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Some Chinese Ghosts by Lafcadio Hearn


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Some Chinese Ghosts by Lafcadio Hearn

Bretschneider adds that the legend in question seems not to be known to the Chinese; yet in view of the fact that Buddhism itself, with all its marvellous legends, was received by the Japanese from China, it is certainly probable this legend had a Chinese origin,--subsequently disguised by Japanese chronology. My Buddhist texts were drawn from Fernand H's translation of the Dhammapada, and from Leon Feer's translation from the Thibetan of the "Sutra in Forty-two Articles." An Orientalist who should condescend in a rare leisure-moment to glance at my work might also discover that I had borrowed an idea or two from the Sanscrit poet, Bhmin-Vilsa.

"_The Tale of the Porcelain-God._"--The good Pre D'Entrecolles, who first gave to Europe the secrets of Chinese porcelain-manufacture, wrote one hundred and sixty years ago:--

"The Emperors of China are, during their lifetime, the most redoubted of divinities; and they believe that nothing should ever stand in the way of their desires....

"It is related that once upon a time a certain Emperor insisted that some porcelains should be made for him according to a model which he gave. It was answered that the thing was simply impossible; but all such remonstrances only served to excite his desire more and more.... The officers charged by the demigod to supervise and hasten the work treated the workmen with great harshness. The poor wretches spent all their money, took exceeding pains, and received only blows in return. One of them, in a fit of despair, leaped into the blazing furnace, and was instantly burnt to ashes. But the porcelain that was being baked there at the time came out, they say, perfectly beautiful and to the satisfaction of the Emperor.... From that time, the unfortunate workman was regarded as a hero; and his image was made the idol which presides over the manufacture of porcelain."

It appears that D'Entrecolles mistook the statue of Pou't'ai, God of Comfort, for that of the real porcelain-deity, as Jacquemart and others observe. This error does not, however, destroy the beauty of the myth; and there is no good reason to doubt that D'Entrecolles related it as it had been told him by some of his Chinese friends at King-te-chin. The researches of Stanislas Julien and others have only tended to confirm the trustworthiness of the Catholic missionary's statements in other respects; and both Julien and Salvtat, in their admirable French rendering of the _King-te-chin-thao-lou_, "History of the Porcelains of King-te-chin" (a work which has been of the greatest service to me in the preparation of my little story), quote from his letters at considerable length, and award him the highest praise as a conscientious investigator. So far as I have been able to learn, D'Entrecolles remains the sole authority for the myth; but his affirmations in regard to other matters have withstood the severe tests of time astonishingly well; and since the Tai-ping rebellion destroyed King-te-chin and paralyzed its noble industry, the value of the French missionary's documents and testimony has become widely recognized. In lieu of any other name for the hero of the legend, I have been obliged to retain that of Pou, or Pu,--only using it without the affix "t'ai,"--so as to distinguish it from the deity of comfort and repose.