Continuation of the Yellow Millet Dream: The Illusory Pursuit of Power and Wealth

Explore the consequences of ambition and illusion in the continuation of the Yellow Millet Dream. Follow the journey of Zeng, a man who once aspired to be a prime minister, as he experiences the fleeting nature of desires.

In Fujian, there was a once-promising scholar who had passed the provincial examination and achieved a high ranking in the imperial examination. He decided to go on an outing to the outskirts of the city with two or three fellow scholars who had also succeeded in the exams. They heard about a fortune teller living in the Bilon Monastery and decided to visit him together on horseback for divination.

Upon entering the monastery and taking their seats, the fortune teller noticed their proud demeanor and skillfully flattered them. The scholar, holding a folded fan in his hand, smiled faintly and asked, “Do I have the destiny to wear a python robe and a jade belt?” The astrologer, with a solemn expression, confidently declared that he could become the Prime Minister of the country for twenty years. The scholar was overjoyed and his spirits soared even higher.

At that moment, it began to drizzle, so the scholar and his companions sought shelter in a monk’s room. In the room, there was an old monk with deep eye sockets and a high nose bridge, sitting on a mat with an aloof attitude, not paying much attention to them. After the scholar and his companions greeted him with a bow, they all sat down and began chatting among themselves. The fellow travelers congratulated the scholar on his future as the Prime Minister. The scholar, filled with pride, pointed to his companions and said, “When I become the Prime Minister, I will appoint Mr. Zhang as the Governor of Ying Tian Prefecture. My cousins will become generals and commanders, and our old servants will hold various high-ranking positions. That will be my ultimate wish.” Everyone in the room burst into laughter.

Before long, the rain outside the door grew heavier. Zeng, feeling weary, lay down on the couch. Suddenly, he saw two eunuchs from the palace arrive, carrying an imperial decree from the emperor, summoning Zeng, the Grand Tutor, to make critical decisions for the nation. Zeng was filled with pride and immediately rushed to the court.

When the emperor heard him speak, he unconsciously moved closer and engaged in a lengthy and gentle conversation with Zeng. The emperor ordered that all promotions and demotions of officials below the third rank be decided by Zeng. He also bestowed upon Zeng a python robe, a jade belt, and a fine horse. After dressing in the python robe, fastening the jade belt, and prostrating himself in gratitude, Zeng left the palace.

Upon returning home, he found that his residence had transformed beyond recognition. The house was adorned with colorful beams and intricately carved rafters, exuding grandeur. Zeng couldn’t fathom how he had suddenly reached such a state. However, as long as he lightly stroked his beard and softly called out, the voices of numerous attendants would resonate like thunder.

Shortly, high-ranking officials and ministers arrived to present exotic treasures from overseas. Those seeking to curry favor and ingratiate themselves with him continuously visited his home. When the six ministers arrived, he hastily welcomed them. When assistant ministers came, he greeted them with a bow and exchanged a few words. For lower-ranking officials, he simply nodded in acknowledgment.

The Governor of Shanxi sent ten songstresses, all of them beautiful women. Among them, two stood out, named Niao Niao and Xian Xian, who received special favor from Zeng. Whenever he had leisure time at home, he spent the entire day watching their song and dance performances.

One day, Zeng recalled the assistance he had received from Wang Ziliang, a local gentry in his county, when he was in humble circumstances. Now that he had risen to a high official position while Wang still faced setbacks in his career, he thought, “Why not extend a helping hand to him?” The next morning, he submitted a memorial recommending Wang Ziliang to be appointed as an assistant censor. His recommendation was promptly approved by an imperial edict, and Wang was immediately promoted and appointed to the position.

Zeng also remembered some minor grievances he had with Guo Taipu in the past. He summoned Lü and Chen, both assistant censors, and shared his intentions with them. The following day, numerous memorials accusing Guo were submitted, and he was subsequently removed from his position as per the emperor’s decree. Zeng fulfilled both his obligations of gratitude and settling scores, finding satisfaction in these actions.

On a rare occasion when Zeng was passing through the streets on the outskirts of town, a drunken man accidentally bumped into his retinue. Zeng had the man arrested and sent to the local authorities, where he was promptly executed by flogging. Those living near his residence and adjacent fields feared his power and willingly offered him bountiful parcels of land. From then on, his wealth could rival that of the state itself.

