The Obstinate Rock of Nanshan

In Haichang(海昌), there was a scholar named Chen(陳秀才某) who once visited the Yusu Temple(于肅愍廟) to seek dreams and divine the fortunes of his future. In his dream, Yusu opened the main gate to receive him, but instead of feeling at ease, Chen became restless. After a few steps, he stopped. Yusu said, ‘You are to be my future student, so according to protocol, you should enter through the main gate.’ Once settled, messengers arrived to report that the City God of Tangxi County(湯溪縣城隍) wished to see him. Shortly after, a god wearing a tall hat entered. Yusu instructed Chen to treat the City God with equal respect, saying, ‘He is my subordinate, and you are my student. You should take the higher seat.’ Anxious, Chen sat down. The City God and Yusu conversed in hushed tones, their words indistinct to Chen. He only caught sixteen words: ‘Death in Guangxi, stationed in Tangxi, Nanshan’s obstinate rock, alive for ten thousand years.’

As the City God bid farewell, Yusu asked Chen to accompany him. The City God asked, ‘Did you overhear my conversation with Yusu?’ Chen replied, ‘I only caught sixteen words.’ The City God said, ‘Remember them; they will surely come to pass.’ When Chen recounted the dream to Yusu again, no one could grasp its exact meaning.

Chen’s family was impoverished. His cousin, surnamed Li, was appointed as a magistrate in Guangxi and invited Chen to join him. Chen refused, fearing the City God’s words about ‘death in Guangxi'(死在廣西) might bring ill fortune. Li explained that the City God meant ‘starting in Guangxi,'(始在廣西) using a different meaning for ‘start’ rather than life or death. Persuaded by this reasoning, Chen agreed to accompany Li to Guangxi.

In the office where Li worked, there was a locked western wing that nobody dared open. Chen unlocked it to find a garden with artificial mountains and plants, and he decided to move in. A month passed without any incidents.

One mid-autumn night, Chen, inebriated in the garden, sang a poem: ‘The moonlight bathes the tower like water.'(月明如水浸樓臺) Suddenly, a voice from above corrected him, ‘The moonlight should ‘flood’ the tower, not ‘bathe’ it.’ Startled, Chen saw an old man, wearing a white woven hat and clothed in hemp, sitting on a wutong tree branch. Frightened, he hurried back inside. The old man jumped down, reassuring Chen, ‘Don’t be afraid. Have you heard of a ghost as refined and literary as me?’ Curious, Chen asked about the old man’s identity, but he deferred, suggesting they discuss poetry instead. As they conversed, Chen gradually lost his fear. The old man’s handwriting resembled tadpoles, unreadable to Chen. The old man explained that in his youth, this style was common but expressed a desire to switch to standard script, finding it hard to break the habit. Astonishingly, the old man’s ‘youth’ referred to the ancient era before Nüwa(女媧). From that night onwards, the old man visited Chen regularly, forming a close bond.

Li’s servant often saw Chen toasting and conversing with thin air, alarming Li. Believing Chen had been influenced by evil spirits, Li warned him that he might fulfill the prophecy of ‘death in Guangxi.’ Understanding, Chen plotted with Li on how to swiftly return home and avoid this fate.

Chen hastily boarded a boat home, only to find the old man sitting there, invisible to others. Near Jiangxi, the old man said, ‘Tomorrow, we’ll enter Zhejiang Province, and our connection will end. I have something important to tell you. I’ve been practicing the Dao for ten thousand years, yet I’ve not achieved my goal due to lacking a statue of the Nine-Heaven Immortal carved from three thousand catties of sandalwood. I implore you to help; otherwise, I’ll have to use your heart and lungs.’ Terrified, Chen asked about the Dao the old man followed, to which he replied, ‘The Axle Carriage Dao(斤車大道).’ Understanding the ‘Axle Carriage’ symbolizing ‘execution(斬),’ Chen became even more fearful, promising to deal with it after returning home. Together, they returned to Haichang.

