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Dr. tseng's dream

THERE was a Fohkien gentleman named Tseng, who had just taken his doctor's degree. One day he was out walking with several other recently-elected doctors, when they heard that at a temple hard by there lived an astrologer, and accordingly the party proceeded thither to get their fortunes told. They went in and sat down, and the astrologer made some very complimentary remarks to Tseng, at which he fanned himself and smiled, saying, "Have I any chance of ever wearing the dragon robes and the jade girdle?" The astrologer immediately put on a serious face, and replied that he would be a Secretary of State during twenty years of national tranquillity. Thereupon Tseng was much pleased, and began to give himself greater airs than ever. A slight rain coming on, they sought shelter in the priest's quarters, where they found an old bonze, with sunken eyes and a big nose, sitting upon a mat. He took no notice of the strangers, who, after having bowed to him, stretched themselves upon the couches to chat, not forgetting to congratulate Tseng upon the destiny which had been foretold him. Tseng, too, seemed to think the thing was a matter of certainty, and mentioned the names of several friends he intended to advance, amongst others the old family butler. Roars of laughter greeted this announcement, mingled with the patter-patter of the increasing rain outside. Tseng then curled himself up for a nap, when suddenly in walked two officials bearing a commission under the Great Seal appointing Tseng to the Grand Secretariat. As soon as Tseng understood their errand, he rushed off at once to pay his respects to the Emperor, who graciously detained him some time in conversation, and then issued instructions that the promotion and dismissal of all officers below the third grade should be vested in Tseng alone. He was next presented with the dragon robes, the jade girdle, and a horse from the imperial stables, after which he performed the ko-tow before His Majesty and took his leave. He then went home, but it was no longer the old home of his youth. Painted beams, carved pillars, and a general profusion of luxury and elegance, made him wonder where on earth he was; until, nervously stroking his beard, he ventured to call out in a low tone. Immediately the responses of numberless attendants echoed through the place like thunder. Presents of costly food were sent to him by all the grandees, and his gate was absolutely blocked up by the crowds of retainers who were constantly coming and going. When Privy Councillors came to see him, he would rush out in haste to receive them; when Under-Secretaries of State visited him, he made them a polite bow; but to all below these he would hardly vouchsafe a word. The Governor of Shansi sent him twelve singing-girls, two of whom, Ni-ni and Fairy he made his favourites. All day long he had nothing to do but find amusment as best he could, until he bethought himself that formerly a man named Wang, had often assisted him with money. Thereupon he memorialized the Throne and obtained official employment for him. Then he recollected that there was another man to whom he owed a long-standing grudge. He at once caused this man who was in the Government service, to be impeached and stripped of his rank and dignities. Thus he squared accounts with both. One day when out in his chair a drunken man bumped against one of his tablet-bearers. Tseng had him seized and sent in to the mayor's yamen, where he died under the bamboo. Owners of land adjoining his would make him a present of the richest portions, fearing the consequences if they did not do so; and thus he became very wealthy, almost on a par with the State itself. By-and-by, Ni-ni and Fairy died, and Tseng was over-whelmed with grief. Suddenly he remembered that in former years he had seen a beautiful girl whom he wished to purchase as a concubine, but want of money had then prevented him from carrying out his intention. Now there was no longer that difficulty; and accordingly he sent off two trusty servants to get the girl by force. In a short time she arrived, when he found that she had grown more beautiful than ever; and so his cup of happiness was full. But years rolled on, and gradually his fellow-officials became estranged, Tseng taking no notice of their behaviour, until at last one of them impeached him to the Throne in a long and bitter memorial. Happily, however, the Emperor still regarded him with favour, and for some time kept the memorial by him unanswered. Then followed a joint memorial from the whole of the Privy Council, including those who had once thronged his doors, and had falsely called him their dear father. The Imperial rescript to this document was "Banishment to Yunnan," his son, who was Governor of P'ing-yang, being also implicated in his guilt. When Tseng heard the news, he was overcome with fear; but an armed guard was already at his gate, and the lictors were forcing their way into his innermost apartments. They tore off his robe and official hat, and bound him and his wife with cords. Then they collected together in the hall his gold, his silver, and bank-notes, to the value of many hundred thousands of taels. His pearls, and jade, and precious stones filled many bushel baskets. His curtains, and screens, and beds, and other articles of furniture were brought out by thousands; while the swaddling-clothes of his infant boy and the shoes of his little girl were lying littered about the steps. It was a sad sight for Tseng; but a worse blow was that of his concubine carried off almost lifeless before his eyes, himself not daring to utter a word. Then all the apartments, store-rooms, and treasuries were sealed up; and, with a volley of curses, the soldiers bade Tseng begone, and proceeded to leave the place, dragging Tseng with them. The husband and wife prayed that they might be allowed some old cart, but this favour was denied them. After about ten li, Tseng's wife could barely walk, her feet being swollen and sore. Tseng helped her along as best he could, but another ten li reduced him to a state of abject