A Bao: A story of guileless and sincere

Discover the remarkable tale of Sun Zichu and A Bao, where dedication to their pursuits led to incredible achievements and a love story for the ages.

Sun Zichu, a well-known figure in the western part of Guangdong, is known for having six fingers on his hands. Sun Zichu is of a simple and kind-hearted nature, not good at speaking, and often believes people who deceive him. If there are singing girls in the gathering, he will definitely avoid them from a distance. Some people who know his temper intentionally deceive him and then deliberately let the courtesans approach him, teasing him. He would blush and sweat profusely, becoming very embarrassed. People at the gathering would burst into laughter, finding amusement in this. As a result, everyone would describe his silly appearance, tell jokes about him, and give him the nickname “Sun Dumb.”

There was a wealthy local businessman who was exceptionally rich, comparable to noble families, and those who married into his family were all from affluent backgrounds. The businessman had a daughter named A Bao, who was extremely beautiful. Lately, they were seeking a good son-in-law, and upon hearing this, the young men from prominent families eagerly sent marriage proposals with gifts, but none of them met the businessman’s expectations.

At that time, Sun Zichu’s wife had passed away, and some people took the opportunity to make fun of him, encouraging him to seek marriage with the businessman’s daughter. Sun Zichu, without giving it much thought, actually followed their advice and approached a matchmaker. The businessman had heard of Sun Zichu’s reputation but disliked his poverty.

When the matchmaker was about to leave, she happened to meet A Bao, who asked what the matter was. The matchmaker told her about the marriage proposal. A Bao jokingly said, “If he can cut off his fingers, then I’ll marry him.” When the matchmaker returned and relayed A Bao’s words to Sun Zichu, he said, “That’s not difficult.”

After the matchmaker left, Sun Zichu took an axe and chopped off his fingers, enduring excruciating pain as fresh blood gushed out, almost causing his death. After a few days, he could finally get out of bed and went to see the matchmaker, showing her his severed fingers. The matchmaker was greatly shocked and hurriedly went to A Bao’s house to inform her of the situation. A Bao was equally astonished but made another jest, saying he should remove his foolishness too.

Upon hearing the matchmaker’s relayed message, Sun Zichu loudly defended himself to the matchmaker, claiming that he wasn’t foolish or stupid. However, he didn’t have the chance to clarify his feelings to A Bao face to face. Upon further reflection, he thought that A Bao might not be as beautiful as people described her, and why should he elevate himself to this extent? Consequently, his previous intention of seeking marriage suddenly cooled down.

Just as the Qingming Festival approached, according to local customs, on this day, women would go out to enjoy themselves, and many frivolous young men would follow along in groups, making casual comments. Several of Sun Zichu’s classmates forcibly dragged him out to join in the festivities. Someone teased him, saying, “Don’t tell me you don’t want to see your beloved?” Sun Zichu knew they were joking, but due to A Bao’s teasing and a curiosity about what she looked like, he happily agreed and followed his friends, looking around in all directions.

From a distance, they spotted a woman resting under a big tree, surrounded by a group of rascally young men forming a wall around her. People said, “That must be A Bao.” Hurrying over for a closer look, it indeed was A Bao. Upon careful observation, they saw that she was gracefully beautiful, unmatched in the world. Soon, even more people gathered around, and A Bao stood up and quickly left. Everyone was extremely excited, discussing and commenting as if they had gone mad, but Sun Zichu remained silent.

After everyone dispersed, they turned back to look at Sun Zichu, who was still standing in the same spot, unresponsive to their calls. His friends pulled him and asked, “Has your soul followed A Bao?” He still didn’t utter a word. Because he was not known to be talkative, his friends didn’t find it particularly strange. Some pushed him, some held him, and they all went home together.

When Sun Zichu returned home, he collapsed onto his bed and didn’t get up all day, sleeping in a daze. He wouldn’t wake up no matter how they called him. His family suspected that he had lost his soul, so they went to the wilderness to call his soul back, but it had no effect. When they shook him and asked him, he mumbled, “I’m at A Bao’s house.” When pressed for more details, he fell silent again, leaving his family bewildered.

