Master Ren, from Wu Prefecture, was skilled at spotting spirits, and his cottage was on Dongtingshan. He often looked like a young boy, and, according to the custom of Wu and Chu, none knew his birthdate. During the Baoli era (825-26 CE), there was a youth, surnamed Yang, the son of a Qiankunshan military officer, who was living apart in Wu Prefecture. He would often, of a daytime, meet a few people of a similar age and go boating together.
When they went to the Huqiu Temple, Master Ren was in the boat with them. Their talk touched on spirits and deities, and Master Yang said: “People and spirits leave different traces. Because spirits have died they cannot be seen.” Master Ren laughed: “Spirits are extremely numerous. People are just unable to recognise them. Only I can pick them out.” They turned to look at a woman, dressed in dark robes, holding a small boy and walking along the bank. The Master pointed and said: “This is a spirit. The thing she is embracing is nothing more than the ethereal soul of an infant.” Yang said: “But then how can you tell that she is a spirit?” The Master replied: “So the gentleman thinks I’m all talk?” He then called out in a stern voice: “You are a spirit. Have you stolen the child of a living person?” When the woman heard this she was terrified, and started to hurry back the way she had come. Before she had taken more than a few dozen steps, she vanished. Master Yang was both impressed and astonished.
When evening came, they returned. Several dozen li from the city walls there was a house on the riverbank, with mats laid out for a feast. There was a sorceress, who encouraged them to take seats at her left, and libations were made to the deities. Master Yang and Master Ren both asked her about this, and the sorceress told them: “Today a villager’s baby died of a sudden illness, but now it has revived so we are holding a banquet in gratitude.” They then ordered that the child be brought out for them to see, and it was indeed the infant that the woman had been carrying. The guests were all amazed and alarmed at this, and thanked Master Ren, saying: “The gentleman is truly an adept of the Way; we had no idea!”
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, 347.2746: