Kwang-Jui and the God of the River
by J. Macgowan
China is a land where the great masses of the people have to toil and
struggle incessantly in order to obtain even the bare necessities of
daily existence. Unnumbered multitudes never enjoy a sufficiency of
food, but have to be contented with whatever Heaven may send them; and
profoundly thankful they are when they can be sure of two meals a day
to stave off the pangs of hunger from themselves and their children.
How many there are who cannot by the severest toil obtain even these
two meals is evident from the organized beggar communities, which are
to be found in connection with every great city in the Empire, and from
the vast numbers of tramps, who wander over the country on the highways
and byways with pale and sodden faces and with garments nearly falling
to pieces, picking up a scanty livelihood from the benevolent as they
pass from village to village.
Whatever may be their inmost thoughts, the Chinese bear their terrible
hardships and privations with a splendid heroism, with little
complaining, with no widespread outbreaks of robbery, and with no
pillaging of rice-shops and public granaries by organized mobs driven
mad by hunger.
There is one beautiful feature about the Chinese that has been an
important factor in steadying the nation. They are imbued with at
least one great ideal, which touches their common life in every
direction. Every man in the Empire, rich or poor, learned or
unlearned, has a profound respect for what he calls Tien-Li, or Divine
Righteousness. By this the Chinese judge all actions. It is the
standard by which Kings and Princes and common people direct their
conduct, whether in the highest affairs of state, or in the ordinary
engagements of common every-day life.
In addition to this, the minds of the Chinese are filled with romance
and poetry, so that to them the invisible world is peopled with fairies
and all kinds of spirits, both good and bad, the former relieving in
mysterious ways the dull greyness that sorrow and disaster often shed
upon the lives of men.
The story of Kwang-Jui is a remarkable evidence of the unbounded faith
which the Chinese have in the intervention of these mysterious beings
to deliver men from calamities which would otherwise prove fatal to
When we first meet with Kwang-Jui, he is living with his widowed mother
in a retired part of the country. His father had been dead for some
time, and Kwang-Jui was now the only one upon whom the fortunes of the
home could be built. He was a very studious lad, and was possessed of
remarkable abilities, the result being that he successfully passed the
various Imperial Examinations, even the final one in the capital, where
the Sovereign himself presided as examiner.
After this last examination, as the men were waiting outside the Hall
for the names of those who had satisfied the Emperor to be read out a
considerable crowd had collected. Most of these people had come from
mere curiosity to see the Imperial Edict, and to discover who the
scholar was that stood first on the list. The excitement was intense,
and speculation ran rife as to which of the candidates, who had come
from almost every province in the Empire, was going to obtain the place
of honour which was the dream and the ambition of every scholar in the
At last every breath was hushed, and every voice stilled in silence, as
one of the high officials of the Palace, attended by an imposing
retinue, came out of the great central doors, which had been flung wide
open at his approach. In a clear voice he began to read the list. It
was headed by the name of Kwang-Jui.
At this precise moment occurred an incident which was destined to
change the whole current of Kwang-Jui's career. As he was standing
overcome with emotion in consequence of the supreme honour which had
been conferred upon him by the Emperor's Edict, a small round ball,
beautifully embroidered, was thrown from an upper window of a house
across the way, and struck him on the shoulder.
It may here be explained that it was a custom in the early days of the
history of China to allow any young maiden who was reluctant to have
her husband chosen for her by her parents, to make use of what was
called "The throwing of the embroidered ball" in order to discover the
man whom the gods intended her to marry. This ball was made of some
soft material, wrapped round with a piece of red silk which was covered
with variegated figures, worked by the damsel's own hands and
emblematic of the love by which the hearts of husband and wife are
bound indissolubly to each other. It was firmly believed by every
maiden of this romantic type that the man who was struck by the ball
from her fair hands was the one whom Heaven had selected as her
husband; and no parent would ever dream of refusing to accept a choice
made in this way.
Whilst Kwang-Jui was gazing in amused wonder at the symbol which he
understood so well, a messenger from the house from which it had been
thrown requested him in respectful tones to accompany him to his
master, who desired to discuss with him a most important subject.
As Kwang-Jui entered the house, he discovered to his astonishment that
it belonged to the Prime Minister, who received him with the utmost
cordiality, and after a long conversation declared that he was prepared
to submit to the will of the gods, and to accept him as his son-in-law.
Kwang-Jui was of course in raptures at the brilliant prospects which
were suddenly opening up before him. The day, indeed, was a red-letter
one—an omen, he hoped, that fate was preparing to pour down upon him
good fortune in the future. In one brief day he had been hailed as the
most distinguished scholar in the Empire, and he had also been
acknowledged as the son-in-law of the Empire's greatest official, who
had the power of placing him in high positions where he could secure
not only honours but also wealth sufficient to drive poverty away for
ever from his home.
As there was no reason for delay, the hand of the beautiful daughter
who had thrown the embroidered ball, and who was delighted that Heaven
had chosen for her such a brilliant husband, was bestowed upon him by
her parents. Times of great rejoicing succeeded, and when Kwang-Jui
thought of the quiet and uninteresting days when he was still unknown
to fame, and contrasted them with his present life, it seemed to him as
though he were living in fairy-land. His wildest dreams in the past
had never conjured up anything so grand as the life he was now leading.
In one bound he had leaped from comparative poverty to fame and riches.
After a time, through the influence of his father-in-law, and with the
hearty consent of the Emperor, who remembered what a brilliant student
he had been, Kwang-Jui was appointed to be Prefect of an important
district in the centre of China.
Taking his bride with him, he first of all proceeded to his old home,
where his mother was waiting with great anxiety to welcome her now
famous son. The old lady felt rather nervous at meeting her new
daughter-in-law, seeing that the latter came from a family which was
far higher in rank and far more distinguished than any in her own clan.
As it was very necessary that Kwang-Jui should take up his office as
Prefect without any undue delay, he and his mother and his bride set
out in the course of a few days on the long journey to the distant
Prefecture, where their lives were destined to be marred by sorrow and
They had travelled the greater part of the way, and had reached a
country market-town that lay on their route, when Kwang-Jui's mother,
worn out with the toilsome journey, fell suddenly ill. The doctor who
was called in shook his head and pronounced that she was suffering from
a very serious complaint, which, whilst not necessarily fatal, would
necessitate a complete rest for at least two or three months. Any
further travelling must therefore be abandoned for the present, as it
might be attended with the most serious consequences to the old lady.
Both husband and wife were greatly distressed at the unlucky accident
which placed them in such an awkward position at this wayside inn.
They were truly grieved at the serious sickness of their mother, but
they were still more puzzled as to what course they should pursue in
these most trying circumstances. The Imperial Rescript appointing
Kwang-Jui to his office as Prefect commanded him to take up his post on
a certain definite date. To delay until his mother would again be able
to endure the fatigues of travel was out of the question, as
disobedience to the Emperor's orders would be attended by his grave
displeasure. Eventually his mother suggested that he and his wife
should go on ahead, and that after taking up the duties of his office
he should then delegate them for a time to his subordinates and return
to take her home.
This advice Kwang-Jui decided to carry out; though with great
reluctance, as he was most unwilling to abandon his mother to the care
of strangers. He accordingly made all the arrangements he possibly
could for her comfort whilst they were parted from each other; he had
servants engaged to attend upon her, and he left sufficient money with
her to meet all her expenses during his absence.
With a mind full of consideration for his mother, and wishing to show
how anxious he was to give her pleasure, he went out into the market of
the town to see if he could buy a certain kind of fish of which she was
passionately fond. He had hardly got outside the courtyard of the inn,
when he met a fisherman with a very fine specimen of the very fish that
he wished to purchase.
As he was discussing the price with the man, a certain something about
the fish arrested his attention. There was a peculiar look in its eyes
that seemed full of pathos and entreaty. Its gaze was concentrated
upon him, so human-like and with such intensity, that he instinctively
felt it was pleading with him to do something to deliver it from a
great disaster. This made him look at it more carefully, and to his
astonishment the liquid eyes of the fish were still fixed upon him with
a passionate regard that made him quiver with excitement.
"Fisherman," he said, "I want to buy this fish, and here is the price
that you ask for it. I have but one stipulation to make, and that is
that you take it to the river from which you caught it, and set it free
to swim away wherever it pleases. Remember that if you fail to carry
out this part of the bargain, great sorrow will come upon you and your
Little did either of them dream that the fish was the presiding God of
the River, who for purposes of his own had transformed himself into
this form, and who, while swimming up and down the stream had been
caught in the net of the fisherman.
After travelling for some hours Kwang-Jui and his wife came to the bank
of a considerable river, where they hired a large boat to convey them
to their destination.
The boatman they engaged was a man of very low character. He had
originally been a scholar and of good family, but, utterly depraved and
immoral, he had gradually sunk lower and lower in society, until at
last he had been compelled to fly from his home to a distant province,
and there to engage in his present occupation in order to earn his
living. The large amount of property which Kwang-Jui had with him
seemed to arouse the worst passions in this man, and while the boat was
being carried along by a fair wind and a flowing tide, he planned in
his mind how he was to become the possessor of it. By the time that
they reached the place where they were to anchor for the night, he had
already decided what measures he should adopt.
A little after midnight, accordingly, he crept stealthily towards the
place where Kwang-Jui was sleeping, stabbed him to the heart and threw
his body into the fast-flowing river. He next threatened the wife that
if she dared to utter a sound, he would murder her also and send her to
join her husband in the Land of Shadows. Paralyzed with terror, she
remained speechless, only a stifled sob and groan now and again
breaking from her agonized heart. Her first serious idea was to commit
suicide, and she was preparing to fling herself into the water that
gurgled along the sides of the boat, when she was restrained by the
thought that if she destroyed herself, she would never be able to
avenge her husband's death or bring punishment upon the villain who had
just murdered him.
It was not mere robbery, however, that was in the mind of the man who
had committed this great crime. He had bigger ideas than that. He had
noticed that in personal appearance he very much resembled his victim,
so he determined to carry out the daring project of passing himself off
as Kwang-Jui, the mandarin whom the Emperor had despatched to take up
the appointment of Prefect.
Having threatened the widow that instant death would be her portion if
she breathed a word to anyone about the true state of the case, and
having arrayed himself in the official robes of the man whom he had
stabbed to death, the boatman appeared at the yamen, where he presented
the Imperial credentials and was duly installed in his office. It
never entered his mind that it was not cowardice which kept the widow
silent, but the stern resolve of a brave and high-minded woman that she
would do her part to see that vengeance should in time fall upon the
man who had robbed her of a husband whom she looked upon as the direct
gift of Heaven.
Now, immediately after the body of Kwang-Jui had been cast into the
water, the customary patrol sent by the God of the River to see that
order was kept within his dominions, came upon it, and conveyed it with
all speed into the presence of the god himself.
The latter looked at it intently for a moment, and then exclaimed in
great excitement, "Why, this is the very person who only yesterday
saved my life, when I was in danger of being delivered over to a cruel
death! I shall now be able to show my gratitude by using all the power
I possess to serve his interests. Bring him to the Crystal Grotto," he
continued, "where only those who have distinguished themselves in the
service of the State have ever been allowed to lie. This man has a
claim upon me such as no one before him ever possessed. He is the
saviour of my life, and I will tenderly care for him until the web of
fate has been spun, and, the vengeance of Heaven having been wreaked
upon his murderer, he shall once more rejoin the wife from whom he has
been so ruthlessly torn."
With the passing of the months, the widow of Kwang-Jui gave birth to a
son, the very image of his father. It was night-time when he was born,
and not long after his birth, a mysterious voice, which could not be
traced, was heard distinctly saying, "Let the child be removed without
delay from the yamen, before the return of the Prefect, as otherwise
its life will not be safe."
Accordingly, on the morrow, the babe, about whose destiny even Heaven
itself seemed concerned, was carefully wrapped round with many
coverings to protect it against the weather. Inside the inmost dress,
there was enclosed a small document, telling the child's tragic story
and describing the danger from a powerful foe which threatened its
life. In order to be able to identify her son, it might be after the
lapse of many years, the mother cut off the last joint of the little
finger of his left hand; and then, with tears and sighs, and with her
heart full of unspoken agony, she took a last, lingering look upon the
face of the little one.
