An Immortal Treats Reversed Hands 仙醫反掌

In the market of Huofu, in Wanzai County, there was a beggar surnamed Guo, whose left hand and both feet were all twisted upwards. This only allowed him to scrape along the ground leaning on a staff held in his right hand, so people called him ‘Scrape Guo’. His mother was elderly and suffered from arthritis; his younger brother suffered in the same way. Scrape went out to beg on the first and fifteenth day of each month. The people of the market all felt sympathy for him and treated him generously, so he was able to support both mother and brother, gathering a month’s worth of provisions, and he went on like this for eighteen years without resentment. In the winter of the second year Yuanzhen (1296), he encountered a Daoist who, seeing his extreme poverty, and his voluntary support for mother and younger brother, he then took five balls of medicine and gave them to Scrape, saying: “If you take my medicine, your long-standing trouble will immediately be resolved.” Scrape took them as instructed, and his hand and feet were then as normal. Not having expected such healing of his illness, he no longer had a reason for his begging, and people were no longer generous to him. Just as he found himself in dire need, he again encountered the same Daoist. Scrape thanked him, and entreated him, saying: “When I received the kind grant of medicine, I happened to forget that my mother is ill; not having shared it with her, my mother now remains [146] ill.” The Daoist gave him five more medicine balls; his mother took two balls, and it was as if her illness had vanished. He still had three balls, and this came to the attention of a wealthy person living near the village who suffered from the same condition. The rich person spoke to Scrape: “It is said you have three pellets of a wonder drug; I will buy these from you for one ingot’s worth of paper money.” Scrape replied that he did not want to accept money, but did want to relieve his condition, and, if he could supply the needs of their three mouths for life, he would happily give him the medicine. Afterwards, when the effect had been demonstrated, the wealthy person kept his word and supported them.

It can only be that Scrape Guo’s single-minded filial piety led him to encounter this immortal and benefit from boundless good fortune. Why, if a beggar can devote himself in this way, others should certainly examine their own conduct.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.145-46 (Tale 255):

仙醫反掌

萬載縣獲賦市,有丐者姓郭,左手及兩足皆反掌於上,止得右手拄地擦行,人遂名以「郭擦」。母老病風,弟病亦然。擦每月朔望出丐,一市人皆憐而惠之,遂得養母及弟,僅得一月之食,如此者十八年無怨。元貞二年冬,遇一道人,見其貧苦,又甘心養母與弟,遂與藥五丸與擦,云:「汝服吾藥,宿疾頓可。」擦如教服之,手足隨即如常。不料疾愈,無可託辭以丐,而人亦無惠之者。方窘急間,又遇元道人。擦謝之,且祈之云:「向蒙惠藥,偶忘母疾,未曾分與,今母尚 [146] 病。」道人再以五丸與之,其母服兩丸,其疾如失。尚餘三丸,適為里近富人所知,其病亦同,富人與擦云:「聞汝有妙藥三丸,以鈔一錠與汝回贖。」擦應言不願受鈔,願病安,三口乞終身供給,遂以藥授之。後果效,富人守信供給之,得非郭擦一念孝悌,獲遇神仙以受無窮之福。吁!丐者而處心如此,人亦可以自反矣。

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).

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An Immortal Teaches Medicine 神仙教醫

Wei Taicheng was from Pucheng. He had never possessed any medical ability. On the day of the Yuanxiao Festival (the fifteenth day of the first month) he went to the suburbs, and he encountered an elderly man carrying firewood, who went over and sat with him, remarking that the festival would be good to see that evening in Yangzhou. Wei said: “That place is thirty li away; how could one see it?” The old man said: “This is an especially simple matter.” He then unfolded a lined garment of black cloth and had Wei close his eyes and sit tight. After a little while, he told him to open his eyes, and they were indeed in the city of Yangzhou. The inhabitants thought them descended immortals. After the cock crowed, he again unfolded the black lined cloth, they sat in it, and then found themselves back at their original point of departure. One day, which happened to be the birthday of True Man Hua Yue, the old man went in to celebrate it, and instructed Wei at the gate: “We will meet a two-eyed person; that is my master. When you see him you should bow.” After some time, three people, each blind in one eye, arrived supporting an old man, and Wei then bowed to them. The elderly man entered and addressed the first old man: “That person outside the door has the character of an immortal but lacks the fate and fortune of an immortal; he should quickly receive instruction.” They therefore handed over a volume of prescriptions, instructing him how to use the medicines. There was a sufferer of illness whose case he treated and who returned, and then he left home for more than twenty years. None among the villagers knew that he had medical ability, but when he returned and reached their fields, a rue grower said: “Medical Officer Wei says he has medical ability; let’s test his skill a little.” Someone, as soon as their lunch hour arrived, came leaping and jumping together, entering one of his rooms, and pretending to be a patient, their friends making them ask him for medical treatment. Wei felt their pulse and said: “You will die at the shen hour.” (i.e., between 3 and 5pm) They replied: “I am actually not ill.” Returning to the fields they said: “The Medical Officer is mistaken.” Before a moment had passed, however, they developed unbearable abdominal pain, this being caused by the food of their meal having burst through their stomach and intestines during their jumping. From then on Taicheng’s medical practice flourished more and more each day; it is not known how he ended up.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.141 (Tale 248):

神仙教醫

衛太丞,浦城人也。素不能醫。元宵日郊行,遇一老子負薪而至,與之同坐,且謂今夕揚州上元好看。衛曰:「此去三千里,何可得觀。」老子曰:「特易事耳。」乃鋪青布複,俾衛閉目同坐。少頃,令其開目,則揚州城矣。州人以為仙降。至雞鳴後,復用青布複,坐其中,則已回原處矣。一日,值華岳真人誕日,老子入內慶賀,俾衛在門首:「遇二目人,此吾師也。見即拜之。」良久,有三人皆瞽一目,扶一老人到,衛則設拜。老人入謂老子曰:「門外之人,有仙骨而無仙分,宜速分付。」乃付藥方一本,指教用藥,有病者治之原而歸,則去家二十餘年矣。鄉人莫知其能醫,歸到田所,芸田人曰:「衛太丞謂其能醫,少試其術。」一人方午飯,自田中跳躑踴躍走入一室,佯為病者,俾請之用藥。衛診脈曰:「申時當死。」其人曰:「我本無病。」復于田曰:「太丞誤矣。」未踰時,腹痛不可救,蓋飯飽踴躍,斷其腸胃故也。自是醫道日盛,不知所終。

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 Eats Fuling Fungus 女食茯苓

In Changqiushan, in Pujiang County, Qiongzhou, there was a woman surnamed Yang, who lived by the riverside. Her father went to the market, bought two carp and returned, ordering his daughter to boil and wash them. The woman did not [140] kill them, but released them in the water as a joke, doing this lightheartedly and then wandering off.

Her mother and father wanting to whip her, the girl then fled into Changqiushan’s Daoist temple, depending on a lay Daoist, obediently providing him with fuel and water. Whenever the Daoist sent her to carry water, she would stay away a long time and not return, and one of the other female servants feared she might have a lover outside, and therefore pressured and questioned her, until she said: “When I lower the well-bucket, an infant grabs the rope and rises; we play a while, and then it drops back into the well; there is nothing other than that.” The Daoist said: “You should take a cloth sack and bag it.” The girl did as he said, and when she took the bag to the temple and opened it to look, they found a lump of fuling fungus, placing it in the rice steamer and cooking it. The Daoist had crossed the river in response to an invitation, but the water had risen and he had not yet returned. The girl having noticed that the steamer smelled extremely delicious, then took and ate some, and as the day drew on eventually ate it all.

It happened that the Heavenly Emperor’s envoy summoned her, and in broad daylight she became an immortal and departed. When her home village informed the county, the county registrar Wei Wang went into the mountains to make a detailed investigation. A small piece of fungus was left over, so he also took and ate this, subsequently also departing as an immortal. The registrar was then placed among twenty-four heavenly masters who provide governance.

