Zhao Kuo 趙廓

Zhao Kuo of Wuchang was from Qi. He studied the Way with Yong Shi Gong of Wu. In the third year, asked to return. The Gong said: “The disciple’s Way is not yet ready; how can return be appropriate?” He then expelled him. On reaching Qi he had just stopped for a rest when a clerk resting alongside him, thinking him a criminal, was about to seize him. Kuo went more than a hundred paces, then transformed into a blue deer. The clerk pursued him. He ran into a narrow alley. Feeling extremely tired, he squatted down for a rest. The clerk spotted him and resumed the chase. He transformed again, becoming a white tiger, and fled in haste. Seeing a pile of manure, he entered it, changing into a mouse. The clerk spoke in sudden realization: “This man can change shape! This must be him!” He then grabbed the mouse and tied it up. Then, expanding and returning to his shape, he was committed to prison, and sentenced to execution and exposure in the town. When Yong Shi Gong heard of this, he sighed: “This is my fault.” He thus went to see the Prince of Qi, and said: “I hear the great realm has a convict who is able to change shape.” The prince then summoned Guo, and commanded his troops to surround him. Guo attempted to transform into a mouse. The Gong immediately changed into an owl, grabbing the mouse and departing, then flying into the clouds.

From Liexianzhuan.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), ii, 76.476:



Fang Yingshu 房穎叔

The Zhou-era Secretary-General of the Finance Ministry Fang Yingshu was appointed Vice-President of the Board of Civil Office. The following day he intended to ascend formally. That night, there was a cook named Wang Lao who, rising at midnight, suddenly heard a voice from outside, as someone said: “Wang Lao need not get up. Secretary-General Fang will not ascend. In three days’ time, Vice-President Li will be promoted.” Wang Lao refused to sleep through to dawn. Fang did indeed fall ill, dying two days later. His ministry then received an order appointing Li Jiongxiu Vice-President. That same day he expressed his thanks and then ascended. Wang Lao asked everyone about what he had heard, but all said they knew nothing. He then realised that he had been informed by a deity.

From Chaoyeqianzai.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 329.2611:



Zheng Congjian 鄭從簡

The hall in which the Zhou Counsellor of the Left Zheng Congjian lived was often disturbed, so had a shaman inspect it. He was told: “There are corpses lying there, one surnamed Zong, and his wife surnamed Kou, beneath the hall’s foundations.” When questioned further they said: “The gentleman is seated over our gate, and is often affected as we come and go. The gentleman is then unhappy. We do not mean for this to happen.” He dug into the ground for three chi (c.99cm), and indeed found old bones, with an inscription that matched what he had been told. He transferred and reburied them, after which the incidents ceased.

From Chaoyeqianzai.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 329.2611:



Zhang Xiwang 張希望

When the Zhou Dynasty Metropolitan Commandery official Zhang Xiwang moved to an old mansion and rebuilt it, he was visited by the sorcerer Ping Yi, who told him: “You’re about to renew the stable floor, but there’s a corpse lying there. It is very angry, and the gentleman ought to avoid it. Wang laughed, and told him: “Through youth and adulthood I’ve never believed such things; the gentleman should not speak of them.” Several months later, Yi entered and saw a spirit wielding bow and arrows. It followed behind Xiwang, and, as he reached the stairs, the spirit drew the bow and shot him in the shoulder. Xiwang felt a pain in his back, rubbing it with his hand. He died that day.

From Zhiguai.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 329.2611:



A Baxia Native 巴峽人

During the Tiaolu year (679 CE), a person was travelling to Baxia and, tying up his boat at night, suddenly heard someone chanting verse:

Autumn path filled with yellow leaves,

Cold snaps the dewy grass.

The gibbons’ calls cut short,

An exile’s tears leave many tracks.

The voice was very forceful, indignant and sad, and carried into the heavens, reciting several dozen verses in all. On first hearing it, he thought it must be a passenger on the other boat, who had not yet retired to sleep. At dawn he went to call on them, but there was no boat at all, only an empty hillside, a stony spring, and a quiet valley. In the place from which the chanting of verses had come lay a skeleton.

