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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Who understood the art of planchette


The story is intended as a satire upon Chinese doctors generally, whose ranks are recruited from the swarms of half-educated candidates who have been rejected at the great competitive examinations, medical diplomas being quite unknown in China. Doctors' fees are, by a pleasant fiction, called "horse-money;" and all prescriptions are made up by the local apothecary, never by the physician himself.



On the 6th day of the 7th moon[280] of the year Ting-Hai (1647) there was a heavy fall of snow at Soochow. The people were in a great state of consternation at this, and went off to the temple of the Great Prince[281] to pray. Then the spirit moved one of them to say, "You now address me as _Your Honour_. Make it _Your Excellency_, and, though I am but a lesser deity, it may be well worth your while to do so." Thereupon the people began to use the latter term, and the snow stopped at once; from which I infer that flattery is just as pleasant to divine as to mortal ears.[282]


[280] This would be exactly at the hottest season.

[281] The _Jupiter Pluvius_ of the neighbourhood.

[282] A sneer at the superstitious custom of praying for good or bad weather, which obtains in China

from the Son of Heaven himself down to the lowest agriculturist whose interests are involved. Droughts, floods, famines, and pestilences, are alike set down to the anger of Heaven, to be appeased only by prayer and repentance.



At Ch'ang-shan there lived a man, named Wang Jui-t'ing, who understood the art of planchette. He called himself a disciple of Lue Tung-pin,[284] and some one said he was probably that worthy's crane. At his _seances_ 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 Chi-nan, 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.[285] 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.[286] 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 yamen, and have found

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