Fox Demon in the Belly

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》:

李鶴峰侍郎之子鷁,字醫山,辛巳翰林,能詩文,兼好宋儒理學。燈下讀書,忽兩女子絕美,來與戲狎,李不為動。少頃,李晚膳畢,忽腹中呼曰:「我附魂茄子上,汝啖茄即啖我也,我已居汝腹中,汝復何逃?」即燈下女子聲。李自此兩目瞠然,若迷若癡,或以手自批其頰;或大雨,首頂一石跪雨中,衣裳淋漓,不敢入內;或對人膜拜,拉之不起。面色黃瘦,日漸不支。
鬼常借李君手作字與人酬答。其同年蔣君士銓往視之,問:「汝貌甚佳,何不來誘我而必從李君耶?」李手書二字曰:「無緣。」蔣又問:「汝絕世佳人,何為居腹中污穢之地?」李手書二字罵曰:「下足。」
時江西巡撫吳公與侍郎善,乃招李往,為延張天師,設壇於滕王閣。齋三日,誦咒三日,其法官懸牌曰:「三月十五日拿妖。」臨期,觀者如堵,天師上坐,法官旁坐,令李跪,張其口向法師。法師伸兩指入其口,撮而擲之,一小狐如貓從口中出,呼曰:「我為姊探信,不料被擒,姊慎毋出。」腹中應聲曰:「唯。」方知腹中尚有一妖。
天師封符於罈,投之大江。李微覺神清,而腹中嘆息之聲大作,曰:「我與汝有宿世冤。因尋汝不著,故拉仙姑同來,不料反為彼禍,使我心轉不安。我愈不饒汝矣。」言畢,腹痛不止。天師問法官:「李翰林可救乎?」法官取鏡照其腹曰:「此是翰林前生冤鬼,非妖也。法籙不能治。」天師以告中丞,中丞亦無奈何,仍送李還家養病,遂卒。

Leave a Comment