Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
Chapter 3

IN TOWN, HU CHU BOTHERS A VIRTUOUS WIFE

WHILE IN THE FOREST ZHAO THE ELDEST TRACKS A FOX


Sudden magic changes are so many and so vast
But for ghostly transformations the fox is unsurpassed

If false Buddhas and fake dieties have for so long survived
Why worry whether Holy Auntie's real or contrived?


It is said that there have been many instances of transformations among living things, such as a black fish becoming a man, a white snail becoming a beautiful woman, a tiger changing into a monk or an old woman, a cow becoming a king, a panther turning into a general, a dog being tranformed into its master, a deer becoming a Daoist priest or a wolf changing into a young child. The examples in novels and other literature are innumerable. Now among the beasts the apes have the highest spiritual character, but among all creatures none can change forms more freely than the fox, and there are many records by which to prove this. The fox, for all appearances, has an angular mouth and a pointed nose; his head is small and his tail large, and his fur is yellowish. And among them are black as well as white varieties, and what's more they can live for many years and change colors.


According to an account in the "Xuan Zhong Ji": At fifty years of age the fox can turn into a human; at a hundred it can know something a thousand miles away; at a thousand years it can communicate with Heaven. Such a creature is then beyond man's control and is known as the "Celestial Fox". It is expert at deception and seduction, and it has countless varieties and transformations.


As a result, from antiquity to the present there have been many comparisons between foxes and folks; for example we call a bewitchingly charming and flirtatious woman a "fox" or "foxy", as we do a sly or dishonest individual. Worries are also said to be "foxy" feelings, and a gang of friends a "pack of foxes." Now dear reader, let's get back to the "foxy" charms of a woman. Generally speaking if a vixen wishes to lure a human male she need only change into a beautiful, charming woman. And if the male fox wishes to seduce a woman he need only change into a handsome man. Both of these metamorphoses require that Yin and Yang seminal and blood vital forces be stolen from the target manifestation. And whatever kind of magic changes you can dream of, the fox has the ability to perform these and more from birth. For example, if a vixen wants to become a woman she must use the skull and bones of a dead human female, and if a male fox wishes to change into a man he must use the bones and skull of a dead man. In either case it must place these upon its head and body and then worship the moon. If the desired change is not possible at the time the skull will tumble down knockety-knock. But if it stays firmly in place, well, then after finishing forty-nine incantations and bows the creature will change on the spot into the form of a man or woman, and will then gather some leaves and flower petals with which to cover its body. These in turn change into fashionable clothes of five colors. Once a person has seen its beauty and its elegant dress, he or she will fall head over heels for the siren or handsome dandy. And except for the most righteous of wives and upright of husbands, ninety-five out of a hundred people will go for its charms. That is why we speak of a strong attraction or beauty as being "foxy".


Not only can the fox do all this, but when it meets a bonze it can become a Buddha, and upon encountering a Daoist it can impersonate an Immortal; it can then persuade folks to worship and sacrifice to it. Accordingly, the Tang Dynasty had accounts of a "Fox God" to which every family sacrificed and which none dared offend. At that time folks said that "without a Fox God there can be no village". This was commonplace wisdom down through the Five Dynasties, and and it is not yet extinct even today. A poem says:


If so much in the world is sham all through
Why believe that the tale of the fox is true?

If folks didn't walk on falsehood's path
Foxes wouldn't be spared from Heaven's wrath.


Now it is said that at the beginning of the Xianping Reign Era of the Great Song Dynasty, the Emperor Zhenzong mounted the throne. At that time the land was at peace and the people prospered; need I say more? And it is said that in Citong Village of Ande District, Western Sichuan, there lived a hunter called Zhao Yi. He was from a once-powerful family, now down on its fortunes. Now, this Zhao Yi had a wife surnamed Qian, the daughter of Squire Qian of that district; she was only twenty-two years of age and very beautiful. Zhao Yi earned a sort of livelihood by hunting, while this Qian woman stayed home in their reed cabin, taking in sewing to help them survive. Who would ever imagine that one day, when going out to draw water, she would be spotted by the sorcerer fox, that the beast's vile heart would be moved and that it would then seek to seduce her? And who would think that it would change into a handsome Xiucai degree holder, wearing such impeccable clothes and only waiting every day for her husband to leave? Who would have thought that a fox so transformed would then go to their door, perhaps sitting or maybe standing, possibly pretending to be hungry or thirsty and begging for some gruel or water, all the time only seeking to lure her into speaking? Or that try as it did to force out some charming words, that wife would remain as hard as stone, entirely unmovable, and that because of this he could not lure her to the kang and take her? Now our hunter Zhao spotted this Xiucai on the doorpath for two days in a row, and, suspicious, asked the stranger his name. The Xiucai said his name was Hu Chu, that he had studied in his home village and for now had wandered to this place. Zhao Yi had the mind to visit his hometown and check up on him, and finding that no such person had ever lived there his doubts increased.


Suddenly one day, when the wife Qian went to do up her hair, she was unable to find one of her silver hairpins. She looked in her sleeves, her blouse, her wicker hamper and trunk, her jewelry box and in her bedding, and was unable to find it anywhere. She even looked in the small mousehole at the foot of the wall which was illuminated by lamplight, but not a trace was to be found. But around noontime, when her boiling rice was ready, there was the pin, sticking straight up out of the center of the rice! And when she picked it up for a look, she that, stranger yet, the pin was still cold after having been submerged in the rolling, boiling depths of the pot! Now, the woman Qian, fearing that her husband would never believe this, concealed the event and never brought it up. Then on another day she arose rather early and went directly to put on her embroidered slippers, but could not find one of them. Zhao Yi suggested that perhaps the cat had carried it off, and told her to wear another. Now, later that day he went out for a while and came right back, pulling an embroidered slipper from his sleeve.


"Could this be yours?" he asked her. His wife said that it was, and asked where he had found it.

,br>

"It was hanging in a pomegranit tree more than three li from here," answered Zhao Yi; "now isn't that strange?" So at last the woman Qian felt brave enough to tell her husband about the silver hairpin.


"Folks say," answered Zhao, "that if we ignore ghosts they'll destroy themselves. It's best to pay it no mind." And from that point on there was no end of strange happenings around the Zhao household, although no harm occurred. Whatever outrageous things happened, the couple simply ignored them. After awhile they became accustomed to all of this, and it passed out of their minds.


At this time the ninth day of the ninth lunar month was approaching, and with it the Chong Yang Festival, a time for mountain climbing and hiking. The wind was brisk and the grass dry; this was indeed bow-hunting season, too. Zhao Yi and his hunting pals drove forth their falcons and hounds, slung their bows and quivers over their shoulders, each taking up his customary and favorite hunting tools, and went forth from Coffinwood Pass Village to go hunting in the mountains. Just look at this poem:


Reckless fools and braggarts they
Who'd with one shaft two eagles slay.

Or have one man kill a tiger pair
How sad are the wounded prey so fair!

But they're only beasts of land and sky
That suffer so before they die

The blood and gore may be a bit much
But it's nothing to one with a hunter's touch.

With never a thought to make amends
But then, they're only our furry friends.

Proud falcons and dogs follow masters vain
With knives and pikes to inflict such pain.

Each such a feeling of pride receives
But most folks see them as small-time thieves!


Zhao Yi and his mates all spread out for the hunt, and by evening they had bagged a few roe, deer, rabbits and things of this sort, and divided them up fairly. Suddenly, as they were about to return, a pack of badgers scurried out of a nearby ravine. The gang of hunters shouted out in surprise.


"Well," exclaimed one, we've all boasted about out kills, now let's have a go at those badgers, and cheers to the first man to get one!"


"Right you are!" answered Zhao Yi. After telling a few novices to guard the falcons and dogs, Zhao Yi picked up a forked steel shaft and leapt away, as did five or six other stout men bearing spears and staffs. The pack of badgers were almost caught up with when they scattered, and the hunters split up in individual pursuit. Zhao Yi set his sight on a very large animal and chased it with all his strength, but after two or three li the beast was already out of sight. But he wouldn't quit, and when he scurried up some high ground for a look he saw that the badger was in the wild grass at the foot of the next hill, scampering about seeking some hole to dive into. Zhao again went all out in pursuit, but after chasing around several hillocks he found tthat the beast was gone. There was only a deer with large antlers eating wild grass in a hollow, and when it spotted a man it ran away.


"Well," thought Zhao, "I couldn't get the badger but if I can bag this deer I can still have something to show and conceal this embarrassment!" He hurriedly tore off his jacket, tied it around his waist and tore off up the hill in pursuit, but the deer was not to be found. There was only the burbling of a small brook, and, his throat dry after the chase, he really wanted a drink. Searching for the site of the small creek, he found some brackinsh water in a small clearing. So following the direction of the sound's source he climbed and searched, again traveling a short distance before arriving at an exhiliaratingly pure cold stream in the midst of a mountain ravine, that poured forth a beaded curtain of sparkling drops like pearls. To one side was a deep pool, and it was entirely lined with stones; its sparkling purety ran deep. Zhao Yi cast down his forked staff and cupped his hands, then scooped up and quaffed a few mouthfuls of water, finally satisfying himself. Then, his weary eyes seeing that the sky had taken on the appearance of dusk, he picked up his hunting staff, turned and left. But he hadn't realized that he had covered over twenty li in this chase, and, this being the eight day of the ninth lunar month, the light of day was now receeding and a crescent moon was already visible.


And so having come on an impulse he left on a note of disappointment, plodding on wearily. But before he had trudged a couple of li he spotted some moving shadows in the moonlight, far off in a grove. And when he stood on his toes for a better look he saw that it was really a fox, wearing the skull of a man on its head and kowtowing continuously under the moon!


"How strange," whispered Zhao, "I've often heard folks say that the fox can transform itself....perhaps this is how the vile beast does it! I'll watch and see what happens..." And so he looked on while the fox bowed in worship several times, and, by and by, he witnessed the form of a handsome young man, no different from the Xiucai he had previously met. "So it is!" exclaimed Zhao Yi. And, without any great hatred, he lightly cast down his grappling staff, picked up his bow and dressed it with an arrow. Pulled back to the bow's limit, the shaft flew off with great velocity, and seeing it streaking right toward its prey Zhao cried: "zhaaa....!" As usual, an ambush proved more effective than a fair fight in the clear; our hunter Zhao had indeed struck the demon's left leg! The creature let out a cry, cast off the skull, changed back into a fox and ran off with the arrow embedded in its haunch. Now Zhao Yi, because it was late and due to his understandable fright, shook with cold shivers and didn't dare give chase. He shouldered his bow, flung out his cloth jacket and put it on, lifted his hunting spear and flew off, returning along his original path.


By now the other hunters had gone into the village, bought some wine, cooked their game and sat in a circle in a mat shelter at the foot of the mountain, awaiting news of Zhao Yi.


"Old Zhao is certainly capable of a fine chase," said one, "I'm sure he's bagged one!"


"Hah," laughed another, "two legs chasing four, it ain't all that certain!"


"Zhao the Eldest has always been a first class hunter," shouted one of them.


"But this time he hasn't come back!" exclaimed yet another; "perhaps it turned out that he couldn't catch the badger and got himself lost, or even that the tables were turned and he himself is right now being chased around the countryside by the little beast!" At this point they all had a good laugh. Then in the flash of an eye one of them pointed and the circle fell silent; "isn't that him coming now?" he asked in expectation. The entire gang came forth from the shanty to greet him, but they saw only an empty-handed and ashen-faced Zhao the Eldest returning.


"We've managed to bag two of the badgers and we've already cooked them up!" they shouted; how is it that you, brother Zhao, have been out so long?"


"Well," explained Zhao Yi, "I couldn't catch up with the badger but I've run into a really bizarre thing that has, oddly enough, taken a big load off of my mind!" Thereupon he told of his shooting the fox demon which had transformed itself by worshipping the moon, and of what all he had seen; his mates were, of course, stunned, not knowing what to think.


"Elder brother dares say he's driven all the evils away from there," said one; "if that's indeed the case we congratulate you!" But among them were skeptics who mumbled on about how Zhao Yi had merely concocted this ghastly story to conceal his not having caught a badger. But there was also an older man among them, who counseled should be believed, at least for the time being, and who refused to dismiss it outright. He led Zhao Yi by the sleeve back into the grass shack, poured a big bowl of wine and gave it to him, coaxing more weird details of the fox story out of him for all outside to hear.


"My arrow," declared the excited Zhao the Eldest, "struck him right in the butt and he whelped and ran off. I think that tomorrow we can all go and track it to its lair, and I reckon there are more than one or two; we'll drag them all out, skin them and make jackets to pass the winter in!"


"If it works out like that," answered the others, "and there is some proof, then there's nothing more to say and we'll all treat you to wine and meat. But if it there is nothing and it turns out you've lied to us, we'll be your guests when you act as host of the century!"


Zhao Yi consented and there in the night had a bite to eat. Then they each took some of the meat and went home.


When Zhao Yi arrived home he told his wife of what had transpired. She gave her spoken consent to the plan, but was still not entirely at ease. Zhao went without sleep all night. Anxiously awaiting the dawn, he jumped to his feet at some sound but heard only wild rustling of wind through the leaves in front of his door. "Today is the ninth of the month," he thought, "the chrysanthemum and mountain climbing festival, and the seasonal wind is starting up." And when he pushed aside the sliding window he saw only curly, dark rainclouds, laden with water like so many twisted, soaked grey rags. waiting for some giant hand to wring them.


