Master Ren Of Wu 吳任生

Master Ren, from Wu Prefecture, was skilled at spotting spirits, and his cottage was on Dongtingshan. He often looked like a young boy, and, according to the custom of Wu and Chu, none knew his birthdate. During the Baoli era (825-26 CE), there was a youth, surnamed Yang, the son of a Qiankunshan military officer, who was living apart in Wu Prefecture. He would often, of a daytime, meet a few people of a similar age and go boating together.

When they went to the Huqiu Temple, Master Ren was in the boat with them. Their talk touched on spirits and deities, and Master Yang said: “People and spirits leave different traces. Because spirits have died they cannot be seen.” Master Ren laughed: “Spirits are extremely numerous. People are just unable to recognise them. Only I can pick them out.” They turned to look at a woman, dressed in dark robes, holding a small boy and walking along the bank. The Master pointed and said: “This is a spirit. The thing she is embracing is nothing more than the ethereal soul of an infant.” Yang said: “But then how can you tell that she is a spirit?” The Master replied: “So the gentleman thinks I’m all talk?” He then called out in a stern voice: “You are a spirit. Have you stolen the child of a living person?” When the woman heard this she was terrified, and started to hurry back the way she had come. Before she had taken more than a few dozen steps, she vanished. Master Yang was both impressed and astonished.

When evening came, they returned. Several dozen li from the city walls there was a house on the riverbank, with mats laid out for a feast. There was a sorceress, who encouraged them to take seats at her left, and libations were made to the deities. Master Yang and Master Ren both asked her about this, and the sorceress told them: “Today a villager’s baby died of a sudden illness, but now it has revived so we are holding a banquet in gratitude.” They then ordered that the child be brought out for them to see, and it was indeed the infant that the woman had been carrying. The guests were all amazed and alarmed at this, and thanked Master Ren, saying: “The gentleman is truly an adept of the Way; we had no idea!”

From Xuanshizhi.

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, 347.2746:

吳任生

吳郡任生者。善視鬼。廬於洞庭山。貌常若童兒。吳楚之俗。莫能究其甲子。寶曆中。有前崑山尉楊氏子。僑居吳郡。常一日。里中三數輩。相與泛舟。俱遊虎丘寺。時任生在舟中。且語及鬼神事。楊生曰。人鬼殊迹。故鬼卒不可見矣。任生笑曰。鬼甚多。人不能識耳。我獨識之。然顧一婦人。衣青衣。擁豎兒。步於岸。生指語曰。此鬼也。其擁者乃嬰兒之〈之原作也。據明鈔本改。〉生魂耳。楊曰。然則何以辨其鬼耶。生曰。君第觀我與語。即厲聲呼曰。爾鬼也。竊生人之子乎。其婦人聞而驚懾。遂疾廻去。步未十數。遽亡見矣。楊生且歎且異。及晚還。去郭數里。岸傍一家。陳筵席。有女巫。鼓舞於其左。乃醮神也。楊生與任生俱問之。巫曰。今日里中人有嬰兒暴卒。今則寤矣。故設筵以謝。遂命出嬰兒以視。則真婦人所擁者。諸客驚歎之。謝任生曰。先生真道術者。吾不得而知也。出宣室志

Unfilial Service To In-Laws 事姑不孝

The mother of Li Sheng, of Xingzhou, was old and somewhat blind, and Li Sheng served her with great filial piety. Whenever he went out, he worried that his wife, née Jin, might fail to serve her properly, so always repeated his instructions to her several times, only setting off after he had done so. The lady Jin did not heed her husband’s advice, and did not observe the proper manners. His mother complained and grumbled about her a great deal, and Jin resented this. When she was preparing to bake shaobing biscuits to give to her mother-in-law, she noticed that dung from their baby son lay next to her. Jin took this and added it to the flour of the biscuit filling. Li’s mother had eaten half of the biscuit when she became aware if a horrible smell and could eat no more, leaving the rest and waiting for her son to return. When Li arrived, he saw that his mother had been fed with filth, so took up a cane and beat Jin until she fled, vanishing into the distance. Suddenly, a disembodied voice reported: “Yesterday the fugitive entered the King Guan Temple.” When Li Sheng went to the temple, he saw a dog lying beneath the offerings table, glowering so fiercely he did not dare approach. He then called for Jin’s mother and father to come and see, at which the hound wept streams of tears and explained: “I ought not to have served up filth to my mother-in-law in such an unfilial manner. When I entered the temple I suddenly turned into a dog!” Several days later she died.

Long ago there was a woman called A Li, whose son travelled for trade, sometimes not returning for years at a time. Her daughter-in-law, Qisao, stayed in the home. Whenever this woman cooked she prepared two dishes; coarse grains for her mother-in-law, but white rice for herself. Li was troubled by the woman’s disobedience, but had to endure her insults. Even accepting the inedible meals presented to her, as Li did not dare speak up. One day the wife went to a neighbouring house, leaving her mother-in-law at home. A monk came holding his alms bowl and begging for rice, but Li said: “I can’t fill my own belly! How can I give alms?” When the monk pointed to the white rice in the kitchen, Li said: “That is what my daughter-in-law Qisao eats. I daren’t give that away. I worry that she would certainly humiliate and insult me when she comes back. I had coarse rice for my breakfast, and have a little left over to prepare for lunch; you could take that.” Before the monk could answer, they heard Qisao arrive outside. When the woman saw the monk eating, she said, quite furiously: “If you want my white rice, you should take off your kasaya robe[1] and hand it over in exchange.” The monk then removed his robe. As the younger woman picked it up, the monk suddenly [21] vanished. The kasaya wrapped around her body and turned into cowhide. Imprisoned within, she could not take it off. A growth of cow hairs grew across the chest opening, and, gradually, body, head, face, all transformed. Her parents were hastily summoned, but when they arrived she had entirely transformed into an ox!

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前1.20-21 (Tale 35)

事姑不孝

邢州李生母,年老目盲,李生事之至孝。每出外,慮其妻金氏侍奉有闕,必再三囑付之而後往。金氏不聽夫語,不盡禮,母甚埋怨,金氏憤之。恰值燒餅欲進母,傍有小兒阿糞,金氏乃以麵裹糞為餅餡以進,母食既半,覺臭穢不可食,遂留以待兒歸。李生歸,見其以穢物食母,持杖擊之,金氏奔走,尋邏不見。忽有人報云:「昨日奔入關王廟中。」李生入廟,見一狗伏於案下,睜目不敢親近。遂呼金氏父母來看,此狗流涕自稱曰:「我不合以穢物奉姑不孝,忽入廟中化為狗矣!」數日而卒。

昔有婦人阿李,有子出外經商,累年不歸,止有兒婦七嫂在家。婦每飯則兩炊,姑飯以麥,婦自白飯。李稍與婦忤,必受辱罵,至於麥飯亦不進食,李忍辱而不敢言。一日婦往鄰家,留姑守舍,有僧持缽至門乞飯,李曰:「我自不能飽,安有捨施!」僧指廚中白飯,李曰:「此我兒婦七嫂自吃底,我不敢以施人,恐歸必辱罵我。我但有早食麥飯,尚有一合留備午餉,如用即取去。」僧未答,聞七嫂外歸。婦見僧乞飯,大怒曰:「汝要我白飯,可脫袈裟換。」僧即脫下。婦纔披之,僧忽 [21] 不見,袈裟著身變為牛皮,牢不可脫,胸閭先生牛毛一片,漸變身體頭面。急執其父母至,則全身化為牛矣!

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)

[1] On this robe, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasaya_(clothing).

Good Omens 瑞應

The nine-tailed fox is a mystical animal. In terms of appearance, it is red in colour and has four feet and nine tails. It emerged from the Realm of the Green Mound.[1] Its cry is like that of a baby. Eating it will prevent a person from encountering noxious or demonic energies; it also serves a kind of poison.[2]

From Ruiyingbian.

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), ix, 447.3652:

瑞應

九尾狐者。神獸也。其狀赤色。四足九尾。出青丘之國。音如嬰兒。食者令人不逢妖邪之氣。及蠱毒之類。出瑞應編

[1] Qingqiu 青丘 was regarded as a place in the far east, beyond the seas.

