The Tragedy of the Yin Family
by J. Macgowan
In a certain district in one of the central provinces of China, there
lived a man of the name of Yin. He was possessed of considerable
property, with a great ambition to become distinguished in life. The
one desire of his heart, which seemed to master every other, was that
his family should become an aristocratic one.
So far as he knew, none of his immediate predecessors had ever been a
conspicuous scholar, or had gained any honour in the great triennial
examinations. The result was that his family was a plebeian one, from
which no mandarin had ever sprung. In what way, then, could he secure
that the fame and dignities, which had come to some of the clans in the
region in which he lived, should descend upon his home and upon his
He was a rich man, it is true, but he was entirely illiterate, and all
his money had been made in trade. As a lad his education had been
neglected, for his early life had been spent in the mere struggle for
existence. He had been more than successful, but the honours of the
student never could be his, and never could he act as one of the
officials of the Empire. It occurred to him, however, that though it
was impossible that he himself should ever be classed amongst the great
scholars of China, his sons and grandsons might be so honoured. In
that case the glory of their success would be reflected upon him, and
men would talk of him as the head of a family which had become
distinguished for scholarship and high dignities in the State.
He finally came to the conclusion that the most effectual way of
accomplishing this was to secure a lucky burying-ground in which he
could lay the bodies of his father and his grandfather, who had
departed this life some years before. The universal belief that in
some mysterious way the dead have the power of showering down wealth
and honours and prosperity upon the surviving members of their
families, was held most tenaciously by Mr. Yin. This belief pointed
out to him how he could emerge from the common and dreary road along
which his ancestors had travelled, into the one where royal favours and
official distinction would mark out his posterity in the future.
As he had retired from business, he was able to spend nearly the whole
of his time in searching the country for the spots where certain unseen
forces are supposed to collect with such dominant and overmastering
power that the body of any person laid to rest amongst them will be
found to dispense untold riches and dignities upon his nearest
relatives. Accordingly, attended by a professor of the art, whose
study of this intricate science enable him to detect at a glance the
places which fulfilled the required conditions, Yin made frequent
excursions in the regions around his home.
The valleys through which the streams ran, and where the sound of the
running waters could be heard day and night as they sang their way to
the sea, were all explored. Wherever water and hills were to be found
in a happy conjunction, there these two men were to be seen peering
over the ground, and with the aid of a compass which the professor
carried with him in a cloth bag, marking whether the lines upon which
they ran indicated that the mysterious Dragon had his residence beneath.
Innumerable places were carefully examined, and whilst some of them
would have been admirably suited for a person of ordinary ambition,
they did not satisfy the large expectations for the future which were
cherished by Mr. Yin. The rising knolls and winding streams and
far-off views of hills lying in the mist-like distance, showed perhaps
that moderate prosperity would be the lot of those whose kindred might
be buried there; but there were no signs of preëminence in scholarship,
or of mandarins riding on horseback or in sedan-chairs, with great
retinues attending them, as they proceeded in haughty dignity through
the streets of the city in which they lived as rulers. Such places
were therefore rejected as unsuitable.
Days and months went by in this search for a spot with which the
fortunes of the Yin family were to be linked for many generations yet
to come; but every place failed in some one or two particulars which
would have marred the splendid prospect that ambition had pictured
before the vision of this wealthy man.
At last, as they were sauntering along one day with eyes keen and
alert, they stayed for a moment to rest on the top of a low hill which
they had just ascended. Hardly had they cast a rapid glance over the
beautiful scenery that lay stretched out before them, before the
professor, with flashing eyes and unusual enthusiasm, exclaimed with
excitement in his voice, "See! this is the very place we have been
looking for all these days!
"No more suitable spot could have been found in the whole of China than
this. We stand, as it were, in the centre of a great amphitheatre in
which have been gathered the finest forces of Fung-Shuy. Behind us the
hill rises in a graceful semi-circular form to shield the spot, where
the dead shall lie buried, from the northern blasts, and from the
fierce and malignant spirits that come flying on the wings of the great
gales which blow with the touch of the ice and snow in them.
