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AT Ch‘angshan there lived a man, named Wang Juit‘ing, who understood the art of planchette. He called himself a disciple of Lü Tungpin, and some one said he was probably that worthy’s crane. At his séances the subjects were always literary—essays, poetry, and so on. The well-known scholar, Li Chih, thought very highly of him, and availed himself of his aid on more than one occasion; so that by degrees the literati generally also patronized him. His responses to questions of doubt or difficulty were remarkable for their reasonableness; matters of mere good or bad fortune he did not care to enter into. In 1631, just after the examination at Chinan, a number of the candidates requested Mr. Wang to tell them how they would stand on the list; and, after having examined their essays, he proceeded to pass his opinion on their merits. Among the rest there happened to be one who was very intimate with another candidate, not present, whose name was Li Pien; and who, being an enthusiastic student and a deep thinker, was confidently expected to appear among the successful few. Accordingly, the friend submitted Mr. Li’s essay for inspection; and in a few minutes two characters appeared on the sand—namely, “Number one.” After a short interval this sentence followed:—“The decision given just now had reference to Mr. Li’s essay simply as an essay. Mr. Li’s destiny is darkly obscured, and he will suffer accordingly. It is strange, indeed, that a man’s literary powers and his destiny should thus be out of harmony. Surely the Examiner will judge of him by his essay;—but stay: I will go and see how matters stand.” Another pause ensued, and then these words were written down:—“I have been over to the Examiner’s yamên, and have found a pretty state of things going on; instead of reading the candidates’ papers himself, he has handed them over to his clerks, some half dozen illiterate fellows who purchased their own degrees, and who, in their previous existence, had no status whatever,—‘hungry devils’ begging their bread in all directions; and who, after eight hundred years passed in the murky gloom of the infernal regions, have lost all discrimination, like men long buried in a cave and suddenly transferred to the light of day. Among them may be one or two who have risen above their former selves, but the odds are against an essay falling into the hands of one of these.” The young men then begged to know if there was any method by which such an evil might be counteracted; to which the planchette replied that there was, but, as it was universally understood, there was no occasion for asking the question. Thereupon they went off and told Mr. Li, who was so much distressed at the prediction that he submitted his essay to His Excellency Sun Tzŭmei, one of the finest scholars of the day. This gentleman examined it, and was so pleased with its literary merit that he told Li he was quite sure to pass, and the latter thought no more about the planchette prophecy. However, when the list came out, there he was down in the fourth class; and this so much disconcerted His Excellency Mr. Sun, that he went carefully through the essay again for fear lest any blemishes might have escaped his attention. Then he cried out, “Well, I have always thought this Examiner to be a scholar; he can never have made such a mistake as this; it must be the fault of some of his drunken assistants, who don’t know the mere rudiments of composition.” This fulfilment of the prophecy raised Mr. Wang very high in the estimation of the candidates, who forthwith went and burned incense and invoked the spirit of the planchette, which at once replied in the following terms:—“Let not Mr. Li be disheartened by temporary failure. Let him rather strive to improve himself still further, and next year he may be among the first on the list.” Li carried out these injunctions; and after a time the story reached the ears of the Examiner, who gratified Li by making a public acknowledgment that there had been some miscarriage of justice at the examination; and the following year he was passed high up on the list.




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