a delicious perfume; his viscera seemed to be removed from his body, by which his intellectual faculties were much increased; and every one of his veins and arteries could be easily counted.
Then suddenly he heard a sound like that of a cat scratching itself; and, looking out of the window, he beheld a tiger sitting under the verandah. He was horribly frightened for the moment, but immediately recalling the admonition of the old man, he collected himself and sat quietly down again. The tiger seemed to know that there was a man inside, for it entered the room directly afterwards, and walking straight up to the couch sniffed at Chia’s feet. Whereupon there was a noise outside, as if a fowl were having its legs tied, and the tiger ran away.
Shortly afterwards a beautiful young girl came in, suffusing an exquisite fragrance around; and going up to the couch where Chia was, she bent over him and whispered, “Here I am.” Her breath was like the sweet odour of perfumes; but as Chia did not move, she whispered again, “Are you sleeping?” The voice sounded to Chia remarkably like that of his wife; however, he reflected that these were all probably nothing more than tests of his determination, so he closed his eyes firmly for a while. But by-and-by the young lady called him by his pet name, and then he opened his eyes wide to discover that she was no other than his own wife. On asking her how she had come there, she replied that Mr. Lang was afraid her husband would be lonely, and had sent an old woman to guide her to him. Just then they heard the old man outside in a towering rage, and Chia’s wife, not knowing where to conceal herself, jumped over a low wall near by and disappeared.
In came the old man, and gave Lang a severe beating before [p. 318] Chia’s face, bidding him at once to get rid of his visitor; so Lang led Chia away over the low wall, saying, “Because I entertained extravagant hopes of you, I made the mistake of too hastily introducing you; but now I see that your time has not yet come: hence this beating I have had. Good-bye: we shall meet again some day.” He then showed Chia the way to his home, and waving his hand bade him farewell. Chia looked down—for he was in the moon—and beheld the old familiar village; and recollecting that his wife was not a good walker and would not have got very far, hurried on to overtake her.
Before long he was at his own door, but he noticed that the place was all tumble-down and in ruins, and not as it was when he went away. As for the people he saw, old and young alike, he did not recognise one of them; and recollecting the story of how Liu and Yüan came back from heaven,4 he was afraid to go in at the door. So he sat down and rested outside; and after a while an old man leaning on a staff came out, whereupon Chia asked him which was the house of Mr. Chia. “This is it,” replied the old man; “you probably wish to hear the extraordinary story connected with the family? I know all about it. They say that Mr. Chia ran away just after he had taken his master’s degree, when his son was only seven or eight years old; and that about seven years afterwards the child’s mother went into a deep sleep from which she did not awake. As long as her son was alive he changed his mother’s clothes for her according to the seasons, but when he died, her grandsons fell into poverty, and had nothing but an old shanty to put the sleeping lady into. Last month she awaked, having been asleep for over a hundred years. People from far and near have been coming in great numbers to hear the strange story; of late, however, there have been rather fewer.” Chia was amazed when he heard all this, and, turning to the old man, said, “I am Chia Feng-chili.”
This astonished the [p. 319] old man very much, and off he went to make the announcement to Chia’s family. The eldest grandson was dead; and the second, a man of about fifty, refused to believe that such a young-looking man was really his grandfather; but in a few moments out came Chia’s wife, and she recognised her husband at once. They then fell upon each other’s necks and mingled their tears together.
[After which the story is drawn out to a considerable length, but is quite devoid of interest.]5
1 This being a long and tedious story, I have given only such part of it as is remarkable for its similarity to Washington Irving’s famous narrative.
2 See No. IV., note 1.
3 Borrowed from Buddhism.
4 Alluding to a similar story, related in the Record of the Immortals, of how these two friends lost their way while gathering simples on the hills, and were met and entertained by two lovely young damsels for the space of half-a-year. When, however, they subsequently returned home, they found that ten generations had passed away.
5 Besides the above, there is the story of a man named Wang, who, wandering one day in the mountains, came upon some old men playing a game of wei-ch’i; and after watching them for some time, he found that the handle of an axe he had with him had mouldered away into dust. Seven generations of men had passed away in the interval. Also, a similar legend of a horseman, who, when riding over the hills, saw several old men playing a game with rushes, and tied his-horse to a tree while he himself approached to observe them. A few minutes afterwards he turned to depart, but found only the skeleton of his horse and the rotten remnants of the saddle and bridle. He then sought his home, but that was gone too; and so he laid himself down upon the ground and died of a broken heart.
LXXV. THE THREE STATES OF EXISTENCE
A CERTAIN man of the province of Hunan could recall what had happened to him in three previous lives. ln the first, he was a magistrate; and, on one occasion, when he had been nominated Assistant-Examiner, a candidate, named Hsing, was unsuccessful. Hsing went home dreadfully mortified, and soon after died; but his spirit appeared before the King of Purgatory, and read aloud the rejected essay, whereupon thousands of other shades, all of whom had suffered in a similar way, thronged around, and unanimously elected Hsing as their chief. The Examiner was immediately summoned to take his trial, and when he arrived the King asked him, saying, “As you are appointed to examine the various essays, how is it that you throw out the able and admit the worthless?” “Sire,” replied he, “the ultimate decision rests with the Grand Examiner; I only pass them on to him.” The King then issued a warrant for the apprehension of the Grand Examiner, and as soon as he appeared, he was told what had just now [p. 320] been said against him; to which he answered, “I am only able to make a general estimate of the merits of the candidates. Valuable essays may be kept back from me by my Associate-Examiners, in which case I am powerless.” But the King cried out, “It’s all very well for you two thus to throw the blame on each other; you are both guilty, and both of you must be bambooed according to law.” This sentence was about to be carried into effect, when Hsing, who was not at all satisfied with its lack of severity, set up such a fearful screeching and howling, in which he was well supported by all the other hundreds and thousands of shades, that the King stopped short, and inquired what was the matter. Thereupon Hsing informed His Majesty that the sentence was too light, and that the Examiners should both have their eyes gouged out, so as not to be able to read essays any more. The King would not consent to this, explaining to the noisy rabble that the Examiners did not purposely reject good essays, but only because they themselves were naturally wanting in capacity.
The shades then begged that, at any rate, their hearts might be cut out, and to this the King was obliged to yield; so the Examiners were seized by the attendants, their garments stripped off, and their bodies ripped open with sharp knives. The blood poured out on the ground, and the victims screamed with pain; at which all the shades rejoiced exceedingly, and said, “Here we have been pent [p. 321] up, with no one to redress our wrongs; but now Mr. Hsing has come, our injuries are washed away.” They then dispersed with great noise and hubbub.
As for our Associate-Examiner, after his heart had been cut out, he came to life again as the son of a poor man in Shensi; and when he was twenty years old he fell into the hands of the rebels, who were at that time giving great trouble to the country. By-and-by, a certain official was sent at the head of some soldiers to put down the insurrection, and he succeeded in capturing a large number of the rebels, among whom was our hero. The latter reflected that he himself was no rebel, and he was hoping that he would be able to obtain his release in consequence, when he noticed that the officer in charge was also a man of his own age, and, on looking more closely, he saw that it was his old: enemy, Hsing. “Alas “cried he, “such is destiny;” and so indeed it turned out, for all the other prisoners were forthwith released, and he alone was beheaded.
Once more his spirit stood before the King of Purgatory, this time with an accusation against Hsing. The King, however, would not summon Hsing at once, but said he should be allowed to complete his term of official life on earth; and it was not till thirty years afterwards that Hsing appeared to answer to the charge. Then, because he had made light of the lives of his people, he was condemned to be born again as a brute-beast; and our hero, too, inasmuch as he had been known to beat his father and mother, was sentenced to a similar fate. The latter, fearing the future vengeance of Hsing, persuaded the King to give him the advantage of size; and, accordingly, orders were issued that he was to be born again as a big, and Hsing as a little, dog. The big dog came to life in a shop in Shun-t’ien Fu, and was one day lying down in the street, when a trader from the south arrived, bringing with him a little golden-haired dog, about the size of a wild cat, which, lo and behold turned out to be Hsing. The other, thinking Hsing’s size would render him an easy prey, seized him at once; but the little one caught him from underneath by the throat, and hung there firmly, like a bell. The big dog tried hard to shake him off, and the people of the shop did their best to separate them, but all was of no avail, and in a few moments both dogs were dead.
Upon their spirits presenting themselves, [p. 322] as usual, before the King, each with its grievance against the other, the King cried out, “When will ye have done with your wrongs and your animosities? I will now settle the matter finally for you;” and immediately commanded that Hsing should become the other’s son-in-law in the next world.
The latter was then born at Ch’ing-yün, and when he was twenty-eight years of age took his master’s degree. He had one daughter, a very pretty girl, whom many of his wealthy neighbours would have been glad to get for their sons; but he would not accept any of their offers. On one occasion he happened to pass through the prefectural city, just as the examination for bachelor’s degree was over; and the candidate who had come out at the top of the list, though named Li, was no other than Mr. Hsing. So he led this man away, and took him to an inn, where he treated him with the utmost cordiality, finally arranging that, as Mr. Li was still unmarried, he should marry his pretty daughter. Every one, of course, thought that this was done in admiration of Li’s talents, ignorant that destiny had already decreed the union of the young couple.
No sooner were they married than Li, proud of his own literary achievements, began to slight his father-in-law, and often passed many months without going near him; all of which the father-in-law bore very patiently, and when, at length, Li had repeatedly failed to get on any farther in his career, he even went so far as to set to work, by all manner of means, to secure his success; after which they lived happily together as father and son.
1 If there is one institution in the Chinese Empire which is jealously guarded and honestly administered, it is the great system of competitive examinations which has obtained. in China now for many centuries. And yet frauds do take place, in spite of the exceptionally heavy penalties incurred upon detection. Friends are occasionally smuggled through by the aid of marked essays; and dishonest candidates avail themselves of “sleeve editions,” as they are called, of the books in which they are to be examined. On the whole, the result is a successful one. As a rule, the best candidates pull through; while, in exceptional cases, unquestionably good men are rejected. Of the latter class, the author of this work [Pu Sung-Ling] is a most striking instance. Excelling in literary attainments of the highest order, he failed more than once to obtain his master’s degree, and finally threw up in disgust. Thenceforward he became the enemy of the mandarinate; and how he has lashed the corruption of his age may be read in such stories as The Wolf Dream, and many others, while the policy that he himself would have adopted, had he been fortunate enough to succeed, must remain for ever a matter of doubt and speculation.
LXXVI. IN THE INFERNAL REGIONS
HSI FANG-P’ING was a native of Tung-an. His father’s name was Hsi Lien—a hasty-tempered man, who had quarrelled with a neighbour named Yang. By-and-by Yang died; and some years afterwards, when Lien was on his death-bed, he cried out that Yang was bribing the devils in hell to torture him. His body then swelled up and turned red, and in a few moments he had breathed his last. His son wept bitterly and refused all food, saying, “Alas! my poor father is now being maltreated by cruel devils; I must go down and help to redress his wrongs.”
Thereupon he ceased speaking, and sat for a long time like [p. 323] one dazed, his soul having already quitted its tenement of clay. To himself he appeared to be outside the house, not knowing in what direction to go, so he inquired from one of the passers-by which was the way to the district city.l Before long he found himself there, and, directing his steps towards the prison, found his father lying outside in a very shocking state. When the latter beheld his son, he burst into tears, and declared that the gaolers had been bribed to beat him, which they did both day and night, until they had reduced him to his present sorry plight. Then Fang-P’ing turned round in a great rage, and began to curse the gaolers. “Out upon you! “cried he; “if my father is guilty he should be punished according to law, and not at the will of a set of scoundrels like you.”
Thereupon he hurried away, and prepared a petition, which he took with him to present at the morning session of the City God; but his enemy, Yang, had meanwhile set to work, and bribed so effectually, that the City God dismissed his petition for want of corroborative evidence.3
Fang-p’ing was furious, but could do nothing; so he started at once for the prefectural city, where he managed to get his plaint received, though it was nearly a month before it came on for hearing, and then all he got was a reference back to the district city, where he was severely tortured, and escorted back to the door of his own home, for fear he should give further trouble.
However, he did not go in, but stole away and proceeded to lay his complaint before one of the ten Judges of Purgatory; whereupon the two mandarins who had previously ill-used him, came forward and secretly offered him a thousand ounces of silver if he would withdraw the charge. This he positively refused to do; and some days subsequently the landlord of the inn, where he was staying, told him he had been a fool for his pains, and that he would now get neither money nor justice, the judge himself having already been tampered with. [p. 324]
Fang-p’ing thought this was mere gossip, and would not believe it; but, when his case was called, the Judge utterly refused to hear the charge, and ordered him twenty blows with the bamboo, which were administered in spite of all his protestations. He then cried out, “Ah!it’s all because I have no money to give you;” which so incensed the Judge, that he told the lictors to throw Fang-p’ing on the fire-bed. This was a great iron couch, with a roaring fire underneath, which made it red-hot; and upon that the devils cast Fang-p’ing, having first stripped off his clothes, pressing him down on it, until the fire ate into his very bones, though in spite of that he could not die. After a while the devils said he had had enough, and made him get off the iron bed, and put his clothes on again.
He was just able to walk, and when he went back into court, the judge asked him if he wanted to make any further complaints. “Alas! “cried he, “my wrongs are still unredressed, and I should only be lying were I to say I would complain no more.” The Judge then inquired what he had to complain of; to which Fang-Ong replied that it was of the injustice of his recent punishment. This enraged the Judge so much that he ordered his attendants to saw Fang-p’ing in two. He was then led away by devils, to a place where he was thrust in between a couple of wooden boards, the ground on all sides being wet and sticky with blood.
Just at that moment he was summoned to return before the Judge, who asked him if he was still of the same mind; and, on his replying in the affirmative, he was taken back again, and bound between the two boards. The saw was then applied, and as it went through his brain he experienced the most cruel agonies, which, however, he managed to endure without uttering a cry. “He’s a tough customer,” said one of the devils, as the saw made its way gradually through his chest; to which the other replied, “Truly, this is filial piety; and, as the poor fellow has done nothing, let us turn the saw a little out of the direct line, so as to avoid injuring his heart.” Fang-p’ing then felt the saw make a curve inside him, which caused him even more pain than before; and, in a few moments, he was cut through right down to the ground, and the two halves of his body fell apart, along with the boards to which they were tied, one on either side. The devils went back to report progress, and were then ordered to join Fang-p’ing [p. 325] together again, and bring him in.
This they accordingly did,--the cut all down Fang-p’ing’s body hurting him dreadfully, and feeling as if it would re-open every minute. But, as Fang-p’ing was unable to walk, one of the devils took out a cord and tied it round his waist, as a reward, he said, for his filial piety. The pain immediately ceased, and Fang-p’ing appeared once more before the Judge, this time promising that he would make no more complaints. The judge now gave orders that he should be sent up to earth, and the devils, escorting him out of the north gate of the city, showed him his way home, and went away.
Fang-p’ing now saw that there was even less chance of securing justice in the Infernal Regions than upon the earth above; and, having no means of getting at the Great King to plead his case, he bethought himself of a certain upright and benevolent God, called Erh Lang, who was a relative of the Great King’s, and him he determined to seek. So he turned about and took his way southwards, but was immediately seized by some devils, sent out by the judge to watch that he really went back to his home. These devils hurried him again into the Judge’s presence, where he was received, contrary to his expectation, with great affability; the judge himself praising his filial piety, but declaring that he need trouble no further in the matter, as his father had already been born again in a wealthy and illustrious family. “And upon you,” added the judge, “I now bestow a present of one thousand ounces of silver to take home with you, as well as the old age of a centenarian, with which I hope you will be satisfied.” He then showed Fang-p’ing the stamped record of this, and sent him away in charge of the devils. The latter now began to abuse him for giving them so much trouble, but Fang-p’ing turned sharply upon them, and threatened to take them back before the Judge.
They were then silent, and marched along for about half-a-day, until at length they reached a village, where the devils invited Fang-p’ing into a house, the door of which was standing half-open. Fang-p’ing was just going in, when suddenly the devils gave him a shove from behind, and . . .] there he was, born again on earth as a little girl. For three days he pined and cried, without taking any food, and then he died.
But his spirit did not forget Erh Lang, and set out at once in search of that God. He had not gone far when he fell [p. 326] in with the retinue of some high personage, and one of the attendants seized him for getting in the way, and hurried him before his master. He was taken to a chariot, where he saw a handsome young man, sitting in great state; and thinking that now was his chance, he told the young man, who he imagined to be a high mandarin, all his sad story from beginning to end. His bonds were then loosed, and he went along with the young man until they reached a place where several officials came out to receive them; and to one of these he confided Fang-p’ing, who now learnt that the young man was no other than God himself, the officials being the nine princes of heaven and the one to whose care he was entrusted no other than Erh Lang. This last was very tall, and had a long white beard, not at all like the popular representation of a God and when the other princes had gone, he took Fang-p’ing into a court-room, where he saw his father and their old enemy, Yang, besides all the lictors and others who had been mixed up in the case.
By-and-by, some criminals were brought in in cages, and these turned out to be the Judge, Prefect, and Magistrate. The trial was then commenced, the three wicked officers trembling and shaking in their shoes; and when he had heard the evidence, Erh Lang proceeded to pass sentence upon the prisoners, each of whom he sentenced, after enlarging upon the enormity of their several crimes, to be roasted, boiled, and otherwise put to most excruciating tortures. As for Fang-p’ing, he accorded him three extra decades of life, as a reward for his filial piety, and a copy of the sentence was put in his pocket. Father and son journeyed along together, and at length reached their home; that is to say, Fang-p’ing was the first to recover consciousness, and then bade the servants open his father’s coffin, which they immediately did, and the old man at once came back to life. But when Fang-p’ing looked for his copy of the sentence, lo! it had disappeared.
As for the Yang family, poverty soon overtook them, and all their lands passed into Fang-p’ing’s hands; for as sure as any one else bought them, they became sterile forthwith, and would produce nothing; but Fang-p’ing and his father lived on happily, both reaching the age of ninety and odd years.4
1 The Infernal Regions are supposed to be pretty much a counter-part of the world above, except in the matter of light.
2 The visitor to Canton cannot fail to observe batches of prisoners with chains on them sitting in the street outside the prisons, many of them engaged in plying their particular trades.
3 The judge in a Chinese court is necessarily very much dependent on his secretaries; and, except in special cases, he takes his cue almost entirely from them. They take theirs from whichever party to the case knows best how to “cross the palm.”
4 The whole story is of course simply a satire upon the venality and injustice of the ruling classes in China. [p. 327]
LXXVII. SINGULAR CASE OF OPHTHALMIA
A MR. Ku, of Chiang-non, was stopping in an inn at Chi-hsia, when he was attacked by a very severe inflammation of the eyes. Day and night he lay on his bed groaning, no medicines being of any avail; and when he did get a little better, his recovery was accompanied by a singular phenomenon. Every time he closed his eyes, he beheld in front of him a number of large buildings, with all their doors wide open, and people passing and repassing in the background, none of whom he recognised by sight.
One day he had just sat down to have a good look, when, all of a sudden, he felt himself passing through the open doors. He went on through three court-yards without meeting any one; but, on looking into some rooms on either side, he saw a great number of young girls sitting, lying, and kneeling about on a red carpet, which was spread on the ground. just then a man came out from behind the building, and, seeing Ku, said to him, “Ah, the Prince said there was a stranger at the door; I suppose you are the person he meant.” He then asked Ku to walk in, which the latter was at first unwilling to do; however, he yielded to the man’s instances, and accompanied him in, asking whose palace it was. His guide told him it belonged to the son of the Ninth Prince, and that he had arrived at the nick of time, for a number of friends and relatives had chosen this very day to come and congratulate the young gentleman on his recent recovery from a severe illness.
Meanwhile another person had come out to hurry them on, and they soon reached a spot where there was a pavilion facing the north, with an ornamental terrace and red balustrades, supported by nine pillars. Ascending the steps, they found the place full of visitors, and then espied a young man seated with his face to the north,l whom they at once knew to be the Prince’s son, and thereupon they prostrated themselves before him, the whole company rising as they did so. [p. 328] The young Prince made Ku sit down to the east of him, and caused wine to be served; after which some singing-girls came in and performed the Hua-fêng-chu. They had got to about the third scene, when, all of a sudden, Ku heard the landlord of the inn and his servant shouting out to him that dinner was ready, and was dreadfully afraid that the young Prince, too, had heard. No one, however, seemed to have noticed anything, so Ku begged to be excused a moment, as he wished to change his clothes, and immediately ran out. He then looked up, and saw the sun low in the west, and his servant standing by his bedside, whereupon he knew that he had and left the inn. He was much chagrined at this, and wished to go back as fast as he could; he, therefore, dismissed his servant, and on shutting his eyes once more, he found everything just as he had left it, except that where, on the first occasion, he had observed the young girls, there were none now to be seen, but only some dishevelled hump-backed creatures, who cried out at him, and asked him what he meant by spying about there. Ku didn’t dare reply, but hurried past them as quickly as he could, and on to the pavilion of the young Prince. There he found him still sitting, but with a black beard over a foot in length; and the Prince was anxious to know where he had been, saying that seven scenes of the play were already over. He then seized a big goblet of wine, and made Ku drink it as a penalty, by which time the play was finished, and the list was handed up for a further selection.
The “Marriage of Feng Tsu” was selected, and then the singing-girls began to hand round the wine in cocoa-nuts big enough to hold about five quarts, which Ku declined, on the ground that he was suffering from weak eyes, and was consequently afraid to drink too much. “If your eyes are bad,” cried the young Prince, “the Court physician is at hand, and can attend to you.” Thereupon, one of the guests sitting to the east came forward, and, opening Ku’s eyes with his fingers, touched them with some white ointment, which he applied from the end of a jade pin. He then bade Ku close his eyes, and take a short nap so the Prince had him conducted into a sleeping-room, where he found the bed so soft, and surrounded by such [p. 329] delicious perfume, that he soon fell into a deep slumber.
By-and-by he was awaked by what appeared to be the clashing of cymbals, and fancied that the play was still going on; but on opening his eyes, he saw that it was only the inn-dog, which was licking an oilman’s gong.3 His ophthalmia, however, was quite cured; and when he shut his eyes again he could see nothing.
1 In Book V. of Mencius’ works we read that Shun, the perfect man, stood with his face to the south, while the Emperor Yao (see No. VIII., note 3) and his nobles faced the north. This arrangement is said to have been adopted in deference to Shun’s virtue; for in modern times the Emperor always sits facing the south.
2 Name of a celebrated play.
3 These are about as big as a cheese-plate and attached to a short stick, from which hangs suspended a small button of metal in such a manner as to clash against the face of the gong at every turn of the hand. The names and descriptions of various instruments employed by costermongers in China would fill a good-sized volume.
LXXVIII. CHOU K’O-CH’ANG AND HIS GHOST
AT Huai-shang there lived a graduate named Chou Tien-i, who, though fifty years of age, had but one son, called K’o-ch’ang, whom he loved very dearly. This boy, when about thirteen or fourteen, was a handsome, well-favoured fellow, strangely averse to study, and often playing truant from school, sometimes for the whole day, without any remonstrance on the part of his father.
One day he went away and did not come back in the evening; neither, after a diligent search, could any traces of him be discovered. His father and mother were in despair, and hardly cared to live; but after a year and more had passed away, lo and behold! K’o-ch’ang returned, saying that he had been beguiled away by a Taoist priest, who, however, had not done him any harm, and that he had seized a moment while the priest was absent to escape and find his way home again.
His father was delighted, and asked him no more questions, but set to work to give him an education; and K’o-ch’ang was so much cleverer and more intelligent than he had been before, that by the following year he had taken his bachelor’s degree and made quite a name for himself. Immediately all the good families of the neighbourhood wanted to secure him as a son-in-law. Among others proposed there was an extremely nice girl, the daughter of a gentleman named Chao, who had taken his doctor’s degree, and K’o-ch’ang’s father was very anxious that he should marry the young [p. 330] lady. The youth himself would not hear of it, but stuck to his books and took his master’s degree, quite refusing to entertain any thought of marriage; and this so exasperated his mother that one day the good lady began to rate him soundly. K’o-ch’ang got up in a great rage and cried out, “I have long been wanting to get away, and have only remained for your sakes. I shall now say farewell, and leave Miss Chao for any one that likes to marry her.” At this his mother tried to detain him, but in a moment he had fallen forwards on the ground, and there was nothing left of him but his hat and clothes.
They were all dreadfully frightened, thinking that it must have been K’o-ch’ang’s ghost who had been with them, and gave themselves up to weeping and lamentation; however, the very next day K’o-ch’ang arrived, accompanied by a retinue of horses and servants, his story being that he had formerly been kidnapped and sold to a wealthy trader, who, being then childless, had adopted him, but who, when he subsequently had a son born to him by his own wife, sent K’o-ch’ang back to his old home. And as soon as his father began to question him as to his studies, his utter dullness and want of knowledge soon made it clear that he was the real K’o-ch’ang of old; but he was already known as a man who had got his master’s degree (that is, the ghost of him had got it), so it was determined in the family to keep the whole affair secret.
This K’o-ch’ang was only too ready to espouse Miss Chao; and before a year had passed over their heads his wife had presented the old people with the much-longed-for grandson.
1 See No. XXIII., note 10.
LXXIX. THE SPIRITS OF THE PO-YANG LAKE
AN official, named Chai, was appointed to a post at Jao-chou, and on his way thither crossed the Po-yang lake. Happening to visit the shrine of the local spirits, he noticed a carved image of the patriotic Ting Fu-lang,l and another [p. 331] of a namesake of his own, the latter occupying a very inferior position. “Come! come!” said Chai, “my patron saint sha’n’t be put in the background like that;” so he moved the image into a more honourable place, and then went back on board his boat again.
Soon after, a great wind struck the vessel, and carried away the mast and sails; at which the sailors, in great alarm, set to work to howl and cry. However, in a few moments they saw a small skiff come cutting through the waves, and before long they were all safely on board. The man who towed it was strangely like the image in the shrine, the position of which Chai had changed; but they were hardly out of danger when the squall had passed over, and skiff and man had both vanished.
