General Zhao Liangdong(趙良棟)’s son, posthumously named Xiangmin(襄敏公), held the position of Governor of Baoding(保定).
One night, Xiangmin was studying in the west tower with all doors and windows closed. Suddenly, a flat-shaped entity squeezed through the window crack and entered the room. It rubbed itself from head to toe, gradually transforming into a complete form. Wearing a square scarf and red boots, dressed like a scholar, it bowed deeply to Xiangmin, clasping its hands, and said, ‘I am a fox immortal scholar living in this tower for a hundred years, fortunate to have received the permission of the esteemed lords, leading a peaceful existence. As a mere scholar, I dare not disobey the imperial envoy, hence, I have come to seek your guidance. If you insist on using this tower for study, I will vacate it within three days. But if you show compassion for a fellow being and allow me to dwell here, I request that you keep the tower locked as before.’
Startled, Xiangmin laughed, ‘You are a fox spirit, yet you claim to be a scholar?’
The fox immortal replied, ‘The Taimountain goddess conducts an annual examination for foxes, enrolling those proficient in literature and science as scholars while categorizing the less competent as wild foxes. Scholars are allowed to cultivate immortality, unlike wild foxes.’
Continuing, the fox scholar advised Xiangmin, ‘It’s a pity for nobles like yourself not to study immortality. Learning the ways of immortality is arduous. First, one must learn to take human form, then learn human speech after mastering bird language. Mastering bird language entails learning all the dialects of birds across the land, a process taking 500 years. People who pursue immortality can save themselves from this hardship. Nobles and literati who pursue immortality can save 300 years of training compared to commoners. Generally, becoming an immortal takes around 1000 years, an unalterable truth.’
Delighted by the fox scholar’s words, Xiangmin locked the west tower the next day, giving it to the fox. However, he regretted not asking what topics the Taimountain goddess used when examining the foxes.
Original text from 《狐生員勸人修仙》 in 《子不語》:
illust: Fang Chuxiong