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Dali

Duck justice

A peasant living in the Bai Family Village to the west of our county town stole one of his neighbour’s ducks, cooked it and ate it. That night, his entire body was consumed by an intense itching, and when he looked at himself at first light he saw a fine layer of eiderdown all over his body. If he so much as touched it, it caused him considerable pain. He was appalled, but no remedy he tried was of any avail.

That night, he dreamed that a man came to him and said, ‘Your illness is Heaven’s punishment. Only if the duck’s rightful owner shouts abuse at you will the down fall away.’

Unfortunately his neighbour was a very forgiving old man who, when he had been robbed previously, had shown not the slightest animosity. The peasant went down on his knees and begged him: ‘Someone stole one of your ducks. Let’s just call him Mr “X”. The one thing he’s really frightened of is being shouted at, so give “X” a good telling-off, shout at him, call him all sorts of names, and he will never do it again.’

The old man merely smiled. ‘Why should I waste my breath on such a worthless fellow?’

And he did nothing. In the end, the peasant had no other recourse but to tell the old man the whole truth. Whereupon the old man showered him with abuse, and his affliction was cured.

From Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
Pu Songling
Translated by John Minford

Photos taken in and around Dali, Yunnan Province, China.