Chinese Folktales

23. The Kindly Magician

ONCE there was a man by name of Tu Chih-chun. He was a spendthrift in his youth and did not look after his fortune. He indulged in wine and drifted about all day long. When he had spent all he owned his family cast him out. One day during the bitter winter he was Walking about the capital barefoot, with an empty stomach, his clothes in rags. Evening was falling and he had still not eaten anything. Aimlessly he wandered about the market-place. He was hungry and the cold seemed unbearable. He glanced up at the sky and lamented bitterly. Suddenly an old man stood before him, supporting himself on a staff, and said: ‘What is the matter with you, why do you lament so?’

‘l am dying of hunger,’ said Tu Chih-chun, ‘and nobody has pity on me’

The old man asked: ‘How much money do you need in order to live well?’

‘If I had fifty thousand copper pieces my troubles would be over,’ replied Tu Chih-chun.

The old man said: ‘That’s not enough.’

‘Well then, a million.’

‘Even that is not enough.’

‘Three million, then.’

The old man said: ‘Very well ‘ He produced a thousand copper pieces from his sleeve and said: ‘This is for tonight. Wait for me in the Persian bazaar at noon tomorrow!’ At the appointed time Tu Chih-chun went to the bazaar and, true enough, the old man was there and gave him three million copper pieces. He then disappeared without giving his name.

As soon as Tu Chih-chun had all that money in his hand his extravagance awoke in him anew. He rode about on fat horses, clothed himself in the finest furs, got drunk on wine and was forever surrounded by girls. Thus the money was soon spent. Instead of his fine brocades he had to wear cotton clothes and exchange his horse for a donkey. Before very long he was once more in rags, on foot, wondering how to appease his hunger. Once again he stood in the market-place sighing.

And again the old man appeared, took him by the hand and said; ‘Have you come to the same pass again? How strange! I will help you more.’

Tu Chih-chun was ashamed and did not want to accept. But the Old man insisted and took him along to the Persian bazaar. There he gave him ten million copper pieces this time, and Tu Chih-chun, deeply ashamed, thanked him. Now that he had the money he was careful to account and economize in order to become as rich as possible. But deeply ingrained faults, as everybody knows, are difficult to eradicate. Gradually he started squandering his money again and giving free rein to his appetites. And once more his purse was empty. After a year or two he was as poor as ever.

Again he met the old man. He was so ashamed that he hid his face and tried to walk past him.

But the Old man caught him by the sleeve and said: ‘Where do you think you are going? I will give you thirty million this time. But if you still do not mend your ways then there is no help for you.’ Gratefully Tu Chill-Chun bowed and said: ‘None of my rich relations cared about me while I was poor. You alone have helped me three times. The money which you are giving me today shall not be squandered—that I swear to you. I want to use it for good works in order to reward your great kindness. And When I have achieved this I will follow you, even through fire and Water.’

The old man said: “Well spoken! When you have settled these matters ask for me at the temple of Lao-tse under the two juniper trees.’

Tu Chill-chun took the money and went to Yangchow. There he bought a hundred acres of the best land and built a tall house on the highway with many hundreds of rooms. There he allowed widows and orphans to live. He then bought a burial ground for his ancestors and supported his needy relations. Countless people owed their livelihood to him.

When he had done all this he went out to find the Old man at the temple of Lao-tse. The old man was sitting in the shade of the juniper trees, playing his flute. He now took him along to the cloud-capped summit of the holy mountain in the west. They had walked through mountains for forty miles when Tu Chih-chun caught sight of a house which was neat and beautiful. It was surrounded by brightly coloured clouds, and peacocks and cranes flew around it. Inside the house was a herb oven which was nine feet high. The fire in it burned with a purple flame and its glow danced on the walls. There were nine fairies standing by the oven, and a green dragon and a white tiger were crouched alongside. Night was filling. The old man was no longer arrayed as an ordinary human but wore a yellow cap and loose flowing garments. He picked up three white stone balls, put them in a beaker of wine and gave them to Tu Chih-chun to drink. He spread out a tiger skin in an inner room along the western wall and made him sit down on it with his face to the east. Then he spoke to him: ‘Be careful now not to utter a single word! Whatever happens to you—powerful gods or hideous devils, wild animals or ogres, all the torments of hell, and even if you see your own relations in pain and suffering, all these are but illusions. You have nothing to fear. They cannot hurt you. Mark my words and be of good cheer! ‘ With these words the Old man disappeared. All Tu Chih-chun saw before him now was a large stone jug full of clear water. The fairies, the dragon and the tiger had all disappeared. Suddenly he heard a loud crash which shook heaven and earth. A man appeared, over ten feet tall. He called himself the great general. Both he and his horse were in golden armour. He was surrounded by over a hundred soldiers Who pulled their bow-strings and swung their swords as they halted in the courtyard.

