How to Get the Moon by Papercutting

A twisting Chinese mythology story about how magical powers of Taoism(道家) can do anything, even travel through time and space.

Once upon a time, there was a Mr. Wang who lived in the upper reaches of the Wujiang River(烏江). He usually kept his whereabouts hidden, so the villagers could not tell who he was. Some people thought he was a demon.

One day, a fire broke out in the village. The fire spread quickly and destroyed many houses. Mr. Wang went to see the fire and shouted, “Fire, stop! Fire, stop!” The fire then extinguished itself, and the villagers were amazed.

During the Changqing era(長慶), a man named Yang Huizhi from Hongnong traveled east from Chang’an to visit Wu and Chu. When he arrived at the Wujiang River, he heard that Mr. Wang was a great man, so he went to visit him.

Mr. Wang was wearing a black silk scarf and a brown robe. He sat behind a desk, looking like an immortal. His face was handsome and refined. Yang Huizhi bowed to him twice, but Mr. Wang only returned a slight bow. He then invited Huizhi to sit down next to him.

Mr. Wang’s conversation was both profound and clear, far beyond what Huizhi had expected. He was so impressed that he decided to stay with Mr. Wang.

On the twelfth day of August, Mr. Wang called his daughter, Qi Niang, to come in. She was an old woman, over seventy years old, with white hair and a cane. Mr. Wang introduced her to Yang Huizhi, saying, “This is my daughter.”

Yang Huizhi was surprised. He asked Mr. Wang how she had become so old.

Mr. Wang replied, “Qi Niang was born with a lifespan of only seventy years. She was lazy and did not practice Taoism, so she wasted her time and became old. If she had practiced Taoism, she would have lived much longer.”

Then he said to Qi Niang, “Please cut a moon out of paper for me, just like the moon tonight. Paste it on the east wall of the house.”

Qi Niang quickly pasted the paper to the wall. In the evening, a strange light came out of the paper moon, illuminating the entire room so clearly that even the finest hairs could be seen. Huizhi was amazed, deeply impressed by the profoundness of Mr. Wang’s magical powers.

When it was dawn and Huizhi was ready to leave, Mr. Wang knocked on the ground with his staff. Suddenly, dust flew everywhere and the sky turned dark. After a long time, the dust cleared. Looking around the courtyard, Huizhi saw only steep cliffs and deep valleys. The ground was covered in piles of rocks.

Huizhi was terrified, his back covered in cold sweat and his hair standing on end. Mr. Wang said, “The mountains and valleys have changed so quickly. Tell me, where can you go now?”

Huizhi was even more frightened, and tears welled up in his eyes. “I really didn’t know that such a vast change could occur in an instant. Could it be that in the blink of an eye in the immortal world, a thousand years have passed in the mortal world?”

Mr. Wang laughed. “Don’t be afraid. I was just joking with you.”

Then he took a broom and swept the courtyard. Dust flew up again. After a while, the dust cleared and the courtyard looked just as it had before. Yang Huizhi was overjoyed. He mounted his horse and galloped away.

Original text in 《宣室志》’s 《王先生》:

有王先生者,家于烏江上,隱其跡,由是里人不能辨,或以為妖妄。一日,里中火起,延燒廬舍,生即往視之,厲聲呼曰:“火且止,火且止。”于是火滅。里人始奇之。長慶中,有弘農楊晦之,自長安東游吳楚,行至烏江,聞先生高躅,就門往謁。先生戴玄綃巾,衣褐衣,隱几而坐,風骨清美。晦之再拜備禮,先生拱揖而已,命晦之坐其側。其議論玄暢,迥出意表。晦之愈健慕,于是留宿。是日乃八月十二日也。先生召其女七娘者,乃一老嫗也,年七十余,發盡白,扶杖而來,先生謂晦之曰:“此我女也,惰而不好道,今且老矣。”既而謂七娘曰:“汝為吾刻紙,狀今夕之月,置于室東垣上。”有頃,七娘以紙月施于垣上。夕有奇光自發,洞照一室,纖毫盡辨。晦之惊歎不測。及曉將去,先生以杖畫地,俄有塵起,天地盡晦,久之塵斂,視其庭,則懸崖峻險,山谷重疊,前有積石盡目。晦之悸然背汗,毛發豎立。先生曰:“陵谷速遷,吾子安所歸乎?”晦之益恐,洒泣言曰:“誠不知一旦有桑田之變,豈仙都瞬息,而塵世已千歲乎?”先生笑曰:“子無懼也。所以為娛耳。”于是持帚掃其庭,又有塵起。有頃,塵斂,門庭如舊。晦之喜,即馳馬而去。

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