Explore the intriguing story of a fox spirit's mystical encounter and the vanishing golden goblet in this classic Chinese folklore.
In Licheng County, there was a man named Yin Tianguan. When he was a child, his family was very poor, but he had great courage and knowledge. In the county, there was an old aristocratic mansion covering several acres of land, with continuous pavilions and towers inside. Because there were often supernatural occurrences and strange phenomena there, no one dared to live there, and it fell into disrepair. Over time, the mansion became overgrown with weeds and tall grass, and even in broad daylight, no one dared to enter. One day, Yin Tianguan and a group of scholars from the county were drinking together. Someone jokingly said, “Whoever can spend a night in that place, we will all chip in to treat them to a banquet.” Upon hearing this, Yin Tianguan jumped up and said, “What’s so difficult about that?” That night, he took a mat and went there. The others accompanied him to the entrance and joked, “We’ll wait here for a while. If you see any ghosts or spirits, be sure to call for help.” Yin Tianguan laughed and replied, “If there are really ghosts or spirits, I’ll catch one as evidence.” With that, he entered. Inside, he found the courtyard covered in tall reeds, with dense patches of mugwort and wormwood. It was the beginning of the month, and the crescent moon was not very bright. Fortunately, in the dim and yellowish moonlight, he could still make out the doors and windows. He groped his way through several courtyards until he reached the rear pavilion. After ascending the platform, he found it to be smooth and clean, very charming, so he decided to stay there. Looking at the moon in the west, there was only a faint glimmer of moonlight on the mountainside. He sat here for a long time and didn’t notice anything unusual. He chuckled to himself, thinking that the rumors he had heard outside were all unbelievable. He lay down on the ground, using a stone as a pillow, and gazed at the Cowherd and Weaver Girl stars in the sky.
It was around the middle of the night when Yin Tianguan was on the verge of falling asleep. Suddenly, he heard a tumultuous sound of footsteps downstairs, and someone was coming up the stairs. He pretended to be asleep, squinted his eyes to peek, and saw a person in a green robe carrying a lotus lantern. This person suddenly noticed Yin Tianguan, got startled, took a few steps back, and said to someone behind, “There’s a stranger here.” The person below asked, “Who is it?” The person in the green robe replied, “I don’t recognize him.” After a while, an old man came up the stairs, approached Yin Tianguan, and carefully examined him. He said, “This is Minister Yin. He’s fast asleep. Let’s just go about our business. Minister Yin is easygoing and may not blame us.” So, one by one, people entered the building, and the doors were all left wide open. A little later, more people coming and going made the upstairs brightly lit, as if it were daytime. Yin Tianguan turned over lightly and sneezed. The old man, hearing him wake up, quickly came out and knelt down, saying, “Elder, my daughter is getting married tonight. I didn’t expect to offend a distinguished guest. Please don’t take it too harshly.” Yin Tianguan got up, helped the old man to his feet, and said, “I didn’t know tonight was a special day for your family. I feel ashamed that I didn’t bring any gifts.” The old man said, “Having a distinguished guest like you visit, dispelling evil spirits and bringing good fortune, is already a great blessing for us. If you could honor us by sitting down as our guest, it would be an even greater honor and privilege.” Yin Tianguan was delighted and agreed. Upon entering the building, he saw that the furnishings were very splendid. At this point, a woman came out to greet him, around forty years old. The old man said, “This is my wife.” Yin Tianguan gave her a courteous nod.
