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20: CHAPTER XVIII. All about Ghosts

All about Ghosts. 239 

CHAPTER XVIII. All about Ghosts (Ting-kuei). 

The ghosts that are in the world are not the vital spirits of 

the dead, they are evoked by intense thinking and meditating. 

Where do they originate? — With sick people. When people are 

sick, they are inclined to melancholy and easily frightened. In this 

state of mind they see ghosts appear. People who are not sick, 

are not apprehensive. Thus, when sick people lying on their pillows 

are haunted with fears, ghosts appear. Their fears set them pondering, and when they do so, their eyes have visions. How can we 

prove this? 

Po Lo 1 was learning to distinguish horses: everything he saw, 

when sight-seeing, took the form of horses. A cook in Sung was 

learning to dissect an ox. For three years he did not perceive a 

living ox, those he saw were all dead ones. 2 These two men 

strained their mental powers to the utmost. By dint of thinking 

and pondering they came to have strange visions. Sick men seeing 

ghosts are like Po Lo seeing horses or the cook seeing oxen. What 

Po Lo and the cook saw, were not real horses or oxen. Hence we 

know that the visions of the sick are not real ghosts either. 

When sick people have a severe attack, and feel much pain 

in their bodies, they believe that ghosts with bamboos and sticks 

beat them, and have the impression that ghosts with hammers, 

locks, and cords are standing by their side, watching. These are 

empty visions caused by pain and fear. When they first feel ill, 

they become alarmed, and see ghosts coming. When their disease 

grows more violent, that they fear to die, they see the ghosts incensed, and, when they feel pain, they have the idea that the ghosts 

are beating them. It is nothing but the effect of too much pondering, but there is no reality. 

When the vital fluid 3 is thinking or meditating, it flows into 

the eyes, the mouth, or the ears. When it flows into the eyes, the 

1 A somewhat legendary character, mentioned by Chuang Tse chap. 9, p. 1. 

2 For more details on this famous cook or butcher see Chuang Tse chap. 3, p. 1. 

3 We might translate mental fluid, for here the mental functions of the vital 

fluid are referred to, which is the bearer of life as well as the originator of mind, 

animus and anima. 

240 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

eyes see shapes, when it flows into the ears, the ears hear sounds, 

and, when it flows into the mouth, the mouth speaks something. 

At day-time ghosts appear, at night, during sleep, they are heard 

in dreams. If a person sleeping quite alone in a lonely house is 

nervous, he will see ghosts in his dreams, and, if anybody puts 

his hands on him, he will scream. What we see, while awake, or 

hear, while asleep, is all the work of our spirit, of fears and thoughts, 

which amounts to the same. 

There is an opinion that, when people see ghosts, their vision 

and their sleep are disturbed. If during the day their vigour is 

worn out, and their vital force exhausted, they desire to sleep at 

night. While they are asleep, their vision is distorted, hence their 

spirit perceives the images of men and things. When a person is 

sick, his vigour is worn out, and his vital force exhausted likewise. 

Although his eyes may not be asleep, their seeing power is still 

more disturbed than if they were. Consequently they also behold 

the shapes of men and things. 

The sick see things, as if they were asleep. If they mere not 

like dreaming, they ought to know, when they see something, 

whether they are awake, or dreaming. Since they are unable to 

distinguish, whether, what they see, are ghosts or men, it is evident 

that their vital force is exhausted, and their vigour worn out. The 

following will corroborate this. 

Madmen see ghosts. They are mentally deranged, speak to 

themselves, and keep away from sane people, all owing to the severe 

form of their disease, and the disturbance of their vital force. When 

people are sick, and about to die, they are very much like madmen. 

All the three states: — sleep, sickness, and insanity are accompanied 

by a decay of the vital force and a disturbance of vision. Hence 

all those people have visions of men and things. 

Others say that ghosts are apparitions of the fluid of sickness. 

This fluid being stirred up strikes against other people, and by doing 

so becomes a ghost. It imitates the human shape, and becomes 

visible. Thus, when the fluid of very sick persons is in a state of 

excitement, it appears in human form, and the sick see it in this 

form. In case they fall sick in mountains and forests, the ghosts 

they see will be the essence of those mountains and forests, and. 

