In a quiet village of Wuxi County, there lived a butcher named You Hulu. He lived with his adopted daughter-in-law, Su Shujuan. One day, he returned home from work with a string of 15 coins which he had borrowed from a man. When Su asked him where the coins were from, he replied jokingly that he had sold her and the string of coins was the purchase price.
Su was horrified as she thought that You was serious. Fearing for her future, she decided to take refuge at her aunt’s house. As soon as You went to sleep that night, Su fled. In her hurry to escape, she left the front door of the house ajar.
A notorious idler, drinker, and gambler known as Lou Ashu, which means “Lou the Rat”, happened to pass by You’s house later that night. He noticed that the door was unsecured, so he stepped in to look for something to eat as he was hungry then. While looking for food, he spotted the string of money that You had hidden under his pillow, and wanted to steal it. But this woke You. You fought Lou, trying to chase the intruder out of his house. In the brawl that ensued, Lou grabbed a cleaver from the table and hacked You to death. He then fled the scene.
The next morning, the neighbors were shocked to see You’s dismembered body on the floor. They also noticed that Su was missing and that the string of 15 coins was stolen. They hastily concluded that Su had stolen the money, killed You and ran off with her lover. The villagers, determined to avenge You’s death, sought to capture Su.
Meanwhile, Su found herself lost and stranded in a dense forest, en route to her aunt’s house. Fortunately, she met into an honorable young man, Xiong Youlan, who helped her find her way out of the forest. He even decided to accompany her till she reached her aunt’s village.
Unbeknownst to them, the neighbours had set a trap to capture them. They were set upon by You’s neighbors, who seized them and ripped open Xiong’s traveling bag. Coincidentally, they found a string of 15 coins in his bag. They dragged them before the county magistrate, Guo Yuzhi, who condemned them both to death for the murder of You.
Almost everyone seemed convinced that Su was responsible for You’s death. Fortunately, there was a detective, Kuang Zhong, who was not convinced by the evidence of the case. He got a stay of execution for 2 weeks to investigate further. When Lou, the real murderer, heard this, he fled further into the countryside.
Detective Kuang gathered several counter-evidence. First, he had found strands of the string of coins at the scene of the murder, whereas the string found in Xiong’s bag had been intact. Second, he learned that Su had a reputation for being quite staid, and was thus unlikely to have a secret lover. Further, there was no evidence of her having known Xiong before the murder. Third, he had found a gambling receipt in the house, but as far as anybody knew, neither You nor Su ever gambled. Kuang began to suspect that Lou was involved in this case.
Kuang, disguising himself as a glyphomancer, set off to find Lou. Glyphomancy is the art of telling fortunes based on the Chinese characters in people’s names. He found Lou in a temple, and offered to tell Lóu’s fortune. He did this using the word ‘Shu’, the last syllable of Lou’s name which meant ‘rat’. Rats have the habit of stealing oil, which is pronounced as ‘You’ in Chinese, a pun on the name of the murdered man, You. Kuang thus warned Lou that he could likely find himself in trouble with the authorities, as they may have suspected him of You’s murder.
On hearing this, Lou became exceedingly frightened, confessed his crime to Kuang and sought for his advice. Kuang instructed him where to flee, and Lou did so. Kuang then sent officers to arrest Lou at his hiding place.
Lou was eventually condemned to death for murdering You and the innocent Su and Xiong were cleared. The villagers were also comforted that You’s death was avenged for.
For more stories, see
The Tale of the White Snake or The Butterfly Lovers