A Pig’s Earring 猪耳鐶

The gentleman Jiang Songwei travelled from Shu via Xia, and on reaching the Yun’an Pass killed a pig as a temple sacrifice. When it came to washing the offering, he saw a single ring below one ear, inky coloured, clear and glistening; it must have formerly been a person and a thieving criminal.[1]

Hong Mai, Yi Jian Zhi, ii, 丙18.514

猪耳鐶

將仕郎宋衞自蜀道出峽,至雲安關,殺猪賽廟。洗牲時,見耳下一方鐶,墨色猶明潤,蓋必前身為人而犯盜者也。

Hong Mai 洪邁, He Zhuo 何卓 (ed.), Yi Jian Zhi 夷堅志 (Record of Yi Jian) 4 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981)

[1] This refers to the practice of tattooing a ring behind the ear as punishment for convicted thieves or bandits. On this practice, see Songshi 宋史 201.5018; Carrie E. Reed, ‘Tattoo in Early China’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 120 (2000), 360-76: 365. (the article is available online here)

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Bian Hu’s Strange Corpse 卞壺屍異

Director of the Jin Department for State Affairs Bian Hu died during the Su Jun affair, and was buried in Shangyuan County.[1] Later, when thieves opened his tomb, they saw that Hu was greying at the temples, but he appeared to be alive, his two hands curled into fists, and the armour at the back of both hands pierced through. The Emperor An (r. 396-419 CE) granted ten thousand cash and ordered he be reburied.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.12 (Tale 71):

卞壺屍異

晉尚書令卞壺死蘇峻之難,葬在上元縣。後盗發其墓,見壺鬢髮蒼白,面色如生,兩手皆拳,甲穿於手背。安帝賜錢十萬,令改葬焉。

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] On Bian Hu 卞壺 (courtesy name Wangzhi 望之, 281-328 CE), a senior official at the Jin court who died in battle resisting the revolt led by Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328CE). See https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%8D%9E%E5%A3%BC, and on the revolt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Su_Jun.

Wang Fan’s Tomb 王樊冢

The Dunhuang shilu reports: When Wang Fan died, a thief opened his tomb and saw Wang Fan playing chupu (a form of boardgame) with someone; he rewarded the robber with wine, and the thief drank it in terror, watching someone lead a bronze horse out of the tomb. That night a divinity arrived at the city gate, announcing that it was the envoy of Wang Fan, that someone had opened his tomb, marking his lips by swallowing dark wine, and that when that person returned at dawn they could verify this and capture him. When the thief entered the city, those on the gate therefore bound and questioned him, and it was just as the divinity had said.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.8 (Tale 61):

王樊冢

《燉煌實錄》云:王樊卒,有盗開其冢,見王樊與人樗蒲,以酒賜盗者,盗者惶怖飲之,見有人牽銅馬出冢者。夜有神至城門,自言是王樊使,今有人發冢,以酒墨其唇,但至,可以驗而擒之。盗既入城,城門者乃縛詰之,如神言。

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)

Conjuring For Theft 幻術為盗

The villagers of Qiongzhou went daily to the labour exchange on the Xiaodongguo Bridge in Chengdu District, where anyone with money could hire bearers to carry their loads. It happened that the imperial scholar Yang Shanfu came there and hired ten people, offering each two hundred cash per day. Returning with them to his home, as the sky turned to dusk, he lit lamps and candles and provided wine and food. When they had finished eating, each was ordered to take up two cloth sacks and a shoulder pole, and follow in silence; four or five of his trusted subordinates went along with them. After going more than ten li (about 3km), they saw a large house, its walls over a zhang (c. 3m) tall, and a pack of dogs began to bark. Before long, the hounds fell silent. Yang attached a rope ladder to the top of the wall,  and climbed up first, and the multitude followed behind him, stealthily and without a sound. Entering the kitchen, they found tables and boards full of pork, mutton, goose and duck; the household was on the eve of a wedding, and a dozen of the men ate without restraint, but still none was any the wiser. Yang entered a chamber, arranging and folding more than ten loads of items and clothing in gold and silver, and ordered the group to bear them away. Yang, along with those he trusted, went behind the newcomers, following them over the rope ladder and returning. The hired hands each sneaked out some kind of garment; when they reached Yang’s place, he was delighted with them, again providing alcoholic drink, and they settled to sleep, sated and drunk, before his bedchamber. Waking sober the next morning, they found themselves among weeds and ruins, with no human household in sight, the robes having also vanished, leaving them only their agreed two hundred cash. The labourers had no idea what kind of magic had taken place. The servant of Gao Youer was among them, and said it was like a dream.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.88 (Tale 152):

幻術為盗

邛州村民日趨成都府小東郭橋上賣工,凡有錢者皆可僱其充使令擔負也。忽有楊秀才善夫來僱十人,議工錢每人二百。與之同歸,天色暮,點燈燭,具酒飯,食罷,各人領布袋二、匾擔一,令其閉口隨〔行〕,(據元刻本補。)亦自有心腹四五人同路。行十餘里,見大屋一所,牆高一丈餘,羣犬狺吠。頃之,犬亦無聲,楊以軟梯搭牆頭先上,衆躡步相隨,寂無一語。入廚內,豬羊鵝鴨之物充滿臺案,蓋其家先一夕成姻也,十餘人恣意而食,並無知者。楊入房內,治疊金銀衣物作十擎,令衆擔出。楊在後同親信者並負新人行,仍從軟梯上回。僱夫亦各竊取衣著之類,到善夫家,喜甚,復得酒物,醉飽羣宿於門前睡房。天明眼醒,見荒草墟中皆無人家所居,衣有盡失之,只(「只」原作「己」,據元本改。)有僱錢二百而已,工不知其何術也。高有二僕在內,言之如夢焉。

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).

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).

Mercy to Sparrows is Repaid 慈仁雀報

[121] County Constable He of Jingxing was by nature kind and merciful. Whenever he went out, if he saw someone catching sparrows, he would destroy their equipment and chase the people away. When he saw sparrows alive he would always buy and release them; seeing dead ones, he would warn those responsible to change their trade. He carried on like this for three years. When the time for his transfer drew near, the local populace suffered robbery and murder at the hands of bandits, and his superior urged urgent action, but he was unable to catch them. Then a flock of several hundred sparrows flew up to meet around his horse’s head; He marveled at this. The sparrow flock then flew towards and over a straw hut several hundred paces from the road. He sent troops to search the building, and it turned out that there were seven people lying quite unaware in a drunken stupor, each with booty and weapons by their side. Capturing them, they were indeed the thieves, and were turned over to the authorities. Constable He successfully fulfilled his task, and ultimately took up orders as a thief-taker. In ancient times there was faith in such payment of moral debts.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.120-21 (Tale 210):

慈仁雀報

[121] 井陘何縣尉,天資仁慈。每出,見捕雀者,必毀其具、逐其人。見活雀,必買而放之;見死者,必戒使易業。如是者三年。代期將近,鄉民有被盗劫殺者,上司督促急迫,不能捕獲。卻有羣雀數百飛迎馬首,何深異之。既而羣雀飛往路旁百步外草舍上,何遣卒搜屋下,果有七人醉卧未醒,及有贓仗在傍,禽之,乃真盗也,遂解於官。何尉美解,竟授捕盗賞秩。古有銜環之報,信矣。

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).