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》:


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