From Jiwen.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 328.2608:



Wang Zhi 王志

In the third year of the Tang Xianqing era (658 CE), Wang Zhi, from Qizhou, was appointed as a county magistrate in Yizhou. When his term expired he returned home. He had a beautiful daughter, who had died on her way to be married. Her coffin had been placed for several months in a monastery.  Within this monastery there was a student who slept in one of the rooms, and early one night he saw the girl come to him, beautiful and resplendently ornamented. She wanted to open her heart and enfold him; the student accepted her, and over a month they grew very close, the girl giving him a bronze mirror, a towel and a comb. When the magistrate wanted the student to leave, he and the girl shared a final secret farewell.

Her family had been searching without success for the gifts, and when the magistrate sent people to search the rooms, they were discovered in the student’s chambers. The magistrate sent his retinue to bind the student, believing that he had stolen them. The student appealed and explained that he had not only received those items, but had also been left an upper and lower robe by her. When the magistrate sent people to open the coffin and check, it turned out to lack these garments, and having seen this proof, treated this as settling the matter. Asking about him in the village, it was established that he was from Qizhou, had followed his parents to a posting in the south, and, after his mother and father had died, he travelled the various prefectures to study and was due to return soon. The magistrate granted him robes and a horse, packing his things and returning together, where he treated him as a son-in-law and they felt great affection for one another.

From Fayuanzhulin.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 328.2608:



Chen Dao 陳導

In the Tang era, one Chen Dao, who came from Yuzhang, made his living as a merchant. During the Longshuo regnal era (661-64 CE), he travelled by boat to Chu and anchored one night at the riverbank, he saw a boat moving upstream towards him as if also to spend the night there. Dao moved his boat nearer to the other, and saw a person, with great eyebrows and a large nose. Like a clerk, he was checking official documents on the boat, and had a retinue of three to five people. Dao questioned him as he might a travel companion, asking: “Where is the gentleman headed? It is fortunate that we both stop for the night at this riverbank.” He of the large eyebrows replied: “Your servant travels to Chu on official business. This meeting is indeed fortunate.” Dao then invited him to cross to his boat, and the eyebrows followed him over.

Dao prepared wine and food, and after several toasts Dao asked his family and given names. Large Eyebrows told him: “My family name is Situ, and my name Bian. I have been sent to Chu, but recently completed my mission.” Dao again questioned him, asking: “What duties are these?” Bian repled: “These duties should not be asked about. For this trip the gentleman should not have Chu as his destination; I would rather you just went to a different place.” Dao asked: “Why?” Bian told him: “I am not a human, but an official envoy from the nether world.” Dao spoke, shocked: “Why should I not go to Chu?” Bian said: “I am going to Chu to perform a calamity. The gentleman will be caught up in it. Moved by the gentleman’s kindness, I therefore provide a warning. The gentleman must, however, count up his money and possessions, as these obstruct his salvation.” Dao begged earnestly to be saved, and Bian told him: “Just wait for me to return from Chu. The gentleman should then prepare a gift of ten or twenty thousand strings of cash, and the gentleman’s home will be spared.” Dao promised to do so, expressed his gratitude and said farewell.

That year, a great fire did indeed spread across Jingchu, consuming tens of thousands of households and leaving very few survivors. After parting from Bian, Dao had been consumed with worry, so turned his boat and started back. When he reached Yuzhang, Bian also arrived there. Dao was mean and stingy by character, and, pleading delay by other affairs, had not gathered the money he had promised. The envoy was furious, and ordered his followers to take a letter to Dao. Dao opened it and had not yet read to the end when fire broke out in his residence, consuming all of his possessions in one evening. Not a single other room was touched, and only Jia’s home burned. Bian then vanished. This [2608] was entirely caused by Dao’s miserly breaking of his agreement.

From Jiyiji.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 328.2607-8:


唐陳導者。豫章人也。以商賈為業。龍朔中。乃泛舟之楚。夜泊江浦。見一舟。泝流而來。亦宿于此。導乃移舟近之。見一人。厖眉大鼻。如吏。在舟檢勘文書。從者三五人。導以同旅相值。因問之曰。君子何往。幸喜同宿此浦。厖眉人曰。某以公事到楚。幸此相遇。導乃邀過船中。厖眉亦隨之。導備酒饌。飲經數巡。導乃問以姓氏。厖眉人曰。某姓司徒。名弁。被差至楚。已來充使。導又問曰。所主何公事也。弁曰。公不宜見問。君子此行。慎勿以楚為意。願適他土耳。導曰。何也。弁曰。吾非人也。冥司使者。導驚曰。何故不得之楚。弁曰。吾往楚行災。君亦其人也。感君之惠。故相報耳。然君須以錢物計會。方免斯難。導懇苦求之。弁曰。但俟我從楚回。君可備緡錢一二萬相貺。當免君家。導許諾。告謝而別。是歲。果荊楚大火。延燒數萬家。蕩無孑遺。導自別弁後。以憂慮繫懷。及移舟而返。既至豫章。弁亦至矣。導以慳鄙為性。託以他事。未辦所許錢。使者怒。乃命從者。持書一緘與導。導開讀未終。而宅內掀然火起。凡所財物悉盡。是夕無損他室。僅燒導家。弁亦不見。蓋 [2608] 以導慳嗇。負前約而致之也。出集異記

Zhang Cong 張琮

At the beginning of the Yonghui era (650-56 CE), Zhang Cong was serving as Magistrate of Nanyang. In his bedchamber he heard a sound like groaning bamboo coming from before his bed, but when he looked there was nothing to see. This continued over several nights. He found it very strange, so prayed: “If there is a spirit here, we ought to talk.” That night, a person suddenly emerged from among the bamboo, extremely old and ugly in appearance. Stepping forward, it explained: “During Zhu Can’s rebellion[1] your servant was in the army, and killed by Can. My remains lie right in front of the government office pavilion, and one of my eyes has been damaged by a bamboo root. I cannot bear this suffering. Because of the magistrate’s benevolence and wisdom, I thus bring this report. Were my grave moved this would be very fortunate, and I would not dare forget such generous benevolence.” The magistrate asked: “If this is the case how have we not been able to hear one another sooner?” He then agreed, and the following day, to provide a new coffin, had people dig there.

They did indeed find a corpse, with a bamboo root piercing through its left eye, dressed in clothing from that time. He had it reburied outside the town walls. Later he executed a village elder by flogging. The elder’s family, wishing to take revenge, plotted to wait outside the magistrate’s home at night for him to emerge, so they could kill him. It happened that fire took hold in the town, spreading to more than ten houses. The magistrate was just leaving to inspect this, when he caught sight of the spirit, who blocked his horse’s path, and told him: “The government office is no place for you in the deep night, and there is treachery afoot.” The magistrate asked who was behind this, and it replied: “Those who were previously tried in the government office.” The magistrate then returned home, surprising and capturing the family the next day. When questioned this was all verified, so he punished them thoroughly. That night he made further offerings at the tomb, and he had an inscribed stone added, reading:

Sacrifice self in the realm’s crisis,

Death and unforgettable loyalty.

The blazing martyr soul,

A true ghost hero.

From Guangyiji.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 328.2603:



[1] This is Zhu Can 朱粲 (d. 621 CE), a warlord active in the latter years of Sui rule and during the establishment of Tang government, with a fearsome reputation for cruelty.

A Waystation Innkeeper 漕店人

During the Zhenguan era (627-49 CE), the keeper of a waystation inn to the west of Chang’an buried his father and mother, their coffins very splendid. One or two years later, he suddenly caught sight of his dead younger brother approaching, looking pallid and wan. He spoke of his elder brother’s lavish burial for their parents, and his own very different treatment at the boggy postal relay station, which caused him unbearable suffering, so he had come to request his brother swap places. The elder brother was very alarmed, burning extra spirit money and making further efforts in all he did. Several months later, he again saw his younger brother, who approached and said: “Such simple effort won’t suffice; my brother cannot escape this.” The elder sibling immediately died.

From Yiwenlu.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 328.2602:

漕店人 貞觀中。長安城西漕店人。葬父母。凶具甚華。一二年後。忽見亡弟來。容貌憔悴。言為兄厚葬父母之故。被差為林皋驛馬。祗承困苦不堪。故來請兄代。兄大驚懼。更多與紙錢。遣努力且作。其後數月。又見弟來云。只承不濟。兄遂不免去。其兄應時而卒。出異聞錄

Wei Zheng 魏徵

In his youth, Wei Zheng, Duke of State of Zheng,[1] was devoted to the study of the Way, and did not believe in spirits or deities. He once travelled to Hengshan to inquire into the Way, and, on reaching the foot of the peak, suddenly encountered a snowstorm. Heaven and earth growing dim, he was unable to proceed. He suddenly caught sight of a priest, leaning on a green bamboo cane from which was suspended the Yellow Court Scripture,[2] who also arrived at the roadside. He asked Zheng: “Why are you travelling?” Zheng replied: “I came here to seek the Way, but was obstructed by snow.” The priest said: “My home is one or two li from here. You should stay over and talk.” Zheng agreed to this, so they set off together and reached a house, very bleak and wild outside, but carved and engraved within. He invited Zheng to an inner [2599] chamber, seating him opposite a stove fire, and, bringing good wine and fine food, they talked at leisure of the Way, poetry and logic. He was erudite and informed, and Zheng could not find fault with him.

When dawn approached, the priest reached the topic of spirits and deities. Zheng stated bluntly that they could not affect the righteous. The priest told him: “The one you wait upon is a Daoist immortal; how then to slander spirits and deities? As there are heaven and earth so are there supernatural beings. For as the Way is lofty, spirits and demons shall by all means be subdued by it. If one venerates the Way but has not yet attained such heights, then spirits, deities and monsters may indeed still affect him; how can one take this lightly?”[3] Zheng could not answer. When dawn broke, the priest again ordered wine to see Zheng off, and leaned once again on his book. On arriving at the Hengshan hermitage, Zheng set off, and, seeking the mountain road, he turned his head towards the lodging place. Instead he saw a large tomb, with a letter attached, which read: “Letter from the Immortal Assistant of Hengshan.” Zheng smashed it, and hurled it to the ground, but the letter transformed into a mouse and ran away. From then on Zheng believed somewhat more in spirits and deities. From Xiaoxianglu.

From Xiaoxianglu.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), vii, 327.2597-98:


鄭國公魏徵。少時好道學。不信鬼神。嘗訪道至恒山。將及山下。忽大風雪。天地昏暗。不能進。忽有道士。策青竹杖。懸黃庭經。亦至路次。謂徵曰。何之。徵曰。訪道來此。為風雪所阻。道士曰。去此一二里。予家也。可一宿會語乎。徵許之。遂同行。至一宅。外甚荒涼。內即雕刻。延徵于深 [2599] 閣。對爐火而坐。進以美酒嘉殽。從容論道。詞理博辨。徵不能屈。臨曙。道士言及鬼神之事。徵切言不能侵正直也。道士曰。子之所奉者仙道也。何全誣鬼神乎。有天地來有鬼神。夫道高則鬼神妖怪必伏之。若奉道自未高。則鬼神妖怪。反可致之也。何輕之哉。徵不答。及平旦。道士復命酒以送徵。仍附一簡。達恒山中隱士。徵既行。尋山路。回顧宿處。乃一大冢耳。探其簡。題云。寄上恒山神佐。徵惡之。投於地。其簡化一鼠而走。徵自此稍信鬼神。出瀟湘錄

[1] Wei Zheng 魏徵 (580-643 CE, courtesy name Xuancheng 玄成, styled Duke of State of Zheng 鄭國公), a famous Tang politician and historian who served the Taizong Emperor (r. 626-649 CE), and is credited as lead editor of the Suishu 隋書. His biographies are found at Jiutangshu, 71.2545-63; Xintangshu 97.3867-82.

[2] The Yellow Court Scripture (Huangting Jing 黃庭經) an influential Daoist text including detailed discussions of divinities.

[3] With thanks to Ofer Waldman for improving my understanding of this exchange.