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》: