Fox’s Wit: A Tale of Humor and Enchantment

Explore the enchanting and humorous tale of 'Fox's Wit' where a clever fox woman brings laughter and surprises to the people she encounters.

Wanfu Zixiang, a native of Boxing County. He began studying Confucianism from a young age. His family had little wealth, but he had incredibly bad luck. By the time he was in his twenties, he still hadn’t passed the provincial examination for scholars.

In the countryside, there was a custom of sending wealthy households to serve as the village head, which often led to these kind and generous families losing everything. This time, Wanfu was chosen to be the village head and was so frightened that he fled to Jinan, where he rented a room in an inn.

One night, a woman secretly came to meet Wanfu. She had a beautiful appearance, and Wanfu fell in love with her. When he asked for her name, she introduced herself as, “I am actually a fox, but I won’t harm you.” Wanfu was delighted and believed her without hesitation.

She instructed Wanfu not to share a room with any other guests and started coming to him every day, sharing a bed with him. From then on, all of Wanfu’s daily expenses were provided by the fox woman.

Not long after, two or three friends came to visit Wanfu and stayed for two nights without leaving. Wanfu disliked their presence but didn’t want to be impolite by asking them to leave. He had no choice but to tell his friends the truth. The friends were eager to see the fox woman and asked Wanfu to introduce her to them.

When Wanfu informed the fox woman of this request, she responded, “Why do they want to see me? I am just like any other person.” Her voice was melodious and pleasing, as if she were right in front of them, but when they looked around, they couldn’t see anything.

Among the friends was one named Sun Deyan, who enjoyed making jokes. He repeatedly asked the fox woman to reveal herself, saying, “Your sweet and charming voice lifts one’s spirits. Why withhold your lovely appearance from us? It’s a shame we can only hear your voice and not see your beauty, leaving us with lovesickness.” The fox woman laughed and said, “Sun, you are truly clever! Do you want me to entertain your great-great-grandmother in her dreams?” Everyone burst into laughter.

The fox woman then offered to share some fox-related stories with them. She asked if they were willing to listen, and they all agreed. She began, “In the past, there was a village inn where many foxes would often come out to play tricks on the guests. Word spread among travelers, and they warned each other not to stay at that inn. This continued for about six months, and the inn became deserted. The owner was distressed and avoided talking about foxes. Then, a traveler from a distant land arrived and announced his intention to stay at the inn. The owner was delighted.

However, just as the owner was about to welcome the traveler inside, a passerby quietly informed the traveler, ‘This inn has foxes.’ The traveler was frightened and told the owner that he wanted to find another inn. The owner tried to reassure him, saying that it was just a rumor, and the traveler reluctantly decided to stay. As soon as he lay down in his room, a group of mice emerged from under the bed. The traveler was horrified and quickly fled the room, shouting loudly, ‘There are foxes here!’ The owner was taken aback and asked what had happened. The traveler complained, ‘There is a fox den right here! How could you deceive me by saying there were no foxes in your inn?’ The owner then asked, ‘What did the foxes you saw look like?’ The traveler replied, ‘They were thin, small, either fox sons or fox grandsons!'”

With this story, everyone at the gathering burst into laughter. Sun Deyan remarked, “Since you won’t show yourself, we’ll stay the night and not leave, disrupting your peaceful life.” The fox woman smiled and said, “Feel free to stay, but if I offend in any way, please don’t take it to heart.” The friends were afraid that the fox woman might play tricks on them, so they dispersed. However, they would return every few days to find the fox woman and exchange playful banter. The fox woman was extremely witty, and her every word left the friends enamored. Even those skilled at humor couldn’t outwit her, and they affectionately called her “Madam Fox.”

One day, a banquet was set up, and Wanfu sat in the host’s seat. Sun Deyan and two other friends sat on seats to his left and right. At the head of the table was a couch reserved for the fox woman. She declined the offer to drink, explaining that she didn’t consume alcohol. However, everyone insisted that she join the conversation, and she agreed.

After several rounds of drinking, they began to play a drinking game involving dice and a drinking command called “瓜蔓令” (guā màn lìng). When one guest rolled a melon-colored side on the dice, it meant they had to drink. In jest, someone moved their cup towards the fox woman and said, “Madam Fox seems quite sober; please drink on her behalf.” The fox woman smiled and replied, “I never drink, but I’m willing to share a story to entertain you all.”