Chen recounted the incident to friends and family, all suggesting the old man might be the ‘obstinate rock of Nanshan’ mentioned by Yusu.

The next day, the old man visited Chen’s house again. Chen asked if the old man lived in Nanshan. Enraged, the old man accused Chen of being misled by evil people. Chen shared the old man’s words with his friends, and they suggested luring the old man to Yusu Temple. Following their advice, as Chen brought the old man near the temple, the old man panicked and tried to flee. Chen held him tightly and dragged him into the temple. With a cry, the old man disappeared, never to be seen again.

Afterward, Chen changed his birthplace to Tangxi and passed the imperial examination. Among his examiners during the final stage was the top scholar, a man named Yu Zhen(于振).

Translated from《南山頑石》in 《子不語》:

海昌陳秀才某,禱夢于肅愍廟。夢肅愍開正門延之,秀才逡巡。肅愍曰:「汝異日我門生也,禮應正門入。」坐未定,侍者啟:「湯溪縣城隍稟見。」隨見一神峨冠來。肅愍命陳與抗禮,曰:「渠屬吏,汝門生,汝宜上坐。」秀才惶恐而坐。聞城隍神與肅愍語甚細,不可辨,但聞「死在廣西,中在湯溪,南山頑石,一活萬年」十六字。城隍告退,肅愍命陳送之。至門,城隍曰:「向與于公之言,君頗聞乎?」曰:「但聞十六字。」神曰:「志之,異日當有驗也。」入見肅愍,言亦如之。驚而醒,以夢語人,莫解其故。
陳家貧,有表弟李姓者,選廣西某府通判,欲與同行。陳不可,曰:「夢中神言『死在廣西』,若同行,恐不祥。」通判解之曰:「神言『始在廣西』,乃始終之『始』,非死生之『死』也。若既死在廣西矣,又安得『中在湯溪』乎?」陳以為然,偕至廣西。
通判署中西廂房,封鎖甚秘,人莫敢開。陳開之,中有園亭花石,遂移榻焉。月餘無恙。八月中秋,在園醉歌曰:「月明如水照樓臺。」聞空中有人拊掌笑曰:「『月明如水浸樓臺』,易『照』字便不佳。」陳大駭,仰視之,有一老翁,白藤帽,葛衣,坐梧桐枝上。陳悸,急趨臥內。老翁落地,以手持之曰:「無怖。世有風雅之鬼如我者乎?」問:「翁何神?」曰:「勿言。吾且與汝論詩。」陳見其鬚眉古樸,不異常人,意漸解。入室內,互相唱和。老翁所作字,皆蝌蚪形,不能盡識。問之,曰:「吾少年時,俗尚此種筆畫,今頗欲以楷法易之,緣手熟,一時未能驟改。」所云少年時,乃媧皇前也。自此每夜輒來,情甚狎。
通判家僮常見陳持杯向空處對飲,急白通判。通判亦覺陳神氣恍惚,責曰:「汝染邪氣,恐『死在廣西』之言驗矣。」陳大悟,與通判謀歸家避之。甫登舟,老翁先在,旁人俱莫見也。路過江西,老翁謂曰:「明日將入浙境,吾與汝緣盡矣,不得不傾吐一言:吾修道一萬年,未成正果,為少檀香三千斤,刻一玄女像耳。今向汝乞之,否則將借汝之心肺。」陳大驚,問:「翁修何道?」曰:「斤車大道。」陳悟「斤」、「車」二字,合成一「斬」字,愈駭,曰:「俟歸家商之。」
同至海昌,告其親友,皆曰:「肅慰所謂『南山頑石』者,得毋此怪耶?」次日,老翁至。陳曰:「翁家可住南山乎?」翁變色,罵曰:「此非汝所能言,必有惡人教汝。」陳以其語語友。友曰:「然則拉此怪入肅愍廟可也。」如其言,將至廟,老翁失色反走。陳兩手挾持之,強掖以入。老翁長嘯一聲,沖天去。自此,怪遂絕。
後陳生冒籍湯溪,竟成進士。會試房師,乃狀元于振也。

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