Tan Sheng 談生

At the age of forty Tan Sheng was without a wife. He often became aroused through study and reading. Suddenly one midnight a young woman appeared to him, aged fifteen or sixteen and peerless under heaven in her appearance, dress and posture. She came to Sheng so they could be husband and wife, but told him: “I am not like other people. Never let firelight shine upon me. Only after three years have passed may I be illuminated.” They then lived as man and wife. She’d bore a son, who was already two years old, when, unable to bear it any longer, Sheng waited until she was asleep then stealthily illuminated and examined her. Above her waist was living flesh, just like any human being, but below her waist were just dry bones. His wife awoke, and told him: “The gentleman has betrayed me. I had almost returned to life – why could you not bear to wait just one more year before examining me?” Sheng parted from her with thanks, weeping, as they could no longer be together.

She said: “Although my parting from the gentleman is entirely correct, I am still concerned for our child. You are poor and unable to support yourselves, so follow me a moment and I will leave you something of value. Sheng followed her as she entered a splendid hall, its rooms and furnishings all quite extraordinary. Indicating a pearl-stitched gown, she handed it to him and said: “You can support yourself with this.” She then tore away the front of the gown, left it with him and departed. Sheng subsequently took the robe to the market, where it was purchased by the household of the Suiyang Prince, earning him a thousand ten-thousand strings of cash.

The prince recognised the robe, however, and said: “This is my daughter’s gown. It must have been taken from her tomb.” He thus seized and beat Sheng, who told him the full truth, but the prince still did not believe him. They therefore went to view the tomb, and found the grave undisturbed, just like [2502] before. When they opened it, beneath the coffin lid they found the same gown. They called his child, and indeed he resembled the princess. The prince then believed the story, and summoned Tan Sheng, granting him the gown and installing him as princely consort. Their son was appointed Chancellor.[1]

From Lieyizhuan

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, 316.2501-2:

談生

談生者。年四十。無婦。常感激讀書。忽〈書忽原作詩經。據明鈔本改。〉夜半有女子。可年十五六。姿顏服飾。天下無雙。來就生為夫婦。乃〈乃原作之。據明鈔本改。〉言。我與人不同。勿以火照我也。三年之後。方可照。為夫妻。生一兒。已二歲。不能忍。夜伺其寢後。盜照視之。其腰上已生肉如人。腰下但有枯骨。婦覺。遂言曰。君負我。我垂生矣。何不能忍一歲而竟相照也。生辭謝。涕泣不可復止。云。與君雖大義永離。然顧念我兒。若貧不能自偕活者。暫隨我去。方遺君物。生隨之去。入華堂。室宇器物不凡。以一珠袍與之曰。可以自給。裂取生衣裾。留之而去。後生持袍詣市。睢陽王家買之。得錢千萬。王識之曰。是我女袍。此必發墓。乃取拷之。生具以實對。王猶不信。乃視女冢。冢完如 [2502] 故。發視之。果棺蓋下得衣裾。呼其兒。正類王女。王乃信之。即召談生。復賜遺衣。以為主壻。表其兒以為侍中。出列異傳

[1] With thanks to Ofer Waldman for greatly improving this translation!

Gongsun Da 公孫達

During the Ganlu era,[1] Gongsun Da of Renchen died in office at Chen Prefecture. When they were about to prepare him for burial, his sons, together with the prefectural clerks, numbering several dozen people, were approaching the funeral scene when his five-year-old son began to speak in tongues, sounding just like his father. He scolded the people gathered for only weeping, and then called out to all his sons as a further warning. His sons and the rest were unable to control their grief, so he comforted and encouraged them:

The fortune of the four seasons,

Still has beginning and end.

Human life may be cut short,

Who can avoid this fate?

If the tongue makes a thousand words,

All should accord with the hidden meaning.

His sons questioned him again: “Nothing is known of any who have died. The intelligence of Your Excellency is a unique exception. Are there deities and spirits?” He replied: “The matter of spirits and deities is beyond your knowledge.” He then requested paper and brush, and he wrote. Having filled the page with meaningful poetry, he tossed it to the ground and died.

From Lieyizhuan.

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, 316.2499:

公孫達

任城公孫達。甘露中。陳郡卒官。將斂。兒及郡吏數十人臨喪。達五歲兒。忽作靈語。音聲如父。呵衆人哭止。因呼諸子。以次教誡。兒等悲哀不能自勝。及慰勉之曰。四時之運。猶有始終。人修短殊。誰不致此。語千餘言。皆合文章。兒又問曰。人亡皆無所知。唯大人聰明殊特。有神靈耶。答曰。鬼神之事。非爾所知也。因索紙筆作書。辭義滿紙。投地遂絕。出列異傳

[1] The Ganlu 甘露 era could refer to either 53-50 BCE, 254-59 CE, 265-66 CE, or 359-64 CE.

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

Unfilial Service To In-Laws 事姑不孝

The mother of Li Sheng, of Xingzhou, was old and somewhat blind, and Li Sheng served her with great filial piety. Whenever he went out, he worried that his wife, née Jin, might fail to serve her properly, so always repeated his instructions to her several times, only setting off after he had done so. The lady Jin did not heed her husband’s advice, and did not observe the proper manners. His mother complained and grumbled about her a great deal, and Jin resented this. When she was preparing to bake shaobing biscuits to give to her mother-in-law, she noticed that dung from their baby son lay next to her. Jin took this and added it to the flour of the biscuit filling. Li’s mother had eaten half of the biscuit when she became aware if a horrible smell and could eat no more, leaving the rest and waiting for her son to return. When Li arrived, he saw that his mother had been fed with filth, so took up a cane and beat Jin until she fled, vanishing into the distance. Suddenly, a disembodied voice reported: “Yesterday the fugitive entered the King Guan Temple.” When Li Sheng went to the temple, he saw a dog lying beneath the offerings table, glowering so fiercely he did not dare approach. He then called for Jin’s mother and father to come and see, at which the hound wept streams of tears and explained: “I ought not to have served up filth to my mother-in-law in such an unfilial manner. When I entered the temple I suddenly turned into a dog!” Several days later she died.

Long ago there was a woman called A Li, whose son travelled for trade, sometimes not returning for years at a time. Her daughter-in-law, Qisao, stayed in the home. Whenever this woman cooked she prepared two dishes; coarse grains for her mother-in-law, but white rice for herself. Li was troubled by the woman’s disobedience, but had to endure her insults. Even accepting the inedible meals presented to her, as Li did not dare speak up. One day the wife went to a neighbouring house, leaving her mother-in-law at home. A monk came holding his alms bowl and begging for rice, but Li said: “I can’t fill my own belly! How can I give alms?” When the monk pointed to the white rice in the kitchen, Li said: “That is what my daughter-in-law Qisao eats. I daren’t give that away. I worry that she would certainly humiliate and insult me when she comes back. I had coarse rice for my breakfast, and have a little left over to prepare for lunch; you could take that.” Before the monk could answer, they heard Qisao arrive outside. When the woman saw the monk eating, she said, quite furiously: “If you want my white rice, you should take off your kasaya robe[1] and hand it over in exchange.” The monk then removed his robe. As the younger woman picked it up, the monk suddenly [21] vanished. The kasaya wrapped around her body and turned into cowhide. Imprisoned within, she could not take it off. A growth of cow hairs grew across the chest opening, and, gradually, body, head, face, all transformed. Her parents were hastily summoned, but when they arrived she had entirely transformed into an ox!

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前1.20-21 (Tale 35)

事姑不孝

邢州李生母,年老目盲,李生事之至孝。每出外,慮其妻金氏侍奉有闕,必再三囑付之而後往。金氏不聽夫語,不盡禮,母甚埋怨,金氏憤之。恰值燒餅欲進母,傍有小兒阿糞,金氏乃以麵裹糞為餅餡以進,母食既半,覺臭穢不可食,遂留以待兒歸。李生歸,見其以穢物食母,持杖擊之,金氏奔走,尋邏不見。忽有人報云:「昨日奔入關王廟中。」李生入廟,見一狗伏於案下,睜目不敢親近。遂呼金氏父母來看,此狗流涕自稱曰:「我不合以穢物奉姑不孝,忽入廟中化為狗矣!」數日而卒。

昔有婦人阿李,有子出外經商,累年不歸,止有兒婦七嫂在家。婦每飯則兩炊,姑飯以麥,婦自白飯。李稍與婦忤,必受辱罵,至於麥飯亦不進食,李忍辱而不敢言。一日婦往鄰家,留姑守舍,有僧持缽至門乞飯,李曰:「我自不能飽,安有捨施!」僧指廚中白飯,李曰:「此我兒婦七嫂自吃底,我不敢以施人,恐歸必辱罵我。我但有早食麥飯,尚有一合留備午餉,如用即取去。」僧未答,聞七嫂外歸。婦見僧乞飯,大怒曰:「汝要我白飯,可脫袈裟換。」僧即脫下。婦纔披之,僧忽 [21] 不見,袈裟著身變為牛皮,牢不可脫,胸閭先生牛毛一片,漸變身體頭面。急執其父母至,則全身化為牛矣!

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)

[1] On this robe, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasaya_(clothing).

A Fox-Dragon 狐龍

Beneath Lishan there was a white fox. It startled and bothered the people below the peak, but they were unable to get rid of it. One day during the Tang Ganfu era (874-80 CE), it suddenly took a bath in a hot spring. Before long, clouds arose and mists bubbled up, and a violent wind began to blow. It transformed into a white dragon, ascended the clouds and departed. For some time afterwards there was dark and gloom, and people frequently saw the white dragon soaring over the mountain’s flanks. This continued for three years. Then an old man appeared, approaching each night and weeping before the peak. After several days people waited for him and asked him why. The old man said: “My Fox-Dragon is dead. That is the reason.” They asked him why he called it a fox-dragon, and again why he wept. The old man said: “The fox-dragon was a fox and became a dragon. After three years it died. I am the fox-dragon’s son.” The people questioned him again, asking: “How can a fox turn into a dragon?” The old man replied: “This fox grew endowed with the vital energy of the west, its whiskers white in colour. It did not travel with the crowds, did not join with its vicinity. The fox was entrusted with the skirts of Lishan for more than a thousand years. Later, it happened to unite with a female dragon. The heavens were aware of this, and so decreed it become a dragon, and also that, like a human, it could leave the mortal plane and become a sage.” When he had finished speaking he vanished.

From Qishiji.

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), x, 455.3718:

狐龍

驪山下有一白狐。驚撓山下人。不能去除。唐乾符中。忽一日突溫泉自浴。須臾之間。雲蒸霧湧。狂風大起。化一白龍。昇天而去。後或陰暗。往往有人見白龍飛騰山畔。如此三年。忽有一老父。每臨夜。即哭於山前。數日。人乃伺而問其故。老父曰。我狐龍死。故哭爾。人問之。何以名狐龍。老父又何哭也。老父曰。狐龍者。自狐而成龍。三年而死。我狐龍之子也。人又問曰。狐何能化為龍。老父曰。此狐也。稟西方之正氣而生。胡白色。不與衆遊。不與近處。狐託於驪山下千餘年。後偶合於雌龍。上天知之。遂命為龍。亦猶人間自凡而成聖耳。言訖而滅。

出奇事記

Secret Virtue Makes A Number One Scholar 陰騭狀元

Ping Jing, courtesy name Dangshi, was from Xianning in Ezhou. His father was a merchant, and, when he was in the prime of life but lacking children, he was about to depart for the capital when his wife gave him several silver tablets and said: “The gentleman does not yet have a son; take these as the means to buy a concubine.” When he reached the capital, he bought a concubine, drew up a contract and paid over the money. When he asked the concubine where she came from, she shed tears but refused to speak. When he asked her more firmly, she then said her father held office, but, having suffered shortfalls in his transported goods, had sold her into concubinage as a plan to repay the losses. Grieved by this, he could not bear to touch her, and sent her back to her father, without insisting on the return of his money. When he returned, his wife asked: “Where is the concubine you bought?” He told her the whole story. His wife said: “If the gentleman uses his heart like this, why worry about lacking a son?” Several months later, his wife became pregnant. When the due date drew near, the villagers dreamt that the air was filled with drumming and trumpeting, greeting the number one scholar arriving at the Ping household. The next morning, Jing was born. Taking delight in reading, he came first (yuan) in the provincial examinations, came first (yuan) in the metropolitan examination, and achieved first place (yuan) in the overall ranking; his contemporaries called him ‘Ping Three-Yuan’.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前 2.108 (Tale 187):

陰騭狀元

馮京,字當世,鄂州咸寧人。其父商也,壯歲無子,將如京師,其妻授以白金數笏,曰:「君未有子,可以此為買妾之資。」及至京師,買一妾,立券償錢矣。問妾所自來,涕泣不肯言。固問之,乃言其父有官,因綱運欠折,鬻妾以為賠償之計。遂惻然不忍犯,遣還其父,不索其錢。及歸,妻問:「買妾安在?」具告以故。妻曰:「君用心如此,何患無子!」居數月,妻有娠。將誕,里人皆夢鼓吹喧闐迎狀元至馮家。次早,生京。喜讀書,領舉為解元,省試為省元,登第為狀元,世號為馮三元。

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).

Wu Yinzhi’s Integrity 吴隱之廉潔

Wu Yinzhi[1] served as Governor of Guangzhou. In ancient times there was a spring, and people who drank from it became corrupt and wanton; Yinzhi poured it, drank it, paid out double his land tax, and composed a poem:

The ancients said of this water,

That one sip addicted to riches.

If Yi and Qi[2] were to try it,

Their loyalties would never have changed

Moreover, he dwelt in mourning for his mother, showed exceptional etiquette and suffered poverty in his household, and having no choice but to wait until midnight, often hearing a pair of cranes calling in shock at midnight, Yinzhi would always rise and weep, never missing a single time.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.18 (Tale 91):

吴隱之廉潔

吴隱之為廣州刺史。舊有貪泉,人飲之則貪黷,隱之酌而飲之,兼賦詩曰:「古人云此水,一歃懐千金。試使夷齊飲,終當不易心。」又居母喪,過禮,家貧,無以候宵分,常有雙鶴至夜半驚唳,隱之起哭,不失其時。

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 Wu Yinzhi 吴隱之, courtesy name Chumo 處默 (d.c. 413 CE), see https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%90%B4%E9%9A%90%E4%B9%8B.

[2] This refers to Bo Yi 伯夷 and Shu Qi 叔齊, famed for their selfless morality. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boyi_and_Shuqi; http://chinaheritage.net/reader/reading/loyalty/sima-qian-%E5%8F%B8%E9%A6%AC%E9%81%B7-a-biography-of-boyi-and-shuqi-%E4%BC%AF%E5%A4%B7%E5%88%97%E5%82%B3/