The Axe Cuts the Fox’s Tail

In the prefecture of Hejian(河間府), there was a man surnamed Ding who neglected his proper duties, spending his days idling around. One time, Ding heard of a fox spirit causing mischief somewhere and decided to seek it out alone. He handed over his business card, expressing a desire to become sworn brothers with the fox immortal. That very night, the fox immortal indeed transformed into a human form and introduced himself as Brother Wu Qing. He was in his fifties, instantly struck up a rapport with Ding, and assured him that if Ding needed any help, Brother Wu Qing would surely assist. Ding often boasted publicly that it was better to be friends with a fox than with people.

One day, Ding said to the fox, “I want to go to Yangzhou(揚州) to see the lanterns. Do you have a way?” The fox replied, “I do. From Hejian to Yangzhou, there’s a distance of two thousand li. If you put on my clothes, close your eyes, and walk with me, you’ll arrive quickly.” Ding followed the fox’s instructions and felt his body suddenly leap into the air, hearing the sound of the wind rushing past his ears, and in an instant, they arrived in Yangzhou. A merchant in Yangzhou was hosting a play at home, and Ding and the fox watched it from above. Suddenly, amidst the noisy gongs and drums from the stage, Guan Yu walked out carrying a single saber, frightening the fox who dropped Ding and fled. Ding, involuntarily, plummeted from the air onto the merchant’s banquet. Assuming he was a demon, the merchant put shackles on Ding, sending him to the county office in Jiangdu(江都縣). After repeated interrogations, Ding was escorted back to his hometown, Hejian.

When Ding saw the fox immortal, he started blaming him. The fox said, “Brother Wu has always been timid. Seeing Guan Yu appear on stage, I got scared and fled. Besides, I started missing your sister-in-law and hurried back.” Ding asked the fox where this sister-in-law lived. The fox replied, “I’m a fox, how could I get married? I just confused a virtuous lady. Your sister-in-law lives next door, the daughter of the Li family.” Hearing this, Ding was intrigued and requested to see this ‘sister-in-law’. The fox said, “There’s no harm in that! But as a mortal, you can’t enter the inner chamber. I have a little coat; if you wear it, you can freely enter and exit through the windows and doors, as if entering an uninhabited place.”

Ding, following the fox’s instructions, wore the little coat and indeed entered the Li family’s house. Li had been tormented by the fox spirit for a long time, appearing quite deranged. When Ding got into bed, Li engaged with him intimately. Li, exhausted by the fox’s torment, suddenly felt a comforting human touch and gradually started recovering. Ding informed Li about the fox spirit, and though she didn’t say anything, her attitude shifted towards favoring Ding and disliking the fox. Aware of this, the fox summoned Ding and said, “I opened the door, inviting thieves into the house; this is Brother Wu’s doing. Recently, your sister-in-law started liking you and hating me. Brother Wu has lived two lives, so naturally, the woman would prefer you. However, if Brother Wu wasn’t so ugly, your excellence wouldn’t be so apparent in comparison.” Hearing this, Ding became even more pleased.

Jealous of Ding taking away the affection of Li, the fox, taking advantage of Ding and Li’s distraction, approached the bedside and took away the little coat. As dawn approached, Ding couldn’t leave. He attempted to escape through the window, but it was closed tightly, and in a mishap, he fell from the windowsill. Li’s parents, entering the room, were shocked, mistaking Ding for a captured monster. They sprayed him with dog’s blood, poured filth on him, pricked him with needles, and subjected him to fire. Ding suffered greatly. Despite revealing the truth to Li’s family, they didn’t believe him. Fortunately, Li still favored Ding and privately pleaded for him, saying, “He was also bewitched by the fox spirit. Instead of keeping him here, it’s better to send him back.”

As soon as Ding escaped home, he went to settle scores with the fox, but the fox avoided him. That night, the fox used large characters to write a note and pasted it on Ding’s door. It read, “You took Li from me, just like Chen Ping stole his sister-in-law. You deserve this retribution. From now on, I’ll sever our brotherly ties and not associate with you.” So Ding and Li’s relationship ceased.

However, the fox still frequented Li’s house. They even invited monks and Taoists to recite scriptures and exorcise, but it was in vain. Later, Li conceived and gave birth to four sons, human-faced but with an extra tail on their buttocks. They could walk immediately and showed filial piety to Li. They often went out with the fox to gather fruits, which Li would enjoy at home.

One day, the fox said to Li, “My fate with you has come to an end. Yesterday, the Goddess of Mount Tai(泰山娘娘) found out that I had bewitched virtuous women in the human world. She wants to punish me by constructing a pilgrimage road to Mount Tai and never allowing me to leave. I intend to take the four sons and depart from here.” The fox took out a small axe from his sleeve and handed it to Li, saying, “Unless the tails of the four sons are cut off, they will never attain human form. You’re human; you can cut off their tails for me.” After Li complied, the fox and his four sons thanked her and left for good.

Translated from 《斧斷狐尾》in 《子不語》:

河間府丁姓者,不事生業,以狎邪為事。聞某處有狐仙迷人,丁獨往,以名帖投之,願為兄弟。是晚,狐果現形,自稱愚兄吳清,年五十許。相得如平生歡。凡所求請,愚兄必為張羅。丁每夸于人,以為交人不如交狐。
一日,丁謂吳曰:「我欲往揚州觀燈,能否?」狐曰:「能。河間至揚,離二千里,弟衣我衣,閉目同行便至矣。」從之,憑空而起,兩耳聞風聲,頃刻至揚。有商家方演戲,丁與狐在空中觀,忽聞場上鑼鼓聲喧,關聖單刀步出,狐大驚,舍丁而奔,丁不覺墜于席上。商人以為妖,械送江都縣。鞫訊再三,解回原籍。
見狐咎之。狐曰:「兄素膽小,聞關帝將出,故奔;且偶憶汝嫂,故急歸。」丁問:「嫂何在?」曰:「我狐也,焉能婚娶?不過魘迷良家婦耳。鄰家李氏女,即汝嫂也。」丁心動,求見嫂。狐曰:「有何不可。但汝人,身無由入人密室。我有小襖,汝著之,便能出入窗戶,如履無人之境。」丁如其言,竟入李家。李女久被狐蠱,狀如白癡。丁登其牀,女即與交。女為狐所染,氣奄奄矣,忽近人身,酣暢異常,病亦漸愈。丁告以故,女秘之不言,而漸漸有樂丁厭狐之意。
狐知之,召丁語曰:「開門揖盜,兄之罪也。近日嫂竟愛弟而憎我。弟固兩世人身,女子愛之誠宜。然非兄之醜,亦無由顯弟之美也。」丁問故,狐曰:「凡男子之陰,以頭上肉肥重為貴。年十五六,即脫穎出,皮不裹稜,嗅之無穢氣者,人類也。皮裹其頭不淨,稜下多腐渣而筋勝者,獸類也。弟不見羊馬豬狗之陰,非皆皮裹頭尖而以筋皮勝者乎!」出其陰示之,果細瘦而毛堅如錐。丁聞之,愈自得也。
狐妒丁奪婦寵,陰就女子之牀,取小襖歸。丁傍曉鑽窗,窗不開矣,塊然墜地。女家父母大驚,以為獲怪。先噴狗血,繼沃屎溺,針炙倍至,受無量苦。丁以實情告,其家不信,幸女愛之,私為解脫,曰:「彼亦被狐惑耳,不如送之還家。」丁得脫歸,將尋狐咎之,狐避不見。是晚,大書一紙貼丁門曰:「陳平盜嫂,宜有此報。從此拆開,弟兄分灶。」
嗣後,丁與女斷,狐仍往。其家設醮步罡,終不能禁。女一胎生四子,面狀皆人類,而尻多一尾,落地能行,頗盡孝道,時隨父出採蔬果奉母。一日,狐來向女泣曰:「我與卿緣盡矣。昨泰山娘娘知我蠱惑婦人,罰砌進香御路,永不許出境。吾次攜四子同行。」袖中出一小斧交其女曰:「四兒子尾不斷,終不得修到人身。卿人也,為我斷之。」女如其言,各拜謝去。

🎨張大千《荷屏仕女圖(局部)》

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