Monday, April 19, 2010

Li Chang-wu (a Chinese ghost story)

Li Chang-wu

By Li Ching-liang  (ca. 790 C.E.), translation by Rick Harrington
(for an introduction to this story, see the previous post)

Li Chang-wu , known as  Li Fei, came from Chang-shan [in modern Ting County, Hopeh]. He was very quick and clever at learning everything from the time of his birth. He was also well read, and very accomplished in letters. Although he heId a good opinion of himself because of his moral standards, he never put on airs. But, having a nice face, he had a pleasant effect on all who met him.

He was best of friends with Ts'ui Hsin from Ch'ing-ho [in modern Hopeh]. Hsin was also a refined gentleman, who notably owned a large collection of antique objects. Because of Chang-wu's quickness and intelligence, Hsin often called on him for discussion and debate. On those occasions, Chang-wu was always able to penetrate beneath the surface meanings and search out the hidden origins of things. His contemporaries compared him to Chang Hua of the Chin.

In the third year of the Chen-yuan reign period (785-804], Ts'ui Hsin was transferred to Hua-chou  [in modern Honan at the city of Cheng-chou] as assistant magistrate, where Chang-wu paid him a visit from Ch'ang-an. After a few days, while he was out strolling along a street in the northern part of the city he saw an extremely beautiful woman. To make an excuse he said to Hsin, "I must visit with some relatives outside of the county." He then went on to take apartments in the home of this fair woman. The master of the house was named Wang, and this was his son's wife. Chang-wu was delighted with her and they engaged in a secret affair.  He stayed there for over a month, spending upwards of thirty thousand, the girl's contribution doubling that amount. Their two hearts became coupled in harmony; their happiness was complete.

Not long after, some business came up and Chang-wu was called back to Ch'ang-an.  Tenderly, they took leave of one another.  Chang-wu gave her a bolt of silk depicting "mandarin ducks with necks entwined" in its weave, and presented a poem which went:

The duck and drake silk,
Who knows from how many threads it’s woven?
After parting, when we see to be re-entwined in love,
We will long for the time before we parted.

The girl gave him in return one white jade finger-ring and also presented him with a poem which went:

Twisting the finger-ring, thinking of the other;
Seeing the ring will strengthen your thoughts of me.
I wish you forever to fondle it,
Following the ring around without end.

Chang-wu had a servant named Yang Kuo. The son's wife gave him a thousand in cash as a reward for his diligence in serving his master.

They parted and eight or nine years went by. Chang-wu's home was in Ch'ang-an, so he had no means to communicate with her.  In the eleventh year of the Chen-yuan reign period, since his friend Chang Yuan-tsung lived in Hsia-kuei County [neighboring Hua-chou], Chang-wu again went from the capital to visit Yuan. Struck with thoughts of former joys, he turned his carriage across the Wei River to ask after the girl. It was dark when he got to Hua-chou. He planned to stay at the Wang family’s rooming house, but when he got to the gate it was desolate. There were only benches outside for guests. Chang-wu could only imagine that they had passed away, or had given up their trade for farming and moved to the country. Or perhaps they had simply been invited to some relatives' for a gathering from which they had yet to return. So he rested for a moment at their gate, thinking of looking for other lodgings. Then he saw a woman, their neighbor to the east, and went over to speak to her.

"The elders of the Wang family have gathered up all their affairs and set out traveling. The son's wife has been dead for two whole years," she said.

After going into more detail, she said, “My surname is Yang, the sixth born. I am the wife of their eastern neighbor. . . .  what is the gentleman’s surname?”

Chang-wu informed her.

“Did you have a servant by the name of Yang? Yang Kuo, wasn’t it?” she inquired again.

He said he did. This caused her to burst into tears, saying, "Since my marriage, I have been in this neighborhood for five years. I was close to Madame Wang. She would often say, 'My husband's residence is really like an official post station. I've seen a lot of men pass through. Many have tried to flirt with me, always throwing their money around - giving me sweet talk and vows. But I would never be moved. Then some years ago there was a refined Mr. Li who stayed for a while in our house. When I first saw him, I lost myself to him unwittingly. Afterwards I secretly served by his pillow and mat, and truly experienced blissful love. Now I have been parted with him for several years. With my heart longing I have been able neither to eat all day nor sleep all night. I have been led all over by my husband, so I would not be able to see him even if he were to return. Since I cannot trust the others in my family, I ask you to seek his identity by appearance and name if he should come. If he comes close to the description, I bid you serve him respectfully and reveal to him my feelings. If there is a servant by the name of Yang Kuo, then it surely is he.'”

"Before two or three years had passed, as the girl lay ill on her death bed, she reiterated her commission, saying, 'I am of a humble position, but I was fortunate enough to receive the gentleman's affection. I have long yearned for him, and now I have become ill. It is doubtful that I will be cured. About my former request: if by chance he should come here I wish you to convey my grief held even in death, and the remorse of this eternal parting.  Beg him to stop here so that our spirits may meet in the world of shadows. '"

Chang-wu then entreated the woman to open the gate. He ordered his servants to buy fodder and foodstuffs. Just as he was about to lay out his bedroll, a woman carrying a broom came out of the house to sweep the ground. She was unknown even to the neighbor's wife. The report from one of Chang-wu's servants was that she said she was someone from the house. He then pressed her with questions himself.

“The dead woman of the Wang family feels the depth of your love,” she said slowly in reply. She would like to meet with you, but she was afraid that the living would be frightened, so she has sent me ahed to let you know.”

"This is exactly the reason I have come here,” replied Chang-wu. "Even though the light and the dark are two different roads and men are properly afraid, feelings of longing get through. Of this I really have no doubt." His statement finished, the woman carrying the broom departed joyfully. Presently, she opened the door, not to be seen again.

Food and drink were prepared and the sacrifices brought out. After taking the meal by himself, Chang-wu went to bed. The light which was to the southeast of the bed suddenly flickered at about the second watch [9-11 p.m.]. This occurred two or three times. Chang-wu knew something strange was taking place. He ordered the candle moved to the further end of the wall, the southeast corner of the room, whereupon he heard a stirring in the northern corner. What seemed like a human form gradually appeared. As the form advanced five or six paces, one could make out its face and see its clothes. It was the wife of the proprietor's son. There was nothing different from her previous appearance; only her movements seemed lighter and quicker and her voice softer and more clear.

Chang-wu got down from the bed and took her in his arms. It was truly the joy of a lifetime.

"Ever since I have been on the register of the dead I have forgotten all of my relations," she said. “But my heart is tied to you as it was before."

Chang-wu made love to her with extra tenderness, and nothing seemed different; only she would constantly ask someone to look for the Morning Star. When it appeared, she would be able to linger no longer, but would have to leave. Between their moments of love, she commended the neighbor woman, Yang-shih, saying with gratitude, "Without this person, who would have conveyed my deep grief?"

When it came to the fifth watch [3-5 a.m.] someone said it was time for her to return. The girl tearfully got down from the bed and went out the gate arm in arm with Chang-wu. They gazed up at the Milky Way and she began to sob in her grief. She went back into the house where she unfastened an embroidered purse which was on the sash of her skirt. From the bag she took an object and presented it to Chang-wu.  It had the blue-green color of the heavens; it was hard and fine. It was cold like jade and shaped like a small leaf.

Chang-wu didn’t recognize it. The girl said, “This is called the Mo-ho jewel. It comes from the Mystery Garden of the K’un-lun Mountains and is not come by easily even there. I was recently lolling on the Western Summit with the Lady Goddess of Jade City when I saw this thing on top of a mound of jewels. I was enchanted and aked her about it. The Lady Goddess then took it and gave it to me, saying, ‘Whenever  the immortals of the Celestial Caves find this gem, they all consider it glorious.’ Since you are acquainted with esoteric ways and have a knowledge of fine things, I present it to you. You must cherish it forever. There is nothing like it in the human world.”

Then she presented him with a poem which went:

The Milky Way is already sloping down;
The spirits have to make their crossing.
I wish you to return and embrace me once more.
Till the end of heaven we will hereafter be parted.

Chang-wu took a white jade jeweled hairpin to requite her and matched her poem with a reply which went:

It is destiny that the obscure and the clear be separate;
Who can say if there will ever be a fair reunion?
I bid you farewell, for parted we must be.
Yet I lament: for what place are you bound?

They clung to each other and wept for a while. Then the girl presented another poem:

Before when we parted, we longed for another meeting;
Now when we part it will be until the end of heaven.
The new sorrow together with the old grieving,
Are forever bound in the reaches of the deep underworld.

Chang-wu answered her:

Another meeting cannot be expected, forever and ever;
By our former grief we have already sought each other out.
Along the road of our parting there will be no travel or news.
By what means shall I convey my heart’s love?

Their hearts spoken and their parting complete, she crossed over to the northwest corner. She took a few steps and turned around again to look at him.

“Master Li, don’t suppress your thoughts of this person from the underworld,” she said, wiping away her tears. Then she stood transfixed in her sobs again.

But seeing that the sky was about tot lighten, she hastened to the corner, and that was the last she was seen. The empty room was left with a vacant feeling; only the cold lamp flickered, nearly burning out.

Chang-wu hurriedly packed and left Hsia-kuei Prefecture to return to Wu-ting village in Ch’ang-an. The prefect of Hisa-kuei and a certain Chang Yüan-tsung drank wine and feasted with him. After they had all had a fair amount of drink, Chang-wu, caught up in his own thoughts, composed a poem to commemorate the events. The poem went:

As the rivers do not flow back west, nor does the moon remain full,
They cause a man to lament upon the ancient city wall;
In the desolate morning light we shall part at the forked road,
Not knowing how many years will pass before we meet again.

Having chanted the poem, he parted with the prefect and other officials. He traveled for a few miles alone and along the way started to compose and chant poems again to vent his feelings. He suddenly heard a sigh of appreciation in the air. It was a tone strained with melancholy. He listened more carefully. It was none other than the wife of Mr. Wang's son.

"In the world of darkness we have our alotted area of movement," she was heard saying. "After we part from this time, there will never be a day when there can be intercourse. I knew of your caring thoughts, and so I braved the guards of the underworld to come from afar and bid you farewell. Take care of yourself always.” Chang-wu felt for her even more than before.

When he got back to Ch’ang-an he spoke of all this with his comrade in the study of the Tao, Li Tsu of Lung-hsi  [in modern Kansu]. Li was movd by the sincerity of his feelings nad composed a poem:

The pebbles have sunk into the vastness of the ocean,
The man with the sword is parted by the breadth of the heavens.
You know there will be no day of reunion;
The sorrow of a torn heart; the sadness of the setting sun.

Chang-wu by now was working for the provincial governor at Tung-p’ing [modern Yün-cheng in Shantung]. Making use of his leisure, he asked a jeweler to look at the Mo-ho gem he had received. The jeweler knew nothing about it and dared not cut it. Later he was sent to Ta-liang [i.e., K’ai-feng, in modern Honan] on a mission, where he again called upon a jeweler, who this time was able to make something of it. Following its natural shape, he cut it into the likeness of a dentate oak leaf. Whenever he was sent to the capital, he kept this jewel close to his breast.

Once he was on a street in the eastern part of the city when he chanced to see a Buddhist monk of foreign origin who suddenly approached his horse and bowed.

“The gentleman has a precious gem upon his breast,” he said. “Might I beg to see it?”

He led Li to a quiet spot where it was brought out for inspection. The monk turned it over for a bit and said, “This is a most precious thing which comes from Heaven. It is not to be found in the world of men.”

Whenever Chang-wu passed through Hua-chou, he called on Yang-shih. He does so to this day.

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