Sun Deyan covered his ears, expressing his unwillingness to listen. Others insisted, saying, “Whoever refuses to listen will be penalized.” The fox woman chuckled and said, “How about I tell a story involving a fox?” Everyone agreed and leaned in to listen attentively.

The fox woman began her story, “Once, there was a high-ranking official who was sent as an envoy to the ‘Red Hair’ country. He wore a warm and thick fox underarm fur hat when he met the king. The king, astonished, asked, ‘What kind of fur is this? It’s so warm and thick!’ The envoy replied that it was fox underarm fur. The king inquired further, ‘How do you write the character for ‘fox’?’ The envoy used his hand to draw the character for ‘fox’ in the air and explained, ‘On the right side, there’s a large melon, and on the left side, there’s a small dog.'”

This story elicited laughter from both the host and the guests.

Those two guests were brothers named Chen. One was called Chen Suojian, and the other was named Chen Suowen. They noticed Sun Deyan’s embarrassment and jokingly remarked, “Where did the male fox go? He allowed the female fox to speak so harshly!” The fox woman replied, “I haven’t finished the story from earlier; it was interrupted by a burst of dog barking. Please allow me to continue.”

She continued her story, “When the envoy rode a mule, the king found it quite strange. The envoy explained, ‘This is a mule born from a horse.’ The king was even more puzzled. The envoy elaborated, ‘In China, a horse gives birth to a mule, and a mule gives birth to a foal.’ The king inquired further into the matter. The envoy clarified, ‘A horse giving birth to a mule is ‘Chen Suojian,’ and a mule giving birth to a foal is ‘Chen Suowen.'”

This prompted another round of hearty laughter from everyone at the table.

Since everyone knew they couldn’t outwit the fox woman, they made a mutual agreement: whoever started a joke would be penalized by treating the others. As the drinking continued, Sun Deyan jokingly challenged Wanfu, saying, “I have the first line; can you come up with the second line?” Wanfu asked, “What’s the first line?” Sun Deyan replied, “A courtesan goes to visit her lover, arriving with ‘Wanfu’ and leaving with ‘Wanfu’.” Everyone at the table struggled to think of the second line.

The fox woman, with a smile, said, “I have the second line.” Everyone eagerly awaited her response. She then said, “The Dragon King issues a decree seeking honest advice, and even the turtle ‘gets words of wisdom’.” Laughter erupted from all four corners of the room. Sun Deyan was not pleased and exclaimed, “We just made an agreement, and now you’ve broken the rules!” The fox woman chuckled and said, “I admit my mistake. But it was the only way to create a proper rhyme. Tomorrow, I’ll host a banquet to make amends for my error.” Everyone laughed heartily before eventually dispersing. The fox woman’s wit seemed endless.

After several months, the fox woman returned home with Wanfu. When they reached the borders of Boxing County, the fox woman informed Wanfu, “I have distant relatives here, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had contact. I must pay them a visit. It’s getting late, so let’s find a place to stay overnight and continue our journey in the morning.” Wanfu asked where her relatives lived, and the fox woman pointed ahead, saying, “Not far.”

Wanfu couldn’t recall any villages in that direction, but he decided to follow along. After walking for about two miles, they came upon an estate that Wanfu had never seen before. Inside, there were multiple gates and layers of buildings, resembling a grand ancestral home of a wealthy family. Soon, Wanfu met the hosts, an elderly couple who greeted him warmly and treated him as a relative. The hosts arranged a sumptuous feast and welcomed both Wanfu and the fox woman to stay the night.

Early the next morning, the fox woman told Wanfu, “My sudden return home might be unsettling for people here. It’s best if you go ahead, and I’ll follow later.” Following her advice, Wanfu returned home first and informed his family. Before long, the fox woman arrived, and she engaged in cheerful conversation with Wanfu, although people could hear her voice, they couldn’t see her in person.

A year later, Wanfu went to Jinan for some business, and the fox woman accompanied him. Suddenly, a few people arrived, and the fox woman engaged in a warm and friendly conversation with them. She turned to Wanfu and said, “I am originally from Shaanxi, and I have a karmic connection with you from a past life, which is why I have been with you for all this time. Now, my brothers have come, and I must return with them. I can’t serve you for the rest of my life.” Wanfu couldn’t persuade her to stay, so she left just like that.









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