hang Hua, appointed as the Minister of Works, found himself facing an unusual challenge during the time of Yan Zhao, the King of Yan. Near the king’s tomb, there was a spotted fox spirit that transformed into a scholar, eager to visit Minister Zhang. Approaching the minister’s residence, it inquired of the tombstone, “Given my talents and appearance, would I be deemed worthy to meet Minister Zhang?” The stone replied, “Your extraordinary understanding renders all things possible. However, adhering to Minister Zhang’s standards might prove difficult. If you go out, you may encounter humiliation and may not return. It’s not only the loss of a son for a thousand years but also a deep deception to this old stone. You will not only suffer the loss but also mislead this venerable tombstone.”
Disregarding the stone’s advice, the fox went to see Zhang. Impressed by its refined demeanor and elegance, Zhang engaged in a discussion. However, when it came to literary accomplishments and depth of knowledge, Zhang found himself unable to surpass the fox. The conversation extended to the analysis of the three histories, the exploration of various scholars, the encapsulation of ten sages, and the understanding of the three talents. Zhang found himself consistently outmatched.
Lamenting, the fox said, “Honorable sir, you respect the virtuous and appreciate the capable. Why then resent others for their scholarly pursuits? Mozi embraced universal love, is that not praiseworthy?” With these words, the fox departed. Zhang had already stationed guards at the door, but the fox managed to escape. Later, it approached Zhang again, remarking, “The guards with weapons and shields at your door seem to suspect me. I fear people in the world will cease discussion, and knowledgeable strategists will hesitate to approach. I deeply regret this on behalf of the esteemed minister.”
Zhang remained silent, reinforcing the guards. However, Fengcheng magistrate Lei Huan, a knowledgeable man, advised Zhang, “I’ve heard that fox spirits avoid dogs, and it has been hundreds of years since such creatures can differentiate. Only the thousand-year-old ones can no longer distinguish. If there’s a thousand-year-old withered tree nearby, shining light upon it will reveal its form. The tombstone near King Zhao’s grave has been there for a thousand years; have someone cut it down.”
Upon investigating, Zhang overheard the fox spirit admitting, “The old fox did not know itself and indeed has caused trouble for me.” Inside the tombstone’s cavity, they found a small child in green clothing, about two feet tall. Upon returning, before reaching Luoyang, the child transformed into a withered tree. Burning it for illumination, they discovered the scholar was, in fact, the spotted fox. Zhang Hua sighed, “These two entities are not worth my time; a thousand years cannot regain them.”
Original story in 《齊諧記》張華為司空，於時燕昭王墓前有一斑狸，化為書生，欲詣張公。過問墓前華表曰：「以我才貌，可得見司空耶？」華表曰：「子之妙解，無為不可。但張公制度，恐難籠絡。出必遇辱，殆不得返。非但喪子千年之質，亦當深誤老表。」貍不從，遂見華。見其容止風流，雅重之。於是論及文章聲實，華未嘗勝。次復商略三史，探貫百氏，包十聖，洞三才，華無不應聲屈滯。乃歎曰：「明公乃尊賢容眾，嘉善矜不能，奈何憎人學問？墨子兼愛，其若是也？」言卒便退。華已使人防門。不得出。既而又問華曰：「公門置兵甲闌錡，當是疑僕也。恐天下之人卷舌而不談，知謀之士望門而不進。深為明公惜之。」華不答，而使人防禦甚嚴。豐城令雷煥，博物士也。謂華曰：「聞魅鬼忌狗所別者，數百年物耳。千年老精，不復能別。惟千年枯木，照之則形見。昭王墓前華表，已當千年，使人伐之。」至，聞華表言曰：「老貍不自知，果誤我事。」於華表穴中得青衣小兒，長二尺餘。使還，未至洛陽，而變成枯木。遂燃以照之，書生乃是一斑狸。茂先歎曰：「此二物不值我，千年不復可得。」