Not long after, both Niao Niao and Xian Xian passed away, leaving Zeng deeply saddened. However, he suddenly remembered a beautiful neighbor’s daughter from the neighboring household, whom he had long desired to make a concubine but could not afford due to his previous financial constraints. Fortunately, now he could fulfill his wish. He instructed a few capable servants to forcefully deliver the money to the neighboring household. In no time, the woman was brought to his home in a sedan chair, appearing even more stunning and enchanting than he remembered. Reflecting on his life, he felt contentment beyond measure.

One year passed, and rumors began to circulate among the court officials, suggesting that some harbored dissatisfaction towards Zeng. However, these individuals, like “timidly standing beside a war horse,” dared not voice their concerns. Zeng, on the other hand, remained proud and dismissive of such murmurs.

During this time, a scholar from the Dragon Pavilion submitted a memorial to the emperor, accusing Zeng of various wrongdoings. The memorial roughly stated, “In my personal opinion, Zeng was originally a dissolute character, fond of drinking and gambling, a commoner of the market square. He only gained favor with the emperor because of one favorable word, and as a result, his father and son both attained high positions. The grace and favor he received reached an unprecedented level. However, he did not strive to serve the nation or sacrifice himself for the emperor’s benevolence. Instead, he acted recklessly and arrogantly. Counting the capital crimes he has committed would be more challenging than counting his own hair!

In the court, he treated official positions as commodities, setting their value based on the level of vacancy. Therefore, everyone from courtiers to generals rushed to him, calculating their gains and losses, searching for opportunities. It seemed as if they were trading goods in a marketplace. Many who refused to flatter Zeng were relegated to idle positions, and those who stood up against him were demoted to remote and perilous regions. The officials of the court were disheartened, and the emperor became increasingly isolated.

He shamelessly seized farmland belonging to commoners and forcefully took virtuous women from respectable households as concubines. His malevolence spread, and grievances multiplied, leaving the realm in darkness! Wherever Zeng’s servants traveled, local magistrates and officials acted according to his whims. His private correspondence led provincial governors, circuit inspectors, as well as governors and provincial officials to bend the rules in his favor. His fostered sons, distant relatives who climbed the social ladder through his influence, traveled in horse-drawn carriages at speeds resembling gusts of wind. If local supplies delayed their arrival, they would be swiftly punished.

They oppressed the people and exploited the government, leaving nothing in the fields they passed through. Meanwhile, Zeng’s arrogance continued to grow, and he remained unrepentant. Whenever he attended court and reported on state affairs, he cunningly whispered slanderous words in the emperor’s ear. Upon returning home from the court, he reveled in the sounds of entertainment in his garden. He indulged in extravagance and debauchery day and night, showing no concern for the state’s affairs or the welfare of the people. Is there a prime minister like him anywhere else in the world?

Currently, there is turmoil within and outside the kingdom, with civil unrest and public discontent on the rise. If we do not swiftly execute him and confiscate his ill-gotten wealth, we risk facing a calamity akin to the usurpations of Cao Cao or Wang Mang. I carry this fear day and night, unable to find peace. At the risk of my own life, I have listed the charges against Zeng and report them to Your Majesty. I implore you to sever the head of this treacherous villain, seize his embezzled fortune, appease the wrath of the heavens, and win the hearts of the people. If my words prove false and absurd, you may impose the punishment of beheading and boiling in oil on this humble servant.”

After the memorial was presented, Zeng, upon hearing about it, was filled with terror, as if he had been doused with icy water, feeling a chilling sensation in his heart. Fortunately, the Emperor, in his magnanimity, kept the memorial suppressed within the palace and did not take immediate action. However, officials from various departments, censors from different regions, and high-ranking administrative officers all submitted memorials accusing Zeng. Even those who had once sought refuge under his patronage and called him their benefactor turned against him.

As a result, an imperial edict was issued, confiscating Zeng’s family assets and exiling him to Yunnan for military service. Zeng’s son, who had been appointed as the Prefect of Pingyang, had his summons and interrogation underway. Upon receiving the imperial edict, Zeng, who was already trembling with fear, suddenly found himself surrounded by dozens of armed guards wielding swords and spears, who entered his inner chamber. They stripped him of his court attire and ceremonial hat and bound him together with his wife.

Before long, a group of laborers began moving his belongings to the courtyard. There were hundreds of thousands in gold and silver coins, hundreds of bushels of precious gems like pearls, jade, agate, and various jewelry, along with thousands of tents, curtains, and beds. Even baby swaddles and embroidered shoes for women were left on the steps in front of the hall. Zeng examined each item one by one, feeling heartache and bitterness at every sight.

After some time, a person dragged out Zeng’s beautiful concubine. She appeared disheveled, weeping and distraught. Zeng’s heart burned with deep sorrow and rage, but he dared not utter a word.

After a while, all the buildings and warehouses were sealed with official seals, and Zeng was immediately harshly ushered out. The escorts, pulling on ropes, dragged him and his wife out, both of them weeping, and they were forced onto the road. Their pleas for a worn-out horse-drawn cart as transportation were in vain. After walking for more than ten miles, Zeng’s wife became too weak to continue and kept stumbling, so Zeng had to use one hand to support her as they walked.

After another ten-plus miles, Zeng himself was exhausted. Suddenly, they came across a towering mountain that seemed to touch the clouds, and Zeng worried that he wouldn’t be able to climb it. He held his wife’s hand and they wept together. However, the escorts stared at them with fierce eyes, not allowing them to stop for a moment. Zeng saw the sun setting in the west with no place to find shelter for the night. They had no choice but to continue, moving forward slowly and laboriously, one step at a time.

When they reached the mountainside, Zeng’s wife had run out of strength and sat by the roadside crying. Zeng also stopped, ignoring the verbal abuse from the escorts. Suddenly, they heard a loud commotion as a group of bandits, armed with sharp weapons, leaped forward. The escorts were terrified and fled in haste. Zeng knelt down immediately and said, “I’ve been exiled far from home, and there’s nothing valuable in my belongings.” He begged them for mercy.

The bandits, with anger in their eyes, proclaimed, “We are all oppressed people because of you, this villain. All we want is your head; we ask for nothing more.” Zeng angrily retorted, “Though I may be awaiting punishment for my crimes, I am still an official appointed by the court. How dare you, these bandits, act like this!” The bandits became even more furious, swinging their axes toward Zeng’s neck. Zeng could only feel his head falling to the ground with a resounding thud. Just as he was still in shock, two minor demons approached, bound his hands again, and drove him forward on the road.

After a while, they arrived in a bustling city. In no time, they came upon a palace where an ugly-looking king presided, passing judgments on the sins and merits of the departed souls. Zeng approached, prostrating himself on the ground, begging for mercy. The king reviewed the case briefly and angrily declared, “For such crimes of deceiving the emperor and harming the country, he should be thrown into the boiling oil cauldron!” The ghosts present echoed this with thunderous agreement.

Immediately, a gigantic ghost seized Zeng and dragged him beneath the palace steps. There, they found a cauldron of boiling oil, seven feet high, with roaring flames all around, even the cauldron legs glowing red. Zeng trembled in fear, weeping bitterly, realizing there was no escape. With his left hand, the ghost grabbed his hair, and with his right, he held his legs, then tossed Zeng into the boiling oil. Zeng felt his entire body tumbling up and down with the boiling waves of oil, his flesh burning and his pain unbearable. The boiling oil entered his mouth, scalding even his internal organs. At that moment, all he wished for was a swift death, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t end his torment.

After what seemed like the duration of a meal, the ghost used a massive fork to lift Zeng out and threw him in front of the palace. The king reviewed his records again, angrily proclaiming, “For abusing power, he shall undergo the punishment of the Knife Mountain!” The ghost took Zeng away, and they reached a narrow, steep mountain covered with sharp knives, resembling bamboo shoots. Several people before them had been impaled, their intestines hanging out, their cries of agony unbearable. The ghost urged Zeng to climb the mountain, but he wept and hesitated. The ghost, in frustration, pierced the back of Zeng’s head with a poisonous spike as he pleaded in pain. Annoyed, the ghost grabbed Zeng and hurled him into the air. Zeng felt his body soaring into the sky before plummeting back down, impaling his chest on the intersecting knives, causing indescribable pain.

After some time, Zeng’s heavy body dropped again. The holes from the knives had gradually enlarged. Suddenly, he fell off the Knife Mountain, his limbs curled up like a caterpillar. The ghost sent him to see the king once more, who ordered a tally of the money Zeng had gained throughout his life from selling official positions, abusing the law, and seizing properties. Immediately, a disheveled man with a beard presented an account and said, “Three million, two hundred and ten thousand.” The king said, “Since this treasure still exists, let him drink it down!”

