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.

Fang Xuanling 房玄齡

During Fang Xuanling[1] and Du Ruhui’s[2] early, humble years, they once travelled together from Zhou to Qin, lodging at an inn in Fushui. There happened to be good food, so they ate together late at night. Suddenly they caught sight of two hairy black hands emerging below the lamp, as if beckoning to make a request. Each then placed some roasted meat in a hand. After a while the hands came out again, this time cupped together. Each then poured a little wine into them. The hands did not reappear. When the meal was over, they turned away from the lamp and went to bed. At the second watch (9-11pm), they heard someone in the street shouting out continuously to a Wang Wen’ang, and the suddenly heard someone reply from beneath the lamp. The voice said: “Twenty li due east the villagers have a bamboo mat deity, and the wine and food is very plentiful; can you come or not?” It replied: “I’m already drunk and dull of wine and meat. I have public duty, and can’t get away, but appreciate the gentleman’s invitation.” The caller said: “You’ve been starving all day; how do you come to have food and drink? You were never a clerk, so how do you have public duty? Why talk such nonsense?” It replied: “I have come into the official world by serving two future ministers, and they granted me wine and meat, so I can’t leave. If things return to normal and you go in future then I’ll come along.” The caller expressed its thanks and departed.

From Xuxuanguailu.

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, 327.2598:



[1] Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578-648 CE, courtesy name Qiao 喬, posthumous name Wenzhao 文昭), a famous Tang-era minister and historian, compiler of the Jinshu 晉書.

[2] Du Ruhui 杜如晦 (585-630 CE), a celebrated minister under Tang Taizong 太宗 (r. 627-649 CE).

Shi Wansui 史萬歲

On Daixian Lane, in Chang’an, stands the residence of the Sui-era Marshal of the Beiling Army Shi Wansui.[1] Formerly, spirits and monsters had often manifested at the mansion, and residents had then died. Wansui did not believe in this, so therefore went and lived there. One night he saw a person, [2598] his gown and hat extremely dignified, who approached Wansui. Wansui asked how he had come, to which the spirit said: “I am the Han general Fan Kuai,[2] and my tomb is close beside the gentleman’s toilet.[3] I often suffer from the mishaps of filth, and it would be fortunate to move to another place; generous reward would be guaranteed.” Wansui made a promise, but then questioned him closely on why he had killed people. The spirit told him: “They all died of fright; I didn’t kill them.” On digging, he found bones and a coffin, so made a new burial. The next night the figure returned and thanked him, saying: “The gentleman will serve as a general.” Wansui later served the Sui as a general, and, whenever he encountered rebels, would become aware of a spirit army assisting him, so each battle was a resounding victory.

From Liangjingji.

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:


長安待賢坊。隋北領軍大將軍史萬歲宅。其宅初常有鬼怪。居者則死。萬歲不信。因即居之。夜見人 [2598] 衣冠甚偉。來就萬歲。萬歲問其由。鬼曰。我漢將軍樊噲。墓近君居廁。常苦穢惡。幸移他所。必當厚報。萬歲許諾。因責殺生人所由。鬼曰。各自怖而死。非我殺也。及掘得骸柩。因為改葬。後夜又來謝曰。君當為將。吾必助君。後萬歲為隋將。每遇賊。便覺鬼兵助己。戰必大捷。出兩京記

[1] A biography of Shi Wansui 史萬歲, originally from Duling 杜陵, in Jingzhao 京兆, who reportedly enjoyed particular successes against Türk forces, but was executed due to court intrigue, is found at Suishu, 53.1353-57.  

[2] Fan Kuai 樊噲 (posthumously styled Wu 武, d. 189 BCE), originally a dog-butcher by trade, later following the general Liu Bang 劉邦 (Han Gaozu 漢高祖, 256-195 BCE), distinguishing himself most prominently at the Hongmen feast 鴻門宴, an ambush set for the general. When Bang was enthroned at the head of the Western Han 西漢 (206 BCE-8 CE), he made Kuai Marquis of Wuyang 舞陽侯 and later chief minister of the left 左丞相.

[3] Thanks are due to Ofer Waldman for pointing out an embarrassing oversight in this translation.

Li Wenfu 李文府

At the start of the Emperor Wen of Sui’s Kaihuang era (581-601 CE), Li Wenfu of Anding resided in Stonebridge Lane, in Yedu. One night he placed a bottle of wine beneath his bed and, waking at midnight, suddenly heard a sound as if the bottle had tipped and the wine were flowing out. When he sent a maid to look at it, the wine bottle had not fallen over, and the stopper was in place as before. After a short while, he again heard something make a clatter and the sound of liquid. Demanding a torch he shone it around and looked, but the room was silent and there was nothing to see. He extinguished the light and locked the door, but before he could sleep he felt something like a hand chopping at his knee. This happened several times, so Wenfu arose and groped around but found nothing. He then took up a blade and lashed out on all four sides, and heard a sound as if of a ‘flying cicada’ hat ornament swaying in a breeze, and rushed out.

Wenfu was later appointed assistant county magistrate in Xuchang, within Yanzhou. On reaching the eighth year of the Kaihuang era (588 CE), he saw the former prefectural office clerk, Kong Zan, who was from Xuchang, but who had already died. Suddenly, in broad daylight, he arrived before Wenfu in the hall and bowed to him repeatedly. Wenfu was shocked and questioned him, to which he replied: “The Taishan magistrate chooses good people, and Zan, due to the gentleman’s wisdom and character, recommended him for office.” Wenfu kowtowed to him, worried and apprehensive. After a long time Zan told him: “Take care not to divulge this.” When ten years had passed, he did speak of this, but on finishing speaking, he began to feel unwell, and died soon after.

From Wuxingji.

