Taking A Pill And Catching Fire 服丹自焚

Zhu, known as Dingguan, served as Palace Superintendent at the end of the Zhenghe era (1111-18). He was twenty-eight at the time, and entertained himself with food and wine. One day, received a sudden summons to the inner palace, and the emperor (Huizong, 1100-25) addressed him: “We have recently gained an extraordinary person, able to produce cinnabar pills, which if taken increase longevity. We have observed the long smelting process, and a year having passed they are finished, coloured like the finest gold; my minister will try them.” Dingguan leapt for joy as he humbly accepted [104] the decree, then took the medicine. Immediately after swallowing, he felt a great agitation within his chest. Soon after, smoke began to pour from his mouth. Urgently carried out, he was already beyond help. After he had been laid out, a knocking sound was heard from the coffin, and nobody could work out what caused it. Before long, flames emerged from within, and within the blink of an eye it was completely ablaze, and the chamber was gutted. The Kaifeng authorities rushed to the scene, but the fire spread to burn more than a hundred households, leaving only skeletons among the ashes. This is truly something to marvel at.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.103-4 (Tale 179):

服丹自焚

主稱定觀者,政和末為殿中監,時年二十八,酒食自娛。一日,忽宣召入禁中,上云:「朕近得一異人,能製丹砂,服之可以長生。久視煉冶,經歲而成,色如紫金,卿為試之。」定觀欣躍拜 [104] 命,即取服之。才下咽,覺胸中煩躁之甚。俄頃,煙從〔口〕(據元刻本補。)中出。急扶歸,已不救。既殮之後,但聞棺中剝啄之聲,莫測所以。已而,火出其內,頃刻之間,遂成烈焰,室廬盡焚。開封府急救之,延燒數百餘家,但得枯骨於餘燼,深可怪也。

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).

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Employing Magic for Theft 幻術謀財

[89] Yi Digong and his wife, of Chunbaishui in Yuanyi, were devotees of the Dao, and enjoyed offering hospitality to Daoists. One Liu Tianxi turned up, saying that Digong should eat with him. Liu took up paper and cut out a crane, and blew it onto the top of the hall, where it transformed into a real crane, and moved through the room. When Digong emerged in alarm to ask about this, the Daoist had already departed, leaving him frustrated and annoyed for some time. After five more days he arrived by riding the clouds, at which Digong and his wife bowed to him and said they wished to seek immortality through study of the Dao. This Tianxi declined because he had to cross the Kunlun to attend a banquet, but agreed to return in seven days; when he had finished speaking he mounted the clouds slowly and left; Digong and his wife treated him as a god.

Afterwards, when he came back as agreed, they again bowed to him, asking as to the method of studying to immortality. Tianxi said: “To study immortality, one must first traverse famous peaks and great rivers; now I will make an arrangement with Digong; you should send someone to pass Tengwang Tower in Longxing, arranging to arrive after several days, but with Digong setting off that same day.” When that day came, Tianxi and Digong boarded a boat together. He ordered Digong to close his eyes, and after a short period, the Tengwang Tower and the river and peaks around it were all clear before him, the person he had sent in advance waiting before the building, arguing with someone wearing broad shoes. Digong attached himself to Tianxi’s back, so that they could return; his subordinate was still unaware. After a short time, Digong awoke. After a further ten days, the servant returned; when Digong reproved him about his argument with the sandal-wearers he was terrified and astonished.

Because of this all of Digong’s household came to believe in this immortal, who lectured and explained studies in the way of immortality night and day. Tianxi spoke to Digong again; he should sell all their fields, property and stored goods, construct two large boats, sailing together through the rivers and lakes, seeking an auspicious area in which to scale the heights and view the landscape, which would make the change to immortality easy. Digong followed this teaching, going together with his wife, children and servants, saying farewell to their relatives, leaving their home village and climbing aboard on a favourable day. When the boat reached Longxing, Tianxi sent Digong and one or two of his followers into the town to but some goods. As soon as Digong stepped onto the riverbank, Tianxi ordered the boatmen steering both Digong’s family’s boat and his own to float away into the distance. A long time elapsed before his return, in the expanse of water he could not discern where the boat was, and nor was there anybody to ask; Digong began to realise he had been duped. The next day he informed the authorities; at that time Fang Jiafeng was in charge of river transport, and sent staff searching along the banks, bridges and fords, but eventually they lost his track, and Digong returned crestfallen.

After a year had passed, a Baishui trader who was involved in a commercial lawsuit happened to encounter a slave girl who spoke with a Baishui accent, but who refused to speak when questioned. He ascended into Digong’s house and told his wife, who ordered that he tell the full story, which went: “With her belonging to the village, she must be one of your relatives; I climbed the building in the morning of the following day, to seize the Daoist, return him to the village, and claim a share in the stolen property.” The next day, when a multitude of traders had indeed arrived, they bound the Daoist’s hands, and, due to his several crimes, but the Daoist had already lost his property. The multitude reported it to the [90] authorities, who sent a report to Hong. Hong, due to the report submitted by Digong the previous year, was finally able to return Digong’s wife to her home. After a further year, the Daoist came back, and Digong’s household waited on him as before, only saying: “Shame, shame. If things had been different the whole household could have become immortals.” He stayed a further six months, and it is still not known what magic he used to achieve all of this.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.88-90 (Tale 153):

幻術謀財

[89] 袁宜春白水易迪功夫婦好道,喜接道人。有劉天錫來者,云迪功方食。劉以紙翦鶴吹入廳上,遂化真鶴行入所,迪功驚出問故,道人已去,懊恨久之。又五日乘雲至,迪功夫婦拜之,告以欲求仙學道。於是天錫辭以過崐崘赴宴,約七日再至,言畢乘雲冉冉而去,迪功夫婦神之。後如約來,又拜之,問學仙之法,天錫云:「若學仙,先須遍歷名山大川,今與迪功約,可遣一人過隆興滕王閣,約幾日至,卻於是日與迪功同往。」迪功欲驗其言,遂遣人行,且云:「此至隆興約八日。」至其日,天錫與迪功登舟,令迪功閉目,片時,則滕王閣江山歷歷皆在目中,所遣之人已在閣上,與博屨者喧爭矣。迪功附其背使之歸,其人不知。有頃,迪功醒。又十日僕歸,迪功責其博屨喧爭之事,僕怪駭。由是迪功之家皆信為神仙,日夜講明學仙之道。天錫復與迪功言,當盡鬻所有之田產並所藏之貨物,造二大舟,共遊江湖,求福地而登覽之,則求仙易矣。迪功盡如其教,與妻孥臧獲之屬,辭親戚,別鄉井,卜日登舟。舟次隆興,天錫驅迪功與一二從者入城市物。迪功既登岸,天錫令舟人駕迪功家眷之舟與自己之舟飄然遠去。久之方歸,渺不知舟之所在,且無所問,迪功始以為欺己。次日告之官,時方蛟峰為漕,遣人沿岸橋津物色,竟失蹤跡,迪功怏怏而歸。又一年間,白水有為商於獄市者,忽見一婢似白水人聲音,問之,婢不言,登樓告迪功之婦,婦令人告之故,且云:「既為鄉人,可相作親屬,明日午前登樓擒道人,則我可歸故鄉,所攜之物當中分之。」明午,衆商果至,手紐道人,數以脫騙之罪,而道人已隨手失矣。衆相 [90] 與告官,官移文於洪。洪回文具迪功去年所告之因,迪功之婦始得回鄉。又明年,道人再來,迪功之家待之如舊,但云:「可惜可惜,不然全家可仙矣。」又留半年始去,竟不知其何術也。

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).

The ‘Horse-Headed Maiden’ 馬頭娘子

Long ago in Shu lived the Can Cong Emperor. Also, in the time of the Gao Xin Emperor, there lived a Lady Can; her family name is not known. When her father was robbed by some people, leaving only the horse on which she rode, she felt for her father and his inability to find food. Her mother therefore made an oath before the multitude: “If someone returns her father, they will be married to this girl.” The horse, hearing this speech, leapt up in alarm and shook itself with great haste, snapping its hobble and setting off. After several days the father was then able to ride back on the horse. From then on the horse neighed and neighed and would not accept the bit. The girl’s mother told her father about her oath, and he said: “Oaths to people are not promises to horses. How can a person be married to a different species? Having been able to solve our difficulties, its merit is indeed great, but the words of this oath cannot be put into practice.” The horse then bolted. The father grew angry and wanted to kill it, and when it ran further away, he shot it dead, drying its skin in the courtyard. The skin then kicked itself upright, wrapping up the girl and flying away. For ten nights the skin perched up a mulberry tree, and the girl transformed into a silkworm, eating mulberry leaves, making silk cocoons for human clothes and bedding. One day, the silkworm girl climbed the clouds and rose the horse, addressing her parents: “The Most High, because I did not neglect righteousness in either body or soul, has appointed me immortal attendant to the Nine Palaces. There is no return, but I will always cherish your memory.” It is customary in Shu that all Daoist temples sculpt a female figure draped in a horse skin, calling it the ‘Horse-head Maiden’, as a way of making offerings for silk production.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.76 (Tale 133):

馬頭娘子

蜀之先有蠶叢帝。又高辛時蜀有蠶女,不知姓氏,父為人所掠,惟所乘馬在。女念父不食。其母因誓於衆曰:「有得父還者,以此女嫁之。」馬聞其言,驚躍振迅,絕其物絆而去,數日父乃乘馬而歸。自此馬嘶鳴不肯齕。母以誓衆之言告父,父曰:「誓於人不誓於馬,安有人而偶非類乎?能脫我之難,功亦大矣!【所誓之言,不可行也。】(上八字據元刻本補。)」馬跑,父怒欲殺之,馬愈跑,父射殺之,曝其皮於庭。皮蹶然而起,卷女飛去。旬日皮寢棲於桑上,女化為蠶,食桑葉,吐絲成繭,以衣被於人間。一日,蠶女乘雲駕此馬,謂父母曰:「太上以我身心不忘義,授以九宮(「宮」原作「公」,據元刻本改。)仙嬪矣,無復憶念也。」蜀之風俗,宮觀諸處塑女像披馬皮,謂之「馬頭娘」,以祈蠶焉。

 

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 tale again involves the line between human and animal natures. The somewhat incoherent state of the Huhai telling, especially when compared to the Soushenji version, is notable. So is the Huhai version’s shift of responsibility and sympathy between parents (including the addition of the mother) and daughter. The more coherent, much earlier version in the Soushenji (abbreviated slightly- the last section of cross-references to horses and silk is omitted):

Gan Bao, Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J.L. Crump, Jr. (trans), In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp. 165-66:

Horse into Silkworm (14,350)

There is an old story which tells that in ancient times a man went on a long journey leaving no one at home save his daughter and a stallion which she had reared herself. Living in straitened circumstances and in a secluded place, she missed her father so much that she said to the stallion in jest: “If you find my father and bring him back for me, I’ll marry you!”

Immediately on hearing these words, that horse broke its tether and galloped off to where her father was. When the latter saw the horse, he was surprised and pleased and took him by the halter to mount him. The horse kept gazing back in the direction from whence he had come, whinnying in distress.

“Nothing has happened to this horse to make him behave so strangely. I wonder if things are not well at home?”

With that he mounted in haste and rode back. He began to take special care of the horse, which had shown such intelligence; he offered it extra fodder, which the horse refused to eat. However, every time the stallion saw the man’s daughter moving about, it would become excited and animated and rear and paw the earth. This happened many times and made the man so curious that he questioned his daughter in secret. She told him what she had said to the horse, adding, “This must be the reason.”

“Never speak of it again,” cried he, “for it will bring shame upon our family!” And you had best not go on and out as you were wont to do.” So saying, he secretly took his crossbow, slew the beast, skinned it, and hung the hide in his courtyard.

When he went a-journeying again, his daughter and a neighbor girl were playing with the hide. The daughter kicked it, crying, “You were nothing but a beast of burden, yet you thought to wed a human! You brought this death upon yourself, so you should feel no resentment!”

As she spoke, the hide rose up, wrapped itself around the daughter and galloped off. The neighbor girl was so frightened she could not lift a hand to help her friend, but fled and told the girl’s father. He returned to seek traces of the pair, but they had already disappeared.

[166]

After several days the girl and the horsehide were found bound together among the limbs of a tree where they had become a silkworm spinning itself a cocoon. This cocoon was large in diameter and length– very different from the ordinary kind. The women of the neighborhood gathered this kind of chrysalis and reared the worms to gain many times the profit they turned before.

Because of this story, people named the tree on which the girl and the horsehide were found, the sang tree [mulberry] because sang means lost. Everyone now cultivates this kind of tree, and the silkworm of today is descended from that first ancient cocoon.

Gan Bao 干寶, Soushenji 搜神記 (In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 14.172-73 (350):

舊說,太古之時,有大人遠征,家無餘人,唯有一女。牡馬一匹,女親養之。窮居幽處,思念其父,乃戲馬曰:「爾能為我迎得父還,吾將嫁汝。」馬既承此言,乃絕韁而去,徑至父所。父見馬驚喜,因取而乘之。馬望所自來,悲鳴不已。父曰:「此馬無事如此,我家得無有姑乎?」亟乘以歸。為畜生有非常之情,故厚加芻養。馬不肯食。每見女出入,輒喜怒奮擊。如此非一。父怪之,密以問女。女具以告父,必為是姑。父曰:「勿言,恐辱家門。且莫出入。」於是伏弩射殺之,暴皮于庭。父行,女與鄰女於皮所戲,以足蹙之曰:「汝是畜 [173] 生,而欲取人為婦耶?招此屠剥,如何自苦?」言未及竟,馬皮蹷然而起,卷女以行。隣女忙怕,不敢救之。走告其父。父還,求索,已出失之。後經數日,得於大樹枝間,女及馬皮,盡化為蠶,而績於樹上。其蠒綸理厚大,異於常蠶。鄰婦取而養之,其收數倍。因名其樹曰「桑」。桑者,喪也。由斯百姓競種之,今世所養是也。言桑蠶者,是古蠶之餘類也。

Another version of the story can also be found here: https://widowcranky.com/2017/11/19/chinese-unicorn-artist-unknown/, described as ‘the silkworm girl’. The tale is analysed in detail in Miller, Alan L., ‘The Woman Who Married a Horse: Five Ways of Looking at a Chinese Folktale’, Asian Folklore Studies, 54 (1995): 275-305 (available via JSTOR here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1178945).