Author: Translated by Yang Hsien-Yi And Gladys Yang
About: The ten stories in this collection can be divided into three main
categories: stories of the supernatural, stories with a political theme
or adventure stories, and love stories.
Supernatural events form the theme of most of the earliest stories.
China had always been rich in mythology, and, after the introduction of
Buddhism into the country, tales of ghosts and spirits became even more
popular, so that during the Six Dynasties we find a great number of
such tales. The earliest Tang story, An Ancient Mirror, is made
up of a number of supernatural tales about an old bronze mirror. Ren
the Fox Fairy, The Dragon King's Daughter and The Spendthrift
and the Alchemist all belong to this category. They differ,
however, from earlier stories of the same type in having more closely
knit plots and more colourful detail, being, in fact, consummate works
of art imbued with all the vitality of their age.
He was back again on the appointed day bringing with him the strong
liquor, hemp and dogs. “The monster is a great drinker,” the women told
him, “and likes to drink himself silly. When he is drunk he always
wants to test his strength, and tells us to fasten his arms and legs
with silken ropes as he lies on the couch. Then he frees himself with
one leap. But once we twisted three ropes together, and he couldn't
break them. Now if we twist hemp inside the silk, we are sure he will
never be able to snap it. His whole body is like iron, but he
invariably protects those few inches under his navel; this must be his
vulnerable spot.” Then, pointing to a nearby precipice, they said,
“That is where he stores his food. You can conceal yourselves there.
Keep quiet and wait. Put the wine by the flowers and the dogs in the
forest. If our plan works we shall call you.”
Ouyang and his men did as they were told, and waited with bated
breath. Late in the afternoon, something like a streamer of white silk
flew down from the top of a distant hill straight into the cave, and in
a little while a six-foot man with a fine beard came out. Dressed in
white, with a stick in his hand, he was attended by the women. He gave
a start at the sight of the dogs, then leaped at them, seized them and
tore them limb from limb, eating greedily until he was sated. The women
offered him drinks in jade cups, and together they joked and laughed
gaily. After he had drunk several pints of wine, the women helped him
in, and sounds of fun and merriment could be heard.
After a long time, the women came out to summon the men, who went in
carrying their weapons. They saw a huge white monkey fastened by its
four paws on the couch. At the sight of the men it recoiled and
struggled in vain to release itself, and its furious eyes flickered
like lightning. Ouyang and his men fell on it, only to find its body
like iron or stone.
But when they stabbed at its belly under the navel, their swords sank
in and red blood spurted out. The white monkey gave a long sigh and
said to Ouyang, “This must be the will of heaven — for otherwise you
would not have been able to kill me. Your wife has conceived. Don't
kill the child born to her, for he will grow up to serve a great
monarch and your family will prosper.” With these words he died.
They searched through his possessions, and found stores of precious
things as well as an abundance of rare food on the tables. Every
treasure known to man was there, including several gallons of rare
scents and a pair of finely wrought swords. The thirty-odd women were
all exquisite beauties, some of whom had been there for ten years. They
said that when women grew old they were taken away, to what fate no one
knew. The white monkey was the only one to enjoy these women, for he
had no followers.
Every morning the monkey would wash and put on a hat, a white collar
and a white silk dress, wearing the same in winter and summer alike. He
had white fur several inches long. When he stayed at home he would read
wooden tablets inscribed with hieroglyphics which no one else could
decipher; and after he had finished reading he would put the tablets
under a stone step. On a clear day he might practise sword play, and
then the two swords would encircle him like flashes of lightning making
a moon-like halo round him. He ate all manner of things, particularly
nuts, and was also very partial to dogs, whose blood he loved to drink.
At noon he would fly off to travel thousands of miles in half a day,
coming back at night. Such was his custom.
Whenever something caught his fancy, he would not rest till it was
his. At night he forwent sleep to gambol through all the beds, enjoying
the women in turn. He could chatter away and discourse eloquently too,
despite his simian form.
One early autumn day that year when leaves were beginning to fall,
the white monkey had seemed in low spirits and said, “I have been
accused by the mountain deities and condemned to death. But if I
solicit the aid of other spirits, perhaps I shall escape.” Just after
the full moon, a fire sprang up under the stone step and burned his
tablets. “I have lived a thousand years but never had a child,” he said
despondently. “Now this woman is with child, it means my death is
near.” Running his eyes over the women, he wept for a while. “This
mountain is secluded and steep, and no man has set foot here before,”
he went on. “Looking down from the peaks I have seen packs of wolves
with tigers and other wild beasts at the foot of the mountain, while
not even a woodcutter has appeared on the heights. If it were not the
will of heaven, how could men have come here?”