At first, when Sun Zichu saw A Bao leaving, he felt reluctant to part and sensed that his very being had followed her. Gradually, he clung to her clothing, and no one scolded him for it. He continued to follow A Bao back to her home, staying close to her whether sitting or lying down. At night, they slept together, warmly and harmoniously. However, he began to feel intensely hungry and wanted to return home briefly, but he lost his way.

A Bao often dreamt of making love to someone and asked for his name. He replied, “I am Sun Zichu.” A Bao found this very surprising but couldn’t tell anyone. Sun Zichu lay in bed for three days, his breath growing weak, and it seemed like he was on the verge of death. His family was filled with fear and, through someone else, kindly informed the wealthy businessman, planning to seek Sun Zichu’s soul at his house.

The wealthy businessman chuckled and said, “We have never had any dealings before. How could his soul end up in my house?” Sun Zichu’s family pleaded repeatedly, and finally, the wealthy businessman agreed. A shamaness brought old clothes and straw mats to the wealthy businessman’s house. A Bao learned that they had come to summon his soul, and she was extremely surprised. Instead of having the shamaness go elsewhere, she took her directly to her own bedroom and allowed her to perform the ritual.

When the shamaness returned to the door, Sun Zichu was already moaning on the bed. Upon waking up, he could accurately describe all the grooming tools and items in A Bao’s room, without making any mistakes. A Bao, upon hearing this, was even more astonished but secretly felt Sun Zichu’s deep affection.

Once Sun Zichu managed to get out of bed, he couldn’t stop thinking about A Bao. Whether sitting or standing, he was always lost in thoughts of her, often forgetting his own existence. He frequently inquired about A Bao’s whereabouts, hoping for the chance to see her again. It was said that on the Bathing Buddha Festival, A Bao would be going to the Water Moon Temple to offer incense. Sun Zichu woke up early that day and waited by the roadside. He waited eagerly, staring so intensely that his eyes grew weary. It was noon when A Bao finally arrived.

When A Bao saw Sun Zichu from her carriage, she pushed aside the curtain and fixed her gaze on him. Sun Zichu became even more excited and followed the carriage. In the midst of her haste, A Bao sent a maid to inquire about Sun Zichu’s name. Sun Zichu hurriedly gave his name, and he was so thrilled that his soul seemed to have taken flight. Once the carriage disappeared, Sun Zichu made his way back home.

Upon returning home, Sun Zichu’s old ailment resurfaced. He lay in a daze, refusing to eat or drink, and frequently called out A Bao’s name in his dreams. He lamented that his soul couldn’t be as agile as before. The Sun family had a parrot, and suddenly, it died. A child was playing with the parrot on the bed. Sun Zichu thought, “If only I could transform into a parrot, I could fly to A Bao’s room.” As he concentrated on this thought, his body had already transformed into a parrot. He flew away in a hurry, all the way to A Bao’s residence.

A Bao, upon seeing the parrot, happily caught it and tied it to her ankle, feeding it sesame seeds. The parrot exclaimed, “Sister, please don’t tie me up! I am Sun Zichu!” A Bao was astonished, untied the rope, and the parrot didn’t fly away. A Bao prayed, “Your deep affection is engraved in my heart. But now, you and I are of different species. How can our beautiful love be restored?” The parrot replied, “Being by your side fulfills my wish.” It refused to eat when others offered food, only accepting it from A Bao herself. When A Bao sat down, the parrot would perch on her knee; when she lay down, it nestled by her bedside. This went on for three days.

A Bao cherished the parrot deeply and secretly sent someone to check on Sun Zichu. That’s when she learned that Sun Zichu had been lying stiffly in bed, dead for three days, but his heart hadn’t yet turned cold. A Bao prayed to the parrot again, saying, “If you can turn back into a human, I vow to be with you even in death.” The parrot responded, “Are you tricking me?” A Bao then swore her oath. At that moment, the parrot looked as though it was pondering something. After a while, as A Bao was binding her feet and taking off her shoes, the parrot suddenly swooped down, picked up a shoe, and flew away. A Bao urgently called out, but it had already flown far away.

A Bao called her mother to come and visit. By this time, Sun Zichu had already regained consciousness. When the people in the house saw the parrot flying in with an embroidered shoe and then falling dead as soon as it entered the room, they were extremely astonished. When Sun Zichu woke up, he immediately requested the embroidered shoe, leaving everyone puzzled.

