During the reign of Emperor An of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420A.D.) there was a young man in the county of Houguan named Xie Duan, who had lost his parents when a child and had no kinsmen. He was brought up by a neighbor. By the time he was eighteen, Xie was a modest, decent fellow who would do nothing unlawful. He had just begun to keep house for him and wanted to find him a wife, but had so far not succeeded.
Every day Xie retired late and rose early, working hard in the fields from dawn till dusk. One day near his hamlet he found a large snail as big as a three-pint pot, which he took home as a curiousity and kept in a jar for a couple of weeks. Then each time he went home from the fields he would find hot food and drinks and the fire already lit. Thinking his kind neighbor must have done this for him, after a few days he went over to thank him.
"That was not my work," said his neighbor. "You have no reason to thank me."
Xie thought the good man had not understood him, so after the same thing had happened many times he questioned him again. The neighbor laughed and said:
"I know you have secretly taken a wife, and she is cooking for you. Why say it is my dong?"
Xie was quite dumbfounded, and could not understand this. One day he left home at cockcrow but came stealthily back during the morning and peeped through the fence. Then he saw a young girl come out of the jar and start lighting the fire in the kitchen. Upon going in to look for the snail in the jar, he realized it had changed into the girl. He walked into the kitchen.
"Where did you come from, young wife?" he asked. "And why are you cooking for me?"
The girl was most put out and tried to go back into the jar, but could not.
"I am the lady of the White Stream in the Milky Way," she told him. "The Heavenly Emperor took pity on you because you were all alone and lived such a virtuous life, so he told me to keep house for you for a time. In less than ten years you will become rich and find a wife, and then I should have left you. But now that you have surprised me for no reason, and seen my true form, I cannot stay here. I must leave you. You will do better, though, from now on, if you work hard in the land and make extra money by fishing and cutting wood. I shall also leave you this shell. If you use it as a grain container, you will never find it empty."
He entreated her to stay, but she refused. There was a sudden storm and off she flew.