Four Immortals Play Chess 四仙弈棋

There was once somebody called Ba, from Qiong, his surname has not been recorded. He had a tangerine tree, and after the frost came all of the tangerines had been gathered, save for two big ones, each as large as a wide-bellied pot. Ba then ordered that they twist off the tangerines and weigh them, just like the usual ones. When cut open, each contained two elderly men, beard and eyebrows hoary white, flesh and bodies bright red, and both sets were playing chess, their bodies a little over a chi (33cm) in height, talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. When their games were finished, one old man said: “The gentleman has beaten me.” Another old man said: “The gentleman has beaten me; it will come back to me later, at the thatched hall at Qingcheng.” (This is a celebrated Daoist mountain site in Sichuan) Yet another old man spoke up: “Master Wang is always like this; waiting and getting nothing. Playing in the tangerine is no worse than on Shangshan, but you can’t have more than one stem for each tangerine.” One of the old men said: “Your servant is hungry and empty; he needs a dragon root fruit to eat.” Then from his sleeve he removed a grass root, about an inch across, its shape curving sinuously like a dragon, and, millimetre by millimetre and with great care, pared it away fully. When he had finished eating, he spat it out in a gush of water, and it transformed into a dragon. The four old men mounted it together, and wings flapping beneath their feet ascended into the clouds. Briefly and suddenly came wind, rain, darkness and light, and none knew where they had gone.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.132 (Tale 230):

四仙弈棋

有巴邛人,不記姓。有橘,霜後諸橘盡收,餘二大橘如三四斗盎,巴人即令拳橘輕重,亦如常橘。割開,每橘有二老叟,鬚眉皤然,肌體紅明,皆相對象戲,身尺餘,談笑自若。但與決賭訖,一叟曰:「君輸我。」一叟曰:「君輸我,後日於青城草堂還我耳。」又一叟曰:「王先生許來,竟待不得,橘中之樂不減商山,但不得二根同蒂(上四字,明抄本作「深根固蒂」。)於橘中耳。」一叟曰:「僕飢虛矣,須龍根脯食之。」即於袖中抽出一草根,方圓徑寸,形狀宛轉如龍,毫釐周悉,因削復滿。食訖,以水噀之,化為一龍,四叟共乘之,足下泄泄雲起。須臾,風雨晦明,不知所在。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

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Author: Geoff Humble

Hobby translator of mosty 14th century Chinese texts. Enjoys strange tales. Image is my doodle based on an element within this work: http://archive.asia.si.edu/collections/edan/object.php?q=fsg_F1938.4

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