The giant shouted at him: ‘Who are you? Get cut of my way ‘

But Tu Chill-chun did not budge. He made no reply to the giant’s questions.

Then the giant was furious and screamed with a voice of thunder: ‘Cut off his head!’

But Tu Chih-chun remained unmoved. Thereupon the giant angrily moved off.

Then came a wild tiger and a poisonous snake, roaring and hissing. They moved up to him as though to bite him and leapt over him. But Tu Chill-chun remained unshaken in his spirit and after a while they dissolved. Suddenly a great rain burst from the sky. There was ceaseless thunder and lightning until his ears rang and his eyes were blinded. The house seemed certain to collapse. In a few moments the water rose and reached the spot where he was sitting. But Tu Chih-chun remained motionless and paid no heed. So the water receded. Then came a great devil with the head of an ox. He placed a cauldron in the courtyard and in it bubbled boiling oil. With an iron hook he caught Tu Chill-chun by the neck and said: ‘If you tell your name I will let you go!’

Ta Chih-chun closed his eyes and remained silent. Thereupon the with the fork tossed him into the cauldron. He bit back the pain and the boiling oil did him no harm. In the end the devil fished him out again and dragged him to the front steps of a house where there was a man with red hair and a blue face who looked like the Prince of Hell himself. He screamed: ‘Drag his wife here! ‘

After a while Tu Chih-chun’s wife was brought in fetters. Her hair was dishevelled and she was crying pitifully.

The devil pointed to Tu Chih-chun and said: ‘If you tell us your name we’ll let you go.’

But Tu Chih-chun did not utter a word.

Then the Prince of Hell had the woman tormented in all kinds of ways. Tu Chih-chun’s wife implored him: ‘l have been living with you for ten years. Won’t you say a single word to save me? I can bear it no longer.’ And the tears burst from her eyes in streams. She cried and scolded. But he uttered not a word.

Then the Prince of Hell shouted: “Hack her into pieces!’ And true enough she was cut into pieces in front of his eyes, moaning and screaming. But Tu Chih-chun did not budge.

‘This rascal’s measure is full!’ shouted the Prince of Hell. ‘He cannot remain among the living any longer. Cut off his head!’

They killed him and he felt his soul departing. The one with the ox head now dragged him into a cave where he had to submit to each and every torment. But Tu Chih-chun heeded the words of the Old man. Even these torments did not seem unbearable. He did not scream and did not utter a word.

He was dragged back before the Prince of Hell. He said: ‘As a punishment for his obduracy this man shall he reborn a woman.’

The devils dragged him to the wheel of life and he was reborn on earth as a girl. He was frequently ill and had to take medicine all the time or be treated by pinpricks and burning. Moreover, he Often fell into the fire or the water. But he never uttered a single sound. Gradually he grew up to be a beautiful young girl. But because he never uttered a word he was called the mute girl. A scholar fell in love with her beauty and married her. They lived in love and harmony and she bore him a son who, even at the age of two, was clever and wise beyond all measure. One day the father carried him on his arm. Then he joked with his wife: ‘Sometimes when I look at you it seems to me as though you were not mute. Won’t you say a single word to me? How delightful it would be if you were to be my speaking rose!’

But the woman remained silent. No matter how much he flattered her and tried to make her laugh she never made any reply.

Then his expression changed: ‘If you will not speak to me,’ he said, ‘l take this as a sign that you despise me. In that case my son is no use to me’ With these words he seized the boy and struck his head against a stone so that his brains squirted Out.

But because Tu Chih-chun loved the young boy he forgot the old man’s injunctions and exclaimed: ‘Oh, oh!’ And before the sound had even died away he awoke, as though from a dream, sitting in his former place. The old man, too, was present. It was about the fifth watch of the night. From the oven the purple flames flickered wildly, their tongues licking the sky. The whole house caught fire and blazed like a torch.

‘You have let me down!’ the Old man exclaimed. Then he took him by the hair and thrust him into the water jug. And in an instant the fire was extinguished. The Old man said: ‘You conquered icy and anger, sadness and fear, hatred and lust—but you did not extinguish love. If you had not called out as the child was killed my elixir would have come right and you too would have attained immortality. But at the last moment you failed. Now it is too late. Now I must brew my elixir all over again and you Will remain a mortal.’

Tu Chih-chun saw that the stove had burst and that instead of the philosophy s stone there was a lump of pig iron in it. The Old man threw off his clothes and hacked the iron into small pieces with a magic knife. Tu Chih-chun took his leave and returned to Yangchow where he lived in great wealth.

In his old age he regretted not having finished his task at the time. He went back to the mountain to look for the Old man. But he had vanished without a trace.