The Learned Lurker and the Elusive Fox Spirit

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》


Leave a Comment