"It's going to rain," he said anxiously; "if I take advantage of these last moments before it starts I can lead the entire gang on this hunt and still be back before breakfast!" Then he hurriedly washed and groomed himself, put on a cloth coat and left. But when he got to the homes of his neighbors and knocked on their doors, each was still in bed, tossing about. At one house he waited for a little water to be prepared, at another for his friend to eat a little something, and so on, wasting much time. This all made Zhao Yi even more impatient, until finally the whole sky opened up with rain. At first he hoped it would soon stop. "It won't matter, it won't matter at all," he assured himself. Buit after awhile it it really began to come down, making it impossible for the mission to be completed as planned. The only thing to do was return home, have breakfast and sit there in his thatched straw cottage, staring dumbly at the rainy sky with his hollow eyes. And the rain fell from morning until night even the briefest pause. There is a poem about bitter rain that tells it well:


Rain oh rain, why your silly showers?
Good but for farmers and watering flowers

Or maybe the bath and the brewing of tea
Running off of the roof for me to see.

Drops large and small make twisted ropes
Of children's fears and broken hopes

Bringing boredom unto me
As you can no doubt see.

Into a cave an active man you force
Like tying up Qianlima, the thousand mile horse

Oh Son of Heaven in palace high
Where do you play under rainy sky?

God of Wind why do you refuse so fast
To unleash your clearing blast?

Oh God of Rain what's all this for?
To make the world but curse you more?

Rain if you wish without a break
And I won't another comment make.

But even you will reach your end
And then the leaden clouds will rend

Oh can't you take your rags and mop
And make this raining quickly stop?


Now Zhao Yi simply couldn't bear being unable to take a bamboo pole hundreds of thousands of feet in length, push aside the clouds and let the red, round sun shine through! And how he regretted that he couldn't climb up to heaven carrying tens of thousands of rags and wipe up all of the soaking wet clouds in the sky until not a drop remained! His wife was puzzled upon seeing him so listless at dinner so she procured two bottles of fine wine, heated them up and brought them, with their fine, wild aroma, for him to drink. Zhao Yi then became suddenly very drunk, and without removing his shoes or socks fell unconscious onto the kang. It was not until the drumming of the fourth watch, sometime between one and three o'clock in the morning of the next day, that he finally awakened. Raising his head, there was no rain to be heard and he presumed it was clear outside. Then after passing another two-hour watch in bed the window became somewhat illuminated. And when he went to look at the sky it was still dark, but the rain had indeed stopped. "Those sleepy-headed neighbors of mine are certainly still asleep," he thought; "I can eat breakfast and still not miss them." So he hurriedly woke his wife and had her boil water for washing, and told her to arrange breakfast. But after eating and going out of doors he saw that a fine, misty drizzle was falling out of the murky overcast. "This dog-hair drizzle can't even dampen clothes," he thought, optimistically; "what's there to be afraid of?" Walking a few steps and finding it muddy underfoot, he returned to change his socks and put on a pair of waxed shoes. But when he went forth to collect his neighbors from their warm beds, each was unwilling to move.


"What's so important," answered one, "for us to go mucking aimlessly around the countryside? If there's really a wild fox out there that was shot by you, by this time it's got quite a welt! Where could it go in this weather with an arrow in its behind? What's the hurry?"


Realizing that he could not go out, he was sad and edgy throughout the next night. But the third day dawned clear and bright.


"Today," said Zhao, "they'll have no excuse!" So he went to his mates' homes to announce his intentions, and, after returning home for breakfast, set off to drag them out of doors. Now, there were a few old hands who wouldn't go along.


"It may not be wet underfoot," said one, "but it sure ain't dry either! We'll let you young ones go."


"We're off with elder brother to catch a fox spirit," said another, "talk to you when we get back!" Walking together were over twenty men, each armed for the hunt. Zhao Yi led the way, winding to and fro, passing quite a few hillocks and making the group impatient, until they finally came upon the grove. Thereupon the entire place was searched and not a half drop of blood was to be found, for it had all been washed away by two day's heavy rain. Zhao the Elder explained it roughly this way too, but the gang were unable to believe him.


"The branches overhead form a cover," said one, "and the rain could never wash it that clean. Even if the bloody trail had been washed away there would still be a burrow nearby, but there isn't a trace of one!" Still, Zhao led them on, nonsensically searching the forest for half a day.


"Phooey!" exclaimed one of the group; "We won't go along any longer on this weird hunt! Let's go back and have you treat us to a feast!"

Click here to continue to conclusion of Chapt 3 Table of Contents
Return to Homepage