Jiang Yilin(江軼林), a literati from Tongzhou(通州), had been living for generations in Lü Sichang(呂泗場) in Tongzhou. He married a woman named Peng, and their relationship was extremely deep. Peng had been married to Jiang Yilin for three years when he was just twenty years old and hadn’t yet passed the scholar examination.
One night, both husband and wife dreamt that Jiang Yilin would pass the scholar examination on a certain month and day of that year, while Peng would die on the same day. Soon after, the examination officials came to Tongzhou to conduct the tests. Lü Sichang was over a hundred miles away from Tongzhou, and due to the ominous dream, Jiang Yilin hesitated and didn’t want to go to Tongzhou. Peng urged him, saying, ‘Seeking success in the exams is of great importance. Dreams are not sufficient evidence.’
Reluctantly, Jiang Yilin set out. After completing the exam, as predicted in the dream, he indeed passed, and the announcement was made on the exact day mentioned in the dream. He felt extremely uneasy. Two days later, news arrived of Peng’s death. After finishing the exam, Jiang Yilin hurriedly rushed back home, but Peng had been deceased for fourteen days already.
According to the customs of Tongzhou, on the fourteenth night after a person’s death, their clothes should be placed beside the coffin, and the whole family should hide away. It was believed that the departed soul would return to the body, termed ‘returning the evil spirit.’ Grieving Peng’s death deeply, Jiang Yilin, on the night of ‘returning the evil spirit,’ moved his bed beside the coffin and hid within the bed curtains, hoping to see Peng one more time.
As the night approached its darkest hours, he heard faint sounds from the corner of the room. Peng slowly descended from the eaves, walked to the front of the coffin, knelt before the candles, and immediately, the flames extinguished. However, the room remained as bright as day. Fearful of startling Peng, Jiang Yilin dared not make a sound. Peng walked from the coffin to the bedside, drew back the curtains, and softly called out, ‘Has my husband returned?’ Jiang Yilin jumped out, and both of them embraced, crying bitterly. After their tears subsided, they expressed their separation woes and shared their feelings. Then, they undressed and lay together, loving each other as before.
Calmly, Jiang Yilin asked, ‘I’ve heard that after death, there are guardians and evil spirits. During the return of the spirit, why were you able to come alone?’ Peng replied, ‘The evil spirits are the guardians in the underworld. Only the guilty spirits are bound during the return. The underworld deemed me innocent and because our destiny isn’t severed, they allowed me to return alone.’
Jiang Yilin further inquired, ‘If you were innocent, why did you die so soon?’ Peng answered, ‘Life is fleeting, and destiny is predetermined, whether guilty or not.’ Jiang Yilin said, ‘Our connection isn’t severed. Tonight’s visit, is it to sever our ties?’ Peng replied, ‘Not yet. Severing the past ties, there are still future connections.’ Before finishing, a strong wind arose outside. Peng was extremely frightened, clutching Jiang Yilin, pleading, ‘Hold me tight! Protect me! Spirits fear the wind the most. Once carried by the wind, they can’t control their direction; if they stumble, they’ll be blown far away.’ When the rooster crowed at dawn, they bid farewell, reluctantly parting ways. Peng reassured him, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll meet again tonight!’ After saying this, she left. Since then, Peng visited every night, arranging her former dressing table and even mending Jiang Yilin’s clothes. Over two months later, Peng suddenly sighed deeply, tearfully telling Jiang Yilin, ‘Our past ties have been severed. From now on, we’ll be apart for seventeen years. After seventeen years, I’ll come again to continue our future ties.’ Saying this, she departed.
Jiang Yilin was originally a handsome young man with considerable wealth. Many women from the village were willing to marry him as his second wife, but he refused them all. Seventeen years later, following Peng’s appearance and demeanor from her previous life, he searched everywhere in Tongzhou, Taizhou, Yizheng, and Yangzhou but couldn’t find a match. He returned alone to Lü Sichang.
Lü Sichang was originally near the sea, and that year, a ship returned from Shandong(山東) carrying an elderly couple. They claimed to be of noble descent but had only one daughter, reliant on her uncle for support. The uncle wanted to marry off their daughter to a local wealthy man, which the old man strongly opposed. Therefore, they sought refuge here, and the daughter wished to marry someone from Jiangnan. Someone mentioned Jiang Yilin to the old man, who was very interested. Upon meeting the girl, Jiang Yilin believed she was Peng reincarnated. When he asked her age, she replied, ‘Seventeen.’ Her birth date was just two months after Peng’s death. Delighted, Jiang Yilin agreed to the marriage, and they were even more loving and respectful than before. Her temperament and hobbies were just like Peng’s when she was alive. Sometimes, Jiang Yilin asked about her past life, but she would smile and not answer. Jiang Yilin called her ‘Fairy of Penglai,’ hinting at Peng’s reincarnation.
Later, they had a son and a daughter, naming them ‘Peng Er’ and ‘Peng Daughter-in-law.’ They lived happily together for seventeen years until both husband and wife fell ill and passed away.
Translated from 《江軼林》in 《子不語》: