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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Told the lictors they had brought the wrong man


FOOTNOTES:

[177] See No. XLV., note 267.

[178] We have in this story the keynote to the notorious and much-to-be-deprecated dislike of the Chinese people to assist in saving the lives of drowning strangers. Some of our readers may, perhaps, not be aware that the Government of Hong-Kong has found it necessary to insert a clause on the junk-clearances issued in that colony, by which the junkmen are bound to assist to the utmost in saving life. The apparent apathy of the Chinese in this respect comes before us, however, in quite a different light when coupled with the superstition that disembodied spirits of persons who have met a violent death may return to the world of mortals if only fortunate enough to secure a substitute. For among the crowd of shades, anxious all to revisit their "sweet sons," may perchance be some dear relative or friend of the man who stands calmly by while another is drowning; and it may be that to assist the drowning stranger would be to take the longed-for chance away from one's own kith or kin. Therefore, the superstition-ridden Chinaman turns away, often perhaps, as in the story before us, with feelings of pity and remorse. And yet this belief has not prevented the establishment, especially on the river Yang-tsze, of institutions provided with life-boats, for the express purpose of saving life in those dangerous waters; so true is it that when the Chinese people wish to move _en masse_

in any given direction, the fragile barrier of superstition is trampled down and scattered to the winds.

[179] As there are good and bad foxes, so may devils be beneficent or malicious according to circumstances; and Chinese apologists for the discourtesy of the term "foreign devils," as applied to Europeans and Americans alike, have gone so far as to declare that in this particular instance the allusion is to the more virtuous among the denizens of the Infernal Regions.

[180] See No. XCVII., note 150.

[181] A phrase constantly repeated, in other terms, by a guest to a host who is politely escorting him to the door.

CVIII.

THE PRIEST'S WARNING.

A man named Chang died suddenly, and was escorted at once by devil-lictors[182] into the presence of the King of Purgatory. His Majesty turned to Chang's record of good and evil, and then, in great anger, told the lictors they had brought the wrong man, and bade them take him back again. As they left the judgment-hall, Chang persuaded his escort to let him have a look at Purgatory; and, accordingly, the devils conducted him through the nine sections,[183] pointing out to him the Knife Hill,[184] the Sword Tree, and other objects of interest. By-and-by, they reached a place where there was a Buddhist priest, hanging suspended in the air head downwards, by a rope through a hole in his leg. He was shrieking with pain, and longing for death; and when Chang approached, lo! he saw that it was his own brother. In great distress, he asked his guides the reason of this punishment; and they informed him that the priest was suffering thus for collecting subscriptions on behalf of his order, and then privately squandering the proceeds in gambling and debauchery.[185] "Nor," added they, "will he escape this torment unless he repents him of his misdeeds." When Chang came round,[186] he thought his brother was already dead, and hurried off to the Hsing-fu monastery, to which the latter belonged. As he went in at the door, he heard a loud shrieking; and, on proceeding to his brother's room, he found him laid up with a very bad abscess in his leg, the leg itself being tied up above him to the wall, this being, as his brother informed him, the only bearable position in which he could lie. Chang now told him what he had seen in Purgatory, at which the priest was so terrified, that he at once gave up taking wine and meat,[187] and devoted himself entirely to religious exercises. In a fortnight he was well, and was known ever afterwards as a most exemplary priest.


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