Fostered Swallows Show Gratitude 飼燕知恩

During the Yuanyou era (1086-1094), a daughter of the Wang family, named Yasan, lived in Qingxi, in Yanzhou. She saw a mother swallow, whose three chicks were not yet able to leave the nest, being eaten by a cat, and daily took food to feed them, until they grew up and flew away. That winter, Yasan fell ill and died. The next spring, the three swallows returned, flying around and around her room without stopping. Her mother said: “You are flying in search of Yasan, aren’t you? Yasan is dead; she is buried in the back garden. Follow me if you want to find her.” Her mother walked, the swallows flying behind her, until they reached the garden, where she pointed to the tomb. The three swallows flew to the grave, crying out, and then, using their beaks, all dug themselves into the earth and died.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.120 (Tale 209):

飼燕知恩

元祐間,嚴州青溪王氏女,名亞三。見燕母為貓所食,有未出巢燕子三,每日將飯飼之,後長大飛去。其冬,亞三病死。次春,三燕復來,飛繞其屋不已。母曰:「你飛尋亞三否?亞三已死,葬在後園中,欲尋則隨我去。」母行,燕飛隨後,至園,母指墓,三小燕飛鳴於墓,以嘴鑽入墓土中皆死。

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

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Freed Turtles Repay Benevolence 放鼈報恩

Ye Sanda was a first-placed examination candidate from Huaixiang. Someone presented him with a large soft-shelled turtle, and he dropped it into the river. Several days later it came back; he inspected it carefully and it was indeed the turtle he had released those few days before, so he pricked the character ‘Buddha’ on its belly and released it below the Jichuan Bridge. In the renzi year, it was decreed that father and son present themselves together for the prefectural examinations. Suddenly a flood overtook them, and their boat passed the Jinshui Beach and spun round and round. Soon after it stopped, as if the boat was held steady by something. On reaching a calmer flow, the soft-shelled turtle showed its ‘Buddha’ character, and he then realized that this was the turtle he had released. That night, he dreamed that a black-robed old woman addressed him: “Your son Xuan will triumph in the prefectural examinations this autumn.” That same year it did come to pass.

Cheng Yuanzhang came from Youting in Wuyuan. Together with his wife he had a great liking for soft-shelled turtle, and ordered their servant girl Mei Xiang to cook the delicacy. None of it tasted quite right, however, so he whipped her. She once obtained a large one, over a chi (33cm) long, and had just grasped the knife to slaughter it, when she saw it stretch and contract, shivering in terror. Unable to bear it, she pointed to it and said: “I normally cook turtles, and must still suffer beatings. I am about to release you alive, despite facing one more battering.” She then untied it, placing it in the pond behind their residence. This pool was broad and its water had never once dried up. Cheng and his wife, because the turtle had been so large and promised such satisfaction and fullness, grew extremely angry at its loss, and gave the serving girl several dozen lashes. After two years had passed, the serving girl fell developed a fever and then a mania, rushing about recklessly, confused and dazed. The family realised that she could not be cured, and so carried her into [120] the pavilion on the pond, to await her death. The next day, as dawn broke, someone knocked at the back door of the residence; thinking it must be a spirit, they shouted at it to go away. She then said: “I am Mei Xiang; I beg to be allowed to go home.” They opened the gate and it was indeed her. Asked what had happened, she said: “At midnight I seemed to see a strange thing, which netted my body in damp mud and straw, spinning around thirty or forty times, awakening my mind and heart and leaving it open and clear, cooling and refreshing my four limbs and removing all pain. The next thing I knew, I was alone in the pavilion.” The Chengs did not believe this. They waited until dusk, then sent her back to lie down like the previous day and spied on her in secret. They watched as a huge soft-shelled turtle emerged e pond, its body covered in algae and duckweed. The Chengs could not understand the matter, so the maid recounted her release of the turtle from beginning to end, telling of how it had grown so much larger from its beginnings until that point, and looked at how the hole left behind by its tail had persisted. At that, the pond dried up and they caught it and carried it to a deeper pool. The entire Cheng family abstained and never ate it again. A famous physician once said: “In a case of extreme fever, where death seems impossible to avert, draw fresh water and soak the upper and lower clothes together as a fine treatment.” This is not to say that the smaller types of aquatic creatures could do this, too; this was provoked by a secret moral act.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.119-20 (Tale 208):

