A Dose of One’s Own Medicine

A Confucian scholar, who posed as a man of high principles and conducted himself with caution, was fond of finding faults with and passing harsh judgments on others.  In the fifth month a friend of his completed the mourning period for a lost parent and planned to take a concubine in the seventh month. This prompted the scholar to write him a letter, saying, “You want to take a concubine less than three months after the mourning period ended.  Obviously you have harbored that intention for a long time, thereby breaking the code of ethics in spirit. As friends ought to advise one another to follow the right path, I cannot refrain from calling this to your attention. What do you have to say about this?” Such an act was typical of his behavior.

When the scholar’s wife left for a visit to her parental home, she agreed with him on the date of her return.  But she returned the day before the appointed date, much to the surprise of her husband. “I made a mistake in counting the days,” she explained, and he did not doubt her word.  The following day saw the return of another wife. In consternation the scholar searched the house for the first woman, who was nowhere to be found. From then on he grew weaker day by day until he was taken down by consumption.  It turned out that a fox-woman had disguised herself as his wife in order to soak up his vital energy. During that night he had given way to his carnal desires and become drained of his vitality. At the news the friend who received his chastisement for taking the concubine wrote him a letter saying, “What a couple does in their bedroom is part of human nature, and the visit from a fox in human guise cannot be foreseen.  Yet the depletion of one’s vitality in a single night could only have resulted from overindulgence in the desires of the flesh. Is a couple supposed to act without restraint in their bedroom? Moreover, evil spirits have never dared to harm men of virtue. Since ancient times, people of outstanding virtue and merits have never been known to encounter demons and spirits. Since a fox has taken liberties with you, can’t we conclude that there is something lacking from you moral integrity?  As friends ought to advise one another to follow the right path, I cannot refrain from calling this to your attention. What do you have to say about this?” The scholar, on reading the letter, adamantly denied his encounter with the fox-woman, claiming it to be a rumor spread by the villagers. That friend of his had truly given him a dose of his own medicine.

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