During the Kangxi era, the City God of Longxi County(隴西城隍) had a black face and a large beard, with a very dignified appearance. However, during the Qianlong era, it suddenly changed to a handsome young man’s image. Someone asked the monk in the temple, ‘Why did the appearance of the City God change so much?’
The monk told him, ‘We heard from the elders that in the seventh year of Yongzheng’s reign(雍正七年), there was a scholar named Xie, just twenty years old, who lived in the temple with his teacher to study. One night, when the teacher had to leave for some urgent matter, Xie went to the courtyard to take a stroll and admire the moon while composing poetry. At that moment, he saw a person come to the temple and pray to the City God. Xie quietly hid behind a statue of a god, wanting to eavesdrop on what the person was saying. He heard the person pray, ‘City God, if I have a great harvest tonight, I will definitely prepare pigs, cows, and sheep to offer to you tomorrow! Please bless me!’ Xie realized that this person was actually a thief! He privately thought: Is the City God, a wise and upright deity, moved by offerings?’
“The next day, the thief indeed came with offerings to fulfill his vow. Xie was furious and immediately wrote an article severely criticizing the City God for being corrupt and unjust.
“That very night, the City God appeared in a dream to Xie’s teacher, warning him not to be disrespectful, or else disaster would strike. When the teacher woke up from the dream, he asked Xie if he had written an article criticizing the City God. Afraid, Xie denied it outright. The teacher, furious, searched through Xie’s belongings and found the manuscript that condemned the City God. Angry, the teacher burned the manuscript.
“The following night, the teacher dreamt again of the City God staggering towards him, saying, ‘I reported your disrespectful student to the gods merely to scare him, not to actually harm him. I never expected you to burn his manuscript. Now, that manuscript has fallen into the hands of a passing god who filed a complaint to the City God of Dongyue(東岳). The City God of Dongyue became furious, immediately ordered my dismissal, and demanded an explanation from the highest deity. Your student will now fill my position here as the City God.’ After saying this, the City God sadly departed.
“Not even three days later, Xie suddenly died. As Xie breathed his last, people in the temple heard the sounds of a coachman urging on horses, and they began to tell each other, ‘The newly appointed City God has arrived!’ Shortly after, the statue of the black-faced, bearded City God was destroyed and replaced with a new one depicting a young and handsome City God.”
Translated from 《隴西城隍神是美少年》 in 《子不語》: