Lu Chong was a native of the principality of Fanyang. Thirty li to the west of his house was the graveyard of the Cui family, one of whom had held office as imperial custodian. The day before the winter solstice when Lu was twenty, he went out in a westerly direction to hunt. He sighted a deer and struck it with an arrow so that it fell, but it struggled up again. Then Lu gave chase and pursued it for a long way. Suddenly, a few hundred yards ahead of him to the north, he saw a large, tiled mansion like a government office. The deer had disappeared. The guard at the gate called out at his approach.
"Whose house is this?" asked Lu.
"The house of the imperial custodian."
"I am too shabby to call on him," said Lu.
Then someone came out with an armful of new clothes.
"Our master presents you with these," he announced.
Thereupon Lu changed his clothes and went in to see the imperial custodian, to whom he introduced himself. After they had drunk and eaten several courses, his host said to Lu:
"Your father recently honored our humble house by sending a letter to ask for my daughter's hand for you. This is why I invited you in."
He showed Lu the letter. And though Lu had been a child when his father died, he could recognize the writing. With tears he consented. Then the imperial custodian sent a message to the inner chambers that Lu Chong had arrived and his daughter should dress for her wedding. He bid Lu go to the east chamber. By dusk words came from within that the girl was ready. When Lu entered the east chamber, she had alighted from her carriage. They stood on the carpet and bowed together, after which Lu stayed the customary three days. Then Cui said to him:
"You may go home now. I fancy my daughter has conceived. If she gives birth to a son, rest assured we will send him to you. If to a daughter, we will keep her ourselves."
He ordered his men to harness the carriage for Lu, who took his leave and went out. The imperial custodian saw him to the middle ate where they held hands and shed tears. Outside the gate, Lu saw a cart drawn by oxen with a driver in blue, and found the clothes he had worn before and his bow and arrows. Then a man was sent out with a suit of clothes, which he gave to Lu with this message from his master: "We have just become related by marriage and are very sorry that you are leaving so soon. Please accept this suit of clothes and set of bedding."
Lu mounted the cart which traveled as swiftly as lightning, and in no time he was home. When his people saw him, they did not know whether to be glad or sorry. Knowing that Cui was dad and that Lu had been in a grave, they felt rather uneasy.
Four years later, on the third day of the third month, Lu was strolling by the stream when he saw two carts drawn by oxen approach through the water. As they neared the bank, all those who were with him saw them. Lu opened the door at the back of the first cart and found Cui's daughter with a three year old boy. He was overjoyed to see her, and wanted to take her hands. But she raised her hand to point at the cart behind.
"You had better see my father," she said.
So he met the imperial custodian and greeted him. The girl gave the baby to Lu, and presented him with a golden bowl and a poem which read as follows:
Glorious the sacred herb, So beautiful and bright, Its splendor appears at the appointed hour, And it is strange and rare; But before its blossoming time The summer frost withers it And blighted its splendor for ever, So that it is lost to this world. Who can know the will of Heaven? Suddenly a wise man comes, The meeting is short and the departure soon, For all is ordained by the gods. What gift can I give my beloved? The golden bowl is for my son, And I bid an eternal farewell, Quite broken-hearted!
As soon as Lu took the child, the bowl and the poem, the two carts disappeared. When he carried the small boy home, everyone feared it must be a ghost and spat at it from a distance, but the child remained unchanged.
"Who is your father?" they asked.
He ran straight into Lu's arms.
At first all were amazed and felt forebodings, but then they read the poem and knew there was much mysterious traffic between the living and the dead.
Later Lu drove a cart to the market to sell the bowl. He asked a very high price, for he did not want to sell it so much as to find someone to identify it. An old woman slave recognized it, and went to tell her mistress:
"In the market I saw a man in cart selling that bowl which was in Miss Cui's coffin."
Her mistress was the girl's aunt. She sent her son to look at the bowl, and when he found that what the slave said was true he went to Lu's cart and introduced himself.
"Formerly my aunt married the imperial custodian and had a daughter," he said. "The girl died before her marriage, and my mother in her grief presented a golden bowl to put in the coffin. Can you tell me how you came by this bowl?"
Lu told him the story, and the young man was moved. He took the bowl back to his mother, who asked to see the dad girl's son. All the Cui clansmen assembled, and when they found that the child looked like one of themselves yet resembled Lu as well, his case was proved.
"My nice was born at the end of the third month," said her aunt.
"Her father said, "The spring is warm and we hope the infant will prosper, so let us name her Wenxiu (warm and prosperous). The name sounded like 'wedded in the grave' – that was surely an omen."
The boy grew into a talented man, and became a provincial governor with a two-thousand-bushel salary. All his descendants to this day have been officials, while one – Lu Chi – became famed throughout the empire.