A soldier in the imperial guard, fond of riding and hunting, once chased a wild rabbit and galloped to Dongzhimen Gate(东直门). By ill luck, he collided with an old man drawing water from a well, causing the old man to fall into the well. Terrified, the soldier hastily fled back home.
That night, the soldier saw the old man from the well entering his house, accusing him: ‘Though you didn’t intend harm, you didn’t rescue me when I fell into the well. If you had called for help, I might have survived. How could you abandon me and run home?’ The soldier had no reply. The old man continued to cause havoc, breaking things and causing disturbances. The soldier’s entire family knelt and begged the ghost, promising to prepare offerings and sacrifices immediately.
The ghost said, ‘Those are useless. If you want my peace, carve a wooden tablet with my name, offer pig trotters daily, and treat it with the same reverence as ancestors.’ Following the ghost’s instructions brought peace to their home.
From then on, whenever the soldier passed Dongzhimen, he would take a detour, avoiding the well. Once, while escorting the emperor on a tour and passing Dongzhimen, the soldier tried to avoid the area. His superior reprimanded, ‘If the Emperor asks where you went, what should I tell him? Besides, it’s broad daylight, with thousands of people and carriages. Why fear ghosts?’
Helpless, the soldier had to pass by the well.
Suddenly, he saw the old man waiting by the well, who rushed towards him, grabbed his clothes, and scolded: ‘Finally, I found you. You rode over me two years ago and didn’t help. Why were you so heartless?’ The old man scolded and hit the soldier.
Trembling, the soldier pleaded, ‘I can’t escape my guilt, but you’ve been receiving offerings in my home for three years and forgave me. Why go back on your word?’
Enraged, the old man exclaimed, ‘I didn’t die, I don’t need your offerings! Though the horse forced me into the well, someone passing by heard my cries and pulled me out. Why suspect me of being a ghost?’
Shocked, the soldier immediately brought the old man home and showed him the tablet, which didn’t bear the old man’s name. Furious, the old man threw the tablet outside, scattering the offerings on the table. The soldier’s family, bewildered, didn’t understand what was happening.
Suddenly, laughter echoed from above, and the impostor ghost disappeared.
Original text from 《鬼冒名索祭》in 《子不语》:
🎨 《村醫圖》李唐, in the Southern Song Dynasty