All about Ghosts. 241 

if their sickness breaks out in Yüeh, they will behold people of that 

country sitting by their side. Accordingly, ghosts like that of Kuan 

Fu and Tou Ying 1 were apparitions of that particular time. 

The fluid of this world is purest in heaven. The heavenly 

signs 2 present certain forms 3 above, and their fluid descends, and 

produces things. When the fluid is harmonious in itself, it produces and develops things, when it is not, it does injury. First it 

takes a form in heaven, then it descends, and becomes corporeal 

on earth. Hence, when ghosts appear, they are made of this stellar 

fluid. The bodies of the stars form men, beasts, and birds. Consequently sick people see the shapes of men, beasts, and birds. 

Some maintain that ghosts are the essence of old creatures. 

When creatures grow old, their essence forms a human being, but 

there are also those, which by their nature can be transformed, before they are old, and then take a human shape. If the fluid a man 

is endowed with, is the same as the essence of another creature, 4 

there will be some relation between him and this creature, and, 

when it becomes sick, and its vital fluid begins to decline, it falls 

in with that person as a ghost. How can we prove that? 

Those creatures which people usually have to do with, appear to them as ghosts, for what difference is there between the 

ghosts seen by sick people and those sick creatures? If people see 

ghosts resembling a dead man in his grave, who is coming to meet 

and call them, it is one of the domestic animals in their houses. 

If they see other ghosts, unknown to them previously, those ghosts 

are caused by other people's animals e. g. those in the open fields. 

According to another opinion ghosts originally live in men, 

and, when they cease to be men, they are transformed and disappear. The organisation of the universe is such, that these transformations take place indeed, but the votaries of Taoism cannot 

discuss this subject.5 

1 See p. 217. 

2 The stars. 

3 The constellations. 

4 This seems to refer to the animals connected with the twelve cyclical signs 

(cf. p. 106). A man born under one of these signs is supposed to have been imbued 

with the same essence as the corresponding animal has. 

5 Their views are too phantastic, as can be seen from their works. 

242 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

That which assaults men, is sickness. Sick people are doomed 

to die, but the deceased do not give up all intercourse with men. 

This will become clearer from the following: 

The Liki tells us that Chuan Hsü 1 had three sons living who, 

when they died, became the ghosts of epidemics. One living in the 

water of the Yangtse, became the Ghost of Fever, the second in the 

Jo 2 was a Wafer Spirit, the third, dwelling in the corners of palaces 

and houses, and in damp store-rooms, w'ould frighten children. 3 Anterior to Chuan Hsü's time there have been more sons living, consequently there must have been hundreds of spirits like those of 

Chuan Hsü's time. All spirits and ghosts possess a body, and there 

is a method to make them stand upright. Those who meet with 

people have all lived in good men, and acquired their fluid, hence 

in their appearance they are like good men. That which can injure 

the good is the fluctuating Yang and Yin fluid, as a fluid like that 

of the clouds and vapours it could not do so. 

Another idea is that ghosts are the spirits of the first and 

second cyclical signs.4 These spirits are a peculiar fluid of heaven. 

In their shapes they appear like human beings. When a man is 

sick, and about to die, the spirit of the first and second day makes 

its appearance. Provided that somebody falls sick on the first or 

second day, he will perhaps see the spirit of the seventh or eighth, 

when he dies. Why? Because the ghost of the first and second 

day is the messenger of the seventh and eighth, therefore the person 

is taken ill on the first and second, and when his end is near, and 

the ghost that destroys him appears, it is the spirit of the seventh 

and eighth. This is evident from the fact that for a malady, that 

broke out on the first or second day, the crisis which decides on 

life and death, sets in on the seventh or the eighth. 

Critics do not accept this view as correct. However, the ways 

of Heaven are difficult to understand, and ghosts and spirits abscond and hide, therefore 1 have noted all the different opinions, 

that my contemporaries may judge for themselves. 

1 A legendary ruler of the 26th cent. b.c. 

3 According to the " Water Classic '' a river in the south-east of China. 

4 This passage is not to be found in our Liki. According to the Pei-wên- 

yün-fa it is contained in the Sou-shen-chi (4th cent, a.d.). 

4 The signs chia and yi. 

All about Ghosts. 243 

Some say that ghosts are creatures in no way different from 

men. There are spiritual beings in the world, usually staying beyond the frontiers, but from time to time coming to China, and 

mixing with men. These are malignant and wicked spirits, hence 

they appear to men, who are sick, and going to die. As a being 

created in this world man is like a beast or a bird. When demons 

arc created, they also resemble men, or are like beasts or birds. 

Thus, unhappy families see corpses flying about, or crawling demons, or beings like men. All three are ghosts, they may be styled 

ghosts or demons, goblins or devils. They really exist, as long 

as they are, and are not empty, formless beings. How do we 

know ? 

Commonly people who will be visited with misfortune see a 

ray of light descending on their homes, or they perceive something- 

having the shape of a bird flitting several times into their hall, 

but on looking carefully, they discover that it is not like a bird, 

or an animal. Creatures having a body can eat; by eating they 

acquire activity, and, if they give signs of activity, their body must 

be real. 

Tso Ch'iu Ming says in his Ch'un-ch'iu: 1 — "They were banished 

into the four frontier States to repulse the goblins and devils,"2 

and the Shan-hai-king reports that in the North there is the Kingdom 

of the Ghosts. 3 They say that goblins are dragon-like creatures. 

Devils are also related to dragons, therefore they must resemble 

dragons. Moreover, a kingdom is defined as a congregation of men 

and other creatures. 

The Shan-hai-king also relates that in the midst of the Green 

Ocean there is the Tu So Mountain, on which grows an enormous 

peach-tree. Its girth measures 3,000 Li. Between its boughs to the 

north-east there is the so-called door of the ghosts, where the ten 

thousand ghosts pass in and out. On the tree there are two spirits, 

one called Shên Shu, the other Yü Lü, who have the superintendence 

over all the ghosts. They bind the wicked ones, who have wrought 

evil, with reeds, and feed the tigers with them. 

Subsequently Huang Ti worshipped for the purpose of expelling 

the ghosts for ever. He erected a huge human figure of peach-wood and painted Shên Shu and Yü Lü along with tigers and cords 

1 In his commentary to the Ch'un-ch'iu, the Tso-chuan. 

2 Four wicked princes were cast out by Shun into the four distant regions, 

which were believed to be inhabited by devils. Tso-chuan, Duke Wên 18th year 

(Legge. Classics Vol.V, Pt. I, p. 283). 

3 Cf. Shan-hai-king XII, I. 

244 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

of reeds hanging down on the house-doors, and thus frightened 

them away.  1

Malignant devils have bodies, therefore they can be caught 

hold of, and thrown as food to tigers. Being eatable creatures, 

they cannot be unsubstantial or unreal. Yet these creatures have 

a different nature from that of man. Sometimes they are visible, 

sometimes hidden. In this respect they do not differ from dragons, 

which are not always visible either. 

Some people hold that anterior to a man's fortune or misfortune lucky or unlucky apparitions become visible, and that, when 

a man is approaching his death, a great many miracles appear to 

him. Ghosts belong to these miracles. When apparitions and 

miracles come forth, they take human form, or they imitate the 

human voice to respond. Once moved, they do not give up human shape. 

Between heaven and earth there are many wonders, in words, 

in sound, and in writing. Either does the miraculous fluid assume 

a human shape, or a man has it in himself, and performs the miracles. The ghosts, which appear, are all apparitions in human 

shape. Men doing wonders with the fluid in them are sorcerers. 

Real sorcerers have no basis for what they say, and yet their lucky 

or unlucky prophecies fall from their lips spontaneously like the 

quaint sayings of boys. The mouth of boys utters those quaint 

sayings spontaneously, and the idea of their oration comes to wizards spontaneously. The mouth speaks of itself, and the idea comes 

of itself. Thus the assumption of human form by the miracles, 

and their sounds are spontaneous, and their words come forth of 

their own accord. It is the same thing in both cases. 

They say that during the time of Chou,2 ghosts cried at night 

out-side the city, and that when T'sang Hsieh 3 invented the art of 

writing, ghosts wept at night likewise. If the fluid can imitate 

human sounds, and weep, it can also imitate the human shape, and 

appear in such a form, that by men it is looked upon as a ghost. 

