Explore the heartwarming tale of Wang Liulang, a Chinese folklore legend, highlighting friendship and the transformation into a land god.
There was a man surnamed Xu, who lived in the northern part of Zichuan and made a living by fishing. Every night, he would bring wine to the riverbank, drink while fishing. Each time before drinking, he would pour some wine on the ground, and pray, saying, “Let the drowned spirits in the river come and join us for a drink!” It became a routine for him. While others caught hardly any fish in this place, he would fill his baskets and buckets with fish.
One evening, Mr. Xu was pouring wine for himself, and a young man lingered beside him without leaving. Mr. Xu invited him to drink together, and the young man did not refuse, gladly joining him in drinking. However, they didn’t catch a single fish throughout the whole night, and Mr. Xu felt very disappointed. The young man stood up and said, “Let me go downstream and catch fish for you!” After saying that, he left with a light heart. In no time, he returned and said, “Many fish have come!” Sure enough, they could hear the fish in the river making splashing sounds as they swam. Mr. Xu cast his fishing net and caught several fish, each of them over a foot long. He was overjoyed and quickly thanked the young man. When they were going back, Mr. Xu wanted to give the fish to the young man, but the young man refused, saying, “I’ve enjoyed your good wine many times; this is nothing in return. If you don’t mind, I hope we can do this often in the future.” Mr. Xu said, “We’ve only been drinking together for one night, how can you say many times? If you’re willing to come often, that’s what I truly hope for, but I’m ashamed that I can’t repay your kindness in catching fish for me.” Mr. Xu then asked for his name and title, and the young man replied, “My last name is Wang, I have no title, you can call me Wang Liulang when we meet.” After saying that, the two parted ways. The next day, Mr. Xu sold the fish, earned some money, and bought more wine. In the evening, he went to the riverbank, and he saw that the young man had already arrived. The two of them happily drank wine together. After a few cups of wine, the young man stood up and went to catch fish for Mr. Xu again.
This went on for half a year. One day, the young man suddenly told Mr. Xu, “Since I met you, our bond has grown stronger than that of brothers. But the day of our separation is approaching.” His words were filled with sorrow. Mr. Xu was surprised and asked what was going on. The young man hesitated several times before finally saying, “Our bond is so strong that you might not be surprised when I tell you the truth. Now, we are about to part ways, and I must be honest with you: I am actually a ghost. In my previous life, I loved drinking, and I drowned here after getting heavily drunk. It’s been several years. The reason you caught so many more fish than others in the past was because I secretly helped drive the fish to you, as a way to repay your offering of wine. Tomorrow, my sentence will be completed, and someone else will take my place. I will be reincarnated in the mortal world. We have only tonight to be together, so it’s hard not to feel sad.” Mr. Xu was initially terrified upon hearing that Wang Liulang was a ghost, but after spending so much time together, he no longer felt afraid. He was saddened by the impending separation. Mr. Xu poured a full glass of wine and said to Wang Liulang, “Liulang, please drink this glass and stop being sad. It’s indeed sorrowful to part ways just after we’ve met, but celebrating your release from suffering is the right thing to do, and excessive sorrow would be unreasonable.” So, the two raised their glasses and drank heartily. Mr. Xu then asked, “Who will replace you?” Wang Liulang replied, “My elder brother is watching by the river. Tomorrow at noon, a young woman will drown while crossing the river, and she will take my place.” Hearing the roosters crowing in the village, Wang Liulang and Mr. Xu shed tears and bid farewell.
The next day, Mr. Xu waited earnestly by the river, prepared to witness this strange event. Sure enough, around noon, a young woman carrying a baby approached. When she reached the riverbank, she fell in. The baby was left on the riverbank, crying loudly with flailing arms and legs. The young woman repeatedly sank and resurfaced in the river. Suddenly, she climbed up the riverbank, soaking wet. She rested for a while, then picked up the child and walked away. When the young woman fell into the water, Mr. Xu couldn’t bear it and thought about running to rescue her. But then he remembered that she had come to replace Wang Liulang, so he stopped and didn’t go to her rescue. When the young woman climbed out of the river, he began to doubt Wang Liulang’s words. In the evening, Mr. Xu was still at the same spot fishing. Wang Liulang came back and said, “Now that we’ve met again, let’s not talk about parting.” Mr. Xu asked him why, and Wang Liulang said, “The young woman has already come to replace me, but I pity the child she was carrying. I didn’t want two lives to be lost just because of me, so I let her go. I don’t know when someone else will replace me next time. Perhaps our fate is not yet complete!” Mr. Xu sighed and said, “Such a compassionate heart, surely heaven will take notice.” From then on, the two of them continued to meet and drink together as they had done before.
A few days later, Wang Liulang came to bid farewell once more. Mr. Xu suspected that someone else was coming to replace him. Wang Liulang said, “This time, there’s no one replacing me. Last time, my heartfelt compassion was indeed known to the heavens, and now I’ve been appointed as the local land god of Wu Town in Zhaoyuan County. I will take office in a few days. If you don’t forget our old friendship, you can come and visit me. Don’t be afraid of the long and difficult journey.” Mr. Xu congratulated him, saying, “You’ve become a god with such honesty, it’s truly heartening. But humans and gods exist in two different worlds. Even if I’m not afraid of a long and difficult journey, how can I see you?” Wang Liulang replied, “Just go, don’t worry about it.” After Wang Liulang repeated his instructions several times, he left.
After returning home, Mr. Xu planned to pack his belongings and travel to the east to visit Wang Liulang. His wife chuckled and said, “Wu Town in Zhaoyuan County is several hundred miles away from here. Even if there is such a place, I’m afraid you won’t be able to have a conversation with the mud there.” Mr. Xu ignored the advice and eventually went to Zhaoyuan County. He inquired with the locals and indeed found a place called Wu Town. He stayed in an inn and asked the innkeeper where the local temple was. After hearing Mr. Xu’s question, the innkeeper was surprised and asked, “Sir, is your surname Xu?” Mr. Xu said, “Yes, how did you know?” The innkeeper asked again, “Is your hometown in Zichuan County?” Mr. Xu replied, “Yes, how did you know?” The innkeeper didn’t respond and hurriedly left. After a while, men carrying children and wives and daughters crowded around the door. The townspeople had gathered, forming a human wall around Mr. Xu. He was even more surprised, and the townspeople explained, “A few nights ago, we dreamt of the land god, who said, ‘A friend surnamed Xu from Zichuan County is about to arrive. Please, everyone, contribute some money for him.’ So, we’ve been waiting for you for a long time.” Mr. Xu was greatly astonished. He went to the local temple to make an offering, saying, “Since we parted ways, I have thought of you day and night. Now, I have come from afar to fulfill our promise. Your guidance to the people in their dreams is truly heartwarming. I am ashamed that I don’t have lavish gifts, only a cup of wine. If you don’t mind, please drink it as we did by the riverbank.” After the offering, he burned some paper money. After a while, a strong wind blew from behind the god’s seat, swirling for a long time before dissipating. That night, Mr. Xu dreamt of Wang Liulang, who appeared in pristine attire, quite different from before. Wang Liulang thanked him, saying, “Thank you for coming to visit me from afar and bringing me joy. But now that I hold this minor position, it’s inconvenient for us to meet. Even though we are so close, it feels like we are separated by a thousand mountains and rivers, and it saddens my heart. The local people here will give you some modest gifts as a token of my affection for an old friend. When you decide to return, I will come to see you off.” After staying for several days, Mr. Xu planned to return. The locals earnestly tried to persuade him to stay. They invited him for meals in the morning and drinks in the evening, with several households taking turns to host him each day. Despite their hospitality, Mr. Xu insisted on leaving. People came with gifts, and in less than a morning, a bag was filled with presents. On the day of his departure, the elderly and children from the town came to bid farewell to Mr. Xu. Just as he left the village, a sudden whirlwind appeared, and Mr. Xu walked with it for over ten miles. Mr. Xu expressed his gratitude repeatedly, saying, “Liulang, please take care, and don’t bother with sending me off. Your compassionate heart will surely bring blessings to the local people. There’s no need for an old friend like me to remind you of anything.” The whirlwind circled on the ground for a long time before gradually dissipating. The people from the village who had come to see off Mr. Xu also returned to the village in amazement.
Mr. Xu returned home and gradually became wealthy, no longer needing to fish. Later, when he met people from Zhaoyuan, he asked about the local land god, and they all said it was very effective and granted wishes. Some even mentioned that Wang Liulang’s post was in Shikeng Village, Zhangqiu County. It’s unknown who was correct.
The chronicler of strange tales said: Becoming a high-ranking official while still remembering one’s humble friends is the reason why Wang Liulang became a god. Just look at the high-ranking officials sitting in their carriages today; would they still acknowledge their old, poor friends wearing straw hats? In my hometown, there was a scholar-official from a very poor family. He had a childhood friend who held a lucrative government position and thought about going to seek his friend’s help, believing he would surely be taken care of. So, he spent all his money on buying travel essentials, embarked on a long journey, and reached his friend’s location, only to be greatly disappointed. In the end, he had to spend all his money and even sold his horse to make it back home. One of his younger brothers, who had a humorous nature, composed a “monthly calendar” to mock him, saying: “It’s this month, older brother arrives, takes off the sable hat, doesn’t open the umbrella, the horse turns into a donkey, and the boots finally stop making noise.” Reading this can bring a smile.