The Northern Gate Cargo

Two men from Shaoxing(紹興), Wang and Xu, fled to Henan in the late Ming Dynasty to escape the chaos caused by Li Zicheng(李自成) and Zhang Xianzhong(張獻忠). Everywhere they passed, they saw corpses strewn across the fields. One night, Wang and Xu encountered two soldiers under Li Zicheng’s command. Realizing they had no way out, they crawled into a heap of corpses within the city. At midnight, they suddenly saw bright lights, and a procession descended from the city tower. Wang and Xu initially thought it was Li Zicheng’s patrol approaching. As the procession drew nearer, they saw lanterns adorned with the name of the City God. Their fear intensified, and they dared not make a sound.

Soon, they overheard an official saying, ‘How come there is the aura of the living here?’ Another official responded, ‘One is a northern gate cargo(北門貨), the other is not among the count.’ After speaking, the procession of the City God gradually moved away.

The next morning, the marauding troop left the city. Only then did Wang and Xu crawl out of the heap of corpses and escape for their lives. They remembered the words ‘northern gate cargo’ spoken by the City God’s officials from the previous night and dared not head north, choosing instead to go south.

By evening, they arrived at the gate of a city, which happened to be its northern gate. Suddenly, soldiers from the northern gate emerged, mistaking Xu for a government spy and killing him on the spot. Seizing the confusion, Wang escaped and returned to his hometown Shaoxing, where his descendants flourished.

Translated from《北門貨》in 《子不語》:


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