1 According to the Fêg-su-t'ung of the 2nd cent. a.d. this story is narrated 

in the Huang Ti shu, the Book of Huang Ti. On New-year's Eve the pictures of 

Shên Shu and Yü Lü are still at present pasted on the doorways as a talisman 

against evil spirits. 

2 纣

3 A legendary personage. 

All about Ghosts. 245 

A ghost that appears is an evil omen to somebody. When 

in this world fortune or misfortune approach, they are always accompanied by portents. These come slowly, not suddenly, and not 

in great numbers. According to the laws of nature, when a man 

is going to die, an unlucky phantom comes forth also, and, when 

a State is going to perish, an evil portent becomes visible. Conversely, when somebody is going to prosper, there are lucky omens, 

and, when a State is going to flourish, there are signs indicating 

this prosperity beforehand. Good and bad omens or portents are 

the same thing after all. 

Now, however, the general belief is that ghosts are not a 

kind of portents, but spirits, which can hurt people. One does 

not understand the nature of portents, nor pay attention to the 

transformations undergone by the fluid of creatures. When a State 

is near its ruin, and a phantom appears, it is not this phantom 

which ruins the State. When a man is near his end, and a ghost 

comes forward, the ghost does not cause his death. Weapons 

destroy the State, and diseases kill man, as the following example 

will show: 

When Duke Hsiang of Ch'i was going to be killed by robbers, 

he travelled in Ku-fên, and subsequently hunted in Pei-ch'iu, 1 where 

he beheld a big hog. His followers said: — ''prince P'êng Shêng!" 2 

The duke got angry, and said, "P'êng Shêng dares to show himself?" Then he pulled his bow, and shot the hog, which rose like 

a man, and howled. The duke became so panic-stricken, that he 

fell down in his carriage, hurt his foot, and lost one shoe. 3 After- 

wards he was assassinated by robbers. 

Those who killed duke Hsiang were robbers, the big hog which 

appeared on the road previous, was a portent indicating duke 

Hsiang's impending death. People called it P'êng Shêng, because it 

resembled him. Everybody knows that duke Hsiang was not killed 

by the hog. Therefore it would also be a great error to assert 

that ghosts can kill men. 

The fluid of the universe which forms phantoms foreboding 

evil is the solar fluid. Phantoms are the same as poison. That 

part of the fluid which injures man, is called poison, that which 

is being transformed, a phantom. People say that the quaint ditties 

1 Two places in the Ch'i State, in Shantung. 

2 Prince P'eng Sheng was a half-brother of Duke Hsiang of Ch'i, who employed him to murder his brother-in-law, the duke of Lu. The people of Ch'i put 

P'êng Shêng to death. Cf. Tso-ch'uan, Duke Huan 18th year (693 B.C.). 

3 Quoted from the Tso-ch'uan, Duke Chuang 8th year, corresponding to 685 B.C. 

246 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

of boys are due to the influence pf the Glimmering Star 1 upon men. 

There is truth in these words. The Glimmering Star is the Fire 

Star (the planet Mars). Fire has a poisonous glare. Therefore, when 

Mars reigns in the sky during the night, it means a disaster and 

defeat for a State. 

The fluid of fire flickers up and down, and so phantoms are 

at one time visible, at another not. A dragon is an animal resorting 

from the Yang principle, therefore it can always change. A ghost 

is the Yang fluid, therefore it now appears, and then absconds. The 

Yang fluid is red, hence the ghosts seen by people have all a uniform crimson colour. Flying demons are Yang, which is fire. Consequently flying demons shine like fire. Fire is hot and burning, 

hence the branches and leaves of trees, on which those demons 

alight, wither and die. 

