Gripping the Tiger’s Ears

《牧牛圖》宋 李唐

In the south of Dali County(大理縣)), Yunnan Province(雲南), there was a villager named Li Shigui(李士桂), whose family had been engaged in farming for generations and also raised two water buffaloes.

One day, it was already dark and the two water buffaloes hadn’t returned yet. Li Shigui went out to search for them. In the night, aided by the moonlight, he saw an animal lying in the field sleeping, making snoring sounds like thunder. 

Yang Lihu’s Rescue Mission

《桃花山鳥圖》 宋 佚名

During his tenure as magistrate in Henan(河南), Yang Lihu(楊笠湖) was tasked with providing relief to the famine-stricken in Shangshui County(商水縣). It was early autumn, and the scorching heat persisted relentlessly. After completing their midday duties, Mr. Yang instructed his subordinates to seek shade and coolness in the City God Temple.

As they entered the temple and settled, a man hurried towards them, imploring, “I am Zhang Xiang(張相), begging for your help, sir!” 

Wood Painting

《古木寒泉》文徵明 明

Lu Jingxuan(陸敬軒), the magistrate of Yongcheng County(永城), is from Xiaoshan(蕭山), Zhejiang(浙江). He was tasked with renovating the Yongcheng yamen(administrative office or residence for government officials in imperial China) and decided to use local materials. There was an original willow tree within the yamen, which Lu Jingxuan chose to use for the renovation.

When the carpenters felled the willow and sawed it into boards, they discovered that the grain on the boards formed an exquisite landscape, resembling a painting created with light ink. 

The Monkey and Ape Wine

《戲猿圖》明宣宗

Scholar Cao Loyin(曹學士洛禋) once told me this story.

In the spring of the forty-third year of Kangxi(康熙)’s reign, he and his friend Pan Xichou(潘錫疇) traveled to Huangshan(黃山) and arrived at the Wenshu Monastery(文殊院), where they dined with monks including Xuezhuang(雪莊). Suddenly, the monks disappeared from the table, leaving only their heads visible. Xuezhuang said, ‘This is the ‘floating cloud atop(雲過),’ no need for the two guests to be surprised.’

The next day, they reached the Yunfeng Cave(雲峰洞) and found an old man living there. 

The Northern Gate Cargo

《漢宮乞巧圖》李嵩 宋

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. 

The Spirit of the White Stone

《竹鶴圖軸》邊文進 明

In Tianchang County(天長), there was a magistrate named Lin who served in the capital city’s district. In his home, there was a spirit-writing altar occupied by a monster. This monster claimed to be the ‘True Man of the White Stone(白石真人)’ and accurately foretold fortunes and misfortunes for those who sought its advice.

The monster often persuaded Magistrate Lin to cultivate the Dao and practice immortal arts, claiming that by opening a third eye on his face, he could see the palace where the Heavenly Emperor resided and the immortals frolicking in the clouds. 

Fight of the Liu Lang Shen

《架上鷹圖》 徐澤 元

The people of Nanning in Guangxi all worship the deity Liu Lang Shen. If someone inadvertently offends in speech, Liu Lang Shen would come to haunt them. This Liu Lang Shen is particularly adept at beguiling women; most young and beautiful women are often possessed by him. The affected families must prepare a bundle of paper money, a bowl of rice, and invite two or three musicians. In the dead of night, amidst music and beating, they would escort Liu Lang Shen to desolate fields, after which he would haunt another household. 

Xu Yake

《風竹圖》雪窗 元

Xu Yake(徐崖客), a man from Huzhou(湖州), was the son of a concubine. His father, misled by Yake’s stepmother, sought to put him to death. He fled and wandered the world. Every famous mountain, great river, deep cave, he endeavored to ascend, believing himself already doomed and therefore fearing nothing.

Once, while climbing Mount Yandang, Xu Yake couldn’t make it to the top. With nowhere to stay for the night, a monk nearby asked, “Do you enjoy traveling?” 

The Obstinate Rock of Nanshan

《枯木竹石圖》蘇軾

In Haichang(海昌), there was a scholar named Chen(陳秀才某) who once visited the Yusu Temple(于肅愍廟) to seek dreams and divine the fortunes of his future. In his dream, Yusu opened the main gate to receive him, but instead of feeling at ease, Chen became restless. After a few steps, he stopped. Yusu said, ‘You are to be my future student, so according to protocol, you should enter through the main gate.’ Once settled, messengers arrived to report that the City God of Tangxi County(湯溪縣城隍) wished to see him. 

The Bald Spot of an Immortal

《潑墨仙人圖》梁楷

In the autumn of the thirty-eighth year of the Qianlong reign(癸巳秋), Magistrate Zhang(張明府) encountered a Daoist named Yang(楊道人) in Changzhou. This Daoist had a youthful appearance with the exception of a one-inch square bald spot on the crown of his head, devoid of any hair. Zhang, the Magistrate, found this quite peculiar and inquired about the reason behind it. Yang chuckled and said, ‘Have you not noticed how grass grows on either side of a street, but in the middle, where people walk, not a blade of grass thrives?’ 

The Folding Immortal

《果熟來禽圖》林椿

In the Hushi Pass of Suzhou(滸市關), there was a man named Chen Yiyuan(陳一元) who left home to pursue the Dao. He constructed a house solely for cultivating his practices. He would sit alone in the house, locking himself inside. At first, he stopped eating porridge, then abstained from fruits and vegetables, drinking only water from the Stone Lake. He instructed his son to bring a jug of water each month. On the second month, when his son came to visit, the jug remained outside the door, but the water had dried up. 

Cat Weddings in China

《貍奴蜻蜓圖》李迪 宋

In China, bringing home a cat was a mix of tradition, poetry, & a touch of purr-suasion!

‘Cat Garden’ in the Song Dynasty records such an interesting ceremony: ‘Buying fish, threading through willows, escorting a cicada’.

《寫生圖冊·貓》沈周, 明
《寫生圖冊·貓》Shen Zhou, Ming

During the Xianfeng period of the Qing Dynasty, Huang Han(黃漢) wrote the book ‘Cat Garden(《貓苑》),’ collecting stories about cats.

Among the common practices of raising cats, the easiest method was to wait for a neighbor’s or relative’s female cat to become pregnant and obtain permission from the owner.