In the rustic heartland, a destitute lad found his life entangled with the enigmatic charms of a beguiling woman. Little did he know, this chance encounter would lead him on a journey of deception, unbridled desires, and an unforeseen twist of divine destiny.
A country lad named Ma Tianrong, in his twenties, became a widower and couldn’t remarry due to his family’s poverty. One day, while he was weeding in the field, he saw a well-dressed young woman stepping on the rice seedlings as she crossed the field ridge. She had a rosy complexion and a seductive allure. Ma Tianrong suspected that she was lost, and seeing no one around, he approached her to tease and flirt with her. The young woman seemed to be receptive to his advances. Ma Tianrong wanted to be intimate with her, and the young woman smiled and said, “How can we do such things in broad daylight? When you return home, leave your door slightly ajar and wait for me. I will come to you in the dark of night.” Ma Tianrong didn’t believe her, but the young woman swore an oath. Ma Tianrong told her his exact location, and she left.
Sure enough, in the middle of the night, the young woman came. They shared a bed and found pleasure in each other’s company. Ma Tianrong felt that the young woman’s skin was exceptionally delicate. When he lit a lamp, he noticed that her skin was red and thin, just like a newborn baby’s. Her whole body was covered in fine hair, which struck him as peculiar. He also felt suspicious about the young woman’s origin, wondering if she might be a fox spirit in disguise. So, half-jokingly, he asked if she was a fox spirit, and the young woman admitted it without hesitation.
Ma Tianrong said, “Since you are a celestial being, you must naturally get whatever you desire. Since I have received your favor, why not bring me a few taels of silver to alleviate my current poverty?” The young woman agreed. The next night, she came, and Ma Tianrong asked her for the silver. The young woman pretended to be surprised and said, “Unfortunately, I forgot.” As she was about to leave, Ma Tianrong reminded her not to forget the silver next time.
Several days later, Ma Tianrong asked her again, “You haven’t forgotten my request, have you?” The young woman smiled and asked Ma Tianrong to wait a few more days. After a few days passed, Ma Tianrong once again asked her for the silver. The young woman then smiled and took out two ingots of white silver from her sleeve, estimating to be about five or six taels of silver. The silver ingots had delicate patterns on the edges, making them elegant and lovely. Ma Tianrong was very pleased and kept them in a box.
Six months later, Ma Tianrong urgently needed money and showed the silver ingots to someone. That person said, “This is tin,” and bit into it with their teeth, immediately revealing it was not real silver. Ma Tianrong was greatly shocked and put away the two pieces of tin ingots, returning home. In the night, the young woman came, and Ma Tianrong angrily accused her of deception. However, the young woman smiled and said, “Your fate is thin; if I had given you real silver, you might not have the fortune to enjoy it.” With that, she smiled charmingly and brushed the matter aside.
Ma Tianrong said, “I’ve heard that fox spirits are all exceptionally beautiful and enchanting, but it seems that’s not entirely true.” The young woman replied, “We fox spirits can change our appearance at will depending on the person we interact with. Even if I were to gift you a stunning beauty, you wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy her, considering you don’t even have the fortune of possessing a tael or two of silver. With my ugliness and foolishness, I may not be suitable for someone of high status, but compared to those hunched and big-footed women, I can also be considered a beauty.”
After a few months, the young woman suddenly gave three taels of silver to Ma Tianrong, saying, “You’ve repeatedly asked me for silver, but I refrained from giving it to you because of your ill fate, thinking you shouldn’t possess silver. Now that you’re about to marry, I’m giving you this money for the betrothal of a woman, also as a farewell gift.” Ma Tianrong explained that he had no intention of getting married. The young woman said, “A matchmaker will come to your door within a day or two, for sure.” Ma Tianrong asked, “What does the new bride look like?” The young woman replied, “If you desire a beauty, she will indeed be a beauty.” Ma Tianrong said, “I dare not hope for a beauty. But how can three taels of silver buy a woman?” The young woman said, “This is arranged by the Matchmaker of the Moon, something beyond human control.” Ma Tianrong then asked, “Why are you suddenly saying goodbye to me?” The young woman said, “I come and go tirelessly every day; it’s not a long-term solution. You have your own wife, so what’s the point of us continuing like this?” After daybreak, the young woman hurriedly left. Before parting, she gave Ma Tianrong a small amount of yellow powder and said, “After we part ways, you might fall ill. Take this powder, and it should cure your illness.”
The next day, indeed, a matchmaker came to propose a marriage. Ma Tianrong first inquired about the appearance of the woman. The matchmaker said, “The woman’s appearance is neither beautiful nor ugly.” Ma Tianrong then asked, “How much is the bride price?” The matchmaker replied, “It would be about four to five taels of silver.” Ma Tianrong said that the bride price was not a problem but insisted on seeing the woman in person. The matchmaker was concerned that a respectable woman might not want to appear in public. In the end, they agreed to visit the woman’s family together. The matchmaker instructed Ma Tianrong to be discreet and not to reveal his intentions.
When they arrived at the village where the woman’s family lived, the matchmaker went ahead, asking Ma Tianrong to wait outside the village. After a considerable time, the matchmaker returned and said, “Everything is settled. I have a cousin who is a neighbor of the woman in the same courtyard. I went to their house just now and saw the woman sitting inside. You can pretend to visit my cousin’s house, and as you pass by her door, you can have a closer look.” Ma Tianrong followed the matchmaker’s instructions.
Indeed, he saw the woman sitting inside her house. Her upper body was lying on the bed, and someone was scratching her back. As Ma Tianrong hurriedly passed by her door, his gaze quickly swept over the woman’s face, confirming that her appearance matched what the matchmaker had described. When they discussed the bride price, the woman’s family did not haggle over the amount of silver; they only requested one or two taels of silver to buy the woman some new clothes and to send her off. Ma Tianrong negotiated a bit before handing over the silver. As a result, the bride price, along with the fees for thanking the matchmaker and the marriage contract scribe, added up to exactly three taels of silver, without spending an extra penny.
It was only on the auspicious day chosen for the wedding ceremony when Ma Tianrong finally realized that the woman had a hump on her back, a neck that resembled a turtle’s, and her feet under the skirt were as large as small boats, about one foot long. It was at that moment that Ma Tianrong awakened to the fact that the words spoken by the fox woman had all been purposeful.
The chronicler of strange tales said, “The appearance of fox spirits changes with different individuals, perhaps as a self-deprecating jest by the fox woman about her own appearance. However, her words about blessings and fortunes are truly convincing. I often say: Without the ancestral generations’ cultivation, one cannot attain high office; and without one’s own generations of cultivation, it is impossible to marry a beautiful woman as a wife. Those who believe in karma and retribution surely won’t find my words overly broad or unbelievable!”