1987 / 6月
Chuang Po-ho /photos courtesy of Sue Lee /tr. by Peter Eberly
During the T'ai-chung period (847-860) of the T'ang Dynasty, a young scholar named Ning Chun was staying by himself in an abandoned farmhouse at the foot of South Mountain, where he was studying in preparation for the examination at the capital.
The building, with its half caved-in roof and collapsed walls, presented a scene of thorough desolation. One breezy moonlit night, as he stood in the courtyard reciting poetry, he heard a sudden knock at the door, which he opened to discover a man who declared himself to be a retired scholar from Peach Forest named Pan T'e.
"I'm a country fellow from the neighborhood," the man explained. "I heard you reciting poetry in the moonlight and thought I'd drop in to pay my respects." Delighted, Ning replied, "I never realized this rustic locale was home to such refined neighbors. Please come in."
Seated inside, the two chatted over tea. With a sigh Pan T'e exclaimed, "When I was young I used to love the stories of the heroes in the history books--oh, how I longed to be there myself and lend them a hand! Unfortunately, the times have changed and I've spent my life quietly toiling away in the fields. Now I'm old and childless and filled with vain regret."
In the midst of their conversation, the two men heard another knock at the door; this time the visitor was a General Pan Yin from South Mountain, whom Ning also invited in. The new guest was imposing in aspect and forceful in character, and he and Pan T'e appeared to be acquainted.
Picking up their discussion of times long past, Pan Yin remarked, "A distant relative of ours was that famous Pan Ch'ao of the Latter Han Dynasty who 'renounced the pen for the sword.' A physiognomist had told him he was 'swallow-cheeked and tiger-headed, the signs of a lord from far away,' and later he did indeed receive a distant fiefdom in reward for holding the Jade Gate pass.
"In fact, our family served the court for generations as Esquires Brave as Tigers until, one of us having committed an offense, we were forced to make our living in the mountain forests, sleeping by day and roaming by night, leaving no trail behind us. Just now, with the moon bright and the wind in the pines, I was walking outside the wall when I heard your conversation and dropped in to take a look."
Spotting a go set on the bed, Pan Yin challenged Pan T'e to a match. After they had played for a while with neither gaining the upper hand, Ning Chun suggested a few moves to Pan T'e, which provoked Pan Yin to remark, "So our host is a master at the game, I see." "Not up to your stripe, I'm sure," Ning politely replied.
The three had drunk several cups of rice wine and were feeling quite congenial when Pan Yin impertinently blurted out, "Bring in some food to go with the drinks!" All Ning could find was some venison, which Pan Yin gulped down in two or three mouthfuls. Pan T'e took not a bite and when pressed by Ning replied, "I'm old, you see. My teeth are gone and I can't chew it."
The wine had gone round several times more before Pan T'e stood up to excuse himself. "My health's not good," he explained, "and I really can't drink any more."
"Not so fast!" Pan Yin, who was well in his cups, cried out, pulling him back. "With wine as good as this we ought to carouse till dawn like King Chou of the Shang!"
"Listen, brother," replied Pan T'e, a little annoyed, "I know your claws are sharp, but do you have to keep trying to push me around all the time? Your looks may be fierce, but if you ever met up with Pien Chuang the hunter, you'd be mincemeat for sure."
"Oh yeah?" Pan Yin snapped back. "Well you may think you're strong as an ox, but if you ever ran into p'ao Ting the butcher, there'd be nothing left of you but your hide."
At a loss, Ning Yin picked up a knife from the table and shouted, "Quit your quarreling!" Seeing how things stood, the Pan's made up, and when one of them quoted a famous couplet on fraternal affection, the three of them fell back into laughter.
As the east grew pale with dawn, Ning proposed that they compose verse.
Pan Yin's went like this:
All I can do is howl in the wood,
with never a chance to crouch on the road.
Across the stream, wherever I go,
I'm always afraid I'll meet up with my foe.
Pan T'e followed with:
My life is much troubled by sorrows and tears;
It's the butcher Pao T'ing who's the cause of my fears.
If I had farmer Kung as protector and guide,
My ox-hoof trail would stretch far and wide.
When Ning Chun heard Pan T'e's poem, he exclaimed, "A rare talent indeed!" Unexpectedly, Pan Yin took umbrage at this and roared out, "Listen, Ning, you're always favoring him! I've heard of the talents of Pan and Ma, the famous historians; I've never heard of Pan and T'e!" So saying, he stormed out.
"The ancients always respected their elders," Pan T'e remarked. "Times sure have changed. What's the point in getting so angry?" Pan T'e then took his leave as well.
When Ning Chun went for a walk in the morning, he came across a pair of tracks: one of a tiger and one of an ox. The ox trail led to a deserted barn, where he found an old ox stretched out asleep--and still reeking of wine! The tiger had apparently run off to the hills. Ning Yin quickly returned and packed his things, no longer daring to live in that desolate building alone.
This T'ang Dynasty wonder tale is found in the Ku-chin t'u-shu chi-ch'eng. The Chinese word pan means "striped or spotted"; yin is the zodiacal sign for the tiger; and the character t'e means "strange or peculiar" and contains the radical for "ox."