A River God
In the Tang dynasty, the year 785, there was a man named Mr. Yuan. He was a military staff officer stationed in Tangan, Hubei Province. After getting out of the army, Mr. Yuan began to travel around. One day, he arrived in a place called Bachuan in Southwest China and went to a hotel to stay.
It was dusk, Mr. Yuan was sitting at his room’s window, random thoughts about success and failure were swirling in his head, when suddenly someone knocked at the door. Mr. Yuan opened the door and found a man dressed in white that he didn’t know. The man came in and sat down without speaking. Then he said to a surprised Mr. Yuan, “My last name is Gao, I live in Xinming County. I was a military staff, now retired. I have travelled all the way here.”
The two men had had similar experiences and Mr. Yuan thought it was interesting. In the course of chatting, he felt that the man had a sharp intellect and was no ordinary person.
Then the man said, “I am good at divining. I can divine your past, present and future.” Mr. Yuan agreed, and the man proceeded to describe every detail of Mr. Yuan’s past with perfect accuracy. Around midnight, the man dressed in white whispered to Mr. Yuan, “To be honest with you, I am not human…”
Mr. Yuan said “You are not human. Are you a ghost? Are you gonna hurt me?” The man gestured soothingly to Mr. Yuan, “Stay calm, listen to me, I have something to tell you. Can I?” Mr. Yuan got up and said, “Go ahead.”
The man dressed in white said, “I am the Red River God. My temple is in the south of Xinming County. Last summer after the continuous rain the temple nearly toppled and fell, but no one cared about it. I am exposed to the sun and get hit by sand every day. My statues are insulted by woodcutters. The people around think I am dirt. Right now I am telling you something about me. If you can help me, I’ll just keep going. If not, I’ll leave. Then there is no regret.”
Mr. Yuan said “Oh, my god. If that is your wish, I don’t see why not. How can I do for you?”
The River God said “You will be appointed the Xinming County’s governor. If you can rebuild the temple for me and sacrifice on time, I will really appreciate it. Please don’t forget.”
Mr. Yuan thought “Really? Will I really be appointed the governor?”
The River God saw him hesitate and said, “We should meet when you arrive in Xinming. However, I am a god and you are human. Maybe your subordinates will treat me with impropriety. You have to go into the temple alone and ask them to wait outside., I hope we can enjoy our chat when that time comes.”
In the following winter, Mr. Yuan was indeed appointed the governor. After taking office, he asked his subordinates and learned that there was really a Red River Temple in the south of the county. After a few days, he visited the temple alone and asked the other people to wait outside. The scene inside was the same as the River God said. The temple was about to collapse and the surrounding field was overgrown with weeds. Mr. Yuan was looking around when suddenly he noticed a man coming out slowly from behind the temple. It was the Red River God.
The River God was very happy, he said to Mr. Yuan “You are a real gentleman because you didn’t forget our agreement. It is my lucky day.” He took Mr. Yuan by the hand into the temple, and they wandered around inside. They were walking around a corridor, when Mr. Yuan found an old abbot under the steps. Several odd-looking people stood beside him. Mr. Yuan asked the River God questionly “Who is he?”
The River God said “He is the abbot of a temple in the east of the county, named Incarn. I am imprisoning him here because he is guilty. I asked someone to whip him every morning and night. However, the deadline is drawing near. I will release him in about ten days.”
Mr. Yuan asked, “The monk is imprisoned here? Why doesn’t he run away?”
The River God smiled. “Now what you see is his soul. His body is still in his temple. He is terminally ill and he doesn’t know I am punishing him. Don’t worry about the monk. So, you promised to rebuild my temple. Please make it quick.”
Mr. Yuan said, “I haven’t forgotten.”
Mr. Yuan calculated the budget after going back to his mansion. Xinming was a poor place. He found the county couldn’t afford to rebuild the temple. While he was worrying about it, the abbot came to his mind. If Mr. Yuan told the abbot the truth and asked him to rebuild the River God’s temple, the abbot’s bad luck would go away. He would definitely be willing to do it.
Mr. Yuan visited the temple in the east of the county. There really was an abbot who had been sick in bed for a year. Mr. Yuan met the abbot Incarn and asked about his illness.
Incarn said “I am dying of a terminal illness. It’s especially painful every morning and evening ”
Mr. Yuan said, “ I may be able to help you, but can you pay for the rebuilding of the Red River Temple?”
Incarn said “If the rebuilding makes me recover. Why should I care about such little money?”
Mr. Yuan lied, “Although I am the governor, I know a thing or two about magic, I can see ghosts and gods. Recently I visited the Red River Temple and saw your soul bound there. I asked the Red River God what was going on. He said you were guilty, and because of this, he arrested your soul, whipping you every morning and night. I think it’s very sad, so I said I would order you to rebuild his temple. I begged to the Red River God for you, and because of this you will recover in ten days. If you don’t rebuild the temple once you have recovered, the Red River God may arrest your soul again. So you should rebuild the temple as soon as possible.
Incarn said “I see. Thanks for telling me.”
Ten days later, Incarn recovered as Mr. Yuan said. Then he gathered all his disciples together, saying “I have been studying Buddhist doctrine for 50 years. I fell seriously ill a year ago. According to the Governor Yuan, it is the Red River God’s trick. He even asked me to rebuild his temple, but you cannot force a man to build a temple. A temple god should protect the people. However, the Red River God took my soul with his evil magic. He is hurting the local people. I’m going to get rid of him!”
Incarn’s disciples said, “We are at your command, Master!”
Incarn led his disciples to the temple with shovels and hammers. They knocked down the temple and the statue, smashed them to pieces, and left.
The following day, Incarn visited Mr. Yuan. The latter was very happy, saying, “You recovered from your illness, so what I told you is the truth.”
Incarn said, “Thanks for your help, I will never forget it.”
Mr Yuan responded,“You need to rebuild his temple or maybe the illness will come again.”
Incarn sneered, “We believe in River Gods, because they can benefit the people. For this reason, every emperor orders every province and county to build a River God temple. However, I have never seen a god like the Red River God. Not only does he not benefit people, but he also hurts us. How can we worship this River God? Yesterday, I destroyed his temple.”
Mr. Yuan was startled, thinking a disaster was sure to come. However, Incarn looked high-spirited and fearless.
A month later, one of Mr. Yuan’s subordinates made a mistake. Mr. Yuan sentenced him to be caned, and this led to the subordinate’s death. The subordinate’s family complained to Mr. Yuan’s superior. Finally, Mr. Yuan was dismissed and exiled to a place called Duan Creek.
One day, on his way he saw a man dressed in white standing by the road. It was the Red River God. He said with an expressionless face, “I asked you to help me to rebuild my temple. It turns out that Incarn destroyed it. It’s all your fault. It is my revenge that you have been exiled to a remote place.”
Mr. Yuan said, “Incarn destroyed the temple, not me!”
The River God said, “Now the spirit of Incarn is strong, I can’t hurt him. And you are weak. I only target you for my revenge.” Then he vanished.
The more Mr. Yuan thought about it, the angrier he became. Several days later, he got sick and died.
Strange Chinese Stories