At that moment, A Bao’s mother arrived and entered the room to visit Sun Zichu. She inquired about the whereabouts of the shoe. Sun Zichu said, “This is a token of A Bao’s solemn promise. Please convey to A Bao: I will never forget her golden vow.” A Bao’s mother went back to relay the message. A Bao was even more amazed and deliberately let her maids reveal the hidden truth to her mother.

After confirming the truth, her mother said, “This Sun Zichu may not have a bad reputation, but he’s as poor as Sima Xiangru. After searching for a son-in-law for several years, we finally chose someone like this. I’m afraid he’ll be ridiculed by those who are wealthy and influential in the future.” A Bao used the excuse of the embroidered shoe and swore that she would not marry anyone else except Sun Zichu. Her parents had no choice but to agree with her.

Someone quickly passed the news to Sun Zichu. He was overjoyed, and his illness immediately improved. The wealthy businessman intended to have Sun Zichu marry into his family, but A Bao said, “A son-in-law should not stay in his father-in-law’s house for an extended period, especially considering that the groom’s family is poor. If he stays too long, he will be looked down upon. Since I’ve promised to marry him, I am willing to live in a thatched hut and eat wild vegetables if necessary.” Thus, Sun Zichu personally welcomed A Bao as his bride, and their reunion felt as if long-separated spouses were coming together again with great joy.

Since Sun Zichu’s family received the dowry, their life became somewhat more comfortable, and their wealth increased significantly. Sun Zichu was deeply immersed in his studies and didn’t understand how to manage the household. On the other hand, A Bao was skilled in managing the household finances and didn’t bother him with trivial matters. After three years, Sun Zichu’s family became even wealthier.

However, Sun Zichu suddenly developed diabetes and passed away. A Bao mourned deeply, shedding tears continuously. Eventually, her grief led to loss of appetite and sleepless nights. Despite the family’s efforts to console her, she took advantage of a quiet night and attempted suicide by hanging herself. Her maids discovered her and rushed to save her. A Bao was revived but still refused to eat or drink.

On the third day after Sun Zichu’s death, relatives and friends came to prepare for his burial. They heard moaning sounds coming from the coffin, and when they opened it, they found that Sun Zichu had come back to life. He explained, “After death, I met King Yama, who, due to my simple and sincere life, appointed me to a bureaucratic position. While I was being settled in, someone reported, ‘Sun’s wife is about to arrive.’ King Yama checked the ghost records and said, ‘She isn’t due to die yet.’ Someone else said, ‘She hasn’t eaten or drunk anything for three days.’ King Yama told me, ‘Your wife’s great integrity and devotion have moved me. I will grant you another chance at life.’ So, King Yama sent someone to lead me on a horse and sent me back.”

From that point on, Sun Zichu’s health gradually improved.

Just in time for the triennial provincial examination, before the exams, some mischievous young men decided to play a prank on Sun Zichu. They came up with seven obscure questions and took Sun Zichu to a remote place, saying, “These are questions obtained through secret connections with certain individuals, and we’re discreetly giving them to you.” Sun Zichu fell for their trick and pondered day and night, eventually writing seven essays. Privately, everyone secretly chuckled at him.

The chief examiner at the time considered that familiar exam questions often led to plagiarism and stagnation. So, he decided to completely change the style of the questions. When the exam papers were handed out, Sun Zichu saw that his seven prepared essays perfectly matched the exam requirements. Consequently, Sun Zichu achieved the highest score and ranked first in the exam. The following year, he passed the imperial examination again and was appointed to the position of a Hanlin scholar.

Word of Sun Zichu’s extraordinary feat reached the emperor’s ears, and he summoned him for an inquiry. Sun Zichu truthfully reported the events, which delighted the emperor, and he praised Sun Zichu. Later, the emperor also summoned A Bao, rewarding her with various gifts.

The chronicler of strange tales said: “When one’s disposition is focused, their aspirations will converge. Therefore, those who are dedicated to learning will produce well-crafted writings, and those who are devoted to craftsmanship will excel in their skills. In society, those who are aimless and achieve nothing are often the ones who consider themselves not foolish. For instance, those who squander their family’s fortune for the sake of women or ruin their households due to gambling, can we really say that these are the actions of foolish people? From this perspective, excessively clever and cunning individuals are the ones who are truly foolish, and what foolishness does Sun Zichu exhibit?”











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