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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Confucius referred him on to Wen ch'ang


Mr. T'ang P'ing, who took the highest degree in the year 1661, was suffering from a protracted illness, when suddenly he felt, as it were, a warm glow rising from his extremities upwards. By the time it had reached his knees, his feet were perfectly numb and without sensation; and before long his knees and the lower part of his body were similarly affected. Gradually this glow worked its way up until it attacked the heart,[305] and then some painful moments ensued. Every single incident of Mr. T'ang's life from his boyhood upwards, no matter how trivial, seemed to surge through his mind, borne along on the tide of his heart's blood. At the revival of any virtuous act of his, he experienced a delicious feeling of peace and calm; but when any wicked deed passed before his mind, a painful disturbance took place within him, like oil boiling and fretting in a cauldron. He was quite unable to describe the pangs he suffered; however, he mentioned that he could recollect having stolen, when only seven or eight years old, some young birds from their nest, and having killed them; and for this alone, he said, boiling blood rushed through his heart during the space of an ordinary mealtime. Then when all the acts of his life had passed one after another in panorama before him, the warm glow proceeded up his throat, and, entering the brain, issued out at the top of his head like smoke from a chimney. By-and-by Mr. T'ang's soul escaped from his body by the same aperture, and wandered far away,
forgetting all about the tenement it had left behind. Just at that moment a huge giant came along, and, seizing the soul, thrust it into his sleeve, where it remained cramped and confined, huddled up with a crowd of others, until existence was almost unbearable. Suddenly Mr. T'ang reflected that Buddha alone could save him from this horrible state, and forthwith he began to call upon his holy name.[306] At the third or fourth invocation he fell out of the giant's sleeve, whereupon the latter picked him up and put him back; but this happened several times, and at length the giant, wearied of picking him up, let him lie where he was. The soul lay there for some time, not knowing in which direction to proceed; however, it soon recollected that the land of Buddha was in the west, and westwards accordingly it began to shape its course. In a little while the soul came upon a Buddhist priest sitting by the roadside, and, hastening forwards, respectfully inquired of him which was the right way. "The record of life and death for scholars," replied the priest, "is in the hands of Wen-ch'ang[307] and Confucius; any application must receive the consent of both." The priest then directed Mr. T'ang on his way, and the latter journeyed along until he reached a Confucian temple, in which the Sage was sitting with his face to the south.[308] On hearing his business, Confucius referred him on to Wen-ch'ang; and, proceeding onwards in the direction indicated, Mr. T'ang by-and-by arrived at what seemed to be the palace of a king, within which sat Wen-ch'ang, precisely as we depict him on earth. "You are an upright man," replied the God, in reply to Mr. T'ang's prayer, "and are certainly entitled to a longer span of life; but by this time your mortal body has become decomposed, and unless you can secure the assistance of P'u-sa,[309] I can give you no aid." So Mr. T'ang set off once more, and hurried along until he came to a magnificent shrine standing in a thick grove of tall bamboos; and, entering in, he stood in the presence of the God, on whose head was the _ushnisha_,[310] whose golden face was round like the full moon, and at whose side was a green willow-branch bending gracefully over the lip of a vase. Humbly Mr. T'ang prostrated himself on the ground, and repeated what Wen-ch'ang had said to him; but P'u-sa seemed to think it would be impossible to grant his request, until one of the Lohans[311] who stood by cried out, "O God, Thou canst perform this miracle: take earth and make his flesh; take a sprig of willow and make his bones." Thereupon P'u-sa broke off a piece from the willow-branch in the vase beside him; and, pouring a little of the water upon the ground, he made clay, and, casting the whole over Mr. T'ang's soul, bade an attendant lead the body back to the place where his coffin was. At that instant Mr. T'ang's family heard a groan proceeding from within his coffin, and, on rushing to it and helping out the lately-deceased man, they found he had quite recovered. He had then been dead seven days.


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