The Enigmatic Powers of ZuoCi

A Chinese folklore tale of Left Cai's extraordinary abilities, including fishing giant fish, acquiring rare ingredients, and eluding capture, during his time as a guest of Cao Cao.

ZuoCi, also known as Yuan Fang, was a native of Lujiang. He possessed extraordinary powers from a young age. He once sat at Cao Cao’s side, and Cao Cao, with a smile, said to the guests, “Today, we have a grand gathering, and we have a variety of rare delicacies. The only thing missing is a dish made from perch caught in the Wu Song River.” Yuan Fang replied, “This is easy to obtain.” He then took a copper plate, filled it with water, and hung bait on a bamboo pole to fish in the plate. After a while, he pulled up a perch. Cao Cao applauded and the guests at the banquet were all amazed. Cao Cao said, “One fish is not enough for everyone here; it would be best to catch two.” Yuan Fang then added more bait and continued fishing. After a while, he caught two fish, both over three feet long and lively. Cao Cao personally prepared the fish and generously distributed them to the guests. Cao Cao said, “Now we have the perch, but unfortunately, we don’t have Sichuan ginger.” Yuan Fang replied, “This can also be obtained.” Cao Cao was concerned about him buying it nearby, so he said, “I sent someone to Sichuan to buy brocade last year. You can instruct my envoys to buy an additional four zhang (a unit of measurement).” After Yuan Fang left, he returned shortly with the ginger and said, “I saw your envoy at the Sichuan brocade market and told them to buy an extra four zhang as you instructed.”

Over a year later, Cao Cao’s envoy returned, indeed having purchased an extra four zhang. Cao Cao asked him, and the envoy said, “On a certain day last year, I met a person in the market who conveyed your order to me.” Later, when Cao Cao went on an outing to the outskirts with over a hundred attendants, Yuan Fang carried a jar of wine and a piece of meat, personally serving wine to all the officials. All the officials were intoxicated and full. Cao Cao found this strange and ordered an investigation. Upon inspecting the wine shop, they discovered that all the wine and meat had disappeared the previous night. Cao Cao was very angry and secretly planned to capture Yuan Fang. When they went to Cao Cao’s residence to apprehend him, he retreated and vanished into the wall. Cao Cao then offered a reward for the capture of Yuan Fang.

Someone saw him in the market and attempted to capture him, but all the people in the market transformed into the likeness of Yuan Fang, making it impossible to identify him. Later, someone encountered Yuan Fang on Yangcheng Mountain and tried to pursue him, but he walked into a herd of sheep and disappeared. Cao Cao realized that he couldn’t capture him, so he sent a message to the sheep herd, saying, “Cao Gong (Cao Cao) no longer intends to harm you. Originally, it was just a test of your magical abilities. Since it has proven to be effective, I simply want to meet with you.” Suddenly, an old ram bent its two front legs and stood upright like a human, saying, “Startled like this.” The person immediately said, “This is the one!” Everyone rushed toward that ram. However, there were hundreds of sheep, all of which had turned into rams, bending their two front legs and standing upright, saying, “Startled like this.” So, they couldn’t figure out which one to catch. Laozi (Lao Tzu) said, “The reason I have worries is that I have a body; if I didn’t have a body, what would I have to worry about?” People like Laozi can be said to be able to exist without a body. Isn’t that extraordinary?



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