Zhuang Sheng

Ye Xiangliu(葉祥榴), a Jinshi degree holder, said he had a friend named Chen, whose family had invited a teacher named Zhuang Sheng(莊生).

One August evening, after Zhuang Sheng finished teaching, feeling weary from watching the Chen brothers playing chess in the study, he stood up to return home. Zhuang Sheng’s house was a short distance from Chen’s, across a small bridge. As he walked onto the bridge that day, he stepped into emptiness, fell to the ground, hurriedly got up, and ran back home. When he knocked on his door, there was no answer, so he reluctantly returned to the study at Chen’s house.

At that moment, while the Chen brothers hadn’t finished their game of chess, they were taking a stroll in the courtyard. Seeing a small door behind the pavilion leading to a garden with countless tall banana trees, Zhuang Sheng marveled at the elegance of the host’s house, wondering why they didn’t use it as a study.

A few steps later, he saw a pregnant woman giving birth in the pavilion, her appearance striking him. But then he thought, ‘This is the host’s private chamber. Staying despite witnessing such a situation would violate propriety.’ He hastily retreated, returning to the study, where he sat for a while. Observing the host’s chess game being sneakily attacked by his brother, the host appeared unaware, seemingly oblivious to the danger. Zhuang Sheng shouted, ‘If you don’t listen to me, you’ll lose the entire game!’ and pointed out the moves with his fingers. The host seemed bewildered and shocked but still paid no heed. Finally, Zhuang Sheng yelled, causing both the host and his brother to rush into the inner room, extinguishing the lamp.

Unable to do anything else, Zhuang Sheng returned home. Again at the small bridge, he stumbled, got up, and reached home to knock on the door. The doorkeeper opened and let him in. Zhuang Sheng reproached him for not answering the previous knock, but the doorkeeper claimed he hadn’t heard anyone knocking.

The next day, Zhuang Sheng went to Chen’s house and found the lampstand in the study overturned, the chessboard still set up, feeling as if it were all a dream. Shortly after, the host emerged, saying, ‘After you left last night, there were strange noises and even the lamp was extinguished. It was quite bizarre!’ Zhuang Sheng, astounded, recounted his visit and guidance in chess. The host replied, ‘My brother and I did not see you return.’ Zhuang Sheng insisted, ‘There’s proof. In your garden, I saw a woman in labor.’ The host chuckled, ‘We don’t have a garden, let alone a woman in labor.’ Zhuang Sheng persisted, ‘Behind the pavilion.’ He then took the host to the pavilion, where there was a small earthen door leading to a plot of land, a half-acre vegetable garden.

In the garden’s western corner was a pigsty, where a sow had given birth to six piglets, five alive and one dead. Zhuang Sheng, filled with dread, understood that when he fell on the bridge, his soul had left his body; later, when he fell again, his soul had returned. If he hadn’t suppressed his lust, he would have been reborn as an animal.

Translated from 《莊生》in 《子不語》:

葉祥榴孝廉云:其友陳姓家延西席莊生。八月間日暮,諸生課畢,陳姓弟兄弈于書齋,莊旁觀之,倦,起身歸家。
莊家離陳姓里許,須過一橋。莊生上橋失足跌地,急起趨家,扣門不應,仍返陳氏齋。陳弟兄弈局未終,乃閒步庭院。見軒後小門內有園亭,巨蕉無數,心嘆主人有此雅室不作書齋。再數步,見小亭中孕婦臨蓐,色頗美,心覺動。既而曰:「此東人內室,見此不退,非禮也。」趨出,仍至齋中小坐。見主人棋為乃弟暗攻,主人他顧,若不覺者,代為通知。主人慞惶似驚,仍復不睬。莊復大聲呼曰:「不依我,全盤輸了!」且以手到局上指告。陳氏兄弟驚惶趨內,燈為之熄。莊不得已,仍回家。至橋,復又一跌,起,赴家扣門,閽者納焉。莊以前次扣門不應之事罪其家人,家人曰:「前未聞也。」
莊次日赴館,見燈盞在地,棋局尚存,恍然若夢。少頃,主人出曰:「昨夜先生去後,鬼聲大作,甚至滅火,真怪事。」莊駭然,告以曾來教棋。東人曰:「吾弟兄並未見先生復至。」莊曰:「且有一證:我到尊府花園,見有臨蓐夫人。」陳笑曰:「我家並無花園,何有此婦?」莊曰:「在軒後。」莊即拉陳同至軒後,有小土門,內僅菜園半畝,西角有一豬圈,育小豬六口,五生一斃,莊悚然大悟:蓋過橋一跌,其魂已出;後一跌,則魂仍附體。倘不戒于淫,則墮入畜生道矣。

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