Wang Liulang: The Tale of Wang Liulang

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.

《王六郎》

许姓,家淄之北郭,业渔。每夜,携酒河上,饮且渔。饮则酹地,祝云:“河中溺鬼得饮。”以为常。他人渔,迄无所获,而许独满筐。

一夕,方独酌,有少年来,徘徊其侧。让之饮,慨与同酌。既而终夜不获一鱼,意颇失。少年起曰:“请于下流为君驱之。”遂飘然去。少间,复返,曰:“鱼大至矣。”果闻唼呷有声。举网而得数头,皆盈尺。喜极,申谢。欲归,赠以鱼,不受,曰:“屡叨佳酝,区区何足云报。如不弃,要当以为常耳。”许曰:“方共一夕,何言屡也?如肯永顾,诚所甚愿。但愧无以为情。”询其姓字,曰:“姓王,无字,相见可呼王六郎。”遂别。明日,许货鱼,益沽酒。晚至河干,少年已先在,遂与欢饮。饮数杯,辄为许驱鱼。

如是半载。忽告许曰:“拜识清扬,情逾骨肉。然相别有日矣。”语甚凄楚。惊问之。欲言而止者再,乃曰:“情好如吾两人,言之或勿讶耶?今将别,无妨明告:我实鬼也,素嗜酒,沉醉溺死,数年于此矣。前君之获鱼,独胜于他人者,皆仆之暗驱,以报酹奠耳。明日业满,当有代者,将往投生。相聚只今夕,故不能无感。”许初闻甚骇,然亲狎既久,不复恐怖,因亦欷歔。酌而言曰:“六郎饮此,勿戚也。相见遽违,良足悲恻。然业满劫脱,正宜相贺,悲乃不伦。”遂与畅饮。因问:“代者何人?”曰:“兄于河畔视之,亭午,有女子渡河而溺者,是也。”听村鸡既唱,洒涕而别。

明日,敬伺河边,以觇其异。果有妇人抱婴儿来,及河而堕。儿抛岸上,扬手掷足而啼。妇沉浮者屡矣,忽淋淋攀岸以出,藉地少息,抱儿径去。当妇溺时,意良不忍,思欲奔救。转念是所以代六郎者,故止不救。及妇自出,疑其言不验。抵暮,渔旧处。少年复至,曰:“今又聚首,且不言别矣。”问其故。曰:“女子已相代矣,仆怜其抱中儿,代弟一人,遂残二命,故舍之。更代不知何期。或吾两人之缘未尽耶?”许感叹曰:“此仁人之心,可以通上帝矣。”由此相聚如初。

数日,又来告别。许疑其复有代者。曰:“非也。前一念恻隐,果达帝天。今授为招远县邬镇土地,来朝赴任。倘不忘故交,当一往探,勿惮修阻。”许贺曰:“君正直为神,甚慰人心。但人神路隔,即不惮修阻,将复如何?”少年曰:“但往,勿虑。”再三叮咛而去。

许归,即欲治装东下。妻笑曰:“此去数百里,即有其地,恐土偶不可以共语。”许不听,竟抵招远。问之居人,果有邬镇。寻至其处,息肩逆旅,问祠所在。主人惊曰:“得无客姓为许?”许曰:“然。何见知?”又曰:“得勿客邑为淄?”曰:“然。何见知?”主人不答,遽出。俄而丈夫抱子,媳女窥门,杂沓而来,环如墙堵。许益惊。众乃告曰:“数夜前,梦神言:淄川许友当即来,可助以资斧。祗候已久。”许亦异之。乃往祭于祠而祝曰:“别君后,寤寐不去心,远践曩约。又蒙梦示居人,感篆中怀。愧无腆物,仅有卮酒。如不弃,当如河上之饮。”祝毕,焚钱纸。俄见风起座后,旋转移时,始散。夜梦少年来,衣冠楚楚,大异平时。谢曰:“远劳顾问,喜泪交并。但任微职,不便会面,咫尺河山,甚怆于怀。居人薄有所赠,聊酬夙好。归如有期,尚当走送。”居数日,许欲归。众留殷恳,朝请暮邀,日更数主。许坚辞欲行。众乃折柬抱襆,争来致赆,不终朝,馈遗盈橐。苍头稚子毕集,祖送出村。欻有羊角风起,随行十馀里。许再拜曰:“六郎珍重!勿劳远涉。君心仁爱,自能造福一方,无庸故人嘱也。”风盘旋久之,乃去。村人亦嗟讶而返。

许归。家稍裕,遂不复渔。后见招远人问之,其灵验如响云。或言:即章丘石坑庄。未知孰是。

异史氏曰:置身青云,无忘贫贱,此其所以神也。今日车中贵介,宁复识戴笠人哉?余乡有林下者,家綦贫。有童稚交,任肥秩。计投之必相周顾。竭力办装,奔涉千里,殊失所望。泻囊货骑,始得归。其族弟甚谐,作月令嘲之云:“是月也,哥哥至,貂帽解,伞盖不张,马化为驴,靴始收声。”念此可为一笑。

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