Blazing Star Beauty* 明星玉女

The Jade Maiden of Venus lived on Huashan. Drinking a jade brew, she ascended to the heavens in broad daylight. On the mountain peak there was a stone turtle, its breadth several mu, and its height three ren. At its side there was a stone staircase, and all this was visible from afar. Before the Jade Maiden’s shrine there was a five-dan stone mortar, called ‘the Jade Maiden’s hair-washing bowl.’ The colour of water within it was a deep transparent green; rain did not cause it to overflow, and drought did not cause it to dry out. In the hall stood a single jade horse.

From the Jixianlu.

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, 59.362



*Title edited to adopt the excellent suggestion from Ofer Waldman (see comments).


Murong Chui 慕容垂

Tang Taizong (r. 626-49 CE) was campaigning in Liao and when he reached Dingzhou there was a spirit by the roadside, dressed in white robes and standing tall atop a tomb, its spirited demeanour especially distinctive. When Taizong sent people to question it, it replied: “Our long-ago defeated the lord’s long-ago; the lord’s present defeats our present. Glory and splendour differ in each age; what use is the bitterness of chasing and seeking them?” Its speech being complete, it vanished. On further questioning, the tomb turned out to be that of Murong Chui.[1]

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, 327.2601



[1] Murong Chui 慕容垂 (326-96 CE), a controversial figure, famously both betrayed and betrayer in struggles for power. See

Li Ji’s Daughter 李勣女

In the first year Zhenguan (627 CE), Li Ji’s (594-669 CE)[1] beloved daughter died, and she was buried at Bei Mang, with a servant’s cottage built next to the tomb. One day, the daughter suddenly appeared to the servant and said: “I did not die in the first place, but was rather stolen away by the spirit of a great tree. Now, the spirit having left on a pilgrimage to Xiyue, I have therefore managed to run away. I knew that you were here, so I came. I have already been parted from my parents, and returning from this would be humiliating, so I cannot go back. If you hide me, I can reward you with great wealth.” The servant was flabbergasted, but eventually agreed, and built another room for her. The girl sometimes left at dawn to return at dusk, sometimes left at nightfall to return at dawn, her every step like the wind. A month later, she suddenly brought ten jin of gold (about 5 kg) as a gift, and the servant accepted it. When he went to sell it, however, the family who had lost it seized the servant to report the matter. The governor of Luoyang was determined to get to the bottom of the matter, so the servant told the full story. When they followed him to seize her, the girl had already gone, and the remaining gold had all turned into yellow rock. (Taken from the Sunxianglu).

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, 327.2601:



[1] This seems likely to be Li Shiji 李世勣 (594-669), courtesy name Maogong 懋功, posthumously known as Duke Zhenwu of Ying 英貞武公. See

The Commander of Huaixi 淮西軍將

At the end of the Yuanhe period (806-20 CE), there was a commander of Huaixi, who was sent to Bianzhou, and stopped at a courier station on the way. Late at night, when he was reaching deep sleep, he suddenly awoke to find something pressing heavily onto him. The general, well-trained and strong, leapt up in alarm and began to wrestle with it, after which the unidentified thing withdrew, and the general succeeded in wresting a leather bag from its hand. The ghost begged and implored with great bitterness from the darkness, so the commander addressed it: “If you tell me what it is, I will give it back.” The spirit said, after a long time, “This is a bag of surplus qi.” The commander then picked up a brick and struck out with it, at which the voice was silenced. The bag held several sheng (these are about a litre each), its contents were deep red in colour, and looked like lotus-root fibres; when carried in daylight it cast no shadow.

Taken from Youyang zazu.

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, 345.2733:




Discarding Fame and Studying the Way 棄名學道

Chen Shunqing was from Jiangnan. In order to sit the civil examinations he went to Chang’an, and spent a decade there without returning. One day, he called on a monk at the Qinglong Monastery, but, unable to meet him, he waited in the warming room, where there was an old man from Zhongnanshan who was also waiting for a monk. They sat for a long time. On the wall was a Huanyingtu map, and Shunqing searched for the Jiangnan route, sighing “If I could return from here, I would not regret being without success.” The old man said: “This is a simple thing.” He arose and snapped a leaf from the bamboo standing before the step, placed it on the Wei River, and said: “Fix your eyes on this, and you will get what you desire.” Shunqing stared hard at the Wei River, seeing violent waves and a heavy swell, and an extremely large boat; it was as if he boarded the boat, which set off at high speed, travelling to the Chanku Monastery, where he inscribed a poem, which read:

Bells sound when the night breeze grows urgent,

Tumultuous crows also [149] gather to gaze on the winter forest.

Hold now the oars in sadness and sigh,

A lone lotus flower towering like a mountain peak.

The next day, he arrived at Tongguan, and composed another poem, which read:

Bringing shame by planning to return home,

Overcoming the shame of failing to return.

When he arrived at his home, his wife and children received him with great delight. He stayed for two nights, and then said: “The examination period is pressing close; I must not stay long.” He then boarded the boat again, composing a poem of farewell to his wife:

Wine increases sorrow with each sip;

Completing a poem I mix chanting with tears.

He floated away, his family stunned and stupefied, saying that he was a ghost. He arrived suddenly at the Wei River, and hurried to the Qinglong Monastery. The monk had still not returned, and the old man of the mountain was still sitting wrapped in his coarse clothing. Shunqing said: “Can that not have been a dream?” The old man said: “You’ll understand this yourself in the coming days.” After a month had passed, his family came to visit, narrating all that had happened, reciting all of the poems he had inscribed there. Chen later achieved enlightenment, having no wish to pursue an official post, but entering Zhongnanshan, remaining as a hermit and never emerging again.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.148-49 (Tale 260):


陳舜卿,江南人。舉進士,至長安,十年不歸。一日,於青龍寺訪僧不值,憩於火閣,有終南山翁,亦俟僧。坐久之,壁間有《寰瀛圖》,舜卿尋江南路,歎曰:「得自此歸,不悔無成。」翁曰:「此易耳。」起折階前竹葉置渭水中,曰:「注目於此,則如願。」舜卿熟視,見渭水波濤洶湧,一舟甚大,怳然而登舟,其去極速,行次禪窟寺,題詩云:「霜鍾鳴時夕風急,亂鴉(「鴉」,原作「雅」,今改。)又 [149] 望寒林集。此時輟棹悲且吟,獨坐蓮華一峰立。」明日,次潼關,又作詩云:「已作羞歸計,猶勝羞不歸。」及至其家,妻子迎見甚喜。信宿,曰:「試期已逼,不可久留。」乃復登舟,作詩別妻曰:「酒至添愁飲,詩成和淚吟。」 飄然而去。家人驚愕,謂為鬼物。倏忽復至渭水,趨青龍寺,僧猶未歸,山翁猶擁褐而坐。舜卿曰:「豈非夢耶?」翁曰:「〔他日〕(據明刻本補。)自知之。」 經月,家人來訪,具述所以,題詩宛然皆在。陳後頓悟,不圖仕宦,而入終南山,隱而不出。

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).

A version of the same tale is found in Taiping Guangji, vol. ii, 74.462-63:

Chen Jiqing 陳季卿

Chen Jiqing’s home was in Jiangnan. He said farewell to his household for a decade and took the civil examinations, determined not to return without having succeeded. He lodged in the capital, selling books to keep himself clothed and fed and frequently visiting the monks at the Qinglong Monastery. Once it happened that the monk was elsewhere, so he rested in the warming room in order to wait for him. There was an old man from Zhongnanshan who was also waiting for a monk, sitting by the stove, and he bowed to Jiqing and beckoned him to the fire. They sat for a long time. He addressed Jiqing, saying: “It is already late afternoon. Are you not very hungry?” Jiqing said: “Starving, to be honest, but the monk is not here yet, so what can be done?” The old man untied a small bag from within his sleeve and took out about a cun (c.3.3cm) piece of medicine, simmering it in a cup of water and handing it to Jiqing, saying: “This will allay your hunger slightly.” After sipping it to the end, he was satisfied and comfortable, the suffering of hunger being washed away he felt much better. On the eastern wall there was a Huanyingtu map, and Shunqing searched for the Jiangnan route, and let out a long sigh, saying: “If I could float from the Wei River to the Yellow River, swim to the Luohe River, on to the Huai and cross to the Yangtze, I would reach my home, and I would not regret returning without achievement.” The old man laughed and said: “This is not so hard to achieve.” He ordered a novice to break a leaf from the bamboo standing in front of the step. Making a boat from the leaf, he placed it on the map, on top of the Wei River, and said: “The gentleman should fix his eyes on this boat, and he will receive that which he has been desiring, even arriving at his home, but should take care not to linger there too long.” Jiqing stared hard at it for a long time, gradually coming to feel the waves of the Wei River, as the single leaf grew large and became an extended sail. [463] Suddenly, it was as if he had boarded the boat, which set off from the Wei to the Yellow River, mooring at the Chanku Monastery, where he inscribed a poem on the southern pillar:

Bells sound when the night breeze grows urgent,

Tumultuous crows also gather to gaze on the winter forest.

Hold now the oars in sadness and sigh,

A lone lotus flower towering like a mountain peak.

The next day, he arrived at Tongguan, and disembarked. He inscribed another poem on the door of the Putongyuan to the east of the pass gates, and this read:

Crossing the Pass ashamed by failed ambition,

Myriad unfinished matters disturb my thoughts.

Downslope a horse lacks strength,

Sweeping the gate dust fills my robes.

Many schemes and plans unfulfilled,

Heart and mouth unable to agree.

Bringing shame by planning to return home,

Overcoming the shame of failing to return.

From Shandong the places he passed through were all just as he had desired. After ten days he arrived at his home, and his wife, children and brothers bowed and welcomed him at the gate. That evening he composed the poem ‘Gazing Late at the River Pavilion’, inscribing it in the study. It read:

Standing facing the river pavilion, eyes filled with sorrow,

Dedicated ten years before to distant and long-term service.

Field and garden are already scattered like floating clouds,

Home village peace swept away like flowing water.

Meeting nobody on the river other than elderly anglers,

On the banks both old friends and sandpipers are hard to find.

It is not through old age; dusk does not yet approach,

Chanting to the distant peaks and bowing the white head.

That evening he spoke to his wife: “The examination period approaches.” He stayed for two nights, and then said: “The examination period is pressing close; I must not stay long.” He then boarded the boat again, composing a poem of farewell to his wife:

Cold dew lies white in slanting moonlight,

Tonight I depart and leave my heart behind.

Wine increases sorrow with each sip;

Completing a poem I chant through tears.

The farewell song perches in the phoenix flute,

The crane laments parting on the jade zither.

In the clear night I pine for this place,

The autumn wind rippling my half blanket.

As he was about to board the boat, he left another poem for his brothers, which read:

I have planned this for a long time,

It can only be fate delaying so far.

Old friends are all distant and detached,

My own path still leading into the distance.

The north wind leaves fine flakes of snow,

These declining years are a time of clouds.

Melancholy and regret lie pure on the riverbank,

This humble self is rich in time.

After the first watch (7-9pm) he again boarded the leaf boat, floating away as his wife, children, brothers and family wept and wailed on the riverbank, saying that he must have been a ghost. The leaf boat rippled along, following his previous route and arriving at Weibin. He then hired a ride and travelled back to the Qinglong Monastery. It seemed that the monk was still sitting wrapped in his coarse clothing. Jiqing thanked him, saying: “I returned and have come back. Can that not have been a dream?” The old man laughed and said: “You’ll understand this after sixty days, but now it is late, and the monk has still not come.” The old man departed and Jiqing returned to his host. After two months had passed, his wife and children sent gold and silks and came from Jiangnan, saying that Jiqing had passed away, and they had therefore come to visit. His wife said: “You returned on such-and-such a day of such-and-such a month. That evening you composed a poem in the study. You also left two poems behind, so I came to realise that this was not a dream.”

The next spring Jiqing failed the examinations and returned to the east. Arriving at Chanku and the Guanmen Buddhist temple, he saw the two pieces he had inscribed there; the ink was still fresh. The following year Jiqing passed the examinations, but fasted and entered Zhongnanshan.

Taken from Muyiji (Esteeming the Unusual: A Record)[1]

[1] Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Period of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), ii, 74.462-63:


陳季卿者。家於江南。辭家十年。舉進士。志不能無成歸。羇棲輦下。鬻書判給衣食。常訪僧於青龍寺。遇僧他適。因息於暖閣中。以待僧還。有終南山翁。亦伺僧歸。方擁爐而坐。揖季卿就爐。坐久。謂季卿曰。日已晡矣。得無餒乎。季卿曰。實飢矣。僧且不在。為之奈何。翁乃於肘後解一小囊。出藥方寸。止煎一杯。與季卿曰。粗可療飢矣。季卿啜訖。充然暢適。飢寒之苦。洗然而愈。東壁有寰瀛圖。季卿乃尋江南路。因長歎曰。得自渭泛於河。遊於洛。泳於淮。濟于江。達于家。亦不悔無成而歸。翁笑曰。此不難致。乃命僧童折堦前一竹葉。作葉舟。置圖中渭水之上。曰。公但注目於此舟。則如公向來所願耳。然至家。愼勿久留。季卿熟視久之。稍覺渭水波浪。一葉漸大。席帆既張。 [463] 恍然若登舟。始自渭及河。維舟於禪窟蘭若。題詩於南楹云。霜鐘鳴時夕風急。亂鴉又望寒林集。此時輟棹悲且吟。獨坐蓮花一峯立。明日。次潼關。登岸。題句於關門東普通院門云。度關悲失志。萬緖亂心機。下坂馬無力。掃門塵滿衣。計謀多不就。心口自相違。已作羞歸計。還勝羞不歸。自陝東。凡所經歷。一如前願。旬余至家。妻子兄弟。拜迎於門。夕有江亭晚望詩。題于書齋云。立向江亭滿目愁。十年前事信悠悠。田園已逐浮雲散。鄉里平隨逝水流。川上莫逢諸釣叟。浦邊難得舊沙鷗。不緣齒髮未遲暮。吟對遠山堪白頭。此夕謂其妻曰。吾試期近。不可久留。即當進棹。乃吟一章別其妻云。月斜寒露白。此夕去留心。酒至添愁飲。詩成和淚吟。離歌棲鳳管。別鶴怨瑤琴。明夜相思處。秋風吹半衾。將登舟。又留一章別諸兄弟云。謀身非不早。其奈命來遲。舊友皆霄漠。此身猶路歧。北風微雪後。晚景有雲時。惆悵清江上。區區趁試期。一更後。復登葉舟。泛江而逝。兄弟妻屬。慟哭於濱。謂其鬼物矣。一葉漾漾。遵舊途至於渭濱。乃賃乘。復遊青龍寺。宛然見山翁擁褐而坐。季卿謝曰。歸則歸矣。得非夢乎。翁笑曰。後六十日方自知。而日將晚。僧尚不至。翁去。季卿還主人。後二月。季卿之妻子。賫金帛。自江南來。謂季卿厭世矣。故來訪之。妻曰。某月某日歸。是夕作詩於西齋。並留別二章。始知非夢。明年春。季卿下第東歸。至禪窟及關門蘭若。見所題兩篇。翰墨尚新。後年季卿成名。遂絕粒。入南山去。



