Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 15 Scholar Ding

No. 15 Scholar Ding: coming in during a snowy night, let’s have a drink.

Lang Zhou daoist Luo Shaowei for a time stayed at Ziyan Temple on Mao mountain. There was a scholar1 named Ding also staying there. Other than his lack of interest in pursuing government positions, Ding did not really stand out from the ordinary by words or actions. By now Ding had stayed at the temple for several years, the chief priest has always been courteous toward him.

One night in the middle of the winter, several daoist priests and Ding sat around the stove chatting. Everyone agreed, on a cold night such as this, there would be no greater joy if they could be enjoying some lamb2 and wine. Some people were practically salivating. Ding said “That’s not so difficult.” But trapped on top of mountain by snow, where could one find such delicacies? The daoists all thought he was joking. But Ding was already getting up and leaving.

By midnight the scholar returned, covered entirely in snow. But in his hands were a big silver wine jar and one fully cooked lamb. “It’s from a big chef’s kitchen in Zhejiang” he said. Surprised and delighted, the daoists laughed and clapped. Ding took out a long sword, threw it in the air, and leapt away, leaving the silver jar behind on the table. No one had seen him since. The chief priest was afraid of any possible official investigation stemming from this, so he voluntarily reported the incident to the local authorities.

This story appeared in Sun Guangxian’s book “Trivial words of Northern Dreams”. At the end of that entry, he wondered: “in the poem ‘Xia Ke’, the poet monk Guangxiu had the following lines ‘at dusk the wind and rain felt like chime stone [weighing down on the body], bidding me farewell where would [you] be going?’ Perhaps the monk was inspired by a similar incident he heard about in the Jianghuai area?”

1 The original word here is xiu cai 秀才, meaning a scholar who passed the lowest level of national civil service examination.

2 Chinese custom: it is believed that lamb stores a great deal of heat (calories really). So it’s the ideal food for winter.






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