Lian Xiang: Fall in love with fox spirit and ghost

Explore the enchanting tale of love, reincarnation, and eternal connections that transcends life and death between a scholar, a fox spirit and a female ghost.

Sang Xiao, whose courtesy name was Zi Ming, was a native of Yizhou. He lost his father at a young age and lived in Honghua Bu. Sang Xiao was a quiet and contented person. Apart from going to his neighbor’s house for meals twice a day, he spent the rest of his time reading quietly at home. One day, a scholar from the east, jokingly asked when visiting Sang Xiao’s place, “Aren’t you afraid of ghosts and foxes living alone?” Sang Xiao smiled and replied, “What is there for a real man to fear ghosts and foxes? If a male comes, I have a sharp sword; if a female comes, I’ll let her in.”

The scholar from the east returned home and, after discussing with his friends, had a courtesan climb over the wall with a ladder and then knocked on Sang Xiao’s door with a snap of her fingers. Sang Xiao peered through the door crack and asked who it was. The courtesan replied that she was a ghost, which terrified Sang Xiao, and his teeth chattered in fear. The courtesan dawdled for a while and then left.

Early the next morning, the scholar from the east came to Sang Xiao’s study. Sang Xiao recounted the events of the previous night and mentioned that he wanted to go home early. The scholar from the east clapped his hands and said, “Why didn’t you let her in?” Sang Xiao suddenly realized that the events of the previous night were a ruse, so he continued to live as before.

After half a year had passed, a woman knocked on the door late at night. Sang Xiao thought it was a friend playing a prank on him again, so he opened the door to let her in. To his surprise, it was an incredibly beautiful woman. He asked her where she came from, and the woman replied, “My name is Lianxiang, and I’m a courtesan from the West Street.” At that time, there were quite a few brothels in Honghua Bu, so Sang Xiao believed her. They then extinguished the lights and became extremely intimate, and from that moment on, she would come once every three to five days.

After half a year had passed, a woman knocked on the door late at night. Sang Xiao thought it was a friend playing a prank on him again, so he opened the door to let her in. To his surprise, it was an incredibly beautiful woman. He asked her where she came from, and the woman replied, “My name is Lianxiang, and I’m a courtesan from the West Street.” At that time, there were quite a few brothels in Honghua Bu, so Sang Xiao believed her. They then extinguished the lights and became extremely intimate, and from that moment on, she would come once every three to five days.

After half a year had passed, a woman knocked on the door late at night. Sang Xiao thought it was a friend playing a prank on him again, so he opened the door to let her in. To his surprise, it was an incredibly beautiful woman. He asked her where she came from, and the woman replied, “My name is Lianxiang, and I’m a courtesan from the West Street.” At that time, there were quite a few brothels in Honghua Bu, so Sang Xiao believed her. They then extinguished the lights and became extremely intimate, and from that moment on, she would come once every three to five days.

After spending the night, Lianxiang came, and Sang Xiao playfully said, “I never really believed it when someone said you were a fox spirit.” Lianxiang hurriedly asked, “Who said that?” Sang Xiao smiled and replied, “I was just joking with you.” Lianxiang asked, “What’s the difference between a fox spirit and a human?” Sang Xiao explained, “Being deceived by a fox spirit can lead to illness, and in severe cases, death, which is why people are afraid of them.” Lianxiang responded, “That’s not correct. At your age, your vitality can recover in three days after sexual activity. So, what does it matter even if I were a fox spirit? If one engages in sexual activity every night, humans would suffer more than fox spirits. Are all those who died of sexual diseases in the world victims of fox spirits? Nevertheless, there are always people who speak ill of me.” Sang Xiao tried to reassure her that nothing like that had happened, but Lianxiang continued to press him. Eventually, he reluctantly admitted to it.

Lianxiang said, “I suspected why you were so fatigued. But why is it so severe? Could she not be human? Don’t reveal this, but tomorrow night, I want to spy on her, just as she did to me.” That night, when Miss Li arrived, they had only exchanged a few words when they heard coughing from outside the window, and she hurriedly left. After Lianxiang came in, she said, “You are in danger! She’s truly a supernatural being! You’re infatuated with her beauty and haven’t severed the relationship promptly, so your death is imminent!” Sang Xiao thought she was jealous and remained silent. Lianxiang said, “I had anticipated that you wouldn’t forget about her, but I can’t bear to watch you die. Tomorrow, I will bring medicine to treat your affliction. Fortunately, the root of the illness is still shallow, and you will recover in ten days. You’ll need to sleep in the same bed with me, and I will oversee your recovery.”

The next night, Lianxiang indeed brought medicine. Sang Xiao took the medicine and immediately experienced a couple of strong purges, feeling as if his internal organs had been cleansed, and his spirits lifted instantly. While he was grateful to Lianxiang, he still didn’t believe that Miss Li was a ghost.

Night after night, Lianxiang slept in the same bed with Sang Xiao, but whenever he tried to engage in sexual activity, she would refuse. After several days of this, Sang Xiao’s health improved. When Lianxiang was about to leave, she earnestly admonished Sang Xiao to sever ties with Miss Li. Sang Xiao pretended to agree.

Once the lights were out and Sang Xiao was alone, he couldn’t help but pick up the embroidered shoe and think about Miss Li. Suddenly, Miss Li appeared, and because they hadn’t met for several days, she seemed somewhat resentful. Sang Xiao explained, “She performed a witchcraft ritual overnight to cure me, please don’t be angry. My affection for you remains unchanged.” This made Miss Li happy. Sang Xiao whispered on his pillow, “My love for you is deep, but some people say you are a ghost.” Miss Li was speechless for a long time and angrily replied, “It must be that seductive fox spirit who has confused you! If you don’t sever ties with her, I will never come again!” She began to cry. Sang Xiao did his best to comfort and persuade her, eventually calming her down.

The next night, when Lianxiang arrived and learned that Miss Li had come again, she angrily said, “Do you really want to court disaster?” Sang Xiao smiled and replied, “Why do you need to be so jealous of her?” This only infuriated Lianxiang further, and she said, “I’ve removed the root of death you planted. If I’m not jealous, what kind of person would I be?” Sang Xiao jokingly excused himself, saying, “She mentioned that the illness from a few days ago was the result of a fox spirit’s mischief.” Lianxiang sighed and said, “It’s just as you say. If you remain so stubborn, and if you encounter any mishap, no matter how many times I explain, it won’t matter. I’d better take my leave now. One hundred days from now, I will be by your bedside.” Sang Xiao couldn’t persuade her to stay, and Lianxiang left in anger.

From then on, Miss Li would come every night, and after about two months, Sang Xiao began to feel increasingly fatigued. Initially, he tried to rationalize it himself, but he grew weaker with each passing day until he could only manage to drink a bowl of thin rice gruel. He contemplated returning home to recover, but he was reluctant to leave all at once. He endured for a few more days, but eventually, he became so ill that he couldn’t get out of bed. A neighboring scholar, seeing how seriously ill he had become, sent a servant boy to bring him some food every day. At this point, Sang Xiao began to suspect Miss Li. He said to her, “I regret not listening to Lianxiang’s words in the beginning. I can’t believe it has come to this!” After saying that, he closed his eyes.

An hour later, he woke up, looked around, and realized that Miss Li had already left, and she never came back again.

Sang Xiao lay emaciated in the empty study, yearning for Lianxiang like a hungry person anticipates a bountiful harvest. One day, as he was lost in thought, someone suddenly lifted the curtain and entered the room – it was Lianxiang. Approaching his sickbed, Lianxiang tauntingly said, “Did I speak nonsense, country bumpkin?” Sang Xiao choked up for a long time, repeatedly admitting his mistake, and pleaded for Lianxiang’s help. She replied, “Your illness is beyond hope, there’s no way to save you. I’ve only come to bid you farewell to prove that I’m not jealous.” Sang Xiao was deeply saddened and asked, “There’s something under my pillow; please destroy it for me.” Lianxiang retrieved the embroidered shoe, brought it to the light, and examined it. At that moment, Miss Li suddenly entered the room, and upon seeing Lianxiang, she immediately tried to flee. Lianxiang blocked the door with her body, leaving Miss Li in a state of panic with no way to escape. Sang Xiao reprimanded Miss Li, who couldn’t utter a word in response. Lianxiang chuckled and said, “Today, I have the chance to confront Auntie face to face. In the past, I mentioned that your lord’s illness might be because of me. How does it seem now?” Miss Li hung her head in acknowledgment of her wrongdoing. Lianxiang said, “How could such a beautiful person like you end up becoming enemies due to a love affair?” Miss Li knelt down on the ground, crying in anguish, and begged for mercy and forgiveness. Lianxiang helped Miss Li to her feet and questioned her about her life. Miss Li said, “I am the daughter of Magistrate Li and died at a young age, buried outside the wall. I’m like a silkworm in spring; even though I’m dead, the silk I left behind hasn’t run out. My wish was to be with you, not to cause your death. Lianxiang asked, “I’ve heard that ghosts desire the death of humans because they can gather together more often after death. Is that true?” Miss Li replied, “No, that’s not the case. When two ghosts gather together, it’s not enjoyable. If it were, wouldn’t there be fewer young men in the underworld?” Lianxiang said, “That’s truly foolish! Engaging in such activities every night is already unbearable for humans, let alone with ghosts.” Miss Li asked, “Fox spirits can harm people; do you have any way to avoid that?” Lianxiang responded, “The ones who can harm people are those that absorb human yang energy to nourish themselves. I am not that kind of fox spirit. Therefore, in the world, there may be fox spirits that don’t harm people, but there definitely aren’t ghosts that don’t harm people, as ghosts carry heavy yin energy.”

After hearing their conversation, Sang Xiao realized that the stories of ghosts and fox spirits were true. Fortunately, he had become accustomed to their presence and was no longer as afraid. However, the thought of his imminent demise overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t help but burst into tears.

Lianxiang looked at Miss Li and asked, “How can you cure my husband?” Blushing, Miss Li admitted that she had no way to do so. Lianxiang chuckled and said, “Once my husband recovers his health, you, the jealous lady, will become even more sour.” Miss Li straightened her clothes and earnestly replied, “If a renowned physician can cure my husband’s illness and relieve my worries, I will willingly return to the underworld forever. How could I dare to show my face in the mortal world again?”

Lianxiang then took out medicine from a small pouch and explained, “I anticipated this day and went to collect herbs in the Three Mountains after we parted. It took me over three months to gather all the necessary ingredients. Even for someone afflicted with a chronic ailment near death, this medicine guarantees survival. However, the root cause of the illness must be addressed, and I’ll need your help with that.”

Miss Li asked, “What do you need?” Lianxiang replied, “A bit of cherry-scented saliva from your mouth. I’ll place the pill in his mouth, and I need you to pass some saliva mouth to mouth.”

Upon hearing this, Miss Li blushed and felt embarrassed. She hesitated, looked around nervously, and then lowered her head to gaze at her own shoes. Lianxiang teased her, saying, “Is the embroidered shoe your proudest possession, dear sister?” Miss Li felt even more ashamed, constantly shifting her gaze and appearing at a loss.

Lianxiang continued, “You’re usually quite skilled at this; why are you hesitating today?” She then placed the pill into Sang Xiao’s mouth and turned to urge Miss Li to provide the saliva. Reluctantly, Miss Li had no choice but to pass her saliva mouth to mouth. Lianxiang said, “One more time.” Miss Li spat again. This process repeated three or four times. After a while, Sang Xiao’s stomach rumbled like thunder. Lianxiang inserted another pill and transferred it mouth to mouth. Sang Xiao felt his lower abdomen burning with heat, and he suddenly felt rejuvenated.

Lianxiang exclaimed, “It’s done!” Upon hearing the rooster’s crow, Miss Li, step by step, reluctantly left the room.

Because Sang Xiao had just recovered from a severe illness, Lianxiang had to take care of him and couldn’t go to the neighboring house for meals anymore. She locked the front gate from the outside to give the appearance that Sang Xiao had returned to his hometown, cutting off all contact. She stayed by his side day and night.

Miss Li continued to visit every night, attentively serving Sang Xiao. Lianxiang treated Miss Li like a sister, and they developed a deep bond.

Three months later, Sang Xiao had fully recovered his health. However, Miss Li stopped visiting for several days, and when she did come, it was just for a brief visit. Whenever they met, she seemed melancholic. Lianxiang often invited Miss Li to stay longer, but she always declined.

One day, Sang Xiao chased after Miss Li and forcibly carried her back. She was incredibly light, almost like a straw doll. Miss Li couldn’t escape and lay down on her side, fully clothed, her body measuring less than two feet. Lianxiang felt sorry for her and allowed Sang Xiao to embrace her intimately. No matter how he shook her, she remained asleep. After a nap, when Sang Xiao woke up and searched for her, she had disappeared.

Several weeks passed, and Miss Li didn’t visit again. Sang Xiao missed her dearly and often took out the embroidered shoes to reminisce. Lianxiang commented, “Miss Li is so graceful and lovely that even I admire her, let alone a man like you.” Sang Xiao replied with sadness, “I used to think that whenever I touched the embroidered shoes, she would appear. I had my suspicions, but I never imagined she was a ghost. Now, facing the shoes and reminiscing about her, it’s truly heart-wrenching.” As he spoke, tears streamed down his face.

Before this, there was a wealthy family named Zhang, and their daughter was called Yan’er, who was only fifteen years old. She fell seriously ill and couldn’t sweat, almost dying. After a night, she suddenly woke up and tried to run away. The Zhang family locked the doors and prevented her from leaving. Yan’er herself said, “I am the soul of the magistrate’s daughter. Due to Sang Lang’s affection for me, my shoes are still with him. I am indeed a ghost. What use is there in keeping me?” The Zhang family, hearing her speak in this manner, questioned her about why she had come here. Yan’er lowered her head in contemplation, looked around in confusion, and herself was bewildered, not knowing what had happened. Some people said that Sang Xiao had returned home due to illness, but Yan’er insisted it was a lie. The people in the Zhang family were all puzzled.

The scholar from the neighboring house heard about this and climbed over the courtyard wall to investigate. He saw Sang Xiao talking face to face with a beautiful woman, so he intruded and confronted them. However, in the midst of the tension, the beautiful woman had disappeared without a trace. The scholar from the neighboring house, in his astonishment, asked for the truth of the matter. Sang Xiao smiled and said, “Didn’t I tell you earlier? If the female comes, she’ll stay.” The scholar from the neighboring house then mentioned the matter of Yan’er. Sang Xiao immediately opened the door, eager to visit the Zhang family, but he was at a loss for a reason to do so.

The mother of the Zhang family heard that Sang Xiao had indeed not returned, which made her even more curious. She sent an old servant to request the shoes, and Sang Xiao handed over the embroidered shoes to her. Yan’er received the embroidered shoes with great joy and tried them on. To her surprise, the shoes were more than an inch smaller than her feet. She took a mirror and looked at herself, suddenly realizing that she had been born by borrowing someone else’s body. She then explained the whole story to Mrs. Zhang, who finally believed her.