放鼈報恩

葉三大解元,槐巷人。有饋大鼈者,投之水。數日又再進,熟視之,即前日所放之鼈,遂於腹下刺一「佛」字,放生濟川橋下。壬子,詔父子同應鄉舉,洪水驟漲,舟過金水灘幾覆。須臾復止,若有物扶其舟。及至安流,鼈現「佛」字,始知即所放鼈也。是夜,夢一皁衣嫗曰:「爾子璿今秋領鄉舉。」是年果然。

 

程元章,婺源遊汀人。與妻皆嗜食團魚,令婢梅香主庖饌,每滋味不適口即撻之。嘗得一大者,長尺餘,方操刀欲屠,睹其伸縮顫悸,為之不忍,指而與言:「我尋常烹煮,必遭杖責。今放汝不殺,亦不過痛打一頓。」遂解縛置於舍後污池中。池廣水亦未嘗竭。程夫婦以鼈肥大,可滿意飫饜之。既失之,怒甚,杖婢數十。經二年,婢發熱疾發狂,奔躁昏憒,家人知其不可療,舁入 [120] 池上茅亭以待終。明日,天明曉,有扣宅後門扉者,謂為鬼物,叱去之。乃言:「我是梅香,病已無事,乞令歸家。」啟閽信然。問其故,對曰:「半夜髣髴見一異物,將溼泥草遍罨我身上,環繞三四十匝,便覺心下開豁,四肢清涼,全無所苦,始知獨在亭上。」程氏未以為然。迨暮復使往,如昨日偃臥,而密伺察之。見巨鼈自池御水藻浮萍遮覆其體。程氏不省此事,婢詳述放鼈之首末,云今比昔日,其大倍加,視尾後穿竅猶存。於是涸池取得之,因送諸深潭。程舉家戒不復食。嘗有名醫云:「熱證之極,卒未可解者,汲新水浸衣裳互熨之為妙。」不謂水族細類亦能如此,蓋陰德所招故也。

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 Toilet Spirit Bewitches People 廁鬼迷人

Outside Hangzhou’s north gate stood an abandoned outhouse. People were often found drowned in the pit beneath, but nobody knew why. One day neighbours saw several people, in immaculate clothes and hats, enter the toilet, but after a long time had elapsed none emerged; they became very anxious and bewildered by this. Another person followed them in, likewise not emerging after a long time had passed, so they then followed behind to have a look. They found the first group of people dead in the waste pool, the later arrival also lying among them, but not yet dead; they immediately rescued him. Much later, when he first recovered his speech, he said: “At dawn there was a person carrying a letter of invitation to a banquet, but I saw a high and beautiful pavilion, filled with music. I didn’t realise it was actually a toilet.” The neighbours made an official report requesting demolition, and afterwards the hauntings ceased.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.245 (Tale 443):

廁鬼迷人

杭州北關門外廁舍,常有人死屍溺於溷池,莫曉其由。一日鄰舍見數人衣冠楚楚入廁,久之不出,殊切怪之。再後又有往者,亦久不出,遂跡其後視之,則前數人死於溷池,後入者亦墮其中,但未死耳,急行拯救。久之,始能言,曰:「旦上有人持簡相招赴宴,但見亭館高潔,鼓樂喧闐,即不知為廁舍也。」鄰為告官拆除,其後祟方絕。

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 Doubting Heart Brings Forth a Spirit 疑心生鬼

There was formerly a Lin Ersi at the Wan’an postal relay station in the Jianning fu western garrison, who made his livelihood by selling pickled provisions. Every day, shouldering his load and going to the town for work, he had to pass through the execution ground where convicted criminals were killed. Lin Ersi always felt terror in his heart, so recklessly uttered curses to make himself feel stronger. One day he returned at dusk and as he reached the field someone approached from close behind, accompanying Lin. During their chat this person questioned Lin Ersi: “You always pass through here in the dark; can you really not fear spirits?” Lin Ersi replied: “I am a person, they’re spirits; why should I be afraid? If I do suddenly encounter them, I do have my knife.” The other said: “Although you don’t fear them, I fear them greatly.” He persisted in asking these questions; “I have you as a companion, but in case we did encounter a spirit, what should be done?” Lin stuck to his refusal to fear others, and his questioner continued, until finally the follower said: “You who travel without fearing spirits, what about having a go at turning your head and looking at me?” When Lin Ersi turned around the person turned out to be headless, at which he desperately threw aside his shoulder pole and rushed back home in terror, spending over a month in illness before he recovered. Can this be anything other than a doubting heart summoning ghostly insults?

