The so-called Four Seas is actually one sea, but people often call what they see in the south the South Sea and what they see in the north the North Sea. This can be fully confirmed in historical records.
Yan Daofu(嚴道甫), while traveling in the areas of Shaanxi and Gansu, once met with Duke Wu(伍公), the sincere and resolute. Duke Wu told Yan Daofu: During the reign of Emperor Yongzheng, he was ordered to visit the area of Eluosi and heard that there was a sea at its northern border. He requested to go and see it. The people of Eluosi felt very troubled. Duke Wu insisted on going, so the people of Eluosi reluctantly sent twenty Westerners with him. They carried compasses, firearms, and also prepared a carriage enclosed with several layers of felt for Duke Wu to ride in. The Westerners and Duke Wu’s entourage rode camels and followed Duke Wu northward.
After six or seven days, a huge iceberg appeared ahead, resembling a city. The peak of that iceberg soared into the sky, shining with a cold light that made it difficult to keep one’s eyes open. Beneath the ice peak was an ice cave. The Westerners used torches to illuminate the compass and guided everyone inside. The cave twisted and turned, and they walked for three days inside before coming out through another cave opening.
Upon exiting the ice cave, the sky was dim like the color of tortoiseshell, and occasional gusts of black smoke blew in, hitting people’s faces like gravel. The Westerners said, ‘This is called Black Frost.’ From then on, every few miles they walked, whenever they saw a mountain cave, they would enter to avoid the Black Frost. They used sulfur carried with them to light fires because nothing grew in that place, and there was no coal or anything else to start a fire. After resting for a while, they continued forward.
In this manner, they walked for another five or six days until they encountered a pair of bronze statues standing on either side. Each bronze statue was tens of zhang high. One stood on the back of a tortoise, and the other rode on a huge snake, holding the raised neck of the snake. Between the two bronze statues was a bronze pillar inscribed with some tadpole-shaped characters, but they couldn’t make out what they meant. The Westerners explained, ‘These statues and the bronze pillar were erected by the Chinese Emperor Yao of the Tang dynasty. It’s said that the tadpole-shaped seal script on the bronze pillar means “Gate of Cold(寒門).”‘ The Westerners then took this opportunity to advise Duke Wu to return, saying, ‘From here to the sea, it’s about three hundred li away. There, there’s no daylight, bone-penetrating cold, and anyone affected by the cold will undoubtedly die. The sea there looks like black lacquer, and the ice can crack at any moment. At night, demons and monsters come to capture people. When we get there, our water won’t flow, and fire won’t ignite.’ Duke Wu tried to ignite his sable fur coat but couldn’t, so he sighed and agreed to start the return journey.
Back at the Eluosi mansion, Duke Wu counted his entourage and found that out of fifty attendants, twenty-one had frozen to death along the way. Duke Wu himself was as black as ink and only recovered his original complexion after half a year. Some of his attendants turned permanently black-faced and could never regain their original appearance.
This is a terrifying adventure story set in Russia, written by people from the Qing Dynasty in China, filled with bizarre and curious imaginations. The mention of ‘Eluosi’ in the text sounds very close in pronunciation to Russia.
Translated from《黑霜》in 《子不語》: