Myths and Legends of China

Page: 173

The Maniac’s Mite

An interesting story is told of a lady named Ch’ên, who was a Buddhist nun celebrated for her virtue and austerity. Between the years 1628 and 1643 she left her nunnery near Wei-hai city and set out on a long journey for the purpose of collecting subscriptions for casting a new image of the Buddha. She wandered through Shantung and Chihli and finally reached Peking, and there—subscription-book in hand—she stationed herself at the great south gate in order to take toll from those who wished to lay up for themselves treasures in the Western Heaven. The first passer-by who took any notice of her was an amiable maniac. His dress was made of coloured shreds and patches, and his general appearance was wild and uncouth. “Whither away, nun?” he asked. She explained that she was collecting subscriptions for the casting of a great image of Buddha, and had come all the way from Shantung. “Throughout my life,” remarked the madman, “I was ever a generous giver.” So, taking the nun’s subscription-book, he headed a page with his own name (in very large characters) and the amount subscribed. The amount in question was two cash, equivalent to a small fraction of a farthing. He then handed over the two small coins and went on his way.

In course of time the nun returned to Wei-hai-wei with her subscriptions, and the work of casting the image was duly begun. When the time had come for the process of smelting, it was observed that the copper remained Page 402hard and intractable. Again and again the furnace was fed with fuel, but the shapeless mass of metal remained firm as a rock. The head workman, who was a man of wide experience, volunteered an explanation of the mystery. “An offering of great value must be missing,” he said. “Let the collection-book be examined so that it may be seen whose subscription has been withheld.” The nun, who was standing by, immediately produced the madman’s money, which on account of its minute value she had not taken the trouble to hand over. “There is one cash,” she said, “and there is another. Certainly the offering of these must have been an act of the highest merit, and the giver must be a holy man who will some day attain Buddhahood.” As she said this she threw the two cash into the midst of the cauldron. Great bubbles rose and burst, the metal melted and ran like the sap from a tree, limpid as flowing water, and in a few moments the work was accomplished and the new Buddha successfully cast.

The City-god of Yen Ch’êng

The following story of the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa of Yen Ch’êng (Salt City) is told by Helena von Poseck in the East of Asia Magazine, vol. iii (1904), pp. 169–171. This legend is also related of several other cities in China.

The Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa is, as already noted, the tutelary god of a city, his position in the unseen world answering to that of a chih hsien, or district magistrate, among men, if the city under his care be a hsien; but if the city hold the rank of a fu, it has (or used to have until recently) two Ch’êng-huang P’u-sas, one a prefect, and the other a district magistrate. One part of his duty consists of sending small demons to carry off the spirits of the dying, of which spirits he afterward acts as ruler and Page 403judge. He is supposed to exercise special care over the k’u kuei, or spirits which have no descendants to worship and offer sacrifices to them, and on the occasion of the Seventh Month Festival he is carried round the city in his chair to maintain order among them, while the people offer food to them, and burn paper money for their benefit. He is also carried in procession at the Ch’ing Ming Festival, and on the first day of the tenth month.

The Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa of the city of Yen Ch’êng is in the extremely unfortunate predicament of having no skin to his face, which fact is thus accounted for:

Once upon a time there lived at Yen Ch’êng an orphan boy who was brought up by his uncle and aunt. He was just entering upon his teens when his aunt lost a gold hairpin, and accused him of having stolen it. The boy, whose conscience was clear in the matter, thought of a plan by which his innocence might be proved.

“Let us go to-morrow to Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa’s temple,” he said, “and I will there swear an oath before the god, so that he may manifest my innocence.”

They accordingly repaired to the temple, and the boy, solemnly addressing the idol, said:

“If I have taken my aunt’s gold pin, may my foot twist, and may I fall as I go out of your temple door!”

Alas for the poor suppliant! As he stepped over the threshold his foot twisted, and he fell to the ground. Of course, everybody was firmly convinced of his guilt, and what could the poor boy say when his own appeal to the god thus turned against him?

After such a proof of his depravity his aunt had no room in her house for her orphan nephew, neither did he himself wish to stay with people who suspected him of theft. So he left the home which had sheltered him for Page 404years, and wandered out alone into the cold hard world. Many a hardship did he encounter, but with rare pluck he persevered in his studies, and at the age of twenty odd years became a mandarin.

In course of time our hero returned to Yen Ch’êng to visit his uncle and aunt. While there he betook himself to the temple of the deity who had dealt so hardly with him, and prayed for a revelation as to the whereabouts of the lost hairpin. He slept that night in the temple, and was rewarded by a vision in which the Ch’êng-huang P’u-sa told him that the pin would be found under the floor of his aunt’s house.

He hastened back, and informed his relatives, who took up the boards in the place indicated, and lo! there lay the long-lost pin! The women of the house then remembered that the pin had been used in pasting together the various layers of the soles of shoes, and, when night came, had been carelessly left on the table. No doubt rats, attracted by the smell of the paste which clung to it, had carried it off to their domains under the floor.