THE PATCH OF LAMB'S SKIN
A Chinese Story
translated by George
In the twenty-fourth year K'ang-hsi
lived in a remote district of the
western provinces, a man who could remember
his former lives. He was now a "tsin-shi,"
and much considered by his
When speaking of the existences he had
gone through, he used to say:
"As far as I remember, I was first a
soldier—it was in the last days of the Ming
dynasty; my regiment was encamped at
The-Divided-roads on the Ten-thousand-miles-great-wall.
My remembrances are not
very clear as to whom we fought with,
but I remember the joy of striking the
enemy, the hissing of the arrows, the yelling
of the charging troops.
"I was still young when I was killed.
After death, of course I was called before
the tribunal of The-King-of-shadows. Closing
my eyes, I can still see the big caldrons
full of boiling oil for the trying of criminals;
the Judge in embroidered dress seated
behind a red table; the satellites everywhere,
ready to act on the first word,—in
fact, everything exactly the same as in the
worldly tribunals, excepting that, in the
eastern part of the hall, there were huge
wooden stands from which hung skins of
every description—horse-skins, lambs' skins,
dogs' skins, and human skins of every age
and condition; skins of old men, of fat and
important people, of lean and shrivelled
men, of boys and girls.
"The trial began; the souls, according
to their deeds, were condemned to put on
one of the skins and to come up again to
the Lighted World in this new shape.
"When my turn came I was sentenced
to put a dog's skin on; and in this low
shape I was thrown again in the stream
of life. But as I had not forgotten my
former condition, I was so ashamed, that the
first day I came on earth I threw myself
under the wheels of a heavy carriage and
"The-King-of-shadows was extremely
surprised to see me again so soon; the dogs,
as a rule, having no conscience, he could
not suppose I had killed myself, and did
not hold me responsible for it.
"This time, I was born again as a pig.
Pigs are valuable, and there are always
people to look after them; so I could not
kill myself. I tried to starve myself to
death, but hunger was the strongest, and
I had to endure such a life. Happily, the
butcher soon put a speedy end to it.
"When my name was called to the
tribunal of Darkness, the King-of-shadows
looked over the pages of the Book and said:
"'He must be a lamb now.'
"The runners took a white lamb's skin,
brought it, and began putting it over my
body. While this was going on, the secretary,
who was writing the sentence in the
Book, started and said to the Judge:
"'Your Honour, there is a mistake.
Please Your Honour read over again; this
soul has to be a man now.'
"You know that, on the Big Book of
Shadows, all our past deeds are recorded as
well as our future destiny.
"The Judge looked at it over again and
"'True! Happily, you saw the mistake.'
"Then, turning to the runners, he ordered
them to take off the skin, which already
covered more than half my body. They
had to exert all their strength, and even
so, they tore it off into pieces. It hurt me
so much that I thought I could not stand
it and I should die; but I was dead, and
I could not die more than that.
"At last they left me bleeding and
panting, and I was born again in my present
condition. But they had forgotten a piece
of lamb's skin on my right shoulder, and
I still have it now."
And he uncovered his arm and shoulder
to show a piece of white woollen hair on
his right shoulder.