Li Yi(李鷁), the son of Minister Li Hefeng(李鶴峰), styled as Yishan(醫山), passed the imperial examination in the 26th year of Qianlong’s reign and was selected to join the Hanlin Academy(翰林). He excelled in poetry and literature, and had a fondness for the Cheng-Zhu school of Neo-Confucianism(宋儒理學).
One day, while Li Yi was studying under the lamp, two exceedingly beautiful women suddenly appeared to tempt him, but he paid them no attention. After a while, having finished dinner, Li Yi heard a voice from his belly, saying, ‘My soul is attached to the eggplant. If you eat the eggplant, you’ll be eating me. I now reside in your belly. Where else can you run?’ It was the voice of the women he had seen earlier by the lamp. From that day forward, Li Yi’s eyes were fixed, seemingly lost or even in a state of bewilderment. Sometimes he’d slap himself, other times, in heavy rain, he’d kneel with rocks on his head, drenched but afraid to seek shelter. At times, he’d kneel and bow to people, resisting all efforts to pull him up. His complexion turned pale and he grew weaker by the day. The ghost often wrote through Li Yi’s hand, communicating and responding to others.
His fellow scholar, Jiang Shiquan(蔣士銓), visited him and asked, ‘You, such a stunning beauty, why entangle Li Yi and not me?’ Li Yi wrote two characters: ‘No fate.’ Jiang Shiquan persisted, ‘You, a peerless beauty, why reside in such a filthy place?’ Li Yi angrily wrote two characters: ‘Vile place.’
Wu Gong(吳公), who held a close relationship with Li Hefeng and served as the Governor of Jiangxi, arranged for Li Yi to be taken to Jiangxi, seeking help from Zhang Tianshi to cure him. Zhang Tianshi established a dharma platform at Tengwang Pavilion(滕王閣), fasting for three days and reciting incantations for another three. His Taoist disciples announced, ‘On the fifteenth day of the third month, we’ll capture the demon.’
On that day, a crowd gathered. Zhang Tianshi sat at the head, Taoist disciples beside him. They made Li Yi kneel and instructed him to open his mouth. Zhang Tianshi inserted two fingers into his mouth, seemingly pulling something out, which fell to the ground. Out came a fox the size of a cat, crying, ‘I came to gather news for my sister, but I never expected to be caught. Sister, be cautious, don’t come out!’ From Li Yi’s belly came a response, ‘Understood!’
Everyone realized there was another demon within him. The Tianshi sealed the demon in a jar with talismans and threw it into the river. Li Yi felt slightly clearer in mind, but his belly echoed with sighs, saying, ‘I have a long-standing grievance with you across lifetimes. Unable to find you, I dragged the celestial maiden along. Unexpectedly, I brought trouble to the celestial maiden, causing great unrest in my heart. I will never forgive you!’ After speaking, he writhed in intense pain. Zhang Tianshi asked the Taoist, ‘Is there any way to save Li Hanlin?’ The Taoist used a mirror to examine his belly and said, ‘This is a resentful spirit from Li Hanlin’s past life, not a demon. Spells and talismans cannot resolve this.’
Tianshi conveyed this to Governor Wu, who, helpless, sent Li Yi back home for recovery. Soon after, Li Yi passed away.
Translated from 《狐鬼入腹》 in 《子不語》: