Explore the enchanting tale of Nie Xiaoqian, a love story intertwined with the supernatural, as Ning Caichen's life takes unexpected turns.
Ning Caichen was from Zhejiang, known for his generous and straightforward personality, upright conduct, and self-discipline. He often told people, “Throughout my life, apart from my wife, I have no interest in any other women.” One time, he went to Jinhua, and when he reached the north gate, he unloaded his luggage at a temple. The temple’s main hall and pagoda were magnificent, but the courtyard was overgrown with tall weeds, as if it had been untouched for a long time. The monk’s quarters on the east and west sides had their doors half open, except for a small room on the south side, which had a new-looking lock. Looking towards the northeast corner of the main hall, he saw tall and slender emerald bamboo, as thick as two hand spans when joined together. Below the steps, there was a large pond with wild lotus flowers in bloom. Ning Caichen was very fond of the tranquil environment here. At that time, the imperial examination was being held in Jinhua for scholars, and the rental of guest rooms in the city was expensive. He decided to stay here and waited for the monks to return while strolling around.
As evening fell, a sturdy man approached and opened the door to the southern room. Ning Caichen hurriedly went over to greet him and informed him of his intention to stay overnight. The sturdy man said, “There is no host here, and I am also a temporary guest. If you don’t mind the desolation, it’s good that we can learn from each other morning and evening.” Ning Caichen was pleased and quickly made a bed with dry wheat straw and set up a wooden board as a table, planning to stay for a few days. That night, under the bright and clear moonlight that hung high in the sky, the moonlight was as pure as clear water. The two of them sat under the Buddha hall’s corridor, talking heart-to-heart, and exchanged their names. The sturdy man introduced himself, saying, “My surname is Yan, and my given name is Chixia.” Ning Caichen suspected that he was a scholar who had come to take the imperial examination, but his voice didn’t sound like that of someone from Zhejiang. So he asked where the sturdy man was from, and the man replied that he was from the Qin region. Their conversation was open and honest. After a while, they didn’t have much else to say to each other, so they bid farewell with clasped hands and went back to their respective rooms to sleep.
Ning Caichen, being new and unfamiliar to the place, had trouble falling asleep for a long time. He heard faint murmurs coming from the north side of the house, as if there were people nearby. Ning Caichen crawled to the base of the north wall and peered outside the stone window to see what was happening. He noticed a small courtyard outside the low wall, where a woman in her forties and an elderly lady, dressed in faded red clothes with a large silver comb in her hair, were conversing under the moonlight. The woman said, “Why hasn’t Xiao Qian come back yet? It’s been a while.” The old lady replied, “She’s probably on her way.” The woman asked, “Did she complain to you about anything, Grandma?” The old lady replied, “I didn’t hear anything, but she seemed gloomy.” The woman said, “That girl shouldn’t be mistreated.” As they spoke, a stunningly beautiful young girl of seventeen or eighteen years old walked over. The old lady smiled and said, “We shouldn’t gossip about people behind their backs. We were just talking, and you, little enchantress, arrived so silently. Thankfully, we didn’t say anything bad about you.” She continued, “Young lady, you are truly a beauty from a painting. If I were a man, you would have ensnared my soul.” The young girl replied, “Grandma, if you don’t praise me, who else will say nice things about me?” Later, the woman also exchanged a few words with the young girl, but Ning Caichen couldn’t make out what they were saying. He assumed that these people were neighbors and decided to go back to sleep, no longer eavesdropping on their conversation. After a while, the voices finally ceased.
Just as Ning Caichen was about to fall asleep, he felt someone enter the room. He quickly got up to inspect and found that it was the young girl from the northern courtyard. Startled, he asked her purpose for being there. The young girl smiled and said, “On a night with such a bright moon, I couldn’t sleep and wanted to be intimate with you.” Ning Caichen sternly replied, “You should be wary of others’ gossip, and I am afraid of idle chatter as well. Once we lose our moral integrity, we will be utterly disgraced.” The girl said, “No one will know what happens at night.” Ning Caichen scolded her again. She hesitated, wanting to say something more, but Ning Caichen loudly shouted, “Leave quickly! Otherwise, I will call the people from the southern room.” The girl, filled with fear, finally left. Just as she was about to exit the door, she returned and placed a piece of gold on the bedding. Ning Caichen grabbed the gold, threw it outside, and said, “Ill-gotten wealth should not tarnish my purse!” The girl, feeling ashamed, left the room, picked up the gold, and muttered to herself, “This man is truly unyielding.”
