Freed Turtles Repay Benevolence 放鼈報恩

Ye Sanda was a first-placed examination candidate from Huaixiang. Someone presented him with a large soft-shelled turtle, and he dropped it into the river. Several days later it came back; he inspected it carefully and it was indeed the turtle he had released those few days before, so he pricked the character ‘Buddha’ on its belly and released it below the Jichuan Bridge. In the renzi year, it was decreed that father and son present themselves together for the prefectural examinations. Suddenly a flood overtook them, and their boat passed the Jinshui Beach and spun round and round. Soon after it stopped, as if the boat was held steady by something. On reaching a calmer flow, the soft-shelled turtle showed its ‘Buddha’ character, and he then realized that this was the turtle he had released. That night, he dreamed that a black-robed old woman addressed him: “Your son Xuan will triumph in the prefectural examinations this autumn.” That same year it did come to pass.

Cheng Yuanzhang came from Youting in Wuyuan. Together with his wife he had a great liking for soft-shelled turtle, and ordered their servant girl Mei Xiang to cook the delicacy. None of it tasted quite right, however, so he whipped her. She once obtained a large one, over a chi (33cm) long, and had just grasped the knife to slaughter it, when she saw it stretch and contract, shivering in terror. Unable to bear it, she pointed to it and said: “I normally cook turtles, and must still suffer beatings. I am about to release you alive, despite facing one more battering.” She then untied it, placing it in the pond behind their residence. This pool was broad and its water had never once dried up. Cheng and his wife, because the turtle had been so large and promised such satisfaction and fullness, grew extremely angry at its loss, and gave the serving girl several dozen lashes. After two years had passed, the serving girl fell developed a fever and then a mania, rushing about recklessly, confused and dazed. The family realised that she could not be cured, and so carried her into [120] the pavilion on the pond, to await her death. The next day, as dawn broke, someone knocked at the back door of the residence; thinking it must be a spirit, they shouted at it to go away. She then said: “I am Mei Xiang; I beg to be allowed to go home.” They opened the gate and it was indeed her. Asked what had happened, she said: “At midnight I seemed to see a strange thing, which netted my body in damp mud and straw, spinning around thirty or forty times, awakening my mind and heart and leaving it open and clear, cooling and refreshing my four limbs and removing all pain. The next thing I knew, I was alone in the pavilion.” The Chengs did not believe this. They waited until dusk, then sent her back to lie down like the previous day and spied on her in secret. They watched as a huge soft-shelled turtle emerged e pond, its body covered in algae and duckweed. The Chengs could not understand the matter, so the maid recounted her release of the turtle from beginning to end, telling of how it had grown so much larger from its beginnings until that point, and looked at how the hole left behind by its tail had persisted. At that, the pond dried up and they caught it and carried it to a deeper pool. The entire Cheng family abstained and never ate it again. A famous physician once said: “In a case of extreme fever, where death seems impossible to avert, draw fresh water and soak the upper and lower clothes together as a fine treatment.” This is not to say that the smaller types of aquatic creatures could do this, too; this was provoked by a secret moral act.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.119-20 (Tale 208):

放鼈報恩

葉三大解元,槐巷人。有饋大鼈者,投之水。數日又再進,熟視之,即前日所放之鼈,遂於腹下刺一「佛」字,放生濟川橋下。壬子,詔父子同應鄉舉,洪水驟漲,舟過金水灘幾覆。須臾復止,若有物扶其舟。及至安流,鼈現「佛」字,始知即所放鼈也。是夜,夢一皁衣嫗曰:「爾子璿今秋領鄉舉。」是年果然。

 

程元章,婺源遊汀人。與妻皆嗜食團魚,令婢梅香主庖饌,每滋味不適口即撻之。嘗得一大者,長尺餘,方操刀欲屠,睹其伸縮顫悸,為之不忍,指而與言:「我尋常烹煮,必遭杖責。今放汝不殺,亦不過痛打一頓。」遂解縛置於舍後污池中。池廣水亦未嘗竭。程夫婦以鼈肥大,可滿意飫饜之。既失之,怒甚,杖婢數十。經二年,婢發熱疾發狂,奔躁昏憒,家人知其不可療,舁入 [120] 池上茅亭以待終。明日,天明曉,有扣宅後門扉者,謂為鬼物,叱去之。乃言:「我是梅香,病已無事,乞令歸家。」啟閽信然。問其故,對曰:「半夜髣髴見一異物,將溼泥草遍罨我身上,環繞三四十匝,便覺心下開豁,四肢清涼,全無所苦,始知獨在亭上。」程氏未以為然。迨暮復使往,如昨日偃臥,而密伺察之。見巨鼈自池御水藻浮萍遮覆其體。程氏不省此事,婢詳述放鼈之首末,云今比昔日,其大倍加,視尾後穿竅猶存。於是涸池取得之,因送諸深潭。程舉家戒不復食。嘗有名醫云:「熱證之極,卒未可解者,汲新水浸衣裳互熨之為妙。」不謂水族細類亦能如此,蓋陰德所招故也。

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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