You Shizi 游氏子

In the northern corner of Xudu’s western district there stood the residence of General Zhao. After the patriarch’s passing, his descendants had scattered. The place then became inauspicious, and nobody dared live there. A close friend of theirs then posted a notice on the village gates, reading: ‘If someone dares reside there, they may consider it a gift.’ At the beginning of the Qianfu era (874-80 CE), there came along one You Shizi, fierce and stubborn by nature, braver and quicker than most. On seeing the notice, he said: “Your humble servant is a brave warrior. Even if there are strange demons and weird spirits, I’ll certainly control them.” It was then the height of summer, and, when night fell, he took up his sword and entered. The house was deep and silent, and the entrance hall long and broad. You Shizi laid out his mat in the courtyard, arranged his summer robe and sat. When the end of the first watch had been sounded, all was silent, and there had been no alarms. You Shizi grew weary, so he used his sword as a pillow and lay down facing the hall.

Just as the half watch was about to sound, he suddenly heard a ga-ya sound as the rear gate opened. Candles were lit in even lines, and several dozen servants sprinkled water and swept the hall, opening the high windows, stretching out the scarlet curtains and embroidered drapes, laying out seating mats and precious objects. Strange and rare fragrances wafted among the eaves and pillars. You’s heart told him that these were only minor spirits, and he did not yet feel moved to use force against them. He waited to watch them through to the finish. After a short while, they took up musical instruments, and several dozen people dressed in red and purple ascended the stairs from the eastern wing. Several dozen singers and dancers emerged from behind the hall and entered through the front. Those in the purple robes remained [2786] in front, and people in red, green and white clothing formed a second layer. A further twenty or more people talked and laughed together happily, bowing to one another and sitting down. At this strings and pipes struck up together, glasses were raised and toasts shared as the dancers moved in unison.

You Shizi wanted to charge forward and seize their ringleader. He was about to get up when he felt something pressing down between his thighs. It was cold and it was heavy, and he simply could not rise. He wanted to shout out, but his mouth trembled, unable to make a sound, so he watched the happy celebrations continue on until a loud, loud drum sounded. At this the sitting mats dispersed, the lights and fires were all doused, and all was as still as it had first been. You Shizi was bathed in sweat, his heart racing, as he crawled prostrate to the exit. Only long after reaching the gate could he speak once more. In the end nobody dared to live in the house.

From Sanshui xiaodu.

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, 352.2785-86

游氏子

許都城西之北陬。有趙將軍宅。主父既沒。子孫流移。其處遂凶。莫敢居者。親近乃牓於里門曰。有居得者。便相奉。乾符初。許有游氏子者。性剛悍。拳捷過人。見牓曰。僕猛士也。縱奇妖異鬼。必有以制之。時盛夏。既夕。携劍而入。室宇深邃。前庭廣袤。游氏子設簟庭中。絺綌而坐。一鼓盡。聞寂無驚。游氏子倦。乃枕劍面堂而臥。再鼓將半。忽聞軋然開後門聲。蠟炬齊列。有役夫數十。於堂中洒掃。闢前軒。張朱簾繡幕。陳筵席寶器。異香馥於簷楹。游子心謂此小魅耳。未欲迫之。將觀其終。少頃。執樂器。紆朱紫者數十輩。自東廂升階。歌舞妓數十輩自後堂出。入於前堂。紫衣者居 [2786] 前。朱綠衣白衣者次之。亦二十許人。言笑自若。揖讓而坐。於是絲竹合奏。飛觴舉白。歌舞間作。游氏子欲前突。擒其渠魁。將起。乃覺髀間為物所壓。冷且重。不能興。欲大叫。口哆而不能聲。但觀堂上歡洽。直至嚴鼓。席方散。燈火既滅。寂爾如初。游氏子駭汗心悸。匍伏而出。至里門。良久方能語。其宅後卒無敢居者。出三水小牘

Mou Ying 牟穎

When Mou Ying, from Luoyang, was still young, he accidentally, due to drunkenness, left the city and reached open country. He only came to at midnight, resting at the roadside, where he saw an exposed skeleton. Ying was extremely distressed by this, and when dawn broke he stooped over and buried it. That night, he dreamed of a youth, of perhaps just over twenty, robed in white silk and bearing a sword. He bowed to Ying, and said: “I am a stubborn bandit. My whole life I have wilfully injured and slaughtered and indulged in injustice. Recently I clashed with my peers, and was killed, buried by the roadside. Over a long time, rain and wind caused my bones to become exposed. Your servant was reburied by the gentleman, so I have come to thank you. In life I was a fierce and brutal man. In death I am a fierce and brutal ghost. You could allow me shelter and rest, but the gentleman would have to pour a small libation to me every night. I will ever respond to the gentleman’s requirements, and I am already obliged to the gentlemen. Neither hunger or thirst will reach you, and you will always receive the objects of your requests and desires.” In his dream Ying promised this.

When he awoke, he thus had a try at laying out offerings and secretly spoke prayers. That night he again dreamed of the ghost, who said: “I have already entrusted myself to the gentleman. Whenever the gentleman wishes to direct me, he should just call out ‘Chi ding zi’. Speak softly of your affairs and I will always respond to the sound and arrive.” Ying then would always call for him in secret, ordering him to steal, to take other people’s property. His voice never went unanswered or wishes unfulfilled, so he became rich on gold and jewels. One day, Ting noticed that a woman in a neighbouring household was very beautiful, and fell in love with her. He therefore called ‘chi ding zi’ and ordered him to steal her away. The neighbour’s wife arrived at midnight, leaping over the outside wall as she came. Ying jumped up in shock, but treated her with courtesy, asking why she had come. The woman replied: “I had not intended to come, but was suddenly seized by someone who brought me to your chamber. It was suddenly as if I had woken from a dream. [2785] I don’t know what kind of demon it could have been, or what it intended, but whenever I try to return home, I weep without cease.” Ying felt great sympathy for her, and she stayed in secret for several days. Her family made urgent attempts to see her, however, and eventually reported the matter to the authorities.

When Ying became aware of this, he and the woman came up with a ruse. He had her return but then, setting out to a different house, state that she had no idea which evil spirit had spirited her away, and refuse to return to her former home. After she had returned to her family, every third or fifth night she was then picked up by a person and removed to Ying’s house, but, not staying until dawn, she would always be returned home. A year passed, and her family knew nothing about this. She found it deeply strange that Ying possessed such powers of sorcery, so urgently approached Ying and asked: “If you do not explain this to me, I will have to expose the whole affair.” Ying therefore related the truth about the whole matter. The neighbour’s wife then reported it to her family, and together they made a plan to deal with the matter. Her family then secretly requested a Daoist to come and clean away these illicit arts. They then waited. Chidingzi arrived at their gate as soon as night had fallen, but, seeing the great array of magic figures, he was driven back and returned. He explained to Ying: “They repelled me with orthodox magic, but their power is only fragile. If the gentleman fights alongside me we should be able to steal away that woman, and this time you must not allow her to return.” After this speech he set off again, and in a moment a great tempest of wind and rain arose around the neighbour’s house. The entire residence turned black, and the various talismans and prohibitions seemed to be swept away all of a sudden. The woman vanished once more, so once dawn had broken her husband went to the government officials. They accompanied him to Ying’s house bent on arresting him, so Ying fled with the woman. It is not known where they went.

From Xiaoxianglu.

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, 352.2784-85:

牟穎

洛陽人牟穎。少年時。因醉。誤出郊野。夜半方醒。息於路旁。見一發露骸骨。穎甚傷念之。達曙。躬身掩埋。其夕。夢一少年。可二十已來。衣白練衣。仗一劍。拜穎曰。我彊寇耳。平生恣意殺害。作不平事。近與同輩爭。遂為所害。埋於路旁。久經風雨。所以發露。蒙君復藏。我故來謝君。我生為凶勇人。死亦為兇勇鬼。若能容我棲託。但君每夜微奠祭我。我常應君指使。我既得託於君。不至飢渴。足得令君所求狥意也。穎夢中許之。及覺。乃試設祭饗。暗以祀禱祈。夜又夢鬼曰。我已託君矣。君每欲使我。即呼赤丁子一聲。輕言其事。我必應聲而至也。穎遂每潛告。令竊盜。盜人之財物。無不應聲遂意。後致富有金寶。一日。穎見鄰家婦有美色。愛之。乃呼赤丁子令竊焉。鄰婦至夜半。忽至外踰垣而至。穎驚起款曲。問其所由來。婦曰。我本無心。忽夜被一人擒我至君室。忽如夢 [2785] 覺。我亦不知何怪也。不知何計。却得還家。悲泣不已。穎甚閔之。潛留數日。而其婦家人求訪極切。至於告官。穎知之。乃與婦人詐謀。令婦人出別墅。却自歸。言不知被何妖精取去。今却得廻。婦人至家後。再每三夜或五夜。依前被一人取至穎家。不至曉。即却送歸。經一年。家人皆不覺。婦人深怪穎有此妖術。後因至切。問於穎曰。若不白我。我必自發此事。穎遂具述其實。鄰婦遂告於家人。共圖此患。家人乃密請一道流。潔淨作禁法以伺之。赤丁子方夜至其門。見符籙甚多。却反。白於穎曰。彼以正法拒我。但力微耳。與君力爭。當惡取此婦人。此來必須不放回也。言訖復去。須臾。鄰家飄驟風起。一宅俱黑色。但是符籙禁法之物。一時如掃。復失婦人。至曙。其夫遂去官。同來穎宅擒捉。穎乃携此婦人逃。不知所之。出瀟湘錄

Li Guangli Cuts Stone And Finds Water 李廣利刺石得水

Li Guangli[1] took the sword from his belt and cut a stone in the mountain. A spring burst forth.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.3 (Tale 17):

李廣利刺石得水

李廣利拔佩刀刺山石,泉湧。

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] Li Guangli 李廣利 (d. 88 BCE) was a prominent general who served against the Xiongnu in Central Asia under the Han, his exploits famously involving diverting the flow of a river during the siege of Osh. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Guangli.

Immortal Lü’s Sword Bag 呂仙劍袋

The mother of Chancellor Jia, Lady of the Two Realms, had organised meals for mendicant Daoists, when suddenly a crowd of Daoist priests came supporting a pregnant woman who was about to give birth. Before the refectory could even pause, she gave birth to a baby on the ground. The crowd of priests then picked her up and departed, leaving the infant on the floor. When people picked the baby up, it turned out to be a bag of swords. They then realised that Duke Lü [131] was exercising his spirit to play jokes on common customs.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後1.130-31 (Tale 227):

呂仙劍袋

賈平章母兩國夫人設雲水道人閒(明刻本、明抄本無「閒」宇。)齋,忽有羣道人扶一孕婦將產而來。齋未罷,產嬰兒在地,羣道人即扶女子而去,只留嬰兒在地。扶起嬰兒,乃一劍袋也。始知呂公 [131] 弄精魂以戲凡俗云。

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 Monkey Becomes A Temple Spirit 猿為廟神

The Song emperor Lizong (Zhao Yun, r. 1224-64) summoned the thirty-fifth Daoist Heavenly Master to court, and as the tide was ebbing, he passed by the side of the Liuhe Pagoda, where he noticed that there were newly built temple wings to it, so stopped his sedan chair and asked its neighbours: “To what spirit is this dedicated? To misfortune or to fortune?” The commoners said: “A spirit of prosperity. The populace have just constructed this temple.” The Heavenly Master said: “Were it to have been one of misfortune, I would have exorcised it.” The commoners asked: “What for?” The Heavenly Master replied: “This is a white ape from Longhu Peak; it has taken many things, and I had not expected to see it treated as a spirit here.” He brandished his sword and rebuked it: “If you bring fortune to the populace, my punishment will not reach you; if you do not, you will be reported and face the consequences.” The temple stands to this day.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.253 (Tale 457):

猿為廟神

宋理宗朝召三十五代天師赴京,退潮,道經六和塔側,見新廟翼然,停轎問其鄰曰:「此為何神?為禍為福?」民曰:「福神也。民方創此廟。」天師曰:「苟或為禍,吾將除之。」民曰:「何如?」天師謂:「此龍虎山一白猿,失去多載,不圖今日為神於此。」仗劍叱曰:「既福民,罰乃不及,苟或反是,必將奏誅。」至今廟猶在。

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).

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》