In no time, the piled-up money on the palace steps resembled hills and was gradually fed into a melting iron pot with intense flames. Several ghosts took turns using ladles to pour molten copper into Zeng’s mouth. As the copper flowed onto his cheeks, his skin would burn and emit a foul odor. When it reached his throat, his internal organs would boil. He had always thought there was too little of this “treasure” when he was alive, but now he found it unbearable in excess! After half a day, the copper was finally poured down his throat. The king ordered Zeng to be sent to Ganzhou to live as a woman.

Zeng had taken only a few steps when he noticed a massive iron beam overhead, with a circumference of several feet. Suspended from it was a colossal fiery wheel, its size extending for hundreds of miles. Flames emitted a five-colored radiance, and the brilliance pierced through the sky. Ghostly figures lashed him with whips, compelling Zeng to climb onto the fiery wheel. As soon as Zeng closed his eyes and leaped onto the wheel, it began to revolve beneath his feet, giving him the sensation of descending, sending a shiver down his spine. When Zeng opened his eyes, he discovered that he had transformed into an infant, a baby girl to be precise. Glancing at her new parents, dressed in tattered rags, and the humble shack with begging bowls and cudgels for stray dogs, she realized that she had become the daughter of beggars. Every day, she followed the beggars, begging for alms, her stomach growling from hunger, yet often unable to enjoy a satisfying meal. Her ragged clothes offered no defense against the biting cold.

At the age of fourteen, she was sold to Mr. Gu as a concubine, and she could manage her basic necessities. However, the senior wife was extremely cruel, using a whip to lash her daily and even branding her chest and breasts with searing hot irons. Fortunately, Mr. Gu cherished her, which provided her with some comfort. On one occasion, a rogue young man from the neighboring house suddenly scaled the wall and tried to force her into an illicit relationship. She thought that due to her past sins and the punishment she had endured in the underworld, she couldn’t engage in such acts anymore. So, she screamed loudly, awakening Mr. Gu and the senior wife, and the rogue young man fled in haste.

Not long after, Mr. Gu spent the night in her room while she was incessantly narrating her grievances and hardships on her pillow. Suddenly, there was a loud noise, and the door burst open. Two robbers armed with knives stormed into the room, horrifyingly beheading Mr. Gu and stripping him of his clothes. She curled up into a ball, hiding within the blankets, too terrified to utter a word. After the robbers departed, she cried out and rushed to the senior wife’s room. The senior wife was also shocked and together they wept as they examined the lifeless body. Consequently, suspicion arose that she and her lover had conspired to murder Mr. Gu. This led to a report being filed with the local magistrate. The magistrate conducted a rigorous interrogation and, astonishingly, the case was established. In accordance with the legal code, she was sentenced to death by dismemberment. As she was escorted to the execution grounds, her heart was burdened with unjust grievances, and she cried out in protest, feeling that not even the eighteen layers of the underworld could be as dark as her current predicament.

While grieving and crying, Zeng suddenly heard his traveling companion asking him, “My friend, did you have a bad dream?” Zeng immediately woke up and saw the old monk still sitting cross-legged on his meditation cushion. His companions were complaining, “It’s already late, and we’re hungry. How could you sleep for so long?” Zeng got up with a forlorn expression.

The old monk smiled faintly and asked, “Did the prediction about becoming a prime minister come true?” Zeng was even more astonished and respectfully inquired. The old monk replied, “As long as you cultivate virtue and practice benevolence, even in a fiery pit, you will have divine protection. What does a mountain monk like me understand?” Zeng, who had arrived with arrogance, left with a subdued spirit, and his ambitions of becoming a prime minister dwindled. Later, Zeng disappeared into the mountains, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

Yi Shi Shi said: Blessings are given to those who do good deeds, and misfortunes befall those who indulge in wickedness; this is the eternal way of Heaven. It is said that those who take pride in the prospect of becoming a prime minister are not doing so out of a genuine desire to serve diligently in that role, and this is quite evident. At this point, Zeng had everything he could wish for in terms of wealth, palaces, and concubines. However, dreams are inherently illusory, and fantasies are not reality. When one’s mind indulges in fanciful imaginings, the divine responds with illusions. Just as rice cooks quickly to perfection, such dreams are bound to occur. Therefore, this text should be considered a continuation of the “Story of Handan.”












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