In the Hung-fan of the Shuking the second of the five elements 

is called fire, and the second of the five businesses speech. 2 Speech 

and fire are the same essence, therefore the ditties of boys and 

ballads are weird sayings. 3 The words come forth, and a composition is completed. Thus there are always writings full of the 

supernatural. They say that boys are of the Yang fluid, 4 hence the 

weird sayings come from small boys.5 Boys and sorcerers have 

the Yang fluid in them, therefore at the great rain sacrifice in summer boys must dance, and sorcerers are exposed to the sun. According to the rites of this sacrifice the Yin principle, which has 

separated, is united with the Yang principle.6 

In the same manner at an eclipse of the sun, when the Yin 

predominates,7 an attack is made on the Yin of the land. As during 

an eclipse, while the Yin reigns supreme, everything belonging to 

the Yin fluid is being assaulted, so at the time of a drought, when 

the Yang is in the ascendant, the indignation is directed against 

all allies of the Yang. Sorcerers belong to this class. Therefore, 

1 荧惑

2 Shuking, Hung-fan Pt. V, Bk. IV, 5 and 6 (Legge Vol. Ill, Pt. II, p. 825 

and 326). 

3 All weird things are manifestations of the Yang, the solar fluid, which is fiery. 


4The Yang principle is male. 

5 The Chinese believe that popular songs and sayings foretelling future events, 

of which they have collections, are supernatural inspirations or revelations. Hence 

they bring them into connection with ghosts or supernatural beings. Wang Ch'ung 

falls back on the Yang principle as the origin of those quaint ditties. 

6 The Yin fluid is the rain. 

7 The sun is eclipsed by the moon, which belongs to the Yin fluid. 

All about Ghosts. 247 

when Duke Hsi of Ln 1 was visited with a drought, he had resolved 

to burn all the sorcerers. The sorcerers being imbued with the 

Yang fluid, there are for this reason a great many sorcerers in 

the Yang region (the South). 2 The sorcerers are related to, ghosts, 

accordingly sorcerers have something diabolical. 

These sorcerers bear a certain resemblance to the boys singing 

those quaint ditties. The real sorcerers know how to determine 

luck and misfortune. Being able to do that, they are the messengers of fate.3 

Thus the phantom of Shên Shêng 4 appeared in a sorcerer. Since 

they are tilled with the Yang fluid, phantoms can appear in sorcerers. As Shên Shêng appeared as a phantom, we may infer that 

the Marquis of Tu,5 Chuang Tse Yi , 6 and the malignant ghost 7 were 

likewise phantoms. 

As the discontented spirit of the Marquis of Tu was a phantom, 

the bow and arrows used by him were the poison of this phantom. 

The phantoms assuming human shape, their poison must have resembled human weapons. The ghosts and their poison being of 

the same colour, the bow and arrows of the Marquis of Tu were 

all red. The poison was like a weapon used by man, therefore, 

when it hit a man, he died, when it hit him but slightly, he faded 

away, but did not die at once. His incurable disease was the 

effect of the poison. 

Phantoms either emit their poison, but do not show them- 

selves, or they show themselves, but do not emit any i)oison, or 

they produce sounds, which, however, do not form any words, or 

they make known their thoughts, but do not know their sounds. 

Shên Shêng showed himself and pronounced words, the Marquis of 

1 659-626 B.C. 

2 The South is the land of the sun, the Yang principle. 

3 The foregoing futile speculations are based on the gratuitous analogies, in 

which Chinese natural philosophers, starting from the Yi-king, indulge. 

4 Heir-apparent to Duke Hsien of the Chin State, by whom he was put to 

death in 654 b.c. We learn from the Tso-ch'uan, 10th year of Duke Hsi, that in 

649 the ghost of the murdered prince appeared to an officer of Chin, and spoke to him. 

He told him that in seven days he would have a new interview with him through 

a wizard, and that he would take his revenge on Duke Hui of Chin. Cf. p. 203. 

5 The Earl of Tu had been unjustly put to death by King Hsüan of the 

Chou dynasty, 826-780 b.c. According to a legend the ghost of the murdered man 

appeared to the king while hunting. He was dressed in red, and carried a red bow 

and red arrows. One of these arrows he shot through the king's heart, who died 

on the spot. Cf. Chavannes, Mém. Hist. Vol. I, p. 278 Note 2. Vid. also p. 202. 

6 See p. 202. 

7 By which Yeh Ku of Sung was killed. Cf. chap. XLI. 

248 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

Tu became visible, and sent forth his poison. Queer songs, the 

ditties of boys, and the words on stones are thoughts uttered.1 

The music of the harp on the P'u River 2 and the wails of the 

ghosts in the suburb of Chou 3 were sounds produced. 

