Wei Dan, an observer of Jiangxi Province in the Tang Dynasty, was nearly 40 years old and failed in the imperial examinations. He once rode a lame donkey to the bridge in Luoyang. He saw a fisherman catch a big softshell turtle, a few feet long, and put it on the bridge, which was only breathing weakly and dying. Many people gathered around and wanted to buy it back to cook and eat it, but only Weidan took pity on it. Ask the fisherman how much the soft-shelled turtle is worth. The fisherman said, “Give me two thousand dollars and I’ll sell it to you.” It was cold and Weidan only had the clothes and pants he had with him and nothing to pawn. So he traded the donkey he was riding for the soft-shelled turtle, and immediately released it after he got it.
Without the donkey, Weidan had to go on foot. At that time, there was a Mr. Hu Lu, people did not know where he came from, and he moved slowly and strangely. But he could tell fortune and predict things like a god. After a few days, when Wei Dan went to have his fortune told, Mr. Hu Lu greeted him at the door with his shoes on backwards and said happily to Wei Dan, “I have been looking forward to this for several days, why did you come so late?” Weidan said, “I came to see you this time, is to ask you to tell my fortune.” Mr. Hu Lu said, “My friend Yuan Chang Shi, who mentioned your virtues, did not allow me to interrupt. He sincerely asked me to know you, let’s go together.” Weidan thought about it for half a day, but he had never heard of such a Yuan Changshi among the people he knew. He said, “Mister is wrong, just tell my fate.” Mr. Hu Lu said, “How should I know? Your fortune is not for me to know. Lord Yuan is my master, so of course I can know the details when I go there.”
Weidan and Mr. Hu went with his walking stick to Tongli Square, the road was winding and the streets were quiet. After a meal, someone said yes, opened the door and invited them in. After walking a few dozen steps, they entered another boarded-up door, and walked another ten steps or so before they saw the gate. The building was magnificent, built to imitate the courtyard of the nobleman’s house. Then there were several maids, all of them beautiful and extraordinary. They came out first to welcome the guests, and the living room was freshly decorated and full of exotic fragrances.
Shortly after, there was an old man with silvery white eyebrows, seven feet long, coarse cloth coat and peculiar belt. He came out with two green clothes, claiming to be called Yuan Jion Zhi. He bowed to Wei Dan with a big salute. Wei Dan was very frightened. He hurriedly bowed forward and said, “I am a poor scholar, but I did not expect the old man to think too highly of me, and I do not understand until now.” The old man said, “I was about to die. I was saved by the king. Shouldn’t such a great kindness be rewarded and repaid? The man who speaks of benevolence does not take it to heart. However, those who receive the kindness want to repay it with death.”
Vedan understood at once, and knew that he was the soft-shelled turtle, yet he never said it clearly. So the old man prepared a rare meal and lingered all day, and in the evening, when Weidan was about to take his leave to go back, the old man took out a scroll of writing from his bosom and gave it to Weidan, saying, “I knew you were going to ask what your fate was, so I went to Tian Cao and recorded your official position and where you had been and where you had been in your life, as a reward! What is here and what is not here is determined by your destiny, and it is valuable to know it in advance.” And he said to Mr. Hu Lu, “It would be better to lend me five thousand pieces of money to change a mount for Wei Jun, it is my wish to decide to travel westward as soon as possible.”
Wei Dan paid two obeisances and went away. The next day, Mr. Hu Lu packed fifty coins and came to the inn as relief. On that volume of paperwork, it was written that he would win the imperial examination in May next year, and in a certain year, he would enter the rank of enlisting and be subject to the county lieutenant of Xianyang. After another year into the court, as a certain official, such as this successive official rank there are seventeen times, all have the year as a record, and finally transferred to Jiangxi Observer, official title to the imperial governor. To the last three years, the soapberry tree in front of the hall blossoms, should be transferred to change the official to the north, and then there is nothing to write.
Weidan usually carry it like a treasure. Since the imperial examinations, has been to Jiangxi as an observer, each time was awarded an official, day and month time without error. Hongzhou Assassins Hall in front of a soapberry tree, years and years. Folklore: this tree blooms, the landlord great worry. The eighth year of Yuanhe, Wei Dan reign, one morning soap pod tree suddenly blossomed, Wei Dan then resigned from his official position, and died in the middle of his return home. When Wei Dan met Yuan Chang Shi, he felt strange, and whenever he passed by Dong Lu, he went to his old residence to look for him, but he could not find him. When he went to Mr. Hu Lu to ask, he said, “That’s a divine dragon, it’s unpredictable, how can I find it?” Weidan said, “If that is the case, how can there be the disaster of the middle bridge?” Mr. Hu Lu said, “What is strange about encountering difficulties and dangers that cannot be avoided by mortals and saints, by divine dragons and the smallest animals?”
(from “The Chronicle of Hedong”)