When Sung Ting-Po was a young man, he once met a ghost while walking along the road late at night.

"Who's there?" he asked.

"A ghost," answered the ghost. "Who are you?"

"Er... I am a ghost, too," Sung lied.

"Where are you going?" the ghost asked.

"I am going to the market in Wan."

"I am also going there," the ghost said. So they went a few li together. "Walking like this is too tiring," said the ghost. "Why don't we take turns carrying each other on our backs?"

"Good idea," Sung agreed. First the ghost carried Sung for a few li. "You are so heavy!" it said. "I suspect that you are not a ghost at all."

Sung thought fast. "I'm new at this. I died quite recently, so I have not yet learned how to be weightless." Then it was his turn to carry the ghost, which weighed nearly nothing. They went on like this, each carrying the other several times. Sung said, "Since I have just died, and I'm new at this, perhaps you can tell me what I need to know. For example, I do not know what a ghost fears most."

"A ghost fears nothing but human spittle."

The two travelers came to a river. Sung asked the ghost to cross it first. He watched as the ghost crossed the water and found that it made no noise at all. When Sung waded the river, the splashing of his legs in the water made lots of noise. "Why did you make so much noise?" the ghost asked.

"I have not yet learned to cross a river quietly." Sung answered. "Don't blame me, I'm new at this."

Just outside the city of Wan, Sung put the ghost on his shoulder and held it fast with his hands. The ghost demanded in a loud rasping voice to be let off, but Sung ignored it. He walked straight to the center of the market, which was full of livestock for sale. When he put the ghost down on the ground, it turned itself into a sheep, hoping to disappear amid the animals crowding the market. Sung immediately spat upon it, and the ghost lost its power to change shape, and so remained a sheep. Sung then sold the animal for fifteen hundred coins.

Soon a proverb sprang up in that area of the country. People said at the time, "Sung Ting-Po sold a ghost for fifteen hundred coins cash."

This story from Chinese folklore first appears in Chinese literature in the 3rd century, when the emperor T'sao P'i included the tale in his collection, Lieh-Yi Chuan (Records of Marvels). The story appears a century later in Gan Pao's Shou-shen chi (搜神記, In Search of the Supernatural). Occasionally you may find a version of the story with the word "ghost" translated as "demon," but as there is no overt malevolence on the part of the spirit, I've stuck with the more common "ghost."

Cyril Birch, Tales from China, Oxford University Press, 1961
Derek Bodde, Some Chinese Tales of The Supernatural: Kan Pao and his Sou-shen chi, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3/4 (Feb., 1942), pp. 338-35, Published by Harvard-Yenching Institute (accessed at <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2717981> October 2, 2008)
Victor H. Mair, The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, Columbia University Press, 2001
Laurence Yep, The Man Who Tricked a Ghost, Troll Communications, 1997.
Anthony C. Yu, "Rest, Rest Perturbed Spirit!" Ghosts in Traditional Chinese Prose Fiction, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Dec., 1987), pp. 397-434, Published by Harvard-Yenching Institute. (Accessed at <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2719188> October 2, 2008)

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