1 A famous soldier, who distinguished himself at the battle of Po-yang, A.D. 1363. Even when his head had been taken off, he still grasped his sword and remained standing in an attitude of attack.
LXXX. THE STREAM OF CASH
A CERTAIN gentleman’s servant was one day in his master’s garden, when he beheld a stream of cash flowing by, two or three feet in breadth and of about the same depth. He immediately seized two large handfuls, and then threw himself down on the top of the stream in order to try and secure the rest. However, when he got up he found that it had all flowed away from under him, none being left except what he had got in his two hands.
[“ Ah! “says the commentator, “money is properly a circulating medium, and is not intended for a man to lie upon and keep all to himself.”]2
1 See No. II., note 2.
2 The Chinese, fond as they are of introducing water, under the form of miniature lakes, into their gardens and pleasure-grounds, do not approve of a running stream near the dwelling-house. I myself knew a case of a man, provided with a pretty little house, rent-free, alongside of which ran a mountain rill, who left the place and paid for lodgings out of his own pocket rather than live so close to a stream which he averred carried all his good luck away. Yet this man was a fair scholar and a graduate to boot.
LXXXI. THE INJUSTICE OF HEAVEN
MR. HSÜ was a magistrate in Shantung. A certain upper chamber of his house was used as a store-room; but some creature managed so frequently to get in and make havoc among the stores, for which the servants were always being scolded, that at length some of the latter determined to keep watch. By-and-by they saw a huge spider as big as a peck measure, and hurried off to tell their master, who thought it so strange that he gave orders to the servants to feed the insect with cakes. It thus became very tame, and would always come forth when hungry, returning as soon as it had taken enough to eat.1
Years passed away, and one day Mr. Hsü was consulting his archives, when suddenly the spider appeared and ran under the table. Thinking it was hungry, he bade his servants give it a cake; but the next moment he noticed two snakes, of about the thickness of a chop-stick, lying one on each side. The spider drew in its legs as if in mortal fear, and the snakes began to swell out until they were as big round as an egg; at which Mr. Hsü was greatly alarmed, and would have hurried away, when crash! went a peal of thunder, killing every person in the house. Mr. Hsü himself recovered consciousness after a little while, but only to see his wife and servants, seven persons in all, lying dead; and after a month’s illness he, too, departed this life. Now Mr. Hsü was an upright, honourable man, who really had the interests of the people at heart. A subscription was accordingly raised to pay his funeral expenses, and on the day of his burial the air was rent for miles round with cries of weeping and lamentation.
[Hereon the author makes the following remark:—“That dragons play with pearls” I have always regarded as an old woman’s tale. Is it possible, then, that the story [p. 333] is a fact? I have heard, too, that the thunder strikes only the guilty man; and, if so, how could a virtuous official be visited with this dire calamity? Are not the inconsistencies of God Almighty many indeed?”]
1 That Chinaman thinks his a hard lot who cannot “eat till he is full.” It may be noticed here that the Chinese seem not so much to enjoy the process of eating, as the subsequent state of repletion. As a rule, they bolt their food, and get their enjoyment out of it afterwards.
2 The disc, spoken of as a pearl, which is often figured between two dragons, is really the symbol of thunder rolling.
LXXXII. THE SEA-SERPENT
A TRADER named Chia was voyaging on the south seas, when one night it suddenly became as light as day on board his ship. Jumping up to see what was the matter, he beheld a huge creature with its body half out of the water, towering up like a hill. Its eyes resembled two suns, and threw a light far and wide; and when the trader asked the boatmen what it was, there was not one who could say. They all crouched down and watched it; and by-and-by the monster gradually disappeared in the water again, leaving everything in darkness as before. And when they reached port, they found all the people talking about a strange phenomenon of a great light that had appeared in the night, the time of which coincided exactly with the strange scene they themselves had witnessed.l
1 The “sea-serpent “in this case was probably nothing more or less than some meteoric phenomenon.
LXXXII. THE MAGIC MIRROR
“ . . . BUT if you would really like to have something that has belonged to me,” said she, “you shall.” Whereupon she took out a mirror and gave it to him, saying, “Whenever you want to see me, you must look for me in your books; otherwise I shall not be visible;”—and in a moment she had vanished. Liu went home very melancholy at heart; but when he looked in the mirror, there [p. 334] was Fêng-hsien, standing with her back to him, gazing, as it were, at some one who was going away, and about a hundred paces from her. He then bethought himself of her injunctions, and settled down to his studies, refusing to receive any visitors; and a few days subsequently, when he happened to look in the mirror, there was Fêng-hsien, with her face turned towards him, and smiling in every feature. After this, he was always taking out the mirror to look at her; however, in about a month his good resolutions began to disappear, and he once more went out to enjoy himself and waste his time as before. When he returned home and looked in the mirror, Fêng-hsien seemed to be crying bitterly; and the day after, when he looked at her again, she had her back turned towards him as on the day he received the mirror. He now knew that it was because he had neglected his studies, and forthwith set to work again with all diligence, until in a month’s time she had turned round once again.
Henceforward, whenever anything interrupted his progress, Fêng-hsien’s countenance became sad; but whenever he was getting on well, her sadness was changed to smiles. Night and morning Liu would look at the mirror, regarding it quite in the light of a revered preceptor; and in three years’ time he took his degree in triumph. “Now;” cried he, “I shall be able to look Fêng-hsien in the face.” And there, sure. enough, she was, with her delicately-pencilled arched eyebrows, and her teeth just showing between her lips, as happy-looking as she could be, when, all of a sudden, she seemed to speak, and Liu heard her say, “A pretty pair we make, I must allow”—and the next moment Fêng-hsien stood by his side.
1 The following is merely a single episode taken from a long and otherwise uninteresting story. Miss Fêng-hsien was a fox; hence her power to bestow such a singular present as the mirror here described, the object of which was to incite her lover to success—the condition of their future union.
LXXXIV. COURAGE TESTED
MR. TUNG was a Hsü-chou man, very fond of playing broad-sword, and a light-hearted, devil-may-care fellow, who was often involving himself in trouble. One day he fell in with a traveller who was riding on a mule and going the same way as himself; whereupon they entered into conversation, and began to talk to each other about [p. 335] feats of strength and so on. The traveller said his name was T’ung,1 and that he belonged to Liao-yang; that he had been twenty years away from home, and had just returned from beyond the sea. “And I venture to say,” cried Tung, “that in your wanderings on the Four Seas you have seen a great many people; but have you seen any supernaturally clever ones?” T’ung asked him to what he alluded; and then T’ung explained what his own particular hobby was, adding how much he would like to learn from them any tricks in the art of broad-sword. “Supernaturals,” replied the traveller, “are to be found everywhere. It needs but that a man should be a loyal subject and a filial son for him to know all that the supernaturals know.” “Right you are, indeed!” cried Tung, as he drew a short sword from his belt, and, tapping the blade with his fingers, began to accompany it with a song. He then cut down a tree that was by the wayside, to show T’ung how sharp it was; at which T’ung smoothed his beard and smiled, begging to be allowed to have a look at the weapon. Tung handed it to him, and, when he had turned it over two or three times, he said, “This is a very inferior piece of steel; now, though I know nothing about broad-sword myself, I have a weapon which is really of some use.” He then drew from beneath his coat a sword, a foot or so in length, and with it he began to pare pieces off Tung’s sword, which seemed as soft as a melon, and which he cut quite away like a horse’s hoof. Tung was greatly astonished, and borrowed the other’s sword to examine it, returning it after carefully wiping the blade. He then invited T’ung to his house, and made him stay the night; and after begging him to explain the mystery of his sword, began to nurse his leg and sit listening respectfully [p. 336] without saying a word. It was already pretty late, when suddenly there was a sound of scuffling next door, where Tung's father lived; and, on putting his ear to the wall, he heard an angry voice saying, "Tell your son to come here at once, and then I will spare you." This was followed by other sounds of beating and a continued groaning, in a voice which Tung knew to be his father's. He therefore seized a spear, and was about to rush forth, but T’ung held him back, saying, "You'll be killed for a certainty if you go. Let us think of some other plan." Tung asked what plan he could suggest ; to which the other replied," The robbers are killing your father : there is no help for you; but as you have no brothers, just go and tell your wife and children what your last wishes are, while I try and rouse the servants." Tung agreed to this, and ran in to tell his wife, who clung to him and implored him not to go, until at length all his courage had ebbed away, and he went upstairs with her to get his bow and arrows ready to resist the robbers’ attack. At that juncture he heard the voice of his friend T'ung, outside on the eaves of the house, saying, with a laugh, "All right; the robbers have gone;" but on lighting a candle, he could see nothing of him. He then stole out to the front door, where he met his father with a lantern in his hand, coming in from a party at a neighbour's house; and the whole court-yard was covered with the ashes of burnt grass, whereby he knew that T'ung the traveller was himself a supernatural.3
1 Besides the all-important aspirate, this name is pronounced in a different tone from the first-mentioned “Tung;” and is, moreover, expressed in writing by a totally different character. To a Chinese ear, the two words are as unlikely to be confounded as Brown and Jones.
2 The Four Seas are supposed by the Chinese to bound the habitable portions of the earth, which, by the way, they further believe to be square. In the centre of all is China, extending far and wide in every direction,—the eye of the universe, the Middle Kingdom. Away at a distance from her shores lie a number of small islands, wherein dwell such barbarous nations as the English, French, Dutch, &c.
3 The author adds a note to this story which might be summed up in our own—
The [wo]man that deliberates is lost.
LXXXV. THE DISEMBODIED FRIEND
MR. CH’ÊN, M.A., of Shun-t'ien Fu, when a boy of sixteen, went to school at a Buddhist temple.1 There were a great many scholars besides himself, and, among others, one named Ch’u, who said he came from Shantung. This Ch’u was a very hard-working fellow; he never seemed to be idle, and actually slept in the schoolroom, not going home at all. Ch’ên became much attached to him, and one day asked him why he never went away. “Well, you see,” replied Ch’u, “my people are very poor, and can hardly afford to pay for my schooling; but, by dint of working half the night, two of my days are equal to three of anybody else’s.” Thereupon Ch’ên said he would bring his own bed to the school, and that they would sleep there together; to which Ch’u replied that the teaching they got wasn’t worth much, and that they would do better by putting themselves under a certain old scholar named Lü. This they were easily able to do, as the arrangement at the temple was monthly, and at the end of each month any one was free to go or to come.
So off they went to this Mr. Lü, a man of considerable literary attainments, who had found himself in Shun-t’ien Fu without a cash in his pocket, and was accordingly obliged to take pupils. He was delighted at getting two additions to his number; and Ch’u showing himself an apt scholar, the two soon became very great friends, sleeping in the same room and eating at the same table. At the end of the month Ch’u asked for leave of absence, and, to the astonishment of all, ten days elapsed without anything being heard of him. It then chanced that Ch’ên went to the Tien-rung temple, and there he saw Ch’u under one of the verandahs, occupied in cutting wood for lucifer-matches.2 The latter was much disconcerted by the arrival of Ch’ên, who asked him why he had given up his studies; so the latter took him aside, and explained that he was so poor as to be obliged to work half a month to scrape together funds enough for his next month’s schooling. “You come along back with me,” cried Ch’ên, on hearing this, “I [p. 338] will arrange for the payment,” which Ch’u immediately consented to do on condition that Ch’ên would keep the whole thing a profound secret.
Now Ch’ên’s father was a wealthy tradesman, and from his till Ch’ên abstracted money wherewith to pay for Ch’u; and by-and-by, when his father found him out, he confessed why he had done so. Thereupon Ch’ên’s father called him a fool, and would not let him resume his studies; at which Ch’u was much hurt, and would have left the school too, but that old Mr. Lü discovered what had taken place, and gave him the money to return to Ch’ên’s father, keeping him still at the school, and treating him quite like his own son. So Ch’ên studied no more, but whenever he met Ch’u he always asked him to join in some refreshment at a restaurant, Ch’u invariably refusing, but yielding at length to his entreaties, being himself loth to break off their old acquaintanceship.
Thus two years passed away, when Ch’ên’s father died, and Ch’ên went back to his books under the guidance of old, Mr. Lü who was very glad to see such determination. Of course Ch’ên was now far behind Ch’u; and in about six months Lü’s son arrived, having begged his way in search of his father, so Mr. Lü gave up his school and returned home with a purse which his pupils had made up for him, Ch’u adding nothing thereto but his tears. At parting, Mr. Lü advised Ch’ên to take Ch’u as his tutor, and this he did, establishing him comfortably in the house with him.
The examination was very shortly to commence, and Ch’ên felt convinced that he should not get through; but Ch’u said he thought he should be able to manage the matter for him. On the appointed day he introduced Ch’ên to a gentleman who he said was a cousin of his, named Liu, and asked Ch’ên to accompany this cousin, which Ch’ên was just proceeding to do when Ch’u pulled him back from behinds and he would have fallen down but that the cousin pulled him up again, and then, after having scrutinised his appearance, carried him off to his own house. There being no ladies there, Ch’ên was put into the inner apartments; and a few days after-wards Liu said to him, “A great many people will be at the gardens to-day let us go and amuse ourselves awhile, [p. 339] and afterwards I will send you home again.” He then gave orders that a servant should proceed on ahead with tea and wine, and by-and-by they themselves went, and were soon in the thick of the fete. Crossing over a bridge, they saw beneath an old willow tree a little painted skiff, and were soon on board, engaged in freely passing round the wine.