fatigue. By-and-by they saw before them a great mountain, the summit of which was lost in the clouds; and, fearing they should be made to ascend it, Tseng and his wife stood still and began to weep. The lictors, however, clamoured round them, and would permit of no rest. The sun was rapidly sinking, and there was no place at hand where they could obtain shelter for the night. So they continued on their weary way until about half-way up the hill, when his wife's strength was quite exhausted, and she sat down by the roadside. Tseng, too, halted to rest in spite of the soldiers and their abuse; but they had hardly stopped a moment before down came a band of robbers upon them, each with a sharp knife in his hand. The soldiers immediately took to their heels, and Tseng fell on his knees before the robbers, saying, "I am a poor criminal going into banishment, and have nothing to give you. I pray you spare my life." But the robbers sternly replied, "We are all the victims of your crimes, and now we want your wicked head." Then Tseng began to revile them, saying, "Dogs! though I am under sentence of banishment, I am still an officer of the State." But the robbers cursed him again, flourishing a sword over his neck, and the next thing he heard was the noise of his own head as it fell with a thud to the ground. At the same instant two devils stepped forward and seized him each by one hand, compelling him to go with them. After a little while they arrived at a great city where there was a hideously ugly king sitting upon a throne judging between good and evil. Tseng crawled before him on his hands and knees to receive sentence, and the king, after turning over a few pages of his register, thundered out "The punishment of a traitor who has brought misfortune on his country: the cauldron of boiling oil!" To this ten thousand devils responded with a cry like a clap of thunder, and one huge monster led Tseng down alongside the cauldron, which was seven feet in height, and surrounded on all sides by blazing fuel, so that it was of a glowing red heat. Tseng shrieked for mercy, but it was all up with him, for the devil seized him by the hair and the small of his back and pitched him headlong in. Down he fell with a splash, and rose and sank with the bubbling of the oil, which ate through his flesh into his very vitals. He longed to die, but death would not come to him. After about half-an-hour's boiling, a devil took him out on a pitchfork and threw him down before the Infernal King, who again consulted his note-book, and said, "You relied on your position to treat others with contumely and injustice, for which you must suffer on the Sword-Hill." Again he was led away by devils to a large hill thickly studded with sharp swords, their points upwards like the shoots of bamboo, with here and there the remains of many miserable wretches who had suffered before him. Tseng again cried for mercy and crouched upon the ground; but a devil bored into him with a poisoned awl until he screamed with pain. He was then seized and flung up high into the air, falling down right on the sword points, to his most frightful agony. This was repeated several times until he was almost hacked to pieces. He was then brought once more before the king, who asked what was the amount of his peculations while on earth. Immediately an accountant came forward with an abacus, and said that the whole sum was 3,210,000 taels, where upon the king replied, "Let him drink that amount." Forthwith the devils piled up a great heap of gold and silver, and, when they had melted it in a huge crucible, began pouring it into Tseng's mouth. The pain was excruciating as the molten metal ran down his throat into his vitals; but since in life he had never been able to get enough of the dross, it was determined he should feel no lack of it then. He was half-a-day drinking it, and then the king ordered him away to be born again as a woman in Kan-chou. A few steps brought them to a huge frame, where on an iron axle revolved a mighty wheel many hundred yojanas in circumference, and shining with a brilliant light. The devils flogged Tseng on to the wheel, and he shut his eyes as he stepped up. Then whiz and away he went, feet foremost, round with the wheel, until he felt himself tumble off and a cold thrill ran through him, when he opened his eyes and found he was changed into a girl. He saw his father and mother in rags and tatters, and in one corner a beggar's bowl and a staff, and understood the calamity that had befallen him. Day after day he begged about the streets, and his inside rumbled for want of food; he had no clothes to his back. At four-teen years of age he was sold to a gentleman as concubine; and then, though food and clothes were not wanting, he had to put up with the scoldings and floggings of the wife, who one day burnt him with a hot iron.  Luckily the gentleman took a fancy to him and treated him well, which kindness Tseng repaid by an irreproachable fidelity. It happened, however, that on one occasion when they were chatting together, burglars broke into the house and killed the gentleman, Tseng having escaped by hiding himself under the bed. There-upon he was immediately charged by the wife with murder, and on being taken before the authorities was sentenced to die the "lingering death." This sentence was at once carried out with tortures more horrible than any in all the Courts of Purgatory, in the middle of which Tseng heard one of his companions call out " Hullo, there! you've got the night-mare." Tseng got up and rubbed his eyes, and his friends said, "It's quite late in the day, and we're all very hungry." But the old priest smiled, and asked him if the prophecy as to his future rank was true or not. Tseng bowed and begged him to explain; whereupon the old priest said, "For those who cultivate virtue, a lily will grow up even in the fiery pit." Tseng had gone thither full of pride and vainglory; he went home an altered man. From that day he thought no more of becoming a Secretary of State, but retired into the hills, and I know not what became of him after that.


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