It came to pass in the Tang dynasty that a high-ranking official named Shang-gwan Gee became Superintendent of the Calvary, Jiang Province. At the time, he had a son who was about twenty and one morning, at the break of dawn, the young man happened to be standing outside his front door when a girl strolled past. She looked to be thirteen or fourteen and could have brought a dynasty to its knees, such was her devastating beauty. Quite naturally, Shang-Gwan’s son fell for her. He pursued and tried to flirt with her. He made lewd propositions. In the end, the girl continued on her way and the best he could hope for was to find out where she lived, then visit her sometime.
“Although my family is no longer well off,” the girl said, “I am the daughter of a civil servant from Lang Province. So as for the two of us meeting, I wouldn’t want anyone to find out. But providing you’re really sincere, I’ll come see you as soon as an opportunity presents itself.”
The young man issued a passionate invitation and longed for her day and night; then the first meeting took place. At first the girl stubbornly bid an early farewell, refusing all amorous advances. But his desire to keep her through the night eventually swayed her and she promised to visit. At sunset the next day, the son paced back and forth waiting for his lover and, sure enough, she came. After that, she showed up every night.
Several nights passed, then an old maidservant spotted the pair through a window. She could tell the girl was a demon and informed her master, Shang-gwan Gee. But dozens of attempts to end the union failed and the entire family was at a loss. The demon’s visits gradually grew more frequent; morning and night she was always around the house. And, moreover, something bizarre began to happen. Whenever the son was about to eat something, the demon would snatch the bowl away and devour the food herself. She always got her fill, while the son ate hardly a thing.
At one point Shang-gwan Gee tried feeding his son himself, with his own hands. But before he could get close, the demon had already made-off with the meal. However, the Superintendent wasn’t to be outdone. He began secretly mixing poisonous herbs together and ordered a congee to be made in two pots: one he laced with the poisonous ingredients. That evening he served his wife dinner from the good pot, before turning to his son. As predicted, the demon intercepted the bowl and took off. Next, he pretended to serve his son congee from the pot that was poisoned. The demon again grabbed it out of his hands and cleaned out the bowl.
After the demon had eaten tainted food several meals in a row, it changed from a beautiful young woman into an old fox. Then, rolling to and fro in agony, it dropped stone dead to the floor. The family servants seized it immediately and Shang-gwan Gee gave the order to burn and destroy the carcass. Afterwards, the family, safe and harmonious once more, celebrated joyously. The son was finally out of the demon’s clutches.
But that evening after dusk, they heard some crying in the distance. After a while a crowd gathered in front of the Shang-gwan residence, eventually entering the back hall. These strangers wailed and beat their chests in grief. Among them was a haggard old man who began to weep as he spoke: “An old fox has died in terrible pain because of you. Why would you, purely for the sake of gluttony, wrongfully kill another creature?”
For several weeks, day and night, these people came to the house. They continued to wear hemp mourning attire and Shang-gwan Gee grieved deeply for them. Later on, the visits grew scarcer, but it was a long time before they stopped altogether. Fortunately, no further harm came to the Superintendent’s son.
Text: Taiping guangji, volume 447
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