A Story of a Mysterious Man and His Warning of Karmic Retribution

By Lucy Crawford | October 31, 2021
Born and raised in China, Lucy Crawford has been living in Canada for over 20 years. She has great sympathy for Chinese and human suffering in general. With a Master's degree in Education and having worked on various professions, she now translates and writes about stories in ancient and modern China. She lives in Calgary with her husband and four children.
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Ji-Yun-Wikimedia-Commons
Ji Yun was a child prodigy of the Qing Dynasty who became a philosopher and wrote a collection of the supernatural tales he had encountered in the course of his life. (Image: Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

During the Yongzheng (雍正) period (1678–1735), Mr. Su Dounan (苏斗南) met a friend at an inn by the Baigou River (白沟河). This friend was drinking and complaining, “the truth of heaven does not exist; there is no payback for good and evil.”

Suddenly, a mysterious figure on horseback rode up and said to him, “You complain about the failure of karmic retribution in the world? 

“Think about it! A lustful person is bound to get sick; a gambler is bound to lose money; a robber is bound to be caught; a murderer is bound to die; all these are karmic retribution. 

“Of course, with lust, there is a difference of strong and weak desire; with gambling, the stakes can be high or low; with robbery, there is a difference between a prime offender and an accomplice; with killing, it can be intentional or accidental. As a result, their retribution, naturally, should be different. 

“Even within retribution, merit and demerit can cancel each other sometimes; some cases are resolved in an obvious way, some in an obscure way. In some instances, the exchange of merit and sin is not yet complete, and more time is needed to settle the score. Every situation is unique, and each has to be treated individually. It is very complicated and intricate! 

“You are complaining about the inconsistencies in Heaven’s law based on what you know and you speak carelessly. Did you know that you were destined to be a seventh grade official? Because of your scheming exploits and cajoling manner, the Divine lowered you to the eighth rank. 

“When you were promoted from the ninth rank to the eighth rank, you were so pleased with yourself; but actually, the Divine had reduced your rank because your character was deficient.”

The mysterious figure then approached the man and whispered in his ear for a while. Afterwards he said aloud, “Have you forgotten all these things?” The man was so scared that he was sweating. He asked, “How do you know all these private things about me?” The mysterious man smiled and said, “The Divine knows all that men do. I am not the only one who knows!” When he finished speaking, he turned and mounted his horse, and in a flash he was gone.

The above story was one of many documented supernatural tales gathered by Ji Yun (紀昀 1724–1805), a Chinese philosopher, politician, and writer from the Qing Dynasty. Ji Yun was an exceptionally intelligent child prodigy, an influential scholar, and a favorite of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆). In his later years, he wrote the book Yuewei Cottage Notes, which recorded all the historic accounts that he himself had come across in his lifetime.