Ancient Stories from China: The Forewarning of Zhang Cheng’s Talking Bull

A Forewarning: Zhang Cheng’s Talking Bull

Throughout Chinese history, strange phenomena apear to be most rampant at the end of a chaotic dynasty. Unusual and strange phenomena are often taken as the gods’ forewarning of calamities.

A newspaper in Xining Ciy of Qinghai Province in China published a news report how a local family had recently bought a gardenia that could make sound like a cricket. I looked up Chinese historic records and found a similar story. But the ancient story isn’t about a talking flower but rather about a talking bull. I hope that this story will inspire everyone to reflect upon the current situation in China.

This ancient story took place during the Taian Era (January 5, 303 – February 21, 304 A.D.) under Emperor Hui of the West Jin Dynasty. [Emperor Hui of the West Jin Dynasty was the second emperor of the West Jin Dynasty (265 – 316 A.D)].

One day while a government official named Zhang Cheng was out on a cart, the bull pulling the cart suddenly spoke, “The Jin Dynasty is in chaos and coming to an end, and I am exhausted. Why are you still making me pull the cart?” Zhang Cheng and his attendants were terrified by this. Then Zhang Cheng offered the bull some feed, trying to calm it down. “We will go home now. No more talking, all right?” So Zhang Cheng aborted his plan and returned home right away. After they arrived home, the bull started to talk again before Zheng Cheng was able to unhitch the bull, “What’s the use of returning home so early?” Zhang Cheng became increasingly frightened and worried, but he dared not to share this strange story with anyone.

When Zhang Cheng heard there was a man capable of divination in Anlu County, he went to get a reading. The man told him, “It bears an extremely ill boding, and it will not just affect your family. There will be a war– a war that shall claim the entire county!” When Zhang Cheng returned home from the reading, he saw the bull standing and walking on its hind legs like a human and attracting a lot of bystanders.

In the autumn of that year, Zhang Chang started a rebellion against the West Jin Dynasty, and claimed lordship over Jiangxia. Zhang Chang won support from a lot of people with the lie that he would revive the Han Dynasty. Zhang Cheng and his brother joined Zhang Cheng’s rebellion army and became his military commanders. However, Zhang Chang was soon defeated. More than half of the residents in Zhang Cheng’s county were either killed or severely wounded. No one in Zhang Cheng’s household survived the civil war.

This story reveals how all things are arranged to reflect the morality of people on earth. As the ancient chinese observed, good deeds will be rewarded with good, while evildoings will meet due retribution, such as calamities and wars. Misfortunes brought on by the acts of the whole society sweep all in their path. If this is the case, then the restoration of morality is the only way to prevent calamities and wars.

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