Sima Yi 司馬義

The Palace Guard official Sima Yi had a concubine named Biyu, who was skilled at playing and singing. During the Taiyuan era (376-96 CE), Yi developed a fatal illness, and told Biyu: “When I die, you must not marry another, or it would be your death.” She replied: “I sincerely uphold your order.” After his funeral, a neighbouring household wished to take her in marriage. Biyu was about to depart, when she saw Yi entering the gate on horseback. He drew his bow and shot her, catching her straight in the throat. Her throat then became extremely painful, her posture became very strange, and all of a sudden she died. After more than ten days, however, she revived, although remained unable to speak. All four of her limbs seemed as though they had been beaten. After a full year she was again able to speak, but still could not make herself clear. Biyu was no longer beautiful, and her voice had been taken away. She had already suffered catastrophe, and was indeed unable to marry.

From Zhenyilu.

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, 321.2545:



Zhou Of Linhe 周臨賀

During the Jin era there was a man from Yixing with the surname Zhou. During the Yonghe era (345-57 CE), he set off from Guo on horseback, travelling with two followers. Dusk fell before they had reached the next settlement, but beside the road there stood a small, newly built thatched hut. They saw a woman emerge from the doorway to watch them, aged perhaps sixteen or seventeen, handsome in appearance and wearing fresh and clean clothes. Seeing Zhou pass, she said: “It is already dusk, and the next village is still distant; how could you have reached Linhe?” Zhou then asked if he could lodge there. The woman kindled a fire and cooked him a meal. Around the first watch (7-9pm), the voice of a small child was heard from outside, calling out to Axiang.[1] The woman replied: “Yes?” Soon after, the child said: “The officials call on you to push the thunder chariot!” The woman then departed, saying: “I have some business to attend to, and must go.” The night then filled with thunder and rain, and the woman returned around daybreak. When Zhou had mounted his horse, he looked back at the place where he had spent the night. He saw only a new tomb, with horse urine and straw scattered around the tomb entrance. Zhou sighed to himself in shock and amazement. Five years later, he was indeed serving as Prefectural Chief of Linhe.

From Fayuan Zhulin.

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, 319.2525:



[1] Axiang 阿香 is the name of the deity who drove the thunder chariot 雷車 across the skies.

Zhang Zichang 張子長

During the Jin era (265-420 CE), Li Zhongwen, prefectural chief of Wudu, was in the prefecture when he lost his daughter, aged eighteen, and buried her temporarily north of the prefectural walls. There was a man named Zhang Shi who temporarily took over from him as prefectural chief, and Shi’s son, courtesy name Zichang, was twenty years old, and served in his retinue at the government office. He dreamed of a girl, aged seventeen or eighteen, of unusual beauty, who told him she was the daughter of the former prefectural chief. She had died tragically young, but now there was an opportunity to be resurrected, and as their hearts had found love, she had come and manifested to him. This continued over five or six evenings.

Suddenly, she appeared in the daytime, her clothing and fragrance rare and distinguished, and they became man and wife. When they lay down her clothing was all marked, as if she were a virgin. Later, Zhongwen sent a maid to inspect his daughter’s tomb, and she therefore stopped to call on Shizhi’s wife. On entering the government office, she caught sight of one of the girl’s shoes beneath Zichang’s bed. Grasping it she wept and called out that the tomb had been opened, taking the shoe back with her. When she showed Zhongwen, he was stunned, and sent people to ask Shizhi: “How can the gentleman’s son have obtained a dead girl’s shoe?” When Shizhi summoned and questioned him, his son explained the whole matter. Li and Zhang both said this must be a supernatural occurrence. When they opened the coffin and looked, her body already looked like fresh meat, but her countenance was just as it had been. She only had a shoe in her right foot. Zichang saw the girl in a dream, and she told him: “I had recently attained life, but now my place of rest has been disturbed, and from now on my dead flesh will decay and I will not achieve life. My heart contains ten thousand regrets; I can no longer speak.” Sobbing, she departed.