"On the plain in front of us, scattered over its surface, are gentle
risings showing where the Dragon lies reposing, waiting to dispense its
favours to all who come within its magic influence. And then, behold
how the river winds in and out, seemingly unwilling to leave a place
where unseen influences are at work to enrich the homes and gladden the
hearts of the men and women of this region. See how it flows out with
a hasty rush towards the sea beyond, and how it threads its way round
yonder cape and is lost to view. Then mark again how it would seem as
though some force it could not control had swung it round in its
course, for it winds back upon the plain with gleaming eyes and joyous
looks as if it were glad to return once more towards the distant
mountains from whence it took its rise.
"The meaning of all this is," he continued, "that the prosperity, which
the Dragon will bestow upon the living through the ministry of the dead
lying within its domain, shall not soon pass away, but like the river
that we see meandering before us, shall stay and comfort for many a
long year those to whom it has been granted.
"That riches will come is certain, and official rank, and honours as
well; for cast your eyes upon yonder ridge gleaming in the morning sun,
and note the figure which rises up distinct and well-defined from its
summit. It is simply a rock, it is true, but mark well its contour and
you will note how the outline grows upon your vision until it assumes
the form of a mandarin in full official robes standing with his face
"I would strongly advise you," concluded the professor, "to secure this
plot of land on which we stand, whatever it may cost you, for every
ambition that has ever filled your soul shall in time be satisfied by
the wealth and honours which not only the Dragon but all his attendant
spirits shall combine to pour into your home."
Yin was entranced with the prospect which was pictured before him in
such glowing language by the man at his side, and he heartily agreed
with the proposal that he should stay his search and purchase the
ground on which they were standing as a cemetery for his family.
Just at this moment a man came sauntering along to see what these two
strangers were doing in this out-of-the-way place, to which no road ran
and from which no by-paths led to the villages beyond.
"Can you tell me, my man," asked Yin, "to whom this piece of land
"Yes, I can easily do that," he replied. "Do you see that
dilapidated-looking cottage down by the riverside? Well, it is
occupied by a man named Lin, together with his wife and a daughter
about nineteen years of age. They are exceedingly poor, as you can see
by their house. The only property Lin possesses is this plot of
ground, which has come down to him from his forefathers, and which he
hopes one day to dispose of to some well-to-do person as a
burying-ground that may bring him good luck."
"I am very willing to buy the land, if I can only get it at a
reasonable price," replied Yin, "and I shall be glad if you will
consent to act as middleman and negotiate the matter for me. You might
go at once and see Lin, and find out what are the terms upon which he
is willing to transfer the property to me."
On the morrow the middle-man returned and reported to Yin that Lin
would on no consideration consent to let him have the ground. "The
fact is," he continued, "that Lin has a settled purpose in his mind
with which this particular plot of land has a good deal to do. He and
his wife are getting on in years, and when the daughter is married off
he is afraid that his branch of the family will become extinct; so he
plans to get a husband for her who will come into the home and act the
part of a son as well as that of son-in-law."
So determined, however, was Yin to gain possession of this particular
piece of land that after considerable negotiations during which it
seemed as though the old father would never be moved from his settled
purpose, it was finally agreed that his daughter should be married to
Yin's eldest son, Shung, and that her father and mother should remove
to rooms in Yin's family mansion, where they should be maintained by
him in ease and comfort as long as they lived. Had Yin been a
large-hearted and generous person, this plan would have been an ideal
one, but seeing that he was by nature a stingy, money-grubbing
individual, it was attended with the most tragic results.
No sooner had the deeds of the coveted plot of ground been passed over
to him than Yin had the body of his father, who had been buried in a
place far removed from the influence of the Dragon, transferred to this
new location, where he would be in touch with the higher spirits of the
Underworld. Here, also, he could catch the eye of the mandarin, who
day and night would have his face turned towards him, and who from the
very fact of the sympathy that would grow up between them, must in time
give him the mysterious power of turning his grandsons, and their sons
after them, into scholars, who would obtain high positions in the
service of the State.
In the meanwhile preparations were being made for the marriage of the
young maiden of low degree to a man in a much higher social position
than she could ever have aspired to in the ordinary course of events.
Pearl was a sweet, comely-looking damsel, who would have made a model
wife to one of her own station in life, but who was utterly unsuited
for the new dignity which would be thrust upon her as soon as she
crossed the threshold of the wealthy family of Yin. She was simply a
peasant girl, without education and without refinement. Her days had
been passed amidst scenes of poverty, and though she was a thoroughly
good girl, with the high ideals that the commonest people in China
everywhere have, her proper position was after all amongst the kind of
people with whom she had lived all her life.