As I see it the immortals are extremely numerous, and, as they cannot all be laid out here, I record this to show to people in the future.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.139-40 (Tale 246):

女食茯苓

邛州蒲江縣長秋山,有女子姓楊,濱江而住。其父入市,買二鯉歸,令女子烹洗。其女不 [140] 殺,放水中戲,悠然而逝。父母欲箠之,此女遂奔入長秋山一道觀,依火居道士,供柴水之奉。道士每日使之擔水,忽去久不歸,道婆恐其有外慕,因苦問之,乃云:「於弔水時,有一嬰孩扶繩而上,同嬉一時,又投井中,非有他也。」道士云:「可將布袋袋之。」其女子如其言,袋至宮中開看,乃是一塊茯苓,置之飯甑蒸熟。道士適渡江赴請,水漲未歸,其女子聞其蒸熟甚香,遂取食之,日久食盡,忽天帝差使者召之,白日仙去。其鄉村申縣,縣委王主簿入山體究,止餘茯苓一小塊,簿亦取而食之,竟仙去。主簿,乃天師排定二十四治之一者。吾觀神仙者甚多,皆不載此,因錄之,以示來者。

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 Clam Reveals Its Power 蛤蜊顯聖

When Chancellor Shi attained power, the governor of the capital selected a tray of clams as an offering. That night the gentleman saw a gleam of light emerging from one clam among the others in the tray. Picking up and examining it, he realized it was quite unlike the others, and when struck it would not crack open. The gentleman suspected that it was a marvel, so placed it on a table, burned incense and prayed to it. Presently the clam cracked open of its own accord, revealing two people, their faces and eyebrows dignified and handsome, bodies and physiques extremely beautiful, hair in buns, hair tasseled and ornamented, wearing lotus-flower shoes, just like those statues people in this world devote to the servants of the Buddha. The gentleman then had a temple grotto carved from various fragrant woods, and to calm their spirits added ornamentation of gold and jade, until the brightness dazzled the eye. He ordered the gathered monks to take them into the Buddhist monastery and attend to them. It is not known how all of this finished.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.267 (Tale 485):

蛤蜊顯聖

史丞相當國,京尹選大蛤蜊一盤以獻。是夜公見盤中一蛤蜊有光,取而視之,獨異其他,劈而不裂。公疑異之,取而致几上,焚香祝之。俄頃蛤自裂開,中有二人,形眉端秀,體格悉備,螺髻纓絡,足履蓮花,與人世所事佛像一般。公遂以諸香木刻成巖殿,以安其神,加以金玉為飾,光耀奪目,令衆僧送入佛寺安奉,後不知所終。

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 Sow Bears A Baby 豬母生孩

The Li family of Yanluo had nothing else but the raising of sows, which they did every few years, making a reasonable profit, and used this in order to arrange their marriages. One year it happened that their sow gave birth to two piglets, one of which was pig-shaped but had human feet, so people thought it a marvel. They kept it for a day, but then a religious came and said “This is not auspicious.” They then killed it. The sow died, too, and their household went into decline. People of Jiangmin specialize in raising pigs on polished rice; they are wasters of the five grains, and this should be taken as a warning.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.256 (Tale 464):

豬母生孩

嚴㴖季家無以給,每畜豬母,數年以來,獲利不少,至於娶妻由是乎辦。忽一年,豬生兩子,一子豬形人腳,人以為異。留一日,忽道人來曰:「此不祥也。」遂斃之。豬母亦死,其家衰替。江閩人家專以白米飼豬,耗散五穀者,亦可以為戒。

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 Mother Dog Bears A Baby 狗母生孩

At the beginning of the second month in the renwu year (the nineteenth year of the sixty-year cycle), Chen Zhai, of Gaoquan Village in Pucheng County, had a female dog that gave birth to a puppy. ‘Googoo’ filled the house, just like the cries of a newborn baby. Early the next morning when it was examined, its bizarre form was detestable, so they then shot and killed it. How could this not be a human body born by a strange error?

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.256 (Tale 463):

狗母生孩

浦城縣高泉里陳宅,壬午二月初間,有狗母獨產一狗兒,通家呱呱,似初生牙兒啼聲。詰朝視之,怪狀可惡,隨即斃之。豈非人身誤墮胎耶?

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》