Zhao Yun Causes Catastrophe Through Drink 趙雲因酒德禍

*Translation edited with help from Ofer Waldman – many thanks, Ofer!*

At the beginning of the Tang Zhenyuan era (785-805 CE), there was a Zhao Yun of Tianshui, who travelled widely in Fuzhi, passing through Zhongbu County. The officials were holding a feast, and the clerks had apprehended a prisoner, but his crime was not very serious, so the officials wanted to release him. Yun was drunk, and therefore urged them to increase his penalty, resulting in twenty strokes of the cane. Some months later, Yun crossed the border, leaving by the Luzi Pass, and met a person on the road, who invited him to talk. When night fell, they drew Yun down a smaller path to his residence, several li from the road. They then ordered him wine and poured drinks, later asking him: “Is the gentleman acquainted with us or not?” Yun said: “Never. Though this behaviour has in truth left the past quite murky.” They then said: “Some months ago. Because this section respects the gentleman, I suffered unjust punishment; I never had any quarrel with the gentleman, but at the gentleman’s urging I suffered heavy punishment.” Yun hurriedly arose and apologised to him. The other replied: “I have waited a long time for you. Who would have thought this chance would come to wipe clean your petty insult.” He then ordered his retinue to drag Yun into a chamber. In the room there was a great pit, more than three zhang in depth (i.e., over 10m deep), with only a few dozen dou of wine dregs stored inside. Stripping off his clothes, they shoved Yun in. Growing hungry, he fed himself with the grain, and when thirsty he drank the juices, clouding his mind from dawn to dusk. After about a month, they bound him and brought him out, causing people to wrinkle their noses and foreheads and to twist their limbs. His hands and fingers, arms and legs had all aged, and, once exposed to the wind, he froze and even his voice changed. Thinking him quite humbled from his previous status, they had him perform menial duties at the Wuyan relay service. After several years, when his younger brother was serving as Censor, he left the capital to visit the prison at Mingzhou, where Yun succeeded in informing him of past events. [16] His younger brother reported the matter to the Investigating Censor Li Xian, who sent soldiers to search, seizing the bandit and extinguishing all of his faction. As their execution approached they still did not hide or blink, but said that: “Changing a person like that, from one end to another, would require several generations!”

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.15-16 (Tale 82):

趙雲因酒德禍

唐元和初,有天水趙雲,客遊鄜畤,過中部縣。縣寮有讌,吏擒一囚至,其罪不甚重,官寮願縱之。雲醉,因勸加於刑責,於是杖之二十。累月,雲出塞,行及蘆子關,道逢一人,邀之言款。日暮,延雲下道過其居,去路數里。於是命酒偶酌,既而問之曰:「君省相識否?」雲曰:「未嘗。此行實昧平昔。」乃曰:「前月。於是部值君,遭罹橫罪,與君素無讐隙,為君所勸,因被重刑。」雲遽起謝之。其人曰:「吾望子久矣,豈虞於此獲雪小恥。」乃命左右拽入一室。室有大坑,深三丈餘,中唯貯酒糟數十斛。剝去其衣,推雲於中。饑食其糟,渴飲其汁,旦夕昏昏。幾一月,乃縛出之,使人蹙頞鼻額、挼捩肢體,手指、肩髀,皆改於舊,提出風中,倐然凝定,至於聲亦改。以為賤隸,為烏延驛中雜役。累歲,會其弟為御史,出按靈州獄,雲以前事密疏示之。 [16] 其弟告於觀察使李銛。由是發卒討尋,盡得姦人,而覆滅其黨。臨刑亦無隱䁥,云前後如此變改人者,數代矣。

此條又見《廣記》卷二八六,題為《中部民》。

 

The tale is also found in Taiping Guangji, in a version that shows several small variations:

The Zhongbu Populace

At the beginning of the Tang Zhenyuan era (785-805 CE), there was a Zhao Yun of Tianshui, who travelled widely in Fuzhi, passing through Zhongbu County. The officials were holding a feast, and the clerks had apprehended a prisoner, but his crime was not very serious, so the officials wanted to release him. Yun was drunk, and therefore urged them to increase his penalty, resulting in a flogging. Some months later, Yun crossed the border, leaving by the Luzi Pass, and met a person on the road, joking with him and using kind words. When night fell, they drew Yun down a smaller path to his residence, several li from the road. They then ordered him wine and poured drinks, later asking him: “Is the gentleman acquainted with us or not?” Yun said: “Never. Though this behaviour has in truth left the past quite murky.” They spoke again: “On such and such a month and day. Because this section respects the gentleman, one suffered unjust punishment; I never had any quarrel with the gentleman, why would the gentleman urge them on, causing me to suffer heavy punishment?” Yun hurriedly arose and apologised to him. The other replied: “I have waited a long time for you. Who would have thought this chance would come to wipe clean your petty insult.” He then ordered his retinue to drag Yun into a chamber. In the room there was a great pit, more than three zhang in depth (i.e., over 10m deep), with only a few dozen dou of wine dregs stored inside. Stripping off his clothes, they shoved Yun in. Growing hungry, he fed himself with the grain, and when thirsty he drank the juices, and in this way clouded his mind for about a month. They then bound him and brought him out, causing people to wrinkle their noses and foreheads. His limbs twisted. His hands and fingers, arms and legs had all aged, and, once exposed to the wind, he froze and even his voice changed. Having humbled him from his previous status, and left him brooding, they had him perform menial duties at the Wuyan relay service. After several years, when his younger brother was serving as Censor, he left the capital to visit the prison at Mingzhou, where Yun succeeded in informing him of past events. [16] His younger brother reported the matter to the Investigating Censor Li Ming, who sent soldiers to search, capturing all of the evil plotters and extinguishing all of his faction. As their execution approached they still did not hide or blink, but said that: “Changing a person like that, from one end to another, would require several generations!” From Du Yi Zhi.

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), vi, 286.2279:

中部民

唐元和初。有天水趙雲。客遊鄜畤。過中部縣。縣僚有燕。吏擒一囚至。其罪不甚重。官僚願縱之。雲醉。因勸加於刑。於是杖之。累月。雲出塞。行及蘆子關。道逢一人。耍之言款。日暮。延雲下道過其居。去路數里。於是命酒偶酌。既而問曰。君省相識否。雲曰。未嘗此行。實昧平昔。復曰:「前某月日。於是部值君。某遭罹橫罪。與君素無讐隙。奈何為君所勸,因被重刑。雲遽起謝之。其人曰。吾望子久矣。豈虞於此獲雪小耻。乃命左右。拽入一室。室有大坑。深三丈餘。坑中唯貯酒糟數十斛。剝去其衣。推雲於中。飢食其糟。渴飲其汁。於是昏昏幾一月。乃縛出之。使人蹙頞鼻額。挼捩肢體。其手指肩髀。皆改舊形。提出風中。倐然凝定。至於聲亦改。遂以賤隸蓄之。為烏延驛中雜役。累歲。會其弟為御史。出按靈州獄。雲以前事密疏示之。其弟言於觀察使李銘。由是發卒討尋。盡得奸宄。乃覆滅其黨。臨刑亦無隱䁥。云前後如此變改人者,數代矣。出獨異志

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Liu Ling’s Lack Of Restraint 劉伶狂放

Liu Ling[1] enjoyed drinking, and often undressed and went naked without screening himself; people saw this and reproved him. Ling said: “I am housed and roofed by the heavens and earth, with my room serving as trousers and underwear; if my lord has no business here, why enter my pants?” The others laughed and withdrew.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.10 (Tale 65):

劉伶狂放

劉伶好酒,常袒露不挂絲,人見而責之。伶曰:「我以天地為棟宇,屋室為裩袴,君等無事,何得入我裩袴中?」其人笑而退。

[1] On the poet Liu Ling 劉伶 (221-300 CE), see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Ling_(poet).

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)

An Immortal Treats Tumours 仙醫瘤疾

Li Zhongweng had a tumour in his nose. As big as a walnut, he feared it would gradually increase in size, and tried many methods to treat it, but without effect. Arriving at a guesthouse in Xiangyang, he encountered a Daoist and they drank together happily, passing the cup day and night. When they were about to part, the Daoist took out a small gourd, about as big as a jujube, and poured out three millet-sized grains of medicine, giving these to Zhongweng and saying: “At night you should puncture the root of the tumour with a needle, and stitch the medicine into this needle-hole; the next day the tumour should fall away. The other two grains are to treat strange illnesses.” Zhongweng used the needle as instructed. By midnight, he felt the medicine moving around the base of the growth and twisting around. When dawn arrived he touched it, and found that the tumour was already quite gone. Hurrying to a mirror to examine his face, he saw that there was not even a scar. He therefore marvelled at the miracle, and kept the remaining grains secret. When his young daughter fell over and broke a tooth, he placed one of the medicine grains in the tooth root, and after an evening her teeth returned to their even shape. He took a liang (31.25g) of mercury and placed it on the blade of a hoe, then put the last grain on this, at which it transformed into the finest quality gold. He then understood that these were pills of the Great Elixir smelted by the immortals.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.145 (Tale 254):

仙醫瘤疾

李仲翁,鼻間生一瘤,大如胡桃,懼其浸大,百方治之不效。至襄陽客邸,遇一道人喜飲,日夕周旋,臨別,出一小瓢如棗大,傾藥三粒如粟,授仲翁曰: 「汝夜以鍼刺瘤根,納藥鍼穴內,明日瘤當自落。其二粒以救奇疾也。」仲翁如其教用鍼。至夜半,覺藥巡瘤根而轉。至曉捫之,則瘤已失矣。急取鏡照之,更無瘢痕,因大神之,秘其餘藥。其女小時倒地,折齒不生,取藥納齒根,一夕齒平復。以水銀一兩置銚間,取藥投之,則化為紫金矣,方知其為神仙所煉大丹也。

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).

An Immortal Treats A Hunchback 仙醫曲背

Monk Li of Xichuan had a disciple whose back was so bent that they could not look upwards, and because the medicine market had closed, saw a Daoist, who said: “If the scholar has money, I beg two or three hundred cash for wine.” The scholar said: “I am poor and lack money, but there is some weak wine in my residence; will you have a drink with me?” The Daoist accepted happily and accompanied him. When the wine was half finished, the Daoist said: “Why is your back curved?” The scholar said: “Unfortunately I happened to suffer this illness; there is nothing to be done about it.” The Daoist therefore took out thirty grains of medicine, saying: “In the coming days, at the fifth watch (3-5am) face east, take these with freshly drawn water, and do not become alarmed if you feel a slight pain.” The scholar did as instructed and, having taken the medicine, felt an extreme and unbearable dryness, turning and thrashing on his bed and regretting it bitterly. Nevertheless, every time he stretched himself he felt slightly more comfortable, and by the next day his back was quite straight.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.143 (Tale 251):

仙醫曲背

西川李和尚,有門人背傴不能仰視,因藥市罷,見一道士,云:「秀才有錢,丐一二百文為酒資。」書生謂:「貧無錢,所居有薄釀,同一醉可乎?」道士欣然便往。酒半,道士問:「何故背傴?」書生言:「不幸遇此疾,無如之何。」道士因出藥三十粒,云:「來日五更面東,新汲水下,覺微痛不足怪。」書生如教,既服藥,燥甚不可勝,展轉牀上,亦甚悔之。然每一伸縮,漸覺舒快,比明身已直矣。

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 Well Becomes A Wine-Spring 井化酒泉

Fifteen li beyond the walls of Changdefu, in a place called River Underground, there was an Old Woman Cui, who sold tea for her living, and whenever she encountered a passing monk or Daoist, she would always give to them. One Daoist came and went more than ten times, and Old Woman Cui always gave him tea. The Daoist was deeply touched by this, and said to her: “I would like you to change your livelihood to selling wine; how about it?” Old Woman Cui was delighted. The Daoist leaned on his staff and clear liquid bubbled up where it touched the ground, at which he addressed Old Woman Cui: “This can be your wine.” When Old Woman Cui took it back with her, it tasted like wine, strong and fragrant, and the buyers came flocking to her. When they returned to drinking other people’s wine, these normal products were like water. Old Woman Cui profited greatly from this.

When the Daoist returned, Old Woman Cui thanked him over and over, but said: “I only regret I lack distiller’s dregs on which to raise pigs.” The Daoist grew angry at this grasping heart that did not know contentment, and leaned again on his staff at the spring, which returned to being water, never again tasting of wine. The wellspring exists to this day.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.139 (Tale 245):

井化酒泉

常德府城外十五里,地名河洑,有崔婆者,賣茶為活,遇有僧道過往,必施與之。一道人往來凡十餘次,崔婆見之,必與茶。道人深感之,與之曰:「我欲使汝改業賣酒如何?」崔婆喜。道人以杖拄地,清水迸出,為崔婆言:「此可為酒。」崔婆取之以歸,味如酒,濃而香,買者如市。若他人汲之歸,則常品水也。崔婆大享其利。道人重來,崔婆再三謝之,但云:「只恨無糟養豬。」道人怒其貪心不足,再以杖拄泉,則復成水,無復酒味矣。其井至今尚存。

