City God Examination: A Journey Beyond Life

Follow Mr. Song's supernatural journey to the City God Examination and beyond in this captivating afterlife story.

My brother-in-law’s grandfather, Mr. Song Tao, was a scholar in our county. One day, while he was lying in bed sick, he suddenly saw an official messenger holding official documents and leading a horse with white hair on its forehead. The messenger said, “Please, sir, come and participate in the examination.” Mr. Song asked, “The chief examiner, the learned official, hasn’t arrived yet. How can the examination be held suddenly?” The messenger did not reply but urged him to set out. Mr. Song had no choice but to mount the horse and follow him, feeling that the road they were taking was very unfamiliar. Before long, they arrived in a city that seemed like an imperial capital. They entered an official residence, where a magnificent palace stood. In the hall, there were more than ten officials, most of whom Mr. Song did not recognize. He only knew one of them was Guan Yu. In front of the hall, there were several tables with two stools each, and a scholar had already taken a seat at the lower end. Mr. Song sat down beside him. On each table, there were paper and pens. After a while, a paper with a title was sent down from the hall. Mr. Song read it, and it had eight characters: “One person, two persons, with intention or without.” After they finished writing their essays, they submitted their answer sheets to the hall. In Mr. Song’s essay, there was a sentence that said, “If someone does good deeds with a good heart, even though they have done good, they should not be rewarded; if someone unintentionally does bad deeds, even though they have done wrong, they may not be punished.” The officials in the hall praised his essay incessantly. They then summoned Mr. Song to the hall and said, “There is a vacancy for a City God in Henan. You are very suitable for this position.” Mr. Song suddenly realized and said, while bowing and crying, “I am deeply honored by this important duty. How can I dare to decline? However, my elderly mother at home is over seventy years old, and there is no one to care for her. Please allow me to fulfill this duty after my mother has passed away.” A man in the hall who looked like an emperor immediately ordered an examination of Mr. Song’s mother’s life span. An official with a long beard, holding a record book of people’s life spans, reviewed it and said, “Mrs. Song still has nine years of life.” While the officials were hesitating, Guan Sheng Emperor said, “Let the scholar with the surname Zhang act as an interim City God for nine years, and then let him take over.” The emperor-like figure said to Mr. Song, “You were supposed to take up the position immediately, but since you show filial piety, we will grant you a nine-year leave. When the time comes, we will summon you.” He then spoke a few encouraging words to Zhang, the scholar with the surname Zhang. Both scholars thanked them and left the hall together. Zhang, the scholar, accompanied Mr. Song to the outskirts and introduced himself as Zhang from Changshan. He recited a farewell poem for Mr. Song, but Mr. Song had forgotten most of the lines, only remembering the two lines in the middle: “With flowers and wine, spring is always here; Without candles or lamps, the night is self-illuminated.”

After Mr. Song mounted the horse, he bid farewell and departed. When he returned home, it was as if he had suddenly awakened from a profound dream. At that moment, he had already been dead for three days. Hearing groans coming from the coffin, Mrs. Song hastily helped him out, but it took Mr. Song half a day before he could speak again. He sent someone to Changshan to inquire, and indeed, there was a scholar named Zhang who had died on that day. Nine years later, Mrs. Song truly passed away. After burying his mother, Mr. Song bathed and attended to himself, then entered his house and passed away. Mr. Song’s father-in-law’s family lived inside the west gate of the city. One day, they suddenly saw Mr. Song riding a beautifully adorned horse, followed by many carriages, horses, and servants. He entered the inner hall, bid farewell, and departed. The entire family was astonished and suspicious, not knowing that Mr. Song had already become a deity. Mr. Song’s father-in-law sent someone to Mr. Song’s hometown to inquire, only to discover that Mr. Song had already passed away.

Mr. Song had once written a brief biography of himself, but unfortunately, it was not preserved due to the upheavals of war. The account provided here is only a rough outline.

《考城隍》

予姊丈之祖,宋公讳焘,邑廪生。一日,病卧,见吏人持牒,牵白颠马来,云:“请赴试。”公言:“文宗未临,何遽得考?”吏不言,但敦促之。公力疾乘马从去,路甚生疏。至一城郭,如王者都。移时入府廨,宫室壮丽。上坐十馀官,都不知何人,惟关壮缪可识。檐下设几、墩各二,先有一秀才坐其末,公便与连肩。几上各有笔札。俄题纸飞下。视之,八字,云:“一人二人,有心无心。”二公文成,呈殿上。公文中有云:“有心为善,虽善不赏;无心为恶,虽恶不罚。”诸神传赞不已。召公上,谕曰:“河南缺一城隍,君称其职。”公方悟,顿首泣曰:“辱膺宠命,何敢多辞。但老母七旬,奉养无人,请得终其天年,惟听录用。”上一帝王像者,即命稽母寿籍。有长须吏,捧册翻阅一过,白:“有阳算九年。”共踌躇间,关帝曰:“不妨令张生摄篆九年,瓜代可也。”乃谓公:“应即赴任,今推仁孝之心,给假九年。及期,当复相召。”又勉励秀才数语。二公稽首并下。秀才握手,送诸郊野。自言长山张某。以诗赠别,都忘其词,中有“有花有酒春常在,无烛无灯夜自明”之句。

公既骑,乃别而去。及抵里,豁若梦寤。时卒已三日。母闻棺中呻吟,扶出,半日始能语。问之长山,果有张生,于是日死矣。后九年,母果卒。营葬既毕,浣濯入室而殁。其岳家居城中西门内,忽见公镂膺朱,舆马甚众,登其堂,一拜而行。相共惊疑,不知其为神。奔讯乡中,则已殁矣。

公有自记小传,惜乱后无存,此其略耳。

Leave a Comment