Yan’er cried bitterly while looking in the mirror, saying, “In the past, I thought my appearance was quite good. Every time I saw Sister Lianxiang, I felt inferior. Now, I look like this. I’d rather be a ghost than a person!” Holding the embroidered shoes, she sobbed loudly, and no one could console her. After crying for a while, she covered herself with a blanket and lay motionless. She refused to eat, and her whole body swelled up. She went without food or drink for seven days and didn’t die. Gradually, the swelling began to subside, and then she felt extremely hungry and started eating.

A few days later, her body started itching all over, and she shed an entire layer of skin. When she woke up in the morning, her sleeping shoes had fallen to the ground. She picked them up and tried to put them on, finding them exceptionally large. She then retrieved the previous pair of embroidered shoes and tried them on. They fit perfectly, which delighted her. She looked into the mirror again, and this time, her eyebrows, eyes, and facial features were exactly the same as before, making her even more ecstatic. After grooming herself, she went to see her mother, and everyone who saw her was astonished.

Upon hearing about this strange incident, Lianxiang advised Sang Xiao to find a matchmaker and propose marriage. However, due to the disparity in wealth between the two families, he didn’t dare to proceed immediately. It happened to be Mrs. Zhang’s birthday, so Sang Xiao joined Mrs. Zhang’s sons and sons-in-law in paying their respects. Mrs. Zhang, upon seeing Sang Xiao’s name card, deliberately allowed Yan’er to secretly observe and identify the guests from behind a curtain. Sang Xiao was the last to arrive, and Yan’er quickly ran out, grabbing his clothes, wanting to go back with him. Mrs. Zhang scolded her a few words, and Yan’er, feeling embarrassed, went into the house.

Sang Xiao carefully observed Yan’er and found her to be exactly the same as Miss Li, without shedding a tear. He then knelt on the ground and didn’t get up. Mrs. Zhang helped him up, not thinking his behavior was inappropriate. After Sang Xiao left, he asked Yan’er’s uncle to act as the matchmaker. Mrs. Zhang planned to choose an auspicious day for Sang Xiao to marry into their family.

Sang Xiao went back to inform Lianxiang and discuss how to handle this matter. Lianxiang was deeply troubled for a long time and considered leaving Sang Xiao to go elsewhere. Sang Xiao was greatly shocked and burst into tears. Lianxiang said, “If you marry someone else in a candlelit wedding, I’ll follow you, what face would I have?” So, Sang Xiao decided to return to their hometown first, then marry Yan’er, and Lianxiang agreed.

Sang Xiao told the Zhang family about this, and when they heard that Sang Xiao already had a family, they angrily questioned him. Yan’er tried her best to explain, and they eventually agreed to Sang Xiao’s request. On the wedding day, Sang Xiao personally went to welcome the bride. The Zhang family’s furnishings were very simple, but when they arrived at Sang’s house, from the entrance to the main hall, everything was covered with carpets, and hundreds of lanterns were shining brightly, like a festive garden.

Lianxiang accompanied the bride into the bridal chamber, unveiled her, and they rejoiced just like before. Lianxiang shared a toast with her and inquired about the strange experience of returning to life. Yan’er said, “At that time, I was depressed and felt ashamed of being a ghost. After we parted that day, I was so angry that I didn’t want to return to the tomb. I drifted with the wind, envying the living when I saw them. During the day, I clung to the flowers and trees, and at night, I wandered freely. That day, I happened to come to the Zhang family, and when I saw a young girl lying on the bed, I attached myself to her body, not expecting to come back to life.” Lianxiang listened in silence, deep in thought.

Two months later, Lianxiang gave birth to a son. After childbirth, she suddenly fell seriously ill, growing weaker day by day. One day, Lianxiang grabbed Yan’er’s arm and said, “I entrust this little one to you, for you to care for. My child is your child too.” Yan’er shed tears and could only do her best to comfort her. They called for a doctor, but Lianxiang always refused treatment. Her condition worsened, and at the moment of her passing, her breath was as delicate as a thread hanging in the air. Sang Xiao and Yan’er cried sorrowfully.

Suddenly, Lianxiang opened her eyes and said, “Don’t be like this! You both enjoy life, but I am willing to die. If fate allows, we can meet again in ten years.” With that, she passed away. Sang Xiao uncovered the blanket to prepare for the arrangements and found that her body had transformed into a fox. Unable to treat her as a different species, Sang Xiao solemnly buried the fox. Her son was named Fox, and Yan’er raised him as if he were her own. Every Qingming Festival, she would hold Fox and go to Lianxiang’s grave to weep.

Later on, Sang Xiao passed the provincial examination and became a scholar. Their family gradually became prosperous, but Yan’er still hadn’t given birth to any children. Fox, their adopted son, was intelligent but weak and often ill. So, Yan’er often thought about allowing Sang Xiao to take a concubine.

One day, a maid suddenly reported, “There’s an old lady outside with her daughter, and they want to sell her.” Yan’er had them brought in and was shocked to see the girl, exclaiming, “It’s Lianxiang, reborn!” When Sang Xiao looked at the girl, he also found her strikingly similar to Lianxiang and was equally surprised. Yan’er asked, “How old is she?” The old lady replied, “She’s fourteen.” Yan’er then inquired, “How much is the betrothal gift?” The old lady said, “I only have this one daughter. As long as she has a good place to go and I have a place to eat, I’ll be satisfied. After I die, my old bones won’t be left in a ditch.” Sang Xiao paid a generous sum to keep the old lady’s daughter.

Yan’er held the young girl’s hand and led her into the inner room. She pinched her chin and smiled, saying, “Do you recognize me?” The girl replied, “I don’t.” Yan’er asked for her family name, and she said, “I’m surnamed Wei. My father used to sell drinks in Xucheng, and he passed away three years ago.” Yan’er quickly calculated that it had been exactly fourteen years since Lianxiang’s death. She examined the young girl carefully and found that her appearance and demeanor resembled Lianxiang in every way. She then patted the girl’s head and exclaimed, “Lianxiang, Lianxiang! The promise to reunite after ten years wasn’t a lie!” The young girl suddenly woke up as if from a deep sleep and cried out, “Oh!” Then, she stared closely at Yan’er. Sang Xiao laughed and said, “This is like ‘the returned swallow in a familiar scene.’” The young girl, tears streaming down her face, said, “Indeed. My mother told me that I could talk from the moment I was born, and everyone thought it was an ill omen. They made me drink dog’s blood to make me forget my past life. Today, I’ve just woken up from a deep dream. Madam, you must be Li Meimei, who was ashamed of being a ghost, right?” They then began to reminisce about their past lives, their emotions a mixture of sorrow and joy.

One day, during the Cold Food Festival, Yan’er said, “This day each year is when I cry for my sister with my husband.” So, everyone together climbed to the gravesite. By now, the place was overgrown with weeds, and the small trees had grown to be more than an inch thick. Lianxiang sighed as well. Yan’er said to Sang Xiao, “I had a close bond with Lianxiang for two lifetimes and can’t bear to be separated. We should let our remains rest together.” Sang Xiao heeded Yan’er’s words, opened Li Gu’s tomb, retrieved her remains, and then buried them together with Lianxiang’s remains. When family and friends heard of this strange occurrence, they all came to the gravesite in formal attire, with hundreds of people gathering spontaneously.

In the ninth year of Kangxi, I traveled to the southern region. When I reached Yizhou, I was delayed by rain and stayed at an inn to rest. There was a man named Liu Zijing, and his cousin showed me a biography of Sangsheng written by their classmate Wang Zizhang, which contained over ten thousand words. Fortunately, I had the chance to read it once. What is described here is just a general overview.

The chronicler of strange tales said: “Alas! The departed long for rebirth, while the living often desire death. Isn’t the most precious thing in the world the human body? Why do those who possess this precious human body often cast it aside, shamelessly clinging to life, not even as noble as a fox, quietly fading away, not even as dignified as a spirit?”






















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