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 Frog Becomes A Spirit 蝦蟆為精

Wei Heshan was receiving guests, and was with a Mr Shi in the official hostel. After three rounds of toasts, Heshan went in. Then two servant girls emerged, each holding a candle, and said: “The Grand Councillor invites Professor [261] Shi.” Mr Shi went in after them, and the other guests all marvelled at this. Shortly after, Heshan emerged and asked: “Where did Mr Shi go?” The crowd said: “He followed two maids sent to invite him in.” Heshan was alarmed, and asked: “Where are they?” He then ordered his retinue to go and search everywhere. They suddenly heard a human voice coming from the pond, and hurriedly kindled a fire to illuminate it. They found Mr Shi, jumping into the water and already half submerged. The gathered people helped him up and used the cooking fire to warm and revive him. When they asked him why, he said: “Following the two maids’ invitation I arrived below a great building, and entering the central hall found a person dressed in green robes seated in the middle, who indicated a young woman and said: ‘It is ordered that you take her to wife; the rites will be completed this night.’ The gathering then swarmed around us as we entered the bedchamber. Your servant said: ‘My elderly mother still lives; she has not been consulted. Not right! Not right!’ I had no idea that we were in the water.” The next day, Heshan ordered people to drain the pond and inside it they found a frog as big as a grain scoop, with only four or five small frogs. Some suspected that this was a frog spirit.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.260-61 (Tale 473):

蝦蟆為精

魏鶴山會客,館中史先生與焉。酒三行,鶴山入內,忽有兩丫鬟秉二燭出,云:「參政請史教 [261] 授。」史君相隨而入,諸客怪之。少頃,鶴山出問:「史先生安往?」衆曰:「適先生令二婢請入內矣。」鶴山驚曰:「安有此?」於是令左右遍去搜尋,忽聞塘中人聲,急舉火照之,則史先生已半身投水矣。衆扶掖上,用火炙蘇,問其故,則曰:「適二丫鬟請到一大屋下,入中堂,有一人身綠衣坐於中,指一小女云: 『令與汝為妻,今夕成禮。』衆遂簇擁入房。某曰:『有老母在,未曾報覆,不可!不可!』不知身在水中。」次日,鶴山令人幹塘,內有蝦蟆一隻,大如斗,小蝦蟆四五而已。或者疑其為蝦蟆精也。

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 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):

斬人魂魄

魏博大將聶鋒,有女方十歲,名隱娘。忽一日為乞丐竊去,父母不知其所向,但日夜悲泣歎思而已。後五年,尼忽送隱娘還,告鋒曰:「教已成矣。」言訖失尼所在。父母且驚且喜,乃詢所學之事,隱娘云:「攜我至一岩洞中,與我藥一粒服之,便令持一寶劍,教之以習擊刺之法。一年後,刺猨猱如飛蟲,刺虎豹如無物。三年,漸能飛騰以刺鷹隼。四年,拏我於都市中,每指其人,則必數其平生所作過惡之事,曰:『為我取其首來!』某應聲而首已至矣。自此日往都市中刺人之首,置於大囊中而歸,即時以藥消之為水。後五年忽曰:『大官某人者罪已貫盈,欺君罔民,殘賊忠良,為國之害故已甚矣!今夜為我取其首來。』隱娘承命而往,伏於大官居室之梁上,移刻方持其首至,尼大怒曰:『何太晚如是?』隱娘再拜,為見前人戲弄一兒可愛,未欲下手,尼叱之曰:『已後遇此輩,先斷其所愛,然後決之。』隱娘拜謝,尼曰:『汝術方成,可歸!』遂得還人。」父母聞其語甚怪,但畏懼而終不可得,亦不敢禁其所為。後至陳許,鄧帥之事尤更怪異。噫!吾聞劍俠世有之矣,然以女子柔弱之質而能持刃以決凶人之首,非以有神術所資,惡能是哉?君子曰:「隱娘之所學,非常人所能教也,學之既精而又善用其術,世有險詖邪惡者輒決去其首,亦一家之正也。嗟乎!據重位厚祿造惡不悛以結人怨者,不可不畏隱娘之事也。及尼之戒曰:『預先斷其所愛,然後決之。』以姦凶之人絕嗣於世,尚恐餘毒流及於後,深可懼也。」

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Assassin_(2015_film)

https://variety.com/2015/film/features/hou-hsiao-hsien-the-assassin-taiwan-director-1201620922/

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_assassin_2015/

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》