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.243 (Tale 440):

疑心生鬼

建寧府西鎮萬安驛前有林二四者,以賣醃藏為活。每日荷擔往城生活,必須由刑人法場經過。林二四每有懼心,則肆詈以自壯。一日昏黑來歸,行到場中,背後有一人接踵而至,與林為伴。談間,因問(此處原多一「爾」字,據明刻本刪。)林二四:「爾居常暮夜過此,能不怕鬼否?」林二四答云:「我人彼鬼,吾何懼哉?卒然遇之,吾有刀耳。」其人曰:「爾雖不畏,我甚畏之。」又再三問曰:「我得爾為伴,萬一遇鬼,當如之何?」林堅以不怕他為辭,詰之至再,後一人曰:「爾道不怕鬼,試回頭看我如何?」林二四回頭,則一無頭人也,忙將擔撇了,驚走回家,病月餘而後愈。豈非疑心有以召鬼之侮乎!

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 Fox Takes the Form of a Dead Person 狐戀亡人

Chen Chengwu’s household was poor, without an income, and he lived alone in a small house, but having once seen a village woman of great beauty, his heart often cherished her memory. One evening the woman suddenly arrived before his narrow bed, saying: “My heart has long wished to be united with you, but there are many people in my home, and I could not come and go. Now they have all gone away, so I came especially to visit you.” Chen was delighted to be united with her, his tender sentiments intense, quite unaware that she was a disembodied spirit. Enjoying contact from dawn to dusk, his face grew sallow and drawn, and he fell ill and died. Upon his death those who came to prepare his funeral saw only an elderly fox (i.e., instead of a woman), cradling its head in its paws by Chen’s grave and howling in a most sorrowful way. They raised the coffin and approached the fire, and the fox followed them, disappearing from view as soon as it reached the flames, leaving no trace.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.249 (Tale 450):

狐戀亡人

陳承務家貧無取資,獨處小室,曾見一村婦有色,心常思慕。一夕婦忽至榻前,曰:「吾心欲與子合久矣,奈屋內人稠,不能出入。今皆他出,特來相訪。」陳喜與合,情意稠密,莫知其為人鬼也。朝暮往來,面色黃瘁,感疾而卒。及其死也,為治喪事,但見老狐扶頭坐於陳喪之側,嗚嗚聲有悲哀之狀。舉棺就火,狐(「狐」原作「婦」,據明刻本改。)亦隨之,至火滅方不見其蹤影。

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 Woman Transformed into a Tanuki and a Donkey 婦變貍驢

Old Woman Zhang, resident under Feicheng County in Jiningfu, her husband having died young, lived together with her son Zhang Lü’er. By day she watched over baskets of spun hemp, by night she transformed into a raccoon dog, going everywhere to steal and eat small children from people’s homes.[1] Those lost numbered eighteen or nineteen. One day she also turned into a white donkey, eating someone’s wheat seedlings, but was caught by the owner of the wheat, chained by the neck and dragged to a millstone, where she was given a severe thrashing. Finally released she was able to return, moaning and groaning, and lie down, at which her son questioned her, and she related all and was beaten to death by the people; this is truly something to marvel at.

[1] This character is presently used to refer to the tanuki, a prominent trickster animal in Japanese folk culture, but seems more likely to refer to a cat of some sort. On the tanuki, see Adrian Burton, “The Transformations of Tanuki-San” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10 (2012): 224. Present-day populations seem expected to be broadly omnivorous, their living prey limited to smaller animals. Research on the mandibles of extinct raccoon dog subspecies suggests that their diet may have varied greatly in the past (but the researchers don’t mention human babies). See Masakazu Asahara and Masanaru Takai, “Estimation of Diet in Extinct Raccoon Dog Species by the Molar Ratio Method”, Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 98 (2017): 292-99. As noted by by Barend Ter Haar, the story is also related to the child-eating elderly female cannibal or were-animal ‘Auntie Old Tiger’ story, a tale comparable to Hansel and Gretel. See Barend J. ter Haar, Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History, Sinica Leidensia, LXXI (Leiden: Brill, 2006), pp. 54-91.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.230 (Tale 413):

婦變貍驢

濟寧府肥城縣管下張婆兒,夫早歿,與子張驢兒同活。此人日則守筐緝麻,夜則變作貍,徧去偷喫人家小孩兒。所失者十有八九。一日又變作白驢,食人麥苗,被麥主捉獲,鎖項拽磨,極其鞭打。既放得歸,呻吟而卧,其子問之,具以狀告,被人打死,甚可怪也。

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).