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vol. 3, p. 107
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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Chinese Spirits as Described in Chinese Fiction

(From “The Globe.”)

Except the three short novels translated into English in 1822 by Sir John Davis, hardly any specimen of Chinese fiction has reached English readers. Of these three novels, “The Shadow in the Water” was a pretty, simple, love tale; “The Twin Sisters” and “The Three Dedicated Chambers,” stories which merely gave us a clearer view of Chinese manners and opinions. A far more characteristic Chinese novel has, however, lately fallen into our hands, and we proceed to abridge it for our readers. It forms the twelfth section of the “Kin-kooke-kwan,” a celebrated Chinese collection of short novels. Our story is called “Friends till Death,” and idealises a friendship as staunch and true as that of Damon and Pythias.

The novel commences thus: — Once upon a time Kuen-Wang, King of Tsoo, invited to his court all enlightened scholars who needed employment. A virtuous scholar, named Tso-pih-Taou, living in the Tseih-shi hills of Se-Keang, hearing the proclamation of this just and virtuous monarch, threw a pack of books over his shoulder, bade adieu to his friends and neighbours, and hastened by by-roads to Tsoo.

It was the winter period of the wind and the rain when by easy stages he had reached Yung-te. He had now to buffet, head downwards, with the wind and rain, and the load was heavy on his bent back. One day, towards sunset, with clothes soaked with rain, he perceived in a bamboo wood a hut with broken window, from whence streamed a welcome light. Pushing through the low hedge that encircled the hut, he knocked humbly at the wicket. A person at once came out. The applicant, giving his name, and describing the object of his journey, prayed for a night’s shelter, as the rain was heavy and no inn was near. The tenant of the hut at once exchanged compliments and led him into the hut. Tso-pih-Taou looked round and saw nothing but a couch strewn with books, and knew at once that the owner was a literary man, and turned “to perform the compliment of bowing to him.” “Do not stand upon compliments,” said his blunt host, “it is better to dry your garmentsand, so saying, he lit some broken bamboos for a fire, and got out food and wine for his guest. The owner of the hut then told Tso-pih-Taou that his name was Yang-Keo-Gae; that he had in early life lost his parents, and dwelt there alone; that his farming he had abandoned; and that his present good fortune was great in thus meeting with a learned doctor from a distance, and that he only regretted the bareness of his house, and humbly entreated the learned doctor to forgive it. “In such a storm,” replied Tso-pih-Taou, “under the favour of your shelter, and, in addition, receiving food and wine, how can I ever forget to thank you?” That night the two lay down to rest, but they conversed of their studies half the night, and did not fall asleep till the dawn.

They swore eternal friendship, and agreed to travel together to Court, but broke down on the road from the inclemency of the weather and the deserted character of the country.

Ten le further the Tso-pih broke down and could go no further, so the two friends took shelter under a decayed mulberry tree, whose trunk time had hollowed into a cave. There was room only for one. Yang-Keo assisted Tso-pih to enter and sit down, and Yang-Keo went to look for two flints, so that he might make a fire of the rotten wood. When he returned to the tree to his astonishment he found Tso-pih naked, and all his clothes lying in a heap. Yang-Keo exclaimed “My brother, why hast thou done this?” “There is no other resource left us,” answered Tso-pih. “Let not my brother delude himself; he must put on these garments, carry these rations, and go forward. I will die here.” Yang-Keo embraced him, and burst into tears. “We two,” he said, “are true friends, and we must live and die together; death only shall part us.” Yang-Keo replied, “Let not my brother contend; my brother is strong; I have been weak from youth; he is deeper read and better informed than me. If he only sees the King of Tsoo, he is sure to be made an important Minister. For my death who cares? Remain not a moment, but go at once.” “To leave you starving in a mulberry tree,” said Yang-Keo, “while I go and seek promotion, is not the act of a just man. I will not go.” “Of my own accord, and led by no one,” answered Tso-pih, “I came over the Tseih-shi hills to my brother’s house. The wind and rain are adverse. This is my fate, and I must undergo it; but should I cause my brother to perish it would be a sin upon me.” He then tried to leap into the stream before them and die. Yang-Keo embraced him, and bitterly weeping, covered him with his garments, and led him back to the mulberry tree; but again Tso-pih threw off his clothes and renewed his exhortations.

Suddenly Tso-pih’s colour changed, the cold was gnawing at his heart; he motioned his friend to go. Yang took the clothes again to carefully cover him over, but he was already dying. His hands stiffened; his legs fixed. Yang-Keo stood and thought — “If I stay here long mourning for my brother I shall also be frozen to death, and then, when I am gone, who will bury my brother?” Then, in the snow, worshipping his brother, he cried: — “Your degenerate younger brother departing hence, prays the assistance of your shade; and should he only obtain the lowest appointment, he will return, and give you a sumptuous funeral.” Tso-pih bent his head in assent, and, trying to answer, gave up the ghost. Sorrowfully Yang-Keo took up the dead man’s clothes, and, with head turned to look on him, weepingly began his journey. An ancient ode in his praise begins: —

“The cold came, and the snow was three cubits deep;
He tramped upon the road for a thousand le.
Virtuous indeed was Tso-pih-Taou.”

In laying down his life he manifested the beauty of a perfect man. And here we must quicken the story, as our space is short. Yang-Keo arrives at Tsoo half-starved, rests in a caravanserai that night, and in the morning hurries straight to the examination-hall, where Pei-Chung, the chief, kindly welcomes him, and gives him wine and food. He passes his examination so well, this virtuous scholar, that the mandarin at once recommends him to the King, who at once appoints him a Ta-foo of the second class, and gives him a hundred ounces of gold and a hundred ells of variegated silk. As he bows and pays obeisance, the good man’s tears break forth, and being asked the reason by the kindly King, he at once relates the story of Tso-pih’s generous self-devotion. The King and his officers are touched, and the King then gives him leave of absence to bury his friend, disburses the expenses of the funeral, promotes the dead man to the rank of second Ta-foo, and sends a retinue to attend the chariot of Yang-Keo.

They find the corpse untouched by decay. Yang-Keo, weeping, sends for old persons of the district to choose a place for burial by divination. They select one overlooking a stream and encircled by mountains. The corpse is washed in scented water, dressed, decked with the cap of a Ta-foo, and buried in a double coffin; a mound is raised on the four sides, and girt with a mud wall. Trees are planted near, and at a distance of thirty paces a small temple is built, inclosing a terra-cotta image of the noble Tso-pih. It is decorated with flowers and shrubs, and a tablet is fastened in front. At the door they make a small apartment for the watchman. Then, shedding tears, they offer up the usual sacrifice.

That same night Yang-Keo, with lamps burning, was there weeping. On a sudden a gust of wind came whistling and howling in, the lamps almost went out, and on their reviving he saw a shadow of a person sobbing and reluctant to advance. On looking closer he saw it was Tsopih. He said, “I thank my brother for his faithful recollection. The beauty of the coffins and shroud are beyond praise, but my tomb is close to that of King Ko (a rascal who was killed for an unsuccessful attempt on the King’s life), and his spirit is majestic and fierce, and every night he comes with a sword and asks how a frozen and weak rascal like me can come and lie on his shoulders, and threatens to overthrow my tomb and cast my corpse on the moor. I beg my younger brother to remove my tomb, that I may avoid this menaced calamity.” Before Yang-Keo could ask a pardon the wind arose and the shadow vanished.

The next day Yang-Keo went with his followers to King Ko’s temple and reviled his image, threatening, if he oppressed the dead scholar, to destroy his sepulchre and overthrow the temple.

That night as he watched, the shadow again appeared and sighed. “King Ko,” it said, “has many followers, and sacrifices are offered to him. My brother must make grass and reeds, and make images of soldiers, clothe them in colours and give them weapons, then burn them before my tomb.” He did so, and on that night there was a sound as of wind and rain and men fighting. Then the shadow appeared again and said “King Ko has got help; the men my brother burnt are of no use; remove mycorpse and save me, or it will be thrown out of the sepulchre.” “How dare he insult my elder brother, the virtuous scholar,” cried Yang-Keo. “I will help him with my own sword.” “Alas!” said the shadow, “weare but spirits, and living man cannot war against us, and your effigies showed that they could not drive back King Ko and my enemies.’’ “Depart, my brother,” said Yang-Keo, “and to-morrow you shall have a quiet grave.”

The next day, Yang-Keo went to King Ko’s temple, reviled him, and smashed his image, and would have set fire to the temple, had not the elders of the village intreated him, for fear of calamity, not to overthrow the people’s sacrificial fire. Yang-Keo at once wrote to the King, thanking him for his promotion, and begging the King to suffer him to devote himself to death, and recompense his brother, who had done so much for him. He then went to Tso-pih’s tomb, and said to his followers, weeping — “My brother is persecuted, and I die to help him against this strong spirit. Bury my corpse to the right of his tomb. In life and death we will be near together. I will endeavour by a last effort to recompense his friendship.” So saying, he stabbed himself to the heart, and he died, and they buried him beside Tso-pih’s tomb.

That night the wind and the rain were fearful, and between the flashes of lightning there came shouts of battle heard for many a le. Suddenly King Ko’s tomb rent apart, and the bones were scattered on the moor. The fir tree near was plucked up by the roots, and the ancestral temple burst into flames. The King, hearing of this, at once ordered a temple for the deceased, which he called the Temple of Brotherly Fidelity, and set up a tablet to record the event, promoting the brave and loving Yang-Keo to be the chief of the Tafoo. From that day to this the fragrant fire has never been extinguished, but although King Ko’s soul was destroyed, the villagers on the four seasons of the year still offer sacrifices for the redemption of his spirit.

Another Child Medium

Hand-writing When Nine Days Old

A correspondent asks for details concerning the child medium, a brief notice of which appeared last week. As fully as we can give them, they are as follows: Some months since Baron Kirkup, of Italy, became a grandfather, and the spirits wished to give a proof of their power by writing through the mediumship of the infant Accordingly, when it was nine days old, the mother seated herself with the child in the Baron's room, in the presence of six witnesses. In an instant the baby was seen to have a long ivory pencil (previously concealed in the room) in its hand, which it held like a dagger while it wrote the four letters R. A. I. D., the initials of the four literary spirits who conducted the spirit correspondence to which we referred last week. The pencil fell from the child’s hand, but was again placed there by the invisibles, when the following message was written: “Non mutare questa e buona prova fue cosa ti abhiamo! detto. Addio.” (Do not change; this is a good test, it is what we promised you, Adieu.) The account is dated and signed by the six witnesses, as well as by Baron Kirkup.

Editor's notes

  1. Chinese Spirits as Described in Chinese Fiction by unknown author, London Spiritualist, No. 182, February 18, 1876, p. 84. From "The Globe"
  2. Another Child Medium by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, v. 1, No. 23, February 11, 1875, p. 267