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》:

紹興王某與徐姓者,明季在河南避張、李之亂,所過處尸橫遍野。一夕遇李兵,二人自度必死,避城內亂屍中。夜半,燈燭輝煌,自城頭而下,疑賊兵巡城。漸近,乃城隍燈籠。愈驚懼,不敢作聲。少頃,聞從者曰:「有生人氣。」又一吏呼曰:「一個北門貨,一個不在數。」神漸遠去。次早,賊兵出城,二人起走,緊記夜所聞,認南路而行。傍晚,又抵一城,恰是北門。突遇賊兵,徐被殺,王遁歸家。後子孫甚眾。

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