Finally, a jailer reported to the King of Hell that Du Zichun had completed the course of suffering. The King said, “This wretch, so cunning, is unfit to be a man. Let him be born a woman in the next life!” So Du Zichun reincarnated to the next life as a girl in the family Wang Quan 王劝. Du Zichuan was born with diseases and took pills every day. She was “accidentally” fell into the fire place and other accidents. But he never uttered a word.
Soon, she grew up to be a woman of surpassing beauty. People regarded her as a mute girl for which she had suffered insults and sexual harassment. Du Zichun kept silence. There was a scholar from the same county named Lu Gui 卢珪, who heard of her beauty and became an admirer. Lu proposed through a matchmaker, but her family declined on grounds of her muteness. Lu Gui replied, “if a wife is able and virtuous, what need is there for speech.” Du Zichun’s family finally gave their consent.
For several years the couple had an enviably loving relationship. Du Zichun then gave birth to a child, who was an intelligent boy. When the boy was two years old, Lu Gui was holding the child in his arms and talked to Du Zichun. She never made a sound. He flew into a rage, saying, “in olden times, Minister Jia 贾’s wife would not smile, for she despised her husband. Even so, she made up for the regret one day while watching him shooting pheasants. After all, I am not as noble as the minister, but how come my knowledge is not compared with pheasants shooting? A man is despised by his wife. What’s the need of having a kid with this kind of wife?” He grabbed the boy’s feet, and bashed his head against a rock. It smashed instantly, splashing blood. Unable to hold back her love for the child the momentarily, Du Zichun slipped an involuntary cry, “Ugh!”
Before the sound died out, Du Zichun found himself sitting in the yard of the same place with the Taoist master in front of him. It was almost dawn. He saw the purple flames of the furnace leaped up and burned through the roof. The entire house was ablaze. The Taoist master sighed, “Look what you got me into.” He threw Du Zichun into the pot of water and the fire was burned out.
The Taoist master said, “you have put behind you all emotions including joy, anger, pity, fear, loathing, and lust. The one feeling you have not yet mastered is love. If you had not uttered that sound, my elixir would have been ready, and you would have ascended into heaven as an immortal by now. How very rare are those with the true makings of an immortal! I can try smelting the elixir again, and there is yet room for you in this world. Take heart and do your utmost!” The Taoist master pointed out to him the distant road back. Du Zichun climbed to the top of the platform to have a look. The furnace had cracked open, exposing an iron rod inside, several feet long, the thickness of a man’s arm. The Taoist took off his robe and proceeded to scrape it with a knife.
After returning home, ashamed of having broken the vow, Du Zichun decided to make amends by volunteering for another effort. But when he reached the Cloud Tower Peak, he could not find even the slightest trace of the Taoist master.
We have talked in our podcast that to be an immortal in Taoism or a Buddha in Chinese Buddism, everyone has a chance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of things and it is essential to dissipate suffering. Some people think Du Zichun is a humanist in terms of denial of Buddhism and Taosim in order to acclaim fraternity in the world. Some people think the story is about love is the source of trouble and through purification of love and desire can the Proper Way be realized. Some people think contrasting desire and practice of asceticism misinterprets the significance of Buddhism and Taoism because Buddhism and Taoism help heal suffering caused by desire and emotions.
So what is the Japanese version of the story like by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa ? Most of parts are similar. When Du Zichun was in the Hell，he made a sound when the he saw his mother were tortured. And he was back to the reality, he wasn’t even blamed by the master but appraised that how he felt for his parents should be honored. But he didn’t became an immortal since he failed and realized how he appreciate a normal life.
In the Japanese version, he failed because he saw his parents instead of his child. Some people think this might be due the personal experience of the author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa that his mother had a mental illness shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his uncle. Also the ending was the quite opposite and I don’t know if it is due to Buddhism in Japan is more secularized it in China.