[2] In this context the choice of the title ruiying 瑞應, which usually refers to auspicious portents resulting from virtuous rule, is a little confusing.

Giving Birth To A Dragon 產龍

In Weibo Village, Pingding, in the summer of the yisi year,[1] there was a woman named Ma who was a sorcerer, aged over fifty, and who was pregnant for more than six years, finally this year giving birth to a dragon. When the officials asked after the cause of this, the woman told them that, after remaining pregnant for three or four years without giving birth, her husband, Registrar Cao, feared that the baby had changed into a demon, so drove her away. When the birth approached, she saw people descend from a haze and array themselves before her, as if they were within a government office. One person spoke to her personally, saying, “What has been entrusted to you over several years will today depart; next year the mother will be happy indeed.” When he had finished speaking, a white-robed person took her by the arm and departed; on reaching the gate, she grew confused and lost consciousness, only reviving after a long time had passed. The people around her said that three thunderclaps had emerged from dark clouds, and a dragon had flown from the woman’s body, leaving its mother behind.

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), 1.6

產龍

平定葦泊村,乙巳夏,一婦名馬師婆,年五十許,懷孕六年有餘,今年方產一龍。官司問所由,此婦說,懷孕至三四年不產,其夫曹主簿懼為變怪,即遣逐之。及臨產,怳忽中見人從羅列其前,如在官府中,一人前自陳云:「寄託數年,今當舍去,明年阿母快活矣。」言訖,一白衣人掖之而去,至門,昏不知人,久之乃甦。旁人為說晦冥中雷震者三,龍從婦身飛去,遂失身孕所在。

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)

[1] This would be the forty-second year of the 60-year cycle, so in this case perhaps either 1185 or 1245 CE.

A Girl With Two Heads And Four Arms 兩頭四臂女

During Emperor Ling’s reign (168-89 CE), a girl was born in Luoyang with two heads and four arms.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.7 (Tale 52):

兩頭四臂女

靈帝時,洛陽女子生時兩頭四臂。

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)

The Birth Of Dongfang Shuo 東方朔出生

The wife of Zhang Shaoping, née Tian, lived alone as a widow for several years after Shaoping’s death, but suddenly one night dreamed that a person came down from heaven and pressed on her belly, due to which she became pregnant. She therefore said: “Pregnant without a husband; if people hear of this they will abandon me.” She migrated to find a new place to the east. At the new moon of the fifth month, she gave birth to a son. Because she was living in the east, she called him Dongfang Shuo[1] (‘New Moon of the East’). Some say that he was the spirit of Jupiter, multi-talented and boundlessly erudite.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.6 (Tale 44):

東方朔出生

張少平妻田氏,少平卒後,累年寡居,忽夢一人自天而下,壓其腹,因而懷孕。乃曰:「無夫而孕,人聞棄我也。」徙於代,依東方。五月朔旦,生一子。以其居代東方,名之東方朔。或言歲星精,多能,無不該博。

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)

[1] On the Han-era scholar Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 (c. 160 – c. 93 BCE), see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dongfang_Shuo. He is also credited with the compilation of the Shenyijing 神異經 – see https://huhaixinwen.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/li-ziangs-strange-encounter-%E6%9D%8E%E5%AD%90%E6%98%82%E5%A5%87%E9%81%87/

Yan Gen’s Concubine 嚴根妾

During the reign of Zhang Gui (254-314 CE) of the Former Liang, a concubine belonging to Yan Gen, Governor of Fuhan, gave birth. In the same night she bore a daughter, a dragon and a falcon.[1]

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 22 (上1.3)

嚴根妾

前梁張軌時,枹罕令嚴根妾產,同夕產一女、一龍、一鷙。

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)

[1] The Jinshu 晉書 (Book of the Jin) mentions this same incident, dating it to the fifth month of the fifth year Yongjia (3 June to 2 July, 311 CE; under the Western Jin), and reporting a response, linking such anomalous births to military chaos. See Jinshu 29.909:

五年五月,枹罕令嚴根妓產一龍,一女,一鵝。京房易傳曰:「人生他物,非人所見者,皆為天下大兵。」是時,帝承惠皇之後,四海沸騰,尋而陷於平陽,為逆胡所害,此其徵也。