Her father and mother had indeed all along been doubtful about the
propriety of marrying their daughter into a family so much above them
as the Yins, and for a long time they had stood out against all the
arguments in favour of it. Finally, overborne by the impetuosity of
Yin, and dazzled with the prospects which such an alliance offered not
only to the girl herself but also to themselves by the agreement to
keep them in comfort for the rest of their lives, they had given an
In order that Pearl should suffer as little disgrace as possible when
she appeared amongst her new relations, her father sold all his
available belongings in order to procure suitable wedding-garments for
her. His idea, however, of the fitness of things had been gathered
from the humble surroundings in which he had lived all his days, and
the silks and satins and expensive jewellery that adorn the brides of
the wealthy had never come within the vision of his dreams. Still
Pearl was a pretty girl, and with her piercing black eyes which always
seemed to be suffused with laughter, and with a smile which looked like
a flash from a summer sky, she needed but little adornment, and would
have won the heart of any man who had the soul to appreciate a true
woman when he saw one.
At last the day came, hurried on by the eager desire of Yin to have the
whole thing settled, when the humble home was to be given up and its
inmates transferred to the rich house that lay just over a neighbouring
A magnificent bridal chair, whose brilliant crimson colour made it a
conspicuous object on the grey landscape, wound its way towards the
cottage where the bride was attired all ready to step into it the
moment it appeared at the door.
In front of it there marched a band, making the country-side resound
with weird notes which seemed to fly on the air with defiance in their
tones, and to send their echoes mounting to the tops of the hills and
piercing down into the silent valleys. There were also crowds of
retainers and dependants of the wealthy man. These were dressed in
semi-official robes, and flocked along with smiling faces and joyous
shouts. The occasion was a festal one, and visions of rare dishes and
of generous feasting, kept up for several days, filled the minds of the
happy procession as it went to meet the bride.
The return of the party was still more boisterous in its merriment.
The members of the band seemed inspired by the occasion and sent forth
lusty strains, whilst the instruments, as if aware how much depended
upon them, responded to the efforts of the performers and filled the
air with joyful notes.
A distinguished company had assembled to receive the bride, as she was
led by her husband from the crimson chair and advanced with timid steps
and faltering heart into the room that had been prepared for her
reception. As she entered the house something in the air struck a
chill into her heart and caused the hopes of happiness, which she had
been cherishing, to die an almost instant death.
Shung, her husband, was a man of ignoble mind, and had always objected
to marrying a woman so far beneath him. The sight of his bride, with
her rustic air, and the ill-made commonplace-looking clothes in which
she was dressed, made his face burn with shame, for he knew that a
sneer was lurking on the face of everyone who had gathered to have a
look at her.
A profound feeling of hatred entered his narrow soul, and as the days
went by the one purpose of his life was to humiliate this
sweet-tempered woman, who had been sacrificed simply to further the
ambitious schemes of her designing father-in-law, Mr. Yin. For a few
weeks he simply ignored her, but by degrees he treated her so cruelly
that many a time she had serious thoughts of putting an end to her
life. It soon turned out that a systematic attempt was being made by
both father and son to get rid of the whole family.
The old father and mother, whom Yin had agreed to provide for during
the rest of their lives, found things so intolerable that they
voluntarily left the miserable quarters assigned to them and returned
to their empty cottage. Every stick of furniture had been sold in
order to buy their daughter's wedding garments, so that when they
reached their old home they found absolutely nothing in it. With a few
bundles of straw they made up a bed on the floor, but there was no food
to eat, and not a single thing to comfort them in this their hour of
Sorrow for their daughter, and disappointment and anguish of heart at
the thought of how they had been tricked and cheated by Mr. Yin in
order that he might gain possession of their bit of land, so told upon
their spirits that they both fell ill of a low fever, which laid them
prostrate on their bed of straw. As they lived remote from other
people, for some time no one knew that they were sick. Days went by
without anyone visiting them, and when at last one kindly-hearted
farmer came to make enquiries, he found to his horror that both husband
and wife lay dead, side by side, in their miserable cabin.
The news of their death produced the greatest pleasure in the mind of
the wretched man who was really the cause of it. He was now freed from
the compact compelling him to provide for them during their life, and
so there would be an actual saving of the money which he would have had
to spend in providing them with food and clothing. A cruel, wintry
smile lingered on his hard face for several days after the poor old
couple had been lain to rest on the hillside near their cottage, and
this was the only look of mourning his features ever assumed.
From this time Pearl's life became more and more of a burden to her.
Love, the one element which would have filled her heart with happiness,
was the one thing that was never offered her. Instead of affection
there were cruel, cutting words and scornful looks and heavy blows—all
these were plentifully bestowed upon her by the soulless man who was
called her husband.
At length, to show his utter contempt and abhorrence of her, he
arranged with the connivance of his father to bring a concubine into
his home. This lady came from a comparatively good family, and was
induced to take this secondary position because of the large sum of
money that was paid to her father for her. The misery of Pearl was
only intensified by her appearance on the scene. Following the lead of
her husband, and jealous of the higher position in the family that the
law gave her rival, she took every means that a spiteful woman could
devise to make her life still more miserable.
The death of her parents had filled Pearl's heart with such intense
grief and sorrow that life had lost all its charm for her. She saw,
moreover, from the sordid rejoicing that was openly made at their
tragic end, that the Yins would never be satisfied until she too had
followed them into the Land of Shadows. She would therefore anticipate
the cruel purposes of her husband and his father, and so deliver
herself from a persecution that would only cease with her death. So
one midnight, when all the rest of the family were asleep, and nothing
was heard outside but the moaning of the wind which seemed as though it
was preparing to sing a requiem over her, she put an end to all her
earthly troubles by hanging herself in her own room.
When the body was found next day, suspended from a hook in one of the
beams, a great cry of delight was uttered by Yin and his son. Without
any violence on their part they had been set free from their alliance
with this low-class family, and at a very small cost they had obtained
firm possession of the land which was to enrich and ennoble their
And so whilst the poor girl lay dead, driven to an untimely end by
spirits more fierce and malignant than any that were supposed to be
flying with hatred in their hearts in the air around, smiles and
laughter and noisy congratulations were indulged in by the living
ghouls whose persecution had made this sweet-tempered woman's life
But retribution was at hand. Heaven moves slowly in the punishment of
the wicked, but its footsteps are sure and they travel irresistibly
along the road that leads to vengeance on the wrongdoer.
One dark night, when the sky was overcast and neither moon nor stars
were to be seen, and a storm of unusual violence was filling the air
with a tumult of fierce and angry meanings, a weird and gruesome scene
was enacted at the grave where the father of Yin had been buried.
Hideous sounds of wailing and shrieking could be heard, as though all
the demons of the infernal regions had assembled there to hold a night
of carnival. Louder than the storm, the cries penetrated through the
shrillest blasts, and people in their homes far away were wakened out
of their sleep by the unearthly yells which froze their blood with
terror. At last a thunderbolt rolled from the darkened heavens, louder
than ever mortal man had heard. The lightnings flashed, and
concentrating all their force upon the grave just where the coffin lay,
they tore up a huge chasm in the earth, and gripping the coffin within
their fiery fingers, they tossed it with disdain upon a hillside a mile
After a long search, Yin discovered it next day in the lonely spot
where it had been cast, and was returning to make arrangements for its
interment, when in a lonely part of the road two unearthly figures
suddenly rose up before him. These, to his horror, he recognized as
the spirits of Pearl's father and mother who had practically been done
to death by him, and whom Yam-lo had allowed to revisit the earth in
order to plague the man who was the author of their destruction. So
terrified was Yin at their wild and threatening aspect, that he fell to
the ground in a swoon, and thus he was found, hours afterwards, by his
son, who had come out in search of him.
For several days he was tended with the greatest care, and the most
famous physicians were called in to prescribe for him. He never
rallied, however, and there was always a vague and haunted look in his
eyes, as though he saw some terrible vision which frightened away his
reasoning powers and prevented him from regaining consciousness. In
this condition he died, without a look of recognition for those he
loved, and without a word of explanation as to the cause of this tragic
conclusion of a life that was still in its prime.
The eldest son was now master of his father's wealth; but instead of
learning a lesson from the terrible judgment which had fallen on his
home because of the injustice and wrong that had been committed on an
innocent family, he only became more hard-hearted in his treatment of
those who were within his power. He never dreamed of making any
reparation for the acts of cruelty by which he had driven his wife to
hang herself in order to escape his tyranny. But the steps of Fate
were still moving on towards him. Leaden-footed they might be and
slow, but with unerring certainty they were travelling steadily on to
carry out the vengeance of the gods.
By-and-by the room in which Pearl had died became haunted. Her
spectral figure could be seen in the gloaming, flitting about and
peering out of the door with a look of agony on her face. Sometimes
she would be seen in the early dawn, restless and agitated, as though
she had been wandering up and down the whole night; and again she would
flit about in the moonlight and creep into the shadow of the houses,
but always with a ghost of the old look that had made her face so
winning and so charming when she was alive.
When it was realized that it was her spirit which was haunting the
house, the greatest alarm and terror were evinced by every one in it.
There is nothing more terrible than the appearance of the spirits of
those who have been wronged, for they always come with some vengeful
purpose. No matter how loving the persons themselves may have been in
life, with death their whole nature changes and they are filled with
the most passionate desire to inflict injury and especially death upon
the object of their hatred.
The course of ill-usage which her husband Shung had cruelly adopted in
order to drive Pearl to commit suicide was known to every one, and that
she should now appear to wreak vengeance on him was not considered at
all wonderful; but still every one was mortally afraid lest they should
become involved in the punishment that was sure to be meted out.
As the ghost continued to linger about and showed no signs of
disappearing, Shung was at last seized with apprehension lest some
calamity was about to fall upon his house. In order to protect himself
from any unexpected attack from the spirit that wandered and fluttered
about in the darkest and most retired rooms in his home, he provided
himself with a sword which he had ground down to a very sharp edge and
which he carried in his hand ready uplifted to lunge at Pearl should
she dare to attack him.
One evening, unaware that his concubine was sitting in a certain room
on which the shadows had thickly fallen, he was entering it for some
purpose, when the spirit of his late wife gripped his hand with an
overmastering force which he felt himself unable to resist, and forced
him to strike repeated blows against the poor defenceless woman. Not
more than a dozen of these had been given before she was lying
senseless on the ground, breathing out her life from the gaping wounds
through which her life-blood was flowing in streams.
When the grip of the ghost had relaxed its hold upon him and he felt
himself free to look at what he had done, Shung was horrified beyond
measure as he gazed with staring eyes upon the dreadful sight before
him, and realized the judgment that had come upon him for the wrongs he
had done to Pearl and her family.
As soon as the news of the murder of the woman was carried to her
father, he entered a complaint before the nearest mandarin, who issued
a warrant for Shung's apprehension. At his trial he attempted to
defend himself by declaring that it was not he who had killed his
concubine, but an evil spirit which had caught hold of his arm and had
directed the blows that had caused her death.
The magistrate smiled at this extraordinary defence, and said that
Shung must consider him a great fool if he thought for a moment that he
would be willing to accept such a ridiculous excuse for the dreadful
crime he had committed.
As Shung was a wealthy man and had the means of bribing the
under-officials in the yamen, his case was remanded in order to see how
much money could be squeezed out of him before the final sentence was
given. The murder—apparently without reason or provocation—of a
woman who had been a member of a prominent family in society, produced
a widespread feeling of indignation, and public opinion was strong in
condemnation of Shung. Every one felt that there ought to be exemplary
punishment in his case; otherwise any man who had only money enough
might be able to defy all the great principles established by Heaven
for the government of society and for the prevention of crime.
In order to make it easy for Shung whilst he was in prison, his mother
had to spend large sums in bribing every one connected with the yamen.
Never before had such an opportunity for reaping a golden harvest been
presented to the avaricious minions entrusted by the Emperor with the
administration of justice amongst his subjects. In her anxiety for her
son the poor woman sold field after field to find funds wherewith to
meet the demands of these greedy officials. Dark hints had simply to
be thrown out by some of these that Shung was in danger of his life,
and fresh sales would be made to bribe the mandarin to be lenient in
his judgment of him.
At length the property had all been disposed of, and when it was known
that no further money could be obtained, sentence was given that Shung
should be imprisoned for life. This was a cruel blow to his mother,
who had all along hoped that he might be released. Full of sorrow and
absolutely penniless in a few weeks she died of a broken heart, whilst
the son, seeing nothing but a hopeless imprisonment before him,
committed suicide and thus ended his worthless life.
This tragic extinction of a family, which only a short year before was
in the highest state of prosperity, was accepted by every one who heard
the story as a just and righteous punishment from Heaven. For Heaven
is so careful of human life that any one who destroys it comes under
the inevitable law that he too shall in his turn be crushed under the
wheels of avenging justice.