Yama: The Mysterious Case of Cao Cao’s Unsettled Trial in the Underworld

Explore the enigmatic case of Cao Cao's endless trial in the underworld, where numerous Yama judges and unusual punishments fail to bring closure.

In Laiwu County, there was a scholar named Li Zhongzhi. He had a strong and upright character and did not show favoritism. However, every few days, he would faint and appear lifeless, resembling a zombie, and would only wake up after three or four days. When someone asked him what he saw in the underworld during these episodes, he always remained tight-lipped and never revealed anything.

At that time, there was a man named Zhang Sheng in the county who also fainted every few days. He told people, “Li Zhongzhi is the Yama on the Yama Hall in the underworld. When I was in the underworld, I was under his command.” As for the couplet above the Yama Hall’s gate, this Zhang Sheng could recite it. When someone asked him, “What did Li Zhongzhi do in the underworld yesterday?” Zhang Sheng replied, “I cannot go into details, but I remember he interrogated Cao Cao(曹操) and gave him twenty lashes.”

The chronicler of strange tales said: Cao Cao’s case seems to have been reviewed by dozens of Yama judges. He has undergone transformations into various animals, endured punishments like the Sword Mountain and Knife Peaks. It should have been straightforward to determine his guilt and sentence him, yet for thousands of years, his case remains unsettled and is still under trial. What could be the reason for this? Is it because many condemned prisoners seek a quick and painless death before execution, so they deliberately make Cao Cao suffer more punishments? It’s truly a strange phenomenon!

《阎罗》

莱芜秀才李中之,性直谅不阿。每数日,辄死去,僵然如尸,三四日始醒。或问所见,则隐秘不泄。时邑有张生者,亦数日一死,语人曰:“李中之,阎罗也。余至阴司,亦其属曹。”其门殿对联,俱能述之。或问:“李昨赴阴司何事?”张曰:“不能具述。惟提勘曹操,笞二十。”

异史氏曰:阿瞒一案,想更数十阎罗矣。畜道、剑山,种种具在,宜得何罪,不劳挹取,乃数千年不决,何也?岂以临刑之囚,快于速割,故使之求死不得也?异已!

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