Stories to Caution the World
A Ming Dynasty Collection, Volume 2
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Washington Press
Title Page, Copyright
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This translation benefited greatly from the help of Professor Robert Hegel, two anonymous readers, and Lorri Hagman. We wish to express our profound gratitude for their enthusiastic encouragement and many valuable suggestions for ...
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Stories to Caution the World ( Jingshi tongyan), more commonly known in English as Comprehensive Words to Warn the World, was published in Jinling, present day Nanjing, in 1624. It is the second of three celebrated Ming dynasty (1368–1644) collections of stories; the first is Stories Old and New (Gujin xiaoshuo; 1620), and ...
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Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
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Title Page from the 1624 Edition
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Preface to the 1624 Edition
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Do all historical romances give true accounts of history? The answer is “Not necessarily.” Are they all untrue, then? “Not necessarily.” Should all that is untrue be done away with, and only what is true be preserved? “Not necessarily, either.” The Six Classics,1 The Analects [of Confucius], and Mencius, about which commentaries ...
1. Yu Boya Smashes His Zither in Gratitude to an Appreciative Friend
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When it comes to friendship, none since ancient times has measured up to that between Guan Yiwu [d. 645 b.c.e.] and Bao Shuya [also known as Bao Shu].1 When both were engaged in business dealings, they divided their profits between them. Though Guan Yiwu took the larger share of the profits, Bao did ...
2. Zhuang Zhou Drums on a Bowl and Attains the Great Dao
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The above lyric poem to the tune of “The Moon over the West River” exhorts people to sever ties of misplaced love and set themselves free, although ties between father and son and those between brothers cannot be severed because they are branches on the same tree. Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism may have ...
3. Three Times Wang Anshi Tries to Baffle Academician Su
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The four lines above exhort people to be modest and respectful of others and to guard against conceit. The ancients put it well: “Conceit spells loss; modesty brings benefit.” There is also a proverb about four things that one should never do to an extreme. What ...
4. In the Hall Halfway-up-the-Hill, the Stubborn One Dies of Grief
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Having thus begun, let me take more time and cite four lines from a Tang dynasty poem before I launch into the story proper: The duke of Zhou lived in fear of rumors; Wang Mang won the hearts of his followers. ...
5. Lü Yu Returns the Silver and Brings about Family Reunion
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As the story goes, in the vicinity of Long Pond in Jiaxing Prefecture, Zhejiang, there lived an immensely rich man, Jin Zhong, from a family whose heads of household had for generations been addressed as “Squire.” A most stingy man, he ...
6. Yu Liang Writes Poems and Wins Recognition from the Emperor
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In the second year of the Yuanshou reign period [121 b.c.e.], under Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty, there was, in Chengdu Prefecture, Sichuan, a scholar named Sima Xiangru [d. 118 b.c.e.], courtesy name Changqing, who, not having anyone to turn to for help after his parents died, lived by himself in the most straitened ...
7. Chen Kechang Becomes an Immortal during the Dragon Boat Festival
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The story goes that during the Shaoxing reign period [1131–62] of Emperor Gaozong of the great Song dynasty, there lived, in Yueqing County, Wenzhou Prefecture, a scholar named Chen Yi, courtesy name Kechang. Twenty-four years of age at the time our story begins, he was a young man of refined looks and keen ...
8. Artisan Cui’s Love Is Cursed in Life and in Death
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The above lyric poem to the tune of “Partridge Sky,” which describes a scene in early spring, is not as well written as the following “Ode to Mid-spring”: I spend my days midst courtesans and drunken dreams, Unaware that outside the city, another spring is at its height. ...
9. “Li the Banished Immortal” Writes in Drunkenness to Impress the Barbarians
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The story goes that during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong [712–55] of the Tang dynasty, there lived a gifted poet, Li Bai [also spelled Li Po or Li Bo] by name, courtesy name Taibai, who was a ninth-generation descendant of Emperor Li Hao of Western Liang2 and a native of Jinzhou, Sichuan. Before giving birth to him, ...
10. Secretary Qian Leaves Poems on the Swallow Tower
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The story goes that for one hundred and ninety-three years after the founding of the great Tang dynasty by Emperor Taizong, until Emperor Xianzong, the twelfth Tang emperor, ascended the throne, peace reigned throughout the land. Weapons collected dust, and instruments of corporal punishment lay idle. There ...
11. A Shirt Reunites Magistrate Su with His Family
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This quatrain was written by Bai Juyi1 of the Tang dynasty when he was watching the tides by the Qiantang River in Hangzhou. The story goes that in Hangzhou Prefecture, there lived a talented scholar by the name of Li Hong, courtesy name Jingzhi, who was able to write beautifully in the most exquisite diction and
12. A Double Mirror Brings Fan the Loach and His Wife Together Again
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The last line of the above lyric poem is taken from a folk song popular in the Wu region. This is how the song goes: How far does the crescent moon shine? It finds some households joyful, some in sorrow,...
13. Judge Bao Solves a Case through a GhostThat Appeared Thrice
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The story goes that during the reign period of Yuanyou [1086–93] in the Song dynasty, there was, in the imperial court, a chamberlain for ceremonies by the name of Chen Ya. After a failed attempt to impeach Zhang Zihou,4 Chen Ya was demoted to pacification commissioner of the Jiangdong Circuit and concurrently...
14. A Mangy Priest Exorcises a Den of Ghosts
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The above lyric poem to the tune of “The Charms of Niannu” was written by a scholar named Shen Wenshu2 while he was in the provincial capital for the civil service examinations. It is in fact a cento, with lines written by poets of earlier times. How do we know this? Well, let me start from the ...
15. Clerk Jin Rewards Xiutong with a Pretty Maidservant
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Our story takes place in the prefecture of Suzhou. Within the city gates there stands a Xuandu Temple, built in the Later Liang dynasty. The line “A thousand peach trees in Xuandu Temple,” written by Prefect Liu Yuxi [772–842] of the Tang dynasty, is a reference to this very temple, which is also called Xuanmiao ...
16. The Young Lady Gives the Young Man a Gift of Money
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The above eight-line poem was written by Wang Chuhou of Huayang County, Chengdu Prefecture, in Xichuan, lamenting a few white hairs he saw in the mirror when he was approaching sixty. All beings in this world progress from youth to the prime of life to old age. No one is exempt from this eternal law of nature. ...
17. The Luckless Scholar Rises Suddenly in Life
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The above lyric poem to the tune of “Moon over the West River” basically makes the point that the timing of the ups and downs in one’s life is predestined. Therefore, one must not be boastful of one’s talents in a moment of glory, nor should one lose heart in a moment of ...
18. A Former Protégé Repays His Patron unto the Third Generation
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The above eight lines are truly words of the wise, but I take issue with the last line “But worthless is the talent of the old.” Generally speaking, the timing of one’s rise in life, whether early or late, is predetermined by fate. Those who achieve fame and fortune early in life may not, after all, retain what they have for the rest ...
19. With a White Falcon, Young Master Cui Brings an Evil Spirit upon Himself
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The above poem is about the seventh emperor of the Tang dynasty, posthumously titled Emperor Xuanzong [r. 712–56]. As an old legend has it, there is, in the sky, a star called variously the Darkening [xuan, as in Emperor Xuanzong] Star, the Gold Star [Venus], the shen star, the changgeng star, the taibai star, and ...
20. The Golden Eel Brings Calamity to Officer Ji
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As the story goes, during the reign of Emperor Huizong [1101–25] of the Song dynasty, there lived a man called Ji An, who was an o‹cer in the Privy Military Council. He lived with his wife. One hot day when he was oª duty, he took up a fishing rod and went to Gold and Bright Pond, for lack of a better way to spend ...
21. Emperor Taizu Escorts Jinniang on a One-Thousand-Li Journey
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During the last years of the Song dynasty, under the house of Zhao, there lived on Stone Chamber Mountain east of the Yellow River a hermit who did not reveal his true name but called himself “the Old Man of Stone.” Those who knew him said he was a man of talent and bold spirit, who proposed strategems to the ...
22. Young Mr. Song Reunites with His Family by Means of a Tattered Felt Hat
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In the Zhengde reign period [1506–21], there lived, in the main street of Kunshan, Suzhou Prefecture, a man named Song Dun, a descendant of a long line of o‹cials. He and his wife, Lu-shi, lived oª rent from some inherited land, without seeking other means of livelihood. Over forty years of age now, they still had no issue, male ...
23. Mr. Le Junior Searches for His Wife at the Risk of His Life
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The above lines are a description of the extraordinary tides of the Qiantang River in Hangzhou—tides that have never deviated from their cycle. Since ancient times, no one has been able to figure out the causes of their rising and falling. It has always been said that there are four wonders ...
24. Yutangchun Reunites with Her Husband in Her Distress
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Our story takes place during the Zhengde reign period [1506–22]. There was a man named Wang Qiong, courtesy name Sizhu, who was a native of Jinling, Nanjing. After passing the imperial civil service examinations as a jinshi, he rose through a series of promotions to be secretary of the Ministry of Rites. But because
25. Squire Gui Repents at the Last Moment
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In the Dashun reign period of the Yuan dynasty,3 there lived in Wuqu Lane in Suzhou Prefecture south of the Yangzi River an elderly man named Shi Ji, courtesy name Jinren. His father, Shi Jian, courtesy name Gongming, was a prudent, kindly, and honest man who ran his household thriftily, never failing to put every ...
26. Scholar Tang Gains a Wife after One Smile
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The above eight lines were written by a talented scholar of the Wu region. Tang Yin [1470–1523] by name, courtesy name Bohu, he had a sharp mind that was unrivaled anywhere on earth and knew everything there was to know under the sun.1 A master in all the arts of calligraphy, painting, and music, he was also ...
27. Fake Immortals Throw Guanghua Temple into an Uproar
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As the story goes, in the Song dynasty, there stood a Baoshan Temple by Puji Bridge in Hangzhou. Built in the Jiatai reign period [1201–05], it was also called Huaguang Temple and was dedicated to the Five Gods of Wuxian.1 Which ...
28. Madam White Is Kept Forever under the Thunder Peak Tower
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Our story takes place by beautiful West Lake amid green hills and clear waters. In the Xianhe reign period [326–34] during the Jin dynasty, when a raging mountain flood swept past West Gate, an ox was suddenly seen in the water, glittering all over with the color of gold. The ox then followed the receding flood all ...
29. Zhang Hao Meets Yingying at Lingering Fragrance Pavilion
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Our story took place in Luoyang, where there lived a gifted young man, Zhang Hao by name, courtesy name Juyuan. Endowed since his earliest years with unusually refined looks, he had delicate features, a graceful deportment, and a cultured style of conversation. He was also a brilliant scholar. Left with an inheritance ...
30. Wu Qing Meets Ai’ai by Golden Bright Pond
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The story goes that in the Zhonghe reign period [881–84] of the great Tang dynasty, there lived in Boling a talented and dashing scholar named Cui Hu who had no equal in ability or in appearance. As the date of the spring imperial civil service examinations approached, he collected his zither, sword, and books ...
31. Zhao Chun’er Restores Prosperity to the Cao Farmstead
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These four lines are in praise of women. It has always been said since ancient times: “Worthy women are superior to men. ” No woman is lowlier than a prostitute, and yet, even a good many prostitutes stand out as women of great merit. There was Lady Liang, who saw Han Shizhong’s estimable qualities before he rose ...
32. Du Shiniang Sinks Her Jewel Box in Anger
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This is a poem in praise of the magnificence of Yanjing, capital of this dynasty. The city is so situated that it is protected by an impregnable mountain pass to the north and is poised for a descent on the central plains to the south. It is indeed a richly endowed and indestructible city, destined to last for ten thousand ...
33. Qiao Yanjie’s Concubine Ruins the Family
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Our story begins during the first year of the Mingdao reign period , under Emperor Renzong of the great Song dynasty, in Ninghai, Zhejiang, known in our day as Hangzhou. In the vicinity of the Guanyin nunnery, to the north of Zhong’an Bridge in the city, there lived a merchant, a native of Qiantang, who was ...
34. Wang Jiaoluan’s One Hundred Years of Sorrow
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Our story takes place in Changle Village, Yugan County, Raozhou Prefecture, Jiangxi, where there lived a certain Zhang Yi, a man of humble circumstances. On a trip to the county seat to sell some miscellaneous goods, he stopped one night at an inn outside the city gate, but it was already full. There was, however, a vacant ...
35. Prefect Kuang Solves the Case of the Dead Baby
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These four lines talk in general about how spring flowers and the autumn moon torment the human heart, inspiring poems by young scholars lamenting autumn and by beautiful maidens bemoaning spring. More often than not, their poems are veiled expressions of love-sickness, and their eyes speak of passion. Lovers trysting ...
36. The King of the Honey Locust Grove Assumes Human Shape
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Our story takes place during the Han dynasty. In Chengdu Prefecture, in Xichuan,1 there lived an official named Luan Ba, who had been quite devoted to the arts of Daoism since youth. After attaining the rank of Gentleman of the Interior, he was assigned the post of prefect of Yuzhang [in present-day Jiangxi ...
37. Wan Xiuniang Takes Revenge through Toy Pavilions
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As the story has it, in Xiangyang Prefecture, Shandong, known in Tang times as the East Circuit South of the Mountain, there lived in the center of the city a squire called by all and sundry Squire Wan, or Third Squire Wan because he was the third son of the family. He owned a tea shop, which was located on one ...
38. Jiang Shuzhen Dies in Fulfillment of a Love Bird Prophecy
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The above poem is about passion and physical charm, which are, in fact, one and the same in both substance and function. Thus, when physical charm pleases the eye, passion arises from the heart. With passion and physical charm reinforcing each other, the eye and the heart find themselves in greater accord. This ...
39. The Stars of Fortune, Rank, and Longevity Return to Heaven
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I cite the above quatrain because this story is about a man who, in spite of twenty years of assiduous study by his window day and night, failed repeatedly at the imperial civil service examinations and, since he thought he was not meant for an official career, accepted his fate and set his heart on becoming an immortal. It was ...
40. An Iron Tree at Jingyang Palace Subdues Demons
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When the primeval chaos had cleared away and humans and all other living beings on earth began to multiply, there emerged three leading sages who founded three religions. What are the three religions? One is Confucianism, founded by Confucius, who edited the Six Classics and ...
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Publication Year: 2005