This account mentions the Tushan maiden, a nine-tailed vixen who, according to myth, married Yu the Great, a legendary sage-king of ancient China reputed to have tamed the floods that plagued the land and established the first Chinese dynasty.
The Gengs of Taiyuan formerly were an eminent family with a magnificent mansion residence. Later their fortunes declined and the complex of towers and buildings was half abandoned. Then strange things began: the hall doors would always open and close of their own accord, and the household often in the middle of the night were frightened into uproar. Geng was worried sick by it and moved to a villa, leaving behind one old gateman. From then on the place became even more neglected. Sometimes laughing and voices or the sound of singing and music could be heard.
Geng had a nephew, Qubing, who was unruly and headstrong. He urged the old man if he heard or saw anything, to rush and tell him. That night, he saw lamplight flickering in the towers and ran to report to Qubing. Qubing wanted to go in to observe the anomaly and wouldn’t listen to attempts to stop him.
He had long been familiar with the layout, so he just pushed aside the long grass and wound his way in. Climbing the floors, there was nothing strange at all, but as he passed through the building, he heard the whispering of voices. Stealthily prying, he saw a pair of huge candles burning as bright as day. A man in a scholar’s hat sat facing south, opposite a woman, both of them over forty. Towards the east was a young man, perhaps twenty or so; on the right a girl, just come of age. Wine and steaks filled the table, and those sitting around were laughing and talking. Qubing burst in and cried with a laugh, “Here’s an uninvited guest!”
They all rushed for cover in shock. Only the older man came out and shouted in rebuke, “Who are you, entering a person’s private chambers?”
“These are my family's chambers and you’ve occupied them,” said Qubing. “Drinking aromatic wine yourself and not inviting the owner, is that not too stingy?”
The man examined him closely and said, “You’re not the owner.”
Qubing said, “I’m the wayward scholar Geng Qubing, the owner’s nephew.”
Respectfully, the old man said, “I’ve long admired your fame!” So he bowed and asked the scholar in, then called his household to change the food. Qubing stopped him, so the man poured some wine for his guest.
“Our families are close – those seated here need not withdraw,” said the scholar. “Pray invite them back to drink.”
The man cried, “Xiao’er!” Presently the young man came in from outside. The man said, “This is my whelp of a son.” They bowed and sat, briefly enquiring into family backgrounds. The old man volunteered, “My foster-father’s name was Fox.”
Qubing, being uninhibited by nature, made conversation merrily and Xiao’er was also casually charming. Speaking their feelings freely, they were delighted to become acquainted. The scholar was twenty-one, two years Xiao’er’s senior, so he took him as his younger brother.
The old man said, “I’ve heard your ancestor compiled the ‘Unofficial History of Tushan’. Do you know it?”
He replied, “I do.”
The old man said, “I’m a descendant of the Tushan line. I still can recall the family tree from the Tang dynasty onwards, but up to the Five Dynasties there’s no record. I hope you can impart some teaching to us.”
The scholar briefly described the achievements of the Tushan maiden in assisting Yu, embellishing it with many fine words, wonderful sentences gushing forth like a spring. The old man was delighted and said to his son, “Today we’re lucky to hear what we’ve never heard before. The young master is not a stranger. You can ask your mother and Qingfeng to come and listen to this together, and let them know our ancestor’s virtue too.”
Xiao’er went through the blind. Soon, the woman came out together with the girl. A careful look revealed the girl’s delicate beauty, her limpid eyes full of intelligence – she was a beauty like none on earth. The old man pointed at the woman, saying, “This is the thorn in my side.” Again he pointed at the girl, “This is Qingfeng, your humble servant’s niece. She’s rather intelligent, whatever she hears or sees she never forgets, so I’ve called her here to listen.”
When the scholar finished talking, he drank and stared at the girl, fixing his eyes on her. As soon as the girl sensed it, she bowed her head. The scholar secretly stepped on her dainty toes and the girl hurriedly withdrew her feet, but wasn’t annoyed. The scholar’s mind soared and he couldn’t control himself. He clapped the table and said, “If I had a wife like this, I wouldn’t swap places with a king!”
Seeing the scholar was getting drunk and ever more unruly, the woman rose with the girl, hurriedly parted the blind and left. The scholar was disappointed, so said goodbye to the old man and went out. But his heart was captivated and he couldn’t forget his feelings for Qingfeng.
When night came he went again – her orchid fragrance still lingered and he waited unmoving all night, but it was silent without even a cough. He went home and, hankering after another meeting, consulted his wife about taking their family and living there. His wife wouldn’t comply, so the scholar went by himself and read at a lower floor. That night, as he leant on the table, a ghost with unbound hair entered, its face as black as pitch, and stared at the scholar with wide eyes. The scholar laughed, stuck his fingers in the ink-well and painted himself, then stared back with a penetrating gaze. The ghost left in shame.
Late the next night, he had put out the candle and was about to sleep when he heard the loosening of a latch at the back of the building and the sound of an opening door. Quickly getting up to take a peek, he found the door was ajar. Presently he heard the sound of tiny feet and there was candlelight coming out from a room. Peering in, he saw Qingfeng. All of a sudden seeing the scholar, she was shocked and retreated, hurriedly shutting the double door. The scholar knelt down and made a speech, “Truly for your sake, I shrink from no peril. Thankfully there’s no one around. If I could hold your hand once and make you smile, I’d die with no regrets.”
The girl said through the door, “Do you think I don’t know the sincerity of your feelings? It’s just my uncle’s rules are very strict, so I daren’t do as you want.”