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:



Dong Shouzhi 董壽之

When, under the Northern Qi (550-77 CE), one Dong Shouzhi was executed, his family were not informed. His wife was sitting that night when she suddenly saw Shou[zhi] by her side, sighing and lamenting without pause. His wife asked how he had come to return in the middle of the night, but Shouzhi made no answer, and after a short while left by the gate, walking past the chicken coops as he departed. In the coops the hens cried out in fear, so his wife suspected something strange, took up a torch and went out to look. She saw several dou of blood, and Shou[zhi] then vanished, at which she went and told her sister-in-law, and all wailed together, realising their fortunes had changed. When dawn broke, they were indeed told of his death.

From Xusoushenji.

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, 327.2596:



Ren Zhou 任胄

Ren Zhou, Prime Minister and Minister of War under the Eastern Wei (534-50 CE), plotted to kill Gao Huan,[1] but the news leaked out and he was executed. His family did not yet know of this when they suddenly saw his head appear atop a rice steaming dish. Once they had called one another together to look, it vanished from sight, and soon after they learned that he had been killed.

From Sanguodianlüe.

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, 327.2596:



[1] Gao Huan 高歡 (496-547 CE, courtesy name Heliuhun 賀六渾), a general involved in the 534-35 partition of the Wei 魏 empire, and the formation of the Eastern Wei 東魏 (534-550 CE).

Xiao Siyu 蕭思遇

Xiao Siyu was a paternal grand-nephew of the Liang Emperor Wu (464-549 CE, r. 502-49). His father, Que, was killed by Hou Jing,[1] and due to his father’s death he refused to enter public life. He often yearned for the Way, and wished to meet the immortals. He was thus named Siyu (‘Desiring Encounters’), with the courtesy name Wangming (‘Expecting Illumination’), and said he hoped to encounter divinities. His residence was in Dongshan, within Huqiu, by nature he was frugal and quiet, and he loved music and books. Whenever the wind rustled the pines, he would stop playing and utter a long cry, startling all those dwelling in buildings on the mountain, and he would often sit on a rock in the rain and sing.

Suddenly, hearing someone knocking at the wicker gate, Siyu suspected that this was something strange. He ordered a servant to ask who was there. The answer came: “There is no need to ask.” The voice seemed, however, to come out of the rain, along the [2596] washing-brook. When the servant-boy opened the door, he saw a beautiful woman, followed by two dark-robed maids, all of celestial appearance. Siyu donned his reclusive scholar’s clothes and greeted them politely, saying: “Just now the lady’s speech was heard coming along the washing brook, from a distance through the rain. I don’t know whether you came by carriage?” The woman said: “It is said the gentleman treasures a different path, and is simple and clean of intent. I do not ride a carriage, but arrived on the wind.” Siyu said: “If you arrived via the washbrook, must you not be Xishi?[2] The woman turned to the two youths and laughed, then asked the gentleman how he had known of her. Siyu said: “There’s no need to worry; we should just go to bed.”

When dawn broke and they were about to part the woman left a gold bracelet as a parting gift. Siyu said that his heart would stay true without such things. The lady told him: “That is extremely rare.” Siyu asked: “If the lady leaves now, when will she return?” She then wept and said: “I dare not promise a time, or speak empty words of affection.” Siyu was also sorrowful. Once they had finished speaking, she mounted the wind and departed. Before long, she had disappeared from sight, leaving only a fragrance lingering in the bedchamber. This was the second day of the second month in the first year of the Chen Wen Emperor’s Tianjia era (560 CE).

From Bowuzhi (Note: the Chenjiaoben reports that this comes from the Xubowuzhi)

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, 327.2595-96:


蕭思遇。梁武帝從姪孫。父慤。為侯景所殺。思遇以父遭害。不樂仕進。常慕道。有冀神人。故名思遇而字望明。言望遇神明也。居虎丘東山。性簡靜。愛琴書。每松風之夜。罷琴長嘯。一山樓宇皆驚。常雨中坐石酣歌。忽聞扣柴門者。思遇心疑有異。令侍者遙問。乃應曰。不須問。但言雨中從浣 [2596] 溪來。及侍童開戶。見一美女。二青衣女奴從之。並神仙之容。思遇加山人之服。以禮見之。曰。適聞夫人云。從浣溪來。雨中道遠。不知所乘何車耶。女曰。聞先生心懷異道。以簡潔為心。不用車輿。乘風而至。思遇曰。若浣溪來。得非西施乎。女回顧二童而笑。復問先生何以知之。思遇曰。不必慮懷。應就寢耳。及天曉將別。女以金釧子一隻留訣。思遇稱無物敘情。又曰。但有此心不忘。夫人曰。此最珍奇。思遇曰。夫人此去。何時來。女乃掩涕曰。未敢有期。空勞情意。思遇亦愴然。言訖。遂乘風而去。須臾不見。唯聞香氣猶在寢室。時陳文帝天嘉元年二月二日也。出博物志。陳校本作出續博物志。

[1] Hou Jing 侯景 (d.552 CE, courtesy name Wanjing 萬景), was a northern commander under the Wei 魏, but submitted to Emperor Wu of Liang, who named him Prince of Henan 河南王. In 548 CE he seized the Liang throne to rule as Han Di 漢帝 until suffering defeat and being executed by his own troops.

[2] Xishi 西施, also Xizi 西子 (lived around 450 BCE), a famously beautiful woman reportedly presented by Gou Jian 勾踐 of Yue 越 as concubine to the King of Wu 吳 in a plan to seduce him and destroy that kingdom. This seems to be a play on xi 溪 ‘brook, creek’ and xi 西 ‘west, western’ in the woman’s name, but I’m sure I’m missing something else obvious to readers here.