The Small Figures

Scholar Jiang(蔣生) traveled to Henan(河南) and passed through Gong County(鞏縣), intending to stay overnight. The guest room in the western building of the inn where he planned to lodge was impeccably clean, which Jiang liked, so he decided to move his luggage there. The innkeeper chuckled and said, ‘Sir, are you brave? This western building is not safe.’ Jiang replied, ‘As the wise Yang Jiaoshan(楊椒山) said, every person has their courage. What is there to fear!’

Jiang lit a candle in the guest room and sat alone. Deep into the night, he heard sounds beneath the tea table, resembling the splashing of water in a bamboo bucket. Suddenly, a figure emerged – dressed in blue with a black hat, barely three inches tall, resembling a commoner in the mortal realm. The figure stared at Jiang for a long time, muttering to himself before departing.

Shortly after, several small figures carried an official figure, along with flags and carriages, each about the size of a bean. The official, wearing a black gauze hat, sat upright and pointed at Jiang, cursing loudly in a voice as soft as a bee’s buzz. Jiang remained unafraid. The official became increasingly furious, tapped the floor with a small hand, and ordered the small figures to arrest Jiang. Despite pulling at Jiang’s shoes and tugging his socks, the small figures couldn’t budge him. The official, displeased with their efforts, stood up to confront Jiang himself. Using three fingers, Jiang lifted the official onto the tea table. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a toy that never falls over, a stiff mud figure.

The sedan bearer and attendants surrounded Jiang, bowing and pleading to release their master. Jiang jokingly said, ‘You must offer something as redemption.’ The small figures replied, ‘Yes.’ Suddenly, from deep within the wall crevice, a buzzing sound emerged. Four individuals carried a hairpin, or two carried a hairpin stand. In no time, the floor was filled with gold, silver, jewelry, and fabrics. Jiang returned the toy to them, and it started moving again, but the small figures’ formation broke, and they scattered in panic.

As dawn approached, the innkeeper shouted, ‘There’s a thief!’ Upon investigation, the items the small figures brought as redemption from the western building were stolen goods belonging to the innkeeper.

Original text in 《不倒翁》from 《子不語》:




🎨 《春宴圖》局部 佚名, in the Southern Song Dynasty

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