A confidential slave woman carried him out of her room, and by devious
ways and secret paths finally laid him on the river's bank. Casting a
final glance at the precious bundle to see that no danger threatened
it, she hurried back in the direction of the city, with the faint cries
of the abandoned infant still sounding in her ears.
And now the child was in the hands of Heaven. That this was so was
evident from the fact that in a few minutes the abbot of the monastery,
which could be seen crowning the top of a neighbouring hill, passed
along the narrow pathway by the side of the river. Hearing a baby's
cry, he hastened towards the place from which the sounds came, and
picking up the little bundle, and realizing that the infant had been
deserted, he carried it up to the monastery and made every arrangement
for its care and comfort. Fortunately he was a man of a deeply
benevolent nature, and no more suitable person could have been found to
take charge of the child.
We must now allow eighteen years to pass by. The child that had been
left on the margin of the river had grown up to be a fine, handsome
lad. The abbot had been his friend ever since the day when his heart
had been touched by his cries, and his love for the little foundling
had grown with the years. The boy had become a kind of son to him, and
in order not to be parted from him he had taught him the temple duties,
so that he was now a qualified priest in the service of the gods.
One morning the young man, whose name was Sam-Choang, came to the abbot
with a restless, dissatisfied look on his face, and begged to be told
who his father was, and who his mother. The old priest, who had long
been aware of the tragic story of Kwang-Jui's murder, felt that the
time had come when the lad ought to know what he had hitherto concealed
from him. Taking out the document which he had found upon him as a
baby, he read it to him, and then the great secret was out. After this
a long and serious discussion took place between the two as to the
wisest methods to be adopted for bringing the Prefect to justice and
delivering the lad's mother from the humiliating position which she had
so heroically borne for all these eighteen years.
The next day a young priest, with shaven head and dressed in the usual
slate-coloured gown, appeared at the yamen of the Prefect to solicit
subscriptions for the neighbouring monastery. As the Prefect was
absent on some public business, he was ushered into the reception-room,
where he was received by his mother, who had always been a generous
supporter of the Goddess of Mercy.
At the first sight of this striking-looking young bonze, she found her
heart agitated in a strange and powerful way, such as she had not
experienced for many a long year; and when she noticed that the little
finger on his left hand was without the last joint, she trembled with
the utmost excitement.
After a few words about the object for which he had come, the young
priest slipped into her hand the very paper which she had written
eighteen years ago; and as she looked at her own handwriting and then
gazed into his face and saw the striking likeness to the man at whom
she had thrown the embroidered ball, the mother-instinct within her
flashed suddenly out, and she recognized that this handsome lad was her
own son. The joy of the mother as she looked upon the face of
Sam-Choang was reflected in the sparkling eyes and glowing look of
pleasure that lit up his whole countenance.
Retiring for a short time his mother returned with a letter which she
handed to him. In a low voice she told him that it was to her father,
who still lived in the capital, and to whom he was to take it without
any delay. In order to prevent suspicion on the part of the Prefect,
he was to travel as a priest, who was endeavouring to obtain
subscriptions for his monastery. He was to be sure, also, to visit the
place where his grandmother had been left, and to try and find out what
had become of her. In order to defray his expenses she gave him a few
bars of gold, which he could exchange for the current money at the
banks on the way.
When Sam-Choang arrived at the inn where his father had parted with his
grandmother, he could find no trace of her. A new landlord was in
possession, who had never even heard her name; but on enquiring amongst
the shopkeepers in the neighbourhood, he found to his horror that she
was now a member of the beggars' camp, and that her name was enrolled
amongst that degraded fraternity.
On reaching the wretched hovel where she was living, he discovered that
when her money was exhausted and no remittance came to her from her
son, she had been driven out on to the street by the innkeeper, and
from that time had tramped the country, living on the scraps and bits
which were bestowed upon her by the benevolent. Great was her joy when
her grandson led her away to the best inn in the place, and on his
departure gave her an ample supply of money for all her needs until
they should meet again.