However, finding this a little dull, Liu bade his servant go and see if Miss Li, the famous singing-girl, was at home; and in a few minutes the servant returned bringing Miss Li with him. Ch’ên had met her before, and so they at once exchanged greeetings, while Liu begged her to be good enough to favour them with a song. Miss Li, who seemed labouring under a fit of melancholy, forthwith began a funeral dirge; at which Ch’ên was not much pleased, and observed that such a theme was hardly suitable to the occasion. With a forced smile, Miss Li changed her key, and gave them a love-song; whereupon Ch’ên seized her hand, and said, “There’s that song of the Huan-sha river,6 which you sang once before; I have read it over several times, but have quite forgotten the words.” Then Miss Li began
Eyes overflowing with tears, she sits gazing into her mirror
Lifting the bamboo screen, one of her comrades approaches.
She bends her head and seems intent on her bow-like slippers,
And forces her eyebrows to arch themselves into a smile.
With her scarlet sleeve she wipes the tears from her fragrant cheek,
In fear and trembling lest they should guess the thoughts that overwhelm her.
Ch’ên repeated this over several times, until at length the skiff stopped, and they passed through a long verandah, where a great many verses had been inscribed on the walls,6 to which Ch’ên at once proceeded to add a stanza of his own. Evening was now coming on, and Liu remarked that the candidates would be just about leaving the examination-hall;6 so he escorted him back to his own home, [p. 340] and there left him.
The room was dark, and there was no one with him; but by-and-by the servants ushered in someone whom at first he took to be Ch’u. However, he soon saw that it was not Ch’u, and in another moment the stranger had fallen against him and knocked him down. “Master’s fainted!” cried the servants, as they ran to pick him up; and then Ch’ên discovered that the one who had fallen down was really no other than himself.7 On getting up, he saw Ch’u standing by his side; and when they had sent away the servants the latter said, “Don’t be alarmed: I am nothing more than a disembodied spirit. My time for reappearing on earths is long overdue, but I could not forget your great kindness to me, and accordingly I have remained under this form in order to assist in the accomplishment of your wishes. The three bouts are over, and your ambition will be gratified.”
Ch’ên then inquired if Ch’u could assist him in like manner for his doctor’s degree; to which the latter replied, “Alas! the luck descending to you from your ancestors is not equal to that.10 They were a niggardly lot, and unfit for the posthumous honours you would thus confer on them.” Ch’ên next asked him whither he was going; and Ch’u replied that he hoped, through the agency of his cousin, who was a clerk in Purgatory, to be born again in old Mr. Lü’s family. They then bade each other adieu; and, when morning came, Ch’ên set off to call on Miss Li, the singing-girl; but on reaching her house he found that she had been dead some days.11 He walked on to the gardens, and there he saw traces of verses that had been written on the walls, and evidently rubbed out, so as to be hardly decipherable. In a moment it flashed across him that the verses and their composers belonged to the other world. Towards evening Ch’u reappeared in high spirits, saying that he had succeeded in his design, and had come to wish Ch’ên a long farewell. [p. 341] Holding out his open palms, he requested Ch’ên to write the word Ch’u on each; and then, after refusing to take a parting cup, he went away, telling Ch’ên that the examination-list would soon be out, and that they would meet again before long. Ch’ên brushed away his tears and escorted him to the door, where a man, who had been waiting for dim, laid his hand on Ch’u’s head and pressed it downwards until Ch’u was perfectly flat. The man then put him in a sack and carried him off on his back.
A few days afterwards the list came out, and, to his great joy, Ch’ên found his name among the successful candidates whereupon he immediately started off to visit his old tutor, Mr. Lü.12 Now Mr. Lü’s wife had had no children for ten years, being about fifty years of age, when suddenly she gave birth to a son, who was born with both fists doubled up so that no one could open them. On his arrival Ch’ên begged to see the child, and declared that inside its hands would be found written the word Ch’u. Old Mr. Lü laughed at this; but no sooner had the child set eyes on Ch’ên than both its fists opened spontaneously, and there was the word as Ch’ên had said. The story was soon told, and Ch’ên went home, after making a handsome present to the family; and later on, when Mr. Lü went up for his doctor’s degree and stayed at Ch’ên’s house, his son was thirteen years old, and had already matriculated as a candidate for literary honours.
1 Buddhist priests not unusually increase the revenue of their monastery by taking pupils ; and it is only fair to them to add that the curriculum is strictly secular, the boys learning precisely what they would at an ordinary school and nothing else.
2 These consist simply of thin slips of wood dipped in brimstone, and resemble those used in England as late as the first quarter of the nineteenth century. They are said to have been invented by the people of Hang-chow, the capital of Chekiang; but it is quite possible that the hint may have first reached China from the West. They were called yin kuang, “bring light “(lucifer), fa chu, “give forth illumination,” and other names. Lucifer matches are now generally spoken of as tzü lai huo, “self-come fire,” and are almost universally employed, except in remote parts where the flint and steel still hold sway.
3 The whole point of the story hinges on this.
4 Beside which lived Hsi Shih, the famous beauty of the fifth century after Christ.
5 The Chinese have precisely the same mania as our Browns, Joneses, and Robinsons, for scribbling and carving their names and compositions all over the available parts of any place of public resort. The literature of inn walls’ alone would fill many ponderous tomes.
6 The examination, which lists nine days, has been going on all this time.
7 That is, his own body, into which Ch’u’s spirit had temporarily passed, his own occupying, meanwhile, the body of his friend.
8 That is, for being born again, the sole hope and ambition of a disembodied shade.
9 See No. LXXI., note 1.
10 See No. LXI., note 3.
11 His own spirit in Ch’u’s body had met her in a disembodied state.
12 Such is the invariable custom. Large presents are usually made by those who can afford the outlay, and the tutor’s name has ever afterwards an honourable place in the family records.
13 See No. XLVIII., note 1.
LXXXVI. THE CLOTH MERCHANT
A CERTAIN cloth merchant went to Ch’ing-chou, where he happened to stroll into an old temple, all tumble-down and in ruins. He was lamenting over this sad state of things, when a priest who stood by observed that a devout believer like himself could hardly do better than put the place into repair, and thus obtain favour in the eyes of Buddha. This the merchant consented to do; whereupon the priest invited him to walk into the private quarters of the temple, and treated him with much courtesy; but [p. 342] he went on to propose that our friend the merchant should also undertake the general ornamentation of the place both inside and out.1 The latter declared he could not afford the expense, and the priest began to get very angry, and urged him so strongly that at last the merchant, in terror, promised to give all the money he had. After this he was preparing to go away, but the priest detained him, saying, “You haven’t given the money of your own free will, and consequently you’ll be owing me a grudge: I can’t do better than make an end of you at once.” Thereupon he seized a knife, and refused to listen to all the cloth merchant’s entreaties, until at length the latter asked to be allowed to hang himself, to which the priest consented; and, showing him into a dark room, told him to make haste about it.
At this juncture, a Tartar-General happened to pass by the temple; and from a distance, through a breach in the old wall, he saw a damsel in a red dress pass into the priest’s quarters. This roused his suspicions,3 and dismounting from his horse, he entered the temple and searched high and low, but without discovering anything. The dark room above-mentioned was locked and double-barred, and the priest refused to open it, saying the place was haunted. The General in a rage burst open the door, and there beheld the cloth merchant hanging from a beam. [p. 343] He cut him down at once, and in a short time he was brought round and told the General the whole story. They then searched for the damsel, but she was nowhere to be found, having been nothing more than a divine manifestation. The General cut off the priest’s head and restored the cloth merchant’s property to him, after which the latter put the temple in thorough repair, and kept it well supplied with lights and incense ever afterwards.
Mr. Chao, M.A., told me this story, with all its details.4
1 The elaborate gilding and woodwork of an ordinary Chinese temple form a very serious item in the expense of restoration. Public subscriptions are usually the means employed for raising sufficient funds, the names of subscribers and amount given by each being published in some conspicuous position. Occasionally devout priests—black swans, indeed, in China—shut themselves up in boxes studded with nails, one of which they pull out every time a certain donation is given, and there they remain until every nail is withdrawn. But after all it is difficult to say whether they endure these trials so much for the faith’s sake as for the funds from which they derive more of the luxuries of life, and the temporary notoriety gained by thus coming before the public. A Chinese proverb says, “The image-maker doesn’t worship Buddha. He knows too much about it;” and the application of this saying may safely be extended to the majority of Buddhist priests in China.
2 This is the title generally applied to the Manchu commanders of Manchu garrisons, who are stationed at certain of the most important points of the Chinese Empire, and whose presence is intended as a check upon the action of the civil authorities.
3 See No. VI., note 2.
4 The moral being, of course, that Buddha protects those who look after his interests on earth.
LXXXVII. A STRANGE COMPANION
HAN KUNG-FU, of Yü-ch’êng, told me that he was one day travelling along a road with a man of his village, named P’êng, when all of a sudden the latter disappeared, leaving his mule to jog along with an empty saddle. At the same moment, Mr. Han heard his voice calling for assistance, and apparently proceeding from inside one of the panniers strapped across the mule’s back; and on looking closely, there indeed he was in one of the panniers, which, however, did not seem to be at all displaced by his weight. On trying to get him out the mouth of the pannier closed itself tightly; and it was only when he cut it open with a knife that he saw P’êng curled up in it like a dog. He then helped him out, and asked him how he managed to get in; but this he was unable to say. It further appeared that his family was under fox influence, many strange things of this kind having happened before.
LXXXVIII. SPIRITUALISTIC SÉANCES
IT is customary in Shantung, when any one is sick, for the womenfolk to engage an old sorceress or medium, who strums on a tambourine and performs certain mysterious antics. This custom obtains even more in the capital, where young ladies of the best families frequently organise such séances among themselves. On a table in the hall [p. 344] they spread out a profusion of wine and meat, and burn huge candles which make the place as light as day. Then the sorceress, shortening her skirts, stands on one leg and performs the shang-yang,l while two of the others support her, one on each side. All this time she is chattering unintelligible sentences,2 something between a song and a prayer, the words being confused but uttered in a sort of tune; while the hall resounds with the thunder of drums, enough to stun a person, with which her vaticinations are mixed up and lost. By-and-by her head begins to droop, and her eyes to look aslant; and but for her two supporters she would inevitably fall to the ground.
Suddenly she stretches forth her neck and bounds several feet into the air, upon which the other women regard her in terror, saying, “The spirits have come to eat;” and immediately all the candles are blown out and everything is in total darkness. Thus they remain for about a quarter of an hour, afraid to speak a, word, which in any case would not be heard through the din, until at length the sorceress calls out the personal name of the head of the family and some others whereupon they immediately relight the candles and hurry up to ask if the reply of the spirits is favourable or otherwise. They then see that every scrap of the food and every drop of the wine has disappeared. Meanwhile, they watch the old woman’s expression, whereby they can tell if the spirits are well disposed; and each one asks her some question, to which she as promptly replies.
Should there be any unbelievers among the party, the spirits are at once aware of their presence; and the old sorceress, pointing her finger at such a one, cries out, [p. 345] “Disrespectful mocker! where are your trousers?” upon which the mocker alluded to looks down, and lo her trousers are gone—gone to the top of a tree in the court-yard, where they will subsequently be found.4
Manchu women and girls, especially, are firm believers in spiritualism. On the slightest provocation they consult their medium, who comes into the room gorgeously dressed, and riding on an imitation horse or tiger.5 In her hand she holds a long spear, with which she mounts the couch and postures in an extraordinary manner, the animal she rides snorting or roaring fiercely all the time. Some call her Kuan Ti,7 others Chang Fei, and others, again, Chou Kung, from her terribly martial aspect, which strikes fear into all beholders. And should any daring fellow try to peep in while the séance is going on, out of the window darts the spear, transfixes his hat, and draws it off his head into the room, while women and girls, young and old, hop round one after the other like geese, on one leg, without seeming to get the least fatigued.
1 It is related in the Family Sayings, an apocryphal work which professes to give conversations of Confucius, that a number of one-legged birds having suddenly appeared in Ch’i, the Duke of Ch’i sent off to ask the Sage “What was the meaning of this strange phenomenon.” Confucius replied, “The bird is the shang-yang, and portends beneficial rain.” And formerly the boys and girls in Shantung would hop about on one leg, crying, “The shang-yang has come;” after which rain would be sure to follow.
2 Speaking in the unknown tongue, like the Irvingites and others.
3 This is a clever hit. The “personal” name of a man may not be uttered except by the Emperor, his father or mother, grandfather, grandmother, &c. Thus, the mere use of the personal name of the head of a family proves conclusively that the spirit of some one of his ancestors must be present.
4 The above is a curious story to be found in a Chinese work over 200 years old; but no part of it more so than the forcible removal of some part of the clothing, which has been so prominent a feature in the séances of our own day. It may be added that in many a court-yard in Peking will be found one or more trees, which cause the view from the city wall to be very pleasing to the eye.
5 The arrangement being that of the hobby-horse of bygone days.
6 The couches of the North of China are brick beds, heated by a stove underneath, and covered with a mat. Upon one of these is generally a dwarf table and a couple of pillows; and here it is that the Chinaman loves to recline, his wine-kettle, opium-pipe, or tea-pot within reach, and a friend at his side, with whom he may converse far into the night.
7 See No. LXXIII., note 3. Chang Fei was the bosom friend of the last, and was his associate-commander in the wars of the Three Kingdoms. Chou Kung was a younger brother of the first Emperor of the Chou dynasty, and a pattern of wisdom and virtue. He is said by the Chinese to have invented the compass; but the legend will not bear investigation.
LXXXIX. THE MYSTERIOUS HEAD
SEVERAL traders who were lodging at an inn in Peking occupied a room which was divided from the adjoining apartment by a partition of boards from which a piece [p. 346] was missing, leaving an aperture about as big as a basin. Suddenly a girl’s head appeared through the opening, with very pretty features and nicely dressed hair; and the next moment an arm, as white as polished jade. The traders were much alarmed, and, thinking it was the work of devils, tried to seize the dead, which, however, was quickly drawn in again out of their reach. This happened a second time, and then, as they could see nobody belonging to the head, one of them took a knife in his hand and crept up against the partition underneath the hole. In a little while the head reappeared, when he made a chop at it and cut it off, the blood spurting out all over the floor and wall. The traders hurried off to tell the landlord, who immediately reported the matter to the authorities, taking the head with him, and the traders were forthwith arrested and examined; but the magistrate could make nothing of the case, and, as no one appeared for the prosecution, the accused, after about six months’ incarceration, were accordingly released, and orders were given for the girl’s head to be buried.
XC. THE SPIRIT OF THE HILLS
A MAN named Li, of I-tu, was once crossing the hills when he came upon a number of persons sitting on the ground engaged in drinking. As soon as they saw Li they begged him to join them, and vied with each other in filling his cup. Meanwhile, he looked about him and noticed that the various trays and dishes contained all kinds of costly food; the wine only seemed to him a little rough on the palate. In the middle of their fun up came a stranger with a face about three feet long and a very tall hat; whereupon the others were much alarmed, and cried out, “The hill spirit! the hill spirit!” running away in all directions as fast as they could go. Li hid himself in a hole in the ground; and when by-and-by he peeped out to see what had happened, the wine and food had disappeared, and there was nothing there but a few dirty potsherds and some pieces of broken tiles with efts and lizards crawling over them.l [p. 347]
1 Mr. Li had, doubtless, taken “a drop too much” before he started on his mountain walk.
XCI. INGRATITUDE PUNISHED
K’U TA-YU was a native of the Yang district, and managed to get a military appointment under the command of Tsu Shu-shun.l The latter treated him most kindly, and finally sent him as Major-General of some troops by which he was then trying to establish the dynasty of the usurping Chous. K’u soon perceived that the game was lost, and immediately turned his forces upon Tsu Shu-shun, whom he succeeded in capturing, after Tsu had been wounded in the hand, and whom he at once forwarded as a prisoner to headquarters.
That night he dreamed that the judge of Purgatory appeared to him, and, reproaching him with his base ingratitude, bade the devil-lictors seize him and scald his feet in a cauldron of boiling oil. K’u then woke up with a start, and found that his feet were very sore and painful; and in a short time they swelled up, and his toes dropped off. Fever set in, and in his agony he shrieked out, “Ungrateful wretch that I was indeed,” and fell back and expired.
1 Of whom I can learn nothing.
XCII. SMELLING ESSAYS
Now as they wandered about the temple they came upon an old blind priest sitting under the verandah, engaged in selling medicines and prescribing for patients. “Ah! cried Sung, “there is an extraordinary man who is well versed in the arts of composition” and immediately he sent back to get the essay they had just been reading, in order to obtain the old priest’s opinion as to its merits. At the same moment up came their friend from Yü-hang, and all three went along together.
Wang began by addressing him as “Professor;” whereupon the priest, who thought the stranger had come to consult him as a doctor, inquired what might be the disease from which he was suffering. Wang then explained what his mission was upon which the priest smiled and said, “Who’s been [p. 348] telling you this nonsense? How can a man with no eyes discuss with you the merits of your compositions?” Wang replied by asking him to let his ears do duty for his eyes; but the priest answered that he would hardly have patience to sit out Wang’s three sections, amounting perhaps to some two thousand and more words. “However,” added he, “if you like to burn it, I’ll try what I can do with my nose.”
Wang complied, and burnt the first section there and then; and the old priest, snuffing up the smoke, declared that it wasn’t such a bad effort, and finally gave it as his opinion that Wang would probably succeed at the examination. The young scholar from Yü-hang didn’t believe that the old priest could really tell anything by these means, and forthwith proceeded to burn an essay by one of the old masters; but the priest no sooner smelt the smoke than he cried out, “Beautiful indeed! beautiful indeed! I do enjoy this. The light of genius and truth is evident here.”
The Yü-hang scholar was greatly astonished at this, and began to burn an essay of his own; whereupon the priest said, “I had had but a taste of that one; why change so soon to another?” “The first paragraph,” replied the young man, “was by a friend; the rest is my own composition.” No sooner had he uttered these words than the old priest began to retch violently, and begged that he might have no more, as he was sure it would make him sick.
The Yü-hang scholar was much abashed at this, and went away; but in a few days the list came out, and his name was among the successful ones, while Wang’s was not. He at once hurried off to tell the old priest, who, when he heard the news, sighed and said, “I may be blind with my eyes, but I am not so with my nose, which I fear is the case with the examiners. Besides,” added he, “I was talking to you about composition: I said nothing about destiny.”2 [p. 349]
1 The following extract from a long and otherwise tedious story tells its own tale. Wang is the modest man, and the young man from Yü-hang the braggart. Sung is merely a friend of Wang’s.
2 This is one of our author’s favourite shafts—a sneer at examiners in general, and those who rejected him in particular.
XCIII. HIS FATHER’S GHOST
A man named T’ien Tzŭ-ch’êng, of Chiang-ning, was crossing the Tung-t’ing lake, when the boat was capsized, and he was drowned. His son, Liang-ssŭ, who, towards the close of the Ming dynasty, took the highest degree, was then a baby in arms; and his wife, hearing the bad news, swallowed poison forthwith,1 and left the child to the care of his grandmother.
When Liang-ssŭ grew up, he was appointed magistrate in Hu-pei, where he remained about a year. He was then transferred to Hu-nan, on military service; but, on reaching the Tung-t’ing lake, his feelings overpowered him, and he returned to plead inability as an excuse for not taking up his post. Accordingly, he was degraded to the rank of Assistant-Magistrate, which he at first declined, but was finally compelled to accept; and thenceforward gave himself up to roaming about on the lakes and streams of the surrounding country, without paying much attention to his official duties.
One night he had anchored his boat alongside the bank of a river, when suddenly the cadence of a sweetly-played flageolet broke upon his ear; so he strolled along by the light of the moon in the direction of the music, until, after a few minutes’ walking, he reached a cottage standing by itself, with a few citron-trees round it, and brilliantly lighted inside. Approaching a window, he peeped in, and saw three persons sitting at a table, engaged in drinking. In the place of honour was a graduate of about thirty years of age; an old man played the host, and at the side sat a much younger man playing on the flageolet. When he had finished, the old man clapped his hands in admiration; but the graduate turned away with a sigh, as if he had not heard a note. “Come now, Mr. Lu,” cried the old man, addressing the latter, “kindly favour us with one of your songs, which, I know, must be worth hearing.” The graduate then began to sing as follows: [p. 350]
Over the river the wind blows cold on lonely me:
Each flow’ret trampled under foot, all verdure gone.
At home a thousand li away, I cannot be;
So towards the Bridge my spirit nightly wanders on.
The above was given in such melancholy tones that the old man smiled and said, “Mr. Lu, these must be experiences of your own,” and, immediately filling a goblet, added, “I can do nothing like that; but if you will let me, I will give you a song to help us on with our wine.” He then sang a verse from Li T’ai-po,2 and put them all in a lively humour again; after which the young man said he would just go outside and see how high the moon was, which he did, and, observing Liang-ssŭ outside, clapped his hands, and cried out to his companions, “There is a man at the window, who has seen all we have been doing.” He then led Liang-ssŭ in; whereupon the other two rose, and begged him to be seated, and to join them in their wine. The wine, however, was cold,3 and he therefore declined; but the young man at once perceived his reason, and proceeded to warm some for him. Liang-ssü now ordered his servant to go and buy some more, but this his host would not permit him to do. They next inquired Lang-ssŭ’s name, and whence he came, and then the old man said, “Why, then, you are the father and mother of the district in which I live. My name is River: I am an old resident here. This young man is a Mr. Tu, of Kiang-si; and this gentleman,” added he, pointing to the graduate, “is Mr. Rushten,5 a fellow-provincial of yours.” Mr. Rushten looked at Liang-ssü in rather a contemptuous way, and without taking much notice of him; whereupon Liang-ssü asked him whereabouts he lived in Chiang-ning, observing that it was strange he himself should never have heard of such an accomplished gentleman. “Alas” replied Rushten, “it is many a [p. 351] long day since I left my home, and I know nothing even of my own family. Alas, indeed I “These words were uttered in so mournful a tone of voice that the old man broke in with, “Come come, now! talking like this, instead of drinking when we’re all so jolly together; this will never do.” He then drained a bumper himself, and said, “I propose a game of forfeits. We’ll throw with three dice; and whoever throws so that the spots on one die equal those on the other two shall give us a verse with a corresponding classical allusion in it.” He then threw himself, and turned up an ace, a two, and a three; whereupon he sang the following lines:
An ace and a deuce on one side, just equal a three on the other:
For Fan a chicken was boiled, though three years had passed, by Chang’s mother.7
Thus friends love to meet!
Then the young musician threw, and turned up two twos and a four; whereupon he exclaimed, “Don’t laugh at the feeble allusion of an unlearned fellow like me:—
Two deuces are equal to a four;
Four men united their valour in the old city.8
Thus brothers love to meet!”
Mr. Rushten followed with two aces and a two, and recited these lines:—
Two aces are equal to a two:
Lu-hsiang stretched out his two arms and embraced his father.9
Thus father and son love to meet!
Liang then threw, and turned up the same as Mr. Rushten; whereupon he said:
Two aces are equal to a two:
Mao-jung regaled Lin-tsung with two baskets.10
Thus host and guest love to meet!
When the partie was over Liang-ssŭ rose to go, but Mr. Rushten said, “Dear me why are you in such a hurry; we haven’t had a moment to speak of the old place. Please stay: I was just going to ask you a few questions.” So Liang-ssü sat down again, and Mr. Rushten proceeded. “I had an old friend,” said he, “who was drowned in the Tung-t’ing lake. He bore the same name as yourself; was he a relative?” “He was my father,” replied Liang-ssŭ; “how did you know him?” “We were friends as boys together; and when he was drowned; I recovered and buried his body by the river-side.”11 Liang-ssŭ here burst into tears, and thanked Mr. Rushten very warmly, begging him to point out his father’s grave. “Come again to-morrow,” said Mr. Rushten, “and I will show it to you. You could easily find it yourself. It is close by here, and has ten stalks of water-rush growing on it.” Liang-ssŭ now took his leave, and went back to his boat, but he could not sleep for thinking of what Mr. Rushten had told him; and at length, without waiting for the dawn, he set out to look for the grave. To his great astonishment, the house where he had spent the previous evening had disappeared; but hunting about in the direction indicated by Mr. Rushten, he found a grave with ten [p. 353] water-rushes growing on it, precisely as Mr. Rushten had described. It then flashed across him that Mr. Rushten’s name had a special meaning, and that he had been holding converse with none other than the disembodied spirit of his own father. And, on inquiring of the people of the place, he learnt that twenty years before, a benevolent old gentleman, named Kao, had been in the habit of collecting the bodies of persons found drowned, and burying them in that spot. Liang then opened the grave, and carried off his father’s remains to his own home, where his grandmother, to whom he described Mr. Rushten’s appearance, confirmed the suspicion he himself had formed. It also turned out that the young musician was a cousin of his, who had been drowned when nineteen years of age; and then he recollected that the boy’s father had subsequently gone to Kiang-si, and that his mother had died there, and had been buried at the Bamboo Bridge, to which Mr. Rushten had alluded in his song. But he did not know who the old man was.12 [p. 351]
1 This would be regarded as a very meritorious act by the Chinese.
2 The Byron of China.
3 Chinese wine—or, more correctly, spirits—is always taken hot; hence the term wine-kettle, which frequently occurs in these pages.
4 The Magistrate; who is supposed to be towards the people what a father is to his children.
5 This singularly un-Chinese surname is employed to keep up a certain play upon words which exists in the original, and which is important to the dénouement of the story. “River” is the simple translation of a name actually in use.
6 Chinese dice are the exact counterpart of our own, except that the ace and the four are coloured red: the ace because the combination of black and white would be unlucky, and the four because this number once turned up in response to the call of an Emperor of the Tang dynasty, who particularly wanted a four to win him the partie. All letters, despatches, and such documents, have invariably something red about them, this being the lucky colour, and to the Chinese emblematic of prosperity and joy.
7 Alluding to an ancient story of a promise by a Mr. Fan that he would be at his friend Chang’s house that day three years. When the time drew near, Chang’s mother ridiculed the notion of a man keeping a three years’ appointment; but, acceding to her son’s instances, she prepared a boiled chicken, which was barely ready when Fan arrived to eat of it.
8 Alluding to the celebrated oath of confederation sworn in the peach garden between Kuan Yü, or Kuan Ti (see No. I., note 4), Chang Fei (see No. LXIII., note 2), Liu Pei, who subsequently proclaimed himself Emperor, A.D. 221, and Chu-ko Liang, his celebrated minister, to whose sage counsels most of the success of the undertaking was due.
9 Alluding to the story of a young man who went in search of his missing father.
10 Lin-tsung saw his host kill a chicken which he thought was destined for himself. However, Mao-jung served up the dainty morsel to his mother, while he and his guest regaled themselves with two baskets of common vegetables. At this instance of filial piety, Lin-tsung had the good sense to be charmed.
11 The Chinese recognise no act more worthy a virtuous man than that of burying stray bones, covering up exposed coffins, and so forth. By such means the favour of the Gods is most surely obtained, to say nothing of the golden opinions of the living.
12 This is merely our author’s way of putting the question of the old man’s identity. He was the Spirit of the Waters—his name, it will be recollected, was River—just, in fact, as we say Old Father Thames.
XCIV. THE BOAT-GIRL BRIDE
WANG KUEI-AN was a young man of good family. It happened once when he was travelling southwards, and had moored his boat to the bank, that he saw in another boat close by a young boat-girl embroidering shoes. He was much struck by her beauty, and continued gazing at her for some time, though she took not the slightest notice of him. By-and-by he began singing
The Lo-yang lady lives over the way:
[Fifteen years is her age I should say].1 [p. 354]
to attract her attention, and then she seemed to perceive that he was addressing himself to her; but, after just raising her head and glancing at him, she resumed her embroidery as before. Wang then threw a piece of silver towards her, which fell on her skirt; however, she merely picked it up, and flung it on to the bank, as if she had not seen what it was, so Wang put it back in his pocket again. He followed up by throwing her a gold bracelet, to which she paid no attention whatever, never taking her eyes off her work. A few minutes after her father appeared, much to the dismay of Wang, who was afraid he would see the bracelet; but the young girl quietly placed her feet over it, and concealed it from his sight. The boatman let go the painter, and away they went down stream, leaving Wang sitting there, not knowing what to do next. And, having recently lost his wife, he regretted that he had not seized this opportunity to make another match; the more so, as when he came to ask the other boat-people of the place, no one knew anything about them.
So Wang got into his own boat, and started off in pursuit; but evening came on, and, as he could see nothing of them, he was obliged to turn back and proceed in the direction where business was taking him. When he had finished that, he returned, making inquiries all the way along, but without hearing anything about the object of his search.
On arriving at home, he was unable either to eat or to sleep, so much did this affair occupy his mind; and about a year afterwards he went south again, bought a boat, and lived in it as his home, watching carefully every single vessel that passed either up or down, until at last there was hardly one he didn’t know by sight. But all this time the boat he was looking for never reappeared.
Some six months passed away thus, and then, having exhausted all his funds, he was obliged to go home, where he remained in a state of general inaptitude for anything. One night he dreamed that he entered a village on the river-bank, and that, after passing several houses, he saw one with a door towards the south, and a palisade of bamboos inside. Thinking it was a garden, he walked in, and beheld a beautiful magnolia, covered with blossoms, which reminded him of the line: [p. 355]
And Judas-tree in flower before the door.2
A few steps farther on was a neat bamboo hedge, on the other side of which, towards the north, he found a small house, with three columns, the door of which was locked; and another, towards the south, with its window shaded by the broad leaves of a plaintain-tree. The door was barred by a clothes-horse, on which was hanging an embroidered petticoat; and, on seeing this, Wang stepped back, knowing that he had got to the ladies’ quarters; but his presence had already been noticed inside, and, in another moment, out came his heroine of the boat. Overjoyed at seeing her, he was on the point of grasping her hand, when suddenly the girl’s father arrived, and, in his consternation, Wang waked up, and found that it was all a dream. Every incident of it, however, remained clear and distinct in his mind, and he took care to say nothing about it to anybody, for fear of destroying its reality.
Another year passed away, and he went again to Chin-kiang, where lived an official, named Hsü, who was an old friend of the family, and who invited Wang to come and take a cup of wine with him. On his way thither, Wang lost his way, but at length reached a village which seemed familiar to him, and which he soon found, by the door with the magnolia inside, to be identical in every particular with the village of his dream. He went in through the [p. 356] doorway, and there was everything as he had seen it in his dream, even to the boat-girl herself. She jumped up on his arrival, and, shutting the door in his face, asked what his business was there. Wang inquired if she had forgotten about the bracelet, and went on to tell her how long he had been searching for her, and how, at last, she had been revealed to him in a dream. The girl then begged to know his name and family; and when she heard who he was, she asked what a gentleman like himself could want with a poor boat-girl like her, as he must have a wife of his own. “But for you,” replied Wang, “I should, indeed, have been married long ago.” Upon which the girl told him if that was really the case, he had better apply to her parents, “although,” added she, “they have already refused a great many offers for me. The bracelet you gave me is here, but my father and mother are just now away from home; they will be back shortly. You go away now and engage a match-maker, when I dare say it will be all right if the proper formalities are observed.” Wang then retired, the girl calling after him to remember that her name was Mêng Yün, and her father’s Mêng Chiang-li.
He proceeded at once on his way to Mr. Hsü’s, and after that sought out his intended father-in-law, telling him who he was, and offering him at the same time one hundred ounces of silver, as betrothal-money for his daughter. “She is already promised,” replied the old man; upon which Wang declared he had been making careful inquiries, and had heard, on all sides, that the young lady was not engaged, winding up by begging to know what objection there was to his suit. “I have just promised her,” answered her father, “and I cannot possibly break my word;” so Wang went away, deeply mortified, not knowing whether to believe it or not.
That night he tossed about a good deal; and next morning, braving the ridicule with which he imagined his friend would view his wished-for alliance with a boat-girl, he went off to Mr. Hsü, and told him all about it. “Why didn’t you consult me before?” cried Mr. Hsü; “her father is a connection of mine.” Wang then went on to give fuller particulars, which his friend interrupted by saying, “Chiang-li is indeed poor, but he has never been a boatman. Are you sure you are not making a mistake?” He then sent off [p. 357] his elder son to make inquiries; and to him the girl’s father said, “Poor I am, but I don’t sell my daughter.4 Your friend imagined that I should be tempted by the sight of his money to forego the usual ceremonies, and so I won’t have anything to do with him. But if your father desires this match, and everything is in proper order, I will just go in and consult with my daughter, and see if she is willing.” He then retired for a few minutes, and when he came back he raised his hands in congratulation, saying, “Everything is as you wish;” whereupon a day was fixed, and the young man went home to report to his father.
Wang now sent off betrothal presents, with the usual formalities, and took up his abode with his friend, Mr. Hsü, until the marriage was solemnised, three days after which he bade adieu to his father-in-law, and started on his way northwards. In the evening, as they were sitting on the boat together, Wang said to his wife, “When I first met you near this spot, I fancied you were not of the ordinary boating-class. Where were you then going?” “I was going to visit my uncle,” she replied. “We are not a wealthy family, you know, but we don’t want anything through an improper channel; and I couldn’t help smiling at the great eyes you were making at me, all the time trying to tempt me with money. But when I heard you speak, I knew at once you were a man of refinement, though I guessed you were a bit of a rake; and so I hid your bracelet, and saved you from the wrath of my father.” “And yet,” replied Wang, “you have fallen into my snare after all;” adding, after a little pressure, “for I can’t conceal from you much longer the fact that I have already a wife, belonging to a high official family.”
This she did not believe, until he began to affirm it seriously; and then she jumped up and ran out of the cabin. Wang followed at once, but, before he could reach her, she was already in the river whereupon he shouted out to boats to come to their assistance, causing quite a commotion all round about; but nothing was to be seen in the river, save only the reflection of the stars shining brightly on the water. All night long Wang went sorrowfully up and down, and offered a [p. 358] high reward for the body, which, however, was not forthcoming. So he went home in despair, and then, fearing lest his father-in-law should come to visit his daughter, he started on a visit to a connection of his, who had an appointment in Honan.
In the course of a year or two, when on his homeward journey, he chanced to be detained by bad weather at a roadside inn of rather cleaner appearance than usual. Within he saw an old woman playing with a child, which, as soon as he entered, held out its arms to him to be taken. Wang took the child on his knee, and there it remained, refusing to go back to its nurse; and, when the rain had stopped, and Wang was getting ready to go, the child cried out, “Pa-pa gone!” The nurse told it to hold its tongue, and, at the same moment, out from behind the screen came Wang’s long-lost wife. “You bad fellow,” said she, “what am I to do with this?” pointing to the child; and then Wang knew that the boy was his own son. He was much affected, and swore by the sun that the words he had uttered had been uttered in jest, and by-and-by his wife’s anger was soothed.
She then explained how she had been picked up by a passing boat, the occupant of which was the owner of the house they were in, a man of sixty years of age, who had no children of his own, and who kindly adopted her.6 She also told him how she had had several offers of marriage, [p. 359] all of which she had refused, and how her child was born, and that she had called him Chi-shêng, and that he was then a year old. Wang now unpacked his baggage again, and went in to see the old gentleman and his wife, whom he treated as if they had actually been his wife’s parents.
A few days afterwards they set off together towards Wang’s home, where they found his wife’s real father awaiting them. He had been there more than two months, and had been considerably disconcerted by the mysterious remarks of Wang’s servants; but the arrival of his daughter and her husband made things all smooth again, and when they told him what had happened, he understood the demeanour of the servants which had seemed so strange to him, at first.
1 From a poem by Wang Wei, a noted poet of the T’ang dynasty; he lived A.D. 699-759. The second line is not given in the text.
2 From a poem by Pan T‘ang-shên, which runs:—
Her rustic home stands by the Tung-t’ing lake.
Ye who would there a pure libation pour,
Look for mud walls, a roof of rushy make,
And Judas-tree in flower before the door.
The Chinese believe that the Judas-tree will only bloom where fraternal love prevails.
3 I have already observed that men and women should not let their hands touch when passing things to each other (see No. XL, note 2); neither is it considered proper for persons of different sexes to hang their clothes on the same clothes-horse. (See Appendix, note 42.)
With regard to shaking hands, I have omitted to mention how objectionable this custom is in the eyes of the Chinese, as in vogue among foreigners, without reference to sex. They believe that a bad man might easily secrete some noxious drug in the palm of his hand, and so convey it into the system of any woman, who would then be at his mercy.
4 Alluding to Wang’s breach of etiquette in visiting the father himself, instead of sending a go-between, who would have offered the same sum in due form as the usual dowry or present to the bride’s family.
5 Witnesses in a Chinese court of justice take no oath, in our sense of the term. Their written depositions, however, are always ended with the words “the above evidence is the truth!” In ordinary life people call heaven and earth to witness, or, as in this case, the sun; or they declare themselves willing to forfeit their lives; and so on, if their statements are not true. “Saucer-breaking” is one of those pleasant inductions from probably a single instance, which may have been the fancy of a moment; at any rate, it is quite unknown in China as a national custom. “Cock-killing” usually has reference to the ceremonies of initiation performed by the members of the numerous secret societies which exist over the length and breadth of the Empire, in spite of Government prohibitions, and the penalty of death incurred upon detection.
6 Adoption is common all over China, and is regulated by law. For instance, an adopted son excludes all the daughters of the family. A man is not allowed to marry a girl whom he has adopted until he shall have given her away to be adopted in a family of a different surname from his own; after which fictitious ceremony, his marriage with her becomes legal (see No. XV., note 3); for the child adopted takes the same surname as that of the family into which he is adopted, and is so far cut off from his own relations, that he would not venture even to put on mourning for his real parents without first obtaining the consent of those who had adopted him. A son or daughter may be sold, but an adopted child may not; neither may the adopted child be given away in adoption to any one else without the specific consent of his real parents. The general object in adopting children is to leave some one behind at death to look after the duties of ancestral worship. For this boys are preferred; but the Fortunate Union gives an instance in which these rites were very creditably performed by the heroine of the tale.
XCV. THE TWO BRIDES
Now Chi-shêng, or Wang Sun, was one of the cleverest young fellows in the district; and his father and mother, who had foreseen his ability from the time when, as a baby in long clothes, he distinguished them from other people, loved him very dearly. He grew up into a handsome lad; at eight or nine he could compose elegantly, and by fourteen he had already entered his name as a candidate for the first degree, after which his marriage became a question for consideration. Now his father’s younger sister, Erh-niang, had married a gentleman named Chêng Tzŭ-ch’iao, and they had a daughter called Kuei-hsiu, who was extremely pretty, and with whom Chi-shêng fell deeply in love, being soon unable either to eat or to sleep. His parents became extremely uneasy about him, and inquired what it was that ailed him; and when he told them, they [p. 360] at once sent off a match-maker to Mr. Chêng. The latter, however, was rather a stickler for the proprieties, and replied that the near relationship precluded him from accepting the offer.2 Thereupon Chi-shêng became dangerously ill, and his mother, not knowing what to do, secretly tried to persuade Erh-niang to let her daughter come over to their house; but Mr. Chêng heard of it, and was so angry that Chi-shêng’s father and mother gave up all hope of arranging the match.
At that time there was a gentleman named Chang living near by, who had five daughters, all very pretty, but the youngest, called Wu-k’o, was singularly beautiful, far surpassing her four sisters. She was not betrothed to any one, when one day, as she was on her way to worship at the family tombs, she chanced to see Chi-shêng, and at her return home spoke about him to her mother. Her mother guessed what her meaning was, and arranged with a match-maker, named Mrs. Yü, to call upon Chi-shêng’s parents. This she did precisely at the time when Chi-shêng was so ill, and forthwith told his mother that her son’s complaint was one she, Mrs. Yü, was quite competent to cure; going on to tell her about Miss Wu-k’o and the proposed marriage, at which the good lady was delighted, and sent her in to talk about it to Chi-shêng herself. “Alas!” cried he, when he had heard Mrs. Yü’s story, “you are bringing me the wrong medicine for my complaint.” “All depends upon the efficacy of the medicine,” replied Mrs. Yü; “if the medicine is good, it matters not what is the name of the doctor who administers the draught; while to set your heart on a particular person, and to lie there and die because that person doesn’t come, is surely foolish in the extreme.” “Ah,” rejoined Chi-shêng, “there’s no medicine under heaven that will do me any good.” Mrs. Yü told him his experience was limited, and proceeded to expatiate by speaking and gesticulating on the beauty and liveliness of Wu-k’o. But all Chi-shêng said was that she was not what he wanted, and, turning round his face to the wall, would listen to no more about her. So Mrs. Yü was obliged to go away, and Chi-shêng became worse and worse every day, until [p. 361] suddenly one of the maids came in and informed him that the young lady herself was at the door. Immediately he jumped up and ran out, and lo there before him stood a beautiful girl, whom, however, he soon discovered not to be Kuei-hsiu. She wore a light yellow robe with a fine silk jacket and an embroidered petticoat, from beneath which her two little feet peeped out; and altogether she more resembled a fairy than anything else. Chi-shêng inquired her name; to which she replied that it was Wu-k’o, adding that she couldn’t understand his devoted attachment to Kuei-hsiu, as if there was nobody else in the world. Chi-shêng apologised, saying that he had never before seen any one so beautiful as Kuei-hsiu, but that he was now aware of his mistake. He then swore everlasting fidelity to her, and was just grasping her hand when he awoke and found his mother rubbing him.
It was a dream, but so accurately defined in all its details that he began to think if Wu-k’o was really such as he had seen her, there would be no further need to try for his impracticable cousin. So he communicated his dream to his mother; and she, only too delighted to notice this change of feeling, offered to go to Wu-k’o’s house herself; but Chi-shêng would not hear of this, and arranged with an old woman who knew the family to find some pretext for going there, and to report to him what Wu-k’o was like. When she arrived Wu-ko was ill in bed, and lay with her head propped up by pillows, looking very pretty indeed. The old woman approached the couch and asked what was the matter, to which Wu-k’o made no reply, her fingers fidgetting all the time with her waistband. “She’s been behaving badly to her father and mother,” cried the latter, who was in the room; “there’s many a one has offered to marry her, but she says she’ll have none but Chi-shêng: and then when I scold her a bit, she takes on and won’t touch her food for days.” “Madam,” said the old woman, “if you could get that young man for your daughter they would make a truly pretty pair; and as for him, if he could only see Miss Wu-k’o, I’m afraid it would be too much for him. What do you think of my going there and getting them to make proposals?” “No, thank you,” replied Wu-k’o; “I would rather not risk his refusal;” upon which the old woman declared she would succeed, and [p. 362] hurried off to tell Chi-shêng, who was delighted to find from her report that Wu-k’o was exactly as he had seen her in his dream, though he didn’t trust implicitly in all the old woman said. By-and-by, when he began to get a little better, he consulted with the old woman as to how he could see Wu-lib with his own eyes and, after some little difficulty, it was arranged that Chi-shêng should hide himself in a room from which he would be able to see her as she crossed the yard supported by a maid, which she did every day at a certain hour. This Chi-shêng proceeded to do, and in a little while out she came, accompanied by the old woman as well, who instantly drew her attention either to the clouds or the trees, in order that she should walk more leisurely. Thus Chi-shêng had a good look at her, and saw that she was truly the young lady of his dream. He could hardly contain himself for joy; and when the old woman arrived and asked if she would do instead of Kuei-hsiu, he thanked her, very warmly and returned to his own home. There he told his father and mother, who sent off a match-maker to arrange the preliminaries; but the latter came back and told them that Wu-k’o was already betrothed: This was a terrible blow for Chi-shêng, who was soon as ill as ever, and offered no reply to his father and mother when they charged him with having made a mistake.
For several months he ate nothing but a bowl of rice-gruel a day, and he became as emaciated as a fowl, when all of a sudden the old woman walked in and asked him what was the matter. “Foolish boy,” said she, when he had told her all; “before you wouldn’t have her, and do you imagine she is bound to have you now? But I’ll see if I can help you; for were she the Emperor’s own daughter, I should still find some way of getting her.” Chi-shêng asked what he should do, and she then told him to send a servant with a letter next day to Wu-k’o’s house, to which his father at first objected for fear of another repulse; but the old woman assured him that Wu-k’o’s parents had since repented, besides which no written contract had as yet been made “and you know the proverb,” added she, “that those who are first at the fire will get their dinner first.” So Chi-shêng’s father agreed, and two servants were accordingly sent, their mission proving a complete success.
Chi-shêng [p. 363] now rapidly recovered his health, and thought no more of Kuei-hsiu, who, when she heard of the intended match, became in her turn very seriously ill, to the great anger of her father, who said she might die for all he cared, but to the great sorrow of her mother, who was extremely fond of her daughter. The latter even went so far as to propose to Mr. Chang that Kuei-hsiu should go as second wife, at which he was so enraged that he declared he would wash his hands of the girl altogether.
The mother then found out when Chi-shêng’s wedding was to take place and, borrowing a chair and attendants from her brother under pretence of going to visit him, put Kuei-hsiu inside and sent her off to her uncle’s house. As she arrived at the door, the servants spread a carpet for her to walk on, and the band struck up the wedding march. Chi-shêng went out to see what it was all about, and there met a young lady in a bridal veil, from whom he would have escaped had not her servants surrounded them, and, before he knew what he was doing, he was making her the usual salutation of a bridegroom. They then went in together, and, to his further astonishment, he found that the young lady was Kuei-hsiu; and, being now unable to go and meet Wu-k’o, a message was sent to her father, telling him what had occurred. He, too, got into a great rage, and vowed he would break off the match; but Wu-k’o herself said she would go all the same, her rival having only got the start of her in point of time.
And go she did and the two wives, instead of quarrelling, as was expected, lived very happily together like sisters, and wore each other’s clothes and shoes without distinction, Kuei-hsiu taking the place of an elder sister as being somewhat older than Wu-k’o.3
One day, after these events, Chi-shêng asked Wu-k’o why she had refused his offer; to which she replied that it was merely to pay him out for having previously refused her father’s proposal. “Before you had seen me, your head was full of Kuei-hsiu; but after you had seen me, your thoughts were somewhat divided; and I wanted to know how I compared with her, and whether [p. 364] you would fall ill on my account as you had on hers, that we mightn’t quarrel about our looks.” “It was a cruel revenge,” said Chi-shêng; “but how should I ever have got a sight of you had it not been for the old woman?” “What had she to do with it?” replied Wu-k’o; “I knew you were behind the door all the time. When I was ill I dreamt that I went to your house and saw you, but I looked upon it only as a dream until I heard that you had dreamt that I had actually been there, and then I knew that my spirit must have been with you.” Chi-shêng now related to her the particulars of his vision, which coincided exactly with her own and thus, strangely enough, had the matrimonial alliances of both father and son been brought about by dreams.
1 This story is a sequel to the last.
2 The surnames would in this case be different, and no obstacle could be offered on that score. See No. XV., note 3.
3 The dénouement of the Yü chiao li, a small novel which was translated into French by Rémusat, and again by Julien under the title of Les Deux Cousines, is effected by the hero of the tale marrying both the heroines.
XCVI. A SUPERNATURAL WIFE
A CERTAIN Mr. Chao, of Ch’ang-shan, lodged in a family of the name of T’ai. He was very badly off, and, falling sick, was brought almost to death’s door. One day they moved him into the verandah, that it might be cooler for him; and, when he awoke from a nap, lo! a beautiful girl was standing by his side. “I am come to be your wife,” said the girl, in answer to his question as to who she was to which he replied that a poor fellow like himself did not look for such luck as that; adding that, being then on his death-bed, he would not have much occasion for the services of a wife. The girl said she could cure him; but he told her he very much doubted that; “And even,” continued he, “should you have any good prescription, I have not the means of getting it made up.” “I don’t want medicine to cure you with,” rejoined the girl, proceeding at once to rub his back and sides with her hand, which seemed to him like a ball of fire. He soon began to feel much better, and asked the young lady what her name was, in order, as he said, that he might remember her in his prayers. “I am a spirit,” replied she; “and you, when alive under the Han dynasty as Ch’u Sui-lang, were a benefactor of my family. Your kindness being engraven on my heart, I have at length succeeded in my search for you, and am able in some measure to requite you.” Chao was dreadfully ashamed of his poverty-stricken state, and [p. 365] afraid that his dirty room would spoil the young lady’s dress; but she made him show her in, and accordingly he took her into his apartment, where there were neither chairs to sit upon, nor signs of anything to eat, saying, “You might, indeed, be able to put up with all this; but you see my larder is empty, and I have absolutely no means of supporting a wife.” “Don’t be alarmed about that,” cried she; and in another moment he saw a couch covered with costly robes, the walls papered with a silver-flecked paper, and chairs and tables appear, the latter laden with all kinds of wine and exquisite viands. They then began to enjoy themselves, and lived together as husband and wife, many people coming to witness these strange things, and being all cordially received by the young lady, who in her turn always accompanied Mr. Chao when he went out to dinner anywhere.
One day there was an unprincipled young graduate among the company, which she seemed immediately to become aware of; and, after calling him several bad names, she struck him on the side of the head, causing his head to fly out of the window while his body remained inside; and there he was, stuck fast, unable to move either way, until the others interceded for him and he was released. After some time visitors became too numerous, and if she refused to see them they turned their anger against her husband.
At length, as they were sitting together drinking with some friends at the Tuan-yang festival,2 a white rabbit ran in, whereupon the girl jumped up and said, “The doctor has come for me;” then, turning to the rabbit, she added, [p. 366] “You go on: I’ll follow you.” So the rabbit went away, and then she ordered them to get a ladder and place it against a high tree in the back yard, the top of the ladder overtopping the tree. The young lady went up first and Chao close behind her; after which she called out to anybody who wished to join them to make haste up. None ventured to do so with the exception of a serving-boy belonging to the house, who followed after Chao; and thus they went up, up, up, up, until they disappeared in the clouds and were seen no more. However, when the bystanders came to look at the ladder, they found it was only an old door-frame with the panels knocked out; and when they went into Mr. Chao’s room, it was the same old, dirty, unfurnished room as before. So they determined to find out all about it from the serving-boy when he came back; but this he never did.
1 The sexes do not dine together. On the occasion of a dinner-party, private or official, the ladies give a separate entertainment to the wives of the various guests in the “inner” or women’s apartments, as an adjunct to which a theatrical troupe is often engaged, precisely as in the case of the opposite sex. Singing-girls are, however, present at and share in the banquets of the roués of China.
2 This occurs on the 5th of the 5th moon, and is commonly known as the Dragon-Boat Festival, from a practice of racing on that day in long, narrow boats. It is said to have been instituted in memory of a patriotic statesman named Ch’ü Yüan, who drowned himself (B.C. 295) because his counsels were unheeded.
3 A hare or rabbit is believed to sit at the foot of the cassia-tree in the moon, pounding the drugs out of which is concocted the elixir of immortality. The first allusion to this occurs in the poems of Ch’ü Yüan (see preceding note).
XCVII. BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION
AT Pao-ting Fu there lived a young man, who having purchased the lowest degree was about to proceed to Peking, in the hope of obtaining, by the aid of a little bribery, an appointment as District Magistrate. His boxes were all ready packed, when he was taken suddenly ill and was confined to his bed for more than a month.
One day the servant entered and announced a visitor; whereupon our sick man jumped up and ran to the door as if there was nothing the matter with him. The visitor was elegantly dressed like a man of some position in society; and, after bowing thrice, he walked into the house, explaining that he was Kung-sun Hsia,2 tutor to the Eleventh Prince, and that he had heard our Mr. So-and-so wished to arrange for the purchase of a magistracy. “If that is really so,” added he, “would you not do better to buy a prefecture?” So-and-so thanked him warmly, but said his funds would not be sufficient; upon which Mr. Kung-sun declared he should be delighted to assist him with half [p. 367] the purchase-money, which he could repay after taking up the post.3 He went on to say that being on intimate terms with the various provincial Governors the thing could be easily managed for about five thousand taels; and also that at that very moment Chên-ting Fu being vacant, it would be as well to make an early effort to get the appointment. So-and-so pointed out that this place was in his native province;4 but Kung-sun only laughed at his objection, and reminded him that money could obliterate all distinctions of that kind. This did not seem quite satisfactory; however, Kung-sun told him not to be alarmed, as the post of which he was speaking was below in the infernal regions. “The fact is,” said he, “that your term of life has expired, and that your name is already on the death list; by these means you will take your place in the world below as a man of official position. Farewell! In three days we shall meet again.” He then went to the door and mounted his horse and rode away.
So-and-so now opened his eyes and spoke a few parting words to his wife and children, bidding them take money from his strong room and go buy large quantities of paper ingots;7 [p. 368] which they immediately did, quite exhausting all the shops. This was piled in the court-yard with paper images of men, devils, horses, &c., and burning went on day and night until the ashes formed quite a hill.
In three days Kung-sun returned, bringing with him the money; upon which So-and-so hurried off to the Board of Civil Office,8 where he had an interview with the high officials, who, after asking his name, warned him to be a pure and upright officer, and then calling him up to the table handed him his letter of appointment. So-and-so bowed and took his leave; but recollecting at once that his purchased degree would not carry much weight with it in the eyes of his subordinates,9 he sent off to buy elaborate chairs and a number of horses for his retinue, at the same time despatching several devil lictors to fetch his favourite wife in a beautifully adorned sedan-chair.
All arrangements were just completed when some of the Chên-ting staff came to meet the new Prefect,10 others awaiting him all along the line of road, about half a mile in length. He was immensely gratified at this reception, when all of a sudden the gongs before him ceased to sound, and the banners were lowered to the ground. He had hardly time to ask what was the matter before he saw those of his servants who were on horseback jump hastily to the ground and dwindle down to about a foot in height, while their horses shrank to the size of foxes or racoons. One of the attendants near his chariot cried out in alarm, “Here’s Kuan Ti!” and then he, too, jumped out in a fright, and saw in the distance Kuan Ti himself slowly approaching them, followed by four or five retainers on horseback. His great beard covered the lower half of his face, quite unlike ordinary mortals; his aspect was terrible to behold, and his eyes reached nearly to his ears. “Who is this?” roared he to his servants; and they immediately informed him that it was the new Prefect of Chên-ting. “What!” cried he; “a petty fellow like that to have a retinue like [p. 369] this?”12 Whereupon So-and-so’s flesh began to creep with fear, and in a few moments he found that he too had shrunk to the size of a little boy of six or seven.
Kuan Ti bade his attendants bring the new Prefect with them, and went into a building at the roadside, where he took up his seat facing the south and calling for writing materials told So-and-go to write down his name and address. When this was handed to him he flew into a towering passion, and said, “The scribbly scrawl of a placeman, indeed! Can such a one be entrusted with the welfare of the people? Look me up the record of his good works.” A man then advanced, and whispered something in a low tone; upon which Kuan Ti exclaimed in a loud voice, “The crime of the briber is comparatively trifling; the heavy guilt lies with those who sell official posts for money.” So-and-so was now seized by angels in golden armour, and two of them tore off his cap and robes, and administered to him fifty blows with the bamboo, until hardly any flesh remained on his bones. He was then thrust outside the door, and lo! his carriages and horses had disappeared, and he himself was lying, unable to walk for pain, at no great distance from his own house. However, his body seemed as light as a leaf, and in a day and a night he managed to crawl home.
When he arrived, he awoke as it were from a dream, and found himself groaning upon the bed; and to the inquiries of his family he only replied that he felt dreadfully sore. Now he really had been dead for seven days; and when he came round thus, he immediately asked for A-lien, which was the name of his favourite wife. But the very day before, while chatting with the other members of the family, A-lien had suddenly cried out that her husband was made Prefect of Chên-ting and that his lictors had come to escort her thither. Accordingly she retired to dress herself in her best clothes, and, when ready to start, she fell back and expired. Hearing this sad story, So-and-so began to mourn and beat his [p. 370] breast, and he would not allow her to be buried at once, in the hope that she might yet come round; but this she never did.
Meanwhile So-and-so got slowly better, and by the end of six months was able to walk again. He would often exclaim, “The ruin of my career and the punishment I received—all this I could have endured; but the loss of my dear A-lien is more than I can bear.” 15
1 By which he would become eligible for Government employ. The sale of degrees has been extensively carried on under the present dynasty, as a means of replenishing an empty treasury.
2 Kung-sun is an example of a Chinese double surname.
3 Such is the common system of repaying the loan, by means of which an indigent nominee is enabled to defray the expenses of his journey to the post to which he has been appointed, and other calls upon his purse. These loans are generally provided by some “western” merchant, which term is an ellipsis for a “Shansi” banker, Shansi being literally “west of the mountains.” Some one accompanies the newly-made official to his post, and holds his commission in pawn until the amount is repaid; which settlement is easily effected by the issue of some well-understood proclamation, calling, for instance, upon the people to close all gambling-houses within a given period. Immediately the owners of these hells forward presents of money to the incoming official, the Shansi banker gets his principal with interest, perhaps at the rate of 2 per cent, per month, the gambling-houses carry on as usual, and everybody is perfectly satisfied.
4 Which fact would disqualify him from taking the post.
5 Literally, “square hole.” A common name for the Chinese cash. See No. II, note 2.
6 In the case of wealthy families these strong rooms often contain, in addition to bullion, jewels to a very great amount belonging to the ladies of the house; and, as a rule, the door may not be opened unless in the presence of a certain number of the male representatives of the house.
7 Pieces of silver and gold paper made up to represent the ordinary Chinese “shoes” of bullion (see No. XVIII., note 4), and burnt for the use of the dead. Generally known to foreigners in China as “joss-paper,”
8 See No. VII., note 1. In this case the reference is to a similar Board in the Infernal Regions.
9 These would be sure to sneer at him behind his back.
10 A compliment usually paid to an incoming official.
11 See No. I., note 4.
12 The retinue of a Mandarin should be in accordance with his rank. I have given elsewhere (see No. LVI., note 5) what would be that of an official of the highest rank.
13 See No. LXXVII., note 1.
14 Good writing holds a much higher place in the estimation of the Chinese than among Western nations. The very nature of their characters raises calligraphy almost to the rank of an art.
15 The author here adds a somewhat similar case, which actually occurred in the reign of K’ang Hsi, of a Viceroy, who was modestly attended, falling in with the gorgeous retinue of a Magistrate, and being somewhat rudely treated by the servants of the latter. On arriving at his destination, the Viceroy sent for that Magistrate, and sternly bade him retire from office, remarking that no simple magistrate could afford to keep such a retinue of attendants unless by illegal exactions from the suffering people committed to his charge.
XCVIII. A CHINESE JONAH
A MAN named Sun Pi-chên was crossing the river when a great thunder-squall broke upon the vessel and caused her to toss about fearfully, to the great terror of all the passengers. Just then, an angel in golden armour appeared standing upon the clouds above them, holding in his hand a scroll inscribed with certain characters, also written in gold, which the people on the vessel easily made out to be three in number, namely Sun Pi-chên. So, turning at once to their fellow-traveller, they said to him, “You have evidently incurred the displeasure of Heaven; get into a boat by yourself, and do not involve us in your punishment.” And without giving him time to reply whether he would do so or not, they hurried him over the side into a small boat and set him adrift; but when Sun Pi-chên looked back, lo! the vessel itself had capsized.2 [p. 371]
1 The Yang-tze: sometimes spoken of as the Long River.
2 The full point of this story can hardly be conveyed in translation. The man’s surname was Sun, and his praenomen, Pi-chên (which in Chinese follows the nomen), might be rendered “Must-be-saved.” However, there is another word meaning “struck,” precisely similar in sound and tone, though written differently, to the above chên; and, so far as the ear alone is concerned, our hero’s name might have been either Sun Must-be-saved or Sun Must-be-struck. That the merchants mistook the character chên, “saved,” for chên “struck,” is evident from the catastrophe which overtook their vessel, while Mr. Sun’s little boat rode safely through the storm.
XCIX. CHANG PU-LIANG
A CERTAIN trader who was travelling in the province of Chih-li, being overtaken by a storm of rain and hail, took shelter among some standing crops by the wayside. There he heard a voice from heaven, saying, “These are Chang Pu-liang’s fields; do not injure his crops.” The trader began to wonder who this Chang Pu-liang could be, and how, if he was pu liang (not virtuous), he came to be under divine protection; so when the storm was over and he had reached the neighbouring village, he made inquiries on the subject, and told the people there what he had heard.
The villagers then informed him that Chang Pu-liang was a very wealthy farmer, who was accustomed every spring to make loans of grain to the poor of the district, and who was not too particular about getting back the exact amount he had lent,—taking, in fact, whatever they brought him without discussion; hence the sobriquet of pu liang, “no measure” (i.e., the man who doesn’t measure the repayments of his loans).1 After that, they all proceeded in a body to the fields, where it was discovered that vast damage had been done to the crops generally, with the exception of Chang Pu-liang’s, which had escaped uninjured.
1 Here again we have a play upon words similar to that in the last story.
C. THE DUTCH CARPET
FORMERLY, when the Red Heads were permitted to trade with China, the officer in command of the coast defences would not allow them, on account of their great numbers, to come ashore. The Dutch begged very hard for the [p. 372] grant of a piece of land such as a carpet would cover; and the officer above-mentioned, thinking that this could not be very large, acceded to their request. A carpet was accordingly laid down, big enough for about two people to stand on; but by dint of stretching, it was soon enough for four or five; and so they went on, stretching and stretching, until at last it covered about an acre, and by-and-by, with the help of their knives, they had filched a piece of ground several miles in extent.2
1 We read in the History of Amoy:—“In the year 1622 the red-haired barbarians seized the Pescadores and attacked Amoy.” From the Pescadores they finally retired, on a promise that trade would be permitted, to Formosa, whence they were expelled by the famous Koxinga in 1662. “Red-haired barbarians,” a term now commonly applied to all foreigners, was first used in the records of the Ming dynasty to designate the Dutch.
2 Our author would here seem to have heard of the famous bull’s hide which is mentioned in the first book of the Aeneid. In any case, the substitution of “stretching” is no improvement on the celebrated device by which the bull’s hide was made to enclose so large a space.
CI. CARRYING A CORPSE
A WOODSMAN who had been to market was returning home with his pole across his shoulder,1 when suddenly he felt it become very heavy at the end behind him, and looking round he saw attached to it the headless trunk of a man. In great alarm, he got his pole quit of the burden and struck about him right and left, whereupon the body disappeared. He then hurried on to the next village, and when he arrived there in the dusk of the evening, he found several men holding lights to the ground as if looking for something. On asking what was the matter, they told him that while sitting together a man’s head had fallen from the sky into their midst; that they had noticed the hair and beard were all draggled, but in a moment the head had vanished. The woodsman then related what had happened to himself; and thus one whole man was accounted for, though no one could tell whence he came. Subsequently, another man was carrying a basket when some one saw a man’s head in it, and called out to him; whereupon he dropped the basket in a fright, and the head rolled away and disappeared. [p. 373]
1 The common method of porterage in China is by a bamboo pole over the shoulder with well-balanced burdens hanging from each end. I have often seen children carried thus, sitting in wicker baskets; sometimes for long journeys.
CII. A TAOIST DEVOTEE
CHÜ YAO-JU was a Ch’ing-chou man, who, when his wife died, left his home and became a priest.1 Some years afterwards he returned, dressed in the Taoist garb, and carrying his praying-mat over his shoulder; and after staying one night he wanted to go away again. His friends, however, would not give him back his cassock and staff; so at length he pretended to take a stroll outside the village, and when there, his clothes and other belongings came flying out of the house after him, and he got safely away.
1 It would be more usual to “renew the guitar string,” as the Chinese idiom runs. In the paraphrase of the first maxim of the Sacred Edict we are told that “The closest of all ties is that of husband and wife; but suppose your wife dies, why, you can marry another. But if your brother were to die,” &c. &c.
2 This, as well as the staff mentioned below, belongs to Buddhism. See No. IV., note 1.
CIII. JUSTICE FOR REBELS
DURING the reign of Shun Chih,1 of the people of T’êng-i, seven in ten were opposed to the Manchu dynasty. The officials dared not touch them; and subsequently, when the country became more settled, the magistrates used to distinguish them from the others by always deciding any cases in their favour: for they feared lest these men should revert to their old opposition. And thus it came about that one litigant would begin by declaring himself to have been a “rebel,” while his adversary would follow up by showing such statement to be false; so that before any case could be heard on its actual merits, it was necessary to determine the status both of plaintiff and defendant, whereby infinite labour was entailed upon the Registrars.
Now it chanced that the yamên of one of the officials was haunted by a fox, and the official’s daughter was bewitched by it. Her father, therefore, engaged the services of a magician, who succeeded in capturing the animal and putting it into a bottle; but just as he was going to commit [p. 374] it to the flames, the fox cried out from inside the bottle, “I’m a rebel” at which the bystanders were unable to suppress their laughter.
1 The first Manchu ruler of the Empire of China. He came to the throne in A.D. 1644.