Xu Yake

Xu Yake(徐崖客), a man from Huzhou(湖州), was the son of a concubine. His father, misled by Yake’s stepmother, sought to put him to death. He fled and wandered the world. Every famous mountain, great river, deep cave, he endeavored to ascend, believing himself already doomed and therefore fearing nothing.

Once, while climbing Mount Yandang, Xu Yake couldn’t make it to the top. With nowhere to stay for the night, a monk nearby asked, “Do you enjoy traveling?” Yake replied affirmatively. The monk said, “In my youth, I too had this penchant and met a strange man. He gave me a leather pouch. Sleeping inside it at night, wind, rain, tigers, leopards, snakes, none could harm me. He also gave me a five-zhang-long strip of cloth. If a mountain was too steep, I’d throw the cloth up and climb along it. Even if I fell, as long as I held onto the cloth, I’d suffer no injury. Thus, I traveled far and wide. Now old, I yearn to return home like a weary bird to its nest. I bestow these two items upon you.” Xu Yake thanked the monk and bid farewell. From then on, crossing mountains and valleys became easier for him.

He traveled to southern Yunnan, straying over a thousand miles beyond the Qingling River(青蛉河). Lost in a land of sand and rocks, he slept inside his pouch in the wilderness. In the moonlight, he heard someone urinating on the pouch, sounding like the rising tide. Peeking, he saw a giant, square-eyed, hooked-nosed man, with teeth protruding several feet from his cheeks, towering several times taller than an ordinary person. He then heard chaotic sounds of hooves on the sand, as if tens of thousands of deer and rabbits were being chased. Shortly after, a strong wind blew from the southwest, carrying an unbearable stench. It turned out to be a python passing through the air, driving the animals. The snake was dozens of zhang long, its head as big as a cartwheel. Xu Yake held his breath, cowering silently. When morning came and he emerged from the pouch, the vegetation around where the snake passed was scorched, but he remained unharmed. Starving, he spotted smoke rising from a nearby village and hurried there. Two hairy men sat side by side, cooking delicious taro in a pot. Xu Yake suspected they were the ones from the urination incident. He knelt and kowtowed, but the men didn’t understand his intentions. He pleaded for food, but they didn’t comprehend. Yet, their demeanor was gentle, and they chuckled at Yake’s gestures. Using hand signs and pointing to his belly, Yake made his plea clearer. The men laughed heartily, their sounds reverberating through the forest, seemingly understanding. They gave him two taro roots. Xu Yake ate until full, keeping half a root to show others, which turned out to be a white stone.

Having traveled the world, Xu Yake returned to Huzhou. He often told people, “The inherent nature of the world values humans. Wherever wilderness and remote places untouched by human presence exist, spirits and monsters do not venture. Where there are spirits and monsters, there are people.


The interesting aspect of this story lies in its nature as a strange and fictional narrative by the author Yuan Mei, about the Chinese traveler Xu Xiake(徐霞客). It’s filled with various satirical and playful elements, poking fun at and parodying Xu Xiake’s personal experiences.

Xu Xiake was a renowned Chinese explorer, geographer, and traveler from the Ming Dynasty, known for his extensive travelogues and writings about his journeys throughout China.

Translated from 《徐崖客》in 《子不語》:


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