After a while, the drums and music were heard, and someone ran upstairs, saying, “They’ve arrived!” The old man hurriedly went to greet them, and Yin Tianguan also stood up to wait. Before long, a cluster of lanterns wrapped in red silk, guided the bridegroom inside. He was about seventeen or eighteen years old, with an impressive appearance, handsome and refined. The old man asked him to pay his respects to the honored guest first. The bridegroom looked at Yin Tianguan, and Yin Tianguan performed a half bow, similar to a ritual assistant. Then, the father-in-law and son-in-law exchanged bows, and after the formalities were completed, everyone joined the feast. After a while, the maidservants, dressed in elaborate attire, began to move around, and for a moment, food and wine were arranged, filling the air with warmth. Jade bowls and golden basins reflected each other, and the light shone on the banquet table. After a few rounds of drinks, the old man asked the maidservant to fetch the young lady. The maidservant agreed and went inside. However, they waited for a long time and she didn’t come out. The old man personally got up and lifted the curtain to urge her. After a while, several maidservants and the old matron escorted the bride out. The gold ornaments on her body jingled, and the fragrance of orchids and musk wafted through the air. The old man asked his daughter to bow to the honored guest at the head of the table, and after she stood up, she sat beside her mother. Yin Tianguan took a brief look and saw that she had a phoenix hairpin adorned with pearls on her head and pearl earrings on her ears. She had a beautiful and rare appearance. After a while, they raised golden goblets to toast everyone at the table. These goblets were large enough to hold several liters of wine. Yin Tianguan thought that he could take this back as evidence for his friends, so he quietly placed the golden goblet in his sleeve and pretended to be drunk, leaning against the table, tilting from side to side as if asleep. Everyone said, “The minister is drunk.” Not long after, they heard the bridegroom preparing to take his leave, and suddenly the drums and music played loudly again, and the guests began to leave the building.
After the banquet, the host began to tidy up the wine vessels and noticed that one golden goblet was missing. They searched everywhere but couldn’t find it. Some people privately speculated that Yin Tianguan, who had appeared to be sleeping there, had taken the golden goblet. The old man hurriedly stopped them from talking, fearing that Yin Tianguan might overhear. After a while, both inside and outside the building became quiet again, and Yin Tianguan finally got up. He found everything pitch dark, with no lights whatsoever, only the scent of cosmetics and the aroma of wine lingering in the room. He looked towards the east and saw that it was already getting light, so he calmly descended the stairs. When he reached into his sleeve, he discovered that the golden goblet was still there. At the entrance, the scholars had been waiting, suspecting that Yin Tianguan had left during the night and returned in the morning. Yin Tianguan then took out the golden goblet to show everyone. After seeing it, they were all astonished and started questioning him. Yin Tianguan proceeded to recount everything he had witnessed and heard. Everyone felt that such a golden goblet was beyond the means of a poor scholar, and this made them believe his words.
Later, Yin Tianguan passed the imperial examination and became an official in Feiqiu. There was a prominent family named Zhu in the area who hosted a banquet in his honor. During the feast, the host ordered a servant to bring a large wine cup, but it took a long time and it still hadn’t arrived. A young servant approached the host and whispered something to him, causing an expression of anger to appear on the host’s face. After a while, he brought out a large golden goblet to toast the guest. Yin Tianguan took a close look and noticed that the style and intricate carvings on the golden goblet were identical to the one he had seen with the fox spirit. He felt very puzzled and asked the host where this golden goblet had been made. The host replied, “There are a total of eight golden goblets like this one. My ancestors had them crafted by skilled artisans when they served as officials in the capital city. These goblets are our family’s heirloom, preserved for a long time. It’s because of your presence, County Magistrate, that I had my servant retrieve it from the chest. However, we found only seven left. We initially suspected the servant of theft, but when we saw that the layer of dust accumulated over ten years on the chest remained undisturbed, we couldn’t make sense of it.” Yin Tianguan smiled and said, “It seems the missing goblet has turned into an immortal and flown away! However, a family heirloom passed down through generations should not be lost. I have a goblet that looks very similar to yours, and I would like to present it to you.” After the banquet, Yin Tianguan returned to his official residence and immediately sent someone to deliver the golden goblet. The host named Zhu examined it and was greatly astonished. He personally came to thank Yin Tianguan and inquired about the origin of this particular goblet. Yin Tianguan then recounted the whole story in detail. It was only then that everyone realized that even items from a thousand miles away could be somehow obtained by the fox spirit, although it dared not keep them for too long.