A Soul Beheads People 斬人魂魄

Nie Feng, the Marshal of Weibo, had a daughter, aged just ten and known as Yinniang. Suddenly one day she was stolen away by a beggar; her father and mother did not know where she had gone, and could only weep in grief and sigh as they thought of her. After five years, a nun suddenly escorted Yinniang back, telling Feng: “Her education has been completed.”

After this speech, the nun could no longer be found, and, both shocked and excited, mother and father asked about these studies, and Yinniang said: “I was taken to a rocky cave, given a pill of medicine to take, and then ordered to take up a precious sword. They taught me through practice of the art of stabbing. One year later, I was stabbing apes and monkeys like a flying insect, stabbing tigers and leopards like nothing at all. After three years, I gradually grew able to soar upwards and stab hawks and falcons. After four years, I was taken to the capital; whenever they pointed out a person, they would tot up their life’s sins and transgressions, and when they said ‘Bring me their head!’ I should answer and arrive with the head. From that day I went to the capital and took heads, placing them in a big sack and returning, when they used a medicine to make them disappear like water. After five years they suddenly said: ‘The grand official such-and-such has already built up a long list of crimes, duping the emperor and deceiving the populace, injuring and killing the loyal and virtuous; he has already caused extreme harm to the realm! This night we bring his head.’

Yinniang received her instructions and set off, hiding on the roofbeam of the great official’s chamber, and after a while returning grasping his head, at which the nun said furiously, ‘How can you be so late?’ Yinniang bowed again, and (explained that) she had seen before her a loveable child playing; she waited before making the stroke. The nun shouted at her: ‘Having met such people, first cut them off from those they love, then finish them.’ Yinniang bowed again in thanks, and the nun said: ‘Your technique is now complete, you may return.’ Then I got to come back.” Her father and mother were quite astounded when they heard this, but feared that they might never reclaim her, and dared not control her actions.

Afterwards, when this was laid out as an explanation, the case of Commander Deng was especially strange. Ah! I have heard of generations of such swashbuckling swords, but despite their gentle female natures she could wield a blade and take the heads of the evil. If this is not a matter of magical techniques, what else can it be? The superior man’s answer is: “That which Yinniang studied could not have been taught by a normal person; such a student must be both clever and skilled in such magic. To decide to take the heads from those of vile conduct wherever they exist, that is the orthodoxy of a single school. Alas! Those occupying high positions and amassing great wealth, doing evil without remorse and attracting the ire of others, they should certainly fear Yinniang’s action. The nun warned me, saying: ‘First cut them off from those they love, and then finish them.’ When the evil live childless in the world, they should fear the poison they leave flowing behind them; this is truly terrifying.”

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.90-91 (Tale 155):



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).

This is a transmission of a distinct version of a well-known tale, treated rather differently in the Taiping guangji:

Nie Yinniang 聶隱娘

Nie Yinniang lived during the Tang Zhenyuan era (785-805), and was the daughter of Nie Feng, Marshal of Weibo. When she was ten sui, a nun came begging for food at Feng’s residence, and on seeing Yinniang was delighted by her, and said: “I would ask the guard commander [1457] and beg to take this girl away to train.” Feng was very angry, and rebuked the nun. The nun said: “No matter what strongbox the general may lock her up in, she will be stolen away.” When night came, Yinniang did indeed go missing. Feng was terribly shocked, ordering people to search and hunt, but not even a shadow or a whisper was ever found. Her father and mother always thought of her, but could only cry vain tears.

Five years later, the nun brought Yinniang back. She informed Feng: “Her education is now complete; you may take her back.” The nun was suddenly nowhere to be seen. The household was at once consumed with sadness and joy. When asked what she had learned, she said: “To start with, reading sutras and reciting incantations. Nothing else.” Feng didn’t believe this, and questioned her earnestly. Yinniang said: “If I tell the truth I fear you won’t believe it. What should I do?” Feng said: “Nevertheless, tell the truth.”

She said: “When Yinniang was first taken by the nun, we travelled I don’t know how many li. Dawn came. We arrived at a huge cave in a deep hollow, dozens of paces across, without human inhabitants but with many apes and monkeys, and grown about with pine and creepers. There were already two girls there, also about ten sui, and both very clever, elegant, beautiful and able go without eating. They could soar and run up and down the cliffs like a monkey climbing a tree, without the slightest trip or stumble. The nun gave me a pellet of medicine. I was also ordered to take up a precious sword. It was about two chi (c. 66cm) long, sharp enough to slice a hair, and pursue the two girls; I gradually felt my body grow as light as the wind. When one year had passed, I could prick the apes and gibbons, and in a hundred attempts I would not miss even once. Later I pricked tigers and leopards, and could take their heads and bring them back. After three years I could fly, pricking the falcons and hawks, never missing even one. The sword blade had gradually worn down to five cun (c. 16cm). When I flew to take the birds, they remained quite unaware. After four years, the two girls stayed behind in the cave, and I was taken to the capital, I don’t know exactly where. A person would be pointed out, his crimes numbered one by one, and say: ‘prick him for me and bring his head, without letting anyone know. Settle your gall, it will be as easy as taking the birds.’ I had a horn-handled blade, three cun wide. So I cut people down in the city in broad daylight, and nobody could tell. I put the heads in a sack and returned to my superior’s residence, where they were a special medicine turned them to water. After five years, I was told: ‘Such-and-such is a criminal minister, killing such a number of people without reason. Tonight you should enter his chamber and bring his head. I cracked his doorframe with my dagger, faced no obstacles, and lay on a crossbeam. When night came I returned with his head. The nun said, furious: ‘Why do you come so late?’ Your servant said: ‘I saw him playing with a loveable child, and had not the heart to kill it.’ The nun rebuked me: ‘First cut them off from those they love, then finish them.’ Your servant bowed in gratitude. The nun said: ‘I will open the back of your head to hide your dagger. No harm will come to you. When needed you can draw it out.’ She then said: ‘Your technique is now complete. You should return home.’ Then she escorted me back. She said that only after twenty years will we see one another again.”

As Feng heard this he became quite terrified, and when night fell she disappeared without trace, appearing again with the dawn. Feng did not dare to question this, and therefore could no longer love her as deeply as he once had. It happened that a young mirror-polisher came to their gate, and his daughter said: “This man should be my husband.” When she told her father, he did not dare object, so married them. This husband, though able to polish mirrors, had no other abilities, so her father supplied them generously with food and clothing, setting up a home for them outside his residence. Some years later, her father died. The Commander of Wei knew something of her [1458] marvels, so provided gold and cloth as one of his retinue. Things continued like this for several more years.

During the Yuanhe era (806-21), the Commander of Wei came into conflict with Liu Changyi, Military Commissioner for Chenxu, and sent Yinniang to collect his head. So the woman set out for Xu. Liu had abilities in numerology, and already knew of her coming. He summoned an officer of his guard, and ordered him to arrive north of the walls at dawn, and await a husband and wife on a white and a black donkey. As they reached the gate, a magpie would call in front of the husband, who would take up a catapult, shoot, and miss. The wife would then pluck up the catapult, and shoot the magpie dead with a single pellet. Bowing, he should say that Liu wished to see them and that he had been sent to receive them after their travels. The officer followed these orders, and greeted them. Yinniang and her husband said: “Governor Liu must truly be a divine; how else could he identify us? We wish to meet Lord Liu.” Liu received them. Yinniang and her husband bowed and said: “We should bear ten thousand deaths for opposing the Governor.” Liu said: “Not at all. We all serve our masters; that is the way of things. Wei and Xu are no longer so different; we wish you to stay here, and not feel any suspicion.” Yinniang thanked him: “The Governor lacks a retinue; we wish to reside here and join it, serving the gentleman’s divine wisdom.” She knew therefore that the Commander of Wei could not reach Liu. Liu asked what she needed, and she replied: “Just two hundred cash per day will suffice.” He accepted this request. The two donkeys suddenly vanished, and although Liu sent people to search for them, none could work out where they had gone. Afterwards, two paper donkeys, one white and one black, were found hidden in a cloth bag.

