In the old stories, it is often recounted that gods come to people in disguise to test their true nature. There was a generous and open-minded old scholar called Liu Gong who lived in Anhui during the early Qing Dynasty. One such test occurred during a very tough time in his life. Thankfully, the old man’s encounter with the Gods proved fruitful and the divine blessings he received continued through the generations that came after him.
Liu made his living by tutoring individual children and helping them with their studies. At first, he did quite well and had a large house and a prosperous life. Over time though, he lost some of his students and his income became less. He was forced to sell his large home and rented a small residence where he lived and could use some space as a shop to sell groceries.
Liu’s kind nature attracted many regular customers and business was booming during the first year. However, his easy-going nature meant that he didn’t pay much attention to the costs of running the business and he made no profit during that first year. He realized that the money from the sale of his house had disappeared in business costs. He got very worried as he realized that soon he would be unable to pay the rent.
Sitting out in the courtyard, worrying about his family and how he would protect them, he noticed for the first time that it was full of weeds. This added to the weight of depression he was feeling — he couldn’t even look after the yard properly! Liu was so sad that he took himself off to bed.
Gods often appear in dreams
That night, he dreamed of an old man dressed in yellow who pointed at the weeds and said: “These plants aren’t weeds, they are medicine. If you mix them with lead powder and tung oil, you can make a healing ointment. Why do you want to get rid of them?”
Liu remembered the dream when he woke up and immediately consulted the large herbal pharmacopeia that he owned. It turned out that the plants, ginseng, and notoginseng were indeed healing plants. He cheered up when he realized he could be doing something to help people again. Liu headed out straight away and bought lead powder and tung oil. He realized that there was no stove to stew the herbs to make the ointment.
Gods appear in times of need
Coincidentally, an old lady beggar appeared at the door, wanting to sell a small copper pot that could be used as a stove. Liu thought it was perfect for his needs. After some negotiation, he bought it for a very fair price. He found a small iron furnace for the fire and purchased all of the utensils he needed for the process. When he was ready, Liu harvested the herbs from the courtyard and began. He was meticulous in following the process laid out in the pharmacopeia and was very pleased when he produced his first batch of ointment.
There was an old beggar who lived in the neighborhood who had a painful sore on his leg. Liu asked the beggar if he could test the ointment on the sore. The beggar was very happy to have some help and readily agreed. To their amazement, the sore disappeared within the week and they were both very pleased.
The next spring and summer produced a lot of rain and humidity, bringing an outbreak of tropical sores that would not heal. The doctors had no idea of how to help; they were at a loss as to how to treat them. People began to buy Liu’s ointment as the last hope and they were all amazed that it healed them when the doctors could not. Word of mouth quickly spread and demand for Liu’s ointment saw him become prosperous once again.
Liu’s kind heart never failed, even when he became rich once again. Sometimes beggars and poor folk would knock on his door in the middle of the night and he never refused them, cheerfully inviting them in and treating whatever ailments they had.
One night in the middle of winter, a fierce blizzard was raging outside. Liu heard the familiar knock and got up immediately to bring the visitor inside out of the storm. An old beggar limped into the kitchen with a sore the size of a copper coin on his leg. Liu prepared a dressing with ointment to match the size of the sore.
Gods often test people
However, when he returned to the beggar’s side, he found that the sore had grown to the size of a bowl. Liu went to prepare a larger dressing and brought that over to the beggar, whereupon he found the sore had grown even larger.
He went through this process a dozen times, finding the sore kept growing no matter what he did. He could never prepare a patch big enough to cover the sore and help the beggar. No matter how many times he seemed to fail, he stayed cheerful and patient, never giving up trying to help.
After a long and exhausting night, the lamp oil was about to burn out. Liu’s wife had called him back to bed many times; each time, he pretended not to hear her. When the neighbor’s rooster greeted the new day, Liu finally hung his head in defeat. He couldn’t seem to help the beggar no matter how hard he tried.
The old beggar chose that moment to lose his temper. He yelled at Liu: “Hey, you’re such a penny pincher! There’s nothing special about your medicine. Why do you only use enough for the sore every time? You care more about your precious money than helping me!”
Gods have magical powers
Liu didn’t get angry or lose his temper upon hearing this from the beggar. Instead, he patiently kept trying to help, putting on a new plaster until the last of the ointment in the new batch was used up. When the pot was empty, the beggar burst into laughter. He took a copper coin out, threw it into the pot, and sarcastically said: “Thanks for your help!” He walked out into the snow — miraculously, even though Liu hadn’t healed the sore, the beggar was no longer limping.
Liu tried to pick up the beggar’s coin and realized it was stuck to the pot. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get it loose. He left the coin in the pot and continued to use it to brew his ointment and other medicines. The coin seemed to make the ointment even more effective and it became legendary, healing many people who had given up hope of ever being cured. People came to believe that the grumpy old beggar had been one of the gods who gave Liu blessings because of his kind and patient heart.
Liu lived a long life, passing away peacefully at the age of 80. His children and grandchildren all had a love of reading and study and many of them became distinguished scholars. They made their living as their ancestor had, making and selling medicines in the little copper pot with a coin from a god embedded in it. The pot was the family’s most cherished possession and was passed down through many generations.