A moral story of a man who turns tiger and as a tiger, kills and eats a man
Consider this apparently humorous situation : A man turns into a tiger, and as a tiger, kills and eats a man. He is reconverted into a man. Should be now he condemned for what he had done as a tiger ? Is he guilty ?
Chang Feng was travelling in Fukein. He was a northerner, and luxuriant sub-tropical vegetation was new and interesting to him. Among other things, he had heard of tigers in south. One day, he was stooping with his servant at an inn in Hengshan, a small town near Foochow, lying on the watershed of the high mountain ranges, which divide Fukien from Chekiang. Having deposited his luggage, he went out to take in his first impressions of the land, its people and the women’s costumes.
Walking alone with a cane in his hand, he went on and on, attracted by the refreshing green of the country after rain, and the bracing winds, which come over the mountain. He felt strangely excited. The landscape was a riotous display of colours. It was autumn and hillsides literally glowed with the gold and red of maple forests. The golden sunset transformed the mountainside and the fields into a landscape of brilliant pastels, blue, purple and green, changing in hue every moment, mingling with the dazzling red and gold. It was like a magic land.
Suddenly he felt a fainting sensation : stars danced before his eyes and his head reeled. He thought it was due to the altitude, the over-exertion, and the sudden change of climate, or perhaps he was affected by the strange light. Just a few steps before him he saw a pasture-land covered with velvety lawn, lying just where the wooded slope began. He took off his grown and put it with his walking stick against a tree, and lay down to take rest. He felt a little better. As he looked up at the blue sky, he thought how beautiful and peaceful nature was. Men fought for money, position, and fame; they lied, cheated, and killed for gain; but here was peace-in nature. As he rolled in the grass, he felt happy and relaxed. The smell of the soil and a gentle breeze soon caressed him into sleep.
When he woke up, he felt hungry and remembered it was evening. As he rolled his hand over his stomach, he touched a coating of soft fur. Quickly he sat up, and he saw his body covered with beautiful black stripes, and as he stretched his arms, he felt a delightful new strength in them, sinewy and full of power. He yawned and was surprised at his own powerful roar. Looking down his own face, he saw the tips of long white whiskers. Lo, he had been transformed into a tiger!
“ Now, that is delightful, ” he thought to himself, “ I am no longer a man, but a tiger. It is not bad for a change .”
Wanting to try his new strength, he ran into the woods and bounced from rock to rock, delighting in his new strength. He went up to the monastery, and pawed at the gate, seeking admittance.
“ It is a tiger ! ” he heard a monk inside shouting. “ I smell it. Do not open ! ”
“ Now, that is uncomfortable ,” he thought to himself. “ I only intended to have a simple supper and discuss Buddhist philosophy with him. But of course I am a tiger now, and perhaps I do smell .”
He had no instinct to go down the hill to the village and seek for food. As he did behind a hedge on a country path, he saw a beautiful girl passing by, and he thought to himself, “ I have been told that Foochow girls are famous for their white complexion and small stature. Indeed it is true .”
As he made a move to go up to the girl, she screamed and ran for her life.
“ What kind of a life is this, when everybody takes you for an enemy ? ” he wondered. “ I will not eat her, she is so beautiful. I will take a pig, if I can find one .”
At the thought of a nice fat pig, or a small juicy lamb, his mouth watered, and he felt ashamed of himself. But there was this infernal hunger gnawing at his stomach, and he knew he had to eat something or die. He searched the village for a pig or calf, or even a chicken, but they were all under good shelters. All doors were shut against him, and as he crouched in a dark alley, waiting for a stray animal, he heard people talking inside their houses about a tiger in the village.
Unable to satisfy his hunger, he lay in wait for some wayfarer in the night. All night he waited, but nothing came his way.
Towards dawn, some travelers began to pass along the mountain-road. He saw a man coming up from the city who stopped several passengers to ask whether they had seen Cheng Chiu, a bureau-chief of Foochow, who expected to return to his office today.
Something told the tiger that he must eat Cheng Chiu. Just why he must eat that person he could not tell, but it was definite that Cheng Chiu was destined to be his first victim.
“ He was getting up from the inn when I left. I think he is coming behind us .” He heard a man reply to the clerk’s question.
“ Is he travelling alone ? Tell me his dress so that I can recognize him. ”
“ There are three of them travelling together. The one dressed in a dark green is Cheng .”
As the tiger listened to the conversation from his hiding place, it seemed as if it were taking place expressly for his benefit. He had never seen or heard of Cheng Chiu in his life. He crouched in a thicket and waited for his victim.
Soon he saw Cheng Chiu coming up the road with his secretaries. Cheng looked fat and juicy and delicious. When Cheng Chiu came within pouncing distance, the tiger, Cheng, rushed out, felled him to the ground, and carried him up the mountain. The travelers were so frightened that they all ran away. Chang’s hunger was satisfied. He finished up the gentleman and left only the hair and bones.
Satisfied with his meal, he lay down to take a nap. When he woke up, he thought he must have been mad to eat a human being who had done him no harm. His head cleared and he decided it was not such a pleasant life, prowling night after night for food.
“ Why do I not go back to that lawn and see if I can become a human being again ? ”
He found the spot where his clothing and walking stick were still lying by the tree. He lay down again, with the wish that he might wake up to be a man once more. He rolled over on the grass, and in a few seconds found that he had been restored to his human shape.
Greatly delighted, but puzzled by the strange experience, he put on his gown, took up his cane, and started back to the town. When he reached the inn, he found he had been away exactly twenty-four hours.
“ Where have you been, Master ? ” asked his servant. “ I have been out looking for you all day .” The innkeeper also came up to speak to him, evidently relieved to see him return.
“ we have been worried about you ,” said the innkeeper. “ There was a tiger abroad. He was seen by a girl in the village last night, and this morning Cheng Chiu, a bureau-chief who was returning to his office, was eaten by him .”
Chang Feng made up a story that he had spent the night discussing Buddhist philosophy up in the temple.
“ You are lucky ! ” cried the innkeeper, shaking his head. “ It was in that neighbourhood that Cheng Chiu was killed by the tiger .”
“ No, the tiger will not eat me, ” Chang Feng replied.
“ Why not ? ”
“ He cannot ,” said Chang Feng enigmatically.
Change Feng kept the secret to himself, for he could not afford to tell anybody that he had eaten a man. It would be embarrassing, to say the least.
He went back to his home in Honan, and a few years went by. One day he was stopping at Huaiyang, a city on the Huai River. His friends gave him a dinner and much wine was consumed, as was usual on such occasions. Between the courses and the sipping of wine, the guests were each asked to tell a strange experience, and if in the opinion of the company the story was not strange enough, the teller of the story was to be fined a cup of wine.
Chang Feng began to tell his own story, and it happened that one of the guests was the son of Cheng Chiu, the man he had eaten. As he preceded with his story, the young man’s face grew angrier and angrier.
“ So it was you who killed my father ! ” the young man shouted at him, his eyes distended and the veins standing up on his temple.
Chang Feng hastily stood up apologized. He knew he had got into a very serious situation. “ I am sorry. I did not know it was your father .”
The young man suddenly whipped out a knife and threw it at him. Luckily, it missed and fell with a clang on the floor. The young man made a rush at him, and would have fallen on him, but the guests, greatly disturbed by the sudden turn of events, held him back.
“ I will kill you to avenge my father’s death ; I will follow you to the ends of the earth ! ” the young man shouted.
The friends persuaded Chang Feng to leave the house at once and hide himself for a while, while they tried to clam Cheng Chiu’s son. It was conceded by everybody that to avenge one’s father’s death was a noble and laudable undertaking, but after all, Chang Feng had eaten Cheng Chiu when he was a tiger, and no one wanted to see more bloodshed. It was a novel situation and posed a complicated moral problem as to whether revenge under such circumstances was justified. The youth still swore murder to appease his father’s spirit.