​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Trading Identities
By Guo Zhenyu

    Chen Xi was a County Magistrate. For the last few years he had done many immoral things, including taking bribes to make decisions in court. This angered one of the Celestial Spirits, so the Spirit put a hex on him: If he should ever again ignore what he knew to be just when deciding a case, he would exchange identities with the aggrieved party; and if there were more than one aggrieved party, he would take the identity of whichever one among them was the most grievously injured. After this Chen Xi became more honest, for he dared not go against his conscience when deciding cases.
     One day some people had filed a lawsuit and Chen Xi was holding court. The plaintiff, one Zhang San, complained that his family’s pig had been stolen by a fellow villager, Wang Er. It seems that Zhang San and Wang Er were both raising pigs, and that the two animals looked almost identical because they had come from the same litter. The Zhang family’s pig had gone missing the day before yesterday and Zhang San had looked all over for it. When he saw the Wang family’s pig he said it was his, but Wang Er would of course not admit it.
     “Your Honor,” Zhang San said to Chen Xi, “all you have to do is let the pig go hungry for two days, then release it while my daughter-in-law and Wang Er’s daughter-in-law are standing off to each side. See who the pig goes to. My daughter-in-law has been feeding the pig every day and it will certainly go straight to her.”
     Chen Xi thought that was reasonable and ordered that it be done as Zhang San had said.
     Two days later, Chen Xi went to the Wang family home to decide the case. The pig had had nothing to eat for those two days and was already crazed from hunger. When Zhang San and his daughter-in-law arrived, Chen Xi took one look at the girl and was bedazzled: She was gorgeous! 
     When the pig was let out of the sty it ran straight for Zhang San’s daughter-in-law, and Chen Xi knew clearly that it belonged to her family. Wang Er must have sold his family’s pig and then stolen this one to take its place. But Chen Xi wasn’t thinking about deciding the case: he could think about nothing but Zhang San’s daughter-in-law.
     Suddenly Chen Xi remembered the hex that the Celestial Spirit had put on him – if he ignored his conscience when deciding a case, he would exchange identities with the aggrieved party. This hex had been intended as a way to discipline him, but now, to the contrary, it gave him an opportunity – the pig had gone to Zhang San’s daughter-in-law, meaning that it was the Zhang family pig. If he violated his conscience, he would therefore become Zhang San, the aggrieved party. Then wouldn’t Zhang San’s beautiful daughter-in-law become his own daughter-in-law? He had a goodly amount of silver hidden away, and at the right time he could take the silver and the daughter-in-law and fly away to some distant land, and then wouldn’t he be happier than any Celestial Spirit? As for being a County Magistrate, he could do without that. There’s no point in having that job if you can’t gouge out a little silver for yourself by deciding cases against your conscience. 
     Chen Xi made up his mind and started to issue his decision: “A pig is an animal. How could it recognize any individual human? It was completely a coincidence that it happened to seek out Zhang San’s daughter-in-law. Let this be done. Kill the pig, and give half to the Zhang family and half to the Wangs.” When Wang Er heard this he shouted, “You’re a genius, Your Honor, a genius,” but Zhang San was extremely angry.
     When he finished announcing his decision, Chen Xi said a silent prayer that the Celestial Spirit’s hex would be fulfilled and he would become Zhang San. Contrary to his expectations, though, he had barely finished announcing his decision when he found himself lying face down on the ground. To his astonishment, he had turned into the pig! His mind was a blank but then, slowly, he began to understand – the pig was the chief victim in this case. The others were alive and well. He had condemned himself to death, and when he was dead his body would be cut up! He had not realized that the pig was also a party to the case.
     Right then Wang Er ran up and grabbed Chen Xi, who pulled his leg away and ran. Wang Er took a pole and lashed out ferociously, yelling to the others, “Tie the pig up!” Several strong young men tied Chen Xi up. He hollered, trying to say, “I’m not a pig, I’m the County Magistrate,” but no words came out. Off to the side, Wang Er picked up his butchering ax and began to walk forward….

故事会, 2012, 9 月, 上半月, 第93页
Stories Magazine, September 2012, 1st Semimonthly Issue, p. 93
Also at 搜狐,

To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to jimmahler1@yahoo.com