At the appearance of ill omens, either mishap is impending, 

and the omens appear in advance, or misfortune comes, and is accompanied by those omens, in that case omens and poison are 

both at work. When omens appear beforehand, they cannot be 

poisonous. Shên Shêng was an omen seen before, the discontented 

ghosts of the Marquis of Tu and Chuang Tse I were phantoms 

appearing simultaneously with misfortune. 

When King Hsüan of Chou, Duke Chien of Yen, 4 and Yeh Ku 

oi Sung 5 were going to die, ill omens appeared, and the poison hit 

them. When Duke Hui of Chin was to be captured, 6 but not yet 

to die, merely a phantom made its appearance, but no poison shot 

forth. The appearance of the Earl of Tu, Chuang Tse I, and the 

discontented spirit however, were ill omens, announcing the impending deaths of King Hsüan of Chou, Chien of Yen, and Yeh Ku. 

Shên Shêng coming forward was an omen indicative of the captivity 

of Duke Hui of Chin. By Po Yu appearing in people's dream the 

deceases of Sse Tai and Kung Sun Tuan were foreshadowed. 7 The 

knitting of grass by the old man was an auspicious portent for the 

victory of Wei K'o, and for the capture of Tu Hui at that time. 8 

The grey dog, by which the Empress Lü Hou was bitten, was the 

shape of a phantom showing that her death was near. 9 When 

1 The thoughts of ghosts, uttered through the mouth of boys, singing queer 

songs, or mysteriously written on stones. 

2 Cf. p. 220. 

3 See above p. 244. 

4 Duke Chien of Yen, 503-491 b.c. I, p. 382 speaks of Duke Chien of Chao 

and Lun-hêng Bk. IV, p. 5 of Viscount Chien of Chao. 

5 See chap. XLI. 

6 Duke Hui of Chin, 649-635 b.c. In 644 the duke was taken prisoner by Ch'in. 

7 Cf. p. 208. 

8 Wei K'o was a commander of the forces of Chin in the 6th cent, b.c, with 

which he worsted those of the Ch'in State, and took their strongest man, Tu Hui, 

prisoner. He was supported during the battle by an old man twisting the grass in 

such a way as to impede the movements of his enemies. This old man was the 

spirit of the father of a concubine of Wei K'o's father, whom he had saved from 

death. Out of gratitude for the kindness shown to his daughter the spirit thus contributed to his victory and to the capture of Tu Hui. Cf. p. 211. 

9 Vid. Shi-chi chap. 9, p. 8 v. The Empress Lü Hou was bitten by a grey 

dog, which suddenly vanished. The diviners declared it to have been the phantom 

of Ju I, Prince of Chao, whom Lü Hou had assassinated. Lü Hou died of the bite. 

All about Ghosts. 249 

the Marquis of Wu-an was near his end, the portents had the mien 

of Tou Ying and Kuan Fu. 1 

In short, what we call lucky or unlucky omens, ghosts and 

spirits, are all produced by the solar fluid. The solar fluid is identical with the heavenly fluid. As Heaven can create the body of 

man, it can also imitate his appearance. That by which man is 

born are the Yang and the Yin fluids, the Yin fluid produces his 

bones and flesh, the Yang fluid, the vital spirit. While man is alive, 

the Yang and Yin fluids are in order. Hence bones and flesh are 

strong, and the a vital force is full of vigour. Through this vital 

force he has knowledge, and with his bones and flesh he displays 

strength. The vital spirit can speak, the body continues strong 

and robust. While bones and flesh, and the vital spirit are entwined 

and linked together, they are always visible, and do not perish. 

When the solar fluid is powerful, but devoid of the Yin, it 

can merely produce a semblance, but no body. Being nothing but 

the vital fluid without bones or flesh, it is vague and diffuse, and 

when it appears, it is soon extinguished again. 

1 Tien Fên, Marquis of Wu-an, a minister of the Emperor Han Wu Ti had 

in 140 B.C. caused the death of his predecessor and rival Tou Ying. The ghost of 

the latter appeared to him, when he was about to die. The general Kuan Fu's death 

was likewise the work of T'ien Fên. Cf. p. 217.