When Sam-Choang reached the capital and handed his mother's letter to
his grandfather, the most profound excitement ensued. As soon as the
Emperor was officially informed of the case, he determined that the
severest punishment should be inflicted upon the man who had not only
committed a cruel murder, but through it had dared to usurp a position
which could only be held at the Sovereign's command. An Imperial Edict
was accordingly issued ordering the Prime Minister to take a
considerable body of troops and proceed with all possible speed to the
district where such an unheard-of crime had been committed, and there
to hand over the offender to immediate execution.
By forced marches, so as to outstrip any private intelligence that
might have been sent from the capital, the avenging force reached the
city a little before the break of day. Here they waited in silence
outside the city gates, anxiously listening for the boom of the early
gun which announces the dawn, and at the same time causes the gates to
be flung wide open for the traffic of the day to commence.
As soon as the warders had admitted the waiting crowd outside, the
soldiers, advancing at a run, quickly reached the yamen, and arrested
the Prefect. Without form of trial but simply with a curt announcement
from the Prime Minister that he was acting upon instructions from the
Emperor, the mandarin was dragged unceremoniously through the gaping
crowds that rushed from their doors to see the amazing spectacle.
The feet of Fate had marched slowly but with unerring certainty, and
had at last reached the wretched criminal.
But where was he being taken? This road did not lead to the execution
ground, where malefactors were doomed to end their careers in shame.
Street after street was passed, and still the stern-faced soldiers
forced the mandarin down the main thoroughfares, whose sides had often
been lined with respectful crowds as he swept by with his haughty
retinue. At last they reached the city gate, through which they
marched, and then on towards the river, which could be seen gleaming
like a silver thread in the distance.
Arrived at its bank, the troops formed into a square with the prisoner
in the centre. Addressing him, the Prime Minister said, "I have
selected this spot rather than the public execution ground where
criminals are put to death. Your crime has been no common one; and so
to-day, in the face of high Heaven whose righteousness you have dared
to violate, and within sound of the flowing waters of the stream that
witnessed the murder, you shall die."
Half a dozen soldiers then threw him violently to the ground, and in a
few minutes the executioner had torn his bleeding heart from his bosom.
Then, standing with it still in his hand, he waited by the side of the
Prime Minister, who read out to the great multitude the indictment
which had been drawn up against the Prefect. In this he described his
crimes, and at the same time appealed to Heaven and to the God of the
River to take measures to satisfy and appease the spirit of him who had
been cut off in the prime of life by the man who had just been executed.
As soon as the reading of the document had been concluded, it was set
fire to and allowed to burn until only the blackened ashes remained.
These, together with the criminal's heart, were then cast into the
river. They were thus formally handed over to the god, who would see
that in the Land of Shadows there should come a further retribution on
the murderer for the crimes he had committed on earth.
The water patrol happened to pass by soon after the ashes and heart had
been flung into the river, and picking them up most carefully, they
carried them to the official residence of the god. The indictment was
at once formally entered amongst the archives of the office, to be used
as evidence when the case was in due time brought before the notice of
Yam-lo: and after looking at the heart with the intensest scrutiny for
some little time, the god exclaimed, "And so the murderer has at last
received some part of the punishment he so richly deserved. It is now
time for me to awake the sleeping husband, so that he may be restored
to the wife from whom he has been separated for eighteen years."
Passing into the Crystal Grotto, where the unconscious form of
Kwang-Jui had reposed for so many years, the god touched the body
gently with his hand, and said:—"Friend, arise! Your wife awaits you,
and loving ones who have long mourned you. Many years of happiness are
still before you, and the honours that your Sovereign will bestow upon
you shall place you amongst the famous men of the State. Arise, and
take your place once more amongst the living!"
The Prime Minister was sitting with his daughter, listening to the sad
story of the years of suffering through which she had passed, when the
door was silently opened, and the figure of her long-lost husband
glided in. Both started up in fear and amazement, for they believed
that what they saw was only a restless spirit which had wandered from
the Land of Shadows and would speedily vanish again from their sight.
In this, however, they were delightfully disappointed. Kwang-Jui and
his wife were once more reunited, and for many a long year their hearts
were so full of gladness and contentment, that the sorrows which they
had endured gradually became effaced from their memories. They always
thought with the deepest gratitude of the God of the River, who for
eighteen years had kept the unconscious husband alive and had finally
restored him to his heart-broken wife.