Lv Xiangyun(呂鄉筠), a merchant from Dongting(洞庭), often traded Dongting fish and shrimp for miscellaneous goods in Jiangxi. He took one-tenth of the profit and, with surplus earnings, supported poor relatives and friends, helping the needy thereafter. He never saved money for himself. Lv Xiangyun was skilled at playing the flute. Whenever he encountered beautiful landscapes, he would sail and enjoy the scenery, playing his flute.

Once, on a mid-spring night, Lv Xiangyun’s boat was moored near Junshan Island. He set up a solitary feast and drank from a jug. After a cup of wine, he played a few tunes on his flute and suddenly saw a fishing boat approaching amidst the misty waves. As it drew closer, he saw an old man with white hair steering the boat, exhibiting extraordinary demeanor.

Putting down his flute, Lv Xiangyun stood up to greet the old man. The old man tied his boat to Lv Xiangyun’s and walked over.

After exchanging pleasantries, the old man said, ‘I heard your flute playing, melodious and uncommon, so I came to see.’

Lv Xiangyun didn’t say much, drank a few more cups of wine, and the old man continued, ‘I learned to play the flute when I was young. Would you like me to teach you?’

Lv Xiangyun, always eager to learn from others, bowed and said, ‘I wish to become your disciple.’

The old man then took out three flutes from his sleeve. One was as large as two arms together, the second was of regular size, and the third was as small as a thin pen. Lv Xiangyun bowed again, asking the old fisherman to play a tune.

‘I cannot play the largest one, nor the middle one. I can use the smallest one to play a tune for you, but I’m not sure if I can finish it.’ Lv Xiangyun said, ‘I would like to hear the one you said cannot be played.’ Replied the old man.

He continued to explain, ‘The largest flute originally belonged in the heavens, played for the celestial emperors, consorts, and celestial beings, accompanying celestial music. If played in the mortal realm, it would cause humans to vanish, the sun and moon to lose their light, stars to fall from their positions, mountains to crumble, among other consequences, which I won’t elaborate on.

‘The second flute is for the immortal beings in the caves, Penglai, Shiguzhu, the immortals on fairy islands, and the Immortal Mother of the West on Mount Kunlun, played in their gatherings. If played in the mortal realm, stones would fly, sand would move, birds would fall from the sky, beasts’ heads would split, stars would collide within, and even young lives would be shaken to death, leaving no path for people to walk, among other consequences, which I won’t elaborate on.

‘The smallest flute is for entertainment among friends of my age. All creatures and living beings on earth can listen to it. But once played, they become restless, and whether I can finish a tune is uncertain.’

After finishing his explanation, the old man took out the smallest flute and played three notes.

A strong wind arose on the lake, causing waves to surge and fish and turtles to leap. Lv Xiangyun and his attendants were alarmed and terrified. After five or six notes, beasts on Junshan Island screeched, the moon in the sky dimmed, various boats on the lake swayed, and people on the boats panicked.

The old man stopped playing, drank several cups of wine in a row, and recited a poem: ‘The old man in the lake reads the Yellow Emperor’s classics, plucking purple thatch, sitting amidst emerald grass. In spring, he knows not the depth of the lake, at dusk, he forgets the path to Balin.(湘中老人讀黃老。手援紫藟坐翠草。春至不知湘水深,日暮忘卻巴陵道。)’

After reciting the poem, he drank a few more cups of wine and said to Lv Xiangyun, ‘Next autumn, let us meet again here.’ He then sailed away in his fishing boat, gradually disappearing into the depths of the lake.

The following autumn, Lv Xiangyun waited by Junshan Island for ten days, yet he never saw the old fisherman again.

Original text in 《博異誌》:


illust: 張路《山水人物冊頁》, in the Ming Dynasty

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