Follow the extraordinary story of the Feng family, where virtue, tragedy, and redemption intersect in this classic tale of love and justice.
In Guangping County, there was an old man named Feng who had a son named Xiangru. Both father and son were scholars. Feng, the old man, was nearing sixty years old, with a straightforward and upright personality, but their family often lacked food and clothing. In recent years, his wife and daughter-in-law had both passed away, leaving him to fetch water and cook for himself. One night, Xiangru sat under the moonlight and suddenly saw a woman from the neighboring house peeking over the wall. She appeared very beautiful. Xiangru walked up to the woman, and she smiled at him. He waved to her, but she neither came nor left. After repeatedly inviting her, she finally climbed over the wall using a ladder, and they shared a bed that night. Xiangru asked for her name, and she replied, “I am the neighbor’s daughter, Hongyu.” Xiangru was very fond of her and wanted to make a private vow with her, to which she agreed. From then on, Hongyu came to visit every night, and this continued for about half a year.
One night, Old Feng got up and heard the laughter of a woman. He secretly looked and saw Hongyu. He was furious, called his son out, and scolded him, “You beast, what have you done! In such poverty and destitution, you should be working hard, but instead, you engage in such frivolous and immoral activities? If people find out, it will tarnish your character. If they don’t, it will still shorten your life!” Xiangru knelt on the ground, crying and admitting his regret. Old Feng also scolded Hongyu, saying, “A woman who doesn’t keep her chastity not only tarnishes herself but also tarnishes others. If this matter is exposed, it will bring shame not just to our family!” After scolding, the old man angrily went back to sleep. Hongyu, in tears, said, “The old man’s rebuke is truly embarrassing! Our fate has come to an end!” Xiangru said, “As long as my father is alive, I dare not make decisions myself. If you have compassion, you should forgive us.” Hongyu remained unmoved in her words, and Xiangru helplessly started crying. Hongyu stopped him and said, “There is no matchmaker’s agreement between us, nor do we have our parents’ consent. Climbing walls and sneaking around, how can we grow old together? There is a suitable partner here; you can marry her.” Xiangru said he couldn’t afford to marry another woman due to poverty. Hongyu said, “Wait for me tomorrow night, I will come up with a solution.” The next night, Hongyu indeed came and gave Xiangru forty taels of silver. She said, “Sixty li away from here, there is a family in Wucun surnamed Wei. Their daughter is eighteen years old and has not been married yet because they demand a high dowry. If you give her more money, it will definitely work out.” After saying this, she left.
Xiangru Feng found an opportunity to tell his father that he intended to go on a blind date but concealed the dowry matter. Old Feng himself estimated that they might not have enough money, so he initially opposed the idea. Xiangru Feng then spoke gently, “Let me give it a try.” So, Old Feng reluctantly agreed. Xiangru Feng borrowed a horse and a servant and set out for the Wei family in Wucun. The Wei family was originally farmers, so Xiangru Feng asked Old Wei for a private conversation. Old Wei knew that the Feng family was a prominent clan and, seeing Xiangru Feng’s impressive demeanor, had already agreed in his heart. However, he was unsure about how much dowry to ask for. Seeing Xiangru Feng hesitating in his words, he understood his intention and placed the silver he had brought on the table. Old Wei was very pleased when he saw the silver, so he quickly asked a scholar from the neighborhood to act as a mediator and wrote a marriage contract in red paper. The two sides established the engagement.
Xiangru Feng went inside to meet the old lady, and he noticed that the living quarters were narrow. The Wei family girl was hiding behind her mother. After taking a closer look at the girl, despite her humble attire, her radiant beauty made him secretly happy. Old Wei borrowed a neighboring house to host the bridegroom and said, “You don’t need to personally welcome the groom. We’ll send over a few pieces of clothing when the time comes.” Xiangru Feng and Old Wei set the wedding date and then returned home. He lied to his father, saying, “The Wei family appreciates us as respectable scholars and don’t require any dowry.” Old Feng was also delighted to hear this. On the agreed-upon day, the Wei family indeed sent their daughter. This girl was diligent, gentle, and the couple had a strong affection for each other.
Two years later, the Wei family girl gave birth to a son named Fuer. During the Qingming Festival, she carried Fuer to sweep the tomb and encountered a local squire named Song. This surnamed Song had once served as a censor, but he was dismissed from office due to corruption. Now, he idled at home, still flaunting his power and oppressing the common people. On their way back from the grave, he noticed the beauty of the Wei family girl and became infatuated with her. He inquired with the villagers and learned that she was Xiangru Feng’s spouse. Assuming that the Feng family was of humble means, he thought he could sway Xiangru’s heart by offering a substantial amount of money. So, he sent his men to spread the word.
When Xiangru Feng suddenly received this information, he turned pale with anger. Realizing he couldn’t contend with the Song family, he suppressed his rage, put on a smiling face, and went inside to inform his father. Upon hearing the news, Old Feng was furious and rushed outside to confront Song’s men, berating them vehemently. The Song family’s henchmen fled in fear and quickly retreated. However, Song himself was incensed and sent several men to force their way into the Feng household. They were aggressive and violent, causing a chaotic scene akin to pandemonium. When the Wei family girl heard the commotion, she left her son on the bed, disheveled her hair, and rushed out to seek help. The Song family’s thugs seized her and carried her away.
The Feng father and son were left beaten and injured, lying on the ground groaning in pain, while the child cried alone in the house. The neighbors pitied this unfortunate family and helped the Feng father and son onto a bed. A day later, Xiangru Feng managed to stand up with the support of a cane, but Old Feng, consumed by anger, stopped eating and drinking and eventually died, coughing up blood. Xiangru Feng grieved deeply, carrying his son to the yamen (local government office) to seek justice. He lodged complaints at every level, from the circuit intendant to the provincial governor, nearly exhausting all government channels, but he still could not obtain redress. Later, he heard that his wife had refused to yield and had died, intensifying his sorrow and anger. Filled with profound resentment and unable to find a way to seek justice, he often contemplated assassinating surnamed Song at a crossroad, but he was concerned about Song’s numerous followers, and he had no one to rely on for assistance. He lived in constant sorrow and torment, with sleepless nights and endless thoughts.
One day, a stranger suddenly came to the Feng family to inquire. He had a beard and a wide chin, and Feng Xiangru had never seen him before. Feng Xiangru invited him to sit down, intending to ask about his hometown and name. However, the newcomer suddenly asked, “Do you forget your revenge for your father’s death and your resentment for your wife’s loss?” Feng Xiangru suspected that the man was a spy from the Song family, so he responded with false words. The visitor angrily stared with eyes almost about to burst and abruptly stood up, saying, “I thought you were an upright person, but now I see you are a despicable individual!” Feng Xiangru realized that this person was not ordinary and quickly knelt down, grabbing his hand, and said, “I was afraid that the Song family might extract the truth from me. Now, I can confide in you: I have been enduring this humiliation for a long time, but I’m concerned about the future of this child in the cradle. You are a noble-hearted person; can you take care of my child as Sun Juchu cared for Zhao’s orphan?” The stranger replied, “This is a task for women, not something I can do. If you want to entrust it to someone else, please do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, let me take care of the other matters.” Feng Xiangru, with bowed head, agreed, and the stranger left without even looking back. Feng Xiangru asked for the man’s name, but he replied, “Whether I succeed or not, I won’t accept your blame; if I succeed, I won’t accept your gratitude.” With that, he left. Feng Xiangru, fearing for his safety, fled with his son.
In the middle of the night, while the Song family was all asleep, someone scaled several high walls and killed three members of the Song family, including the former censor Song and his son, as well as a daughter-in-law and a maid. The Song family reported the incident to the local government, and the county magistrate was greatly alarmed. The Song family insisted that Xiangru Feng was responsible for the murders. Consequently, officers were dispatched to apprehend Xiangru Feng. Upon arriving at the Feng residence, they found that Xiangru Feng had disappeared, which further solidified their belief in his guilt.
The Song family’s servants, along with the official constables, searched various places. In the middle of the night, in the South Mountain, they heard the crying of a young child. Following the sound, they located Xiangru Feng, bound him with ropes, and took him into custody. The child’s cries grew louder, so the men snatched the child and discarded him by the roadside. Xiangru Feng was consumed by resentment. When he met the county magistrate, the magistrate asked, “Why did you commit murder?” Xiangru Feng replied, “I am wrongly accused! The deaths occurred at night, but I was out during the day, carrying a crying infant. How could I have scaled walls to commit murder?” The county magistrate said, “If you didn’t commit murder, why did you flee?” Xiangru Feng had no words to explain himself and was subsequently thrown into prison.
Xiangru Feng wept, saying, “My life is not worth pity, but what crime has this orphan committed?” The county magistrate retorted, “You’ve killed so many people, including your own son. What do you have to complain about?” Xiangru Feng was stripped of his scholar status and endured severe torture multiple times, but he never confessed.
One night, as the county magistrate had just lain down to sleep, he heard something striking his bed, making a loud and crisp noise. He couldn’t help but shout in fear. The entire family hurriedly rushed to the room where the incident occurred, and when they lit a lamp, they found a short knife embedded in the headboard, its blade as sharp as frost and deeply lodged, impossible to remove. Witnessing this, the county magistrate was terrified, and the constables scoured every place with weapons but found no trace. The county magistrate, fearing for his safety, realized that since surnamed Song was already dead, there was nothing to fear. Therefore, he submitted a detailed report on the case to his superiors, exonerating Xiangru Feng, and ultimately, Xiangru Feng was released.
When Xiangru Feng returned home, there was not much grain left in the jar, and he faced an empty house all by himself. Fortunately, his neighbors took pity on him and provided him with a little food and drink to barely get by. As he thought about his great revenge being avenged, he couldn’t help but smile. But when he remembered the tragic disaster that nearly wiped out his entire family, tears welled up in his eyes. And when he thought about his lifelong poverty with no one to carry on his name, he couldn’t contain his grief and went to a secluded place to cry bitterly.
This went on for about half a year, and the legal proceedings eased up. Xiangru Feng then pleaded with the county magistrate to have the remains of the Wei family girl returned to him. After burying the remains of the Wei family girl, he returned home, overwhelmed with sorrow, contemplating ending his own life. At night, he lay in bed tossing and turning, unable to see any way forward. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. He strained his ears to listen and heard someone talking softly with a child outside the door. Xiangru Feng hurriedly got up to look outside, and it appeared to be a woman. As soon as he opened the door, the person outside asked, “Your great injustice has been vindicated, aren’t you happy as well?” The voice sounded very familiar, but in the rush, he couldn’t immediately recall who it was. When he lit a lamp, he realized it was Hongyu. She held a child in her arms and smiled beside her legs.
Xiangru Feng didn’t have time to say anything else. He embraced Hongyu and burst into tears, and Hongyu was also deeply saddened. After a while, Hongyu pushed the child and said, “Have you forgotten your father?” The child tugged at Hongyu’s clothes, gazing intently at Xiangru Feng. After a careful examination, he turned out to be Fuer. Xiangru Feng was astonished and tearfully asked, “Where did you get our son?” Hongyu said, “I’ll tell you the truth. When I previously claimed to be the neighbor’s daughter, it was a lie. I am actually a fox. That day, I happened to be walking along the road at night and heard a baby crying at the valley entrance. I brought him to Shaanxi to raise him. When I heard that your great ordeal was over, I brought him back to reunite with you.” Xiangru Feng wiped away his tears and thanked Hongyu. The child, in Hongyu’s arms, clung to her like a mother and didn’t recognize his own father.
Before dawn, Hongyu quickly got out of bed. When Xiangru Feng asked her, she said, “I intend to leave.” Xiangru Feng knelt at the bedside with tears streaming down, unable to lift his head. Hongyu smiled and said, “I was just teasing you. With the new family business, one must rise early and sleep late.” So, she went about cutting weeds and sweeping the yard, working like a man. Xiangru Feng was worried about their impoverished situation, relying solely on Hongyu, and feared they wouldn’t make ends meet. Hongyu said, “You just focus on your studies, don’t worry about profit or loss. Perhaps it won’t come to starving by the roadside.” She then took out silver to purchase spinning and weaving tools and rented several acres of land, hiring people to cultivate it. Hongyu carried a hoe to weed and repaired leaky roofs, working diligently day by day. The villagers saw Hongyu as virtuous and were willing to help her. After about half a year, the Feng family’s life improved day by day, as if they were a wealthy household.
Xiangru Feng said, “Our new lease on life is all thanks to you starting from scratch. But there’s one thing I haven’t settled, what should we do?” Hongyu asked what the matter was, and Xiangru Feng said, “The exam date is approaching, and my scholar status has not been reinstated.” Hongyu smiled and said, “I sent four taels of silver to the local official some days ago, and your scholar status has already been reinstated. If we had waited for you to remember, it would have been delayed.” Xiangru Feng was even more amazed by Hongyu’s mysterious abilities. In the upcoming examination, Xiangru Feng passed and became a Jinshi (a successful scholar in the highest imperial examination). At the time, he was thirty-six years old, and his home was flourishing with fertile fields and spacious houses. Hongyu had a graceful figure, as if she could float away with the wind, but when it came to work, she was even more capable than a farmer’s wife. Despite the harsh working conditions in the severe winter, her hands remained tender and white. She claimed to be thirty-eight years old, but to others, she looked no more than in her twenties.
The chronicler of strange tales said: “The Feng family’s son was virtuous, and his father was virtuous as well, so heaven rewarded them with righteousness. Not only humans but even foxes can exhibit righteousness. Their encounters were indeed quite extraordinary! However, the numerous errors made by the high-ranking officials in their judgment are infuriating. That flying knife landed with a resounding thud, piercing the wood at the head of the bed. It’s a pity it didn’t move up half a foot to hit the bed. If Su Shunqin of the Song Dynasty had read this story, he would surely have raised a toast and said, ‘What a pity, it didn’t hit its mark!'”