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?”

《阿宝》

粤西孙子楚,名士也。生有枝指。性迂讷,人诳之,辄信为真。或值座有歌妓,则必遥望却走。或知其然,诱之来,使妓狎逼之,则赪颜彻颈,汗珠珠下滴。因共为笑。遂貌其呆状,相邮传作丑语,而名之“孙痴”。

邑大贾某翁,与王侯埒富,姻戚皆贵胄。有女阿宝,绝色也。日择良匹,大家儿争委禽妆,皆不当翁意。生时失俪,有戏之者,劝其通媒。生殊不自揣,果从其教。翁素耳其名,而贫之。媒媪将出,适遇宝,问之,以告。女戏曰:“渠去其枝指,余当归之。”媪告生,生曰:“不难。”媒去,生以斧自断其指,大痛彻心,血益倾注,滨死。过数日,始能起,往见媒而示之。媪惊,奔告女,女亦奇之,戏请再去其痴。生闻而哗辨,自谓不痴,然无由见而自剖。转念阿宝未必美如天人,何遂高自位置如此?由是曩念顿冷。

会值清明,俗于是日妇女出游,轻薄少年,亦结队随行,恣其月旦。有同社数人,强邀生去。或嘲之曰:“莫欲一观可人否?”生亦知其戏己,然以受女揶揄故,亦思一见其人,忻然随众物色之。遥见有女子憩树下,恶少年环如墙堵。众曰:“此必阿宝也。”趋之,果宝。审谛之,娟丽无双。少顷,人益稠,女起,遽去。众情颠倒,品头题足,纷纷若狂,生独默然。及众他适,回视,生犹痴立故所,呼之不应。群曳之曰:“魂随阿宝去耶?”亦不答。众以其素讷,故不为怪,或推之,或挽之,以归。至家,直上床卧,终日不起,冥如醉,唤之不醒。家人疑其失魂,招于旷野,莫能效。强拍问之,则矇眬应云:“我在阿宝家。”及细诘之,又默不语。家人惶惑莫解。

初,生见女去,意不忍舍,觉身已从之行,渐傍其衿带间,人无呵者。遂从女归,坐卧依之,夜辄与狎,甚相得。然觉腹中奇馁,思欲一返家门,而迷不知路。女每梦与人交,问其名,曰:“我孙子楚也。”心异之,而不可以告人。生卧三日,气休休若将澌灭,家人大恐,托人婉告翁,欲一招魂其家。翁笑曰:“平昔不相往还,何由遗魂吾家?”家人固哀之,翁始允。巫执故服、草荐以往。女诘得其故,骇极,不听他往,直导入室,任招呼而去。巫归至门,生榻上已呻。既醒,女室之香奁什具,何色何名,历言不爽。女闻之,益骇,阴感其情之深。

生既离床寝,坐立凝思,忽忽若忘。每伺察阿宝,希幸一再遘之。浴佛节,闻将降香水月寺,遂早旦往候道左,目眩睛劳,日涉午,女始至。自车中窥见生,以掺手搴帘,凝睇不转。生益动,尾从之。女忽命青衣来诘姓字,生殷勤自展,魂益摇。车去,始归。归复病,冥然绝食,梦中辄呼宝名。每自恨魂不复灵。家旧养一鹦鹉,忽毙,小儿持弄于床。生自念倘得身为鹦鹉,振翼可达女室,心方注想,身已翩然鹦鹉,遽飞而去,直达宝所。女喜而扑之,锁其肘,饲以麻子。大呼曰:“姐姐勿锁!我孙子楚也!”女大骇,解其缚,亦不去。女祝曰:“深情已篆中心。今已人禽异类,姻好何可复圆?”鸟云:“得近芳泽,于愿已足。”他人饲之不食,女自饲之则食,女坐则集其膝,卧则依其床,如是三日。女甚怜之,阴使人瞯生,生则僵卧气绝,已三日,但心头未冰耳。女又祝曰:“君能复为人,当誓死相从。”鸟云:“诳我。”女乃自矢。鸟侧目若有所思。少间,女束双弯,解履床下,鹦鹉骤下,衔履飞去。女急呼之,飞已远矣。

女使妪往探,则生已寤。家人见鹦鹉衔绣履来,堕地死,方共异之。生既苏,即索履,众莫知故。适妪至,入视生,问履所在。生曰:“是阿宝信誓物。借口相覆:小生不忘金诺也。”妪反命。女益奇之,故使婢泄其情于母。母审之确,乃曰:“此子才名亦不恶,但有相如之贫。择数年得婿若此,恐将为显者笑。”女以履故,矢不他,翁媪从之。驰报生。生喜,疾顿瘳。翁议赘诸家,女曰:“婿不可久处岳家,况郎又贫,久益为人贱。儿既诺之,处蓬茆而甘,藜藿不怨也。”生乃亲迎成礼,相逢如隔世欢。

自是家得奁妆,小阜,颇增物产。而生痴于书,不知理家人生业;女善居积,亦不以他事累生。居三年,家益富。生忽病消渴,卒。女哭之痛,泪眼不晴,至绝眠食。劝之不纳,乘夜自经。婢觉之,急救而醒,终亦不食。三日,集亲党,将以殓生,闻棺中呻以息,启之,已复活。自言:“见冥王,以生平朴诚,命作部曹。忽有人白:‘孙部曹之妻将至。’王稽鬼录,言:‘此未应便死。’又白:‘不食三日矣。’王顾谓:‘感汝妻节义,姑赐再生。’因使驭卒控马送余还。”由此体渐平。

值岁大比,入闱之前,诸少年玩弄之,共拟隐僻之题七,引生僻处与语,言:“此某家关节,敬秘相授。”生信之,昼夜揣摩,制成七艺。众隐笑之。时典试者虑熟题有蹈袭弊,力反常经,题纸下,七艺皆符。生以是抡魁。明年,举进士,授词林。上闻异,召问之,生具启奏,上大嘉悦。后召见阿宝,赏赉有加焉。

异史氏曰:性痴则其志凝,故书痴者文必工,艺痴者技必良。世之落拓而无成者,皆自谓不痴者也。且如粉花荡产,卢雉倾家,顾痴人事哉!以是知慧黠而过,乃是真痴,彼孙子何痴乎!

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