The scholar continued to plead with her, saying, “I don’t presume to hope for bodily contact – just a look at your face would be enough.”
The girl seemed to be willing, as she opened the door and came out, grabbing his arm and pulling him up. The scholar was over the moon, and together they entered the lower floor, where he embraced her and took her on his knee. The girl said, “Luckily fate has brought us together, but after this night, longing for each other will be to no avail.”
“Why’s that?” he asked.
“Uncle is afraid of your unruliness, so he made up as a fierce ghost to frighten you, but you weren’t fazed. Now he has already chosen to live in another place and the whole family has moved our things to the new place. I’ve stayed behind to keep watch, but tomorrow I depart.” Having said this, she wanted to go, saying, “I fear uncle will return.”
The scholar forced her to stay and wanted to make love to her. Just as he was stating his case, the old man sneaked in. The girl was ashamed and scared, and with nowhere to hide, hung her head beside the bed, fingering her sash silently. The old man said angrily, “Cheap chambermaid! You disgrace my family name. If you don’t leave at once, I’ll whip you from behind.”
The girl dropped her head and quickly left, and the old man also went out. The scholar followed them and listened, hearing all manner of curses and abuse and the sound of Qingfeng whimpering and sobbing. Cut to the quick, the scholar shouted out, “It’s my fault. What’s it got to do with Qingfeng? If you’ll pardon her, I’ll gladly suffer any punishment, sword or saw, hatchet or axe!”
All was silent for a long time, so he went home to sleep. From then on there were no more noises from the mansion. The scholar’s uncle heard and was amazed by it, and was willing to sell the house to him with no quibbling over the price. The scholar was delighted, took his family and moved there. He lived there very comfortably for more than a year, but never for a moment did he forget Qingfeng.
On Qingming he happened to be returning home from sweeping the tombs when he saw two small foxes being chased by hounds. One of them fled across the wasteland, while the other ran in panic along the road. Spotting the scholar, it hung close to him, howling pitifully, its ears pinned back and head hung, as if begging for his help. Taking pity on it, the scholar opened up his robe girdle, picked it up and carried it home. Closing the door, he placed it on the bed and it was Qingfeng. In great joy, he consoled her. The girl said, “Just now I was playing with my maid when we encountered that disaster. If not for you, I would be dead in a hound’s belly. I hope you won’t hate me for not being of your kind.”
“Everyday I yearn for you,” said the scholar, “and my soul longs for you in my dreams. Seeing you, my darling, is like finding a rare treasure. How can you mention hate?”
The girl said, “This is destiny. If not for this accident, how would we have met? But it’s lucky – my maid must think I’m dead, so I can keep my eternal vow to you.” The scholar was overjoyed and housed her in another building.
After two years or so, the scholar was reading at night when Xiao’er suddenly entered. The scholar stopped reading and asked him in amazement why he’d come. Xiao’er prostrated himself on the floor and said miserably, “My father has had an unexpected calamity. No one can save him but you. He was going to call on you himself to beseech you, but he was afraid you wouldn’t let him in, so I’ve come instead.”
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Do you know Mo Sanlang?”
“He’s the son of my contemporary.”
Xiao’er said, “Tomorrow he’ll pass here. If he’s carrying a fox he’s hunted, I hope you’ll ask to keep it.”
“The shame from downstairs is burnt into my memory,” said the scholar. “I don’t wish to know about others' affairs. If you insist on me doing the little I can, I’ll only do it if Qingfeng comes.”
Shedding tears, Xiao’er said, “Sister Feng died in the wild three years ago.”
The scholar flicked his sleeve and said, “In that case, my hate just grows deeper!” Holding his scroll and chanting loudly, he paid him no attention at all. Xiao’er rose, cried himself hoarse, covered his face and left.
The scholar went to Qingfeng’s place and told her what had happened. Turning pale, the girl said, “And will you save him or not?”
“If I can, I’ll save him,” he said. “Just now, refusing to promise was merely payback for him crossing me before.”
So the girl said in delight, “As a young orphan, I relied on my uncle when I was growing up. Though before he committed an offence, that was according to the family rules.”
The scholar said, “That may be true, but it’s impossible not to take it to heart. If you were really dead, darling, I certainly wouldn’t help him.”
“Heartless!” laughed the girl.
The next day, Mo Sanlang did indeed come, with engraved bridles and tiger-skin bowcases and a grand following of servants. The scholar met him at the gate. He saw the catch of birds and beasts was very many, and among them one black fox, dark red blood covering its fur and hide. Its skin and flesh were still warm to the touch. So, claiming his fur coat was tatty, he begged to have it for making patches. Mo generously presented it as a gift. The scholar at once handed it over to Qingfeng, then drank with his guests.
When the guests had gone, the girl hugged the fox to her bosom and after three days it revived. Passing through stages, it again transformed into the old man. Raising his eyes and seeing Qingfeng, he thought he was no longer in the land of the living. The girl recounted her situation. Then the old man bowed down and shamefully apologized for his previous transgressions. Turning to the girl in delight, he said, “I always said you weren’t dead, and now I know I was right.”
The girl said to the scholar, “If you cherish me, then pray let him use the tower residence, so that I can show gratitude for him bringing me up.” The scholar promised. The old man shamefacedly thanked him, said goodbye and left.
That night, the whole family did indeed come. From then on they were like family or father and son, with no more suspicion. The scholar stayed in his study, where Xiao’er often came to talk and drink with him. The scholar’s son by his wife gradually grew up, so he let Xiao’er instruct him – he proved good at teaching systematically and had a teacherly manner.