From Fayuan zhulin.

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, 319.2524:



Wang Gongbo 王恭伯

Wang Gongbo, courtesy name Zisheng, who lived under the Jin (265-420 CE) and came from Guiji, was elegant in appearance and skilled at playing the zither. While serving the Crown Prince as Palace Secretary, he requested leave to rest in Wu. On reaching the courier’s lodge at the Changmen Gate,[1] he gazed at the moon and played his zither. Presently a woman appeared, with a girl following her, who addressed Gongbo: “Your servant has always loved the zither, and would like to play it with you.” In appearance she was extremely beautiful. Gongbo stayed the night with her, and took his leave a little before daybreak, receiving presents of a padded brocade sachet of fragrance and a jade hairpin. Gongbo then gave her another jade hairpin as a parting gift.

Soon after, when the sun rose, he heard that the daughter of Liu Huiji, Magistrate of Wu County, had died on a nearby boat, and that a jade hairpin and spice sachet had gone missing from before her funeral tablet. Soon [2520] after, government clerks searched through the neighbouring boats. When they arrived at Gongbo’s vessel they seized him. Gongbo was scared, and related the whole story, telling them: “I gave her a jade hairpin, too.” Huiji ordered that this be investigated, and they did indeed find this in the dead girl’s hair. Huiji broke down and wept, calling out to Gongbo with the courtesy due a son-in-law. His daughter had been called Zhihua, and she had died at age sixteen.

From Xingzicaishanhebieji.

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, 318.2519-20:


晉世王恭伯。字子升。會稽人。美姿容。善鼓琴。為東宮舍人。求假休吳。到閶門郵亭。望月鼓琴。俄有一女子。從一女。謂恭伯曰。妾平生愛琴。願共撫之。其姿質甚麗。恭伯留之宿。向曉而別。以錦褥香囊為訣。恭伯以玉簪贈行。俄而天曉。聞鄰船有吳縣令劉惠基亡女。靈前失錦褥及香囊。斯 [2520] 須。有官吏遍搜鄰船。至恭伯船。獲之。恭伯懼。因述其〈明鈔本述其作還之。〉言。我亦贈其玉簪。惠基令檢。果於亡女頭上獲之。惠基乃慟哭。因呼恭伯以子壻之禮。其女名稚華。年十六而卒。出刑子才山河別記

[1] This may refer to the famous west gate of Suzhou 蘇州 or the western gate in Yangzhou 揚州.

Zhang Yu 張禹

[2518] During the Yongjia era (307-13 CE), the palace guard commander Zhang Yu once travelled through the Great Marsh. The sky had grown dark when he suddenly spotted a mansion with its gates open wide. Yu thus approached and when he arrived before the hall a maid emerged and greeted him. Tu said: “I was passing when the rain started, and would just like to stay over.” The maid entered to report, and soon emerged again, calling Yu forward. He saw a woman, aged around thirty years, seated under a canopy, and waited on by more than twenty maids, their clothing all luminous and beautiful. She asked Yu what he desired. Yu said: “I have my own food, and only need something to drink.” The woman ordered that a shallow pan be brought out and given to him. He therefore kindled a fire to make soup. Despite hearing the water boil, when tried it remained cold.

The woman told him: “I am a dead person, within my tomb mound. I have nobody to share with, only my sense of shame and guilt.” She then began to weep and told Yu: “I am a daughter of the Sun family from Rencheng County, and my father served as Prefectural Chief of Zhongshan. I left to marry into the Li clan of Dunqiu, and bore a son and a daughter. The boy is eleven sui and the girl seven. After my death, the Lis favoured my former maidservant Cheng Gui. Now my son is always beaten, not even sparing his head or face, and pained to the depths of the heart. I wish to kill this maid, but a dead person’s qi force is weak. I have been waiting to find someone on whom I could rely on, and I beg the gentleman to help with the matter. The rewards would be rich.”

Yu said: “Though I cherish Madame’s words, because killing people is a serious matter, I dare not take on this assignment.” The lady replied: “Why would the gentleman be ordered to take up a knife himself? It is only wished that he speak to Li and his family on my behalf, telling them what I have explained. Li will then regret Cheng Gui, and will have to offer prayers to remove this misfortune. The gentleman will then explain that he himself has power to suppress spirits. When Li hears this he will order Cheng Gui to be present for the matter, and I will have the opportunity to kill her.”

Yu made a pledge to her, and set off the next day, telling Li everything he had been told. Li was shocked and terrified, and told Cheng Gui, who was very frightened. They sought help from Yu, but just then he saw the lady Sun coming in from outside, accompanied by more than twenty female attendants. All carried knives and stabbed Cheng Gui, who immediately fell to the floor and died. Before long, Yu passed through the Great Marsh again, and the woman sent her maids out with fifty bolts of zacai coloured silks to reward him.

From Zhiguai.

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, 318.2517-8:


[2518] 永嘉中。黃門將張禹。曾行經大澤中。天陰晦。忽見一宅門大開。禹遂前至廳事。有一婢出問之。禹曰。行次遇雨。欲寄宿耳。婢入報之。尋出。呼禹前。見一女子。年三十許。坐帳中。有侍婢二十餘人。衣服皆燦麗。問禹所欲。禹曰。自有飯。唯須飲耳。女敕取鐺與之。因燃火作湯。雖聞沸聲。探之尚冷。女曰。我亡人也。塚墓之間。無以相共。慙愧而已。因歔欷告禹曰。我是任城縣孫家女。父為中山太守。出適頓丘李氏。有一男一女。男年十一。女年七歲。亡後。李氏幸我舊使婢承貴者。今我兒每被捶楚。不避頭面。常痛極心髓。欲殺此婢。然亡人氣弱。須有所憑。託君助濟此事。當厚報君。禹曰。雖念夫人言。緣殺人事大。不敢承命。婦人曰。何緣令君手刃。唯欲因君為我語李氏家。說我告君事狀。李氏念惜承貴。必作禳除。君當語之。自言能為厭斷之法。李氏聞此。必令承貴莅事。我因伺便殺之。禹許諾。及明而出。遂語李氏。具以其言告之。李氏驚愕。以語承貴。大懼。遂求救於禹。既而禹見孫氏自外來。侍婢二十餘人。悉持刀刺承貴。應手仆地而死。未幾。禹復經過澤中。此人遣婢送五十匹雜綵以報禹。出志怪


Zhong Yao 鍾繇

Zhong Yao (151-230 CE) suddenly stopped attending the morning court, and his mood and character were quite different to what people had become used to. When a fellow official asked him why this was, he responded: “A woman often comes to me; she has a beauty that is not of the mortal world.” His colleague replied: “This must be a ghost. You should kill it; afterwards it will stay away from your home.” He asked: “How could I intend to slaughter something possessing such a form?” Yuanchang replied: “There is no such problem.” In the end he eagerly called her to him, but could not bear to carry out the plan, so only lightly wounded her. She left immediately, staunching the blood with fresh silk floss, which was scattered along her route. The following day, he sent people to follow these traces. They came to a great tomb. In a coffin lay a woman, her body appearing still to be alive. Wearing a white silk gown and a cinnabar-embroidered waistcoat, there was a wound on one of her thighs, and the waistcoat showed signs of her having wiped away blood. From then the visits ceased.

From Youminglu.