More than a month had passed when she reported to Liu: “They do not yet know that we are remaining here, and so will certainly send others to carry on the task. Tonight I request to cut off some of my hair and leave it before the Commander of Wei’s pillow, to announce that I will not be returning.” Liu permitted this. At the fourth watch (1-3am), she returned, and said: “The message is delivered, but the next night he will certainly send Spirit Boy to kill your servant, and to take the head from his rebellious subordinate. I will do my utmost to kill him; please do not be alarmed.” Liu was tolerant and magnanimous, and showed no sign of fear. That night, they lit the candles, and, after midnight, he saw two banners, one red and one white, fluttering and flying and trading blows above and across the four corners of his bed. After a long time of this he saw a person tumble, as if from thin air, his head detached from his body. Yinniang emerged too, saying: “Spirit Boy is dead.” She dragged the corpse into the hall, and used medicine to transform it into water; not even a hair remained. Yinniang then said: “The next night he will certainly send Cunning Hands Empty Boy to take over. Empty Boy’s skills are such that no human can see his actions, and no spirit can follow his tracks; he is able to join the void and enter the darkness; he is skilled in dissolving form and extinguishing shadow. Yinniang’s skills do not even touch the edge of his; here we rely on the Governor’s fortune. Nonetheless, wrap your neck in jade from Khotan, and bind your body in bedclothes. Yinniang will transform into a tiny midge, hiding inside your intestines, waiting and listening. There is no other way.” Liu did as she said. When the third watch (11pm-1am) came, his eyes were closed but he was not yet asleep, so he heard a clattering around his neck; the sound was loud and clear. Yinniang then leapt from Liu’s mouth, and congratulated him, saying: “The governor is not to worry. This one is like a prize falcon; if one stoop misses, he flies far away, ashamed at having missed. He will not return for a second, and will be a thousand li from here.” Looking at the jade afterwards, he found a dagger mark of several [1459] fen in depth. After this Liu treated her ever more generously.

From the eighth year of the Yuanhe era (813CE), Liu left Xu to go to court, and Yinniang said: “I leave this place to seek exceptional people among the peaks and rivers, but I beg you give a modest living to my husband.” Liu arranged this, and afterwards she vanished, nobody knows where to. When Liu died at his post, Yinniang saddled her donkey and went to the capital, weeping over his coffin before departing. During the Kaicheng era (836-41), Changyi’s son Zong was appointed governor of Lingzhou, and was travelling through Shu on the cliff roads when he encountered Yinniang, looking just as she had used to, very pleased to see him, and riding on her white donkey. She addressed him: “The gentleman faces a great catastrophe, and is not suited to remaining here.” She brought out a grain of medicine, and ordered him to take it. She said: “You must leave office urgently, within a year; only them will you escape this misfortune. My medicine’s effect only offers protection for one year.” Not entirely convinced, Zong gave her coloured silks. Yinniang would not accept anything, but drank heavily with him, and then departed. After a year, Zong had not quit his post, and he indeed died in Lingzhou. After that, none saw Yinniang again.

Taken from the Chuanqi 傳奇.[1]

Another translation of this story is found at Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang (trans), Tang Dynasty Stories (Beijing: Panda Books, 1986), pp. 112-17, under the title ‘The General’s Daughter’. A version of the Taiping guangji telling, focussing, if anything, even more strongly on the latter half of the narrative, was filmed by the Taiwanese director Hou Xiaoxian 侯孝賢 as The Assassin (Cike Nie Yinniang 刺客聶隱娘, 2015), winning him the Best Director Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. On this film, see:

See also Altenburger, Roland, The Sword or the Needle: The Female Knight-errant (xia) in Traditional Chinese Narrative, Worlds of East Asia, XV (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009) for a thorough discussion of Nie Yinniang’s representation and framing.

[1] Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Period of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), iv, 194.1456-59:

聶隱娘者,唐貞元中,魏博大將聶鋒之女也。年方十歲,有尼乞食于鋒舍,見隱娘悅之。云:「問押衙 [1457] 乞取此女教。」鋒大怒,叱尼。尼曰:「任押衙鐵櫃中盛,亦須偷去矣。」及夜,果失隱娘所向。鋒大驚駭,令人搜尋,曾無影響。父母每思之,相對涕泣而已。後五年,尼送隱娘歸。告鋒曰:「教已成矣,子却領取。」尼歘亦不見。一家悲喜。問其所學,曰:「初但讀經念呪。餘無他也。」鋒不信,懇詰。隱娘曰:「真說又恐不信,如何。」鋒曰:「但真說之。」曰:「隱娘初被尼挈,不知行幾里。及明。至大石穴之嵌空數十步,寂無居人,猿狖極多,松蘿益邃。已有二女,亦各十歲,皆聰明婉麗不食。能於峭壁上飛走,若捷猱登木,無有蹶失。尼與我藥一粒。兼令長執寶劒一口。長二尺許,鋒利,吹毛令剸,逐二女攀緣,漸覺身輕如風。一年後,刺猿狖。百無一失。後刺虎豹,皆決其首而歸。三年後能飛,使刺鷹隼,無不中。劒之刃漸減五寸。飛禽遇之,不知其來也。至四年,留二女守穴,挈我於都市,不知何處也。指其人者,一一數其過曰:為我刺其首來,無使知覺。定其膽,若飛鳥之容易也。受以羊角匕首,刀廣三寸。遂白日刺其人於都市,人莫能見。以首入囊,返主人舍,以藥化之為水。五年,又曰:某大僚有罪,無故害人若干。夜可入其室,決其首來。又攜匕首入室,度其門隙,無有障礙,伏之梁上。至瞑,持得其首而歸。尼大怒曰:何太晚如是。某云:見前人戲弄一兒可愛,未忍便下手。尼叱曰:己後遇此輩。先斷其所愛,然後決之。某拜謝。尼曰:吾為汝開腦後藏匕首,而無所傷。用即抽之,曰:汝術已成,可歸家。遂送還。云後二十年,方可一見。」鋒聞語甚懼,後遇夜即失蹤,及明而返。鋒已不敢詰之,因茲亦不甚憐愛。忽值磨鏡少年及門,女曰:「此人可與我為夫。」白父,父不敢不從,遂嫁之。其夫但能淬鏡。餘無他能。父乃給衣食甚豐,外室而居。數年後,父卒。魏帥稍知其 [1458] 異,遂以金帛署為左右吏。如此又數年。至元和間,魏帥與陳許節度使劉昌裔不協,使隱娘賊其首。引娘辭帥之許。劉能神筭,已知其來。召衙將,令來日早至城北,候一丈夫一女子,各跨白黑衛。至門,遇有鵲前噪夫,夫以弓彈之,不中,妻奪夫彈,一丸而斃鵲者。揖之云:吾欲相見,故遠相祗迎也。衙將受約束,遇之。隱娘夫妻曰:「劉僕射果神人,不然者,何以洞吾也,願見劉公。」劉勞之。隱娘夫妻拜曰:「合負僕射萬死。」劉曰:「不然,各親其主,人之常事。魏今與許何異,顧請留此,勿相疑也。」隱娘謝曰:「僕射左右無人,願舍彼而就此,服公神明也。」知魏帥之不及劉。劉問其所須,曰:「每日只要錢二百文足矣。」乃依所請。忽不見二衛所之,劉使人尋之。不知所向。後潛收布囊中,見二紙衛,一黑一白。後月餘。白劉曰:「彼未知住,必使人繼至。今宵請剪髮,繫之以紅綃,送于魏帥枕前。以表不廻。」劉聽之。至四更却返曰:「送其信了,後夜必使精精兒來殺某,及賊僕射之首。此時亦萬計殺之,乞不憂耳。」劉豁達大度,亦無畏色。是夜明燭,半宵之後,果有二幡子一紅一白。飄飄然如相擊于牀四隅。良久。見一人自(「自」字原闕,據明鈔本補。)空而踣,身首異處。隱娘亦出曰:「精精兒已斃。」拽出于堂之下,以藥化為水,毛髮不存矣。隱娘曰:「後夜當使妙手空空兒繼至。空空兒之神術,人莫能窺其用,鬼莫得躡其蹤。能從空虛之入冥,善無形而滅影。」隱娘之藝,故不能造其境,此即繫僕射之福耳。但以于闐玉周其頸,擁以衾,隱娘當化為蠛蠓,潛入僕射腸中聽伺。其餘無逃避處。劉如言。至三更,瞑目未熟。果聞項上鏗然。聲甚厲。隱娘自劉口中躍出。賀曰:「僕射無患矣。」此人如俊鶻,一搏不中,即翩然遠逝,耻其不中。纔未逾一更,已千里矣。後視其玉,果有匕首劃處,痕逾數 [1459] 分。自此劉轉厚禮之。自元和八年,劉自許入覲,隱娘不願從焉。云:「自此尋山水,訪至人,但乞一虛給與其夫。」劉如約。後漸不知所之。及劉薨于統軍,隱娘亦鞭驢而一至京師,柩前慟哭而去。開成年,昌裔子縱除陵州刺史,至蜀棧道,遇隱娘,貌若當時,甚喜相見,依前跨白衛如故。語縱曰:「郎君大災,不合適此。」出藥一粒,令縱吞之。云來年火急拋官歸洛,方脫此禍。吾藥力只保一年患耳。縱亦不甚信,遺其繒綵,隱娘一無所受,但沉醉而去。後一年,縱不休官,果卒于陵州。自此無復有人見隱娘矣。出《傳奇》




A Snake in the Skin 皮中有蛇

‘Hua Tuo’s Unofficial Biography’ relates: There was a woman from Langya who developed a sore on her right thigh, which tickled but didn’t hurt, recovering but then growing further. Tuo said: “One ought to obtain a dog the colour of rice husk and drag it with horses, exchanging when wearied, for fifty li; decapitate it and smear the blood on the itchy spot, which will then [improve].” This advice was followed. Immediately a snake was seen moving in her skin; placing an iron needle along its length they drew it out – it was perhaps three feet long – and seven days later she had quite recovered.

Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志, 2.228 (Tale 408):



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).

A much earlier version is found in the Soushenji (translated by Kenneth J. Dewoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr.):

Hua T’o Cures an Ulcer with a Dog and Two Horses (3,69)

Hua T’o (T. Yuan-hua) of the state of P’ei was also known as Hua Fu. Liu Hsün of Lang-ya, Grand Protector of Ho-nei, had a daughter who was about twenty. Her feet troubled her, and on the inside of her left thigh she had tumor [sic] that, though it did not pain her, itched. The tumor would be inactive for several weeks and then would suddenly break out. This went on for seven or eight years until finally Lu Hsün received T’o and asked him to examine her.

“This is easily cured,” said Hua T’o. “Prepare a brown dog, the color of rice chaff, and have two sound horses procured.” Hua T’o then tied a rope to the dog’s neck, and the horse was made to drag the dog at a gallop. When the first horse was exhausted he was exchanged for the other until at least thirty li had been covered. By then the dog could no longer walk, so a man was detailed to drag it until a total of fifty li had been traveled.

The girl was then drugged. When she was comfortable and unconscious, the dog’s belly, at a place near the hind leg, was opened with a great knife. This wound was placed two or three inches from the site of the girl’s ulcer, and a serpentine creature was observed coming forth from it. An iron awl was thrust through the serpent’s head parallel to the girl’s leg. The thing wriggled beneath the girl’s skin for some time but eventually grew still and was drawn out.

The creature was about three feet long and was clearly a snake. However, though it had eye sockets, it had no eyeballs and its scales faced forward.

Salve was later spread on the ulcer, and the girl was cured in seven days.[1]

Another, abbreviated, version of this is found in Tale 323 in the Tang-era collection Du Yi Zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), collated by Li Rong 李冗:

In the realm of Wei there was a woman who was extremely beautiful, but had remained unmarried for a long time, because she often suffered a sore on her right knee that wept pus without cease. Encountering Hua Tuo on the road, her father questioned him about it. Tuo said: “Have someone ride a horse, pulling along a chestnut-coloured dog, and gallop for thirty li. Return, sever and hang up the dog’s right foot.” Presently, a red snake emerged from the sore and [66] entered the dog’s paw. Her illness was then cured.[2]

This version was picked up and included in the tenth-century compilation Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), where it is combined with another story of Hua Tuo’s expertise:

Hua Tuo 華佗

Hua Tuo of Wei was a skilled physician. Once, the prefectural commander became very ill. Tuo encountered him, and the commander ordered him to perform a diagnosis and treatment, but Tuo withdrew, addressing his son: “The cause of the gentleman’s illness is unusual. There is an accumulation of blood in the chest. He should be made very angry, so that it can be spat out. Then he will be able to expel the malady. Otherwise there is no chance for life. His son can speak in full about his father’s entire life’s transgressions. I withdraw and pass the responsibility to you.” The son said: “If a cure can be effected, what should not be said?” Then he detailed all his father’s misdeeds and mistakes, telling all to Tuo. Tuo therefore composed and left a letter scolding the man. The father grew extremely angry, dispatching clerks to arrest Tuo, but Tuo did not come back. He then vomited more than a sheng (about a litre) of black blood. His illness was then cured. Moreover, there was a woman who was extremely beautiful, but had remained unmarried for a long time, because she often suffered a sore on her right knee that wept pus without cease. Encountering Hua Tuo on the road, her father questioned him about it. Tuo said: “Have someone ride a horse, pulling along a chestnut-coloured dog, and galloping for thirty li. Return, cook and sever the dog’s right foot, then attach it to the sore.” Presently, a red snake emerged from the sore and [66] entered the dog’s paw. Her illness was then cured.[3]

[1] Gan Bao, Kenneth J. Dewoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr. (trans), In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), p.41. Soushenji 3.41:



[2] Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories) in Du yi zhi, Xuanshi Zhi 獨異志,宣室志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories, Stories from the Chamber of Dissemination), edited by Zhang Yongqin 张永钦 and Hou Zhiming 侯志明 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), pp. 65-66:

魏國有女子,極美麗,踰時不嫁,以右膝上常患一瘡,膿水不絕。遇華陀過,其父問之。陀曰:「使人乘馬,牽一栗色犬,走三十里。歸而截犬右足挂之。」俄頃,一赤蛇從瘡出而 [66] 入犬足,其疾遂愈。

[3] 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), 218.1664-65: