In Shandong(山東), there was a scholar named Lin Changkang(林長康), who, at forty years old, had not yet passed the provincial imperial examination.
One day, just as he was contemplating abandoning his studies, he suddenly heard someone call out, ‘Do not lose heart!’ Lin Changkang was startled and asked who it was. The voice replied, ‘I am a ghost. I have been following you, protecting and watching over you for several years.’
Lin wanted to see the ghost’s appearance, but the ghost refused. After repeatedly insisting, the ghost said, ‘You may see me, but do not be afraid.’ Lin agreed.
The ghost knelt before him, blood dripping from a mournful face, and said, ‘I was a cloth seller from Lancheng County(藍城縣). I was killed by someone surnamed Zhang(張某某) from Yecheng County(掖縣). He buried my body under the millstone at the east city gate. You will become the magistrate of Yecheng County in the future, so I have been serving you, hoping for justice and revenge.’ The ghost also predicted that Lin Changkang would pass the provincial exam in a certain year and the imperial exam in another year, then vanished without a trace.
In the predicted year, Lin Changkang indeed passed the provincial examination. However, when the time came for the ghost’s prediction of the imperial examination, he did not pass. Lin Changkang sighed, ‘Does even a ghost not have a grasp of worldly achievements?’ Before he finished speaking, a voice echoed from above, ‘This is because of a blemish in your conduct, not my error. In a certain year, on a certain date, you had an affair with a widow, fortunately without resulting in a child, hence unknown to anyone. However, the underworld has recorded this transgression, and you are to be punished leniently by being delayed two sessions before passing the imperial examination.’
Frightened, Lin Changkang became extremely cautious in his actions and committed more good deeds. After two sessions, he passed the imperial examination and was appointed as the magistrate of Yecheng County. Upon assuming office, he inspected the entire city and found a millstone at the east city gate. When he pushed it aside, indeed, there was a corpse inside. He immediately arrested Zhang and held a trial. Zhang confessed to the murder, and justice was finally served.
Original text from 《山東林秀才》in 《子不語》:
🎨 《竹澗焚香圖》 馬遠, in the Southern Song Dynasty