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, 317.2509:



Wu Xiang 吳祥

The Han-era clerk of Zhuji County, Wu Xiang, feared exhaustion in official service. He thus fled to hide in a remote mountain area. On his journey he came across a stream. It was getting close to dusk, but he saw a young girl, extremely beautiful and wearing multi-coloured garments. She said: “I live alone, without village or district, with only an old woman, only a dozen or so steps from here.” When Xiang heard this he was very pleased, so set off following her. They had travelled a li or more when they reached her home. Her family were extremely poor, but prepared food for Xiang. He finished by the first watch (7-9pm), at which he heard an old woman call out: “Sister Zhang?” The girl answered: “Yes?” Xiang asked who it had been, and she replied: “A lonely old woman back along the road.” The two slept together until dawn, and Xiang set off at the cock’s crow. The two had fallen in love, and the young woman gave him a purple scarf. Xiang bound it as a kerchief and set off back to the place of their meeting the previous day. When he came to cross the stream, however, the water was rushing violently, and too deep to wade. He thus returned to the girl’s home, but found nothing as it had been the previous night, with only a tomb remaining.

From Fayuanzhulin.

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, 317.2505:



Wu Tao 鄔濤

Wu Tao was from Runan. He had skill and knowledge of ancient writings and was committed to the arts of the Way. While travelling he stopped temporarily at the Yiwu County guesthouse in Wuzhou. After more than a month, suddenly a girl appeared, with two serving maids arriving at night.[1] One of the maids came forward and told him: “This young lady is surnamed Wang.” That evening she turned and looked at the gentleman. Tao looked at her, and she was extremely beautiful. He thought, ‘this is the daughter of a great noble’, but did not dare speak. The lady Wang smiled, and said: “The esteemed scholar does not value wine or beauty; how can a mere concubine gain his trust?” Tao then rose and bowed to her, saying: “Such lowly scholars would not dare direct their gaze thus.” The lady Wang ordered a maid to bring her clothing and utensils to Tao’s bedchamber, lighting bright candles and laying out wine and food. They drank several rounds, and then lady Wang rose and addressed Tao: “Your servant is a young orphan without anyone to turn to, and would like to serve the gentleman at his pillow and mat. Would that be acceptable?” Tao initially refused in his humility, but then relented and permitted it in his sincerity. The lady Wang departed at dawn and arrived at dusk, and this continued for several months.

Yang Jingxiao, a Daoist of Tao’s acquaintance, visited and stayed at the residence. On seeing that Tao’s countenance had altered, he advised: “The gentleman has been deluded by spirits and demons. This must be broken off, or death will follow.” Tao questioned him about this in alarm, and then related the whole story. Jingxiao told him: “This is a spirit.” He then provided two amulets, one to attach to clothing, and the other to be fixed above the gate. He said: “When this spirit arrives, she will become very angry. Be careful not to speak to her.” Tao accepted these instructions. When the young woman arrived that night, she saw the token above the gate, let fly a string of curses, and departed, saying: “Remove that tomorrow, or suffer great misfortune.” Tao called on Jingxiao the next day and told him all about it. Jingxiao told him: “When she returns tonight, you should sprinkle her with this water on which I have cast a spell. That will surely bring things to an end.” Tao returned carrying the water. That night, when the woman returned, she was extremely sad and angry. Tao then sprinkled her with the water Jingxiao had treated. Her visits then ceased.

From Jiyiji.

[1] With thanks to Ofer Waldman for the improved translation here.

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, 347.2747:



A Wudu Woman 武都女

In Wudu there was a man who transformed into a woman, beautiful and elegant. This woman was an elemental.[1] The prince of Shu accepted her as a concubine, but she was not accustomed to the climate, so wished to leave. Her host, wishing to keep her, played songs from Dongping to cheer her up. Before long, however, she had passed away. The prince mourned her, and sent five strong fellows to Wudu, picking up earth to make a grave mound for his concubine. The earth mound covered several mu (a mu equals 6.67 acres), and rose seven zhang in height (about 25m), and upon it there was a stone mirror. Today this is Wudan, at the north edge of Chengdu.

From Huayangguozhi.

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), viii, 359.2839:



[1] The character used here is jing 精, which carries a wide range of meanings, including ‘spirit’, ‘goblin’ and ‘demon’. Possibly overstating a distinction between gui 鬼 and jing, I had originally opted for ’demon’ here, but reconsidered this after the ever-helpful Ofer Waldman suggested that ‘spirit’ was less likely to be confused with the yao 妖 ‘demon’ of the chapter heading. After consulting Schafer’s translation of the Taiping guangji table of contents, I have decided (with reservations) to follow his ‘elemental’ reading for jing 精, in order to avoid involving a connotation of evil to the character. See Edward Schafer, ‘The Table of Contents of the “T’ai p’ing kuang chi”,’ CLEAR 2 (1980), 258-63 (262).

Tan Sheng 談生

At the age of forty Tan Sheng was without a wife. He often became aroused through study and reading. Suddenly one midnight a young woman appeared to him, aged fifteen or sixteen and peerless under heaven in her appearance, dress and posture. She came to Sheng so they could be husband and wife, but told him: “I am not like other people. Never let firelight shine upon me. Only after three years have passed may I be illuminated.” They then lived as man and wife. She’d bore a son, who was already two years old, when, unable to bear it any longer, Sheng waited until she was asleep then stealthily illuminated and examined her. Above her waist was living flesh, just like any human being, but below her waist were just dry bones. His wife awoke, and told him: “The gentleman has betrayed me. I had almost returned to life – why could you not bear to wait just one more year before examining me?” Sheng parted from her with thanks, weeping, as they could no longer be together.

She said: “Although my parting from the gentleman is entirely correct, I am still concerned for our child. You are poor and unable to support yourselves, so follow me a moment and I will leave you something of value. Sheng followed her as she entered a splendid hall, its rooms and furnishings all quite extraordinary. Indicating a pearl-stitched gown, she handed it to him and said: “You can support yourself with this.” She then tore away the front of the gown, left it with him and departed. Sheng subsequently took the robe to the market, where it was purchased by the household of the Suiyang Prince, earning him a thousand ten-thousand strings of cash.

The prince recognised the robe, however, and said: “This is my daughter’s gown. It must have been taken from her tomb.” He thus seized and beat Sheng, who told him the full truth, but the prince still did not believe him. They therefore went to view the tomb, and found the grave undisturbed, just like [2502] before. When they opened it, beneath the coffin lid they found the same gown. They called his child, and indeed he resembled the princess. The prince then believed the story, and summoned Tan Sheng, granting him the gown and installing him as princely consort. Their son was appointed Chancellor.[1]

From Lieyizhuan

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, 316.2501-2:


談生者。年四十。無婦。常感激讀書。忽〈書忽原作詩經。據明鈔本改。〉夜半有女子。可年十五六。姿顏服飾。天下無雙。來就生為夫婦。乃〈乃原作之。據明鈔本改。〉言。我與人不同。勿以火照我也。三年之後。方可照。為夫妻。生一兒。已二歲。不能忍。夜伺其寢後。盜照視之。其腰上已生肉如人。腰下但有枯骨。婦覺。遂言曰。君負我。我垂生矣。何不能忍一歲而竟相照也。生辭謝。涕泣不可復止。云。與君雖大義永離。然顧念我兒。若貧不能自偕活者。暫隨我去。方遺君物。生隨之去。入華堂。室宇器物不凡。以一珠袍與之曰。可以自給。裂取生衣裾。留之而去。後生持袍詣市。睢陽王家買之。得錢千萬。王識之曰。是我女袍。此必發墓。乃取拷之。生具以實對。王猶不信。乃視女冢。冢完如 [2502] 故。發視之。果棺蓋下得衣裾。呼其兒。正類王女。王乃信之。即召談生。復賜遺衣。以為主壻。表其兒以為侍中。出列異傳

[1] With thanks to Ofer Waldman for greatly improving this translation!