The next morning, a scholar from Lanxi, accompanied by a servant, came to participate in the examination and stayed in the east wing. Suddenly, during the night, he died violently. It was observed that there was a small hole in the sole of his foot, as if it had been pierced by a sharp object, and there was a slight oozing of blood. No one knew the reason behind it. After spending a night, his servant also died with exactly the same symptoms. In the evening, Yan Chixia returned, and Ning Caichen went to inquire about the situation. Yan Chixia believed it was the work of evil spirits causing trouble. However, Ning Caichen, known for his steadfastness, remained unconcerned.
In the middle of the night, the young girl returned to Ning Caichen and said, “I have encountered many people, but none as strong and righteous as you. You are truly a sage, and I dare not deceive you. I am Xiaoqian, surnamed Nie. I passed away at the age of eighteen and was buried next to the temple. Later, I was threatened by a demon and forced to engage in these despicable acts, ignoring shame in front of others. I did not do this willingly. Now, there is no one left in the temple who can be harmed, and I fear that the Yaksha demons will come.” Ning Caichen was afraid and asked Xiaoqian to suggest a solution. Xiaoqian said, “Sharing a room with Yan Sheng can ward off the calamity.” Ning Caichen inquired, “Why don’t you enchant Yan Sheng?” Xiaoqian replied, “He is a remarkable person, and I dare not approach him.” Ning Caichen then asked, “How do you enchant people?” Xiaoqian explained, “Those who are close to me, I secretly use a sharp object to prick the sole of their feet. They will fall into a trance and, in that state, I extract their blood to feed the demon. Alternatively, I tempt them with money, but it’s not real gold; it’s the bones of Rakshasa demons. If they accept it, their hearts and livers will be taken. Both methods are tailored to their desires.” Ning Caichen thanked Xiaoqian for revealing the truth. He asked about the time for vigilance, and Xiaoqian said it would be the following night. Before parting, Xiaoqian cried and said, “I have fallen into the sea of hell, unable to find the shore. Your righteousness is bound
The next day, fearing that Yan Chixia would go out, Ning Caichen went over early to invite him to his home for a gathering. Around seven or eight in the morning, Ning Caichen prepared food and wine and invited Yan Chixia to drink together while carefully observing him. Ning Caichen invited Yan Chixia to stay overnight, but Yan Chixia, citing his reclusive nature and preference for solitude, initially declined. However, Ning Caichen insisted and brought his luggage over. Yan Chixia, left with no choice, reluctantly agreed to share the room. Yan Chixia cautioned Ning Caichen, saying, “I know you are a noble man, and I admire your demeanor. However, I have some things on my mind that I can’t explain right now. Please, whatever you do, do not pry into or examine the contents of the boxes in the room. Going against my words will be detrimental to both of us.” Ning Caichen respectfully complied with his request.
Before long, they went to sleep separately. Yan Chixia placed a small box on the windowsill and, in no time, was snoring loudly, while Ning Caichen couldn’t fall asleep. It was close to midnight when a faint figure could be seen outside the window. After a while, it approached the window, peering in with shimmering eyes. Ning Caichen became frightened and was about to call out to Yan Chixia when suddenly, something burst out of the box and flew out. It gleamed like a piece of white silk, shattering the stone lattice on the window. In an instant, it shot forward and then immediately retracted, as fast as lightning. Sensing the commotion, Yan Chixia got up, and although Ning Caichen pretended to be asleep, he was secretly observing.
Yan Chixia took the small box and examined it. He removed an item from the box, held it up to the moonlight, and scrutinized it. It was sparkling and clear, about two inches long and as wide as a leek leaf. After inspecting it, he carefully wrapped it in several layers and placed it back into the now broken small box. He muttered to himself, “What a daring evil spirit, it even damaged my small box.” He then laid down to sleep again.
Ning Caichen was greatly astonished and decided to inquire about the situation. He told Yan Chixia what he had witnessed. Yan Chixia said, “Since we are fond of each other, I dare not keep secrets. I am a swordsman. If it weren’t for the stone lattice on the window, the demon would have died earlier, but it’s still injured.” Ning Caichen asked, “What was that thing you wrapped up?” Yan Chixia replied, “It’s a sword. I just smelled it; it carries demonic energy.” Ning Caichen wanted to see it, and Yan Chixia willingly showed it to him. It was a small sword emitting a faint glow. Consequently, Ning Caichen held even greater respect and admiration for Yan Chixia.
The next day, Ning Caichen noticed bloodstains outside the window. He left the temple and walked north, finding a desolate graveyard with many mounds. Among these graves, there was indeed a white poplar tree, and at the top of the poplar, there was a crow’s nest. After Ning Caichen and Yan Chixia made up their minds, they packed their belongings and prepared to leave. Yan Chixia hosted a farewell feast, demonstrating deep camaraderie. He gave Ning Caichen a torn leather bag and said, “This is a sword bag. Treasure it well, as it can protect you from evil spirits and demons.” Ning Caichen expressed his desire to learn swordsmanship from him, to which Yan Chixia replied, “Someone as upright and trustworthy as you could become a swordsman. However, you belong to a life of wealth and privilege, not the path of a swordsman.” Ning Caichen pretended to have a sister buried in this place and claimed to have unearthed her remains, which he wrapped in a shroud. He then rented a small boat to return home.
Ning Caichen’s residence was close to the outskirts, so he buried the grave outside his house. After the burial, Ning Caichen performed a ritual and said, “I pity your lonely soul, buried beside my abode. I can hear your singing and weeping; perhaps it will save you from the harassment of malevolent spirits. Please drink this bowl of soup, though it’s not rich, I hope you won’t mind.” After the prayer, Ning Caichen began to walk back. Someone called out from behind, “Wait for me!” When he turned around, he saw that it was Xiaoqian.
Xiaoqian joyfully thanked him, saying, “You are truly a man of integrity. I am willing to repay your kindness even if it means dying ten times for you. Please take me to meet your parents. Even if I become a servant or a maid, I won’t regret it.” Ning Caichen carefully examined Xiaoqian. He saw her fair complexion like rosy dawn, dainty feet like slender shoots, and her beauty under the daylight surpassed her appearance at night. They entered the house together. Ning Caichen instructed her to sit and wait for a moment while he went to inform his mother. His mother was astonished upon hearing the news. At the time, Ning Caichen’s wife had been bedridden with a long-term illness, so his mother cautioned him not to reveal this matter, fearing it might shock her.
Just then, Xiaoqian entered gracefully and knelt down. Ning Caichen introduced her, saying, “This is Xiaoqian.” His mother looked at Xiaoqian in surprise, unsure of how to react. Xiaoqian spoke to his mother, “I have been alone and in great distress, far from my parents and siblings. I am deeply grateful for the great kindness and grace shown to me by your son. I am willing to marry him as a way of repaying him.” His mother, seeing her gentle and beautiful appearance, dared to speak to her and said, “Young lady, if you are willing to take care of my son, I am very pleased. However, I have only this one son in my lifetime, relying on him to carry on the family line. I am afraid of him marrying a ghostly woman.” Xiaoqian responded, “I have no ill intentions. Since the deceased cannot earn your trust, may I be regarded as a sister to your son? I will live with you and serve you both, morning and evening. Would that be acceptable?” Her sincerity moved his mother, who agreed to her proposal.
Xiaoqian immediately went to the kitchen to prepare a meal for his mother, and she moved around the house as if she had been living there for a long time.
In the evening, his mother was somewhat afraid of Xiaoqian and didn’t provide her with a bed to sleep in. Xiaoqian understood his mother’s intentions and promptly left. When she reached the study, she hesitated to enter, standing outside as if she were afraid of something. Ning Caichen called out to her, and she said, “The sword energy inside the room is intimidating. The reason I didn’t visit you on the way earlier was also due to this.” Ning Caichen realized it was because of the leather bag, so he took it down and hung it in another room. Xiaoqian then entered, approaching the candlelight to sit down. After a while, Xiaoqian didn’t say a word. Even later, Xiaoqian asked, “Do you read at night? I read the ‘Lengyan Sutra’ when I was young, but I’ve mostly forgotten it now. Could you lend me a scroll so that I can seek your guidance during my free time at night?” Ning Caichen agreed. Xiaoqian continued to sit in silence, and the second watch of the night had passed, yet she still didn’t leave. Ning Caichen urged her to go. She sadly said, “As a lonely soul in a foreign land, I’m truly afraid of that desolate grave.” Ning Caichen said, “There are no other beds in the room, and besides, we should avoid any suspicion between siblings.” Xiaoqian got up, her brows furrowed, and her lips trembling as if she wanted to cry. She lifted her foot but hesitated to leave, pacing back and forth. Finally, she reached the door, descended the steps, and disappeared. Ning Caichen secretly pitied her and thought about keeping her in another room, but he was afraid his mother would be displeased.
In the morning, Xiaoqian first greeted his mother, brought water for washing, and helped with grooming. Then she managed the household chores without any objections to his mother’s wishes. In the evening, she bid farewell and went to the study to recite scriptures under the candlelight. Sensing that Ning Caichen was about to sleep, she left with a sense of melancholy.
Initially, after Ning Caichen’s wife fell ill, his mother, burdened with excessive labor, found it hard to cope. Since the arrival of Xiaoqian to help, life became very comfortable, and they were deeply grateful to her. As time went by, they became more familiar with each other, to the extent that they cherished Xiaoqian like their own daughter and even forgot that she was a ghost. At night, they couldn’t bear to let her leave, so they allowed her to stay with them.
When Xiaoqian first arrived, she never ate or drank, but gradually, after half a year, she started consuming some watery gruel. Both mother and son doted on Xiaoqian immensely and never mentioned her being a ghost. Others remained unaware of her true nature.
Not long after, Ning Caichen’s wife passed away. Privately, his mother had thoughts of having Xiaoqian become her daughter-in-law but was afraid it might harm her son. Xiaoqian sensed his mother’s intentions and found an opportunity to tell her, “I have been living here for over a year now, and I should understand my own character. I do not wish to bring harm to anyone. That’s why I came here with your son. I have no ulterior motives towards him. I only admire his integrity, and even heavenly beings admire him. My only desire is to be by his side for three to five years, to gain recognition, and to bring some luster to my existence in the mortal realm.”
His mother also realized that Xiaoqian meant no harm and was only worried about affecting the continuation of the family line. Xiaoqian added, “Children are blessings from heaven. Your son has good fortune written in his destiny and will have three sons who will bring glory to the ancestors. Marrying a ghost wife will not change this.” His mother believed Xiaoqian’s words, and they discussed the matter with their son.
Ning Caichen was delighted, so he hosted a grand banquet and invited relatives and friends. Someone suggested seeing the new bride, and Xiaoqian happily emerged in magnificent attire. The guests were astonished; instead of suspecting she was a ghost, they believed her to be a celestial being in human form. As a result, relatives from near and far, along with their spouses, rushed to offer their congratulations, bringing gifts. Xiaoqian was skilled in painting orchids and plum blossoms, often gifting her painted scrolls to relatives as a token of gratitude. Those who received her artwork treasured it as an honor.
One day, Xiaoqian sat by the window with a troubled and anxious expression. Suddenly, she asked, “Where is the leather bag?” Ning Caichen replied, “Because you were afraid of it, I sealed it and put it somewhere else.” Xiaoqian said, “I’ve endured people’s anger for a long time, and I shouldn’t fear it anymore. It’s best to bring it and hang it by the bedside.” Ning Caichen inquired about her intention, and Xiaoqian explained, “These past three days, I’ve felt restless. I believe the demon from Jinhua, who bears a grudge against me, escaped from a distance. It’s likely they will come looking for us sooner or later.” Ning Caichen then retrieved the leather bag.
Xiaoqian examined it closely, saying, “This is the leather bag that held the heads of immortals and humans. It’s so worn and torn now, who knows how many lives it has taken! Just seeing it makes my skin crawl.” She proceeded to hang the bag by the bedside. The next day, Xiaoqian asked to hang the bag on the door. At night, Xiaoqian and Ning Caichen sat before a candle, with Xiaoqian reminding him not to sleep. Suddenly, something fell from the sky like a flying bird. Xiaoqian was terrified and hid behind the curtain.
Ning Caichen took a look and saw that the creature resembled a Yaksha, with eyes shining like lightning and a blood-red tongue. It rushed towards the door but stopped a few steps away. After hesitating for a while, it cautiously approached the leather bag and extended its claws as if to tear it ap
Several years later, Ning Caichen did indeed pass the imperial examination and became a Jinshi (successful candidate). Xiaoqian also gave birth to a son. After Ning Caichen took a concubine, the concubine and Xiaoqian each gave birth